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INTRODUCTION

I

DEFOE'S LIFE AND WORKS

IT IS quite difficult for anyone who reads Robinson
Crusoe to believe, while under the spell of it, that the
book was not written by the hero himself; for it reads
like the personal history of a mariner who was really
cast upon a desert island and really spent many years
there in an endeavor to make himself comfortable. It
all seems as true to fact as the Autobiography of Ben-
jamin Franklin. Such, however, is far from the case.
Robinson Crusoe is in the main an imaginary autobiog-
raphy written by an old man who had never passed be-
yond the land and waters of Europe. He had never-
theless experienced during his long life "innumerable
ups and downs in matters of fortune," which seemed to
him to have their counterpart in a famous story, then
current, of a buccaneer who had been put ashore on an
island in the South Seas. The author of Robinson Cru-
soe read so completely his own life by way of symbol into
the adventures of this buccaneer that he produced a nar-
rative having all the air of a real autobiography.

The writer who accomplished this extraordinary feat
called himself Daniel Defoe, though his real name was
Daniel Foe. His father was a prosperous butcher liv-
ing among the tradespeople of London, where the boy

was born, in 1659 or 1660, perhaps on September 30 of
the former year, or the very day when Robinson Crusoe
was wrecked on the Island of Despair. Like others of
their class, Defoe's parents were Dissenters or Noncon-
formists; that is to say, they dissented from the doctrines
of the Church of England, and refused to conform to
the ritual established by that church. We should be
near the mark if we called them Presbyterians. With a
view to the ministry, young Defoe at the age of four-
teen was sent to a Dissenting academy at Newington
Green, across the Thames, where he remained at his
books and at play among the fields for five years, laying
the foundation for a good knowledge of ancient and
modern literature, geography, mathematics, and history,
political as well as ecclesiastical. Among his com-
panions was Timothy Cruso, afterwards a well-known
Presbyterian minister, in memory of whom Defoe named
his romance, changing Timothy to Robinson. At that
time Latin was the medium of instruction in the great
public schools like Eton and Harrow; but at the little
Dissenting academy which Defoe attended, the master
read all his lectures in English and had his pupils write
all their exercises in the same tongue. To this custom
Defoe attributed his early mastery of a vivid and idi-
omatic English style.

From school Defoe did not pass to the Dissenting min-
istry, because, as you may know, the irregular clergy
had no social or political standing at the period when
he arrived at man's estate. He doubtless felt that he
could be more useful to Dissent if he remained a free-
lance in the discussion of all questions affecting the wel-
fare of his brethren. Under the circumstances, the most
natural calling for Defoe was trade. Marrying in 1684,
he accordingly soon settled in London as a "hose-factor,"
a sort of middleman between manufacturer and retailer.

His business, which extended with time far beyond hosiery, took him to France, and subsequently on a voyage to Portugal and Spain, where he acquired that knowledge of Spanish and Portuguese character which afterwards entered into Robinson Crusoe and other romances. He also learned withal to speak French and Spanish fluently. Something of an an adventurer, he joined with several of his schoolfellows in the insurrection under the Duke of Monmouth; and on the entry of William of Orange into London, he appeared among the handsomely dressed troopers in the Prince's retinue. These distractions, along with civil commotions, so interfered with his business that Defoe became a bankrupt in 1692, and was compelled to flee to Bristol in order to escape imprisonment for debt. He, however, soon compromised with his creditors and returned to London once more. The literary outcome of his first disaster in trade was a most illuminating Essay upon Projects (published some years later), advocating reforms in the bankruptcy laws, and the establishment of savings banks, insurance companies, colleges for the education of women, asylums for the feeble-minded, and other valuable public institutions, most of which have since become a part of modern civilization.

From the first, Defoe was like his Crusoe in that if he failed in one enterprise he quickly sought and tried another. Hitherto London had depended largely upon Holland for her pantiles, or curved tiles, as we usually call them in this country. Seeing an opportunity for profit in making them at home, Defoe became interested -first as secretary and afterwards as principal shareholder-in an old brick-yard down the Thames, which was developed under his management into a large pantile manufactory employing a hundred hands. A half-century ago the works were excavated by a curious admirer,

INTRODUCTION

I

DEFOE'S LIFE AND WORKS

IT IS quite difficult for anyone who reads Robinson Crusoe to believe, while under the spell of it, that the book was not written by the hero himself; for it reads like the personal history of a mariner who was really cast upon a desert island and really spent many years there in an endeavor to make himself comfortable. It all seems as true to fact as the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Such, however, is far from the case. Robinson Crusoe is in the main an imaginary autobiography written by an old man who had never passed beyond the land and waters of Europe. He had nevertheless experienced during his long life "innumerable ups and downs in matters of fortune," which seemed to him to have their counterpart in a famous story, then current, of a buccaneer who had been put ashore on an island in the South Seas. The author of Robinson Crusoe read so completely his own life by way of symbol into the adventures of this buccaneer that he produced a narrative having all the air of a real autobiography.

The writer who accomplished this extraordinary feat called himself Daniel Defoe, though his real name was Daniel Foe. His father was a prosperous butcher living among the tradespeople of London, where the boy

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