DEFOE, Daniel (1660?-1731). Two autograph letters signed ('De Foe') to Thomas Bowrey at Marine Square, Goodman's Fields, 'Tuesday night' [9 March 1708] and Newington, 14 March 1708, together 2 pages, small and large 4to, the first with integral blank and remains of black seal (old fold marks); with autograph notes on the island of 'Juan Farnandos' by Bowrey, undated, 2 pages, 4to, on a bifolium (several clean tears). Provenance: part of the Thomas Bowrey Papers, discovered by John Humphreys in 1913 (see Hakluyt Society, 2nd series, 1925, p. 58); Col. H. Howard (owner of the Thomas Bowrey papers in 1931); Dr. Henry C. Hutchins, New Haven, Conn. (owner of the Defoe letters in 1955); sold Sotheby's, New York, 17 May 1984.
DEFOE'S FEAR OF BEING LURED INTO A TRAP BY HIS POLITICAL ENEMIES. Acknowledging his correspondent's letter of '8th Instt in which you desire a meeting with me to Advise &c. On something you have to propose', he explains that 'being wholly a stranger to you And My Self a Person Not without Enemyes', he needs to 'make Some little stipulations before hand', amounting to a written communication of 'the business you Design.' The alternative is for Bowrey 'to come to the Exchange at Waits Coffee-house in Bell yard in Grace Church Street' and make contact with him through 'the Mistress of the House.' He adds a final note: 'Excuse my being thus Cautious for which I shall give you Very Sufficient Reasons when I see you.' The second letter, evidently sent after he had made his own enquiries but without receiving any further communication from Bowrey, is altogether more obliging. He refers to his cautious response of 'last week', before declaring: 'But I am so well satisfied since in your Character, That Hearing you have been Indisposed I give you This trouble to Let you kno', I shall be Very Ready to Meet you where you please ... '. Should his illness continue and 'Make your Comeing Abroad Inconvenient, Tho' I have not a great Deal of Time to Spare ... Il make No Difficulty to Wait on you at your House.'
Thomas Bowrey (1650?-1713) was a sailing master and free merchant in the East Indies, and in later life a London trader, shipowner and 'inveterate projector'. His Malay-English dictionary appeared in 1701. He was part owner or freighter of at least fourteen ships, and owned part of the cargo of the Worcester when that ship was seized by the Scots in 1704, a retaliatory act described in Defoe's History of the Union (1709, pp. 78-83). Yet Bowrey was not personally acquainted with Defoe, and why he should have approached him in 1708 is unclear. R.C. Temple, who published these two surviving letters from Defoe to Bowrey in Notes and Queries (vol. 160, 1931, pp. 39-40), argues that their preservation with Bowrey's notes on Juan Fernandez provides the clue. The remote pacific island was soon to become celebrated as the spot where Alexander Selkirk had been marooned for four years and four months (1704-1709), providing Defoe with the inspiration for Robinson Crusoe. However, he had perhaps already heard about the island from Bowrey who was clearly attracted by the idea of exporting goods from it. The merchant's notes refer to it as a resource for food and animal oil, having goats, fish, seals and sea lions, and calculate the per tonnage cost of shipping these commodities. Such schemes were characteristic of him. ODNB records that 'he submitted numerous proposals to the East India company for new trade outlets, plantations in Jamaica, the suppression of piracy, and the like.'
The two letters are included in The Letters of Daniel Defoe, edited by G.H. Healey (Oxford, 1955, pp. 253-254). However, Healey disputes the apparent link between Bowrey's notes on the island and his request for an interview, concluding: 'His business with Defoe remains unknown.' For James Sutherland the value of the letters lies in the contrast they point between the 'serene and slightly contemptuous' public persona of 'the intrepid journalist doing his duty' and the 'prudence' which he exhibited in private (Defoe, London, 1937, p. 120). John Tutchin, a whig journalist frequently threatened with a beating by his political opponents, had been cudgelled to death by ruffians in September 1707, a fact which may have been on Defoe's mind when he first responded to Bowrey. OF GREAT RARITY. (3)