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by Daniel Defoe
The original, squashed down to read in about 35 minutes
Daniel Foe (he added the aristocratic 'De' himself) produced what is sometimes thought of as the first modern novel in English. It is likely that he based the story on the real-life Alexander Selkirk, who spent more than four years on the Pacific island known then as Más a Tierra, but which changed its name in 1966 to 'Robinson Crusoe Island'.
For more works by Daniel Defoe, see The Index
I. I Go to Sea
I was born of a good family in the city of York, where my father - a foreigner, of Bremen - settled after having retired from business. My father had given me a competent share of learning and designed me for the law; but I would be satisfied in nothing but going to sea. My mind was filled with thoughts of seeing the world, and nothing could persuade me to give up my desire.
At length, on September 1, 1651, I left home, and went on board a ship bound for London. The ship was no sooner out of the Humber than the wind began to blow and the sea to rise in a most frightful manner; and as I had never been at sea before, I was most inexpressibly sick in body and terrified in mind. The next day, however, the wind abated, and for several days the weather continued calm. My fears being forgotten, and the current of my desires returned, I entirely forgot the vows to return home that I made in my distress.
The sixth day of our being at sea we came into Yarmouth Roads and cast anchor. Our troubles were not yet over, however, for a few days later the wind increased till it blew a terrible storm indeed. I began to see terror in the faces even of the seamen themselves; and as the captain passed me, I could hear him softly to himself say, several times, "We shall be all lost!"
My horror of mind put me into such a condition that I can by no words describe it. The storm increased, and the seamen every now and then cried out the ship would founder. One of the men cried out that we had sprung a leak, and all hands were called to the pumps; but the water increasing in the hold, it was apparent that the ship would founder. We fired guns for help, and a ship who had rid it out just ahead of us ventured a boat out. It was with the utmost hazard the boat came near us, but at last we got all into it, and got into shore, though not without much difficulty, and walked afterwards on foot to Yarmouth.
Having some money in my pocket, I travelled to London, and there got acquainted with the master of a ship which traded on the coast of Guinea. This captain, taking a fancy to my conversation, told me if I would make a voyage with him I might do some trading on my own account. I embraced the offer, and went the voyage with him. With the help of some of my relations I raised L40, which I laid out in toys, beads, and such trifles as my friend the captain said were most in demand on the Guinea Coast. It was a prosperous voyage. It made me both a sailor and a merchant, for my adventure yielded me on my return to London almost £300, and this filled me with those aspiring thoughts which have since so completed my ruin.
I was now set up as a Guinea trader, and made up my mind to go the same voyage again in the same ship; but this was the unhappiest voyage ever man made, for as we were off the African shore we were surprised by a Moorish rover of Salee, who gave chase with all sail. About three in the afternoon he came up with us, and after a great fight we were forced to yield, and were carried all prisoners into the port of Salee, where we were sold as slaves.
I was fortunate enough to fall into the hands of a master who treated me with no little kindness. He frequently went fishing, and as I was dexterous in catching fish, he never went without me. One day he sent me out with a Moor to catch fish for him. Then notions of deliverance darted into my thoughts, and I prepared not for fishing, but for a voyage. When everything was ready, we sailed away to the fishing-grounds. Purposely catching nothing, I said we had better go farther out. The Moor agreed, and I ran the boat out near a league farther; then I brought to as if I would fish. Instead of that, however, I stepped forward, and, stooping behind the Moor, took him by surprise and tossed him overboard. He rose to the surface, and called on me to take him in. For reply I presented a gun at him, and told him if he came nearer the boat I would shoot him, and that as the sea was calm, he might easily swim ashore. So he turned about, and swam for the shore, and I make no doubt but he reached it with ease.
About ten days afterwards, as I was steering out to double a cape, I came in sight of a Portuguese ship. On coming nearer, they hailed me, but I understood not a word. At last a Scotch sailor called to me, and I answered I was an Englishman, and had made my escape from the Moors of Salee. They then bade me come on board, and very kindly took me in, with all my goods.
We had a very good voyage to the Brazils, and when we reached our destination the captain recommended me to an honest man who had a sugar plantation. Here I settled down for a while, and learned the planting of sugar. Then I took a piece of land, and became a planter myself. My affairs prospered, and had I continued in the station I was now in, I had room for many happy things to have yet befallen me; but I was still to be the agent of my own miseries.
