Numero Uno—“Daniel De Foe was descended from a respectable family in the county of Northampton, and born in London, about the year 1663. His father, James Foe, was a butcher, in the parish of St. Giles’s, Cripplegate, and a protestant dissenter. Why the subject of this memoir prefixed the Deto his family name cannot now be ascertained, nor did he at any period of his life think it necessary to give his reasons to the public. The political scribblers of the day, however, thought proper to remedy this lack of information, and accused him of possessing so little of the amor patriae, as to make the addition in order that he might not be taken for an Englishman; though this idea could have had no other foundation than the circumstance of his having, in consequence of his zeal for King William, attacked the prejudices of his countrymen in his ‘True-born Englishman.’
After receiving a good education at an academy at Newington, young De Foe, before he had attained his twenty-first year, commenced his career as an author, by writing a pamphlet against a very prevailing sentiment in favour of the Turks who were at that time laying siege to Vienna. This production, being very inferior to those of his maturer years, was very little read, and the indignant author, despairing of success with his pen, had recourse to the sword; or, as he termed it, when boasting of the exploit in his latter years, “displayed his attachment to liberty, and protestantism,” by joining the ill-advised insurrection under the Duke of Monmouth, in the west. On the failure of that unfortunate enterprise, he returned [page ii] again to the metropolis; and it is not improbable, but that the circumstance of his being a native of London, and his person not much known in that part of the kingdom where the rebellion took place, might facilitate his escape, and be the means of preventing his being brought to trial for his share in the transaction. With the professions of a writer and a soldier, Mr. De Foe, in the year 1685, joined that of a trader; he was first engaged as a hosier, in Cornhill, and afterwards as a maker of bricks and pantiles, near Tilbury Fort, in Essex; but in consequence of spending those hours in the hilarity of the tavern which he ought to have employed in the calculations of the counting-house, his commercial schemes proved unsuccessful; and in 1694 he was obliged to abscond from his creditors, not failing to attribute those misfortunes to the war and the severity of the times, which were doubtless owing to his own misconduct. It is much to his credit however, that after having been freed from his debts by composition, and being in prosperous circumstances from King William’s favour, he voluntarily paid most of his creditors both the principal and interest of their claims. This is such an example of honesty as it would be unjust to De Foe and to the world to conceal. The amount of the sums thus paid must have been very considerable, as he afterwards feelingly mentions to Lord Haversham, who had reproached him with covetousness; “With a numerous family, and no helps but my own industry, I have forced my way through a sea of misfortunes, and reduced my debts, exclusive of composition, from seventeen thousand to less than five thousand pounds.”
At the beginning of the year 1700, Mr. De Foe published a satire in verse, which excited very considerable attention, called the “True-born Englishman.” Its purpose was to furnish a reply to those who were continually abusing King William and some of his friends as foreigners, by shewing that the present race of Englishmen was a mixed and heterogeneous brood, scarcely any of which could lay claim to native purity of blood. The satire was in many parts [page iii] very severe; and though it gave high offence, it claimed a considerable share of the public attention. The reader will perhaps be gratified by a specimen of this production, wherein he endeavours to account for–
“What makes this discontented land appear
Less happy now in times of peace, than war;
Why civil feuds disturb the nation more,
Than all our bloody wars had done before:
Fools out of favour grudge at knaves in place,
And men are always honest in disgrace:
The court preferments make men knaves in course,
But they, who would be in them, would be worse.
‘Tis not at foreigners that we repine,
Would foreigners their perquisites resign:
The grand contention’s plainly to be seen,
To get some men put out, and some put in.”
It will be immediately perceived that De Foe could have no pretentious to the character of a poet; but he has, notwithstanding, some nervous and well-versified lines, and in choice of subject and moral he is in general excellent. The True-born Englishman concludes thus:
Could but our ancestors retrieve their fate,
And see their offspring thus degenerate;
How we contend for birth and names unknown,
And build on their past actions, not our own;
They’d cancel records, and their tombs deface,
And openly disown the vile, degenerate race.
For fame of families is all a cheat;
‘TIS PERSONAL VIRTUE ONLY MAKES US GREAT.
For this defence of foreigners De Foe was amply rewarded by King William, who not only ordered him a pension, but as his opponents denominated it, appointed him pamphlet-writer general to the court; an office for which he was peculiarly well calculated, possessing, with a strong mind and a ready wit, that kind of yielding conscience which allowed him to support the measures of his benefactors though convinced [page iv] they were injurious to his country. De Foe now retired to Newington with his family, and for a short time lived at ease; but the death of his royal patron deprived him of a generous protector, and opened a scene of sorrow which probably embittered his future life.
He had always discovered a great inclination to engage in religious controversy, and the furious contest, civil and ecclesiastical, which ensued on the accession of Queen Anne, gave him an opportunity of gratifying his favourite passion. He therefore published a tract entitled “The shortest Way with the Dissenters, or Proposals for the Establishment of the Church,” which contained an ironical recommendation of persecution, but written in so serious a strain, that many persons, particularly Dissenters, at first mistook its real intention. The high church party however saw, and felt the ridicule, and, by their influence, a prosecution was commenced against him, and a proclamation published in the Gazette, offering a reward for his apprehension. When De Foe found with how much rigour himself and his pamphlet were about to be treated, he at first secreted himself; but his printer and bookseller being taken into custody, he surrendered, being resolved, as he expresses it, “to throw himself upon the favour of government, rather than [page v] that others should be ruined for his mistakes.” In July, 1703, he was brought to trial, found guilty, and sentenced to be imprisoned, to stand in the pillory, and to pay a fine of two hundred marks. He underwent the infamous part of the punishment with great fortitude, and it seems to have been generally thought that he was treated with unreasonable severity. So far was he from being ashamed of his fate himself, that he wrote a hymn to the pillory, which thus ends, alluding to his accusers:
Tell them, the men that plac’d him here
Are scandals to the times;
Are at a loss to find his guilt,
And can’t commit his crimes.
Pope, who has thought fit to introduce him in his Dunciad (probably from no other reason than party difference) characterises him in the following line:
Earless on high stood unabash’d De Foe.
 St. James’s, January 10, 1702-3. “Whereas Daniel De Foe, alias De Fooe, is charged with writing a scandalous and seditious pamphlet, entitled ‘The shortest Way with the Dissenters:’ he is a middle-sized spare man, about 40 years old, of a brown complexion, and dark-brown coloured hair, but wears a wig, a hooked nose, a sharp chin, grey eyes, and a large mole near his mouth, was born in London, and for many years was a hose-factor, in Freeman’s Yard, in Cornhill, and now is owner of the brick and pantile works near Tilbury Fort, in Essex; whoever shall discover the said Daniel De Foe, to one of her Majesty’s Principal Secretaries of State, or any of her Majesty’s Justices of Peace, so as he may be apprehended, shall have a reward of 50l. which her Majesty has ordered immediately to be paid upon such discovery.”
London Gaz. No. 3679.
This is one of those instances of injustice and malignity which so frequently occur in the Dunciad, and which reflect more dishonour on the author than on the parties traduced. De Foe lay friendless and distressed in Newgate, his family ruined, and himself without hopes of deliverance, till Sir Robert Harley, who approved of his principles, and foresaw that during a factious age such a genius could be converted to many uses, represented his unmerited sufferings to the Queen, and at length procured his release. The treasurer, Lord Godolphin, also sent a considerable sum to his wife and family, and to him money to pay his fine and the expense of his discharge. Gratitude and fidelity are inseparable from an honest man; and it was this benevolent act that prompted De Foe to support Harley, with his able and ingenious pen, when Anne lay lifeless, and his benefactor in the vicissitude of party was persecuted by faction, and overpowered, though not conquered, by violence.
The talents and perseverance of De Foe began now to be properly estimated, and as a firm supporter [page vi] of the administration, he was sent by Lord Godolphin to Scotland, on an errand which, as he says, was far from being unfit for a sovereign to direct, or an honest man to perform. His knowledge of commerce and revenue, his powers of insinuation, and above all, his readiness of pen, were deemed of no small utility, in promoting the union of the two kingdoms; of which he wrote an able history, in 1709, with two dedications, one to the Queen, and another to the Duke of Queensbury. Soon afterwards he unhappily, by some equivocal writings, rendered himself suspected by both parties, so that he once more retired to Newington in hopes of spending the remainder of his days in peace. His pension being withdrawn, and wearied with politics, he began to compose works of a different kind.–The year 1715 may therefore be regarded as the period of De Foe’s political life. Faction henceforth found other advocates, and parties procured other writers to disseminate their suggestions, and to propagate their falsehoods.
In 1715 De Foe published the “Family Instructor;” a work inculcating the domestic duties in a lively manner, by narration and dialogue, and displaying much knowledge of life in the middle ranks of society. “Religious Courtship” also appeared soon after, which, like the “Family Instructor,” is eminently religious and moral in its tendency, and strongly impresses on the mind that spirit of sobriety and private devotion for which the dissenters have generally been distinguished. The most celebrated of all his works, “The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe,” appeared in 1719. This work has passed through numerous editions, and been translated into almost all modern languages. The great invention which is displayed in it, the variety of incidents and circumstances which it contains, related in the most easy and natural manner, together with the excellency of the moral and religious reflections, render it a performance of very superior and uncommon merit, and one of the most interesting works that ever appeared. It is strongly recommended by Rosseau as a book admirably calculated to promote [page vii] the purposes of natural education; and Dr. Blair says, “No fiction, in any language, was ever better supported than the Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. While it is carried on with that appearance of truth and simplicity, which takes a strong hold of the imagination of all readers, it suggests, at the same time, very useful instruction; by shewing how much the native powers of man may be exerted for surmounting the difficulties of any external situation.” It has been pretended, that De Foe surreptitiously appropriated the papers of Alexander Selkirk, a Scotch mariner, who lived four years alone on the island of Juan Fernandez, and a sketch of whose story had before appeared in the voyage of Captain Woodes Rogers. But this charge, though repeatedly and confidently brought, appears to be totally destitute of any foundation. De Foe probably took some general hints for his work from the story of Selkirk, but there exists no proof whatever, nor is it reasonable to suppose that he possessed any of his papers or memoirs, which had been published seven years before the appearance of Robinson Crusoe. As a farther proof of De Foe’s innocence, Captain Rogers’s Account of Selkirk may be produced, in which it is said that the latter had neither preserved pen, ink, or paper, and had, in a great measure, lost his language; consequently De Foe could not have received any written assistance, and we have only the assertion of his enemies to prove that he had any verbal.
The great success of Robinson Crusoe induced its author to write a number of other lives and adventures, some of which were popular in their times, though at present nearly forgotten. One of his latest publications was “A Tour through the Island of Great Britain,” a performance of very inferior merit; but De Foe was now the garrulous old man, and his spirit (to use the words of an ingenious biographer) “like a candle struggling in the socket, blazed and sunk, blazed and sunk, till it disappeared at length in total darkness.” His laborious and unfortunate life was finished on the 26th of April, 1731, in the parish of St. Giles’s, Cripplegate.
Daniel De Foe possessed very extraordinary talents; as a commercial writer, he is fairly entitled to stand in the foremost rank among his contemporaries, whatever may be their performances or their fame. His distinguishing characteristics are originality, spirit, and a profound knowledge of his subject, and in these particulars he has seldom been surpassed. As the author of Robinson Crusoe he has a claim, not only to the admiration, but to the gratitude of his countrymen; and so long as we have a regard for supereminent merit, and take an interest in the welfare of the rising generation, that gratitude will not cease to exist. But the opinion of the learned and ingenious Dr. Beattie will be the best eulogium that can be pronounced on that celebrated romance: “Robinson Crusoe,” says the Doctor, “must be allowed by the most rigid moralist, to be one of those novels which one may read, not only with pleasure, but also with profit. It breathes throughout a spirit of piety and benevolence; it sets in a very striking light the importance of the mechanic arts, which they, who know not what it is to be without them, are so apt to undervalue; it fixes in the mind a lively idea of the horrors of solitude, and, consequently, of the sweets of social life, and of the blessings we derive from conversation and mutual aid; and it shews, how, by labouring with one’s own hands, one may secure independence, and open for one’s self many sources of health and amusement. I agree, therefore, with Rosseau, that it is one of the best books that can be put into the hands of children.”
LIFE AND ADVENTURES
I was born in the year 1632, in the city of York, of a good family, though not of that country, my father being a foreigner of Bremen, who settled first at Hull: he got a good estate by merchandise, and leaving off his trade, lived afterwards at York, from whence he had married my mother, whose relations were named Robinson, a very good family in that country, and from whom I was called Robinson Kreutznaer; but by the usual corruption of words in England, we are now called, nay we call ourselves, and write our name Crusoe, and so my companions always called me.
I had two elder brothers, one of which was lieutenant-colonel to an English regiment of foot in Flanders, formerly commanded by the famous Colonel Lockhart, and was killed at the battle near Dunkirk against the Spaniards. What became of my second brother I never knew, any more than my father or mother did know what was become of me.
Being the third son of the family, and not bred to [page 2] any trade, my head began to be filled very early with rambling thoughts: my father, who was very ancient, had given me a competent share of learning, as far as house education and a country free-school generally go, and designed me for the law; but I would be satisfied with nothing but going to sea; and my inclination to this led me so strongly against the will, nay the commands of my father, and against all the entreaties and persuasions of my mother and other friends, that there seemed to be something fatal in that propension of nature tending directly to the life of misery which was to befal me.
My father, a wise and grave man, gave me serious and excellent counsel against what he foresaw was my design. He called me one morning into his chamber, where he was confined by the gout, and expostulated very warmly with me upon this subject: he asked me what reasons more than a mere wandering inclination I had for leaving my father’s house and my native country, where I might be well introduced, and had a prospect of raising my fortune by application and industry, with a life of ease and pleasure. He told me it was for men of desperate fortunes on one hand, or of aspiring superior fortunes on the other, who went abroad upon adventures, to rise by enterprise, and make themselves famous in undertakings of a nature out of the common road; that these things were all either too far above me, or too far below me; that mine was the middle state, or what might be called the upper station of low life, which he had found by long experience was the best state in the world, the most suited to human happiness, not exposed to the miseries and hardships, the labour and sufferings of the mechanic part of mankind, and not embarrassed with the pride, luxury, ambition, and envy of the upper part of mankind, he told me, I might judge of the happiness of this state by this one thing, viz. that this was the state of life which all other people envied; that kings have frequently lamented the miserable consequences of being born to great [page 3] things, and wish they had been placed in the middle of the two extremes, between the mean and the great; that the wise man gave his testimony to this as the just standard of true felicity, when he prayed to have neither poverty nor riches.
He bid me observe it, and I should always find, that the calamities of life were shared among the upper and lower part of mankind; but that the middle station had the fewest disasters, and was not exposed to so many vicissitudes as the higher or lower part of mankind; nay, they were not subjected to so many distempers and uneasinesses, either of body or mind, as those were, who by vicious living, luxury, and extravagances, on one hand, or by hard labour, want of necessaries, and mean or insufficient diet, on the other hand, bring distempers upon themselves by the natural consequences of their way of living; that the middle station of life was calculated for all kind of virtues and all kind of enjoyments; that peace and plenty were the handmaids of a middle fortune; that temperance, moderation, quietness, health, society, all agreeable diversions, and all desirable pleasures, were the blessings attending the middle station of life; that this way men went silently and smoothly through the world, and comfortably out of it, not embarrassed with the labours of the hands or of the head, not sold to the life of slavery for daily bread, or harassed with perplexed circumstances, which rob the soul of peace, and the body of rest; not enraged with the passion of envy, or secret burning lust of ambition for great things; but in easy circumstances sliding gently through the world, and sensibly tasting the sweets of living, without the bitter, feeling that they are happy, and learning by every day’s experience to know it more sensibly.
After this, he pressed me earnestly, and in the most affectionate manner, not to play the young man, not to precipitate myself into miseries which nature and the station of life I was born in seemed to have provided against; that I was under no necessity of seeking [page 4] my bread; that he would do well for me, and endeavour to enter me fairly into the station of life which he had been just recommending to me; and that if I was not very easy and happy in the world, it must be my mere fate or fault that must hinder it, and that he should have nothing to answer for, having thus discharged his duty in warning me against measures which he knew would be to my hurt: in a word, that as he would do very kind things for me if I would stay and settle at home as he directed, so he would not have so much hand in my misfortunes, as to give me any encouragement to go away: and to close all, he told me I had my elder brother for an example, to whom he had used the same earnest persuasions to keep him from going into the Low Country wars, but could not prevail, his young desires prompting him to run into the army, where he was killed; and though he said he would not cease to pray for me, yet he would venture to say to me, that if I did take this foolish step, God would not bless me, and I would have leisure hereafter to reflect upon having neglected his counsel when there might be none to assist in my recovery.
