Daniel Defoe in the Pillory #BriFri #TodayInHistory
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Last week, I took a virtual trip to Stirling Castle in Scotland. Tina enjoyed the quirky book, The Day Henry Died by Lynda Renham. Jean reviewed The Spy and The Traitor by Ben MacIntyre and was surprised to agree with the brag in the subtitle, The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War.
Daniel Defoe is best remembered as the author of Robinson Crusoe, published in 1719, making it one of the early novels in English literature and one that helped popularize the format. Besides seven novels, Defoe wrote about 300 pamphlets and journals.
Defoe’s political tracts and satires sometimes got him in trouble with the authorities. On this day, July 31st, in 1703, Daniel Defoe was placed in a pillory at the Old Bailey in London for the crime of seditious libel based on his December 1702 publication, The Shortest Way with the Dissenters; Or, Proposals for the Establishment of the Church.
He confused his contemporaries with this pamphlet that was attempting to make a complicated argument: religious freedom is a good thing but the “occasional conformity” practice that allowed Dissenters to be in compliance with the law by attending one Church of England service a year was a hypocrisy. He attempted to make this complex argument by parodying actual anti-Dissenter pamphlets. Readers were unable to distinguish what was ironic and what was his real point.
The fun part of the story is, unfortunately, probably a myth. The pillory was meant to punish through public humiliation with a gathered crowd mocking and jeering. The pillory was also, sometimes, an opportunity for physical abuse when people threw rotten vegetables or, worse, stones. According to legend, Defoe was more popular with the general public than with the authorities. So when Defoe was in the pillory, on this day 317 years ago, the crowd pelted him with flowers.
Joy, I never knew that, I always thought of him as a novelist and didn’t know about the political pamplets. The way things are going in our society today maybe it’s time to pay attention to history 🙂
I didn’t know about the political pamphlets either! Robinson Crusoe was a big favorite with my oldest, who loves survival stories and read it at about ten years old. She thought he had it awfully easy with all those axes and ship salvage.
This week I have a book of Dickens essays — it doesn’t get much more British than that!
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