John Howell.

The life and adventures of Alexander Selkirk, the real Robinson Crusoe : a narrative founded on facts online

. (page 2 of 4)
Online LibraryJohn HowellThe life and adventures of Alexander Selkirk, the real Robinson Crusoe : a narrative founded on facts → online text (page 2 of 4)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

annoyed Selkirk, similar to those he had felt at his arrival
upon the island. The salt food he could not relish for
a long time, having so long discontinued the use of it;
for which reason he lived upon biscuit and water.
Spirits he did not like from the same cause; and be-
sides he was afraid of falling into intemperance, for his
religious impressions were as yet strong. From the
confirmed habit of living alone, he kept very much to
himself, and said little. This frame of mind, and a
serious countenance, continued longer than could have
been expected. Even for some time after his return to
England, these qualities were remarkable, and drew the
notice of those to whose company he was introduced.
Shoes gave him great uneasiness when he first came on


board. He had been so long without them, that they
made his feet swell, and crippled his movements ; but
this wore off by degrees, and he became once more re-
conciled to their use. In other respects he gradually
resumed his old habits as a seaman, but without the
vices which sometimes attach to the profession. He
rigidly abstained from profane oaths, and was much res-
pected by both captains, as well on account of his sin-
gular adventure, as of his skill and good conduct ; for,
having had his books with him, he had improved him-
self much in navigation during his solitude.

The articles he took on shore from the Cinque Ports,
were the following : His chest, containing his clothes
and a quantity ot linen, now all spent, his musket,
which he brought home with him ; a pound of powder,
and balls in proportion ; a hatchet and some tools ; a
knife ; a pewter kettle ; his flip-can which he conveyed
to Scotland, (at present in the possession of John Sel-
craig, his great-grand-nephew ;) a few pounds of tobac-
co ; the Holy Bible ; some devotional pieces, and one or
two books on navigation, with his mathematical instru-

In the capacity of mate, he cruised about for a time,


during which several prizes were taken, and on his re-
turn to London, after an absence of eight years, one
month and three days, he found himself in possession
of £800 sterling. As soon as this sum was realized, he
set out for Largo, and arrived in the spring of 1712, at
his native villasfe.

It was in the forenoon of a Sabbath day, when all were
at church, that he knocked at the door of his paternal
dwelling, but found not those whom his heart yearned
to see, and his soul longed to embrace. He set out foj
church, prompted by his piety and his love for his pa-
rents ; for great was the change that had taken place in
his feelings since he had last been within its walls. As
soon as he entered and sat down, all eyes v/ere upon
him, for such a personage, perhaps, had seldom been
seen within the church at Largo. He was elegantly
dressed in gold laced clothes ; besides^ he was a stranger,
which in a country church, is matter of attention to the
hearers at all times. Bat his manner and appearance
would have attracted the notice of more observing spec-
tators.— After remaining some time engaged in devotion,
his eyes were ever turning to where his parents and
brothers sat, while theirs as often met his gOize ; still they


did not know him. At length his mother, whose
thoughts perhaps at this time wandered to her long lost
son, knew him, and uttering a cry of joy, could contain
herself no longer. Even in the Meeting House, she
rushed to his arms^ unconscious of the impropriety of her
conduct, and the interruption of the service. Alexander
and his friends immediately retired to his father's house,
to give free scope to their joy and congratulations.

A few days passed away happily in the society of his
parents and friends ; but from long habits, he soon felt
averse to mixing in society, and was happiest when
alone. Returning, therefore, frequentl^r to KeiPs Den, a
secluded and lonely valley in the neighborhood, he
spent most of bis time in solitary wandering and medi-
tation ; till a new object began to engross much of his
attention. In his musing by the burnside, he often met
a young girl, tending a single cow, the property of her

Her lonely occupation and innocent looks, made a
deep impression upon him. He watched her for hours
unseen, as she amused herself with the wild flowers she
gathered, or chaunted her rural lays. At each meeting
the impression became stronger, and he felt more inter-


ested in this modest female. At length he addressed him-
self to her, and they joined in conversation ; he had no
avertion to commune with her for hours together, and
began to imagine that he could live and be happy
with a companion such as she. His fishing expe-
ditions were now neglected. Even his cave became not
so sweet a retreat. His mind led him to Keil's Den, and
the amiable Sophia. He never mentioned this adven-
ture and attachment to his friends ; for he felt a-
shamed, after his discourses to them, and the profession
he had made of dislike to human society, to acknowl-
edge that he was upon the point of marrying, and there-
by plunging into the midst of worldly cares. But he
was determined to marry Sophia, though as firmly re-
solved not to remain at home to be the subject of their
jest. This resolution being formed, he soon persuaded
the object of his choice, to elope with him, and bid adieu
to the romantic glen.

