Writers do not always know what their best writings are. Daniel Defoe believed his magnum opus to be his huge, passionately political, intermittently philosophical poem in heroic couplets, Jure Divino (1706). Begun while he was imprisoned in Newgate, its 12 books assailed the doctrine of the divine right of monarchs from every angle he could imagine. The argument mattered very much to him, as it did to many of his fellow countrymen. They had recently rid themselves of a monarch, James II, who had shown unmistakeable absolutist tendencies. For Defoe, the Revolution had been Glorious indeed. His opposition to the doctrine of divine right shaped all his political views. Jure Divino was designed to be a work to do justice to a lofty subject. It runs to some eight thousand lines of verse, plus a lengthy preface and substantial buttonholing footnotes, where Defoe explicates historical references or emphasises ideological points. It was published in a sumptuous folio edition, with an engraved portrait of the proud author for a frontispiece. It is also a work that only Defoe scholars - and perhaps not all of them - could ever bear to read.
LRB 20 July 2006 | PDF Download