Daniel Defoe’s fictional work The Life and Strange Adventures of Robinson Crusoe is published. The book, about a shipwrecked sailor who spends 28 years on a deserted island, is based on the experiences of shipwreck victims and of Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish sailor who spent four years on a small island off the coast of South America in the early 1700s.
Like his hero Crusoe, Daniel Defoe was an ordinary, middle-class Englishman, not an educated member of the nobility like most writers at the time. Defoe established himself as a small merchant but went bankrupt in 1692 and turned to political pamphleteering to support himself. A pamphlet he published in 1702 satirizing members of the High Church led to his arrest and trial for seditious libel in 1703. He appealed to powerful politician Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford, who had him freed from Newgate prison and who hired him as a political writer and spy to support his own views. To this end, Defoe set up the Review, which he edited and wrote from 1704 to 1713. It wasn’t until he was nearly 60 that he began writing fiction. His other works include Moll Flanders (1722) and Roxana (1724). He died in London in 1731, one day before the 12th anniversary of Robinson Crusoe’s publication.