Especially noteworthy among his writings during the next several years was the satiric poem The True-born Englishman (1701), an attack on beliefs in racial or national superiority, which was directed particularly toward those English people who resented the new king, William III, because he was Dutch.
The following year Defoe anonymously published a tract entitled The Shortest Way with the Dissenters, which satirized religious intolerance by pretending to share the prejudices of the Anglican church against Nonconformists. In 1703, when it was found that Defoe had written the tract, he was arrested and given an indeterminate term in jail. Robert Harley, the speaker of the House of Commons, secured his release in November 1703, probably on the condition that he agree to become a secret agent and public propagandist for the government.
During his imprisonment Defoe's business had been ruined, so he turned to journalism for his livelihood. From 1704 to 1713 he issued a triweekly news journal entitled The Review, for which he did most of the writing. Its opinions and interpretations were often independent, but generally, The Review leaned toward the government in power. Defoe wrote strongly in favor of union with Scotland, and his duties as secret agent may have entailed other activities on behalf of union, which was achieved in 1707. In 1709 he wrote a History of the Union.
Defoe's first and most famous novel, The Life and Strange Surprizing Advent
ures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner, appeared in 1719, when he was almost 60 years old. The book is commonly known as Robinson Crusoe. A fictional tale of a shipwrecked sailor, it was based on the adventures of a seaman, Alexander Selkirk, who had been marooned on one of the Juan Fernández Islands off the coast of Chile. The novel, full of detail about Crusoe's ingenious attempts to overcome the hardships of the island, has become one of the classics of children's literature.