After this elopement, nothing was heard of him for
some years. At length, however, a gay widow, of the
name of Frances Candis, or Candia, came to Largo, to
claim the property left to him by his father, and pro-
duced documents to prove her right, from which it appear-


fed that Sophia Bruce lived but a very few years after her
marriage. He himself, after attaining the rank of Lieu-
tenant, died on board his Majesty's ship Weymouth,
some time in the year 1723.


The chest and cup which Selkirk had with him on
the island, are in the possession of a family in Nether
Largo, in Fifeshire, who reside in the house in which
he was born. The former is in excellent preservation
although at least 123 years old. It is made of cedar,
strongly built, and very massy. The initials A. S. are
rudely carved on the lid. The cup is the shell of some
kind of nut which probably grew on the island. The
late Mr. Constable, of Edinburgh, caused it to be much
adorned and beautified, by giving it a new pendiqle, and
having its edge surmounted with silver* — Imperial


Verses supposed to be written hy Alexander Selkirk, during his sol-
itary abode in the Island of Juan Fernandez^

I am monarch of all I survey,

My right there is none to dispute :
From the centre all round to the sea,

I am lord of the fowl and the brute.
Oh solitude ! where are the charms,

That sages have seen in thy face ?
Better dwell in the midst of alarms,.

Than reign in this horrible place.

I am out of humanity's reach ;

I must finish my journey alone :
Never hear the sweet music of speech j

I start at the sound of my own.
The beasts that roam over the plain,

My form with indifference see ;
They are so unacquainted with man,

Their tameness is shocking to me.

Society, friendship, and love,

Divinely bestowed upon man.
Oh, had I the wings of a dove,

How soon would I laste you again I


My sorrows I then might assuage,

In the wajs of religion and truth ;
Might learn from the wisdom of age,

And be cheer'd by the sallies of youth.

Religion ! what treasure untold

Resides in that heavenly wordi
More precious than silver or gold,

Or all that this earth can afford.
But the sound of the church-going bell,

These vallies and rocks never heard;
Ne'er sigh'd at the sound of a knell,

Or smil'd when a sabbath appear'd.

Ye winds that have made me your sport,

Convey to this desolate shore.
Some cordial endearing report

Of a land I shall visit no more.
My friends, do they now and then send

A wish or a thought after me ?
O tell me I yet have a friend,

Though a friend I am never to see.

How fleet is a glance of the mind !

Compar'd with the speed of its flight.
The tempest itself lags behind,

And the swift-wing'd arrows of light.


When I think of my own native land,
In a moment I seem to be there ;

But alas ! recollection at hand
Soon hurries me back to despair.

But the sea-fowl has gone to her nest,

The beast is laid down in his lair ;
Even here is a season of rest,

And I to my cabin repair.
There's mercy in every place ;

And mercy — encouraging thought !
Gives even affliction a grace,

And reconciles man to his lot.







I herewith give my young readers extracts from a
Httle work under this title, which I think they will find
entertaining. Mr. Starboard is one of those redoubted
travellers, w^ho are generally the heroes of their best sto-
ries, and his adventures are no less varied than wonder-
ful. Bat we will let him speak for himself:

" I was two years and a few days wandering over
South America. I travelled about one thousand eight
hundred miles ; but I did not walk all the way ; oh no !
I frequently went with the Indians up their rivers ;
and for about five hundred miles I rode on mules, or
wild horses, which I canght by stratagem.


" At night I would find a tree, and lace a rope in and
out of two bou Sj so as to form a kind of cradle ; thus
supported, I slept in peace, excepting that sometimes
the vampire bat would annoy me by sucking my blood ;
he did it though so quietly, that I suffered no pain ; and
perhaps it was servicable to me to lose a little blood ; it
is not improbable that these flying surgeons kept me in
health by their gentle bleedings. The vampire bat does
not subsist entirely by sucking the blood of living ani-
mals ; it feeds also on insects and young fruits.

