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Daniel Defoe


Daniel Defoe (1660?-1731), English businessman, journalist, pamphleteer and prolific author wrote Robinson Crusoe (1719);

"For sudden joys, like griefs, confound at first." …. I cast my eye to the stranded vessel, when, the breach and froth of the sea being so big, I could hardly see it, it lay so far off; and considered, Lord! how was it possible I could get on shore.--Ch. 3

Crusoe's fictional autobiographical account of his twenty-eight years shipwrecked on a remote island against incredible odds is continued in The Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Serious Reflections During the Life and Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1720). First published when he was almost sixty years old, Defoe is considered by many to have written the first English novel. He wrote Crusoe in the style of social realism in which he is the observant reporter, historian, humorist, and grand story teller. With his extraordinary bibliography comprising myriad historical, satirical and political writings, Defoe's most famous novel was an immediate success.

Many of Defoe's works are laden with irony, similar to how Jonathan Swift would write such works as Gulliver's Travels (1727). At various times writing under pseudonyms, Defoe also wrote essays on business; biographies; short stories; and poems including his famous The True-Born Englishman: A Satyr (1701)

Wherever God erects a house of prayer,
The Devil always builds a chapel there;
And 'twill be found, upon examination,
The latter has the largest congregation.--Part I, l. 1.

which won him court favour with then King William III. However, upon publication of "The Shortest Way With Dissenters" in 1702 he was charged with sedition and libel and sent to Newgate prison the following year.

Alas, the Church of England! What with Popery on one hand, and Schismatics on the other, how has She been crucified between two thieves. NOW, LET US CRUCIFY THE THIEVES!

Let her foundations be established upon the destruction of her enemies! The doors of Mercy being always open to the returning part of the deluded people, let the obstinate be ruled with the rod of iron!

Let all true sons of so holy and oppressed a Mother, exasperated by her afflictions, harden their hearts against those who have oppressed her!!

And may God Almighty put it into the hearts of all the friends of Truth, to lift up a Standard against Pride and ANTICHRIST! that the Posterity of the Sons of Error may be rooted out from the face of this land, for ever!

During his imprisonment he wrote "Hymn to the Pillory" which won him much favour with the crowds;

...let all the statesmen stand;
Who guide us with unsteady hand;
Who armies, fleets, and men betray;
And ruin all the shortest way.
Let all those soldiers stand in sight.
Who're willing to be paid and not to fight.
Agents, and Colonels, who false musters bring,
To cheat their country first, then their King.

In 1685 Defoe had participated in the Monmouth Rebellion against James II and he also served time in prison for debts incurred after failed speculative business ventures. Although Defoe was actively involved in the dissenting politics of his time, he is best remembered for his fictional works. They have inspired countless authors including Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson, authors who also had fantastic tales to tell.

Not much is known of his early years, but Daniel Defoe was born sometime in the year 1659 or 1660 in the Cripplegate Parish of London, England, the youngest of three children born to Alice and James Foe, a tallow chandler. He began to preface his name with De sometime during the mid-to late 1690's. His parents being Presbyterian dissenters, Daniel attended Charles Morton's Dissenting Academy in Newington Green for four years, with plans to enter the ministry. But it was not to be, for as his non-Conformist father, he too decided to enter the business world. Settling in Cornhill, he became a merchant in various woolen goods as well as tobacco, wine, and wood. Religious upheaval and Plague did not stop Defoe as importer-exporter from also becoming involved with many social, political and religious causes including freedom of religion and the press. His first foray into the publishing world was his series of essays on business and banking collected in An Essay Upon Projects (1697).

Dickory Cronke (1719) was followed by The Life of Captain Singleton (1720) and Memoirs of a Cavalier (1720). Defoe's next major work is Moll Flanders (1722), sub-titled Who was Born in Newgate, and during a Life of continu'd Variety for Threescore Years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own Brother), Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv'd Honest, and dies a Penitent. Written from her own Memorandums . . . Colonel Jack (1722) was published the same year as Defoe's convincing journalistic History of the Plague in London (1722). Other titles by Defoe include Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress (1724), The Complete English Tradesman (1726), and Military Memoirs of Capt. George Carleton (1728).

In 1684 Defoe married Mary Tuffley, with whom he would have eight children, five surviving to adulthood. In his later years Defoe suffered much strain from debt. He died of a stroke in April of 1731 at his home in London and now rests in the Nonconformist cemetery of Bunhill Fields, London, England. His wife Mary was buried beside him in 1732. A large memorial now stands there in his honour.

The best of men cannot suspend their fate:
The good die early, and the bad die late.--Character of the Late Dr. S. Annesley (1715)

Biography written by C. D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc. 2009. All Rights Reserved.

The above biography is copyrighted. Do not republish it without permission.

Forum Discussions on Daniel Defoe

Recent Forum Posts on Daniel Defoe

Robinson Crusoe

Hi, could anyone help me? I'm writing an essey on Traditional Robinsonades, but I'm not sure if Robinson Crusoe supported slavery or not? How does Defoe seem to comment on the institution of slavery and issues of race? Does Robinson represent British colonialism and imperialism, is this novel glorifying the subjugation of other cultures?...

Daniel Defoe's Dickory Cronke

I embarked upon the daunting task of hacking my way through this sentence-run-on novel, but found that I couldn't get past half the first part. :(. I believe the main reason for this was Defoe's excessive use of semi-colons and camas in order shove each one of his paragraphs into one whole sentence. Can anyone here tell me if it is just me who finds Dickory Cronke difficult to read and absorb or are the sentence run-ons and---by today's standards---erroneous usage of punctuation two faculties which make this book difficult to read?--Thanks: An excerpt from the first part: " When he came to be eight years of age, his mother agreed with a person in the next village, to teach him t...

daniel defoe - his comments about village constables

Does anyone know of a pamphlet or paper written by Defoe about the role of village constables in the early eighteenth century? any quotes or references would be helpful. thanks:flare:...

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