Defoe’s Christianity comes through in A Journal of the Plague Year as it did in Robinson Crusoe. The government encouraged people “to implore the mercy of God.” One mother prayed to God that her child did not have the plague. As the pestilence increased its victims, they “would go praying and lifting up their hands to heaven, calling upon God for mercy.” One group “went to prayer with all the company, recommending themselves to the blessing and protection of providence before they went to sleep.” One surgeon visited some victims and upon leaving he gave “blessing to the poor in substantial relief to them, as well as hearty prayers for them.”
Late in 1664 it was apparent the bubonic plague was making one of its unwelcome visitations of Europe by registering in London for an extended stay checking out early in 1666. It varied in the number of victims from month to month, but it survived through all four seasons. Over 80,000 people died of the pestilence at a time when the city population was about 450,000. Its visitation was recorded by diarists Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn who both provide eyewitness accounts of its devastation. Another view of the London plague that is fictional but based on historical sources was published a half century after the fact by Daniel Defoe in A Journal of the Plague Year.
Daniel Defoe was born to his mother whose name is forgotten to history and father James in 1660. James was a butcher for his livelihood and a Dissenter with regards to Christianity. Dissenters, also called Nonconformists, did not participate in Church of England worship but were instead Congregationalists or Presbyterians among others. James and his wife raised Daniel to be a Dissenter. They attended services at St. Giles Cripplegate where Samuel Annesley was the dissenting Church of England cleric. Annesley and two thousand other nonconforming clergy were ejected from their pulpits in August 1662. These devoted men refused to abide by the Act of Uniformity requiring all Church of England clergy to follow the Book of Common Prayer. Accompanying ejection were other hardships suffered by Dissenters such as limited educational opportunities. Daniel could not attend Oxford or Cambridge but instead studied in the Academy on Newington Green directed by Charles Morton. One of Defoe’s classmates was Timothy Crusoe who became a Presbyterian minister and his surname may have inspired Defoe’s protagonist in Robinson Crusoe.
When Defoe completed schooling, he worked in different jobs, became politically active, and boldly expressed his opinions as a pamphleteer. He participated in Monmouth’s failed Rebellion in 1685, and even donned a dark frock and armed himself with a sword cane to serve as a spy. He was not afraid to take on the opposition and was fined, imprisoned, and spent time in the pillory for his politically incorrect opinions. From 1704 until it was suppressed in 1713, he operated the newspaper Review where he published his sentiments in editorials. Defoe continued in journalism until Robinson Crusoe was published in 1719. The tale of a mariner shipwrecked on an isolated island was a great success that led to numerous English reprints as well as translations in several languages. The novel follows a realist-diarist style as Crusoe struggled to keep alive. Defoe’s Dissenter Christianity comes through in Crusoe’s prayers and sense of dependence on God. The same style governs the story in A Journal of the Plague Year as the narrator recounts events in a journalistic style.