Essays upon several projects: or, effectual ways for advancing the interest of the nation.:
Defoe, Daniel, 1661?-1731.
Page  1

Introduction.

_NEcessity, which is al|low'd to be the Mo|ther of Invention, has so violently agitated the Wits of men at this time, that it seems not at all improper, by way of di|stinction, to call it, The Projecting Age. For tho' in times of War and Publick Confusions, the like Humour of Invention has seem'd to stir; yet, without being partial to the present, it is, I think, no Injury to say, the past Ages have never come up to the de|gree of Projecting and Inventing, as it refers to Matters of Negoce, and Page  2 Methods of Civil Polity, which we see this Age arriv'd to.

Nor is it a hard matter to assign probable Causes of the Perfection in this Modern Art. I am not of their melancholy Opinion, who ascribe it to the general Poverty of the Nation; since I believe 'tis easy to prove, the Nation it self, taking it as one Gene|ral Stock, is not at all diminish'd or impoverish'd by this Long, this Chargeable War; but on the contra|ry, was never Richer, since it was in|habited.

Nor am I absolutely of the Opini|on, that we are so happy as to be Wiser in this Age, than our Fore|fathers; tho' at the same time I must own, some parts of Knowledge in Science as well as Art, has received Improvements in this Age, altogether conceal'd from the former.

Page  3 The Art of War, which I take to be the highest Perfection of Human Knowledge, is a sufficient Proof of what I say, especially in conducting Armies, and in offensive Engines; witness the new ways of Mines, Fou|gades, Entrenchments, Attacks, E|lodgments, and a long Et Cetera of New Inventions which want Names, pra|ctised in Sieges and Encampments; witness the new sorts of Bombs and unheard-of Mortars, of Seven to Ten Ton Weight, with which our Fleets standing two or three Miles off at Sea, can imitate God Almighty him|self, and rain Fire and Brimstone out of Heaven, as it were, upon Towns built on the firm Land; witness also our new-invented Child of Hell, the Machine, which carries Thunder, Lightning, and Earthquakes in its Page  4 Bowels, and tears up the most im|pregnable Fortifications.

But if I would search for a Cause, from whence it comes to pass that this Age swarms with such a multitude of Projectors more than usual; who be|sides the Innumerable Conceptions which dye in the bringing forth, and (like Abortions of the Brain) only come into the Air, and dissolve, do really every day produce new Contrivances, Engines, and Projects to get Money, never before thought of; if, I say, I would examine whence this comes to pass, it must be thus:

The Losses and Depredations which this War brought with it at first, were exceeding many, suffer'd chiefly by the Ill Conduct of Merchants them|selves, who did not apprehend the Danger to be really what it was: For before our Admiralty could possibly Page  5 settle Convoys, Cruisers, and Stations for Men of War all over the World, the French cover'd the Sea with their Privateers, and took an incredible number of our Ships. I have heard the Loss computed by those who pre|tended they were able to guess, at above Fifteen Millions of Pounds ster|ling, in Ships and Goods, in the first two or three Years of the War: A Sum, which if put into French, would make such a rumbling Sound of great Numbers, as would fright a weak Accomptant out of his belief, being no less than One hundred and Ninety Millions of Livres. The weight of this Loss fell chiefly on the Tra|ding Part of the Nation; and amongst them, on the Merchants; and amongst them again upon the most refin'd Ca|pacities, as the Insurers, &c. And an incredible number of the best Mer|chants Page  6 in the Kingdom sunk under the Load; as may appear a little by a Bill which once pass'd the House of Commons, for the Relief of Mer|chant-Insurers, who had suffered by the War with France. If a great ma|ny fell, much greater were the num|ber of those who felt a sensible Ebb of their Fortunes, and with difficulty bore up under the Loss of great part of their Estates. These, prompted by Necessity, rack their Wits for New Contrivances, New Inventions, New Trades, Stocks, Projects, and any thing to retrieve the desperate Credit of their Fortunes. That this is pro|bable to be the Cause, will appear further thus; France, tho' I do not believe all the great Outcries we make of their Misery and Distress, if one half of which be true, they are cer|tainly the best Subjects in the world; Page  7 yet without question has felt its share of the Losses and Damages of the War; But the Poverty there falling chiefly on the Poorer sort of People, they have not been so fruitful in In|ventions and Practices of this nature, their Genius being quite of another strain. As for the Gentry and more capable sort, the first thing a French man flies to in his distress, is the Ar|my; and he seldom comes back from thence to Get an Estate by painful Industry, but either has his Brains knock'd out, or makes his Fortune there.