II. Lord of an Island and Alone
Some of my neighbours, hearing that I had a knowledge of Guinea trading, proposed to fit out a vessel and send her to the coast of Guinea to purchase negroes to work in our plantations. I was well pleased with the idea; and when they asked me to go to manage the trading part, I forgot all the perils and hardships of the sea, and agreed to go. A ship being fitted out, we set sail on September 1, 1659.
We had very good weather for twelve days, but after crossing the line, violent hurricanes took us, and drove us out of the way of all human commerce. In this distress, one morning, there was a cry of "Land!" and almost at the same moment the ship struck against a sandbank. We took to a boat, and worked towards the land; but before we could reach it, a raging wave came rolling astern of us, and overset the boat. We were all thrown into the sea, and out of fifteen who were on board, none escaped but myself. I managed, somehow, to scramble to shore, and clambered up the cliffs, and sat me down on the grass half-dead. Night coming on me, I took up my lodging in a tree.
When I waked, it was broad day, the weather clear, and the storm abated. What surprised me most was that in the night the ship had been lifted from the bank by the swelling tide, and driven ashore almost as far as the place where I had landed. I saw that if we had all kept on board we had been all safe, and I had not been so miserable as to be left entirely destitute of all company as I now was.
I swam out to the ship, and found that her stern lay lifted up on the bank. All the ship's provisions were dry, and, being well disposed to eat, I filled my pockets and ate as I went about other things, for I had no time to lose. We had several spare yards and planks, and with these I made a raft. I emptied three of the seamen's chests, and let them down upon the raft, and filled them with provisions. I also let down the carpenter's chest, and some arms and ammunition-all of which, after much labour, I got safely to land.
My next work was to view the country. Where I was I yet knew not, but after I had with great labour got to the top of a hill which rose up very steep and high, I saw my fate, to my great affliction- viz., that I was in an island, uninhabited except by wild beasts.
I now began to consider that I might yet get a great many things out of the ship which would be useful to me; so every day at low water I went on board, and brought away something or other until I had the biggest magazine that was ever laid up, I believe, for one man. I verily believe, had the calm weather held, I should have brought away the whole ship piece by piece; but on the fourteenth day it blew a storm, and next morning, behold, no more ship was to be seen. I must not forget that I brought on shore two cats and a dog. He was a trusty servant to me many years. I wanted nothing that he could fetch me, nor any company. I only wanted him to talk to me, but that he could not do. Later, I managed to catch a parrot, which did much to cheer my loneliness. I taught him to speak, and it would have done your heart good to have heard the pitying tones in which he used to say, "Robin-poor Robin Crusoe!"
I now went in search of a place where to fix my dwelling. I found a little plain on the side of a rising hill, which was there as steep as a house-side, so that nothing could come down on me from the top. On the side of this rock was a hollow space like the entrance of a cave, before which I resolved to pitch my tent. Before I set up my tent, I drew a half-circle before the hollow place, which extended backwards about twenty yards. In this half-circle I planted two rows of strong stakes, driving them into the ground like piles, above five feet and a half high, and sharpened at the top. Then I took some pieces of cable I had found in the ship, and laid them in rows one upon another between the stakes; and this fence was so strong that neither man nor beast could get into it or over it. The entrance I made to be by a short ladder to go over the top, and when I was in I lifted the ladder after me.
Inside the fence, with infinite labour, I carried all my riches, provisions, ammunition, and stores. And I made me a large tent, also, to preserve me from the rains. When I had done this I began to work my way into the rock. All the earth and stones I dug out I laid up within my fence, and thus I made me a cave just behind my tent which served me like a cellar.
In the middle of my labours it happened that, rummaging in my things, I found a little bag with but husks of corn and dust in it. Wishing to make use of the bag, I shook it out on one side of my fortification. It was a little before the great rains that I threw this stuff away, not remembering that I had thrown anything there; about a month after, I saw some green stalks shooting up. I was perfectly astonished when, after a little longer time, I saw ten or twelve ears of barley. I knew not how it came there. At last it occurred to me that I had shaken out the bag there. Besides the barley there were also a few stalks of rice. I carefully saved the ears of this corn, you may be sure, and resolved to sow them all again. When my corn was ripe, I used a cutlass as a scythe, and cut off the ears, and rubbed them out with my hands. At the end of my harvesting I had nearly two bushels of rice, and two bushels and a half of barley. I kept all this for seed, and bore the want of bread with patience.
