Tag Archives: Robinson Crusoe

Robinson Crusoe in 36 Pages

Daniel Defoe was an extremely prolific author, producing more than 500 books, pamphlets, and journals during his lifetime. Perhaps the best-known of his works is Robinson Crusoe, whose title character is shipwrecked on a remote tropical island for thirty years, and must feed, shelter, clothe, and defend himself.  The first edition appeared in 1719, and ran to more than 360 pages.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I opened this slim little volume—just 36 pages—and saw the rather impressive title: The surprising life, voyages and adventures of Robinson Crusoe, a seaman of York: who, after suffering many hardships by Sea and land, was shipwrecked on the coast of America, and cast ashore on an uninhabited island, where he lived twenty-eight years, without any one to assist him, or converse with, but an American savage, whose life he saved. With his wonderful discovery and deliverance, by an English captain.

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A chapbook edition of Robinson Crusoe, published by Dean & Munday sometime between 1808 and 1816.

Intrigued by this rather aggressive abridgment, I soon learned that Robinson Crusoe has a long history of truncation. The earliest abridgments appeared the very same year as the first edition, shortening the text by more than 100 pages. During the remainder of the 18th century, the original text of Robinson Crusoe was republished in an impressive 57 editions, but the number of abridged editions outnumbered Defoe’s original text more than three-to-one. Not only did the shorter versions sell for a fraction of the price of the original, many contemporary readers actually viewed these abridgments as an improvement, retaining all of the best bits while trimming away excess verbiage. In “Eighteenth-Century Abridgements of Robinson Crusoe”, Jordan Howell argues that Robinson Crusoe achieved its place in the literary canon as much due to the popularity of the story as told through abridgments, as to Defoe’s literary style. 

Most of these abridgments, however, retained much of the action and character of the original, sitting comfortably at 200+ pages. The little copy I had found belonged to a different genre entirely: the chapbook.

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At 68 words, the title is longer than some of the pivotal scenes in this 36-page abridgment.

Intended for sale by itinerant merchants among the poorer (but increasingly literate) classes, chapbooks are generally printed on a single sheet of paper, folded to 24 pages (although they sometimes reached as high as 36 pages) and illustrated with woodcuts. Chapbooks covered a staggering array of subjects, including folk tales, nursery rhymes, almanacs, histories, and religious instruction. Contemporary novels were not often squeezed into chapbook format, but works by Defoe, Bunyan, and Swift were noteworthy exceptions. According to Andrew O’Malley’s “Poaching on Crusoe’s Island: Popular Reading and Chapbook Editions of Robinson Crusoe“, during the 18th century, the novel went through no less than 151 chapbook editions.

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The frontispiece, the book’s only illustration, depicts a scene which is barely mentioned in the text.

Different chapbook editions emphasized different aspects of the story, moulding them to conform to the generic conventions that were familiar to working-class readers. O’Malley writes that, “By rejecting certain key elements of Defoe’s work while amplifying others to the point of distortion, these chapbooks shed light on how the laboring classes interacted with the dominant cultural and ideological formations of the period.” For example, some versions linger over Crusoe’s capture by mutineers and enslavement by Moors, in keeping with lower-class readers’ expectations for a seafaring tale. Others might skip over the details of Crusoe’s means of survival on the island or his religious awakening. These omissions cast Crusoe in the role of a traditional folk hero like Jack the Giant Killer, whose good fortune is the product of luck rather than hard work and spiritual devotion—a narrative which might resonate with a working-class audience with few opportunities for social or economic advancement. 

Our chapbook edition is a relative latecomer to the scene. The title page is undated, but it was most likely published between 1808 and 1816 (based on the years that the publishers, Dean & Munday, based their business at the address given on the title page). The paper is cheap, flecked all over with dark brown fibres, and the type has been very unevenly inked, evidence of its downmarket price point. The narrative does not linger over any one episode, but describes all the most noteworthy events with equal (and impressive) economy. Gone, however, are any meditations of a spiritual nature. At 36 pages, it is voluminous for a chapbook, but unlike most 18th century chapbooks, it contains only one illustration. If you fancy a more substantial read, however, we also hold three 19th century editions of Robinson Crusoe in Welsh (84, 90, and 118 pages), one in French (3 volumes) published 1720, and an illustrated edition in English(363 pages), published in 1847.

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Oh for books sake! Big spiders and Bibliomania

I know what you’re thinking – only my third post and I’m talking book crazy! Well, working in Special Collections it was bound to happen sooner or later, though I’d be lying if I blamed my current state of mind on the awesome collections here; I’ve always been mad about books.

