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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

I. Defoe—The Newspaper and the Novel

§ 14. The Shortest Way with the Dissenters

The two most important pamphlets of 1702 were both concerned with ecclesiastical affairs—the acute New Test of the Church of England’s Loyalty and the notorious Shortest Way with the Dissenters. The latter may have been designed both to serve the whigs and to reassure those dissenters who had not liked or understood Defoe’s attitude on the now burning question of occasional conformity. Whatever his purpose, he overshot the mark by assuming the character of an intolerant “high-flyer” and by arguing for the suppression of dissent at all costs, no matter how cruel the means. It was no time for irony, especially for irony that demanded more power to read between the lines than either dissenters or extreme churchmen possessed. The former were alarmed; the latter were enraged when they discovered that they had been hoaxed into accepting as the pure gospel of conformity a tract written by a nonconformist for the purpose of reducing ecclesiastical intolerance to an absurdity.