Biographical Impressions

There is in every man's life a turning point; a shift of winds that alters his course. And with such oncoming storms hard choices must be made; destinations determined. It was in that year 1692, when I declared bankruptcy the first time (for as such I found myself in the same situation 11 years later), and realized that my inconsequential life must fade into the common place obscurity of the struggle of my class or step off into the abyss and sail into the unknown with nothing but wit and ingenuity to satisfy my hopes and desires.


What direction my life would take I did not know, but setting aside my attempts of a modest merchant's life, I gave up the speculation of wine and bricks and decided to make my own way. This endeavor I pursued by picking up the pen; it would be an attempt to improve myself, my station, and country, for I found that it was society and its political and religious influence that confounded my attempts to flourish, whether by means or with mere contentment; for a man needs both.


The initial publishing of my political opinions pulled me in two directions: first to the pillory, where I stood three times for my defense of William, thanks be in part to my pamphlet, The Shortest Way to the Dissenters (1702), and eventually to jail. By the by, I found myself patronized by the honorable Robert Harley; Chancellor of the Exchequer. I fulfilled a great need for my benefactor, engaging in the intrigue of spying for my country. My information on the feelings of our fellow Scots regarding the union of England and Scotland I feel had some distinction. The Anglo/Scottish union became official some time later in 1707.


From the merchant life to one of political activism and duty, I found myself no longer bound tightly to the concerns of the usual toil for day to day living. My experiences and passionate beliefs of man's right to address his personal and public concerns became my duty and career. I wrote of travel, religion, and even family, with recommendations in The Family Instructor (1715). In time, my love of literature, eventually led me to adjust my sails before I saw my sixtieth year, and I began the venture into fiction, which many may be more familiar with and associate with my name.


Does a man lose everything when he loses everything? I was not yet as Job when my early business failed. Whether ill prepared or unenthusiastic, or perhaps unscrupulous (as I have been accused) on the occasion, my first failures were nothing more than clouds on the horizon that forced me to reexamine my  navigational charts, and thus I made my way.

It is true my work, beginning with pamphlets and other persuasions, and ending with stories of adventure and class, felt the influence of my existence. I was from birth and my unpopular education, ignorant and inexperienced with the upper echelons of society. My middle class and Nonconformist childhood, and later the highs and lows of my business career, impressed upon me the instability of life. I witnessed the Plague, the London fires, and persecution of those religious dissenters who suffered much; a great deal more than I care to elaborate here.


These experiences no doubt inspired me in one of my first published works, An Essay upon Projects (1697), where I proposed solutions for those inconveniences that afflict the every day man including answers for highway maintenance, banking, education, and other daily life concerns.


Prison did little to deter my determination to be ingenious and bold. My time spent in the stocks for penning The Shortest Way I also made well use of, despite the inglorious circumstances. While defended from the mob by my good friends, we sold copies of my reply, Hymn to the Pillory, while I was thus engaged with the device and had the last satisfying turn as it earned me an income at the expense of Justice.  


Some today may be familiar with my more literary works; Robinson Crusoe (1719), Moll Flanders (1722), Colonel Jack (1722), or perhaps, Roxana (1724). My travels and my relationships with those who went to sea when I could not, perhaps influenced my curiosity for the far side of the world and even the Englishman's place in it. Being fully aware of the rumors of my inspiration, including a certain Mr. Alexander Selkirk who survived his four years on Más a Tierra as a castaway, I shall not remark upon them other than to say that 'they who do those things never talk of them; or that they who talk of such things never do them.'


Besides those adventure abroad, I continued to write in other genres, the experiences of my early life not being forgotten or discarded. It is not widely known that less than one-fourth of my work is available in print today, the many texts of different subjects and themes still dormant for the modern reader. I hope only that as much interest is someday invested in my religious essays, travel commentaries (e.g., The Tour thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain), and other manuals and spark as much imagination and criticism as my castaways and sea rogues.

"Daniel Defoe." The Defoe Society.


Reidhead, Julia. Editor. The Restoration and the 18th Century. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ninth edition. Volume C. M. H. Abrams, Founding Editor Emeritus. W.W. Norton and Company, Inc. New York. 2012.