If Industry be in any Business re|warded with success, 'tis in the Mer|chandizing Part of the World, who indeed may more truly be said to live by their Wits than any people whatso|ever. All Foreign Negoce, tho' to some 'tis a plain road by the help of Page  8 Custom, yet it is in its beginning all Project, Contrivance, and Invention. Every new Voyage the Merchant con|trives, is a Project; and Ships are sent from Port to Port, as Markets and Merchandizes differ, by the help of strange and Universal Intelligence; wherein some are so exquisite, so swift, and so exact, that a Merchant sitting at home in his Counting-house, at once converses with all Parts of the known World. This, and Travel, makes a True-bred Merchant the most Intelligent Man in the World, and consequently the most capable, when urg'd by Necessity, to Contrive New Ways to live. And from hence, I humbly conceive, may very properly be deriv'd the Projects, so much the Subject of the present Discourse. And to this sort of men 'tis easy to trace the Original of Banks, Stocks, Stock|jobbing, Page  9 Assurances, Friendly Socie|ties, Lotteries, and the like.

To this may be added, the long annual Enquiry in the House of Com|mons for Ways and Means, which has been a particular movement to set all the Heads of the Nation at work; and I appeal, with submission, to the Gentle|men of that Honourable House, if the greatest part of all the Ways and Means, out of the common road of Land-Taxes, Polls, and the like, have not been handed to them from the Merchant, and in a great measure Paid by 'em too.

However I offer this but as an Essay at the Original of this prevaling Hu|mour of the People; and as 'tis pro|bable so, 'tis also possible to be other|wise; which I submit to future de|monstration.

Page  10 Of the several ways this Faculty of Projecting have exerted it self, and of the various Methods, as the Genius of the Authors has inclin'd, I have been a diligent Observer, and in most an unconcern'd Spectator; and, perhaps, have some advantage from thence more easily to discover the faux Pas of the Actors. If I have given an Essay towards any thing New, or made Discovery to advantage of any Con|trivance now on foot, all Men are at the liberty to make use of the Improve|ment; if any Fraud is discover'd, as now practis'd, 'tis without any parti|cular Reflection upon Parties or Per|sons.

Projects of the nature I Treat about, are doubtless in general of pub|lick Advantage, as they tend to Im|provement of Trade, and Employ|ment of the Poor, and the Circulati|on Page  11 and Increase of the publick Stock of the Kingdom; but this is suppos'd of such as are built on the honest Ba|sis of Ingenuity and Improvement; in which, tho' I'le allow the Author to aim primarily at his own Advantage, yet with the circumstances of Publick Benefit added.

Wherefore 'tis necessary to distin|guish among the Projects of the pre|sent times, between the Honest and the Dishonest.

There are, and that too many, fair pretences of fine Discoveries, new Inventions, Engines, and I know not what, which being advanc'd in Noti|on, and talk'd up to great things to be perform'd when such and such Sums of Money shall be advanc'd, and such and such Engines are made, have rais'd the Fancies of Credulous People to such height, that meerly Page  12 on the shadow of Expectation, they have form'd Companies, chose Com|mittees, appointed Officers, Shares, and Books, rais'd great Stocks, and cri'd up an empty Notion to that de|gree, that People have been betray'd to part with their Money for Shares in a New-Nothing; and when the In|ventors have carri'd on the Jest till they have Sold all their own Interest, they leave the Cloud to vanish of it self, and the poor Purchasers to Quar|rel with one another, and go to Law about Settlements, Transferrings, and some Bone or other thrown among 'em by the Subtlety of the Author, to lay the blame of the Miscarriage upon themselves. Thus the Shares at first begin to fall by degrees, and happy is he that Sells in time; till like Brass Money it will go at last for nothing at all. So have I seen Shares Page  13 in Joint-Stocks, Patents, Engines, and Undertakings, blown up by the air of great Words, and the Name of some Man of Credit concerned, to 100 l. for a 500th. Part, or Share, some more, and at last dwindle a|way, till it has been Stock-Jobb'd down to 10, 12, 9, 8 l. a Share, and at last no Buyer; that is, in short, the fine new word for Nothing-worth, and many Families ruin'd by the Purchase. If I should name Linnen-Manufactures, Saltpeter-Works, Copper-Mines, Diving-Engines, Dipping, and the like, for instances of this, I shou'd, I believe, do no wrong to Truth, or to some Persons too visibly guilty.

