Daniel Defoe was a Londoner, born in 1660 at St. Giles, Cripplegate, and was the son of James Foe, a tallow-chandler. He changed his name to Defoe around 1695. He was educated for the Presbyterian Ministry at Morton's Academy for Dissenters at Newington Green, but in 1682 he abandoned this plan and became a hosiery merchant in Cornhill. After serving briefly as a soldier in the Duke of Monmouth's rebellion, he became well established as a merchant and traveled widely in England, as well as on the Continent. Between 1697 and 1701 he served as a secret agent for William III in England and Scotland, and between 1703 and 1714 he served for Harley and other ministers. During the latter period he also single-handedly produced the Review, a pro-government newspaper.
A prolific and versatile writer, he produced some 500 books on a wide variety of topics: politics, geography, crime, religion, economics, marriage, psychology and superstition. He delighted in role-playing and disguise, a skill he used to great effect as a secret agent, and in his writing he often adopted a pseudonym or another personality for rhetorical impact. His first extant political tract (against James II) was published in 1688, and his satirical poem The True-Born Englishman appeared in 1701 winning immediate aclaim. Two years later he was arrested, committed to Newgate, and pilloried for writing The Shortest-Way with the Dissenters, an ironical satire on High Church extremism.
He turned to fiction relatively late in life and in 1719 published his great imaginative work: Robinson Crusoe. This was followed in 1722 by Moll Flanders and A Journal of the Plague Year, and his last novel, Roxana was published in 1724. His other works include A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain, a guide-book in three volumes (1724—6), The Complete English Tradesman (1726), Augusta Triumphans, (1728), A Plan of the English Commerce (1728) and The Complete English Gentleman (not published until 1890). He died on April 24, 1731. Defoe had a great influence on the development of the English novel and many consider him to be the first true novelist.
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