Fun facts about Daniel Defoe, one of Britain’s first novelists
1. He was born Daniel Foe. The French ‘De’ was a later affectation. Daniel Foe was born in around 1660, though the exact date is unknown. He lived through the Great Plague of 1665, an event he would later document in a work of part-fiction, part non-fiction, his Journal of the Plague Year. During the Great Fire of London a year later, in 1666, Defoe was almost caught up in the blaze: of all the houses in his neighbourhood, only Defoe’s and two other houses remained standing.
2. Daniel Defoe fought on the side of the rebels at the Battle of Sedgemoor in 1685. And, when the rebel army was defeated, Defoe (or plain Foe as he then was) narrowly avoided being sentenced to hanging at the Bloody Assizes, presided over by none other than the infamous Judge Jeffreys.
3. He had an unusual early business venture involving cats’ bottoms. Among Defoe’s numerous early business schemes (which, like all of them, failed miserably) was an attempt at making it as a hosier, and a more ambitious enterprise involving the harvesting of musk, which he extracted from the anal glands of cats.
4. He was put in the pillory for one of his seditious pamphlets. In 1703, he was put in the pillory for writing a satirical pamphlet, The Shortest Way with the Dissenters, attacking the treatment of religious dissenters in England. But far from assaulting Defoe with stones and rotten fruit, the crowd reportedly threw flowers at the writer. They also chanted Defoe’s own ‘Hymn to the Pillory’ in support, and raised a glass to him.
5. Defoe wrote two sequels to Robinson Crusoe. As we reveal in our interesting facts about Robinson Crusoe, the popularity of that novel led Defoe to write two follow-up books, published speedily after the original. The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe followed later in the same year, with Serious Reflections of Robinson Crusoe following a year later in 1720 (though this third book was little more than a collection of Defoe’s earlier works which was published under the Crusoe ‘brand’). The Farther Adventures sees Crusoe return to his island following the death of his wife in England; following the death of Man Friday, his faithful servant, he travels to Madagascar, the Far East, and Siberia, before returning to England ten years later. Defoe would write numerous other books besides Robinson Crusoe and its sequels, including Moll Flanders (1722) and Roxana (1724), as well as Captain Singleton (1720), about a man who is raised by gypsies and later becomes a pirate. He also wrote an early work of travel writing, A Tour Thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain, Divided into Circuits or Journies (1724-7). He died in 1731, of a ‘lethargy’ – probably, in modern parlance, a stroke. He would become known to posterity as one of England’s first novelists.
If you enjoyed these quick and interesting Defoe facts, we have more detail on his fascinating life in our short biography of Daniel Defoe.