" One morning, I remember, when I awoke, and was
coming down from my cradle, I found that a rattle snake
had coiled itself round the stem of the tree, and then I
really thought it would be all over with me ; but my
presence of mind did not forsake me even in this case ;
for, as the reptile reared his flat, wide, terrible head, I
took such good aim, and was so near to it that I blew it
to atoms. Once I caught a poisonous serpent, called a
labarri snake, that I might look for, and examine the
fangs, which contained its venom. I saw it asleep ; and
coming cautiously towards it, I sprang at its neck, which
I grasped tightly with my hands ; its mouth was thus
forced open ; then taking a small piece of stick, I pres-











sed it on the fang, (the point of which communicated
with the root where the bag of poison is situated,) and I
distinctly saw the venom ooze out : it was of a thick
substance and of a yellow color; of course I killed the

One day, during my wanderings in South America, I
came unawares upon a herd of wild horses that were
grazing quietly on the borders of a forest. Well, — I had
been walking a long way, and felt tired \ so I thought I
might as well try to catch one of these horses, and vary
my mode of journeying, by riding. I had read of the
manner in which the Guachos (or South American
peasants) catch these animals with a lasso, or long rope,
which has a loop at the end of it ; and this they expertly
throw over the head of the animal that they single out v
their dexterity is surprising. I feared, however, to at-
tempt such an exploit, lest I should fail, and thus fright-
en them all away : besides I had no rope that was long

So I set my wits to work, and thus I tried my
scheme. I observed among the trees that skirted the
plain, a pool of water: to this pool I made my way ; forj.


thought I, they will surely come there, by and by, to
drink ; so I climbed up into a cinchona, or barktree.

Having fastened one end of my rope tightly round
one of the lower branches, I made the other into a slip-
knot or noose ; and then I waited patiently for my ex"
pected prey. At last the whole herd of horses left their
pasture in a body, and came neighing and gambling
towards the water, with their tails sailing in the wind,
and their long manes waving about with every graceful
turn of their bodies. I assure you it was rather an ap-
palling sight to see myself close over the heads of so
many powerful animals, that made the ground echo with
their spirited movements.

I sat still, however, enjoying myself with a calabash
shell full of milk, which I had drawn from a cow-tree
that grew on the rock near me.

" A cow-tree^ Mr. Starboard !" methinks I hear my
young readers exclaim ; " A cow-tree ! Surely you mean
a cow grazifig^ Mr. Starboard. We know that travel-
lers are privileged to tell pretty big stories, Mr. Star-
board ; but there is such a thing, Mr. Starboard ; as over-
stepping too far the bounds of truth, Mr. Starboard."

Upon my veracity, my dear young readers, I am in



earnest. It was a cow-tree^ from which I drew the
milk: and the great traveller, Humboldt, will prove
what I have said.

The cow-tree is found on the most barren rocks,
where rains rarely visit it, and it has large woody roots.
When its trunk is pierced, a most delicious, white, thick
juice exudes, (or flows out,) which is quite as pleasant
and nourishing as the milk of our cows. The Indians
always make use of it, and it is found in the greatest
abundance about sunrise.

Well : I had just finished my bowl of vegetable milk,
when a fine fellow of a horse came under my cinchona-
tree, and stooped to drink ; so I crept to the end of the
branch ; and as he raised his head, I slipped the noose
over his neck, and drew it tight ; the start he gave when
he found himself confined, frightened his companions,
and away they all scampered, leaving me and my pris-
oner alone.

Instead of striving to break the rope and escape,
which he might have done with ease, his courage seem-
ed weakened by this new kind of restraint. I had some
struggles, it is true ; but I quickly conquered him, and

we were soon friends.



I have met, in the course of my life with a variety of
other adventures, which I will narrate to my young rea-
ders, if they will give their attention. I am an old man
now and have plenty of leisure ; but the greater portion
of my life has been passed in unceasing activity and has
been full of incident : —

" Up to the north — the polar north,

With the whalers did I go,
'Mong- the mountains of eternal ice

To the land of the thawless snow.

