Robinson Crusoe for Younger readers

Note: In this and linked posts, I have recrafted some material from earlier posts to improve navigation.

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. It is interesting that these two publications by Stockdale predate by one and two years his famous two volume illustrated edition of Robinson Crusoe for adult readers.

Here follows a link to a posting about my copy of An Abridgement of The New Robinson Crusoe An Instructive and Entertainment History for the Use of Children of Both Sexes (1789) and here is a link to a post about my copy of a related reprint published by George Routledge called Robinson the Younger or the New Crusoe (1856).

Since then, there have been many versions of Robinson Crusoe that have been specifically published for the juvenile market. There are editions in simplified language, indeed a couple written in words of one syllable, excluding the personal names. There also continues to be many illustrated editions published for the younger reader, and some more deluxe illustrated editions that were probably intended for the children and adults of wealthy families. The story has also been translated into many different languages over the years.

All of these juvenile editions are based on the first volume of Robinson Crusoe as written by Defoe, which culminates with Crusoe’s escape from the island and his return to England. Some editions may also contain material taken from “The Farther Adventures” that made up the original second volume written by Defoe, particularly the sections describing the return of Crusoe to the island. None of the juvenile editions that I have seen contain material from the more rarefied and philosophical volume 3 of Defoe.

Robinson the Younger 1856

Robinson the Younger or the New Crusoe published in 1856

This version of Robinson Crusoe from my collection was specifically produced for the juvenile reader as Robinson the Younger, and was published by George Routledge & Co. in London in 1856. The upper board, which is the original gilt-decorated cloth 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 a previous Robinson Crusoe blog. My copy is the second Routledge edition of 1856, 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 postings, I will discuss some other 19th century editions of Robinson Crusoe that I have in my collection.