I observed in this last part of his discourse, which was truly prophetic, though I suppose my father did not know it to be so himself; I say, I observed the tears run down his face very plentifully, and especially when he spoke of my brother who was killed; and that when he spoke of my having leisure to repent, and none to assist me, he was so moved, that he broke off the discourse, and told me, his heart was so full he could say no more to me.
I was sincerely affected with this discourse, as indeed who could be otherwise? and I resolved not to think of going abroad any more, but to settle at home according to my father’s desire. But, alas! a few days wore it all off; and in short, to prevent any of my father’s farther importunities, in a few weeks after I resolved to run quite away from him. However, I did not act so hastily neither as my first heat of resolution [page 5] prompted, but I took my mother, at a time when I thought her a little pleasanter than ordinary, and told her, that my thoughts were so entirely bent upon seeing the world, that I should never settle to any thing with resolution enough to go through with it, and my father had better give me his consent than force me to go without it; that I was now eighteen years old, which was too late to go apprentice to a trade, or clerk to an attorney; that I was sure, if I did, I should never serve out my time, and I should certainly run away from my master before my time was out, and go to sea; and if she would speak to my father to let me go one voyage abroad, if I came home again, and did not like it, I would go no more, and I would promise by a double diligence to recover that time I had lost.
This put my mother into a great passion: she told me, she knew it would be to no purpose to speak to my father upon any such subject; that he knew too well what was my interest to give his consent to any such thing so much for my hurt; and that she wondered how I could think of any such thing after such a discourse as I had had with my father, and such kind and tender expressions as she knew my father had used to me; and that, in short, if I would ruin myself, there was no help for me; but I might depend I should never have their consent to it: that for her part she would not have so much hand in my destruction; and I should never have it to say, that my mother was willing when my father was not.
Though my mother refused to move it to my father, yet, as I have heard afterwards, she reported all the discourse to him, and that my father, after shewing a great concern at it, said to her with a sigh, “That boy might be happy if he would stay at home; but if he goes abroad, he will be the most miserable wretch that was ever born; I can give no consent to it.”
It was not till almost a year after this that I broke loose, though, in the meantime, I continued obstinately deaf to all proposals of settling to business, and [page 6] frequently expostulating with my father and mother about their being so positively determined against what they knew my inclinations prompted me to. But being one day at Hull, where I went casually, and without any purpose of making an elopement that time; but I say, being there, and one of my companions being going by sea to London, in his father’s ship, and prompting me to go with them, with the common allurement of seafaring men, viz. that it should cost me nothing for my passage, I consulted neither father or mother any more, not so much as sent them word of it; but leaving them to hear of it as they might, without asking God’s blessing, or my father’s, without any consideration of circumstances or consequences, and in an ill hour, God knows, on the first of September, 1651, I went on board a ship bound for London. Never any young adventurer’s misfortunes, I believe, began sooner, or continued longer than mine. The ship was no sooner gotten out of the Humber, but the wind began to blow, and the waves to rise in a most frightful manner; and, as I had never been at sea before, I was most inexpressibly sick in body, and terrified in mind. I began now seriously to reflect upon what I had done, and how justly I was overtaken by the judgment of Heaven for my wicked leaving my father’s house, and abandoning my duty; all the good counsel of my parents, my father’s tears and my mother’s entreaties, came now fresh into my mind; and my conscience, which was not yet come to the pitch of hardness to which it has been since, reproached me with the contempt of advice, and the breach of my duty to God and my father.
All this while the storm increased, and the sea, which I had never been upon before, went very high, though nothing like what I have seen many times since; no, nor like what I saw a few days after: but it was enough to affect me then, who was but a young sailor, and had never known any thing of the matter. I expected every wave would have swallowed us up, and that every time the ship fell down, as I thought, [page 7] in the trough or hollow of the sea, we should never rise more; and in this agony of mind I made many vows and resolutions, that if it would please God here to spare my life this one voyage, if ever I got once my foot upon dry land again I would go directly home to my father, and never set it into a ship again while I lived; that I would take his advice, and never run myself into such miseries as these any more. Now I saw plainly the goodness of his observations about the middle station of life, how easy, how comfortably he had lived all his days, and never had been exposed to tempests at sea, or troubles on shore; and I resolved that I would, like a true repenting prodigal, go home to my father.
These wise and sober thoughts continued all the while the storm continued, and indeed some time after; but the next day the wind was abated, and the sea calmer, and I began to be a little inured to it: however, I was very grave for all that day, being also a little sea-sick still; but towards night the weather cleared up, the wind was quite over, and a charming fine evening followed; the sun went down perfectly clear, and rose so the next morning; and having little or no wind, and a smooth sea, the sun shining upon it, the sight was, as I thought, the most delightful that ever I saw.
I had slept well in the night, and was now no more sea-sick, but very cheerful, looking with wonder upon the sea that was so rough and terrible the day before, and could be so calm and so pleasant in so little time after. And now, lest my good resolutions should continue, my companion, who had indeed enticed me away, comes to me: “Well, Bob,” says he, (clapping me upon the shoulder) “how do you do after it? I warrant you were frighted, wa’n’t you, last night, when it blew but a capful of wind?”–“A capful do you call it?” said I; “it was a terrible storm.”–“A storm you fool you,” replied he, “do you call that a storm? why it was nothing at all; give us but a good ship and sea-room, and we think nothing of such a squall [page 8] of wind as that; but you’re but a fresh-water sailor, Bob. Come, let us make a bowl of punch, and we’ll forget all that; do you see what charming weather it is now?” To make short this sad part of my story, we went the old way of all sailors; the punch was made, and I was made drunk with it; and in that one night’s wickedness I drowned all my repentance, all my reflections upon my past conduct, and all my resolutions for my future. In a word, as the sea was returned to its smoothness of surface and settled calmness by the abatement of that storm, so the hurry of my thoughts being over, my fears and apprehensions of being swallowed up by the sea being forgotten, and the current of my former desires returned, I entirely forgot the vows and promises that I made in my distress. I found, indeed, some intervals of reflection, and the serious thoughts did, as it were, endeavour to return again sometimes; but I shook them off, and roused myself from them as it were from a distemper, and applying myself to drinking and company, soon mastered the return of those fits, for so I called them; and I had in five or six days got as complete a victory over conscience, as any young fellow that resolved not to be troubled with it could desire: but I was to have another trial for it still; and Providence, as in such cases generally it does, resolved to leave me entirely without excuse: for if I would not take this for a deliverance, the next was to be such a one as the worst and most hardened wretch among us would confess both the danger and the mercy.
The sixth day of our being at sea we came into Yarmouth Roads; the wind having been contrary, and the weather calm, we had made but little way since the storm. Here we were obliged to come to anchor, and here we lay, the wind continuing contrary, viz. at south-west, for seven or eight days, during which time a great many ships from Newcastle came into the same roads, as the common harbour where the ships might wait for a wind for the river.
We had not, however, rid here so long, but should [page 9] have tided it up the river, but that the wind blew too fresh; and after we had lain four or five days, blew very hard. However, the roads being reckoned as good as a harbour, the anchorage good, and our ground tackle very strong, our men were unconcerned, and not in the least apprehensive of danger, but spent the time in rest and mirth, after the manner of the sea; but the eighth day in the morning the wind increased, and we had all hands at work to strike our topmasts, and make every thing snug and close, that the ship might ride as easy as possible. By noon the sea went very high indeed, and our ship rid forecastle in, shipped several seas, and we thought once or twice our anchor had come home; upon which our master ordered out the sheet anchor; so that we rode with two anchors ahead, and the cables veered out to the better end.
By this time it blew a terrible storm indeed; and now I began to see terror and amazement in the faces even of the seamen themselves. The master, though vigilant in the business of preserving the ship, yet as he went in and out of his cabin by me, I could hear him softly to himself say several times, “Lord be merciful to us! we shall be all lost, we shall be all undone!” and the like. During these first hurries I was stupid, lying still in my cabin, which was in the steerage, and cannot describe my temper: I could ill reassume the first penitence which I had so apparently trampled upon, and hardened myself against: I thought the bitterness of death had been past, and that this would be nothing like the first: but when the master himself came by me, as I said just now, and said we should be all lost, I was dreadfully frighted: I got up out of my cabin, and looked out; but such a dismal sight I never saw; the sea went mountains high, and broke upon us every three or four minutes: when I could look about, I could see nothing but distress round us: two ships that rid near us, we found, had cut their masts by the board, being deep loaden; and our men [page 10] cried out, that a ship which rid about a mile ahead of us was foundered. Two more ships being driven from their anchors, were run out of the roads to sea, at all adventures, and that with not a mast standing. The light ships fared the best, as not so much labouring in the sea; but two or three of them drove, and came close by us, running away with only their sprit-sail out before the wind.
Towards evening the mate and boatswain begged the master of our ship to let them cut away the fore-mast, which he was very unwilling to do: but the boatswain protesting to him, that if he did not, the ship would founder, he consented; and when they had cut away the fore-mast, the main-mast stood so loose, and shook the ship so much, they were obliged to cut her away also, and make a clear deck.
Any one may judge what a condition I must be in at all this, who was but a young sailor, and who had been in such a fright before at but a little. But if I can express at this distance the thoughts I had about me at that time, I was in tenfold more horror of mind upon account of my former convictions, and the having returned from them to the resolutions I had wickedly taken at first, than I was at death itself; and these, added to the terror of the storm, put me in such a condition, that I can by no words describe it. But the worst was not come yet; the storm continued with such fury, that the seamen themselves acknowledged they had never known a worse. We had a good ship, but she was deep loaden, and wallowed in the sea, that the seamen every now and then cried out, she would founder. It was my advantage in one respect, that I did not know what they meant by founder till I inquired. However, the storm was so violent, that I saw what is not often seen, the master, the boatswain, and some others more sensible than the rest, at their prayers, and expecting every moment when the ship would go to the bottom. In the middle of the night, and under all the rest of our distresses, one of the men that had been down on purpose to see, cried out, we [page 11] had sprang a leak; another said, there was four foot water in the hold. Then all hands were called to the pump. At that very word my heart, as I thought, died within me, and I fell backwards upon the side of my bed where I sat, into the cabin. However, the men roused me, and told me, that I that was able to do nothing before, was as well able to pump as another; at which I stirred up, and went to the pump and worked very heartily. While this was doing, the master seeing some light colliers, who, not able to ride out the storm, were obliged to slip and run away to sea, and would come near us, ordered to fire a gun as a signal of distress. I, who knew nothing what that meant, was so surprised, that I thought the ship had broke, or some dreadful thing happened. In a word, I was so surprised, that I fell down in a swoon. As this was a time when every body had his own life to think of, nobody minded me, or what was become of me; but another man stept up to the pump, and thrusting me aside with his foot, let me lie, thinking I had been dead; and it was a great while before I came to myself.
We worked on; but the water increasing in the hold, it was apparent that the ship would founder; and though the storm began to abate a little; yet as it was not possible she could swim till we might run into a port, so the master continued firing guns for help; and a light ship, who had rid it out just ahead of us, ventured a boat out to help us. It was with the utmost hazard the boat came near us, but it was impossible for as to get on board, or for the boat to lie near the ship’s side, till at last the men rowing very heartily, and venturing their lives to save ours, our men cast them a rope over the stern with a buoy to it, and then veered it out a great length, which they after great labour and hazard took hold of, and we hauled them close under our stern, and got all into their boat. It was to no purpose for them or us, after we were in the boat, to think of reaching to their own ship; so [page 12] all agreed to let her drive, and only to pull her in towards shore as much as we could; and our master promised them, that if the boat was staved upon shore he would make it good to their master: so partly rowing and partly driving, our boat went away to the northward, sloping towards the shore almost as far as Winterton-Ness.
We were not much more than a quarter of an hour out of our ship but we saw her sink, and then I understood for the first time what was meant by a ship foundering in the sea. I must acknowledge I had hardly eyes to look up when the seamen told me she was sinking; for from that moment they rather put me into the boat, than that I might be said to go in; my heart was, as it were, dead within me, partly with fright, partly with horror of mind, and the thoughts of what was yet before me.
While we were in this condition, the men yet labouring at the oar to bring the boat near the shore, we could see, when our boat mounting the waves we were able to see the shore, a great many people running along the shore to assist us when we should come near; but we made but slow way towards the shore, nor were we able to reach the shore, till being past the light-house at Winterton, the shore falls off to the westward towards Cromer, and so the land broke off a little the violence of the wind. Here we got in, and, though not without much difficulty, got all safe on shore, and walked afterwards on foot to Yarmouth, where, as unfortunate men, we were used with great humanity, as well by the magistrates of the town, who assigned us good quarters, as by particular merchants and owners of ships, and had money given us sufficient to carry us either to London or back to Hull, as we thought fit.
Had I now had the sense to have gone back to Hull, and have gone home, I had been happy, and my father, an emblem of our blessed Saviour’s parable, had even killed the fatted calf for me; for hearing the ship [page 13]I went away in was cast away in Yarmouth Roads, it was a great while before he had any assurance that I was not drowned.
But my ill fate pushed me on now with an obstinacy that nothing could resist; and though I had several times loud calls from my reason and my more composed judgment to go home, yet I had no power to do it. I know not what to call this, nor will I urge that it is a secret over-ruling decree that hurries us on to be the instruments of our own destruction, even though it be before us, and that we push upon it with our eyes open. Certainly nothing but some such decreed unavoidable misery attending, and which it was impossible for me to escape, could have pushed me forward against the calm reasonings and persuasions of my most retired thoughts, and against two such visible instructions as I had met with in my first attempt.
My comrade, who had helped to harden me before, and who was the master’s son, was now less forward than I. The first time he spoke to me after we were at Yarmouth, which was not till two or three days, for we were separated in the town to several quarters; I say, the first time he saw me, it appeared his tone was altered, and looking very melancholy, and shaking his head, asked me how I did, and telling his father who I was, and how I had come this voyage only for a trial, in order to go farther abroad; his father turning to me with a very grave and concerned tone, “Young man,” says he, “you ought never to go to sea any more; you ought to take this for a plain and visible token that you are not to be a seafaring man.”–“Why, Sir,” said I, “will you go to sea no more?” “That is another case,” said he; “it is my calling, and therefore my duty; but as you made this voyage for a trial, you see what a taste Heaven has given you of what you are to expect if you persist: perhaps this is all befallen us on your account, like Jonah in the ship of Tarshish. Pray,” continues he, “what are you? and on what account did you go to sea?” Upon [page 14] that I told him some of my story; at the end of which he burst out with a strange kind of passion; “What had I done,” says he, “that such an unhappy wretch should come into my ship? I would not set my foot in the same ship with thee again for a thousand pounds.” This indeed was, as I said, an excursion of his spirits, which were yet agitated by the sense of his loss, and was farther than he could have authority to go. However, he afterwards talked very gravely to me, exhorted me to go back to my father, and not tempt Providence to my ruin; told me I might see a visible hand of Heaven against me. “And young man,” said he, “depend upon it, if you do not go back, wherever you go, you will meet with nothing but disasters and disappointments, till your father’s words are fulfilled upon you.”
We parted soon after; for I made him little answer, and I saw him no more: which way he went, I know not. As for me, having some money in my pocket, I travelled to London by land; and there, as well as on the road, had many struggles with myself, what course of life I should take, and whether I should go home, or go to sea.
As to going home, shame opposed the best motions that offered to my thoughts; and it immediately occurred to me how I should be laughed at among the neighbours, and should be ashamed to see, not my father and mother only, but even every body else; from whence I have since often observed, how incongruous and irrational the common temper of mankind is, especially of youth, to that reason which ought to guide them in such cases, viz. that they are not ashamed to sin, and yet are ashamed to repent; nor ashamed of the action for which they ought justly to be esteemed fools, but are ashamed of the returning, which only can make them be esteemed wise men.
In this state of life however I remained some time, uncertain what measures to take, and what course of life to lead. An irresistible reluctance continued to going home; and as I stayed a while, the remembrance [page 15] of the distress I had been in wore off; and as that abated, the little motion I had in my desires to a return wore off with it, till at last I quite laid aside the thoughts of it, and looked out for a voyage.
That evil influence which carried me first away from my father’s house, that hurried me into the wild and indigested notion of raising my fortune; and that impressed those conceits so forcibly upon me, as to make me deaf to all good advice, and to the entreaties and even the command of my father: I say, the same influence, whatever it was, presented the most unfortunate of all enterprises to my view; and I went on board a vessel bound to the coast of Africa; or, as our sailors vulgarly call it, a voyage to Guinea.
