Following on from my previous offering about Thomas Bowrey’s letters from Daniel Defoe, today I am featuring Peter Earle’s The World of Defoe. Earle is Emeritus Reader in Economic History at the University of London and his books are constant companions on my desk. I refer to them continually.
The World of Defoe helped me understand Defoe, an acquaintance and contemporary of Thomas, and the world within which both of them lived. Despite being very different people, Thomas and Defoe shared interests and characteristics. Both were interested in the economic advantages to the country but, more so, to themselves of trade with the South Seas. They were cautious about their own safety and could be selfish in this respect. Earle’s book was useful in my understanding of these aspects of Thomas’ life.
This book is so much more than a typical social history of London or England at the time. It is split into four parts: a biography of Defoe; a description of the spiritual, intellectual and philosophical world which he lived; a description of the economic and social world in which he lived; and, finally, the life-cycle of the individual within that world. Earle succeeds in showing how individuals were influenced by the extraordinary time in which they lived.
Defoe was an incredible person, so much more than just the author of Robinson Crusoe, and so were many others living at the time. He was a product of his age. Similar may be said of Thomas Bowrey.