Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 58.djvu/284

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IF any one in these days condescends to read that first favorite with the youth of bygone generations, 'Robinson Crusoe' he will be aware that, disregarding its more subtle meanings and the allegorical intention upon which the author himself laid so much stress, we may consider the narrative as a detailed study of self-help. In our actual world, we depend to an extent which we seldom appreciate upon social environment, organization, the labors of others and the accumulated culture-capital of the past. Well, DeFoe takes a man of an eminently sturdy, courageous and practical type, casts him upon a desert island and there leaves him to shift for himself. Supplies which he manages to rescue from the ship give him a fund of materials to start with; but henceforth he has nothing to rely upon, save his own head and hands. To follow this plain and simple hero in his successful struggle against seemingly overwhelming odds does not fall within our present plan. But the issue shows how, by his own unaided exertions, an individual may reconstruct for himself a great many of those conditions of comfortable living which we are apt to assume to be impossible without the cooperation of others; and thus the mastery of man over his fate is vindicated—though it would certainly go hard with most of us if we were thrown into Robinson Crusoe's position.

Rousseau, who was the first to point out the educational significance of DeFoe's book, desired that Emile, in studying it, should examine the mariner's behavior, "to try to find out whether he omitted anything, and whether anything could have been better done." Questions of this kind may often have been in the reader's mind and are useful in bringing out the admirable art exhibited in every episode and detail. But there is another question which will, perhaps, occur to some, and which at once carries us beyond DeFoe's own narrative into a very wide field of speculation. Robinson Crusoe was already a mature man when he was cast away; he was in full possession of the stored-up resources of civilization; his mental powers were well developed; he brought a man's strength and training to bear upon the problems of his life. The theme of his story is, therefore, on the philosophic side, after all, a relatively simple and narrow one. But now let us suppose for a moment that he had been cut adrift from all his social moorings before education began—before, even, consciousness had awakened to a sense