Sunday, 23 March 2014

The Foe Guy

Sometimes, I'll tie up a blog story from five or six different episodes....which makes a guy sit and pause over things.....so it is today.

Around 1450....Guttenberg came up with this nifty idea of the printing press.  To be honest....he wasn't that big of an inventor....his profession was a goldsmith....but I would imagine he sat there and pressed gold into some design and then imagined pressing ink against paper....and developed the printing press.  For the locals (few could read, so it didn't make much sense), there was no real purpose behind the idea but if you build it....they will come.

What he was determined to produce out of this gimmick....was the Bible.  Up until this point....the Catholic Church maintained the copies and produced the Bible....at their leisure and at their price.  A regular merchant would have balked at paying a fantastic amount for such a valued item.  A rich guy?  Different story.

It's a curious thing....for twenty-five years.....nothing in English was produced via the printing press idea.  Then around 1475....the first document comes out.  By 1500....roughly fifty years after the idea became reality....historians figure that there were twenty million productions of written material in Europe.  You can imagine this atmosphere existing like today....everyone had to have an I-Pad or Smart-Phone....so books became a sought-after item....no matter what the cost.  Naturally, this demanded that people had to be able to write, and thus education became a vehicle of the masses....not the elite.

For about a hundred years....things simply progress along.  Then, this guy Foe comes along.  Foe is a creative guy of sorts.  He's born in a neighborhood of London in 1659.  His father is a candle-maker and a member of the local 'union' of sorts....the Butcher's Company.  He grows up in an era where monumental events are going to occur at a youthful age.  He will see the plague arrive in London and kill roughly 100,000 of the local residents (1664-65)  He will see London burn to the ground (1666).  And he will see London invaded by Dutch mercenaries in 1667.

As years pass, Foe gains the skill of writing.  He needs a gimmick though....to make his publications more attractive to the public.....just being English is not enough.  So he will flip his name around and add "de" before Foe.  And he will become Daniel DeFoe.  Yeah, the guy who will write Robinson Crusoe, make it one of the top fifty classics of all time.

Most literally guys of today will stand and note that after Robinson Crusoe.....DeFoe drops a big step or two, and nothing else he writes comes to measure that one classic.

Well....this is hard to agree with.  You see....before DeFoe came along....no one really knew the concept of novels.  So he paved the way with various fictional novels....written under at least one-hundred-and-fifty pen names.  The historians today say that he wrote over 500 different publications over his life.  These included full-blown novels, pamphlets, and journals.  The topics?  Journalism pieces, history, economics, current events, marriage, religious practices, politics, crime, mental issues, and the "weird" (the skillful examination of ghosts....similar to the X-Files of the 1700s).

To be honest....DeFoe was originally heading toward a safer career....a merchant.  His trading?  He bargained and resold wool items, socks of the era, and wine.  You'd likely consider him a mini-Donald Trump.....making risky deals....and most of the time coming out on the losing side.  Somewhere in his mid-twenties....he got tied up into some guys who were revolutionary in character and working to take down the king.  Through some stupid mistakes....he was brought in and more or less....offered a great opportunity to serve the King's service as a spy.  This all led to a successful conclusion.....a pardon of sorts....and by his mid-thirties....he was a tax collector.

Yeah, you'd think this would be enough to make a guy happy....collecting taxes off glass bottles produced and just accepting things as they are....with enough money and a bit of status. Instead, he'd end up as the owner of a brick factory.

Somewhere around this point of his forties.....he got into pamphlet production.  Call him a blogger of his era....but DeFoe wrote up a number of pieces which supported the kingdom, but kinda advocated significant changes.  Naturally, a change in government occurred, and the new folks stepped in to be hostile toward DeFoe.  Yeah....back into prison.

So, around 1703....around forty-four years old.....in the heat of the summer and passions....the local court sentences DeFoe to an undetermined amount of time.  It could be a day, a week, a month, a year, or a decade.  It was the kind of sentence that you'd hand out....when you needed a remarkable bribe to come forward....to pay off the crown and ensure the members of the government survived.  So the First Earl of Oxford (Robert Harley) will come forward....bailing DeFoe out of prison.

After this prison deal is worked out and DeFoe is released.....one of the biggest storms ever to hit England occurs (November 1703), and roughly eight thousand people will die in some fashion.  DeFoe will be a witness to the event, and later use the storm as a backdrop to his novel The Storm (1704).

The interesting thing about The Storm....is that it's the first time in human history....that an event has been taken and described in great detail....and though it's not recognized at that point as such....it's the birth of the modern era of journalism....writing the facts of occurred in great detail.

DeFoe lights up and more or less goes on fire after The Storm.  Whatever he writes....gets published.  As we think of prolific writers today....like Stephen King.....DeFoe is going to become the same....going after events that are occurring and writing them to the status that the reader thinks he's right in the middle of the mess.

At age sixty....DeFoe will wrap up Robinson Crusoe and publish it.  The proceeding year....he publishes a sarcastic and cynical piece called A Continuation of the Letters Writ by a Turkish Spy....which is a comical review of European religion and state politics....seen by a Muslim guy sitting in Paris (yeah, for some reason, this actually sold and was read by the public.

Over the last couple years of his life....DeFoe will come to write one decent final novel.....Moll Flanders.  Course, with all the other oddball character story tellings....this one had to be over the top.  You end up with DeFoe telling the story first-hand....as some woman in the seventeenth century of rural England, who is a loose lady of sorts....married to various characters at the same time....crafty and deceitful.....a robber and thief....and always into various lusty affairs.  What literary players will say (from today's viewpoint).....DeFoe somehow....by a miracle of sorts.....got the reader to feel kinda sympathetic to some degree....with a loose morals lady who robs folks left and right, and never cleans herself up.

DeFoe will pass from this earth in 1732....at the age of eighty-three.  Various arguments will go forth on the number of actual publications he was involved in.  Some will quote 500.  Some will quote less than two hundred.  A handful of folks think it's possible he may have been the writer of over a thousand different pamphlets or publications.

The creator of journalism and novels?  Well....yeah.  He's the guy that made reading such a thrill, and turned everyone toward the idea of being able to read.  Up until he arrived....most of what was printed was either the Bible or some some politically charged up critical piece.  After DeFoe....there's lust, sex, desire, politics, history, corruption, turmoil, disaster, death, misery, and excitement.  Why wouldn't a guy want to read with this kind of material being produced on a monthly basis?

The son of a candle-maker.....crafty enough to dream up a French edge to his name like "de"....with ambitions beyond one's imagination....and turns the necessity of reading on....like a blinding light.  Who would imagine it?