Book of the Day: Letters of Daniel Defoe

Letters Spine

Today’s book is not so much a recommendation but an example of how Thomas Bowrey’s life story has been pieced together. Sir Richard Carnac Temple, in editing The Papers of Thomas Bowrey (the second book I featured), made the simple comment: Among his correspondents Bowrey numbered … Daniel Defoe … The Defoe letters are no longer part of Thomas’ archive in any repository.

The Internet has been an invaluable resource in my research but this does not mean that a simple search immediately brings all the answers. I could not write my biography without the Internet but it has to be used intelligently. In this case, a search revealed that two letters from Defoe to Thomas had been sold at auction but nothing more. However, it also allowed me to track down the Letters of Daniel Defoe edited by George Harris Healey which contained copies of the letter plus some very useful notes. These told me that the letters had been purchased by an American who also possessed another letter from Defoe. Unfortunately, I would not be able to study the originals and must rely on the opinion of others.

The notes on the letters were harvested from a letter from Temple published in Notes and Queries in 1931. Again I have been unable to locate a copy of this publication. I had to depend on third hand information. That I have done but alongside confirming as much of the information as possible.

Two simple letters arranging a meeting opened up a whole section of Thomas’ life and linked him to the foundation of the South Sea Company, the company that later collapsed when the infamous South Sea Bubble burst. I followed the paper trail to Defoe’s original letters to Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford, at the British Library where I was privileged to be granted special permission to view the originals. I gathered sufficient evidence to discount conclusions made by other authors about Thomas and America.

For me, this book is the perfect example of how the Internet is an essential research tool but one that must be used alongside published material and documents in archives.

Letters Title Page

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