robinson crusoe, daniel defoe, and debtor’s prison

From DelanceyPlace:

Robinson-crusoe-illustration.jpg!Blog“On October 29, 1692, Daniel Defoe, merchant, pamphleteer, and future best-selling author of Robinson Crusoe, was committed to King's Bench Prison in London because he owed more than 17,000 pounds and could not pay his debts. Before Defoe was declared bankrupt, he had undertaken such far-flung ventures as underwriting marine insurance, importing wine from Portugal, buying a diving bell used to search for buried treasure, and investing in some seventy civet cats, whose musk secretions were prized for the manufacture of perfume.

…”Typically, creditors obtained a writ of seizure of the debtor's assets. (Historians record that Defoe's civet cats were rounded up by the sheriff's men.) If the assets were insufficient to settle the debt, another writ would send the bankrupt to prison, from which he could win release only by coming to terms with his creditors. Defoe had no fewer than 140 creditors, but he managed to negotiate his freedom in February 1693, though he would continue to evade debt collectors for the next fifteen years. His misadventures later informed Robinson Crusoe (1719), whose fictional protagonist faces financial ruin and expresses remorse at pursuing 'projects and undertakings beyond my reach' and ending up 'the willful agent of all my own miseries.'

…”Defoe's thrice-weekly newspaper, A Review of the State of the English Nation, reported on the progress of the bill and served as its most authoritative advocate. The government, looking to drum up support, purchased and distributed copies, increasing its paid circulation to fifteen hundred. The act was understood as an emergency measure to restore commerce; it was to remain in force for just three years.”

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