"We were hemmed in by icy rocks,

The strength of man was vain ;
But at once the arm of God was shown

The rocks were rent in twain.

" And then we sailed to the tropic seas.

That are like crystal clear.
Thou wilt marvel much, thou little child,

These glorious things to hear,"




Doubling Cape Horn — A storm — Our Traveller Shipwrecked
Taken up — Earthquake — Escape to the shore — Adventures
on shore — Journey to Bonaventura — Safe Arrival.

Here our friend Tom Starboard in his sailor style,
gives an account of a remarkable shipwreck. But there
is nothing better than to let him tell the story himself*
The account is natural, though it may be a fiction.

" We did not go through the Straits of Magellan, as
the passage is dangerous; but we passed them and
doubled Cape Horn. We went merrilly on, touching
land, occasionally, to take in water, fruit, and live stock,
.^ow and then speaking a vessel, or finding some new
kind of fish, or wonderful bird, till we neared the island
of Juan Fernandez. Here the weather changed, and
such a storm came down upon us as I never saw before
or since.

" Before it reached its height, and while we were all
in good spirits, a gust of wind blew my hat off, when
Ned, to make me laugh, called out, * Tom, your hair


will be blown off too, if you don't hold it on ; my shoe-
strings have been whisked out this half-hcur.'

'' But the fury of the storm so increased, as to put all
laughing and joking out of our thoughts. Night came
on so rapidly that it seemed as if a mighty black cloud
had fallen suddenly over us. The gallant vessel which
had weathered so many storms, struck on a sunken rock,
and went to pieces, as if she had been made of glass !
I got entangled in some loose rigging, which had been
snapped and unravelled like twine, and this circum-
stance, which I expected would be the cause of my
death, saved my life. Part of the topmast was attached
to the ropes which the furious blast twisted round me,
as it swept off my shipmates in crowds, into the fierce
waters : and away I went also, at the same moment,
with my brave captain ! — 1 never more saw a soul from
the vessel, nor an atom of her stout planks.

*' How long I floated in my net work of ropes, I can-
not tell. I remember the wrath of the panting billows,
as they were urged onwards by the furious hurricane.
On they dashed over my defenceless head, throwing
the shattered mast against my wounded limbs, and
straining the cords till they cut into my flesh. I remem-

1^ liliW^iii^^iiiiiiliiiiiftiiiiii ^^

1 S iff if If f If f f f f f if f I f f if f ^ ^m


ber, too, that the storm seemed to subside as quickly as
as it had arisen. Then a noise as if a vessel toiling
through the waves came over me, and a mixed feeling
of fear and hope passed through my confused brain ; —
then a shout and a grappling with my coiling ropes ; — •
then a sensation of the soft air, and of my mounting
through it ; — and then a buzz of voices, as I lay in quiet-
ness on a solid floor.

" Alas ! how wretched I felt, when I found that all the
voices were strange, the language foreign, and the faces
dark and unknown to me. A Portuguese merchant ves-
sel, bound for the city and port of Guayaquil, had picked
me up.

" I cannot describe to you the forlorn state of my feel-
ings, after the terrible wreck. My own situation, how-
ever, and the altered mode of my existence, I did not
consider till I was made to feel it severely, by the coarse
treatment I met with from those who saved my life.
I was made to work my way — that I expected, and could
not complain of — but I felt sadly the difference in the
manners of the captain and his crew, compared with
those of the " Speedwell."

" I thanked the captain for saving my life, and told


him I intended to leave the ship. This, to my surprise,
he said I should not do. I replied that he had no control
over me ; that I was an Englishman, and could not be
compelled to serve in a foreign vessel. Then, said he,
pay me for your passage from Juan Fernandez, and you
may leave the ship. I told him this was impossible, as
I had lost every thing in the fatal wreck. At this he only
laughed in my face, and said ; ' That is not my look
out ; you shall pay me or stay where you are ;' and with
an oath, turned on his heel, and left me to my own sad

Tom determined, at once, to embrace the first oppor-
tunity to escape. But they had dropped anchor two or
three miles from the shore, and how could he effect it?
Besides he was closely watched. But the vessel was
soon to sail on a long voyage, and being called to take
his turn, one night in the watch, with two or three
others, he determined to make the attempt.

