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Sunday, 28 September 2014

Daniel Defoe

Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) was born in Fore Street, Applegate, London. His father was James Foe, a dissenting butcher and candle merchant. His mother was Alice Foe who died before Defoe was ten.

As a boy John Milton was one of Defoe's neighbors.

The 1666 Great Fire of London left standing only Defoe's and two other houses in his neighborhood.

Defoe was educated for the Presbyterian ministry. a good but not an ordered or aristocratic education. From the age of 14 he attended Morton’s Academy for Dissenters at Newington Green.

In addition to traditional Latin and Greek Defoe studied French, Italian, Spanish, Elementary Science, History and Geography. He was especially good at Geography.

Despite being educated for the non-conformist ministry, Defoe followed his father into trade eventually setting up as a merchant selling everything from fine stockings to the glands of civet cards.

He married Mary Tuffley who had a handsome dowry of £3700 in 1684. Her independent spirit attracted him and they had a happy marriage. They had eight children including six girls.

Defoe took part in Monmouth's doomed rebellion and was one of the first who got away scot free from the Battle of Sedgemoor.

Defoe's breeding of civit cats for the perfume industry was a disaster and he ended up in Newgate prison a bankrupt.

In 1694 with money given to him by his patron King William III, Defoe set up a brick and pantile works in Tilbury, Essex, and began to pay back his creditors.

The business was very successful, supplying the building boom in London with high quality material, but the sudden death of King William in 1702 left Defoe resented by the new administration under Queen Anne.

In 1702 Daniel Defoe anonymously published a tract entitled The Shortest Way with the Dissenters, which satirised religious intolerance by pretending to share the prejudices of the Anglican Church against Nonconformists.

When it was found the following year that Defoe had written the tract, he was arrested and sentenced him to a punitive fine, to public humiliation in a pillory and to an indeterminate length of imprisonment which would only end upon the discharge of the punitive fine. When Defoe was placed in the pillory on July 31, 1703, he was pelted with flowers.


With his imprisonment, Defoe's thriving business collapsed. The timing of the great storm, which raged across southern England in 1703 killing 8,000 people, added insult to injury. Had it occurred earlier in the year, Defoe might have expected a windfall from the highly inflated price of tiles and labor.

Robert Harley, the speaker of the House of Commons, secured Defoe's release in November 1703, probably on the condition that he agree to become a secret agent and public propagandist for the government.

In 1707 Defoe was employed by the government as a propagandist and opinion former in Scotland during the manoeuvres for the 1707 union with England.

Between 1703-13 Defoe ran his own newspaper The Review. News was scarce sometimes so he made up reports to print in it. It appeared three times a week even when he was in prison for libel.

Daniel Defoe was one of the first agony uncles or aunts. In The Review, he gave advice on reader's queries.

At one time he wrote the newspaper with his own hand three times a week for six months. The often outspoken and controversial Defoe never rested working seven days a week.

The virtual founder of the novel and father of modern journalism. His The Review was a great influence on later English newspapers.

Defoe had a gift for observing human nature. He wrote 250 books and over 500 written works including history, biography, sociology, travel, manuals of conduct for parents and lovers, economics and political pamphlets.


Defoe shot to fame with his poem The True Born Englishman.

Once Defoe was pilloried for three days for publishing non conformist tracts during which there was a torrential thunderstorm. Normally fruit and vegetables were thrown at the offender. The sympathetic crowd threw flowers rather than fruit. He spent his time there selling copies of the pamphlet which got him in trouble. Defoe wrote of this experience in verses called Hymn to the Pillory.

In 1719 Defoe decided to write a piece of fictitious journalism based on the true life castaway Andrew Selkirk at the time when his political reputation was sinking. Selkirk was 28 when his ship wrecked on one of the Juan Fernandez islands in the South Pacific in 1704 . He was stranded there for four years and was rescued from the island on February 2, 1709 by English captain Woodes Rogers and the crew of the privateering ship Duke.




The book was titled Robinson Crusoe and Defoe wrote it at 95 Stoke Newington Street. London. The work was published on April 25, 1719. Before the end of the year, this first volume had run through four editions.

Defoe was a zealous, evangelical Puritan. The book revealed Robinson Crusoe, even when marooned on a desert island, behaving in a prudent, hard-working Protestant manner, secure that despite the circumstances God was on his side.

Defoe met Alexander Selkirk, the real life castaway, in the Llandoger Trow pub in Bristol.

Its full title was The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York Mariner.

Defoe made his publishers a profit of over £1000 with the immediately successful Robinson Crusoe.




He wrote his follow up The Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, the month following the publication of the first volume. It was the first ever sequel to a novel. In 1720 Defoe wrote his second follow up Serious Reflections of Robinson Crusoe.

The Apparition of Mrs. Veal, a pamphlet attributed to Daniel Defoe, has been called the first modern ghost story. Defoe had a long-standing interest what would now be termed the supernatural and addressed the topic several times in his works. His Serious Reflections of Robinson Crusoe described "A vision of the Angelick World."

In 1722 Defoe wrote the smutty Moll Flanders to castigate immoral behaviour. It drew on the popularity of the lund criminal biographies which were in vogue at the time.

His A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain published in three volumes between 1724-26 was one of the first travel books.

Defoe exhorted the virtues of the textile factories of Halifax in his book calling them, "The most agreeable sight I ever saw". However the unspoilt countryside around Lancaster he described as, "A kind of unhospitable terror. No lead mines-no coal pits...no use or advantage to either man or beast."

Daniel Defoe’s numerous pen names included Jeffrey Sing-Song, Obadiah Blue Hat, Betty Blueskin, Penelope Firebrand, and the Man in the Moon.

Daniel Defoe died on April 24, 1731, probably while in hiding from his creditors. He was interred in Bunhill Fields, London, where a monument was erected to his memory in 1870.

Source The Independent

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