It was my great misfortune that in all these adventures I did not ship myself as a sailor; whereby, though I might indeed have worked a little harder than ordinary, yet at the same time I had learnt the duty and office of a foremastman; and in time might have qualified myself for a mate or lieutenant, if not for a master. But as it was always my fate to choose for the worse, so I did here; for having money in my pocket, and good clothes upon my back, I would always go on board in the habit of a gentleman; and so I neither had any business in the ship, or learnt to do any.
It was my lot first of all to fall into pretty good company in London, which does not always happen to such loose and unguided young fellows as I then was; the devil generally not omitting to lay some snare for them very early: but it was not so with me. I first fell acquainted with the master of a ship who had been on the coast of Guinea; and who, having had very good success there, was resolved to go again; and who taking a fancy to my conversation, which was not at all disagreeable at that time, hearing me say I had a mind to see the world, told me if I would go the voyage with him I should be at no expense; I should be his messmate and his companion; and if I could carry any thing with me, I should have all the [page 16] advantage of it that the trade would admit; and perhaps I might meet with some encouragement.
I embraced the offer; and entering into a strict friendship with this captain, who was an honest and plain-dealing man, I went the voyage with him, and carried a small adventure with me, which, by the disinterested honesty of my friend the captain, I increased very considerably; for I carried about 40l. in such toys and trifles as the captain directed me to buy. This 40l. I had mustered together by the assistance of some of my relations whom I corresponded with, and who, I believe, got my father, or at least my mother, to contribute so much as that to my first adventure.
This was the only voyage which I may say was successful in all my adventures, and which I owe to the integrity and honesty of my friend the captain, under whom also I got a competent knowledge of the mathematics and the rules of navigation, learnt how to keep an account of the ship’s course, take an observation, and, in short, to understand some things that were needful to be understood by a sailor: for, as he took delight to instruct me, I took delight to learn; and, in a word, this voyage made me both a sailor and a merchant: for I brought home five pounds nine ounces of gold-dust for my adventure, which yielded me in London at my return almost 300l. and this filled me with those aspiring thoughts which have so completed my ruin.
Yet even in this voyage I had my misfortunes too; particularly, that I was continually sick, being thrown into a violent calenture by the excessive heat of the climate; our principal trading being upon the coast, from the latitude of 15 degrees north even to the line itself.
I was now set up for a Guinea trader; and my friend, to my great misfortune, dying soon after his arrival, I resolved to go the same voyage again, and I embarked in the same vessel with one who was his mate in the former voyage, and had now got the command of the ship. This was the unhappiest voyage [page 17] that ever man made; for though I did not carry quite 100l. of my new-gained wealth, so that I had 200l. left, and which I lodged with my friend’s widow, who was very just to me, yet I fell into terrible misfortunes in this voyage; and the first was this, viz. our ship making her course towards the Canary Islands, or rather between those islands and the African shore, was surprised in the grey of the morning by a Turkish rover of Sallee, who gave chase to us with all the sail she could make. We crowded also as much canvass as our yards would spread, or our masts carry, to have got clear; but finding the pirate gained upon us, and would certainly come up with us in a few hours, we prepared to fight; our ship having twelve guns, and the rogue eighteen. About three in the afternoon he came up with us, and bringing to by mistake just athwart our quarter, instead of athwart our stern, as he intended, we brought eight of our guns to bear on that side, and poured in a broadside upon him, which made him sheer off again, after returning our fire, and pouring in also his small-shot from near 200 men which he had on board. However, we had not a man touched, all our men keeping close. He prepared to attack us again, and we to defend ourselves; but laying us on board the next time upon our other quarter, he entered sixty men upon our decks, who immediately fell to cutting and hacking the decks and rigging. We plied them with small-shot, half-pikes, powder-cheats, and such like, and cleared our deck of them twice. However, to cut short this melancholy part of our story, our ship being disabled, and three of our men killed and eight wounded, we were obliged to yield, and were carried all prisoners into Sallee, a port belonging to the Moors.
The usage I had there was not so dreadful as at first I apprehended; nor was I carried up the country to the emperor’s court, as the rest of our men were, but was kept by the captain of the rover as his proper prize, and made his slave, being young and nimble, and fit for his business. At this surprising change of [page 18] my circumstances, from a merchant to a miserable slave, I was perfectly overwhelmed; and now I looked back upon my father’s prophetic discourse to me, that I should be miserable, and have none to relieve me, which I thought was now so effectually brought to pass, that I could not be worse; that now the hand of Heaven had overtaken me, and I was undone without redemption: but, alas! this was but a taste of the misery I was to go through, as will appear in the sequel of this story.
As my new patron, or master, had taken me home to his house, so I was in hopes that he would take me with him when he went to sea again, believing that it would sometime or other be his fate to be taken by a Spanish or Portugal man of war, and that then I should be set at liberty. But this hope of mine was soon taken away; for when he went to sea, he left me on shore to look after his little garden, and do the common drudgery of slaves about his house; and when he came home again from his cruise, he ordered me to be in the cabin to look after the ship.
Here I meditated nothing but my escape, and what method I might take to effect it, but found no way that had the least probability in it: nothing presented to make the supposition of it rational; for I had nobody to communicate it to that would embark with me, no fellow slave, no Englishman, Irishman, or Scotsman there but myself; so that for two years, though I often pleased myself with the imagination, yet I never had the least encouraging prospect of putting it in practice.
After about two years an odd circumstance presented itself, which put the old thought of making some attempt for my liberty again in my head: my patron lying at home longer than usual without fitting out his ship, which, as I heard, was for want of money, he used constantly, once or twice a week, sometimes oftener, if the weather was fair, to take the ship’s pinnace, and go out into the road a-fishing; and as he always took me and a young Maresco with him to row the boat, we made him very merry, and I proved [page 19]very dexterous in catching fish; insomuch that sometimes he would send me with a Moor, one of his kinsmen, and the youth the Maresco, as they called him, to catch a dish of fish for him.
It happened one time, that going a-fishing in a stark calm morning, a fog rose so thick, that though we were not half a league from the shore we lost sight of it; and rowing we knew not whither or which way, we laboured all day, and all the next night, and when the morning came we found we had pulled off to sea instead of pulling in for the shore; and that we were at least two leagues from the shore: however, we got well in again, though with a great deal of labour and some danger; for the wind began to blow pretty fresh in the morning; but particularly we were all very hungry.
But our patron, warned by this disaster, resolved to take more care of himself for the future; and having lying by him the long-boat of our English ship he had taken, he resolved he would not go a-fishing any more without a compass and some provision; so he ordered the carpenter of his ship, who also was an English slave, to build a little state-room, or cabin, in the middle of the long-boat, like that of a barge, with a place to stand behind it to steer and hale home the main-sheet; and room before for a hand or two to stand and work the sails: she sailed with that we call a shoulder of mutton sail; and the boom gibed over the top of the cabin, which lay very snug and low, and had in it room for him to lie, with a slave or two, and a table to eat on, with some small lockers to put in some bottles of such liquor as he thought fit to drink; particularly his bread, rice, and coffee.
We went frequently out with this boat a-fishing, and as I was most dexterous to catch fish for him, he never went without me. It happened that he had appointed to go out in this boat, either for pleasure or for fish, with two or three Moors of some distinction in that place, and for whom he had provided extraordinarily, and had therefore sent on board the boat over-night a [page 20] larger store of provisions than ordinary; and had ordered me to get ready three fuzees with powder and shot, which were on board his ship; for that they designed some sport of fowling as well as fishing.
I got all things ready as he had directed, and waited the next morning with the boat washed clean, her ancient and pendants out, and every thing to accommodate his guests; when by and by my patron came on board alone, and told me his guests had put off going, upon some business that fell out, and ordered me with the man and boy, as usual, to go out with the boat and catch them some fish, for that his friends were to sup at his house; and commanded that as soon as I got some fish I should bring it home to his house; all which I prepared to do.
This moment my former notions of deliverance darted into my thoughts, for now I found I was like to have a little ship at my command; and my master being gone, I prepared to furnish myself, not for fishing business, but for a voyage; though I knew not, neither did I so much as consider, whither I should steer; for any where to get out of that place was my way.
My first contrivance was to make a pretence to speak to this Moor, to get something for our subsistence on board; for I told him we must not presume to eat of our patron’s bread; he said, that was true: so he brought a large basket of rusk or bisket of their kind, and three jars with fresh water, into the boat. I knew where my patron’s case of bottles stood, which it was evident, by the make, were taken out of some English prize, and I conveyed them into the boat while the Moor was on shore, as if they had been there before for our master: I conveyed also a great lump of bees-wax into the boat, which weighed above half a hundred weight, with a parcel of twine or thread, a hatchet, a saw, and a hammer, all which were of great use to us afterwards, especially the wax to make candles. Another trick I tried upon him, which he innocently came into also; his name [page 21] was Ismael, whom they call Muly or Moley; so I called to him: “Moley,” said I, “our patron’s guns are on board the boat; can you not get a little powder and shot? It may be we may kill some alcamies (a fowl like our curlews) for ourselves, for I know he keeps the gunner’s stores in the ship.”–“Yes,” says he, “I’ll bring some;” and accordingly he brought a great leather pouch which held about a pound and a half of powder, or rather more; and another with shot, that had five or six pounds, with some bullets, and put all into the boat; at the same time I had found some powder of my master’s in the great cabin, with which I filled one of the large bottles in the case, which was almost empty, pouring what was in it into another; and thus furnished with every thing needful, we sailed out of the port to fish. The castle, which is at the entrance of the port, knew who we were, and took no notice of us: and we were not above a mile out of the port before we haled in our sail, and set us down to fish. The wind blew from the N.N.E. which was contrary to my desire; for had it blown southerly, I had been sure to have made the coast of Spain, and at last reached to the bay of Cadiz; but my resolutions were, blow which way it would, I would be gone from that horrid place where I was, and leave the rest to fate.
After we had fished some time and catched nothing, for when I had fish on my hook I would not pull them up, that he might not see them, I said to the Moor, “This will not do; our master will not be thus served; we must stand farther off.” He, thinking no harm, agreed, and being in the head of the boat set the sails; and as I had the helm I ran the boat out near a league farther, and then brought her to as if I would fish; when giving the boy the helm, I stepped forward to where the Moor was, and making as if I stooped for something behind him, I took him by surprise with my arm under his twist, and tossed him clear overboard into the sea; he rose immediately, for he swam like a cork, and called to me, begged to [page 22] be taken in, told me he would go all over the world with me. He swam so strong after the boat, that he would have reached me very quickly, there being but little wind; upon which I stepped into the cabin, and fetching one of the fowling-pieces, I presented it at him, and told him, I had done him no hurt, and if he would be quiet I would do him none: “But,” said I, “you swim well enough to reach to the shore, and the sea is calm; make the best of your way to shore, and I will do you no harm; but if you come near the boat I’ll shoot you through the head, for I am resolved to have my liberty:” so he turned himself about, and swam for the shore, and I make no doubt but he reached it with ease, for he was an excellent swimmer.
I could have been content to have taken this Moor with me, and have drowned the boy, but there was no venturing to trust him. When he was gone I turned to the boy, whom they called Xury, and said to him, “Xury, if you will be faithful to me I’ll make you a great man; but if you will not stroke your face to be true to me,” that is, swear by Mahomet and his father’s beard, “I must throw you into the sea too.” The boy smiled in my face, and spoke so innocently, that I could not mistrust him; and swore to be faithful to me, and go all over the world with me.
While I was in view of the Moor that was swimming, I stood out directly to sea with the boat, rather stretching to windward, that they might think me gone towards the Straits’ mouth; (as indeed any one that had been in their wits must have been supposed to do) for who would have supposed we were sailed on to the southward to the truly Barbarian coast, where whole nations of Negroes were sure to surround us with the canoes, and destroy us; where we could never once go on shore but we should be devoured by savage beasts, or more merciless savages of human kind?
But as soon as it grew dusk in the evening, I [page 23] changed my course, and steered directly south and by east, bending my course a little toward the east, that I might keep in with the shore; and having a fair, fresh gale of wind, and a smooth, quiet sea, I made such sail that I believe by the next day at three o’clock in the afternoon, when I first made the land, I could not be less than 150 miles south of Sallee; quite beyond the Emperor of Morocco’s dominions, or indeed of any other king thereabouts, for we saw no people.
Yet such was the fright I had taken at the Moors, and the dreadful apprehensions I had of falling into their hands, that I would not stop, or go on shore, or come to an anchor; the wind continuing fair till I had sailed in that manner five days, and then the wind shifting to the southward, I concluded also that if any of our vessels were in chase of me, they also would now give over; so I ventured to make to the coast, and come to an anchor in the mouth of a little river, I knew not what, or where; neither what latitude, what country, what nation, or what river: I neither saw, or desired to see any people; the principal thing I wanted was fresh water. We came into this creek in the evening, resolving to swim on shore as soon as it was dark, and discover the country; but as soon as it was quite dark, we heard, such dreadful noises of the barking, roaring, and howling of wild creatures, of we knew not what kinds that the poor boy was ready to die with fear, and begged of me not to go on shore till day. “Well, Xury,” said I, “then I won’t; but it may be we may see men by day, who will be as bad to us as those lions.”–“Then we give them the shoot gun,” says Xury, laughing, “make them run wey.” Such English Xury spoke by conversing among us slaves. However, I was glad to see the boy so cheerful, and I gave him a dram (out of our patron’s case of bottles) to cheer him up. After all, Xury’s advice was good, and I took it; we dropped our little anchor, and lay still all night; I say still, for we slept none; for in two or three hours we saw vast great creatures (we [page 24] knew not what to call them) of many sorts, come down to the sea-shore and run into the water, wallowing and washing themselves for the pleasure of cooling themselves; and they made such hideous howlings and yellings, that I never indeed heard the like.
Xury was dreadfully frighted, and indeed so was I too; but we were both more frighted when we heard one of these mighty creatures come swimming towards our boat; we could not see him, but we might hear him by his blowing to be a monstrous huge and furious beast; Xury said it was a lion, and it might be so for aught I know; but poor Xury cried to me to weigh the anchor and row away: “No,” says I, “Xury; we can slip our cable with the buoy to it, and go off to sea; they cannot follow us far.” I had no sooner said so, but I perceived the creature (whatever it was) within two oars’ length, which something surprised me; however, I immediately stepped to the cabin-door, and taking up my gun fired at him; upon which he immediately turned about, and swam towards the shore again.
But it is impossible to describe the horrible noises, and hideous cries and howlings, that were raised, as well upon the edge of the shore as higher within the country, upon the noise or report of the gun, a thing I have some reason to believe those creatures had never heard before: this convinced me that there was no going on shore for us in the night upon that coast, and how to venture on shore in the day was another question too; for to have fallen into the hands of any of the savages, had been as bad as to have fallen into the hands of lions and tigers; at least we were equally apprehensive of the danger of it.
Be that as it would, we were obliged to go on shore somewhere or other for water, for we had not a pint left in the boat; when or where to get it, was the point: Xury said, if I would let him go on shore with one of the jars, he would find if there was any water, and bring some to me. I asked him why he would go? why I should not go, and he stay in the boat? [page 25] The boy answered with so much affection, that made me love him ever after. Says he, “If wild mans come, they eat me, you go wey.”–“Well, Xury,” said I, “we will both go, and if the wild mans come, we will kill them, they shall eat neither of us.” So I gave Xury a piece of rusk bread to eat, and a dram out of our patron’s case of bottles which I mentioned before; and we haled the boat in as near the shore as we thought was proper, and waded on shore; carrying nothing but our arms, and two jars for water.
I did not care to go out of sight of the boat, fearing the coming of canoes with savages down the river; but the boy seeing a low place about a mile up the country, rambled to it; and by and by I saw him come running towards me. I thought he was pursued by some savage, or frighted with some wild beast, and I run forward towards him to help him; but when I came nearer to him, I saw something hanging over his shoulders, which was a creature that he had shot, like a hare, but different in colour, and longer legs; however, we were very glad of it, and it was very good meat; but the great joy that poor Xury came with, was to tell me that he had found good water, and seen no wild mans.
But we found afterwards that we need not take such pains for water, for a little higher up the creek where we were, we found the water fresh when the tide was out, which flows but a little way up; so we filled our jars, and feasted on the hare we had killed, and prepared to go on our way, having seen no footsteps of any human creature in that part of the country.
As I had been one voyage to this coast before, I knew very well that the islands of the Canaries, and the Cape de Verd islands also, lay not far off from the coast. But as I had no instruments to take an observation to know what latitude we were in, and not exactly knowing, or at least remembering what latitude they were in, and knew not where to look for [page 26] them, or when to stand off to sea towards them; otherwise I might now easily have found some of these islands. But my hope was, that if I stood along this coast till I came to that part where the English traded, I should find some of their vessels upon their usual design of trade, that would relieve and take us in.