" This night, or never — said I to myself, as I took my
station. While I was walking the deck, one of my
shipmates at the mast-head, and the other astern, the
ship suddenly quivered, as if she were in an ague fit ! —
down slipped the fellow from on high, and fell flat on ,


his face ; the other rushed forward, and kneeled beside
him. both crossing themselves and saying prayers to
their saints. T lost no time, but seizing a board, I hastily
lashed it to my back with a rope (that when I became
fatigued with swimming, I might turn and float,) and
slipping astern, let myself down into the water. The
noise of the splash I feared would betray me, and I gave
up all for lost, though the next minute, I found they
were all praying, and took courage and quietly struck
off. I made but little headway, however, owing to
the board on my back.

" As I continued my toilsome passage towards the
shore, I heard the loud bellowing of the troubled earth,
and felt the water jar me, as if it had been a solid sub-
stance. Suddenly a towering volcano, which I took to
be Cotopaxi, at above one hundred miles distance,
appeared illuminated like an immense light-house ; the
thundering increased, and shrieks and other fearful
noises were borne to me over the water. At last, when
nearly exhausted, I was thrown ashore, where I lay to
recover breath and strength, but oh, the distress and
confusion that then took place ! Many of the inhabi-
tants came crowding down to the water's edge, for


safety ; houses had been destroyed ; the earth was
rocking and heaving like an angry ocean ; streams of
water had gushed out of the ground where no water had
ever been seen before ; suffocating fumes of sulphur burst
up under the feet of the terrified and flying sufferers ;
and when the morning dawned, the face of the country
seemed changed. Still the town itself (Guayaquil) had
sustained but little damage, and the inhabitants began
to return to their dwellings and their business. They
are so much accustomed to earthquakes all over Peru,
that it is not surprising they should so soon lose their

" In the general distress, I met with but little com-
passion or assistance, which I then thought strange, but
I had not yet learned that affliction often hardens the heart.
No one relieved my hunger ; so I ventured to steal a
handful of nuts from a heap that had fallen out of a
basket which had been thrown down during the night.
These I beat between two stones, and mixed with a
little water ; and this was my food for that day.

" As I wandered about among the shipping, looking
in vain for a vessel bound to Europe^ I recollected that
the bay of Guayaquil is famous for a small shell fish,


about the size of a nut. It is called turbine^ and pro-
duces a purple dye, reckoned the best in the world. So
I boldly seized a small boat that was lying at anchor,
and pushing out into the bay, I caught a few of these
valuable little fish, and returned to shore again, before
the owner of the boat had missed it. I was now sure
of a resource against starving, provided any one would
buy my turbines. I was soon fortunate enough to find
a purchaser, so I pursued the plan for several days,
always taking the same boat, which no one appeared to
claim. Perhaps the owner, poor fellow, had been de-
stroyed by the earthquake.

" I slept every night in a hut close to the sea ; and on
the fifth morning, I found a French vessel in the harbor,
which was proceeding on her voyage to Bonaventura
and to Acapulco, in Mexico. 1 immediately v/ent to the
captain, and offered to work my way to the port of Bon-
aventura, if he would give me my passage. And after
telling him my story, he kindly granted my request ; and
in due time we reached the port, where v/ith feelings of
very great gratitude to the captain, I left the vessel."



Tom Arms and Equips for his Journey — His Mule — Sliding down
the Mountains — Mule Escapes — Singular Bridges — How he
subsisted — Diamonds and Gold.

I had formed the strange resolution of crossing over
the continent of South America alone, and on foot ! I
had read Humbolt's Personal Narrative, and I longed
to see the wonders which he speaks of. Some excuse
may be made for me perhaps, when it is considered that
I had a natural fondness for a wandering life and for the
wonders of nature ; besides, I could meet with no ship
on this western side of the continent, bound for my
native country. The French captain, with whom I
came from Guayaquil, thought me a little deranged ;
still I believe the good man was glad to get rid of me.
He gave me thirty francs ; a gun, and some gunpowder,
saying with a shrug of his shoulder, as he bade me fare-

2 4

Online LibraryJohn HowellThe life and adventures of Alexander Selkirk, the real Robinson Crusoe : a narrative founded on facts → online text (page 2 of 4)