“I now began to consider, that I might yet get a great many Things out of the Ship, which would be useful to me…”

One of the recurrent themes of Robinson Crusoe—one of Crusoe’s oft-repeated complaints—is how many things he lacked, and how much work everything took: because he either totally lacked the necessary tools, or had only crude, self-made approximations, which themselves took much time and labor to make (four days to make a shovel and hod!). About making his (first) fence, Crusoe says that “it is scarce credible what inexpressible labour everything was done with”——and the word “labour” is often so modified: not only “inexpressible,” but also “hard,” “much,” “very great,” “prodigious,” “infinite.”

On the other hand, Crusoe boasts of the things that he accomplishes by his constant labor, despite all the things he lacks—and he goes so far as to boast that he could have brewed beer, despite lacking barrels, kettles, hops, and yeast:

…and yet all these Things [lacking], notwithstanding, I verily believe, had not these Things interven’d, I mean the Frights and Terrors I was in about the Savages, I had undertaken it, and perhaps brought it to pass too; for I seldom gave any Thing over without accomplishing it, when once I had it in my Head to begin it.

The thing is, for all his complaining, Crusoe has a shitload of stuff. The ship he was on when became a castaway was barely two weeks into a trans-Atlantic voyage (from Brazil to Guinea) when it ran aground and all aboard—except Crusoe—perished. The ship itself survived the storms with minimal (well, moderate) damage, and was lodged in the sand about a quarter-mile from the shore, at low tide—that is, within swimming distance. Crusoe spends a full two weeks salvaging material from the ship before it finally sinks in another storm.

And what does he salvage? Everything:

[on the first day:] Bread, Rice, three Dutch Cheeses, five Pieces of dry’d Goat’s Flesh, …and a little Remainder of European Corn …… several Cases of Bottles…, in which were some Cordial Waters, and in all about five or six Gallons of Rack …… the Carpenter’s Chest …… Ammunition and Arms … two very good Fowling-pieces … two Pistols … some Powder-horns, and a small Bag of Shot, and two old rusty Swords; … three barrels of Powder [one of which has taken water, and is left behind]…

[on the second day:] …two or three Bags full of Nails and Spikes, a great Skrew-Jack, a Dozen or two of Hatchets, and above all, that most useful Thing call’d a Grindstone; …two or three Iron Crows, and two Barrels of Musquet Balls, seven Musquets, and another fowling Piece, with some small Quantity of Powder more; a large Bag full of small Shot …… Besides these Things, I took all the Mens Cloaths that I could find, and a spare Fore-top-sail, a Hammock, and some Bedding…

…the third Time I went, I brought away as much of the Rigging as I could, as also all the small Ropes and Rope-twine I could get, … [and] the Barrel of wet Gun-powder: In a Word, I brought away all the Sails first and last, only that I was fain to cut them in Pieces…

…after I had made five or six Voyages such as these, and thought that I had nothing more to expect from the Ship that was worth my meddling with, I say, after all this, I found a great Hogshead of Bread and three large Runlets of Rum or Spirits, and a box of Sugar, and a Barrel of fine Flower…

[these things are enumerated later, but are salvaged on one of those “five or six voyages”:] Pens, Ink, Paper, …three or four Compasses, some Mathematical Instruments, Dials, Perspectives, Charts, and Books of Navigation … also I found three very good Bibles … some Portuguese Books also, and among them two or three Popish Prayer-Books, and several other Books …… a Dog and two Cats…

…I got two Cables and a Hawser on Shore, with all the Iron Work I could get… [this raft capsizes, and it is only with “infinite Labour” that Crusoe fishes the cables and “some of the Iron” out of his little cove]

[on the final trip:] …two or three large Razors, and one Pair of large Sizzers, with some ten or a Dozen of good Knives and Forks …… about Thirty six Pounds value in Money, some European Coin, some Brasil, some Pieces of Eight, some Gold, some Silver.

Then the ship sinks—but, six months later, it’s cast up by an earthquake, and Crusoe spends a month dismantling the fucking thing: “Timber, and Plank, and Iron-Work enough, to have builded a good Boat, if I had known how; and also, I got at several Times and in several Pieces, near 100 Weight of the Sheet-Lead.”

I don’t have a point, at all—it’s just that I finally (finally) got around to typing up that inventory in my notes on the novel, and thought I should share. Being stranded on a fertile, goat-filled, tropical island might not be so bad, if you had all that stuff, right?


One Comment on ““I now began to consider, that I might yet get a great many Things out of the Ship, which would be useful to me…””

  1. hgoldsmith says:

    WordPress suggested that I add a few tags to this post: “dutch cheeses,” “recurrent themes,” “low tide,” “moderate damage,” “necessary tools,” and “five pieces.” Huh.

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