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Daniel Defoe

The son of a London butcher, Defoe was educated at a dissenting academy. He involved himself with various mercantile activities and was for a few years (1695-9) employed in the Glass Duty Office. He played a role in the Glorious Revolution and was in William's army of 1688. It followed, that down through the years Defoe was in favour; but, in 1702, he was to run afoul of the governing authorities on account of his pamphlet, "The Shortest Way with the Dissenters".

To hold an office in England, in the days of Defoe, it was necessary by the Test Act of 1673 to attend church, an Anglican church. If a dissenter wished to hold an office, he could get around the Test Act by occasionally attending at the parish church. The Occasional Conformity Bill was proposed to counter the growing practice. The bill was aimed at holders of municipal or national office, who, after qualifying by taking the Anglican Sacrament, afterwards attended a Nonconformist service. There was a provision for fines which went in their entirety to the informer. In 1704, Defoe was pilloried for the writing of his pamphlet. The move however somewhat backfired, as, instead of throwing rotten eggs, the crowd threw flowers. After a short stay in the stocks Defoe was sent to Newgate.

Defoe was not apparently imprisoned for long. In 1704, he was released. While in prison he kept up his writing; and, upon his release, he founded The Review, an important event in the history of journalism. "Appearing thrice weekly down to 1713, it aimed at being an organ of commercial interests, but also expressed opinions on all sorts of political and domestic topics ... [it anticipated] the Tatler and the Specator." (Chambers.)

During the latter period of Queen Anne's reign, Defoe was to be employed in various secret missions for the government. Though not a man of party, but of strong principles, Defoe was to be employed in the secret missions of government. He traveled and measured the mood of the people and reported back to Queen Anne's ministers. He played no small role in the successful completion of the union of Scotland and England in 1706.

With the coming of the House of Hanover, in 1714, Defoe turned from his secret missions and the writing of pamphlets: he became a writer of "fiction." To the average soul, Defoe is now known for his work, Robinson Crusoe (1719-20). Two of Defoe's other works, most popular, are: Moll Flanders (1722) and Journal of the Plague Year. Defoe's works are readily available on the 'NET .


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Peter Landry