By the best of my calculation, that place where I now was, must be that country, which, lying between the emperor of Morocco’s dominions and the Negroes, lies waste, and uninhabited, except by wild beasts; the Negroes having abandoned it, and gone farther south for fear of the Moors; and the Moors not thinking it worth inhabiting, by reason of its barrenness; and indeed both forsaking it because of the prodigious numbers of tigers, lions, leopards, and other furious creatures which harbour there; so that the Moors use it for their hunting only, where they go like an army, two or three thousand men at a time; and indeed for near an hundred miles together upon this coast, we saw nothing but a waste uninhabited country by day, and heard nothing but howlings and roaring of wild beasts by night.
Once or twice in the daytime. I thought I saw the Pico of Teneriffe, being the high top of the Mountain Teneriffe in the Canaries; and had a great mind to venture out in hopes of reaching thither; but having tried twice, I was forced in again by contrary winds, the sea also going too high for my little vessel; so I resolved to pursue my first design, and keep along the shore.
Several times I was obliged to land for fresh water, after we had left this place; and once in particular, being early in the morning, we came to an anchor under a little point of land which was pretty high; and the tide beginning to flow, we lay still to go farther in. Xury, whose eyes were more about him than it seems mine were, calls softly to me, and tells me that we had best go farther off the shore; “for,” says he, “look yonder lies a dreadful monster on the [page 27] side of that hillock fast asleep.” I looked where he pointed, and saw a dreadful monster indeed, for it was a terrible great lion that lay on the side of the shore, under the shade of a piece of the hill that hung as it were a little over him. “Xury,” says I, “you shall go on shore and kill him.” Xury looked frighted, and said, “Me kill! he eat me at one mouth;” one mouthful he meant: however, I said no more to the boy, but had him lie still, and I took our biggest gun, which was almost musket-bore, and loaded it with a good charge of powder, and with two slugs, and laid it down; then I loaded another gun with two bullets; and the third, for we had three pieces, I loaded with five smaller bullets. I took the best aim I could with the first piece, to have shot him into the head, but he lay so with his leg raised a little above his nose, that the slugs hit his leg about the knee, and broke the bone. He started up growling at first, but finding his leg broke fell down again, and then got up upon three legs, and gave the most hideous roar that ever I heard. I was a little surprised that I had not hit him on the head; however, I look up the second piece immediately, and, though he began to move off, fired again, and shot him into the head, and had the pleasure to see him drop, and make but little noise, but he struggling for life. Then Xury took Heart, and would have me let him go on shore: “Well, go,” said I; so the boy jumped into the water, and taking a little gun in one hand, swam to shore with the other hand, and coming close to the creature, put the muzzle of the piece to his ear, and shot him into the head again, which dispatched him quite.
This was game indeed to us, but this was no food; and I was very sorry to lose three charges of powder and shot upon a creature that was good for nothing to us. However, Xury said he would have some of him; so he comes on board, and asked me to give him the hatchet. “For what, Xury?” said I, “Me cut off his head,” said he. However, Xury could [page 28] not cut off his head, but he cut off a foot, and brought it with him, and it was a monstrous great one.
I bethought myself however, that perhaps the skin of him might one way or other be of some value to us; and I resolved to take off his skin if I could. So Xury and I went to work with him; but Xury was much the better workman at it, for I knew very ill how to do it. Indeed it took us up both the whole day, but at last we got off the hide of him, and spreading it on the top of our cabin, the sun effectually dried it in two days time, and it afterwards served me to lie upon.
After this stop, we made on to the southward continually for ten or twelve days, living very sparing on our provisions, which began to abate very much, and going no oftener into the shore than we were obliged to for fresh water: my design in this was, to make the river Gambia or Senegal, that is to say, any where about the Cape de Verd, where I was in hopes to meet with some European ship; and if I did not, I knew not what course I had to take, but to seek for the islands, or perish there among the Negroes. I knew that all the ships from Europe, which sailed either to the coast of Guinea or Brasil, or to the East Indies, made this Cape, or those islands; and in a word, I put the whole of my fortune upon this single point, either that I must meet with some ship, or must perish.
When I had passed this resolution about ten days longer, as I have said, I began to see that the land was inhabited; and in two or three places, as we sailed by, we saw people stand upon the shore to look at us; we could also perceive that they were quite black, and stark naked. I was once inclined to have gone on shore to them; but Xury was my better counsellor, and said to me, “No go, no go.” However, I hauled in nearer the shore that I might talk to them, and I found they run along the shore by me a good way: I observed they had no weapons in their hands, except one, who had a long slender stick, which Xury said was a lance, and that they would throw, them a great way with good aim; so I kept at a distance, but talked with them by signs as well as I could; and particularly made signs for something to eat; they beckoned to me to stop my boat, and they would fetch me some meat. Upon this I lowered the top of my sail, and lay by, and two of them ran up into the country, and in less than half an hour came back, and brought with them two pieces of dry flesh and some corn, such as is the produce of their country; but we neither knew what the one nor the other was: however, we were willing to accept it, but how [page 29] to come at it was our next dispute, for I was not for venturing on shore to them, and they were as much afraid of us: but they took a safe way for us all, for they brought it to the shore and laid it down, and went and stood a great way off till we fetched it on board, and then came close to us again.
We made signs of thanks to them, for we had nothing to make them amends; but an opportunity offered that very instant to oblige them wonderfully; for while we were lying by the shore came two mighty creatures, one pursuing the other (as we took it) with great fury from the mountains towards the sea; whether it was the male pursuing the female, or whether they were in sport or in rage, we could not tell, any more than we could tell whether it was usual or strange, but I believe it was the latter; because, in the first place, those ravenous creatures seldom appear but in the night; and in the second place, we found the people terribly frighted, especially the women. The man that had the lance or dart did not fly from them, but the rest did; however, as the two creatures ran directly into the water, they did not seem to offer to fall upon any of the Negroes, but plunged themselves into the sea, and swam about as if they had come for their diversion. At last one of them began to come nearer our boat than at first I expected; but I lay ready for him, for I had loaded my gun with all possible[page 30] expedition, and had Xury load both the others: as soon as he came fairly within my reach I fired, and shot him directly into the head; immediately he sunk down into the water, but rose instantly, and plunged up and down as if he was struggling for life; and so indeed he was: he immediately made to the shore; but between the wound, which was his mortal hurt, and the strangling of the water, he died just before he reached the shore.
It is impossible to express the astonishment of these poor creatures at the noise and the fire of my gun; some of them were even ready to die for fear, and fell down as dead with the very terror. But when they saw the creature dead, and sunk in the water, and that I made signs to them to come to the shore, they took heart and came to the shore, and began to search for the creature. I found him by his blood staining the water, and by the help of a rope, which I slung round him, and gave the Negroes to hale, they dragged him on shore, and found that it was a most curious leopard, spotted and fine to an admirable degree, and the Negroes held up their hands with admiration to think what it was I had killed him with.
The other creature, frighted with the flash of fire and the noise of the gun, swam on shore, and ran up directly to the mountains from whence they came, nor could I at that distance know what it was. I found quickly the Negroes were for eating the flesh of this creature, so I was willing to have them take it as a favour from me, which, when I made signs to them that they might take him, they were very thankful for. Immediately they fell to work with him, and though they had no knife, yet with a sharpened piece of wood they took off his skin as readily, and much more readily, than we could have done with a knife. They offered me some of the flesh, which I declined, making as if I would give it them, but made signs for the skin, which they gave me very freely, and brought me a great deal more of their provision, which, though I did not understand, yet I accepted; then I [page 31] made signs to them for some water, and held out one of my jars to them, turning it bottom upward, to shew that it was empty, and that I wanted to have it filled. They called immediately to some of their friends, and there came two women, and brought a great vessel made of earth, and burnt, as I suppose, in the sun; this they set down for me, as before, and I sent Xury on shore with my jars, and filled them all three. The women were as stark naked as the men.
I was now furnished with roots and corn, such as it was, and water; and, leaving my friendly Negroes, I made forward for about eleven days more, without offering to go near the shore, till I saw the land run out a great length into the sea, at about the distance of four or five leagues before me; and, the sea being very calm, I kept a large offing to make this point: at length, doubling the point at about two leagues from the land, I saw plainly land on the other side to seaward; then I concluded, as it was most certain indeed, that this was the Cape de Verd, and those the islands, called from thence Cape de Verd Islands. However, they were at a great distance, and I could not well tell what I had best to do, for if I should be taken with a fresh of wind I might neither reach one nor the other.
In this dilemma, as I was very pensive, I stepped into the cabin and sat me down, Xury having the helm, when on a sudden the boy cried out, “Master, Master, a ship with a sail!” and the foolish boy was frighted out of his wits, thinking it must needs be some of his master’s ships sent to pursue us, when I knew we were gotten far enough out of their reach. I jumped out of the cabin, and immediately saw not only the ship, but what she was, viz. that it was a Portuguese ship, and, as I thought, was bound to the coast of Guinea for Negroes. But when I observed the course she steered, I was soon convinced they were bound some other way, and did not design to come any nearer to the shore; upon which I stretched [page 32] out to sea as much as I could, resolving to speak with them if possible.
With all the sail I could muster, I found I should not be able to come in their way, but that they would be gone by before I could make any signal to them; but after I had crowded to the utmost, and began to despair, they, it seems, saw me by the help of their perspective-glasses, and that it was some European boat, which, as they supposed, must belong to some ship that was lost; so they shortened sail to let me come up. I was encouraged with this; and as I had my patron’s ancient on board, I made a waft of it to them for a signal of distress, and fired a gun, both which they saw, for they told me they saw the smoke, though they did not hear the gun: upon these signals they very kindly brought to, and lay by for me, and in about three hours time I came up with them.
They asked me what I was in Portuguese, and in Spanish, and in French; but I understood none of them; but at last a Scots sailor, who was on board, called to me, and I answered him, and told him I was an Englishman, that I had made my escape out of slavery from the Moors at Sallee. Then they had me come on board, and very kindly took me in, and all my goods.
It was an inexpressible joy to me, that any one would believe that I was thus delivered, as I esteemed it, from such a miserable and almost hopeless condition as I was in, and immediately offered all I had to the captain of the ship, as a return for my deliverance; but he generously told me, he would take nothing from me, but that all I had should be delivered safe to me when I came to the Brasils; “For,” says he, “I have saved your life on no other terms than I would be glad to be saved myself; and it may one time or other be my lot to be taken up in the same condition: Besides,” said he, “when I carry you to the Brasils, so great a way from your own country, if I should take from you what you have, you will be starved there, and then I only take away that life I [page 33] have given. No, no, Seignor Inglese,” says he, “Mr. Englishman, I will carry you thither in charity, and those things will help you to buy your subsistence there, and your passage home again.”
As he was charitable in his proposal, so he was just in the performance to a tittle; for he ordered the seamen, that none should offer to touch any thing I had: then he took every thing into his own possession, and gave me back an exact inventory of them, that I might have them; even so much as my three earthen jars.
As to my boat, it was a very good one, and that he saw, and told me he would buy it of me for the ship’s use, and asked me what I would have for it? I told him, he had been so generous to me in everything, that I could not offer to make any price of the boat, but left it entirely to him; upon which he told me he would give me a note of his hand to pay me eighty pieces of eight for it at Brasil; and when it came there, if any one offered to give more, he would make it up: he offered me also sixty pieces of eight more for my boy Xury, which I was loath to lake; not that I was not willing to let the captain have him, but I was very loath to sell the poor boy’s liberty, who had assisted me so faithfully in procuring my own. However, when I let him know my reason, he owned it to be just, and offered me this medium, that he would give the boy an obligation to set him free in ten years, if he turned Christian. Upon this, and Xury saying he was willing to go to him, I let the captain have him.
We had a very good voyage to the Brasils, and arrived in the Bay de Todos los Santos, or All Saints’ Bay, in about twenty-two days after. And now I was once more delivered from the most miserable of all conditions of life; and what to do next with myself I was now to consider.
The generous treatment the captain gave me, I can never enough remember; he would take nothing of me for my passage, gave me twenty ducats for the [page 34] leopard’s skin, and forty for the lion’s skin which I had in my boat, and caused every thing I had in the ship to be punctually delivered me; and what I was willing to sell he bought, such as the case of bottles, two of my guns, and a piece of the lump of bees-wax, for I had made candles of the rest; in a word, I made about two hundred and twenty pieces of eight of all my cargo; and with this stock I went on shore in the Brasils.
I had not been long here, but being recommended to the house of a good honest man like himself, who had an ingeino as they call it; that is, a plantation and a sugarhouse; I lived with him some time, and acquainted myself by that means with the manner of their planting and making of sugar; and seeing how well the planters lived, and how they grew rich suddenly, I resolved, if I could get license to settle there, I would turn planter among them, resolving, in the mean time, to find out some way to get my money, which I had left in London, remitted to me. To this purpose, getting a kind of a letter of naturalization, I purchased as much land that was uncured as my money would reach, and formed a plan for my plantation and settlement, and such a one as might be suitable to the stock which I proposed to myself to receive from England.
I had a neighbour, a Portuguese of Lisbon, but born of English parents, whose name was Wells, and in much such circumstances as I was. I call him neighbour, because his plantation lay next to mine, and we went on very sociable together. My stock was but low, as well as his: and we rather planted for food, than any thing else, for about two years. However, we began to increase, and our land began to come into order; so that the third year we planted some tobacco, and made each of us a large piece of ground ready for planting canes in the year to come; but we both wanted help; and now I found, more than before, I had done wrong in parting with my boy Xury.
But, alas! for me to do wrong, that never did right, was no great wonder: I had no remedy but to go on; I was gotten into an employment quite remote to my genius, and directly contrary to the life I delighted in, and for which I forsook my father’s house, and broke through all his good advice; nay, I was coming into the very middle station, or upper degree of low life, which my father advised me to before; and which if I resolved to go on with, I might as well have staid at home, and never have fatigued myself in the world as I had done; and I used often to say to myself, I could have done this as well in England among my friends, as have gone five thousand miles off to do it, among strangers and savages in a wilderness, and at such distance, as never to hear from any part of the world that had the least knowledge of me.
In this manner I used to look upon my condition with the utmost regret. I had nobody to converse with, but now and then this neighbour; no work to be done, but by the labour of my hands; and I used to say, I lived just like a man cast away upon some desolate island, that had nobody there but himself. But how just has it been, and how should all men reflect, that, when they compare their present conditions with others that are worse, Heaven may oblige them to make the exchange, and be convinced of their former felicity, by their experience; I say, how just has it been, that the truly solitary life I reflected on in, an island of mere desolation should be my lot, who had so often unjustly compared it with the life which I then led, in which had I continued, I had in all probability been exceeding prosperous and rich.
I was in some degree settled in my measures for carrying on the plantation, before my kind friend the captain of the ship, that took me up at sea, went back; for the ship remained there, in providing his loading, and preparing for his voyage, near three months; when, telling him what little stock I had left behind me in London, he gave me this friendly and sincere advice; “Seignor Inglese,” says he, for so he [page 36] always called me, “if you will give me letters, and a procuration here in form to me, with orders to the person who has your money in London, to send your effects to Lisbon, to such persons as I shall direct, and in such goods as are proper for this country, I will bring you the produce of them, God willing, at my return; but since human affairs are all subject to changes and disasters, I would have you give orders but for one hundred pounds sterling, which you say is half your stock, and let the hazard be run for the first; so that if it come safe, you may order the rest the same way; and if it miscarry, you may have the other half to have recourse to for your supply.”
This was so wholesome advice, and looked so friendly, that I could not but be convinced it was the best course I could take; so I accordingly prepared letters to the gentlewoman with whom I had left my money, and a procuration to the Portuguese captain, as he desired.
I wrote the English captain’s widow a full account of all my adventures, my slavery, escape, and how I had met with the Portugal captain at sea, the humanity of his behaviour, and what condition I was now in, with all other necessary directions for my supply; and when this honest captain came to Lisbon, he found means, by some of the English merchants there, to send over, not the order only, but a full account of my story, to a merchant at London, who represented it effectually to her; whereupon, she not only delivered the money, but out of her own pocket sent the Portugal captain a very handsome present for his humanity and charity to me.
The merchant in London vesting this hundred pounds in English goods, such as the captain had writ for, sent them directly to him at Lisbon, and he brought them all safe to me to the Brasils; among which, without my direction (for I was too young in my business to think of them) he had taken care to have all sort of tools, iron work, and utensils necessary for my plantation, and which were of great use to me.
