Robinson Crusoe: 100 more years

Early 19th century editions


Robinson Crusoe continued to be very popular throughout Europe in the early years of the 19th century, with many publishers adding to the growing list of editions. For example, in 1820, Cadell and Davies published an edition which featured re-engraved versions of the Stothard illustrations that had been first published by James Harrison in 1782 and in extended form in 1790 by John Stockdale. In that same year (1820), Tute published an edition of Robinson Crusoe in Dublin, Garney and Le Fuel separately published editions in Paris, and Castiaux and Blocquel published another French edition in Lille. In the following year, at least three more editions were published in Paris followed by another two in 1822, while in London, in 1822, Charles Whittingham and Thomas Kelley each published two volume editions of Robinson Crusoe, Whittingham’s being another reprint of his edition of 1812. None of these editions were specifically published for juvenile readers.

Harvey and Darton edition 1831

The earliest 19th century edition that I have in my collection is from 1831. It was published as a single volume in London by Harvey and Darton, but was not alone, as at least three other editions appeared in London that year; a new single volume edition published by J.F. Dove; an 1818 edition re-published in 1831 by Baldwin and Craddock in two volumes with illustrations by Harvey, and another new edition published in two volumes by John Major, with illustrations by George Cruickshank, who would win everlasting fame a few years later with his illustrations for Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. 1831 also saw the appearance in the USA of a much republished edition of Robinson Crusoe by Key and Mielke of Philadelphia, with illustrations by William Robinson. A notable Italian edition was also published in 1831 by Gaspare Truffi in Milano.

In the pictures below, I show some images of my Harvey and Darton edition of 1831.

Keen Jane Austen fans might notice that Harvey and Darton’s offices were in Gracechurch Street, which is the street where the Gardiner family from Pride and Prejudice lived. Gracechurch Street still exists and now finds itself in the shadow of “The Gherkin”, one of London’s newer monstrosities. It must be said that most of London’s publishers at the time were clustered around Covent Garden, St. Paul’s churchyard and The Strand. Gracechurch Street was more mercantile in character and was to the south east, a little way from the publishing heart of the city.

The other notable facet of the title page is that there is no credit given to Daniel Defoe as the author. The reason can be deduced from the images of the two page preface shown below, where the anonymous “Editor” is trying to persuade the reader that the story is a true account of the adventures of a real man, a “just history of fact” rather than a “romance”.

Needless to say, there is no “Life of Defoe” printed with this edition. It seems to me remarkable that, more than 100 years after Defoe was first identified as the author of Robinson Crusoe, it was still possible to publish in London an edition that continues the pretense of the 1719 first edition that the story was a true history. This edition was reprinted in 1842 in a similar form by Harvey and Darton.

The illustrations in the Harvey and Darton edition are dated 1831, but are not credited to a particular artist. In addition to the frontispiece shown above, there are four other plates that are produced in a deliberately archaic form with two images per plate enclosed in an ornamental border, reminiscent of some of the cheaper style of chapbook illustrations of the 18th century. They are shown below.

The text in this edition is a condensation of the first two volumes of Robinson Crusoe, as published by Taylor in 1719. It is very much in a style designed for the adult rather than the juvenile reader.

Robinson the Younger published in 1856

The earliest version of Robinson Crusoe in my collection that was specifically published for the juvenile reader was Robinson the Younger, published by George Routledge & Co. in London in 1856. The upper board, which is in the original binding, and both the engraved and the printed title pages are shown below.

The printed title page reveals that this is an English translation of Robinson der Jüngere (1779) by Joachim Heinrich Campe, the first juvenile version of the story of Robinson Crusoe ever published, which was discussed in the previous Robinson Crusoe blog. My copy is the second Routledge edition of 1956, the first edition having appeared in 1855. There seems also to have been a third edition published in 1859. All three editions are scarce, but the text is available in electronic form in several libraries.

