Little Bits of History

Daniel Defoe

Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 31, 2014
Daniel Defoe

Daniel Defoe

July 31, 1703: Daniel Defoe is placed in a pillory. In 1702, William III died and Queen Anne took over the rule of England with an offensive against Nonconformists. Defoe was a natural target because of his political activities which included pamphlet writing. In December 1702 he had published The Shortest-Way with the Dissenters; Or, Proposals for the Establishment of the Church. The pamphlet satirically poked fun at the way the Tory ministry was handling affairs and led to Defoe being arrested for seditious libel. He was given a punitive fine, held in prison until he could pay the fine, and publi humiliation in a pillory. During his imprisonment, he fell into bankruptcy which was probably a far greater punishment than being placed in stocks. Legend says that while in the pillory, rather than being accosted by noxious objects, citizen threw flowers instead.

After three days in the pillory, Defoe was sent to Newgate Prison. Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer brokered for his release. Harley wished to secure Defoe’s cooperation as an intelligence agent for the Tories. In exchange for information, Harley paid some of Defoe’s debts and improved his financial standing. Soon after his release, Dafoe was back to his writing. His pamphlet, The Storm was based on the horrific storm that blew across England on November 26 – 27, 1703 which killed thousands as well as causing severe damage and uprooting millions of trees. It contains many eyewitness accounts and is considered to be a pioneering work of journalism and science reporting.

Defoe was born in London in 1659 or 1660. He worked as a trader, writer, pamphleteer, spy, and is mostly known today as the author of Robinson Crusoe. He was an early adopter of the novel as a writing form and he a few others were responsible for the English novel’s adoption by the masses. Born, Daniel Foe, he added the “De” for status reasons later in life. His father was a prosperous tallow chandler and member of the Butchers’ Company. Defoe saw some of the most unusual occurrences in English history from the Great Plague of London in 1665 which killed 70,000, to the Great Fire of London of 1666 where the Foe household and only two others in his neighborhood survived the blaze.

His parents were Presbyterian dissenters and by around age 14, he was schooled at the dissenting academy at Newington Green in London. Not attending the Church of England was not tolerated well by the government. As a young man, he began working as a trader and although he seemed to do well, he was rarely out of debt. His first writing saw print in 1697 and over the course of his lifetime he was able to produce over 500 books, pamphlets, and journals on a variety of topic which included politics, crime, religion, marriage, psychology, and the supernatural. He died on April 24, 1731 probably while hiding from his creditors. He is known to have used at least 198 pen names.

As covetousness is the root of all evil, so poverty is the worst of all snares.

The soul is placed in the body like a rough diamond, and must be polished, or the luster of it will never appear.

All our discontents about what we want appeared to spring from the want of thankfulness for what we have.

All men would be tyrants if they could. – all from Daniel Defoe

Also on this day: Mount Fuji – In 781, Mount Fuji erupts for the first time in recorded history.
Who Knows? – In 1930, The Shadow came to radio.
First US Patent – In 1790, the first US patent was granted.
All Wet All-Stars – In 1961, the baseball game ended in a tie.

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