There Defoe wrote this Essay on Projects." He was there until 1694, when he received offers that would have settled him prosperously in business at Cadiz, but he held by his country. The cheek on free action was removed, and the Government received with favour a project of his, which is not included in the Essay, "for raising money to supply the occasions of the war then newly begun." He had also a project for the raising of money to supply his own occasions by the establishment of pantile works, which proved successful. Defoe could not be idle. In a desert island he would, like his Robinson Crusoe, have spent time, not in lamentation, but in steady work to get away.
TO DALBY THOMAS, ESQ., One of the Commission's for Managing His majesty's Duties on Glass, &c
This Preface comes directed to you, not as commissioner, &c., under whom I have the honour to serve his Majesty, nor as a friend, though I have great obligations of that sort also, but as the most proper judge of the subjects treated of, and more capable than the greatest part of mankind to distinguish and understand them.
Books are useful only to such whose genius are suitable to the subject of them; and to dedicate a book of projects to a person who had never concerned himself to think that way would be like music to one that has no ear.
And yet your having a capacity to judge of these things no way brings you under the despicable title of a projector, any more than knowing the practices and subtleties of wicked men makes a man guilty of their crimes.
The several chapters of this book are the results of particular thoughts occasioned by conversing with the public affairs during the present war with France. The losses and casualties which attend all trading nations in the world, when involved in so cruel a war as this, have reached us all, and I am none of the least sufferers; if this has put me, as well as others, on inventions and projects, so much the subject of this book, it is no more than a proof of the reason I give for the general projecting humour of the nation.
One unhappiness I lie under in the following book, viz.: That having kept the greatest part of it by me for near five years, several of the thoughts seem to be hit by other hands, and some by the public, which turns the tables upon me, as if I had borrowed from them.
As particularly that of the seamen, which you know well I had contrived long before the Act for registering seamen was proposed. And that of educating women, which I think myself bound to declare, was formed long before the book called "Advice to the Ladies" was made public; and yet I do not write this to magnify my own invention, but to acquit myself from grafting on other people's thoughts. If I have trespassed upon any person in the world, it is upon yourself, from whom I had some of the notions about county banks, and factories for goods, in the chapter of banks; and yet I do not think that my proposal for the women or the seamen clashes at all, either with that book, or the public method of registering seamen.
I have been told since this was done that my proposal for a commission of inquiries into bankrupt estates is borrowed from the Dutch; if there is anything like it among the Dutch, it is more than ever I knew, or know yet; but if so, I hope it is no objection against our having the same here, especially if it be true that it would be so publicly beneficial as is expressed.
What is said of friendly societies, I think no man will dispute with me, since one has met with so much success already in the practice of it. I mean the Friendly Society for Widows, of which you have been pleased to be a governor.
Friendly societies are very extensive, and, as I have hinted, might be carried on to many particulars. I have omitted one which was mentioned in discourse with yourself, where a hundred tradesmen, all of several trades, agree together to buy whatever they want of one another, and nowhere else, prices and payments to be settled among themselves; whereby every man is sure to have ninety-nine customers, and can never want a trade; and I could have filled up the book with instances of like nature, but I never designed to fire the reader with particulars.