THE LIFE OF
DANIEL DE FOE.
Daniel De Foe was descended from a respectable family in the county of Northampton, and born in London, about the year 1663. His father, James Foe, was a butcher, in the parish of St. Giles’s, Cripplegate, and a protestant dissenter. Why the subject of this memoir prefixed the De to his family name cannot now be ascertained, nor did he at any period of his life think it necessary to give his reasons to the public. The political scribblers of the day, however, thought proper to remedy this lack of information, and accused him of possessing so little of the amor patriae, as to make the addition in order that he might not be taken for an Englishman; though this idea could have had no other foundation than the circumstance of his having, in consequence of his zeal for King William, attacked the prejudices of his countrymen in his “Trueborn Englishman.”
After receiving a good education at an academy at Newington, young De Foe, before he had attained his twenty-first year, commenced his career as an author, by writing a pamphlet against a very prevailing sentiment in favour of the Turks, who were at that time laying siege to Vienna. This production, being very inferior to those of his maturer years, was very little read, and the indignant author, despairing of success with his pen, had recourse to the sword; or, as he termed it, when boasting of the exploit in his latter years, “displayed his attachment to liberty and protestanism,” by joining the ill-advised insurrection under the Duke of Monmouth, in the west. On the failure of that unfortunate enterprise, he returned again to the metropolis; and it is not improbable, but that the circumstance of his being a native of London, and his person not much known in that part of the kingdom where the rebellion took place, might facilitate his escape, and be the means of preventing his being brought to trial for his share in the transaction. With the professions of a writer and a soldier, Mr. De Foe, in the year 1685, joined that of a trader; he was first engaged as a hosier, in Cornhill, and afterwards as a maker of bricks and pantiles, near Tilbury Fort, in Essex; but in consequence of spending those hours in the hilarity of the tavern which he ought to have employed in the calculations of the counting-house, his commercial schemes proved unsuccessful; and in 1694 he was obliged to abscond from his creditors, not failing to attribute those misfortunes to the war and the severity of the times, which were doubtless owing to his own misconduct. It is much to his credit, however, that after having been freed from his debts by composition, and being in prosperous circumstances from King William’s favour, he voluntarily paid most of his creditors both the principal and interest of their claims. This is such an example of honesty as it would be unjust to De Foe and to the world to conceal. The amount of the sums thus paid must have been very considerable, as he afterwards feelingly mentions to Lord Haversham, who had reproached him with covetousness; “With a numerous family, and no helps but my own industry, I have forced my way through a sea of misfortunes, and reduced my debts, exclusive of composition, from seventeen thousand to less than five thousand pounds.”