Daniel Defoe

Daniel Defoe


Daniel Defoe was a Londoner, born c. 1660 at St. Giles, Cripplegate, the son of James Foe, a tallow-chandler and member of the Butchers’ Company. Daniel began to use the name ‘De Foe’ c. 1695. He was educated for the Presbyterian ministry at Morton’s Dissenting Academy at Newington Green, but decided he had no vocation and instead went into the wholesale hosiery business, acquiring premises in Cornhill. In 1685 he participated in Monmouth’s unsuccessful rebellion. His business activities were extended into the wine trade and marine insurance, but in 1692 he was declared bankrupt. The consequences of this debacle pursued him for the rest of his life, though he profited from the experience by becoming an expert in bankruptcy law, which he had some influence in reforming.

Meanwhile, Defoe was becoming a prolific and versatile writer, producing pamphlets and books on a wide variety of topics, including politics, crime, religion, economics, marriage, topography and superstition. His first extant political tract (against James II) was published in 1688. Becoming a staunch supporter of King William, he published early in January 1601 a verse satire, The True-Born Englishman, championing William and making merciless fun of English chauvinism, and the poem was an instant and runaway success. Two years later he brought out The Shortest Way with the Dissenters, a pamphlet pretending to be by a High Churchan calling for a root-and-branch extirpation of Dissent. It caused the enraged Government to have Defoe committed to Newgate and tried at the Old Bailey, where he was sentenced to stand three times in the pillory. for the following ten years he acted as a personal agent for the Secretary of State, Robert Harley, with whose support he launched an influential periodical, the Review.

Defoe turned to fiction relatively late in life and in 1719 published his great imaginative work, Robinson Crusoe. This was followed in 1722 by Moll Flanders and A Journal of the Plague Year, and in 1724 by his last important novel, Roxana. Other major works include a History of the Union (1709); The Family Instructor (1715); A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain, a guide-book in three volumes (1724-6); The Political History of the Devil (1726); A Plan of the English Commerce (1728); and The Complete English Gentleman (not published until 1890). He died on April 24, 1731.

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