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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Robinson Crusoe: A Guide to Prayer


Emrik and Banger (Printer)
Robinson Crusoe Programme for Drury Lane Theatre
December 1881
Chromolithographic printing on paper



Charles Samuel Keene
1823-1891
Robinson Crusoe
c. 1847,


Most people regard Robinson Crusoe as a children`s book, influenced very much by their reading of heavily abridged editions and their viewing of pantomime, TV programmes (including Gilligan’s Island, Lost and Survivor), films, animated cartoons. It is very much not a children`s book. It is very much a book for adults


Swift described DeFoe as a "grave, sententious, dogmatical rogue" although he went on to write a satirical book about another castaway of an entirely different type

However it is a Puritan tale of religious conversion: from original sin (disobeying his father) to spiritual hardening (eight years of rambling with other sinners) to a gradual repentance and ultimate conversion

He is brought to the island by a ship called the Ariel and at first the island is his prison. Later it is the place which gives Crusoe his freedom.


"Robinson Crusoe is, then, nothing less than a textbook in the appropriate relationships amongst human being, culture, and God.

It might fairly be retitled, Civilization and Its Contents.

The lessons couldn't be more clear: Welfare and worship are inseparable; both the well-ordered state and the well-ordered individual rest squarely upon the divine.

Every component of civilization-shelter, handicraft, agriculture, and animal husbandry no less than law, art, and worship-ultimately depends upon a vigorous relationship with God; "In God We Trust" would sit well on Robinson's coins.

This is not an eccentric reading of the text: Robinson Crusoe's spiritual depths are evident to all who read it unabridged. Whenever I include it on a syllabus, my students are thunderstruck by the power of Robinson's conversion; I suspect it leads one or two readers to their own fruitful self-examination. In just this way-as manual of conversion and guide to the good life-was Robinson understood for centuries."

In their book Prayer: A History New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2005, Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski go further and describe it as the best primer on the De Profundis prayer (Psalm 130/129) one of the great fifteen Gradual Psalms and seven Penitential Psalms


Here is an extract from the original first edition which helps give the lie to the Zaleski thesis:


"It happen’d one Day about Noon going towards my Boat, I was exceedingly surpriz’d with the Print of a Man’s naked Foot on the Shore, which was very plain to be seen in the Sand: I stood like one Thunder-struck, or as if I had seen an Apparition; I listen’d, I look’d round me, I could hear nothing, nor see any Thing, I went up to a rising Ground to look farther, I went up the Shore and down the Shore, but it was all one, I could see no other|<182> Impression but that one, I went to it again to see if there were any more, and to observe if it might not be my Fancy; but there was no Room for that, for there was exactly the very Print of a Foot, Toes, Heel, and every Part of a Foot; how it came thither, I knew not, nor could in the least imagine. But after innumerable fluttering Thoughts, like a Man perfectly confus’d and out of my self, I came Home to my Fortification, not feeling, as we say, the Ground I went on, but terrify’d to the last Degree, looking behind me at every two or three Steps, mistaking every Bush and Tree, and fancying every Stump at a Distance to be a Man; nor is it possible to describe how many various Shapes affrighted Imagination represented Things to me in, how many wild Ideas were found every Moment in my Fancy, and what strange unaccountable Whimsies came into my Thoughts by the Way.

When I came to my Castle, for so I think I call’d it ever after this, I fled into it like one pursued; whether I went over by the Ladder as first contriv’d, or went in at the Hole in the Rock, which I call’d a Door, I cannot remember; no, nor could I remember the next Morning, for never frighted Hare fled to Cover, or Fox to Earth, with more Terror of Mind than I to this Retreat.

I slept none that Night; the farther I was from the Occasion of my Fright, the greater my Apprehensions were, which is something contrary to the Nature of such Things, and especially to the usual Practice of all Creatures in Fear: But I was so embarrass’d with my own frightful Ideas of the Thing, that I form’d nothing but dismal Imaginations to my self, even tho’ I was now a great way off of it. Sometimes I fancy’d it must be the Devil; and Reason joyn’d in with me upon this Supposition: For how should any other Thing in hu-|<183>man Shape come into the Place? Where was the Vessel that brought them? What Marks was there of any other Footsteps? And how was it possible a Man should come there? But then to think that Satan should take human Shape upon him in such a Place where there could be no manner of Occasion for it, but to leave the Print of his Foot behind him, and that even for no Purpose too, for he could not be sure I should see it; this was an Amusement the other Way; I consider’d that the Devil might have found out abundance of other Ways to have terrify’d me than this of the single Print of a Foot. That as I liv’d quite on the other Side of the Island, he would never have been so simple to leave a Mark in a Place where ’twas Ten Thousand to one whether I should ever see it or not, and in the Sand too, which the first Surge of the Sea upon a high Wind would have defac’d entirely: All this seem’d inconsistent with the Thing it self, and with all the Notions we usually entertain of the Subtilty of the Devil.

