Saturday, 27 April 2013

Introduction: The contexts of the text



A Hymn to the Pillory has been described as ‘a work of genius’ and ‘undoubtedly one of Defoe’s best poems’ by leading Defoe scholars[1]. Despite this the poem, a Pindaric ode, did not receive detailed attention until 2010 when Andreas K. E. Mueller published A Critical Study of Daniel Defoe’s Verse.
A Hymn to the Pillory is situated within three important contexts: the first is the context of the work's publication, as a statement about the justice of Defoe's sentence for publishing The Shortest Way with the Dissenters; the second is the popular form of the irregular Pindaric ode, made famous again in the seventeenth century by Abraham Cowley; and the third is Defoe's other poetic works.
In December 1702 Daniel Defoe published a satirical pamphlet, The Shortest Way with theDissenters. It was timed to coincide with the reading of a bill in the House of Lords to prevent occasional conformity, which threatened the positions of many dissenters. Despite disagreeing with occasional conformity, Defoe saw larger ramifications for dissenters if it was passed. The pamphlet adopted the voice of a member of the high church and in an ironic style condemned dissenters, of whom Defoe was one. Defoe’s adoption of a high church personae worked so well that members of the high church were fooled in to thinking that it had been written by one of them and openly supported its suggestions that ‘this is the time to pull up this heretical weed of sedition, that has so long disturbed the peace of our Church, and poisoned the good corn.’[2] Defoe might have been pleased at an apparent change in public sympathies to more moderate feelings towards dissenters in the wake of his publication. ‘William King wrote that The Shortest Way led “a great many well-meaning people” to believe that High Church persecution was a reality, “to pity” the Dissenters, and “to side in some measure with the moderate man.”’[3]
 Despite these views however, many were angered and concerned by the opinions expressed in the work and also by the reactions that they evoked. A controversy broke out about the intentions and consequences of the pamphlet and on the 14th December 1702 Robert Harley persuaded Sidney Godolphin that the author of the pamphlet needed to be found. It did not take long before Defoe was named by Edward Bellamy who had taken the manuscript to the printer George Croome, and a warrant was issued for his arrest on the 3rd January 1703. [4] Defoe went into hiding and it wasn’t until 21st May that he was caught. His trial opened on the 7th July and he ‘was sentenced to stand in the pillory three times, to pay a fine of 200 marks, and to remain in Newgate until he could find sureties of his good behaviour for seven years.’[5] Defoe dreaded the pillory and agreed to divulge all that he knew that was of interest to avoid that punishment alone. For Defoe the pillory was ‘seen as a greater penalty than imprisonment or large fines.’[6] The date of his punishment was deferred so that he could be questioned again, but the information he provided was not enough for him to be excused and so on the 29th July Daniel Defoe was brought for the first of three successive appearances in the Hi’rolgyphick State Machin.
Copies of A Hymn to the Pillory were handed out to spectators, and instead of the usual rotten fruit and vegetables ‘the only things thrown at him were flowers.’[7] It would seem that he managed to subvert, at least in a small way, the punishment that he feared, turning it to his advantage.
A Hymn to the Pillory is written in the form of an irregular Pindaric ode. In 1656 Abraham Cowley published his Pindarique Odes, and although not the first poet to adopt an interpretation of Pindar’s style, he is best associated with using the form. Irregular Pindaric Odes became a popular poetic form during the seventeenth and eighteenth century. They misunderstood the formal features of Pindar’s Odes which were based on structured triads of strophe, antistrophe and epode with strict matching rhythms for corresponding lines in different stanzas.[8] Irregular Pindaric Odes had free structures, with stanzas and lines of varying length and usually with no formal rhyming scheme.
Despite the fact that Defoe was using the form of an ode, he called his poem A Hymn to the Pillory. The OED defines a hymn as ‘an ode or song of praise in honour of a diety, a country, etc.’[9] Defoe’s hymn was satirical, not praising the pillory or the corrupt authorities that placed him there, but drawing attention to their biased and inconsistent reaction to his ‘crime’. Owens notes a tendency in Pindar’s odes to ‘sometimes celebrate the powers of Poetry itself.’[10] Pindaric Odes relate the main subject of the ode to wider institutions within the community, placing them within a larger context. Defoe does this in his hymn, highlighting the larger context of greater crimes that had gone unpunished in all major sectors of government, religion and the military. In this way he ‘demonstrate[s] the resources by which the poet may triumph over the pillory, showing that it is the state that is on trial and the poet that is the prosecutor.’[11]
Andreas K. E. Mueller adds to this arguing that

Defoe’s masterstroke was to extend his sense of indignation to the wider community with one small but significant authorial act: by calling his poem a hymn instead of an ode, Defoe invited his fellow ‘worshippers’ of the pillory to join him in his song.[12]

Not only did Defoe manage to demonstrate the power of his poetry, by calling his poem a hymn instead of an ode he makes the message more communal. Despite Odes traditionally being communal, sung performances, the religious connotations of a hymn, the act of worshipping a greater authority, gives much more potency to the satire based on the subversive message of the poem and its disparate form.
Daniel Defoe’s most famous poem is The True-Born Englishman, another satire, mocking Englishmen who objected to King William on the grounds that he was not English. This poem was his most commercially successful and along with Jure Divino these poems seem to be his most comprehensively represented. Defoe wrote nine irregular Pindarics which he styled as hymns, of these A Hymn to the Pillory was his first, and arguably his best.





Bibliography


Backscheider, Paula. Daniel Defoe: His Life. London: The John Hopkins University Press, 1989.

Furbank, P.N. and Owens, W.R. edSatire, Fantasy And Writings On The Supernatural By Daniel DefoeVolume 1London: Pickering & Chatto, 2003.

Furbank, P. N. and Owens, W. R. ed. The True-Born Englishman and Other Writings. London: Penguin Group, 1997.

Mueller, Andreas K. E. A Critical Study of Daniel Defoe’s Verse. Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2010.

Nisetich, Frank J. Pindar’s Victory Songs. London: John Hopkins University Press, 1990.

The Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press [Online] Available from: http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/90208?rskey=nSS28i&result=1#eid. Accessed: 16/05/2013.



[1] Mueller, Andreas K. E. A Critical Study of Daniel Defoe’s Verse. Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2010. p103.
[2] Furbank, P. N. and Owens, W. R. ed. The True-Born Englishman and Other Writings. London: Penguin Group, 1997. p 139.
[3] Backscheider, Paula. Daniel Defoe: His Life. London: The John Hopkins University Press, 1989. p 99.  It is possible to view there original source here, on page 12.
[4] Ibid. pp 100-101.
[5] Ibid. p110.
[6] Ibid. p116.
[7] Ibid. p118.
[8] Nisetich, Frank J. Pindar’s Victory Songs. London: John Hopkins University Press, 1990. p 34.
[9] The Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press [Online] Available from: http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/90208?rskey=nSS28i&result=1#eid. Accessed: 16/05/2013.
[10] Furbank, P.N. and Owens, W.R. edSatire, Fantasy And Writings On The Supernatural By Daniel Defoe. Volume 1London: Pickering & Chatto, 2003. p 23.
[11] Ibid. p 22.
[12] Mueller, Andreas K. E. A Critical Study of Daniel Defoe’s Verse. p98.