« AnteriorContinuar »
THE FIVE POINTS IN HIS HISTORY.
THESE are Crusoe's loneliness, his contrivances how to live, his discovery of the footmark on the sea-shore, his first sight of the savages, and his obtainment of a companion and servant in Friday. The second, though the least surprising, is the one most habitually felt by the reader; the one he oftenest thinks of. It is indeed the main subject of the book. But, as its interest spreads over the greater part of it, and could only be duly represented by copious extracts (minuteness of detail being necessary to do justice to its ingenuity and perseverance) it would have occupied too large a share of these pages. The lesser quantity and more startling quality of the other points render them obviously fittest for selection. The loneliness, which is in itself a one-ness, can be well enough represented by one impressive extract; the footmark is essentially one (never was there a finer unique); the first sight of the savages is of the same brief and independent order of interest; and
man Fridays” are not in the regions of possibility. Peter Wilkins's “man Friday” was obliged to be turned into a woman, and Philip Quarll's into a monkey.
Robinson Crusoe is understood to be founded on the real history of Alexander Selkirk, a summary of which, charmingly written, was given to the public by Steele. The greatest genius might have been proud to paint a picture after that sketch. Yet we are not sure that Selkirk's adventure was not an injury, instead of a benefit to De Foe. A benefit it undoubtedly was, to him and to all of us, if it was required in order to put the thought into De Foe's head; but what we mean is, that the world would probably have had the fiction, whether the fact had
existed or not. Desert islands and cast-away mariners existed before Selkirk: children have played at hermits and house-building, even before they read Robinson Crusoe ; and the whole inimitable romance would have required but a glance of De Foe's eye upon a child at play, or at a page in an old book of voyages, or even at his own restless and isolated thoughts. This is a conjecture, however, impossible to prove; and we only throw it out in justice to an original genius. After all, it would make little difference; for Selkirk was not Crusoe, nor did he see the ghost of a human footstep, nor obtain a man Friday. The inhabitant of the island was De Foe himself.
May we add, nevertheless, that when De Foe thought himself most himself, he was least clever and least pleasant? We were not so disappointed with the Second Part of Crusoe as we expected to be, when we read the book over again the other day, but still it is very inferior; not wanted; not even of a piece; for Crusoe's isolation is the charm. Who cares, after that, for a common settlement? We dread even the remaining of the savages on the island; not for fear they should eat Robinson, but lest they should become friends with him, and make up a dinner-party. Man Friday is quite enough. He is single and subordinate, and does but administer to the superiority of his master.
De Foe did better with one person than with many. He was a very honest man, and very good at conceiving matters of fact; but it is curious to see how impossible he finds it, even in a fiction, to present any thing to his imagination which does not come palpably home to a man's worldly or other-worldly interest and importance; and how fond he is, whether alone or in company, of being all in all ; of playing the “monarch of all he surveys,” and dictating people's religion and politics to them the moment he catches a listener, He was the prose half of as inventive a genius as ever existed: and his footstep on the sea-shore has left its mark within the borders of the greatest poetry; but it originated, so to speak, in the same intense spirit of self-reference. It was the one isolated Robinson Crusoe reflected by some one other tremendous individual, come to contest with hinı his safety and his independence. The abstract idea of a multitude followed it; but what would their presence have been in comparison? What would a thousand footsteps have been? The face of things would have been changed at once, and Crusoe's face have no longer matched it. All the savages afterwards never tread out that footmark: nor does Crusoe allow them to remain, and run the chance of it.
It is observable, that De Foe never invented a hero to write about greater than himself; while, at the same time, he willingly recorded such as were inferior. No rogue or vagabond came amiss to him, any more than a mariner or a merchant. And it is curious to consider how heartily such a minute dealer in matter of fact could set about telling a lie ;—at least what a deliberate and successful one he told about the Ghost of Mrs. Veal; a long-credited fiction which he invented at the request of a bookseller, in order to sell a devout publication. His History of the Plague was long considered equally true, and reaped a like
But the fact is, it is a mistake to suppose De Foe a lover of truth in any other sense than that of a workman's love for his tools, or for any other
purpose than that of a masterly use of it, and a consciousness of the mastery. We do not mean to dispute his veracity between man and man: though his peculiar genius may not have been without its recommendation of him to that secret government agency in which he was at one time employed under his hero, William the Third. But the singularly material and mechanical nature of that genius, great as it was, while it hindered him from missing no impressions which could be made personally on himself as a creature of flesh and blood, kept him unembarrassed with any of the more perplexing truths suggessted by too much thought and by imaginations poetical; and hence it is, that defect itself conspired to perfect and keep clear his astonishing impress of matter of fact, and render him an object of admiration, great, but not of an exalted kind. De Foe was in one respect as unvulgar a man as can be conceived; nobody but Swift could have surpassed him in such a work as Robinson Crusoe; yet we cannot conceal from ourselves, that something vulgar adheres to our idea of the author of Moll Flanders, the Complete English Tradesman, and even of Robinson himself. He has no music, no thorough style, no accomplishments, no love; but he can make wonderful shift without them all; was great in the company of man Friday; and he has rendered his shipwrecked solitary immortal.
CRUSOE'S MEDITATIONS AND MODE OF LIFE.
AM cast upon an horrible But I am alive, and not
desolate island: void of drowned, as all my ship's all hope of recovery.
company was. I am singled out and sep- But I am singled out too arated as it were from the from all the ship's crew, to world, to be miserable. be spared from death; and
He that miraculously saved me from death, can deliver
me from this condition. I am divided from man- But I am not starved and kind, a solitary, one banish- perishing on a barren place, ed from human society. affording no sustenance. I have no clothes to cover But I am in an hot cli
mate, where, if I had clothes,
I could hardly wear them. I am without
defence But I am cast upon an or means to resist any vio- island where I see no wild lence of man or beast. beasts to hurt me, as I saw
on the coast of Africa : and what if I had been ship
wrecked there? I have no soul to speak But God wonderfully sent to or relieve me.
the ship in, near enough to the shore, that I have gotten out so many necessary things, as will either supply my wants or enable me to supply my
self, even as long as I live. Upon the whole, here was an undoubted testimony that there was scarce any condition in the world so miserable, but there was something negative, or something positive, to be thankful in it; and let this stand as a direction from the experience of the most miserable of all conditions in this world, that we may always find in it something to comfort ourselves from, and to set, in the description of good and evil, on the credit side of the account.
You are to understand that I now had, as I may call it, two plantations in the island: one, my little fortification or tent, with the wall about it, under the rock, with the cave behind me, which by this time I had enlarged into several apartments or caves, one within another. One of these, which was the driest and largest, and had a door out beyond my wall or fortification, that is to say, beyond where my wall joined to the rock, was all filled up with the large earthen pots, of which
have given an account, and with fourteen or fifteen great baskets, which would hold five or six bushels each, where I laid up my stores of provision, especially my corn; some in the ear, cut off short from the straw, and the other rubbed out with my hand.
As for my wall, made, as before, with long stakes or piles, those piles grew all like trees, and were by this time grown so big, and spread so very much, that there was not the least appearance, to any one's view, of
habitation behind them.
Near this dwelling of mine, but a little farther within the land, and upon lower ground, lay my two pieces of cornground; which I kept duly cultivated and sowed, and which duly yielded me their harvest in its season ; and whenever I had occasion for more corn, I had more land adjoining as fit as that.
Besides this, I had my country seat, and I had now a tolerable plantation there also; for first, I had my little