I soon found that I needed many things to make me comfortable. First I wanted a chair and a table, for without them I must live like a savage. So I set to work. I had never handled a tool in my life, but I had a saw, an axe, and several hatchets, and I soon learned to use them all. If I wanted a board, I had to chop down a tree. From the trunk of the tree I cut a log of the length my board was to be. Then I split the log, and, with infinite labour, hewed it flat till it was as thin as a board. I made myself a table and a chair out of short pieces of board, and from the large boards I made some wide shelves. On these I laid my tools and other things.
From time to time I made many useful things. From a piece of ironwood, cut in the forest with great labour, I made a spade to dig with. Then I wanted a pick-axe, but for long I could not think how I was to get one. At length I made use of crowbars from the wreck. These I heated in the fire, and, little by little, shaped them till I made a pick-axe, proper enough, though heavy.
At first I felt the need of baskets in which to carry things, so I set to work as a basket-maker. It came to my mind that the twigs of the tree whence I cut my stakes might serve. I found them to my purpose as much as I could desire, and, during the next rainy season, I employed myself in making a great many baskets. Though I did not finish them handsomely, yet I made them sufficiently serviceable.
I had, however, one want greater than all the others-bread. My barley was very fine, the grains were large and smooth; but before I could make bread I must grind the grains into flour. I spent many a day to find out a Stone to cut hollow and make fit for a mortar, and could find none; nor were the rocks of the island of hardness sufficient. So I gave it over and rounded a great block of hard wood and, with the help of fire and great labour, made a hollow in it. I made a great heavy pestle of the wood called ironwood.
The baking part was the next thing to be considered; for, first, I had no yeast. As to that, there was no supplying the want, so I did not concern myself much about it. But for an oven I was indeed in great pain. At length I found out an experiment for that also. I made some earthen vessels, broad but not deep, about two feet across, and about nine inches deep. These I burned in the fire till they were as hard as nails and as red as tiles, and when I wanted to bake I made a great fire upon a hearth which I paved with some square tiles of my own making.
When the fire had all burned I drew the embers forward upon my hearth, and let them be there till the hearth was very hot. My loaves being ready, I swept the hearth and set them on the hottest part of it. Over each loaf I placed one of the large earthen pots, and drew the embers all round to keep in and add to the heat. And thus I baked my barley loaves and became, in a little time, a good pastrycook into the bargain.
It need not be wondered at if all these things took up most of the third year of my abode in the island. I had now brought my state of life to be much easier than it was at first, and I learned to look more upon the bright side of my condition and less on the dark.
Had anyone in England met such a man as I was, it must have frightened them, or raised great laughter. On my head I wore a great, high, shapeless cap of goat's skin. Stockings and shoes I had none, but I had made a pair of somethings, I scarce knew what to call them, to slip over my legs; a jacket, with the skirts coming down to the middle of my thighs, and a pair of open-kneed breeches of the same, completing my outfit. I had a broad belt of goat's skin, and in this I hung, on one side, a saw, on the other, a hatchet. Under my arm hung two pouches for shot and powder; at my back I carried my basket, on my shoulder my gun, and over my head a great clumsy goat's skin umbrella.
A stoic would have smiled to have seen me at dinner. There was my majesty, prince and lord of the whole island. How like a king I dined, too, all alone, attended by my servants! Poll, my parrot, as if he had been my favourite, was the only person permitted to talk to me. My old dog sat at my right hand, and two cats on each side of the table, expecting a bit from my hand as a mark of special favour.
III. The Footprint
It was my custom to make daily excursions to some part of the island. One day, walking along the beach, I was exceedingly surprised with the print of a man's naked foot plainly impressed on the sand. I stood like one thunderstruck. I listened, I looked around, but I could hear nothing nor see anything. I went up to a rising ground to look further; I walked backwards and forwards on the shore, but I could see only that one impression.
I went to it again. There was exactly a foot-toes, heel, and every part of a foot. How it came thither I knew not; but I hurried home, looking behind me at every two or three steps, and mistaking every bush and tree, fancying every stump to be a man. I had no sleep that night; but my terror gradually wore off, and after some days I ventured down to the beach to take measure of the footprint by my own.
