Daniel Defoe Additional Biography


(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

0111201539-Defoe.jpg Daniel Defoe (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

The author of 547 publications, Defoe was a ministerial student, a merchant, an importer, and a political agent for the English monarchs William and Mary. He was representative of the English intellectual revolution that denounced traditional authority and questioned even sacrosanct subjects, making him too radical for both Whigs and Tories. In 1685 he participated in Monmouth’s Rebellion against King James II, narrowly escaping Judge Jeffrey’s Bloody Assizes. As part of William and Mary’s triumphal procession into London (1689), Defoe wrote pamphlets advocating William’s policies.

Defoe’s best-known novels, Robinson Crusoe (1719), A Journal of the Plague Year (1722), and Moll Flanders (1722), examine contemporary social problems but avoid politics. He was censored in England for his controversial political pamphlets about religious minorities, the Jacobite threat, the Scottish Union, the standing army, the Act of Settlement, and King George’s accession. When Defoe’s mentor, King William, died in 1702, Tories attacked Defoe as a Whig radical.

Defoe’s most famous pamphlet, The Shortest Way with Dissenters (1702), ridiculed church bigotry, outraging both non-Anglican “dissenters” and Anglican officials. Defoe was tried for seditious libel in early 1703, under a law that defined libel as any criticism of government that reduced “the affection of the people for the king or his ministers...

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Daniel Defoe was born Daniel Foe in the parish of St. Giles, London, the son of James Foe, a Dissenter and a tallow chandler. (Only after the age of forty did Defoe change his last name, perhaps to seem more aristocratic.) The date of his birth is conjectural: In 1683, he listed his age on his marriage license as twenty-four, but since his sister, Elizabeth, was born in 1659, it is probable that Defoe was born the next year. Not much is known of his early childhood, but his education was certainly important in molding his interests. Being a Dissenter, Defoe was not allowed to attend Oxford or Cambridge; instead, he went to a dissenting academy presided over by the Reverend Charles Morton. While offering a study of the classics, the academy also stressed modern languages, geography, and mathematics, practical subjects neglected at the universities. This interest in the practical seems to have stayed with Defoe all his life: When his library was sold after his death, the advertisements listed “several hundred Curious, Scarce Tracts onHusbandry, Trade, Voyages, Natural History, Mines, Minerals, etc.” Defoe’s appreciation of the objects and processes by which one is enabled to live in the world is obvious: After making a table and chair, Crusoe reflects that “by stating and squaring everything by reason and by making the most rational judgment of things, every man may be in time master of every mechanic art.”

Although his father intended him for the ministry, Defoe became a merchant after leaving school and probably traveled on the Continent as part of his business. In 1684, he married the daughter of another dissenting merchant, and she brought him a considerable dowry. Defoe’s fortunes seemed to be rising, but in 1685, he was briefly involved in the duke of Monmouth’s rebellion, a Protestant uprising. Although he escaped the king’s soldiers, this event illustrates Defoe’s willingness to espouse dangerous political causes: Three former schoolmates who joined the rebellion were caught and hanged. While his affairs seemed to prosper during this time, there were disquieting lawsuits—eight between 1688 and 1694, one by his mother-in-law, whom he seems to have swindled—that cast doubt on both Defoe’s economic stability and his moral character. In fact, by 1692 he was bankrupt, a victim of losses at sea and his own speculations. Defoe’s character is always difficult to label; while the lawsuits show his unsavory side, he did make arrangements after his ruin to repay his creditors, which he seems to have done with surprising thoroughness.

Defoe then began building a brick factory on some land that he owned in Tilbury. This enterprise went well and, with William and Mary on the throne, Defoe could praise the government with a clear conscience. He admired William’s religious toleration, foreign policy, and encouragement of English trade. He wrote several pamphlets supporting William’s policy of containing Louis XIV’s political aspirations, a policy not always popular in England. When William’s followers from Holland were harassed by the English, Defoe wrote The True-Born Englishman: A Satyr (1701), a long poem arguing that the English are themselves a mixed race who cannot afford to deride other nationalities.

