Biography of real-life Robinson Crusoe Alexander Selkirk Part 2
About the castaway Alexander Selkirk the real-life inspiration for Robinson Cruesoe, his biography, his exile and rescue, Daniel Defoe writes his adventure.
ALEXANDER SELKIRK (1676-1720). Castaway.
Slowly he adjusted to his fate. He fashioned a drinking cup from a coconut shell and a knife from an iron hoop. He moved to a cave, began marking the passing days on a tree trunk, and hunted the wild goats that roamed in abundance. There were hordes of rats too, which had come ashore from passing ships. They nibbled at his feet and frustrated his efforts to build a long-term supply of food. So Selkirk domesticated cats, also left over from long-gone ships, and soon had the rat population under control.
When he could no longer hunt goats with his firelock, he learned to run them down with the acquired agility of a panther. He stitched their skins together with an old nail and some sinew until he had replaced his tattered clothing with a bizarre goat-hide costume.
A Bible had been left with his sea chest. He read its verses aloud to warm his faith and to ward off madness. He also improvised little dances with his pet cats. At length he mastered his formidable environment and made it his own private kingdom.
In January, 1709, 4 years and 4 months after Selkirk began his exile, it came to an end. Two British privateers, driven within sight of Mas a Tierra by a storm, came ashore upon seeing his signal fire. Capt. Woodes Rogers described the creature they found as a shaggy man-beast dressed in goat skins and "looking wilder than the skins' 1st owners." The bug-eyed savage "seemed to speak his words by halves," Rogers noted, but eventually regained a human tongue and told his story.
Selkirk sailed with Captain Rogers and his crew and later distinguished himself in battle against the Spaniards. The erstwhile castaway was made master of a captured ship and entriched himself by pound 800 in captured booty. It was 3 more years before he saw England.
Selkirk was soon a celebrity. He was interviewed by a number of journalists. It was a time when a good sea story--especially a true one--was a hot item. Eventually, Selkirk's tale was picked up by an aging hack pamphleteer named Daniel Defoe. Defoe renamed Selkirk "Robinson Crusoe," and used the castaway theme to write a deathless tale of man's endurance over adversity. Today, history remembers Defoe as the father of the modern novel.
And though Robinson Crusoe earned immortality, Alexander Selkirk was less fortunate. He returned to Largo, where the townspeople soon were noticing his strange habits. In trying to adjust to civilization, Selkirk became increasingly moody and withdrawn. He finally built a small cave in the garden behind the family homestead and secluded himself there, teaching the neighborhood alley cats to do strange little dances.
Eventually Selkirk joined the Royal Navy and went to sea again. His ship was off the coast of Africa when he contracted fever and died. He was buried at sea. Back in the cave in Scotland, he left behind his rusty sea chest and a hand-fashioned coconut drinking cup. The cup was later placed in the Edinburgh Antiquarian Museum, where it was mounted on a silver pedestal.
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