The book has two prefaces; a translator’s preface and some extracts from an unattributed author’s preface, which is presumably a translation of part of a preface written in German by Campe in 1779. The translator R. Hick explained how he came to translate Campe’s book as follows:

The original work of which the following is a translation, fell accidentally into my hands when looking for an entertaining German reading book. I was presently struck with its admirable adaptation for the use of children, and once resolved to translate it for my own little boys; during the progress of my agreeable task I now and then read what I had written, sometimes to my wife, sometimes to friends, who one and all strongly recommended my offering it for publication.

Translator’s Preface, Robinson the Younger, George Routledge & Co. London 1856

He finished by writing:

I have endeavoured as much as possible to render it simply what it professes to be, a faithful image of the admirable original, the worth of which has been emphatically stamped by the German public having demanded upwards of forty large editions of it.

R.Hick Woodhouse Hill, Near Leeds, 1855.

The image on the engraved title page in the central panel above shows a man reading from a book to his family grouped around him. This is how Robinson der Jüngere  and Robinson the Younger are both structured, with the story being read out to the children by the father as a narrative interrupted by frequent questions from the children. I give an example of this below, with the famous incident of the discovery by Robinson of the footprint. This is from the chapter headed “Fourteenth Evening.”

“He had not gone far when he reached the most southerly part of the island. Here the ground in some parts was sandy, and just as he reached the most prominent point, he was struck almost as with a thunderbolt, became as white as a sheet, and trembled all over.

John.- Why?

Papa.- He saw what he never dreamed of seeing here, the footprints of one or more men in the sand.

Nicholas.- And did that frighten him so? Why, it should have delighted him!

Papa.- The cause of his terror was this : he concluded at once that the man of whose foot this was the print, was not a brother or a friend, who would be ready to help and serve him; but a cruel creature, who would fall upon him in a fury, and would kill and eat him. In a word, he saw in this , not the trace of a polished European, but of a savage cannibal, like those of whom you have heard in the Caribbee Islands.

George.- Ah! That I believe, and so he must have been frightened.”

from Robinson the Younger, George Routledge & Co. London, 1856, pp 117-118.

My copy of the book has no illustrations other than its frontispiece, shown below. The Robinson Crusoe depicted seems decidedly older than the young man described in the text.

Frontispiece from Robinson the Younger, George Routledge and Co. London, second edition 1856

In the next blog, I will discuss some later 19th century editions of Robinson Crusoe that I have in my collection.

Robinson Crusoe: The original inspiration of Ripping Yarns


Many of the heroic boy’s adventure novels of the Victorian and Edwardian eras owe their existence to the influence of Robinson Crusoe, even though it was certainly not originally written as a stirring adventure story for boys. In this post, I will discuss Robinson Crusoe and how it came to be in the form that many of us are now very familiar with, as a book for younger readers. In subsequent posts, I will explore the influence of Robinson Crusoe on later authors.

Frontispiece and title page of the first edition of Robinson Crusoe (1719)

The First Edition

The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner, to give a shorter form of its very long title was published by W. Taylor at the Sign of the Ship in Paternoster Row, London on 25th April 1719. It was advertised on the title page as “Written by Himself“, no doubt to give the impression that it was a true story, but as we all now know, it was written by a London-based puritan non-conformist writer, journalist, merchant and adventurer, Daniel Defoe (c1660 – 1731). The book was instantly a popular success and sold out four editions before the end of 1719. A rather less successful sequel, The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe was published in August 1719, which was followed in 1720 by a final sequel Serious Reflections during the Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe: With his Vision of the Angelik World, which was, perhaps unsurprisingly, even less successful that The Farther Adventures. Some reprinted editions appeared which contained all three books, but eventually only the original volume, with sometimes elements of The Farther Adventures were frequently republished under the title Robinson Crusoe.

