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Daniel Defoe

Daniel Defoe

Daniel Defoe


Daniel Defoe (1659/1661 — April 24 , 1731)[1] was an English writer, journalist, and pamphleteer, who gained enduring fame for his novel Robinson Crusoe. Defoe is notable for being one of the earliest practitioners of the novel, as he helped to popularise the form in Britain, and is even referred to by some as one of the founders of the English novel. A prolific and versatile writer, he wrote more than five hundred books, pamphlets, and journals on various topics (including politics Read more on Last.fm
Daniel Defoe (1659/1661 — April 24 , 1731)[1] was an English writer, journalist, and pamphleteer, who gained enduring fame for his novel Robinson Crusoe. Defoe is notable for being one of the earliest practitioners of the novel, as he helped to popularise the form in Britain, and is even referred to by some as one of the founders of the English novel. A prolific and versatile writer, he wrote more than five hundred books, pamphlets, and journals on various topics (including politics, crime, religion, marriage, psychology and the supernatural). He was also a pioneer of economic journalism. Defoe's first notable publication was An Essay upon Projects, a series of proposals for social and economic improvement, published in 1697.

From 1697 to 1698, he defended the right of King William III to a standing army during disarmament after the Treaty of Ryswick (1697) had ended the War of the Grand Alliance (1689–97). His most successful poem, The True-Born Englishman (1697), defended the king against the perceived xenophobia of his enemies, satirising the English claim to racial purity. In 1701, Defoe, flanked by a guard of sixteen gentlemen of quality, presented the Legion's Memorial to the Speaker of the House of Commons, later his employer, Robert Harley. It demanded the release of the Kentish petitioners, who had asked Parliament to support the king in an imminent war against France. Defoe's pamphleteering and political activities resulted in his arrest and placement in a pillory on July 31, 1703, principally on account of a pamphlet entitled "The Shortest Way with the Dissenters", in which he ruthlessly satirised the High church Tories, purporting to argue for the extermination of dissenters.

However, according to legend, the publication of his poem Hymn to the Pillory caused his audience at the pillory to throw flowers instead of the customary harmful and noxious objects, and to drink to his health. The historicity of this story, however, is questioned by most scholars, although the scholar J. R. Moore later said that “no man in England but Defoe ever stood in the pillory and later rose to eminence among his fellow men.”[4] Thomas Cochrane, the real-life model for Patrick O'Brian's Captain Jack Aubrey, was sentenced to the pillory, but was excused for fear his popularity would cause a riot. After his three days in the pillory, Defoe went into Newgate Prison.

Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Mortimer, brokered his release in exchange for Defoe's co-operation as an intelligence agent. Within a week of his release from prison, Defoe witnessed the Great Storm of 1703, which raged from 26 to 27 November, the only true hurricane ever to have made it over the Atlantic Ocean to the British Isles at full strength. It caused severe damage to London and Bristol, uprooted millions of trees, and over 8,000 people lost their lives, mostly at sea. The event became the subject of Defoe's The Storm (1704), a collection of eyewitness accounts of the tempest.

In the same year he set up his periodical A Review of the Affairs of France, which supported the Harley ministry, chronicling the events of the War of the Spanish Succession (1702–14). The Review ran tri-weekly without interruption until 1713. When Harley was ousted from the ministry in 1708 Defoe continued writing it to support Godolphin, then again to support Harley and the Tories in the Tory ministry of 1710 to 1714. After the Tories fell from power with the death of Queen Anne, it is widely thought Defoe continued doing intelligence work for the Whig government. The extent and particulars of Defoe's writing in the period from the Tory fall in 1714 to the publication of Robinson Crusoe in 1719 is widely contested.

Defoe comments on the tendency to attribute author-less tracts to him in his self-vindicatory Appeal to Honour and Justice (1715), a defence of his part in Harley's Tory ministry (1710 – 14). Other works that are thought to anticipate his novelistic career include: The Family Instructor (1715), an immensely successful conduct manual on religious duty; Minutes of the Negotiations of Monsr. Mesnager (1717), in which he impersonates Nicolas Mesnager, the French plenipotentiary who negotiated the Treaty of Utrecht (1713); and A Continuation of the Letters Writ by a Turkish Spy (1718), a satire on European politics and religion, professedly written by a Muslim in Paris. From 1719 to 1724, Defoe published the novels for which he is now famous (see below). In the final decade of his life, he also wrote conduct manuals, including Religious Courtship (1722), The Complete English Tradesman (1726), and The New Family Instructor (1727).

He published a number of books decrying the breakdown of the social order, such as The Great Law of Subordination Considered (1724) and Everybody's Business is Nobody's Business (1725), and works on the supernatural, like The Political History of the Devil (1726), A System of Magick (1726), and An Essay on the History and Reality of Apparitions (1727). His works on foreign travel and trade include A General History of Discoveries and Improvements (1727) and Atlas Maritimus and Commercialis (1728). Perhaps his greatest achievement alongside the novels is the magisterial A tour thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724 – 27), which provided a panoramic survey of British trade on the eve of the Industrial Revolution. Daniel Defoe died on April 26, 1731, probably whilst in hiding from his creditors. He was interred in Bunhill Fields, London, where his grave can still be visited.

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