On 31 July 1703, Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) English novelist, pamphleteer, and journalist, author of “Robinson Crusoe” and “Moll Flanders”, was placed in a pillory for the crime of seditious libel after penning the pamphlet “The Shortest Way with the Dissenters; Or, Proposals for the Establishment of the Church”.
English Dissenters were a group of Protestants who had separated from the Church of England since they opposed state interference in religious matters, but practised “occasional conformity”, by occasionally taking Anglican communion to qualify for national and municipal office, a device that even the author (born into a family of Dissenters) considered a bit hypocritical.
In this booklet he assumed the character of a High Church Tory and argued that the shortest way of dealing with the Dissenters was to exterminate them. His method was ironic: to discredit the Tories by writing as if from their viewpoint but reducing their arguments to absurdity.
The pamphlet, published anonymously, had a huge sale but it angered both sides. The true authorship was soon discovered and Defoe was prosecuted for seditious libel and arrested in May 1703.
While in prison, despite being worried about his punishment, Defoe wrote the poem “Hymn To The Pillory”.
His trial was held at the Old Bailey in front of a notoriously brutal judge who sentenced him to a fine, to public humiliation in a pillory, and to an unspecified time in prison.
On 31 July, he was forced to stand in the pillory, exposed to ridicule and public abuse. But the mob turned the occasion into a sort of a success: they garlanded the pillory, sold his poem in the streets, drank to his health and did not throw the usual stones or rotten food at him, but flowers.