06 March, 2008

Robinson Crusoe - First Edition

So I just finished reading Daniel Defoe's "Robinson Crusoe"...it wasn't as easy as I imagined, the last version of the story I probably picked up would have been at least 60% cartoon illustrations and begun "There once was a young man called Robinson Crusoe who dreamed of being a sailor"...this version (being a *very* slightly tweaked version of the first edition copy from the Library of the University of London) is notable for several reasons -

  • It's actual title (in full) is "The life and strange surprising adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York. Mariner; who liv'd Eight and Twenty years all alone in an un-inhabited ifland on the coast of the americas;near the mouth of the great river Oroonoque. Having been caft on Shore by shipwreck where-in all the Men perifhed but himself. With an account how he was at laft as ftangeely deliver'd by PYRATES"...(titles not being required to be quite so punchy in those days then)...
  • It is credited as having been "Written by Himfelf" and was passed off as a factual, autobiographical piece (but apparently this wasn't unusual at the time - it being 1719)...
  • The style of writing is seriously rambling, page after page being turned over to huge amounts of repetition, in fact, it takes 5 pages to explain to the reader that his father wasn't keen on the idea of him going to sea, and is littered with conjecture (although this could just be in keeping with the intended autobiographical style of the piece)...oh and after *86* pages, the story starts all over again from the *beginning* when the character of Robinson Crusoe decides to reproduce exactly the journal that he kept on the island (until he ran out of ink)...
  • Rather surprisingly, spoken words are in italics, for example "Well then said I if God does not foresake me, of what ill consequence can it be, or what matters it, though the world fhou'd all foresake me, feeing on the other hand, if I had all the world, and fhou'd loose the favour and blessings of God there wou'd be no comparison in the loss?" (the work of a lazy type setter at the printers, perhaps)...?
  • The spelling (as you may have already noticed) of a lot of words has dramatically changed, "ld" as in "would", is largely represented as "'d", "s" is replaced with a sort of slightly swirly "f" shape at the start of some words, "ugh" on the word "through" is lost, and even whole words are spelled entirely differently - "Murder" becomes "Murther", "Human" becomes "Humane" and "clothes" is spelt "clothe"...
  • Further compound this with the fact that the meaning of a lot of (obviously commonly used at the time) words have been completely lost to modern use, for example - "meer" meaning "complete", "amuse" meaning "to be deceitful", "hanger" meaning "short sword", "physical" meaning "medicinal", "salvages" meaning "Pagan natives", "perspective" meaning "telescope", "pickle" meaning "to rub salt and vinegar into the back of a flogged man" and "motion" meaning "an impulse"...

So you can understand it was far from a simple matter to try and translate this relatively recent text (in historical terms) from the English of the time into anything close to recognisable, processable and thence enjoyable prose...still, it was a fun exercise to go through (easier than "Mrs Beetons book of household management" even if just for it's diminutive size in terms of pages, harder than Poe or Lovecraft, for roughly the same reason) even prompting a random stranger on the London Bridge train one morning to comment that it was odd to see someone reading such a book outside a classroom...

...now if only I can find a copy of Robinson Crusoe part II...which, believe it or not, does actually exist... ;)

2 comments:

Tom Hopwood said...

Funny you should mention Crusoe. I've got an updated copy, a first print dated 1833 that has that title with the only difference being that before 'Written by himself' it states 'With an account of his travels round three parts of the globe' Perhaps it might have been worth some dough if the pages from 7 to 18 hadn't been torn out before I got it. Oh well.

¨°º©[ Fink ]©º°¨ said...

Probably used as loo paper by a castaway...hehe... ;)

Seriously though, that's an incredible thing to own, and the first few pages, as I said, are just his dad moaning...not a huge loss... ;)