I might go on upon this Subject to expose the Frauds and Tricks of Stock-Jobbers, Engineers, Patentees, Commit|tees, with those Exchange-Mountebanks we very properly call Brokers; but I have Page  14 not Gaul enough for such a work; but as a general rule of caution to those who wou'd not be Trick'd out of their Estates by such Pretenders to New Inventions, let them observe, That all such People who may be suspected of Design, have assuredly this in their Proposal, Your Money to the Author must go before the Experiment: And here I could give a very diverting Hi|story of a Patent-Monger, whose Cully was no body but my self; but I refer it to another occasion.

But this is no reason why Invention upon honest foundations, and to fair purposes, shou'd not be encourag'd; no, nor why the Author of any such fair Contrivances should not reap the harvest of his own Ingenuity; out Acts of Parliament for granting Patents to first Inventors for Four|teen years, is a sufficient acknowledg|ment Page  15 of the due regard which ought to be had such as find out any thing which may be of publick Ad|vantage; new Discoveries in Trade, in Arts and Mysteries, of Manufa|cturing Goods, or Improvement of Land, are without question of as great benefit, as any Discoveries made in the Works of Nature by all the Aca|demies and Royal Societies in the world.

There is, 'tis true, a great differ|ence between New Inventions and Pro|jects, between Improvement of Ma|nufactures or Lands, which tend to the immediate Benefit of the Publick, and Imploying of the Poor; and Projects fram'd by subtle Heads, with a sort of a Deceptio Visus, and Legerde|main, to bring People to run needless and unusual hazards: I grant it, and give a due preference to the first, and yet Success has so sanctifi'd some of Page  16 those other sorts of Projects, that 'twou'd be a kind of Blasphemy a|gainst Fortune to disallow 'em; wit|ness Sir William Phips's Voyage to the Wreck; 'twas a mere Project, a Lot|tery of a Hundred thousand to One odds; a hazard, which if it had fail'd, every body wou'd have been asham'd to have own'd themselves concern'd in; a Voyage that wou'd have been as much ridicul'd as Don Quixot's Ad|venture upon the Windmill: Bless us! that Folks should go Three thousand Miles to Angle in the open Sea for Pieces of Eight! why, they wou'd have made Ballads of it, and the Merchants wou'd have said of every unlikely Adventure, 'Twas like Phips his Wreck-Voyage; but it had Suc|cess, and who reflects upon the Pro|ject?

Page  17
Nothing's so partial as the Laws of Fate,
Erecting Blockheads to suppress the Great.
Sir Francis Drake the Spanish Plate-Fleet Won,
He had been a Pyrate if he had got none.
Sir Walter Rawleigh strove, but miss;'d the Plate,
And therefore Di'd a Traytor to the State.
Endeavour bears a Value more or less,
Just as 'tis recommended by Success:
The lucky Coxcomb ev'ry Man will prize,
And Prosp'rous Actions always pass for Wise.

However, this sort of Projects comes under no Reflection as to their Ho|nesty, save that there is a kind of Ho|nesty a Man owes to himself and to his Family, that prohibits him throw|ing away his Estate in impracticable, improbable Adventures; but still some hit even of the most unlikely, of which this was one, of Sir William Phips, who Page  18 brought home a Cargo of Silver of near 200000 l. sterling, in Pieces of Eight, fish'd up out of the open Sea remote from any shore, from an old Spanish Ship which had been sunk above Forty Years.