I found it much larger! This filled me again with all manner of fears, and when I went home I began to prepare against an attack. I got out my muskets, loaded them, and went to an enormous amount of labour and trouble-all because I had seen the print of a naked foot on the sand. There seemed to me then no labour too great, no task too toilsome, and I made me a second fortification, and planted a vast number of stakes on the outside of my outer wall, which grew and became a thick grove of trees, entirely concealing the place of my retreat, and adding greatly to my security.
I had now been twenty-two years on the island, and had grown so accustomed to the place that, had I felt myself secure from the attack by savages, I fancied I could have been contented to remain there till I died of old age.
For many months the perturbation of my mind was very great; in the day great troubles overwhelmed me, and in the night I dreamed often of killing savages. About two years after I first knew these fears, I was surprised one morning by seeing five canoes on the shore. I could not tell what to think of it, so went and lay in my castle perplexed and discomforted. At length, becoming very impatient, I clambered up to the top of the hill and perceived, by the help of my perspective glass, no less than thirty men dancing round a fire with barbarous gestures. While I was looking, two miserable wretches were dragged from the boats. One was immediately knocked down, while the other, seeing himself a little at liberty, started away from them and ran along the sands directly towards me. I was dreadfully frightened, that I must acknowledge, when I perceived him run my way, especially when, as I thought, I saw him pursued by the whole body. But my spirits began to recover when I found that but three men followed him, and that he outstripped them exceedingly, in running.
Presently he came to a creek and, making nothing of it, plunged in, landed, and ran on with exceeding strength. Two of the pursuers swam the creek, but the third went no farther, and soon after went back again. I immediately took my two guns, ran down the hill and clapped myself in the way between the pursuers and the pursued, hallooing aloud to him that fled. Then, rushing on the foremost of the pursuers, I knocked him down with the stock of my piece. The other stopped, as if frightened, but as I came nearer, I perceived he was fitting a bow and arrow to shoot at me; so I was then obliged to shoot at him first, which I did and killed him.
The poor savage who fled was so frightened with the noise of my piece that he seemed inclined still to fly. I gave him all the signs of encouragement I could think of, and he came nearer, kneeling down every ten or twelve steps. I took him up and made much of him, and comforted him. Then, beckoning him to follow me, I took him to my cave on the farther part of the island. Here, having refreshed him, I made signs for him to lie down to sleep, which the poor creature did. After he had slumbered about half an hour, he came out of the cave, running to me, laying himself down and setting my foot upon his head to let me know he would serve me so long as he lived.
In a little time I began to speak to him and teach him to speak to me; and, first, I let him know his name should be Friday, which was the day I saved his life. I likewise taught him to say "Master," and then let him know that was to be my name. I made a little tent for him, and took in my ladders at night, so that he could no way come at me.
But I needed not this precaution, for never man had a more faithful, loving servant than Friday was to me. I made it my business to teach him everything that was proper to make him useful, especially to make him speak, and he was the aptest scholar that ever was. Indeed, this was the pleasantest year of all the life I led in this place. I began now to have some use for my tongue again, and, besides the pleasure of talking to Friday, I had a singular satisfaction in the fellow himself. His simple, unfeigned honesty appeared to me more and more every day, and I began really to love the creature; and I believe he loved me more than it was possible for him ever to love anything before.
IV. The End of Captivity
I was now entered on the seven-and-twentieth year of my captivity on the island. One morning I bade Friday go to the seashore and see if he could find a turtle. He had not been gone long when he came running back like one that felt not the ground, or the steps he set his feet on, and cries out to me, "O master! O sorrow! O bad!"
"What's the matter, Friday?" said I.
"O yonder, there," says he; "one, two, three canoes!"
"Well," says I, "do not be frightened."
However, I saw the poor fellow was most terribly scared, for nothing ran in his head but that the savages were come back to look for him, and would cut him in pieces and eat him. I comforted him, and told him I was in as much danger as he. Then I went up the hill and found quickly by my glass that there were one-and-twenty savages, whose business seemed to be a triumphant banquet upon three human bodies. I came down again to Friday and, going towards the wretches, sent Friday a little ahead to see what they were doing. He came back and told me that they were eating the flesh of one of their prisoners, and that a bearded man lay bound, whom he said they would kill next.