Some people claim that Robinson Crusoe was the first novel written in English; others would claim that Aphra Behn’s novella Oroonoko (1688) better deserves that accolade. What most critics would agree is that Robinson Crusoe was the first great novel in English. Robinson Crusoe‘s influence is underscored by the fact that it has never been out of print during the last 300 years, and that it has been translated into hundreds of languages. Indeed, it appeared in Amsterdam in a French translation as early as 1720, which contained several illustrations as well as a frontispiece. In that same year, 1720, the first German translation was also published.

The Story

The basic story is very familiar to many people today, even if they have never read the book. Crusoe, a young man of 18, leaves his parental home to seek adventure and fortune at sea. He is shipwrecked, captured by Moorish slavers, but escapes by small boat to the coast of West Africa, where he is rescued by a Portuguese ship and taken to Brasil, where he lives as a plantation owner for several years. He heads out to sea again on a slaving voyage but is shipwrecked again off the coast of Venezuela, on an imaginary island set between the mouth of the Orinoco river and the large island of Trinidad. He learns to be self sufficient on the island and survives alone there for many years before he see a footprint, evidence of the presence of another human. He discovers that his island is occasionally visited by groups of cannibals who feast on their prisoners during their stay. He watches for their return and rescues one of the prisoners, who he calls Friday, for the day of his release, and proceeds to teach Friday English language and culture and converts him to Christianity. A few years later, Crusoe and Friday attack another visiting group of cannibals, and liberate two prisoners, who turn out to be Friday’s father and a Spaniard. Eventually, Crusoe and Friday are rescued by a visiting English ship, after Crusoe helps the captain defeat his mutinous crew. Crusoe returns to England after more than 35 years have elapsed since his departure.

Robinson Crusoe as a book for Juveniles

Defoe intended his book to be a moral tale that showed how a rather reckless youth can become a thoughtful, religious and worthy man, by application to work and devotion to the scriptures. The original text by Defoe contains many sections of religious or philosophical ruminations, that can make the book quite heavy going for the younger or indeed the modern reader. It was first recognised by a German writer that Robinson Crusoe contained the kernel of an exciting story for younger people. Accordingly, in 1779, Joachim Heinrich Campe translated and edited Defoe’s work to produce Robinson der Jüngere (Robinson the Younger). Campe followed this with a similar treatment of The Farther Adventures published as a second volume in 1780. These two books came to the attention of the London publisher John Stockdale, who translated them back into English, and then published them in two volumes as The New Robinson Crusoe An Instructive and Entertainment History for the Use of Children of Both Sexes (1788). Stockdale claimed to have translated the book from a French text, but it was clearly a translation of Campe’s German texts. In the following year, Stockdale published a simplified single volume version of this treatment of Robinson Crusoe as a book for children as An Abridgement of The New Robinson Crusoe An Instructive and Entertainment History for the Use of Children of Both Sexes (1789). This was the real start in English of Robinson Crusoe as an adventure book for the younger reader.

The Classic Stockdale Edition of 1790

John Stockdale continued his interest in Defoe’s work by publishing a new two volume edition of the original Defoe text of the first two volumes of Robinson Crusoe in 1790. This was adorned with the first satisfactory and realistic set of illustrations for the book which were created by Thomas Stothard. The second volume concludes with a Life of Defoe by George Chalmers, together with an engraved portrait of Defoe which had first been published in 1703.

Several editions of Robinson Crusoe with Stothard’s illustrations were published by Stockdale over the next 15 years. Later editions by a range of publishers continued to use re-engraved versions of Thomas Stothard’s illustrations well into the first half of the 20th century. My copy of Stockdale’s original 1790 edition of Robinson Crusoe is shown below, together with some examples of Stothard’s illustrations.

Portrait and Life of Defoe, Stockdale’s Robinson Crusoe, Volume II, 1790.

Next time…

In the next posting, I will look at some other later editions of Robinson Crusoe from my collection. I will follow that by looking at the new genre created and inspired by Robinson Crusoe, the “Robinsonades”.

Return to Ripping Yarns: Adventure Books for Boys.