Carleton, George (fl.1728) (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 09
Carleton, George (fl.1728)

by John Ormsby
The ODNB says Carleton was a real person.

CARLETON, GEORGE (fl. 1728), captain, was author of ‘Military Memoirs, 1672–1713,’ a work which has been repeatedly included in the list of Defoe's fictions, and by such authorities as J. G. Lockhart, Walter Wilson, William Hazlitt, Lowndes, R. Chambers, Dr. Carruthers, and Professor G. L. Craik. The only reason assigned for including it is that it appeared in Defoe's lifetime, and in style and structure strongly resembles his fictitious narratives. The argument, in short, amounts to this, that the book is so extremely like the thing it claims to be that it must be one of Defoe's masterly imitations of it. No evidence of any kind in support of the assertion has ever been produced. Lord Stanhope (War of the Succession in Spain, Appendix, 1833) says that the ‘authenticity of the “Memoirs” was never questioned until the late General Carleton wished to claim the captain for his kinsman, and failing to discover his relationship next proceeded to deny his existence;’ but, however the question may have been first raised, it ought to have been set at rest by the production of Lord Stanhope's evidence proving Carleton to have been a flesh-and-blood hero, and not a member of the same family as Robinson Crusoe. According to the ‘Memoirs’ the author was a member of the garrison of Denia, which was compelled to surrender to the forces of Philip in 1708. But among the papers of his ancestor, Brigadier Stanhope, Lord Stanhope discovered a list of the English officers, some six or seven in number, made prisoners on that occasion, and in it appears ‘Captain Carletone of the traine of artillery,’ the branch of the service to which, we are given to understand by the ‘Memoirs,’ the author was attached from the time of the capture of Barcelona. The internal evidence ought to have convinced any one who examined the book carefully that it is what it claims to be, neither more nor less. Carleton's dedication to Lord Wilmington is followed in the original editions by an address to the reader, no doubt from the publisher, which, after a brief summary of Carleton's services in Flanders and Spain, says: ‘It may not be perhaps improper to mention that the author of these “Memoirs” was born at Ewelme in Oxfordshire, descended from an ancient and honourable family. The Lord Dudley Carleton who died secretary of state to King Charles I was his great uncle, and in the same reign his father was envoy at the court of Madrid, whilst his uncle, Sir Dudley Carleton, was ambassador to the States of Holland.’ There are one or two trifling inaccuracies here. There never was any such person, of course, as Lord Dudley Carleton. The statesman of Charles I's reign was Sir Dudley Carleton [q.v.] , created Baron Carleton of Imbercourt in 1626, and Viscount Dorchester in 1628; and it is questionable whether his nephew and namesake, knighted shortly after the elder Dudley was raised to the peerage, was ever actually ambassador in Holland, though he was certainly left in charge by his uncle on one or two occasions when the latter was summoned to England. But as far as the identification of the author goes there is no reason to doubt that the statement is substantially correct. It is incredible that the publisher would have gone out of his way to make a false declaration, the falsehood of which could have been so easily detected at the time, and on behalf of a book in which, in more than one instance, living persons were mentioned in such a way as to lead inevitably to its being branded as a lying production. It explains, too, how it was that the general, who, according to Lord Stanhope, first started the question, was unable to prove consanguinity with the author, for it would have been a very difficult matter to trace the connection between the Irish Carletons, descendants of the old Northumbrian or Cumbrian family, and the Oxfordshire Carletons, the stock of which Sir Dudley and the captain came. The ‘Memoirs,’ moreover, deal largely in incidents, of which a writer like Defoe could not possibly have had any knowledge without access to documents which were then absolutely inaccessible, and in incidents also known only to a few persons and of such a nature that any inaccuracy or untruthfulness in the narrator would have been most certainly denounced. For example, according to Carleton, just before the brilliant coup de main by which the Monjuich, the citadel of Barcelona, was taken, it was reported that a body of troops from the city was advancing. Peterborough hurried away to watch their movements. No sooner had he turned his back than something very like a panic seized some of the officers, and they all but succeeded in persuading Lord Charlemont, the second in command, a brave but weak man, to retire before their retreat was cut off. Seeing this, Carleton slipped away and warned Peterborough of what was going on. 