This fired the very soul within me, and, going to a little rising ground, I turned to Friday and said, "Now, Friday, do exactly as you see me do." So, with a musket, I took aim at the savages; Friday did the like, and we fired, killing three of them and wounding five more. They were in a dreadful consternation, and after we fired again among the amazed wretches, I made directly towards the poor victim who was lying upon the beach. Loosing him, I found he was a Spaniard. He took pistol and sword from me thankfully, and flew upon his murderers, and, Friday, pursuing the flying wretches, in the end but four of the twenty-one escaped in a canoe.
I was minded to pursue them lest they should return with a greater force and devour us by mere multitude. So, running to a canoe, I bade Friday follow me, but was surprised to find another poor creature lying therein, bound hand and foot. I immediately cut his fastenings and bade Friday tell him of his deliverance. But when Friday came to hear him speak and to look in his face, it would have moved anyone to tears to have seen how Friday kissed him, embraced him, hugged him, cried, danced, sung, and then cried again. It was a good while before I could make him tell me what was the matter, but when he came a little to himself, he told me it was his father. He sat down by the old man a long while, and took his arms and ankles, which were numbed with the binding, and chafed and rubbed them with his hands.
My island was now peopled, and I thought myself rich in subjects. The Spaniard and the old savage had been with us about seven months, sharing in our labours, when, being unable to keep means of deliverance out of my thoughts, I gave them leave to go over in one of the canoes to the mainland, where some of the Spaniard's shipmates were cast away, giving them provisions sufficient for themselves and all the Spaniards, for eight days.
It was no less than eight days I had waited for their return when Friday came to me and called aloud, "Master, master, they are come!" I jumped up and climbed to the top of the hill, and with my glass plainly made out an English ship, and its long-boat standing in for the shore. I cannot express the joy I was in at seeing a ship, and one that was manned by my own countrymen; but yet I had some secret doubts, bidding me keep on my guard. Presently the boat was run upon the beach, and in all eleven men landed, whereof three were unarmed and bound, whom I could perceive using passionate gestures of entreaty and despair. Presently the seamen were all gone straggling in the woods, leaving the three distressed men under a tree a little distance from me. I resolved to discover myself to them, and marched with Friday towards them, and called aloud in Spanish, "What are ye, gentlemen?" They started up at the noise, and I perceived them about to fly from me, when I spoke to them in English.
"Gentlemen," says I, "do not be surprised at me; perhaps you may have a friend near, when you did not expect it. Can you not put a stranger in the way to help you?"
One of them, looking like one astonished, returned, "Sir, I was captain of that ship; my men have mutinied against me, and have set me on shore in this desolate place with these two men-my mate and a passenger."
He then told me that if two among the mutineers, who were desperate villains, were secured, he believed the rest on shore would return to their duty. He anticipated my proposals in venturing their deliverance by telling me that both he and the ship, if recovered, should be wholly directed by me in everything. Then I gave them muskets, and the mutineers returning, the two villains were killed, and the rest begged for mercy, and joined us. More of them coming ashore, we fell upon them at night, so that at the captain's call they laid down their arms, trusting to the mercy of the governor of the island, for such they supposed me to be.
It now occurred to me that the time of my deliverance was come, and that it would be easy to bring these fellows in to be hearty in getting possession of the ship. And so it proved, for, the ship being boarded next morning, and the new rebel captain shot, the rest yielded without any more lives lost.
When I saw my deliverance then put visibly into my hands, I was ready to sink down with the surprise, and it was a good while before I could speak a word to the captain, who was in as great an ecstasy as I. After some time, I came dressed in a new habit of the captain's, being still called governor. Being all met, and the captain with me, I caused the prisoners to be brought before me, told them I had got a full account of their villainous behaviour to the captain, and asked of them what they had to say why I should not execute them as pirates. I told them I had resolved to quit the island, but that they, if they went, could only go as prisoners in irons; so that I could not tell what was the best for them, unless they had a mind to take their fate in the island. They seemed thankful for this, and said they would much rather venture to stay than be carried to England to be hanged. So I left it on that issue. When the captain was gone I sent for the men up to me in my apartment and let them into the story of my living there; showed them my fortifications, the way I made my bread, planted my corn; and, in a word, all that was necessary to make them easy. I told them the story, also of the Spaniards that were to be expected, and made them promise to treat them in common with themselves.
I left the next day and went on board the ship with Friday. And thus I left the island the 19th of December, in the year 1686, after eight and twenty years, and, after a long voyage, I arrived in England, the 11th of June, 1687, having been thirty-five years absent.
● Copyright © 2014 Glyn Hughes.
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