When this cargo arrived, I thought my fortune made, for I was surprised with joy of it; and my good steward the captain had laid out the five pounds which my friend had sent him for a present for himself, to purchase, and bring me over a servant under bond for six years service, and would not accept of any consideration, except a little tobacco, which I would have him accept, being of my own produce.
Neither was this all; but my goods being all English manufactures, such as cloth, stuffs, baize, and things particularly valuable and desirable in the country, I found means to sell them to a very great advantage; so that I may say, I had more than four times the value of my first cargo, and was now infinitely beyond my poor neighbour, I mean in the advancement of my plantation; for the first thing I did, I bought me a Negro slave, and an European servant also; I mean another besides that which the captain brought me from Lisbon.
But as abused prosperity is oftentimes made the very means of our greatest adversity, so was it with me. I went on the next year with great success in my plantation: I raised fifty great rolls of tobacco on my own ground, more than I had disposed of for necessaries among my neighbours; and these fifty rolls, being each of above a hundred weight, were well cured and laid by against the return of the fleet from Lisbon. And now, increasing in business and in wealth, my head began to be full of projects and undertakings beyond my reach; such as are indeed often the ruin of the best heads in business.
Had I continued in the station I was now in, I had room for all the happy things to have yet befallen me, for which my father so earnestly recommended a quiet retired life, and of which he had so sensibly described the middle station of life to be full; but other things attended me, and I was still to be the wilful agent of all my own miseries; and particularly to increase my fault, and double the reflections upon myself, [page 38] which in my future sorrows I should have leisure to make; all these miscarriages were procured by my apparent obstinate adhering to my foolish inclination of wandering abroad, and pursuing that inclination, in contradiction to the clearest views of doing myself good in a fair and plain pursuit of those prospects and those measures of life, which nature and Providence concurred to present me with, and to make my duty.
As I had done thus in my breaking away from my parents, so I could not be content now, but I must go and leave the happy view I had of being a rich and thriving man in my new plantation, only to pursue a rash and immoderate desire of rising faster than the nature of the thing admitted; and thus I cast myself down again into the deepest gulf of human misery that ever man fell into, or perhaps could be consistent with life and a state of health in the world.
To come then by just degrees to the particulars of this part of my story; you may suppose, that having now lived almost four years in the Brasils, and beginning to thrive and prosper very well upon my plantation, I had not only learnt the language, but had contracted acquaintance and friendship among my fellow-planters, as well as among the merchants at St. Salvadore, which was our port; and that in my discourse among them, I had frequently given them an account of my two voyages to the coast of Guinea, the manner of trading with the Negroes there, and how easy it was to purchase upon the coast, for trifles, such as beads, toys, knives, scissars, hatchets, bits of glass, and the like, not only gold-dust, Guinea grains, elephants teeth, &c. but Negroes for the service of the Brasils in great numbers.
They listened always very attentively to my discourses on these heads, but especially to that part which related to the buying Negroes, which was a trade at that time not only not far entered into, but, as far as it was, had been carried on by the Assientos [page 39] for permission of the kings of Spain and Portugal, and engrossed in the public, so that few Negroes were brought, and those excessive dear.
It happened, being in company with some merchants and planters of my acquaintance, and talking of those things very earnestly, three of them came to me the next morning, and told me they had been musing very much upon what I had discoursed with them of, the last night, and they came to make a secret proposal to me; and after enjoining me secrecy, they told me, that they had a mind to fit out a ship to to Guinea; that they had all plantations as well as I, and were straitened for nothing so much as servants; that as it was a trade could not be carried on, because they could not publicly sell the Negroes when they came home, so they desired to make but one voyage, to bring the Negroes on shore privately, and divide them among their own plantations; and in a word, the question was, whether I would go their supercargo in the ship, to manage the trading part upon the coast of Guinea? and they offered me that I should have my equal share of the Negroes, without providing any part of the stock.
This was a fair proposal, it must be confessed, had it been made to any one that had not had a settlement and plantation of his own to look after, which was in a fair way of coming to be very considerable, and with a good stock upon it. But for me, that was thus entered and established, and had nothing to do but go on as I had begun, for three or four years more, and to have sent for the other hundred pounds from England, and who in that time, and with that little addition, could scarce have failed of being worth three or four thousand pounds sterling, and that increasing too; for me to think of such a voyage, was the most preposterous thing that ever man in such circumstances could be guilty of.
But I, that was born to be my own destroyer, could no more resist the offer, than I could restrain my first rambling designs, when my father’s good [page 40] counsel was lost upon me. In a word, I told them I would go with all my heart, if they would undertake to look alter my plantation in my absence, and would dispose of it to such as I should direct if I miscarried. This they all engaged to do, and entered into writings or covenants to do so; and I made a formal will, disposing of my plantation and effects, in case of my death, making the captain of the ship that had saved my life as before, my universal heir, but obliging him to dispose of my effects as I had directed in my will, one half of the produce being to himself, and the other to be shipped to England.
In short, I took all possible caution to preserve my effects, and keep up my plantation: had I used half as much prudence to have looked into my own interest, and have made a judgment of what I ought to have done, and not to have done, I had certainly never gone away from so prosperous an undertaking, leaving all the probable views of a thriving circumstance, and gone upon a voyage to sea, attended with all its common hazards; to say nothing of the reasons I had to expect particular misfortunes to myself.
But I was hurried on, and obeyed blindly the dictates of my fancy rather than my reason: and accordingly the ship being fitted out, and the cargo furnished, and all things done as by agreement, by my partners in the voyage, I went on board in an evil hour, the 1st of September, 1650, being the same day eight years that I went from my father and mother at Hull, in order to act the rebel to their authority, and the fool to my own interest.
Our ship was about one hundred and twenty ton burden, carrying six guns, and fourteen men, besides the master, his boy, and myself; we had on board no large cargo of goods, except of such toys as were fit for our trade with the Negroes, such as beads, bits of glass, shells, and odd trifles, especially little looking-glasses, knives, scissars, hatchets, and the like.
The same day I went on board we set sail, standing away to the northward upon our own coast, with [page 41] design to stretch over for the African coast; when they came about 10 or 12 degrees of northern latitude, which it seems was the manner of their course in those days. We had very good weather, only excessive hot, all the way upon our own coast, till we made the height of Cape St. Augustino, from whence keeping farther off at sea we lost sight of land, and steered as if we were bound for the isle Fernand de Noronha, holding our course N.E. by N. and leaving those isles on the east. In this course we passed the line in about twelve days time, and were by our last observation in 7 degrees 22 min. northern latitude, when a violent tornado or hurricane took us quite out of our knowledge; it began from the south-east, came about to the north-west, and then settled into the north-east, from whence it blew in such a terrible manner, that for twelve days together we could do nothing but drive; and scudding away before it, let it carry us whither ever fate and the fury of the winds directed; and during these twelve days, I need not say that I expected every day to be swallowed up, nor indeed did any in the ship expect to save their lives.
In this distress, we had, besides the terror of the storm, one of our men die of the calenture, and one man and the boy washed overboard; about the twelfth day the weather abating a little, the master made an observation as well as he could, and found that he was in about 11 degrees north latitude, but that he was 22 degrees of longitude difference west from Cape St. Augustino; so that he found he was gotten upon the coast of Guinea, or the north part of Brasil, beyond the river Amazones, toward that of the river Oronoque, commonly called the Great River, and began to consult with me what course he should take, for the ship was leaky and very much disabled, and he was going directly back to the coast of Brasil.
I was positively against that, and looking over the charts of the sea coasts of America with him we concluded there was no inhabited country for us to have recourse to, till we came within the circle of the [page 42] Caribbee islands, and therefore resolved to stand away for Barbadoes, which by keeping off at sea, to avoid the indraft of the bay or gulf of Mexico, we might easily perform, as we hoped, in about fifteen days sail; whereas we could not possibly make our voyage to the coast of Africa without some assistance, both to our ship and to ourselves.
With this design we changed our course, and steered away N.W. by W. in order to reach some of our English islands, where I hoped for relief; but our voyage was otherwise determined; for being in the latitude of 12 deg. 18 min. a second storm came upon us, which carried us away with the same impetuosity westward, and drove us so out of the very way of all human commerce, that had all our lives been saved, as to the sea, we were rather in danger of being devoured by savages than ever returning to our own country.
In this distress, the wind still blowing very hard, one of our men early in the morning cried out, Land! and we had no sooner run out of the cabin to look out in hopes of seeing whereabouts in the world we were, but the ship struck upon a sand, and in a moment, her motion being so stopped, the sea broke over her in such a manner, that we expected we should all have perished immediately; and we were immediately driven into our close quarters to shelter us from the very foam and spray of the sea.
It is not easy for any one, who has not been in the like condition, to describe or conceive the consternation of men in such circumstances; we knew nothing where we were, or upon what land it was we were driven, whether an island or the main, whether inhabited or not inhabited; and as the rage of the wind was still great, though rather less than at first, we could not so much as hope to have the ship hold many minutes without breaking in pieces, unless the winds by a kind of miracle should turn immediately about. In a word, we sat looking one upon another, and expecting death every moment, and every man acting [page 43] accordingly, as preparing for another world, for there was little or nothing more for us to do in this; that which was our present comfort, and all the comfort we had, was, that, contrary to our expectation, the ship did not break yet, and that the master said the wind began to abate.
Now though we thought that the wind did a little abate, yet the ship having thus struck upon the sand, and sticking too fast for us to expect her getting off, we were in a dreadful condition indeed, and had nothing to do but to think of saving our lives as well as we could. We had a boat at our stern, just before the storm; but she was first staved by dashing against the ship’s rudder, and in the next place she broke away, and either sunk or was driven off to sea; so there was no hope from her. We had another boat on board, but how to get her off into the sea was a doubtful thing; however, there was no room to debate, for we fancied the ship would break in pieces every minute, and some told us she was actually broken already.
In this distress, the mate of our vessel lays hold of the boat, and with the help of the rest of the men they got her slung over the ship’s side, and getting all into her, let go, and committed ourselves, being eleven in number, to God’s mercy and the wild sea; for though the storm was abated considerably, yet the sea went dreadful high upon the shore, and might well be called den wild zee, as the Dutch call the sea in a storm.
And now our case was very dismal indeed; for we all saw plainly, that the sea went so high, that the boat could not live, and that we should be inevitably drowned. As to making sail, we had none, nor, if we had, could we have done any thing with it; so we worked at the oar towards the land, though with heavy hearts, like men going to execution; for we all knew, that when the boat came nearer the shore, she would be dashed into a thousand pieces by the breach of the sea. However, we committed our souls to God in the most earnest manner; and the wind driving us [page 44] towards the shore, we hastened our destruction with our own hands, pulling as well as we could towards land.
What the shore was, whether rock or sand, whether steep or shoal, we knew not; the only hope that could rationally give us the least shadow of expectation, was, if we might happen into some bay or gulf, or the mouth of some river, where, by great chance, we might have run our boat in, or got under the lee of the land, and perhaps made smooth water. But there was nothing of this appeared; but as we made nearer and nearer the shore, the land looked more frightful than the sea.
After we had rowed, or rather driven about a league and a half, as we reckoned it, a raging wave, mountain-like, came rolling astern of us, and plainly had us expect the coup-de-grace. In a word, it took us with such a fury, that it overset the boat at once; and separating us as well from the boat, as from one another, gave us not time hardly to say O God! for we were all swallowed up in a moment.
Nothing can describe the confusion of thought which I felt when I sunk into the water; for though I swam very well, yet I could not deliver myself from the waves so as to draw breath, till that wave having driven me, or rather carried me a vast way on towards the shore, and having spent itself, went back, and left me upon the land almost dry, but half dead with the water I took in. I had so much presence of mind as well as breath left, that, seeing myself nearer the main land than I expected, I got upon my feet, and endeavoured to make on towards the land as fast as I could, before another wave should return, and take me up again. But I soon found it was impossible to avoid it; for I saw the sea come after me as high as a great hill, and as furious as an enemy which I had no means or strength to contend with; my business was to hold my breath, and raise myself upon the water, if I could; and so by swimming to preserve my breathing, and pilot myself towards the shore, if possible; my greatest [page 45] concern now being, that the sea, as it would carry me a great way towards the shore when it came on, might not carry me back again with it when it gave back towards the sea.
The wave that came upon me again, buried me at once twenty or thirty foot deep in its own body; and I could feel myself carried with a mighty force and swiftness towards the shore a very great way; but I held my breath, and assisted myself to swim still forward with all my might. I was ready to burst with holding my breath, when, as I felt myself rising up, so, to my immediate relief, I found my head and hands shoot out above the surface of the water; and though it was not two seconds of time that I could keep myself so, yet it relieved me greatly, gave me breath and new courage. I was covered again with water a good while, but not so long but I held it out; and finding the water had spent itself, and began to return, I struck forward against the return of the waves, and felt ground again with my feet. I stood still a few moments to recover breath, and till the water went from me, and then took to my heels, and ran with what strength I had farther towards the shore. But neither would this deliver me from the fury of the sea, which came pouring in after me again; and twice more I was lifted up by the waves and carried forwards as before, the shore being very flat.
The last time of these two had well near been fatal to me; for the sea having hurried me along as before, landed me, or rather dashed me against a piece of a rock, and that with such force, as it left me senseless, and indeed helpless, as to my own deliverance; for the blow taking my side and breast, beat the breath as it were quite out of my body; and had it returned again immediately, I must have been strangled in the water; but I recovered a little before the return of the waves, and seeing I should be covered again with the water, I resolved to hold fast by a piece of the rock, and so to hold my breath, if possible, till the wave went back. Now as the waves were not so high as at [page 46] first, being near land, I held my hold till the wave abated, and then fetched another run, which brought me so near the shore, that the next wave, though it went over me, yet did not so swallow me up as to carry me away; and the next run I took I got to the main land, where, to my great comfort, I clambered up the clifts of the shore, and sat me down upon the grass, free from danger, and quite out of the reach of the water.
I was now landed, and safe on shore, and began to look up and thank God that my life was saved in a case wherein there was some minutes before scarce any room to hope. I believe it is impossible to express to the life what the ecstasies and transports of the soul are, when it is so saved, as I may say, out of the very grave; and I do not wonder now at that custom, viz. that when a malefactor, who has the halter about his neck, is tied up, and just going to be turned off, and has a reprieve brought to him: I say, I do not wonder that they bring a surgeon with it, to let him blood that very moment they tell him of it, that the surprise may not drive the animal spirits from the heart, and overwhelm him:
For sudden joys, like griefs, confound at first.
I walked about on the shore, lifting up my hands and my whole being, as I may say, wrapt up in the contemplation of my deliverance, making a thousand gestures and motions which I cannot describe; reflecting upon all my comrades that were drowned, and that there should not be one soul saved but myself; for, as for them, I never saw them afterwards, or any sign of them, except three of their hats, one cap, and two shoes that were not fellows.
I cast my eyes to the stranded vessel, when the breach and troth of the sea being so big, I could hardly see it, it lay so far off, and considered, Lord! how was it possible I could get on shore!” Daniel Defoe, The Life & Adventures of Robinson Crusoe; biographical introduction and a selection:
Numero Dos—“James Dickey ranks, along with Conrad Aiken, as one of the two most important Georgia poets in the twentieth century. His strongly visceral, sensory-laden descriptions and a poetic style that deviated from the intellectualism of such high modernist poets as T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein made him a distinctive figure in contemporary American writing. He began to reach artistic maturity in the 1950s, and his work is typically considered alongside that of a number of other well known mid-century poets, including Allen Ginsberg, Robert Lowell, and John Berryman. His poetry is intensely confessional, largely apolitical, and directly focused on the interactions of the individual with the natural as well as the technologically transformed modern world. Dickey’s most important work was as a poet, but he wrote criticism, screenplays, essays, and three novels, one of which, Deliverance, was a best-seller and the basis of a widely praised film. As an artist, critic, and public celebrator of poetry, Dickey was a highly visible literary figure during the last half of the century. His misbehavior at public events, his disorderly personal life, and his self-destructive alcoholism only enhanced his public image as a masculine, burly poet and man of American letters.
Dickey was born in Atlanta on February 2, 1923, the son of Maibelle Swift and Eugene Dickey. He spent his first eighteen years in Atlanta and attended North Fulton High School. His poem “Looking for the Buckhead Boys”
recalls some of the friends he knew during those years. He enrolled at Clemson University in 1942 (then known as Clemson College) but dropped out after a semester to join the Army Air Corps. Although he spent thirteen months training to be a bomber pilot, he failed flight school and became a navigator instead (for most of his life, however, he claimed to have been a bomber pilot). In 1945 he joined the 418th Night Fighter Squadron in the Philippines, subsequently flying missions in Okinawa and Japan. He earned a promotion to second lieutenant and five bronze stars for his service.