'Good God! is it possible?' he exclaimed, and hurrying back snatched the half-pike out of Lord Charlemont's hands, and with a few vigorous words brought his officers to their senses. This, it is almost needless to observe, would have been an over-audacious flight for a romance writer to attempt. Lord Charlemont, it is true, was dead when the 'Memoirs' appeared; but he had left sons behind him who surely would have contradicted the story if they could. Peterborough survived the publication of the book seven years, and he was not the man to tolerate such a statement from an impostor. This is only one of several incidents mentioned by which the genuine character of Carleton's narrative may be tested. It is, of course, not impossible, as Lord Stanhope admits, that Carleton's manuscript may have been placed in Defoe's hands to be revised and put into shape; but it may be asked, what need is there for importing Defoe's name into the matter at all? It is not so much that Carleton write like Defoe as that Defoe could write like Carleton. There is this difference, however, as Dr. John Hill Burton (Reign of Queen Anne) points out, that Carleton, as a rule, keeps his own personality in the background, which Defoe's heroes certainly do not. As the title implies, Carleton's narrative embraces the period from the Dutch war to the peace of Utrecht. At the age of twenty he entered as a volunteer on board the London under Sir Edward Spragge, and was present at the battle of Southwold Bay. He next joined the army of the Prince of Orange as a volunteer in the prince's own company of guards, in which he had for a comrade Graham of Claverhouse. After the revolution he served in Scotland, and by distinguished service gained his company. He was afterwards quartered for some time in Ireland, but having no mind for the West Indies, whither his regiment was ordered in 1705, he effected an exchange, and with the recommendation of his old commander and friend. Lord Cutts, joined the army about to sail for Spain under Peterborough. There he did good service at Monjuich and Barcelona, but was unfortunate at Denia, and remained a prisoner of war until peace came in 1713. The latter part, and by no means the least interesting, of his 'Memoirs' is taken up with his observations on Spain and the Spaniards made during his captivity. From one or two references, e.g. to the recent death of Colonel Hales, governor of Chelsea Hospital, it is clear that the book was written between 1726 and 1728, the year in which it was published with the title of 'The Military Memoirs of Captain George Carleton from the Dutch War, 1672, in which he served to the conclusion of the peace of Utrecht, 1713. Illustrating some of the most remarkable transactions both by sea and land during the reigns of King Charles and King James II, hitherto unobserved by all the writers of those times.' It was reprinted in 1741 and again in 1743, with ad captandum variations of the title, England being then at war with Spain; but after these no edition seems to have been published until that of 1808-9, edited by Sir Walter Scott, and from that time to the present it has been included in every collective edition of Defoe's works. No better proof of its merits could be given than that it has been so often and so strenuously claimed as one of his fictions; but what more particularly entitles its author to a place here is its importance as a piece of historical evidence bearing on a period for which trustworthy evidence is scarce. Its value in this respect has been gratefully acknowledged by such competent authorities as Lord Stanhope and Dr. John Hill Burton, and this is what makes it all the more desirable that Carleton should be definitively removed from the category of fictitious characters.

[Lord Stanhope's History of the War of the Succession in Spain, London, 1832; Appendix to the History of the War of the Succession, London, 1833; Burton's History of the Reign of Queen Anne, Edinburgh and London, 1880; Lee's Daniel Defoe, his Life and recent discovered Writings, London, 1869; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser., ii. and iii. Lee, the latest biographer of Defoe, says that his investigations 'admitted no other conclusion than that Captain George Carleton was a real personage, and himself wrote this true and historical account of his own adventures;' and he prints a letter from Mr. James Crossley of Manchester, who says: 'There cannot be a question that Defoe had nothing whatever to do with it. After carefully going into the point thirty years ago I came to the conclusion that he could not possibly have written it, and that it is the genuine narrative of a real man, who is identified in the list of officers given by Lord Stanhope in the second edition of his "War of the Succession in Spain." I have never seen any reason since to alter my view.']

J. O.

CARLETON, GUY (1598?–1685), bishop of Chichester, said by Anthony à Wood to have been a kinsman of George Carleton (1559–1628) [q. v.], was a native of Bramston Foot, in Gilsland, Cumberland. He was educated at the free school in Carlisle, and was sent as a servitor to Queen's College, Oxford, of which he afterwards became