Unusual, but not exactly cruel, punishment.

Writing can be dangerous, and I'm not referring here to carpal tunnel syndrome. Powers that be, wherever they may be, don't like public criticism, and many authors have discovered that criticizing a government can cost them dearly. On this day, however, Daniel Defoe, best known as the author of Robinson Crusoe, learned that some punishments can be considerably less frightening than they appear to be.

It was in London on this day, in 1703 that Defoe suffered the public punishment of being pilloried. (Considering that we're dealing with an event that took place 300 years ago, I suppose we shouldn't be surprised that the various accounts are somewhat inconsistent. Some sources claim that Defoe was in the pillory three days running, from July 29 to July 31, whereas others claim that July 31 was the starting, or only, date of the punishment. Yet others, perhaps intent on spoiling our ability to enjoy a good story, claim the event never really happened.)

Defoe was imprisoned for publishing pamphlets highly critical of the church, attacking it with an acerbic sense of humor. Part of his sentence was three days in a public pillory - a punishment that usually included townspeople pelting the pilloried prisoner with rotten food and stones. Defoe, however, was apparently popular with the public, and was instead "pelted" with flowers, and toasts to his health were raised. After the pillory session Defoe remained in prison for four more months, so this was hardly a vacation, but there's no doubt that numerous dissenters throughout history have met with much heavier punishment.

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