Memoirs of a Cavalier, by Daniel Defoe

Preface to the First Edition.

As an evidence that ’tis very probable these Memorials were written many years ago, the persons now concerned in the publication assure the reader that they have had them in their possession finished, as they now appear, above twenty years; that they were so long ago found by great accident, among other valuable papers, in the closet of an eminent public minister, of no less figure than one of King William’s secretaries of state.

As it is not proper to trace them any farther, so neither is there any need to trace them at all, to give reputation to the story related, seeing the actions here mentioned have a sufficient sanction from all the histories of the times to which they relate, with this addition, that the admirable manner of relating them and the wonderful variety of incidents with which they are beautified in the course of a private gentleman’s story, add such delight in the reading, and give such a lustre, as well to the accounts themselves as to the person who was the actor, that no story, we believe, extant in the world ever came abroad with such advantage.

It must naturally give some concern in the reading that the name of a person of so much gallantry and honour, and so many ways valuable to the world, should be lost to the readers. We assure them no small labour has been thrown away upon the inquiry, and all we have been able to arrive to of discovery in this affair is, that a memorandum was found with this manuscript, in these words, but not signed by any name, only the two letters of a name, which gives us no light into the matter, which memoir was as follows:—


“I found this manuscript among my father’s writings, and I understand that he got them as plunder, at, or after, the fight at Worcester, where he served as major of ——’s regiment of horse on the side of the Parliament. I.K.”

As this has been of no use but to terminate the inquiry after the person, so, however, it seems most naturally to give an authority to the original of the work, viz., that it was born of a soldier; and indeed it is through every part related with so soldierly a style, and in the very language of the field, that it seems impossible anything but the very person who was present in every action here related, could be the relater of them.

The accounts of battles, the sieges, and the several actions of which this work is so full, are all recorded in the histories of those times; such as the great battle of Leipsic, the sacking of Magdeburg, the siege of Nuremburg, the passing the river Lech in Bavaria; such also as the battle of Kineton, or Edgehill, the battles of Newbury, Marston Moor, and Naseby, and the like: they are all, we say, recorded in other histories, and written by those who lived in those times, and perhaps had good authority for what they wrote. But do those relations give any of the beautiful ideas of things formed in this account? Have they one half of the circumstances and incidents of the actions themselves that this man’s eyes were witness to, and which his memory has thus preserved? He that has read the best accounts of those battles will be surprised to see the particulars of the story so preserved, so nicely and so agreeably described, and will confess what we allege, that the story is inimitably told; and even the great actions of the glorious King GUSTAVUS ADOLPHUS receive a lustre from this man’s relations which the world was never made sensible of before, and which the present age has much wanted of late, in order to give their affections a turn in favour of his late glorious successor.

In the story of our own country’s unnatural wars, he carries on the same spirit. How effectually does he record the virtues and glorious actions of King Charles the First, at the same time that he frequently enters upon the mistakes of his Majesty’s conduct, and of his friends, which gave his enemies all those fatal advantages against him, which ended in the overthrow of his armies, the loss of his crown and life, and the ruin of the constitution!

In all his accounts he does justice to his enemies, and honours the merit of those whose cause he fought against; and many accounts recorded in his story, are not to be found even in the best histories of those times.

What applause does he give to gallantry of Sir Thomas Fairfax, to his modesty, to his conduct, under which he himself was subdued, and to the justice he did the king’s troops when they laid down their arms!

His description of the Scots troops in the beginning of the war, and the behaviour of the party under the Earl of Holland, who went over against them, are admirable; and his censure of their conduct, who pushed the king upon the quarrel, and then would not let him fight, is no more than what many of the king’s friends (though less knowing as soldiers) have often complained of.

In a word, this work is a confutation of many errors in all the writers upon the subject of our wars in England, and even in that extraordinary history written by the Earl of Clarendon; but the editors were so just that when, near twenty years ago, a person who had written a whole volume in folio, by way of answer to and confutation of Clarendon’s “History of the Rebellion,” would have borrowed the clauses in this account, which clash with that history, and confront it — we say the editors were so just as to refuse them.

There can be nothing objected against the general credit of this work, seeing its truth is established upon universal history; and almost all the facts, especially those of moment, are confirmed for their general part by all the writers of those times. If they are here embellished with particulars, which are nowhere else to be found, that is the beauty we boast of; and that it is that much recommend this work to all the men of sense and judgment that read it.

The only objection we find possible to make against this work is, that it is not carried on farther, or, as we may say finished, with the finishing the war of the time; and this we complain of also. But then we complain of it as a misfortune to the world, not as a fault in the author; for how do we know but that this author might carry it on, and have another part finished which might not fall into the same hands, or may still remain with some of his family, and which they cannot indeed publish, to make it seem anything perfect, for want of the other parts which we have, and which we have now made public? Nor is it very improbable but that if any such farther part is in being, the publishing these two parts may occasion the proprietors of the third to let the world see it, and that by such a discovery the name of the person may also come to be known, which would, no doubt, be a great satisfaction to the reader as well as us.

This, however, must be said, that if the same author should have written another part of this work, and carried it on to the end of those times, yet as the residue of those melancholy days, to the Restoration, were filled with the intrigues of government, the political management of illegal power, and the dissensions and factions of a people who were then even in themselves but a faction, and that there was very little action in the field, it is more than probable that our author, who was a man of arms, had little share in those things, and might not care to trouble himself with looking at them.

But besides all this, it might happen that he might go abroad again at that time, as most of the gentlemen of quality, and who had an abhorrence for the power that then governed here, did. Nor are we certain that he might live to the end of that time, so we can give no account whether he had any share in the subsequent actions of that time.

’Tis enough that we have the authorities above to recommend this part to us that is now published. The relation, we are persuaded, will recommend itself, and nothing more can be needful, because nothing more can invite than the story itself, which, when the reader enters into, he will find it very hard to get out of till he has gone through it.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53