Monday, July 15, 2013
Humming to the Golden Pillories
*Satire - writing that lampoons government politics or social conventions - has been around for centuries. But sometimes readers do not "get" the joke.
Long before Daniel Defoe wrote Robinson Crusoe, the English author ruffled a few feathers by writing *satirical essays about Britain's bitter political scene.
In 1702 Britain's ruling Tory party was imposing tighter and tighter restrictions on their opponents, the Dissenters - Protestants who refused to join the Tories' Anglican Church - a critical issue at the time.
When the Tories tried to pass a new law requiring all Dissenters in public office to convert to Anglicanism - a strategy designed to drive them out of politics - Defoe, a Dissenter, was infuriated.
Defoe decided to lampoon the Tories in an anonymously authored pamphlet called The Shortest Way with Dissenters,
suggesting that the Tories weren't going far enough - why not just execute all the Dissenters?
The pamphlet was meant to be sarcastic, but many took it seriously, including some Tories who actually thought it was a good idea, and panicked Dissenters who showed up in droves at Anglican church services to avoid the death sentence.
When word got out that it was Defoe who had written the pamphlet, he was arrested for "seditious libel"
and sentenced to three days in the pillory - a public stockade where citizens were free to pelt him with rocks and garbage.
Before the sentence could be carried out, Defoe composed a poem called "Hymn to the Pillory," another satirical spoof of the Tories.
His friends smuggled it out of jail and distributed copies to the mob as they gathered to stone him. The crowd loved the poem - so much so that they threw flowers at him instead of rocks.
This incident brought Defoe fame, backfired on the Tory government, and no doubt contributed to the fantastical imaginings that underpinned
The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner: Who lived Eighty and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver'd by Pirates.