Mr. Black's lecture on Defoe drew an audience that completely filled Sever 11. Defoe, said Mr. Black, was a man of action as well as of letters, and in his writings we see English affairs of his time as in a mirror. Not only did he do much and say much, but he saw with exquisite sensibility and expressed with telling force.
His age, witnessed the transition of government from kings to peoples, public opinion was now all powerful, and public opinion is not to be moved so much by physical and moral as by intellectual forces. It was a time of eager argumentative disputes.
Defoe had made a failure of business, but his able and fertile mind won him the favor of royalty, and he became the voice of the government upon many important issues. He wrote his pamphlets on all sorts of subjects, - military, political, even educational and moral, and in all showed width of range, patience in detail, lucidity, and vivacity. His sentiments found him support with the government, and accompanying substantial rewards and his lively, telling style won him popularity with the people.
At the height of his good fortune, Defoe spoiled everything by a satire on the Established Church, called "The Shortest Day with the Dissenters." It spread consternation and excitement among men of all parties, aroused the intense opposition of the churchmen, and the lurking distrust of the nonconformists. Defoe was vigorously punished, but his hold on the London populace was demonstrated by their enthusiastic reception of him, even when in the pillory.
Whilst in prison Defoe issued a review, which if not the first known, is certainly the first famous newspaper. His never-failing common sense, and wonderful mental resources made real and powerful the opportunities of journalism.
When turned sixty, with spirit broken and means wasted, Defoe gave evidence of his wonderful energy by writing his "Robinson Crusoe" In it is displayed his absolute command of the carpentry of nature, - his power of inventing circumstantial details which have an overwhelming sense of reality about them. His works have little humor about them, and lack sparkle, but they have always simplicity, sympathy, and this unquestionable air of truth.
Defoe was a writer of varied abilities. He was one of the greatest tale tellers of all time. He was the first great journalist of the world, and he took so lively an interest in all the deeds of his time and wrote so well of them, that he may be called the oracle of his age.