With the accession of Queen Anne of England in 1702, the Dissenters—and Defoe—suffered serious political grievances. Fiercely loyal to the Church of England, Anne looked with disfavor on other religious groups, and bills were introduced to limit the freedom of Dissenters. While both houses of Parliament debated the Occasional Conformity Bill in 1702—a bill that would have effectually prevented Dissenters from holding political office—Defoe published “The Shortest Way with the Dissenters,” an ironic pamphlet urging the government to annihilate this group entirely. At first it was taken at face value and applauded by the High Church party, but when its irony was perceived, a warrant was issued for Defoe’s arrest, and he went into hiding.

Fearful of imprisonment and the pillory, Defoe sent letters to Daniel Finch, second earl of Nottingham, the secretary of state, trying to negotiate a pardon: He would raise a troop of horses for the government at his own expense; he would volunteer to fight—and possibly die—in the Netherlands. Nottingham was inflexible, however, and...

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Daniel Defoe (dih-FOH) was born Daniel Foe in the parish of St. Giles Cripplegate, London, England, in 1660, the son of James Foe, a tallow chandler and butcher who later held several positions of authority in the city of London, and Alice Foe. (Defoe changed his name to its more aristocratic form sometime around the age of forty.) Because there are no surviving records of Defoe’s birth, biographers have surmised, on the basis of two of his offhand statements, that he was born sometime in the autumn. Defoe’s early years were eventful: When he was five, the Great Plague ravaged London and his family fled to the country; the next year, the Great Fire of London leveled thousands of houses and eighty-seven churches, including St....

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Daniel Defoe’s narratives—in particular, Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders, and Roxana—are widely regarded as ancestors of the novel The first two have each, at one time or another, been declared “the first novel,” although the consensus is that both books lack two essential characteristics of the novel: character development and a well-structured plot.

There is more agreement on Defoe’s contribution to the development of the new genre. From Defoe’s work, the novel acquired realism, moral complexity, plain language, and a focus on everyday human life. He may not be the father of the English novel, but that genre owes much of its character to the fiction he produced.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Daniel Defoe (dih-FOH), best known as the author of Robinson Crusoe, is a writer whose journalistic writing still has an appeal because of its assertion of commonsensical principles and whose works of fiction are convincing because of the same common sense and esteem for fact.

Few writers have written more voluminously and continuously than Defoe. Though there is uncertainty about the authorship of some works attributed to him, he has been credited with 570 separate works—newspapers, pamphlets, treatises, biographies, poems, guidebooks, and novels. It was in the midst of such abundant and ceaseless journalism that Defoe produced his works that are remembered. Like the works that are now forgotten, his...

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Although Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) is typically referred to as an “English novelist,” he was also a pamphleteer, journalist, and an excellent storyteller who overnight became famous for writing Robinson Crusoe (1719), a story of a man shipwrecked alone on an island. Some literary historians have placed him along with Samuel Richardson as the founder of the English novel, but, according to the definition of the novel, Defoe is not a novelist. And although this is meant to be a biography of Defoe, it is important to briefly explain why he should not be thought of as a novelist, though some of his works, including Robinson Crusoe and Roxana, may certainly be...

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(Novels for Students)

Daniel Defoe Published by Gale Cengage

Daniel Defoe was born in 1660 in Cripplegate, just outside the walls of the City of London. His parents, James and Alice Foe, were...

(The entire section is 448 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Born in London sometime in 1660 to James Foe, a chandler, and his wife, Daniel Defoe was originally educated for the Presbyterian ministry at...

(The entire section is 411 words.)


(Novels for Students)

Looking over the full life of Daniel Defoe, there seems to be little that the Englishman did not attempt or experience. He was a trainee for...

(The entire section is 537 words.)