Daniel Defoe

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Daniel Defoe

Daniel Defoe (1660?-1731), English journalist and novelist, whose work reflects his diverse experiences in many countries and in many walks of life. Besides being a brilliant journalist, novelist, and social thinker, Defoe was an outstanding author, producing more than 500 pieces of literature.

Defoe was born in London about 1660, the son of a candle merchant named Foe. Daniel added "De" to his name about 1700. He was educated for the Presbyterian ministry but decided to go into business in 1685. He became a hosiery merchant, and his business gave him frequent opportunities to travel throughout western Europe.

An opponent of the Roman Catholic King James II, in 1685 Defoe took an active part in the unsuccessful rebellion led by the Duke of Monmouth against the king. In 1692 his business went into bankruptcy, but subsequently he acquired control of a tile and brick factory. He obtained a government post in 1695 and the same year wrote "An Essay upon Projects", a remarkable writing of matters of public concern, such as the education of women. Especially noteworthy among his writings during the next several years was the satiric poem "The True-born Englishman" (1701), an attack on beliefs in racial or national superiority, which was directed particularly toward those English people who resented the new king, William III, for being Dutch.

The next year Defoe anonymously published a tract entitled "The Shortest Way with the Dissenters", which satirized religious intolerance by pretending to share the prejudices of the Anglican church against nonconformists. In 1703, when it was found that Defoe had written the tract, he was arrested and punished with an indeterminate term in jail. Robert Harley, the speaker of the House of Commons, gave Defoe his release in November 1703, on the condition that he agree to become a secret agent and public propagandist for the government.

During his time in prison Defoe's business had been ruined, so he turned to journalism for his living. From 1704 to 1713 he issued a triweekly news journal entitled "The Review", for which he did most of the writing. Its opinions and interpretations were often independent, but generally, "The Review" leaned toward the government in power. Defoe wrote strongly in favor of union with Scotland, and his duties as secret agent may have included other activities on behalf of union, which was achieved in 1707. In 1709 he wrote a History of the Union.
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