English Essays: Sidney to Macaulay.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Introductory Note

Daniel Defoe

DANIEL DEFOE (c. 1661–1731) was the son of a London butcher called Foe, a name which Daniel bore for more than forty years. He early gave up the idea of becoming a dissenting minister, and went into business. One of his earlier writings was an “Essay upon Projects,” remarkable for the number of schemes suggested in it which have since been carried into practise. He won the approval of King William by his “True-born Englishman,” a rough verse satire repelling the attacks on William as a foreigner. His “Shortest-Way with Dissenters,” on the other hand, brought down on him the wrath of the Tories; he was fined, imprisoned, and exposed in the pillory, with the result that he became for the time a popular hero. While in prison he started a newspaper, the “Review” (1704–1713), which may in certain respects be regarded as a forerunner of the “Tatler” and “Spectator.” From this time for about fourteen years he was chiefly engaged in political journalism, not always of the most reputable kind; and in 1719 he published the first volume of “Robinson Crusoe,” his greatest triumph in a kind of realistic fiction in which he had already made several short essays. This was followed by a number of novels, dealing for the most part with the lives of rogues and criminals, and including “Moll Flanders,” “Colonel Jack,” “Roxana,” and “Captain Singleton.” Notable as a specially effective example of fiction disguised as truth was his “Journal of the Plague Year.”

In the latter part of his career Defoe became thoroughly discredited as a politician, and was regarded as a mere hireling journalist. He wrote with almost unparalleled fluency, and a complete list of his hundreds of publications will never be made out. The specimen of his work given here show him writing vigorously and sincerely, and belong to a period when he had not yet become a government tool.