Friday, February 20, 2009

Puritan Daniel Defoe

Daniel Defoe, English writer and jack-of-all trades, is known primarily today for being the author Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders and A Journal of the Plague Year, among other literary works. Students of church history and/or literary history may be interested to learn that he was a Puritan, or Dissenter, and that his life and writings intersected with many other Puritans.

He was born into a Nonconformist Presbyterian family and remained a Presbyterian throughout his life. His Presbyterian convictions permeate the whole of his body of literary works.

He was taught as a young man by Puritan Charles Morton, head of an academy for Dissenters at Newington (later vice-President of Harvard University), who was among the signatories of the 1673 Puritan Preface to the Scottish Metrical Psalter.

Defoe wrote the preface to Baptist Dissenter Thomas Delaune's Plea for the Nonconformists. Delaune served time at Newgate Prison where he and, as Defoe notes, his fellow-prisoner, William Jenkyn, noted Puritan minister and biblical expositor, died. Jenkyn was also a signer of the 1673 Puritan Preface to the Scottish Metrical Psalter.

Defoe's lifelong friend was the Puritan Timothy Cruso who, like Defoe, wrote religious guide books. It is believed that he named the protagonist in Robinson Crusoe after him.

He was the author of Memoirs of the Church of Scotland, which is in large measure a tribute to the Protestant martyrs and Scottish Covenanters who suffered religious persecution by the British Crown and Anglican Church.

Anonymously, he wrote The Shortest Way With Dissenters, a masterpiece of satire calling for the Anglican authorities to deal harshly with Dissenters and in so doing making a laughingstock of them. Ironically, he was arrested and pilloried for this, and then served time at the same aforementioned Newgate Prison.

Charles Drelincourt, French Huguenot, wrote Consolations de l'âme fidèle contre les frayeurs de la mort (Christians Defense against the Fears of Death). Defoe later wrote A True Relation of the Apparition of Mrs Veal, who came from the other world to recommend the perusal of Drelincourt on death, it is said, for the express purpose of promoting the sale of an English translation of the Consolations.

There was a bit of controversy between Defoe and Presbyterian Puritan John Howe over the subject of Occasional Conformity, Defoe's tract against the practice of requiring a measure of religious conformity to the Anglican Church on the part of officeholders. The two men addressed the issue from different angles and it was a lamentable controversy.

Defoe is buried at Bunhill Fields, the Dissenters' Cemetery, where other noted Puritans such as John Owen and John Bunyan, are likewise interred.

No comments:

Post a Comment