After the war Dickey enrolled at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, where he completed his undergraduate studies in English in 1949 and his M.A. degree the next year. Among his teachers were Donald Davidson and Andrew Lytle, the latter of whom became an early mentor. It was at Vanderbilt that Dickey began trying his hand at poetry. In 1948 Dickey
married Maxine Syerson, and they became the parents of two children, Christopher, born in 1951, and Kevin, born in 1958. In 1950 Dickey began teaching as an English instructor at Rice University in Houston, Texas, but was recalled to active service when the Korean War began (his Korean War service was all state-side). He returned to Rice in 1952 and moved to the University of Florida in 1955 but resigned his position there a year later after reading a controversial poem at a women’s poetry circle.
The South and Georgia are often present in Dickey’s work both as a setting and a theme.
But in his temperament, his interests, and the range of writers he admired, Dickey is not a regionalist, and he devotes himself to the exploration of themes and topics that are equally non-regional. Dickey is a southern poet and a Georgia poet more because of his place of birth and the settings of his poem than for the “southern” attitudes they express. Dickey’s poetic topics cover a wide and varied range. He writes of personal experiences, memories, specific places, and situations. Almost always the poet occupies the center of his poems, usually as an actor, less often as ano bserver, in the scene he describes. An example is the poem “Springer Mountain,” wherein Dickey imagines himself hunting a deer in the early winter morning air and entering into a ritualistic sense of oneness with his intended prey:
I put an unbearable light
Into breath skinned alive of its garments:
I think, beginning with laurel,
Like a beast loving
With the whole god bone of his horns:
The green of excess is upon me.
The typical Dickey poem is one of meditation on memory or experience. Poems built around memories may concern places Dickey has visited
(“Slave Quarters,” “Near Darien”) or people he has known (“The Performance,” “Mary Sheffield,” “Looking for the Buckhead Boys”). Poems about experience are numerous and vary widely. They may concern things Dickey has actually done (“The Firebombing”) or that he imagines wholly or partially (“May Day Sermon,” “Cherrylog Road,” “The Sheep Child”). Some of his most successful poems are about experiences had by others that he reconceives and imagines for himself (“Falling” is a notable example). In all of these poems, the goal is always to experience and to understand and often to consecrate or to celebrate. Dickey’s basic subject is the individual as he struggles to negotiate his relationship with others and with the natural world. His poems often end with affirmations of unity or mystic comprehension, as at the end of “For the Last Wolverine,” where he pleads, “Lord, let me die / but not die Out,” or in “Cherrylog Road,” where he drives away down Highway 106 on his motorcycle, “Drunk on the wind in my mouth, / Wringing the handlebar for speed, / Wild to be wreckage forever.” His poems largely avoid literary allusions and intellectual references and rely instead on sensory images to convey the intensity of experience.
Dickey’s best work came in the first fifteen years of his career, and most of it is presented in his collection Poems: 1957-1967. His novel Deliverance, published in 1970, brought him popular success and a degree of notoriety, and it was clearly a turning point for him both personally and artistically.
With the publication of The Eye-Beaters, Blood, Victory, Madness, Buckhead, and Mercy in 1970 his poetry became more experimental and abstract, less spontaneous and effective. Alcoholism, the dissolution of his first marriage, followed by Maxine’s death in 1976 and his second marriage later the same year became drains on his energy and attention. His son Christopher, in his memoir Summer of Deliverance, marks 1972—the year in which Deliverance was made into a movie—as the point when Dickey began to lose focus as an individual, a father, and an artist. In the years that followed, Dickey was much caught up in his own cult of celebrity, one in which he fervently believed. The Zodiac (1976), The Strength of Fields (1979), Puella (1982), and The Eagle’s Mile (1990) showed a genuine struggle to forge a new poetic voice, but these later poems, with a few exceptions, fell short of the lyric ferocity of the earlier work.
many readers Dickey’s name is closely linked to the novel Deliverance . This tale of four businessmen from Atlanta, whose weekend canoe trip in the hills of north Georgia ends in death and disaster, cemented the public persona that Dickey had been building throughout his career. A number of critics have faulted the novel for its stereotypical portrayal of north Georgia hillbillies, ignorance, inbreeding, and violence. An accurate portrayal was probably not Dickey’s intention (he does camouflage place names). Rather, he explores several of his basic themes: the collision of civilized and uncivilized worlds, the struggle of the modern individual to maintain, or recover, connections with his primal nature,and the retreat of nature against the advances of science and technology. The book to which the novel has often been compared is the one with which it shows the closest affinity: Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, in which a civilized man discovers, and must learn to live with, the savagery of his essential nature. John Boorman’s film of Deliverance, based on Dickey’s screenplay and featuring him in a small role as a sheriff, perpetuated the stereotypes in the novel and boosted its notoriety and popularity. Jon Voight and Burt Reynolds were featured actors in the film, which was nominated for three Academy and five Golden Globe awards.
early as the 1950s Dickey began mentioning ideas for a story about a blind man named Cahill, an aviator whose son dies mysteriously in a military plane crash. This idea eventually developed into the novel Alnilam (1987), which uses parallel columns of text to narrate from both a blind and a sighted man’s point of view. Alnilam was a serious and ambitious effort that was widely if unenthusiastically reviewed. Oddly, the vitality that Dickey seemed unable to achieve in his last major book of poetry,The Eagle’s Mile, clearly left a mark on his last novel,To the White Sea (1993), about a tail gunner’s struggle for survival after his B-29 is shot down over Tokyo during a bombing mission in 1945. The novel is marked with violence and a kind of deliberate brutality as the man flees the soldiers who pursue him. The novel is penetrated with images and language from the poetry, and the main character himself can be taken as an image of Dickey in old age, fighting illness and unsympathetic critics, demanding his place in a world that seeks to erase him.
Dickey’s last years were sad ones. He continued teaching at the University of South Carolina, but he no longer held the place of national prominence he had once occupied.
Afflicted with alcoholism and the collapse of his second marriage, he kept at his writing, convinced that he was doing, or on the verge of doing, his best work ever. He grew seriously estranged from his wife, Deborah. He reconciled with his son Christopher in 1994 and stopped drinking, but liver disease and fibrosis of the lungs drained his energies. He died in January 1997, three days after his last class, leaving a novel unfinished.”
Numero Tres—“The following lectures are an attempt to show, by means of examples, the nature, capacity, and limitations of the logical-analytic method in philosophy. This method, of which the first complete example is to be found in the writings of Frege, has gradually, in the course of actual research, increasingly forced itself upon me as something perfectly definite, capable of embodiment in maxims, and adequate, in all branches of philosophy, to yield whatever objective scientific knowledge it is possible to obtain. Most of the methods hitherto practised have professed to lead to more ambitious results than any that logical analysis can claim to reach, but unfortunately these results have always been such as many competent philosophers considered inadmissible. Regarded merely as hypotheses and as aids to imagination, the great systems of the past serve a very useful purpose, and are abundantly worthy of study. But something different is required if philosophy is to become a science, and to aim at results independent of the tastes and temperament of the philosopher who advocates them. In what follows, I have endeavoured to show, however imperfectly, the way by which I believe that this desideratum is to be found.
The central problem by which I have sought to illustrate method is the problem of the relation between the crude data of sense and the space, time, and matter of mathematical physics. I have been made aware of the importance of this problem by my friend and collaborator Dr Whitehead, to whom are due almost all the differences between the views advocated here and those suggested in The Problems of Philosophy. I owe to him the definition of points, the suggestion for the treatment of instants and “things,” and the whole conception of the world of physics as a construction rather than an inference. What is said on these topics here is, in fact, a rough preliminary account of the more precise results which he is giving in the fourth volume of our Principia Mathematica. It will be seen that if his way of dealing with these topics is capable of being successfully carried through, a wholly new light is thrown on the time-honoured controversies of realists and idealists, and a method is obtained of solving all that is soluble in their problem.
The speculations of the past as to the reality or unreality of the world of physics were baffled, at the outset, by the absence of any satisfactory theory of the mathematical infinite. This difficulty has been removed by the work of Georg Cantor. But the positive and detailed solution of the problem by means of mathematical constructions based upon sensible objects as data has only been rendered possible by the growth of mathematical logic, without which it is practically impossible to manipulate ideas of the requisite abstractness and complexity. This aspect, which is somewhat obscured in a merely popular outline such as is contained in the following lectures, will become plain as soon as Dr Whitehead’s work is published. In pure logic, which, however, will be very briefly discussed in these lectures, I have had the benefit of vitally important discoveries, not yet published, by my friend Mr Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Since my purpose was to illustrate method, I have included much that is tentative and incomplete, for it is not by the study of finished structures alone that the manner of construction can be learnt. Except in regard to such matters as Cantor’s theory of infinity, no finality is claimed for the theories suggested; but I believe that where they are found to require modification, this will be discovered by substantially the same method as that which at present makes them appear probable, and it is on this ground that I ask the reader to be tolerant of their incompleteness.
… Lecture VIII
The nature of philosophic analysis, as illustrated in our previous lectures, can now be stated in general terms. We start from a body of common knowledge, which constitutes our data. On examination, the data are found to be complex, rather vague, and largely interdependent logically. By analysis we reduce them to propositions which are as nearly as possible simple and precise, and we arrange them in deductive chains, in which a certain number of initial propositions form a logical guarantee for all the rest. These initial propositions are premisses for the body of knowledge in question. Premisses are thus quite different from data—they are simpler, more precise, and less infected with logical redundancy. If the work of analysis has been performed completely, they will be wholly free from logical redundancy, wholly precise, and as simple as is logically compatible with their leading to the given body of knowledge. The discovery of these premisses belongs to philosophy; but the work of deducing the body of common knowledge from them belongs to mathematics, if ‘mathematics’ is interpreted in a somewhat liberal sense.
But besides the logical analysis of the common knowledge which forms our data, there is the consideration of its degree of certainty. When we have arrived at its premisses, we may find that some of them seem open to doubt, and we may find further that this doubt extends to those of our original data which depend upon these doubtful premisses. In our third lecture, for example, we saw that the part of physics which depends upon testimony, and thus upon the existence of other minds than our own, does not seem so certain as the part which depends exclusively upon our own sense-data and the laws of logic. Similarly, it used to be felt that the parts of geometry which depend upon the axiom of parallels have less certainty than the parts which are independent of this premiss. We may say, generally, that what commonly passes as knowledge is not all equally certain, and that, when analysis into premisses has been effected, the degree of certainty of any consequence of the premisses will depend upon that of the most doubtful premiss employed in proving this consequence. Thus analysis into premisses serves not only a logical purpose, but also the purpose of facilitating an estimate as to the degree of certainty to be attached to this or that derivative belief. In view of the fallibility of all human beliefs, this service seems at least as important as the purely logical services rendered by philosophical analysis.
In the present lecture, I wish to apply the analytic method to the notion of “cause,” and to illustrate the discussion by applying it to the problem of free will. For this purpose I shall inquire: I., what is meant by a causal law; II., what is the evidence that causal laws have held hitherto; III., what is the evidence that they will continue to hold in the future; IV., how the causality which is used in science differs from that of common sense and traditional philosophy; V., what new light is thrown on the question of free will by our analysis of the notion of “cause.”
I. By a “causal law” I mean any general proposition in virtue of which it is possible to infer the existence of one thing or event from the existence of another or of a number of others. If you hear thunder without having seen lightning, you infer that there nevertheless was a flash, because of the general proposition, “All thunder is preceded by lightning.” When Robinson Crusoe sees a footprint, he infers a human being, and he might justify his inference by the general proposition, “All marks in the ground shaped like a human foot are subsequent to a human being’s standing where the marks are.” When we see the sun set, we expect that it will rise again the next day. When we hear a man speaking, we infer that he has certain thoughts. All these inferences are due to causal laws.
A causal law, we said, allows us to infer the existence of one thing (or event) from the existence of one or more others. The word “thing” here is to be understood as only applying to particulars, i.e. as excluding such logical objects as numbers or classes or abstract properties and relations, and including sense-data, with whatever is logically of the same type as sense-data. In so far as a causal law is directly verifiable, the thing inferred and the thing from which it is inferred must both be data, though they need not both be data at the same time. In fact, a causal law which is being used to extend our knowledge of existence must be applied to what, at the moment, is not a datum; it is in the possibility of such application that the practical utility of a causal law consists. The important point, for our present purpose, however, is that what is inferred is a “thing,” a “particular,” an object having the kind of reality that belongs to objects of sense, not an abstract object such as virtue or the square root of two.
But we cannot become acquainted with a particular except by its being actually given. Hence the particular inferred by a causal law must be only described with more or less exactness; it cannot be named until the inference is verified. Moreover, since the causal law is general, and capable of applying to many cases, the given particular from which we infer must allow the inference in virtue of some general characteristic, not in virtue of its being just the particular that it is. This is obvious in all our previous instances: we infer the unperceived lightning from the thunder, not in virtue of any peculiarity of the thunder, but in virtue of its resemblance to other claps of thunder. Thus a causal law must state that the existence of a thing of a certain sort (or of a number of things of a number of assigned sorts) implies the existence of another thing having a relation to the first which remains invariable so long as the first is of the kind in question.
It is to be observed that what is constant in a causal law is not the object or objects given, nor yet the object inferred, both of which may vary within wide limits, but the relation between what is given and what is inferred. The principle, “same cause, same effect,” which is sometimes said to be the principle of causality, is much narrower in its scope than the principle which really occurs in science; indeed, if strictly interpreted, it has no scope at all, since the “same” cause never recurs exactly. We shall return to this point at a later stage of the discussion.
The particular which is inferred may be uniquely determined by the causal law, or may be only described in such general terms that many different particulars might satisfy the description. This depends upon whether the constant relation affirmed by the causal law is one which only one term can have to the data, or one which many terms may have. If many terms may have the relation in question, science will not be satisfied until it has found some more stringent law, which will enable us to determine the inferred things uniquely.
Since all known things are in time, a causal law must take account of temporal relations. It will be part of the causal law to state a relation of succession or coexistence between the thing given and the thing inferred. When we hear thunder and infer that there was lightning, the law states that the thing inferred is earlier than the thing given. Conversely, when we see lightning and wait expectantly for the thunder, the law states that the thing given is earlier than the thing inferred. When we infer a man’s thoughts from his words, the law states that the two are (at least approximately) simultaneous.
If a causal law is to achieve the precision at which science aims, it must not be content with a vague earlier or later, but must state how much earlier or how much later. That is to say, the time-relation between the thing given and the thing inferred ought to be capable of exact statement; and usually the inference to be drawn is different according to the length and direction of the interval. “A quarter of an hour ago this man was alive; an hour hence he will be cold.” Such a statement involves two causal laws, one inferring from a datum something which existed a quarter of hour ago, the other inferring from the same datum something which will exist an hour hence.
Often a causal law involves not one datum, but many, which need not be all simultaneous with each other, though their time-relations must be given. The general scheme of a causal law will be as follows:
“Whenever things occur in certain relations to each other (among which their time-relations must be included), then a thing having a fixed relation to these things will occur at a date fixed relatively to their dates.”
The things given will not, in practice, be things that only exist for an instant, for such things, if there are any, can never be data. The things given will each occupy some finite time. They may be not static things, but processes, especially motions. We have considered in an earlier lecture the sense in which a motion may be a datum, and need not now recur to this topic.
It is not essential to a causal law that the object inferred should be later than some or all of the data. It may equally well be earlier or at the same time. The only thing essential is that the law should be such as to enable us to infer the existence of an object which we can more or less accurately describe in terms of the data.
II. I come now to our second question, namely: What is the nature of the evidence that causal laws have held hitherto, at least in the observed portions of the past? This question must not be confused with the further question: Does this evidence warrant us in assuming the truth of causal laws in the future and in unobserved portions of the past? For the present, I am only asking what are the grounds which lead to a belief in causal laws, not whether these grounds are adequate to support the belief in universal causation.
The first step is the discovery of approximate unanalysed uniformities of sequence or coexistence. After lightning comes thunder, after a blow received comes pain, after approaching a fire comes warmth; again, there are uniformities of coexistence, for example between touch and sight, between certain sensations in the throat and the sound of one’s own voice, and so on. Every such uniformity of sequence or coexistence, after it has been experienced a certain number of times, is followed by an expectation that it will be repeated on future occasions, i.e. that where one of the correlated events is found, the other will be found also. The connection of experienced past uniformity with expectation as to the future is just one of those uniformities of sequence which we have observed to be true hitherto. This affords a psychological account of what may be called the animal belief in causation, because it is something which can be observed in horses and dogs, and is rather a habit of acting than a real belief. So far, we have merely repeated Hume, who carried the discussion of cause up to this point, but did not, apparently, perceive how much remained to be said.