Abundance of such Things as these assisted to argue me out of all Apprehensions of its being the Devil: And I presently concluded then, that it must be some more dangerous Creature, (viz.) That it must be some of the Savages of the main Land over-against me, who had wander’d out to Sea in their Canoes; and either driven by the Currents, or by contrary Winds had made the Island; and had been on Shore, but were gone away again to Sea, being as loth, perhaps, to have stay’d in this desolate Island, as I would have been to have had them.

While these Reflections were rowling* upon my Mind, I was very thankful in my Thoughts, that I was so happy as not to be thereabouts at that Time, or that they did not see my Boat, by which they would have concluded that some Inhabitants|<184> had been in the Place, and perhaps have search’d farther for me: Then terrible Thoughts rack’d my Imagination about their having found my Boat, and that there were People here; and that if so, I should certainly have them come again in greater Numbers, and devour me; that if it should happen so that they should not find me, yet they would find my Enclosure, destroy all my Corn, carry away all my Flock of tame Goats, and I should perish at last for meer Want.

Thus my Fear banish’d all my religious Hope; all that former Confidence in God which was founded upon such wonderful Experience as I had had of his Goodness, now vanished, as if he that had fed me by Miracle hitherto, could not preserve by his Power the Provision which he had made for me by his Goodness: I reproach’d my self with my Easiness, that would not sow any more Corn one Year than would just serve me till the next Season, as if no Accident could intervene to prevent my enjoying the Crop that was upon the Ground; and this I thought so just a Reproof, that I resolv’d for the future to have two or three Years Corn beforehand, so that whatever might come, I might not perish for want of Bread.

How strange a Chequer Work of Providence is the Life of Man! and by what secret differing Springs are the Affections hurry’d about as differing Circumstance present! To Day we love what to Morrow we hate; to Day we seek what to Morrow we shun; to Day we desire what to Morrow we fear; nay even tremble at the Apprehensions of; this was exemplify’d in me at this Time in the most lively Manner imaginable; for I whose only Affliction was, that I seem’d banished from human Society, that I was alone, circumscrib’d by the boundless Ocean, cut off from Mankind, and con-|<185>demn’d to what I call’d silent Life; that I was as one who Heaven thought not worthy to be number’d among the Living, or to appear among the rest of his Creatures; that to have seen one of my own Species, would have seem’d to me a Raising me from Death to Life, and the greatest Blessing that Heaven it self, next to the supreme Blessing of Salvation, could bestow; I say, that I should now tremble at the very Apprehensions of seeing a Man, and was ready to sink into the Ground at but the Shadow or silent Appearance of a Man’s having set his Foot in the Island.

Such is the uneven State of human Life: And it afforded me a great many curious Speculations afterwards, when I had a little recover’d my first Surprize; I consider’d that this was the Station of Life the infinitely wise and good Providence of God had determin’d for me, that as I could not foresee what the Ends of Divine Wisdom might be in all this, so I was not to dispute his Sovereignty, who, as I was his Creature, had an undoubted Right by Creation to govern and dispose of me absolutely as he thought fit; and who, as I was a Creature who had offended him, had likewise a judicial Right to condemn me to what Punishment he thought fit; and that it was my Part to submit to bear his Indignation, because I had sinn’d against him.

I then reflected that God, who was not only Righteous but Omnipotent, as he had thought fit thus to punish and afflict me, so he was able to deliver me; that if he did not think fit to do it, ’twas my unquestion’d Duty to resign my self absolutely and entirely to his Will; and on the other Hand, it was my Duty also to hope in him, pray to him, and quietly to attend the Dictates and Directions of his daily Providence.|<186>

These Thoughts took me up many Hours, Days; nay, I may say, Weeks and Months; and one particular Effect of my Cogitations on this Occasion, I cannot omit, viz. One Morning early, lying in my Bed, and fill’d with Thought about my Danger from the Appearance of Savages, I found it discompos’d me very much, upon which those Words of the Scripture came into my Thoughts, Call upon me in the Day of Trouble, and I will deliver, and thou shalt glorify me.*

Upon this, rising chearfully out of my Bed, my Heart was not only comforted, but I was guided and encourag’d to pray earnestly to God for Deliverance: When I had done praying, I took up my Bible, and opening it to read, the first Words that presented to me, were, Wait on the Lord, and be of good Cheer, and he shall strengthen thy Heart; wait, I say, on the Lord:* It is impossible to express the Comfort this gave me. In Answer, I thankfully laid down the Book, and was no more sad, at least, not on that Occasion.

Daniel DeFoe, Robinson Crusoe (London: W. Taylor, 1719).