So enthused in fact, that not even the huge spider in our Research Reserve could deter me from one of my rummaging sessions (he was scrunched up dead, but I was still petrified!) which, incidentally,  led to another where the following titles also jumped out at me:

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Books on Bibliomania in the Cardiff Rare Books Collection

Bibliomania describes the ‘passionate enthusiasm for collecting and possessing books’, and was first coined by the physician John Ferriar in 1809. In a poem he dedicated to his friend, The Bibliomania: An Epistle to Richard Heber Esq’, Ferriar describes Heber as ‘the hapless man, who feels the book disease’, whose ‘anxious’ eyes scans the catalogues of book auctions to ‘snatch obscurest names from endless night’. Heber was an English book collector and one of the founding members of the Roxburghe Club, an exclusive bibliophilic and publishing society for like-minded book lovers and collectors. (Note: do not confuse bibliomania with bibliophilia which is not as bad as it sounds, merely the great love of books!).  Incidentally, another founding member, Thomas Frognall Dibdin, published Bibliomania: or Book Madness in 1809, a sumptuously illustrated work set as a series of dialogues on the history of book collecting. It’s interesting that the notion of Bibliomania is seen as some kind of folly or affliction. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the budding culture of reading brought about by the growth of print and literacy was often described as some sort of endemic. Reading-fever, or even reading-lust was one aspect of this, characterised by the compulsive reading of one book after another.

hanes-bywyd-y-diweddar-richard-robert-jones-neu-dic-aberdaron-caernarfon-1844-wg16-71-j

Portrait of Dic Aberdaron from Hanes bywyd y diweddar Richard Robert Jones, neu Dic Aberdaron (Caernarfon, 1844)

This brings to mind the famous Welsh linguist Richard Robert Jones, or Dic Aberdaron, reputed to have mastered fourteen languages through his constant consumption of books. His patron, William Roscoe, describes how ‘His clothing consisted of several coarse and ragged vestments, the spaces between which were filled with books, surrounding him in successive layers so that he was literally a walking library… Absorbed in his studies, he had continually a book in his hand’.

So whilst trying to work out if I am bibliomanic or bibliophilic, I started thinking about other eminent book enthusiasts and, either way, I’m in good company! John Dee, the Elizabethan scientist and astrological advisor to Elizabeth I, we know was an avid accumulator of books, amassing one of the largest private libraries during the 16th century. Sadly, most of his collection was dispersed or stolen during his own lifetime, but Special Collections is fortunate to hold his copy of Thomas Aquinas’s Summa contra gen[t]iles . Naturally, Dee was bereft at the loss, and we get a sense of his deep devotion to books from his dreams. In one, which he recorded in his diary, he ‘dremed that I was deade… and … the Lord Thresoror was com to my howse to burn my bokes’. On August the 6th, 1597, Dee relates how:

‘On this night I had the vision … of many bokes in my dreame, and among the rest was one great volume thik in large quarto, new printed, on the first page whereof as a title in great letters was printed ‘Notus in Judaea Deus’. Many other bokes me-thowght I saw new printed, of very strange arguments’.

He too encountered an eight-legged beast, writing on the 2 of September: ‘the spider at ten of the clock at night suddenly on my desk, … a most rare one in bygnes and length of feet’. You know you’re in trouble when you can see their feet! I truly sympathise Dr Dee, on both counts.

And what about our very own Enoch Salisbury? His hunger for book collecting began with a gift, an 1824 Welsh edition of Robinson Crusoe, and developed over the next sixty years into a compilation of over 13,000 works worthy of a national collection, a genuine prospect at that time.

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Just some of the books in the Salisbury Library

 

 

In 1886, financial troubles forced Salisbury to sell his collection which was ingeniously acquired by Cardiff University thanks to the foresight of its Registrar Ivor James. In a letter to James, Salisbury outlines his ‘one hope… that the same public feeling which carried it away to Cardiff, may lead to its perfection… for the use of a National Library’.  When the concept for a National Museum and Library for Wales was being considered, Cardiff was a serious contender, offering both the Salisbury Library and the collected works at Cardiff Public Library to be housed in a joint museum and library at Cathays Park.