Is there, in fact, any characteristic, such as might be called causality or uniformity, which is found to hold throughout the observed past? And if so, how is it to be stated?
The particular uniformities which we mentioned before, such as lightning being followed by thunder, are not found to be free from exceptions. We sometimes see lightning without hearing thunder; and although, in such a case, we suppose that thunder might have been heard if we had been nearer to the lightning, that is a supposition based on theory, and therefore incapable of being invoked to support the theory. What does seem, however, to be shown by scientific experience is this: that where an observed uniformity fails, some wider uniformity can be found, embracing more circumstances, and subsuming both the successes and the failures of the previous uniformity. Unsupported bodies in air fall, unless they are balloons or aeroplanes; but the principles of mechanics give uniformities which apply to balloons and aeroplanes just as accurately as to bodies that fall. There is much that is hypothetical and more or less artificial in the uniformities affirmed by mechanics, because, when they cannot otherwise be made applicable, unobserved bodies are inferred in order to account for observed peculiarities. Still, it is an empirical fact that it is possible to preserve the laws by assuming such bodies, and that they never have to be assumed in circumstances in which they ought to be observable. Thus the empirical verification of mechanical laws may be admitted, although we must also admit that it is less complete and triumphant than is sometimes supposed.
Assuming now, what must be admitted to be doubtful, that the whole of the past has proceeded according to invariable laws, what can we say as to the nature of these laws? They will not be of the simple type which asserts that the same cause always produces the same effect. We may take the law of gravitation as a sample of the kind of law that appears to be verified without exception. In order to state this law in a form which observation can confirm, we will confine it to the solar system. It then states that the motions of planets and their satellites have at every instant an acceleration compounded of accelerations towards all the other bodies in the solar system, proportional to the masses of those bodies and inversely proportional to the squares of their distances. In virtue of this law, given the state of the solar system throughout any finite time, however short, its state at all earlier and later times is determinate except in so far as other forces than gravitation or other bodies than those in the solar system have to be taken into consideration. But other forces, so far as science can discover, appear to be equally regular, and equally capable of being summed up in single causal laws. If the mechanical account of matter were complete, the whole physical history of the universe, past and future, could be inferred from a sufficient number of data concerning an assigned finite time, however short.
In the mental world, the evidence for the universality of causal laws is less complete than in the physical world. Psychology cannot boast of any triumph comparable to gravitational astronomy. Nevertheless, the evidence is not very greatly less than in the physical world. The crude and approximate causal laws from which science starts are just as easy to discover in the mental sphere as in the physical. In the world of sense, there are to begin with the correlations of sight and touch and so on, and the facts which lead us to connect various kinds of sensations with eyes, ears, nose, tongue, etc. Then there are such facts as that our body moves in answer to our volitions. Exceptions exist, but are capable of being explained as easily as the exceptions to the rule that unsupported bodies in air fall. There is, in fact, just such a degree of evidence for causal laws in psychology as will warrant the psychologist in assuming them as a matter of course, though not such a degree as will suffice to remove all doubt from the mind of a sceptical inquirer. It should be observed that causal laws in which the given term is mental and the inferred term physical, or vice versa, are at least as easy to discover as causal laws in which both terms are mental.
It will be noticed that, although we have spoken of causal laws, we have not hitherto introduced the word “cause.” At this stage, it will be well to say a few words on legitimate and illegitimate uses of this word. The word “cause,” in the scientific account of the world, belongs only to the early stages, in which small preliminary, approximate generalisations are being ascertained with a view to subsequent larger and more invariable laws. We may say, “Arsenic causes death,” so long as we are ignorant of the precise process by which the result is brought about. But in a sufficiently advanced science, the word “cause” will not occur in any statement of invariable laws. There is, however, a somewhat rough and loose use of the word “cause” which may be preserved. The approximate uniformities which lead to its pre-scientific employment may turn out to be true in all but very rare and exceptional circumstances, perhaps in all circumstances that actually occur. In such cases, it is convenient to be able to speak of the antecedent event as the “cause” and the subsequent event as the “effect.” In this sense, provided it is realised that the sequence is not necessary and may have exceptions, it is still possible to employ the words “cause” and “effect.” It is in this sense, and in this sense only, that we shall intend the words when we speak of one particular event “causing” another particular event, as we must sometimes do if we are to avoid intolerable circumlocution.
III. We come now to our third question, namely: What reason can be given for believing that causal laws will hold in future, or that they have held in unobserved portions of the past?
What we have said so far is that there have been hitherto certain observed causal laws, and that all the empirical evidence we possess is compatible with the view that everything, both mental and physical, so far as our observation has extended, has happened in accordance with causal laws. The law of universal causation, suggested by these facts, may be enunciated as follows:
“There are such invariable relations between different events at the same or different times that, given the state of the whole universe throughout any finite time, however short, every previous and subsequent event can theoretically be determined as a function of the given events during that time.”
Have we any reason to believe this universal law? Or, to ask a more modest question, have we any reason to believe that a particular causal law, such as the law of gravitation, will continue to hold in the future?
Among observed causal laws is this, that observation of uniformities is followed by expectation of their recurrence. A horse who has been driven always along a certain road expects to be driven along that road again; a dog who is always fed at a certain hour expects food at that hour and not at any other. Such expectations, as Hume pointed out, explain only too well the common-sense belief in uniformities of sequence, but they afford absolutely no logical ground for beliefs as to the future, not even for the belief that we shall continue to expect the continuation of experienced uniformities, for that is precisely one of those causal laws for which a ground has to be sought. If Hume’s account of causation is the last word, we have not only no reason to suppose that the sun will rise to-morrow, but no reason to suppose that five minutes hence we shall still expect it to rise to-morrow.
It may, of course, be said that all inferences as to the future are in fact invalid, and I do not see how such a view could be disproved. But, while admitting the legitimacy of such a view, we may nevertheless inquire: If inferences as to the future are valid, what principle must be involved in making them?
The principle involved is the principle of induction, which, if it is true, must be an a priori logical law, not capable of being proved or disproved by experience. It is a difficult question how this principle ought to be formulated; but if it is to warrant the inferences which we wish to make by its means, it must lead to the following proposition: “If, in a great number of instances, a thing of a certain kind is associated in a certain way with a thing of a certain other kind, it is probable that a thing of the one kind is always similarly associated with a thing of the other kind; and as the number of instances increases, the probability approaches indefinitely near to certainty.” It may well be questioned whether this proposition is true; but if we admit it, we can infer that any characteristic of the whole of the observed past is likely to apply to the future and to the unobserved past. This proposition, therefore, if it is true, will warrant the inference that causal laws probably hold at all times, future as well as past; but without this principle, the observed cases of the truth of causal laws afford no presumption as to the unobserved cases, and therefore the existence of a thing not directly observed can never be validly inferred.
It is thus the principle of induction, rather than the law of causality, which is at the bottom of all inferences as to the existence of things not immediately given. With the principle of induction, all that is wanted for such inferences can be proved; without it, all such inferences are invalid. This principle has not received the attention which its great importance deserves. Those who were interested in deductive logic naturally enough ignored it, while those who emphasised the scope of induction wished to maintain that all logic is empirical, and therefore could not be expected to realise that induction itself, their own darling, required a logical principle which obviously could not be proved inductively, and must therefore be a priori if it could be known at all.
The view that the law of causality itself is a priori cannot, I think, be maintained by anyone who realises what a complicated principle it is. In the form which states that “every event has a cause” it looks simple; but on examination, “cause” is merged in “causal law,” and the definition of a “causal law” is found to be far from simple. There must necessarily be some a priori principle involved in inference from the existence of one thing to that of another, if such inference is ever valid; but it would appear from the above analysis that the principle in question is induction, not causality. Whether inferences from past to future are valid depends wholly, if our discussion has been sound, upon the inductive principle: if it is true, such inferences are valid, and if it is false, they are invalid.
IV. I come now to the question how the conception of causal laws which we have arrived at is related to the traditional conception of cause as it occurs in philosophy and common sense.
Historically, the notion of cause has been bound up with that of human volition. The typical cause would be the fiat of a king. The cause is supposed to be “active,” the effect “passive.” From this it is easy to pass on to the suggestion that a “true” cause must contain some prevision of the effect; hence the effect becomes the “end” at which the cause aims, and teleology replaces causation in the explanation of nature. But all such ideas, as applied to physics, are mere anthropomorphic superstitions. It is as a reaction against these errors that Mach and others have urged a purely “descriptive” view of physics: physics, they say, does not aim at telling us “why” things happen, but only “how” they happen. And if the question “why?” means anything more than the search for a general law according to which a phenomenon occurs, then it is certainly the case that this question cannot be answered in physics and ought not to be asked. In this sense, the descriptive view is indubitably in the right. But in using causal laws to support inferences from the observed to the unobserved, physics ceases to be purely descriptive, and it is these laws which give the scientifically useful part of the traditional notion of “cause.” There is therefore something to preserve in this notion, though it is a very tiny part of what is commonly assumed in orthodox metaphysics.
In order to understand the difference between the kind of cause which science uses and the kind which we naturally imagine, it is necessary to shut out, by an effort, everything that differentiates between past and future. This is an extraordinarily difficult thing to do, because our mental life is so intimately bound up with difference. Not only do memory and hope make a difference in our feelings as regards past and future, but almost our whole vocabulary is filled with the idea of activity, of things done now for the sake of their future effects. All transitive verbs involve the notion of cause as activity, and would have to be replaced by some cumbrous periphrasis before this notion could be eliminated.
Consider such a statement as, “Brutus killed Cæsar.” On another occasion, Brutus and Cæsar might engage our attention, but for the present it is the killing that we have to study. We may say that to kill a person is to cause his death intentionally. This means that desire for a person’s death causes a certain act, because it is believed that that act will cause the person’s death; or more accurately, the desire and the belief jointly cause the act. Brutus desires that Cæsar should be dead, and believes that he will be dead if he is stabbed; Brutus therefore stabs him, and the stab causes Cæsar’s death, as Brutus expected it would. Every act which realises a purpose involves two causal steps in this way: C is desired, and it is believed (truly if the purpose is achieved) that B will cause C; the desire and the belief together cause B, which in turn causes C. Thus we have first A, which is a desire for C and a belief that B (an act) will cause C; then we have B, the act caused by A, and believed to be a cause of C; then, if the belief was correct, we have C, caused by B, and if the belief was incorrect we have disappointment. Regarded purely scientifically, this series A, B, C may equally well be considered in the inverse order, as they would be at a coroner’s inquest. But from the point of view of Brutus, the desire, which comes at the beginning, is what makes the whole series interesting. We feel that if his desires had been different, the effects which he in fact produced would not have occurred. This is true, and gives him a sense of power and freedom. It is equally true that if the effects had not occurred, his desires would have been different, since being what they were the effects did occur. Thus the desires are determined by their consequences just as much as the consequences by the desires; but as we cannot (in general) know in advance the consequences of our desires without knowing our desires, this form of inference is uninteresting as applied to our own acts, though quite vital as applied to those of others.
A cause, considered scientifically, has none of that analogy with volition which makes us imagine that the effect is compelled by it. A cause is an event or group of events, of some known general character, and having a known relation to some other event, called the effect; the relation being of such a kind that only one event, or at any rate only one well-defined sort of event, can have the relation to a given cause. It is customary only to give the name “effect” to an event which is later than the cause, but there is no kind of reason for this restriction. We shall do better to allow the effect to be before the cause or simultaneous with it, because nothing of any scientific importance depends upon its being after the cause.
If the inference from cause to effect is to be indubitable, it seems that the cause can hardly stop short of the whole universe. So long as anything is left out, something may be left out which alters the expected result. But for practical and scientific purposes, phenomena can be collected into groups which are causally self-contained, or nearly so. In the common notion of causation, the cause is a single event—we say the lightning causes the thunder, and so on. But it is difficult to know what we mean by a single event; and it generally appears that, in order to have anything approaching certainty concerning the effect, it is necessary to include many more circumstances in the cause than unscientific common sense would suppose. But often a probable causal connection, where the cause is fairly simple, is of more practical importance than a more indubitable connection in which the cause is so complex as to be hard to ascertain.
To sum up: the strict, certain, universal law of causation which philosophers advocate is an ideal, possibly true, but not known to be true in virtue of any available evidence. What is actually known, as a matter of empirical science, is that certain constant relations are observed to hold between the members of a group of events at certain times, and that when such relations fail, as they sometimes do, it is usually possible to discover a new, more constant relation by enlarging the group. Any such constant relation between events of specified kinds with given intervals of time between them is a “causal law.” But all causal laws are liable to exceptions, if the cause is less than the whole state of the universe; we believe, on the basis of a good deal of experience, that such exceptions can be dealt with by enlarging the group we call the cause, but this belief, wherever it is still unverified, ought not to be regarded as certain, but only as suggesting a direction for further inquiry.
A very common causal group consists of volitions and the consequent bodily acts, though exceptions arise (for example) through sudden paralysis. Another very frequent connection (though here the exceptions are much more numerous) is between a bodily act and the realisation of the purpose which led to the act. These connections are patent, whereas the causes of desires are more obscure. Thus it is natural to begin causal series with desires, to suppose that all causes are analogous to desires, and that desires themselves arise spontaneously. Such a view, however, is not one which any serious psychologist would maintain. But this brings us to the question of the application of our analysis of cause to the problem of free will.
V. The problem of free will is so intimately bound up with the analysis of causation that, old as it is, we need not despair of obtaining new light on it by the help of new views on the notion of cause. The free-will problem has, at one time or another, stirred men’s passions profoundly, and the fear that the will might not be free has been to some men a source of great unhappiness. I believe that, under the influence of a cool analysis, the doubtful questions involved will be found to have no such emotional importance as is sometimes thought, since the disagreeable consequences supposed to flow from a denial of free will do not flow from this denial in any form in which there is reason to make it. It is not, however, on this account chiefly that I wish to discuss this problem, but rather because it affords a good example of the clarifying effect of analysis and of the interminable controversies which may result from its neglect.
Let us first try to discover what it is we really desire when we desire free will. Some of our reasons for desiring free will are profound, some trivial. To begin with the former: we do not wish to feel ourselves in the hands of fate, so that, however much we may desire to will one thing, we may nevertheless be compelled by an outside force to will another. We do not wish to think that, however much we may desire to act well, heredity and surroundings may force us into acting ill. We wish to feel that, in cases of doubt, our choice is momentous and lies within our power. Besides these desires, which are worthy of all respect, we have, however, others not so respectable, which equally make us desire free will. We do not like to think that other people, if they knew enough, could predict our actions, though we know that we can often predict those of other people, especially if they are elderly. Much as we esteem the old gentleman who is our neighbour in the country, we know that when grouse are mentioned he will tell the story of the grouse in the gun-room. But we ourselves are not so mechanical: we never tell an anecdote to the same person twice, or even once unless he is sure to enjoy it; although we once met (say) Bismarck, we are quite capable of hearing him mentioned without relating the occasion when we met him. In this sense, everybody thinks that he himself has free will, though he knows that no one else has. The desire for this kind of free will seems to be no better than a form of vanity. I do not believe that this desire can be gratified with any certainty; but the other, more respectable desires are, I believe, not inconsistent with any tenable form of determinism.
We have thus two questions to consider: (1) Are human actions theoretically predictable from a sufficient number of antecedents? (2) Are human actions subject to an external compulsion? The two questions, as I shall try to show, are entirely distinct, and we may answer the first in the affirmative without therefore being forced to give an affirmative answer to the second.
(1) Are human actions theoretically predictable from a sufficient number of antecedents? Let us first endeavour to give precision to this question. We may state the question thus: Is there some constant relation between an act and a certain number of earlier events, such that, when the earlier events are given, only one act, or at most only acts with some well-marked character, can have this relation to the earlier events? If this is the case, then, as soon as the earlier events are known, it is theoretically possible to predict either the precise act, or at least the character necessary to its fulfilling the constant relation.
To this question, a negative answer has been given by Bergson, in a form which calls in question the general applicability of the law of causation. He maintains that every event, and more particularly every mental event, embodies so much of the past that it could not possibly have occurred at any earlier time, and is therefore necessarily quite different from all previous and subsequent events. If, for example, I read a certain poem many times, my experience on each occasion is modified by the previous readings, and my emotions are never repeated exactly. The principle of causation, according to him, asserts that the same cause, if repeated, will produce the same effect. But owing to memory, he contends, this principle does not apply to mental events. What is apparently the same cause, if repeated, is modified by the mere fact of repetition, and cannot produce the same effect. He infers that every mental event is a genuine novelty, not predictable from the past, because the past contains nothing exactly like it by which we could imagine it. And on this ground he regards the freedom of the will as unassailable.
Bergson’s contention has undoubtedly a great deal of truth, and I have no wish to deny its importance. But I do not think its consequences are quite what he believes them to be. It is not necessary for the determinist to maintain that he can foresee the whole particularity of the act which will be performed. If he could foresee that A was going to murder B, his foresight would not be invalidated by the fact that he could not know all the infinite complexity of A’s state of mind in committing the murder, nor whether the murder was to be performed with a knife or with a revolver. If the kind of act which will be performed can be foreseen within narrow limits, it is of little practical interest that there are fine shades which cannot be foreseen. No doubt every time the story of the grouse in the gun-room is told, there will be slight differences due to increasing habitualness, but they do not invalidate the prediction that the story will be told. And there is nothing in Bergson’s argument to show that we can never predict what kind of act will be performed.
Again, his statement of the law of causation is inadequate. The law does not state merely that, if the same cause is repeated, the sameeffect will result. It states rather that there is a constant relation between causes of certain kinds and effects of certain kinds. For example, if a body falls freely, there is a constant relation between the height through which it falls and the time it takes in falling. It is not necessary to have a body fall through the same height which has been previously observed, in order to be able to foretell the length of time occupied in falling. If this were necessary, no prediction would be possible, since it would be impossible to make the height exactly the same on two occasions. Similarly, the attraction which the sun will exert on the earth is not only known at distances for which it has been observed, but at all distances, because it is known to vary as the inverse square of the distance. In fact, what is found to be repeated is always the relation of cause and effect, not the cause itself; all that is necessary as regards the cause is that it should be of the same kind (in the relevant respect) as earlier causes whose effects have been observed.
Another respect in which Bergson’s statement of causation is inadequate is in its assumption that the cause must be one event, whereas it may be two or more events, or even some continuous process. The substantive question at issue is whether mental events are determined by the past. Now in such a case as the repeated reading of a poem, it is obvious that our feelings in reading the poem are most emphatically dependent upon the past, but not upon one single event in the past. All our previous readings of the poem must be included in the cause. But we easily perceive a certain law according to which the effect varies as the previous readings increase in number, and in fact Bergson himself tacitly assumes such a law. We decide at last not to read the poem again, because we know that this time the effect would be boredom. We may not know all the niceties and shades of the boredom we should feel, but we know enough to guide our decision, and the prophecy of boredom is none the less true for being more or less general. Thus the kinds of cases upon which Bergson relies are insufficient to show the impossibility of prediction in the only sense in which prediction has practical or emotional interest. We may therefore leave the consideration of his arguments and address ourselves to the problem directly.
The law of causation, according to which later events can theoretically be predicted by means of earlier events, has often been held to be a priori, a necessity of thought, a category without which science would be impossible. These claims seem to me excessive. In certain directions the law has been verified empirically, and in other directions there is no positive evidence against it. But science can use it where it has been found to be true, without being forced into any assumption as to its truth in other fields. We cannot, therefore, feel any a prioricertainty that causation must apply to human volitions.
The question how far human volitions are subject to causal laws is a purely empirical one. Empirically it seems plain that the great majority of our volitions have causes, but it cannot, on this account, be held necessarily certain that all have causes. There are, however, precisely the same kinds of reasons for regarding it as probable that they all have causes as there are in the case of physical events.
We may suppose—though this is doubtful—that there are laws of correlation of the mental and the physical, in virtue of which, given the state of all the matter in the world, and therefore of all the brains and living organisms, the state of all the minds in the world could be inferred, while conversely the state of all the matter in the world could be inferred if the state of all the minds were given. It is obvious that there is some degree of correlation between brain and mind, and it is impossible to say how complete it may be. This, however, is not the point which I wish to elicit. What I wish to urge is that, even if we admit the most extreme claims of determinism and of correlation of mind and brain, still the consequences inimical to what is worth preserving in free will do not follow. The belief that they follow results, I think, entirely from the assimilation of causes to volitions, and from the notion that causes compel their effects in some sense analogous to that in which a human authority can compel a man to do what he would rather not do. This assimilation, as soon as the true nature of scientific causal laws is realised, is seen to be a sheer mistake. But this brings us to the second of the two questions which we raised in regard to free will, namely, whether, assuming determinism, our actions can be in any proper sense regarded as compelled by outside forces.
(2) Are human actions subject to an external compulsion? We have, in deliberation, a subjective sense of freedom, which is sometimes alleged against the view that volitions have causes. This sense of freedom, however, is only a sense that we can choose which we please of a number of alternatives: it does not show us that there is no causal connection between what we please to choose and our previous history. The supposed inconsistency of these two springs from the habit of conceiving causes as analogous to volitions—a habit which often survives unconsciously in those who intend to conceive causes in a more scientific manner. If a cause is analogous to a volition, outside causes will be analogous to an alien will, and acts predictable from outside causes will be subject to compulsion. But this view of cause is one to which science lends no countenance. Causes, we have seen, do not compel their effects, any more than effects compeltheir causes. There is a mutual relation, so that either can be inferred from the other. When the geologist infers the past state of the earth from its present state, we should not say that the present state compels the past state to have been what it was; yet it renders it necessary as a consequence of the data, in the only sense in which effects are rendered necessary by their causes. The difference which we feel, in this respect, between causes and effects is a mere confusion due to the fact that we remember past events but do not happen to have memory of the future.
The apparent indeterminateness of the future, upon which some advocates of free will rely, is merely a result of our ignorance. It is plain that no desirable kind of free will can be dependent simply upon our ignorance; for if that were the case, animals would be more free than men, and savages than civilised people. Free will in any valuable sense must be compatible with the fullest knowledge. Now, quite apart from any assumption as to causality, it is obvious that complete knowledge would embrace the future as well as the past. Our knowledge of the past is not wholly based upon causal inferences, but is partly derived from memory. It is a mere accident that we have no memory of the future. We might—as in the pretended visions of seers—see future events immediately, in the way in which we see past events. They certainly will be what they will be, and are in this sense just as determined as the past. If we saw future events in the same immediate way in which we see past events, what kind of free will would still be possible? Such a kind would be wholly independent of determinism: it could not be contrary to even the most entirely universal reign of causality. And such a kind must contain whatever is worth having in free will, since it is impossible to believe that mere ignorance can be the essential condition of any good thing. Let us therefore imagine a set of beings who know the whole future with absolute certainty, and let us ask ourselves whether they could have anything that we should call free will.
Such beings as we are imagining would not have to wait for the event in order to know what decision they were going to adopt on some future occasion. They would know now what their volitions were going to be. But would they have any reason to regret this knowledge? Surely not, unless the foreseen volitions were in themselves regrettable. And it is less likely that the foreseen volitions would be regrettable if the steps which would lead to them were also foreseen. It is difficult not to suppose that what is foreseen is fated, and must happen however much it may be dreaded. But human actions are the outcome of desire, and no foreseeing can be true unless it takes account of desire. A foreseen volition will have to be one which does not become odious through being foreseen. The beings we are imagining would easily come to know the causal connections of volitions, and therefore their volitions would be better calculated to satisfy their desires than ours are. Since volitions are the outcome of desires, a prevision of volitions contrary to desires could not be a true one. It must be remembered that the supposed prevision would not create the future any more than memory creates the past. We do not think we were necessarily not free in the past, merely because we can now remember our past volitions. Similarly, we might be free in the future, even if we could now see what our future volitions were going to be. Freedom, in short, in any valuable sense, demands only that our volitions shall be, as they are, the result of our own desires, not of an outside force compelling us to will what we would rather not will. Everything else is confusion of thought, due to the feeling that knowledge compels the happening of what it knows when this is future, though it is at once obvious that knowledge has no such power in regard to the past. Free will, therefore, is true in the only form which is important; and the desire for other forms is a mere effect of insufficient analysis.
What has been said on philosophical method in the foregoing lectures has been rather by means of illustrations in particular cases than by means of general precepts. Nothing of any value can be said on method except through examples; but now, at the end of our course, we may collect certain general maxims which may possibly be a help in acquiring a philosophical habit of mind and a guide in looking for solutions of philosophic problems.
Philosophy does not become scientific by making use of other sciences, in the kind of way in which (e.g.) Herbert Spencer does. Philosophy aims at what is general, and the special sciences, however they may suggest large generalisations, cannot make them certain. And a hasty generalisation, such as Spencer’s generalisation of evolution, is none the less hasty because what is generalised is the latest scientific theory. Philosophy is a study apart from the other sciences: its results cannot be established by the other sciences, and conversely must not be such as some other science might conceivably contradict. Prophecies as to the future of the universe, for example, are not the business of philosophy; whether the universe is progressive, retrograde, or stationary, it is not for the philosopher to say.
In order to become a scientific philosopher, a certain peculiar mental discipline is required. There must be present, first of all, the desire to know philosophical truth, and this desire must be sufficiently strong to survive through years when there seems no hope of its finding any satisfaction. The desire to know philosophical truth is very rare—in its purity, it is not often found even among philosophers. It is obscured sometimes—particularly after long periods of fruitless search—by the desire to think we know. Some plausible opinion presents itself, and by turning our attention away from the objections to it, or merely by not making great efforts to find objections to it, we may obtain the comfort of believing it, although, if we had resisted the wish for comfort, we should have come to see that the opinion was false. Again the desire for unadulterated truth is often obscured, in professional philosophers, by love of system: the one little fact which will not come inside the philosopher’s edifice has to be pushed and tortured until it seems to consent. Yet the one little fact is more likely to be important for the future than the system with which it is inconsistent. Pythagoras invented a system which fitted admirably with all the facts he knew, except the incommensurability of the diagonal of a square and the side; this one little fact stood out, and remained a fact even after Hippasos of Metapontion was drowned for revealing it. To us, the discovery of this fact is the chief claim of Pythagoras to immortality, while his system has become a matter of merely historical curiosity. Love of system, therefore, and the system-maker’s vanity which becomes associated with it, are among the snares that the student of philosophy must guard against.
The desire to establish this or that result, or generally to discover evidence for agreeable results, of whatever kind, has of course been the chief obstacle to honest philosophising. So strangely perverted do men become by unrecognised passions, that a determination in advance to arrive at this or that conclusion is generally regarded as a mark of virtue, and those whose studies lead to an opposite conclusion are thought to be wicked. No doubt it is commoner to wish to arrive at an agreeable result than to wish to arrive at a true result. But only those in whom the desire to arrive at a true result is paramount can hope to serve any good purpose by the study of philosophy.
But even when the desire to know exists in the requisite strength, the mental vision by which abstract truth is recognised is hard to distinguish from vivid imaginability and consonance with mental habits. It is necessary to practise methodological doubt, like Descartes, in order to loosen the hold of mental habits; and it is necessary to cultivate logical imagination, in order to have a number of hypotheses at command, and not to be the slave of the one which common sense has rendered easy to imagine. These two processes, of doubting the familiar and imagining the unfamiliar, are correlative, and form the chief part of the mental training required for a philosopher.
The naïve beliefs which we find in ourselves when we first begin the process of philosophic reflection may turn out, in the end, to be almost all capable of a true interpretation; but they ought all, before being admitted into philosophy, to undergo the ordeal of sceptical criticism. Until they have gone through this ordeal, they are mere blind habits, ways of behaving rather than intellectual convictions. And although it may be that a majority will pass the test, we may be pretty sure that some will not, and that a serious readjustment of our outlook ought to result. In order to break the dominion of habit, we must do our best to doubt the senses, reason, morals, everything in short. In some directions, doubt will be found possible; in others, it will be checked by that direct vision of abstract truth upon which the possibility of philosophical knowledge depends.
At the same time, and as an essential aid to the direct perception of the truth, it is necessary to acquire fertility in imagining abstract hypotheses. This is, I think, what has most of all been lacking hitherto in philosophy. So meagre was the logical apparatus that all the hypotheses philosophers could imagine were found to be inconsistent with the facts. Too often this state of things led to the adoption of heroic measures, such as a wholesale denial of the facts, when an imagination better stocked with logical tools would have found a key to unlock the mystery. It is in this way that the study of logic becomes the central study in philosophy: it gives the method of research in philosophy, just as mathematics gives the method in physics. And as physics, which, from Plato to the Renaissance, was as unprogressive, dim, and superstitious as philosophy, became a science through Galileo’s fresh observation of facts and subsequent mathematical manipulation, so philosophy, in our own day, is becoming scientific through the simultaneous acquisition of new facts and logical methods.
In spite, however, of the new possibility of progress in philosophy, the first effect, as in the case of physics, is to diminish very greatly the extent of what is thought to be known. Before Galileo, people believed themselves possessed of immense knowledge on all the most interesting questions in physics. He established certain facts as to the way in which bodies fall, not very interesting on their own account, but of quite immeasurable interest as examples of real knowledge and of a new method whose future fruitfulness he himself divined. But his few facts sufficed to destroy the whole vast system of supposed knowledge handed down from Aristotle, as even the palest morning sun suffices to extinguish the stars. So in philosophy: though some have believed one system, and others another, almost all have been of opinion that a great deal was known; but all this supposed knowledge in the traditional systems must be swept away, and a new beginning must be made, which we shall esteem fortunate indeed if it can attain results comparable to Galileo’s law of falling bodies.
By the practice of methodological doubt, if it is genuine and prolonged, a certain humility as to our knowledge is induced: we become glad to know anything in philosophy, however seemingly trivial. Philosophy has suffered from the lack of this kind of modesty. It has made the mistake of attacking the interesting problems at once, instead of proceeding patiently and slowly, accumulating whatever solid knowledge was obtainable, and trusting the great problems to the future. Men of science are not ashamed of what is intrinsically trivial, if its consequences are likely to be important; the immediate outcome of an experiment is hardly ever interesting on its own account. So in philosophy, it is often desirable to expend time and care on matters which, judged alone, might seem frivolous, for it is often only through the consideration of such matters that the greater problems can be approached.
When our problem has been selected, and the necessary mental discipline has been acquired, the method to be pursued is fairly uniform. The big problems which provoke philosophical inquiry are found, on examination, to be complex, and to depend upon a number of component problems, usually more abstract than those of which they are the components. It will generally be found that all our initial data, all the facts that we seem to know to begin with, suffer from vagueness, confusion, and complexity. Current philosophical ideas share these defects; it is therefore necessary to create an apparatus of precise conceptions as general and as free from complexity as possible, before the data can be analysed into the kind of premisses which philosophy aims at discovering. In this process of analysis, the source of difficulty is tracked further and further back, growing at each stage more abstract, more refined, more difficult to apprehend. Usually it will be found that a number of these extraordinarily abstract questions underlie any one of the big obvious problems. When everything has been done that can be done by method, a stage is reached where only direct philosophic vision can carry matters further. Here only genius will avail. What is wanted, as a rule, is some new effort of logical imagination, some glimpse of a possibility never conceived before, and then the direct perception that this possibility is realised in the case in question. Failure to think of the right possibility leaves insoluble difficulties, balanced arguments pro and con, utter bewilderment and despair. But the right possibility, as a rule, when once conceived, justifies itself swiftly by its astonishing power of absorbing apparently conflicting facts. From this point onward, the work of the philosopher is synthetic and comparatively easy; it is in the very last stage of the analysis that the real difficulty consists.
Of the prospect of progress in philosophy, it would be rash to speak with confidence. Many of the traditional problems of philosophy, perhaps most of those which have interested a wider circle than that of technical students, do not appear to be soluble by scientific methods. Just as astronomy lost much of its human interest when it ceased to be astrology, so philosophy must lose in attractiveness as it grows less prodigal of promises. But to the large and still growing body of men engaged in the pursuit of science—men who hitherto, not without justification, have turned aside from philosophy with a certain contempt—the new method, successful already in such time-honoured problems as number, infinity, continuity, space and time, should make an appeal which the older methods have wholly failed to make. Physics, with its principle of relativity and its revolutionary investigations into the nature of matter, is feeling the need for that kind of novelty in fundamental hypotheses which scientific philosophy aims at facilitating. The one and only condition, I believe, which is necessary in order to secure for philosophy in the near future an achievement surpassing all that has hitherto been accomplished by philosophers, is the creation of a school of men with scientific training and philosophical interests, unhampered by the traditions of the past, and not misled by the literary methods of those who copy the ancients in all except their merits.” Bertrand Russell, Our Knowledge of the External World As a Field for Scientific Method in Philosophy, author’s preface and Chapter, or Lecture, VIII; “On the Notion of Cause, With Applications to the Free-Will Problem:” http://www.gutenberg.org/