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Plan of Cathays Park and site for the National Library in Memorial of the Corporation of Cardiff, (Cardiff, 1905)

The Public Library collection was also compiled through several worthy deposits made by keen collectors. David Lewis Wooding (1828 -1891) was one. A shopkeeper and keen book collector, his library contained over 5,000 volumes which he donated. Another collection incorporated was the Tonn library in 1891, which belonged to the Rees family of Llandovery. This consisted of 7,000 printed volumes and 100 manuscripts, and even the Cardiff coal owner John Cory purchased 67 incunabula which he too presented to the Library.

Nevertheless, Cardiff’s vision for a cultural institution was scuppered by another Victorian bibliomaniac, Sir John Williams. He had been buying whole collections for his own private library since the 1870s, and in 1898 struck literary gold when he acquired the Peniarth Manuscripts, which he donated to the proposed library in 1907, on condition that it be built at Aberystwyth. With nuggets like the Black Book of Carmarthen, the White Book of Rhydderch and the Book of Taliesin, Cardiff was inevitably outdone, for the library at least.

As fate would have it, Cardiff University now houses the Cardiff Rare Books alongside Salisbury’s Library, forming a unique collection of national interest which, over the years, has morphed from one compendium to another, each carrying their own unique story. These collections and subsequently, Special Collections, would not exist if it weren’t for Bibliomania. So the moral of this post is, whether you’re bibliomanic, bibliophilic, even arachnophobic, it matters not; there is always an exquisite method in a madness for books, as seen in Daniel Jubb’s Bookcase.

The high and low adventures of Robert Knox, sailor, prisoner and discoverer of cannabis

Captain Robert Knox (1642-1720)

Among the many books on voyages and exploration in the Cardiff Rare Books Collection is a copy of Robert Knox’s An historical relation of the island Ceylon, in the East Indies. First published in 1681, the work was one of the earliest European accounts of the inhabitants, customs and history of Sri Lanka. How Knox came to write the book is a remarkable tale of adventure, misfortune and daring escapes.

Rajahsinge II, King of the Kandyan Provinces of Ceylon

Rajahsinge II, King of the Kandyan Provinces of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Knox’s jailer

Robert Knox was just 14 years old in 1655 when he first joined his sea captain father on the ship Anne for a voyage to India. Three years later, the Knoxes set sail again for Persia in the service of the East India Company but had the ill luck to run into a storm which destroyed the ship’s mast and forced them to put ashore in Ceylon for repairs. King Rajasinghe II was suspicious of the Europeans’ intentions and ordered the ship be impounded and the Knoxes taken captive along with sixteen member of their crew.

Knox's "Historical relation of the island Ceylon", complete with a glowing endorsement from Sir Christopher Wren and a Preface by Robert Hooke

Knox’s “Historical relation of the island Ceylon”, complete with a glowing endorsement from Sir Christopher Wren and a Preface by Robert Hooke

The sailors were forbidden to leave the kingdom but otherwise treated fairly, with some of the captives eventually choosing to enter the king’s service. Although Knox refused to work for the king, he was still permitted to become a farmer and make a living. Knox senior died from malaria in February 1661 but Robert remained in captivity for 19 long years before finally making a bid for freedom with a fellow crewman. They managed to reach a Dutch fort on the coast of the island and gain passage to the Dutch East Indies, before at last setting sail for home aboard an English vessel.

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The grisly fate which awaited servants who displeased the king; Knox believed, apparently with good reason, that entering the king’s service would result in his death

Map of Ceylon showing Knox's escape route

Map of Ceylon from “Historical relation…” showing Knox’s escape route

Knox returned to London in September 1680, having spent the journey writing the manuscript for a book about his experiences. When published a year later as An historical relation of the island Ceylon, the book immediately attracted widespread interest, influencing Daniel Defoe’s famous castaway tale Robinson Crusoe and turning Knox into a celebrity. He continued to work for the East India Company for another thirteen years after his return, captaining the Tonqueen Merchant for four further voyages to the East which made him a wealthy man.

A yadda or wild man of Ceylon with pipe

A yadda or wild man of Ceylon with pipe

One final strange adventure in Knox’s remarkable life deserves our attention. Having become close friends with the scientist Robert Hooke, Knox often returned from his travels with gifts and curiosities for Hooke. After one trip, he presented the scientist with the seeds of a plant previously unknown in Europe. This “strange intoxicating herb,” which Knox referred to as ‘Indian hemp’ or ‘bangue’, is  better known today as cannabis indica. In December 1689, Hooke gave a lecture to the Royal Society in which he provided the first detailed description of cannabis in English, praising its “very wholesome” virtues and noting that Knox “has so often experimented it himself, that there is no Cause of Fear, tho’ possibly there may be of Laughter.”