The Story of a Great Story
Fifty Famous People
Two hundred years ago there lived in Scotland a young man whose name was Alexander Selkirk. He was quarrelsome and unruly. He was often making trouble among his neighbors.
For this reason many people were glad when he ran away from home and went to sea. "We hope that he will get what he deserves," they said.
He was big and strong and soon became a fine sailor. But he was still headstrong and ill-tempered; and he was often in trouble with the other sailors.
Once his ship was sailing in the great Pacific Ocean, It was four hundred miles from the coast of South America. Then something happened which Selkirk did not like. He became very disagreeable. He quarreled with the other sailors, and even with the captain.
"I would rather live alone on a desert island than be a sailor on this ship," he said.
"Very well," answered the captain. "We shall put you ashore on the first island that we see."
"Do so," said Selkirk. "You cannot please me better."
The very next day they came in sight of a little green island. There were groves of trees near the shore, and high hills beyond them.
"What is the name of this island?" asked Selkirk.
"Juan Fernandez," [Footnote: Juan Fernandez (pro. joo'an fer nan'dsz).] said the captain.
"Set me on shore and leave me there. Give me a few common tools and some food, and I will do well enough," said the sailor.
"It shall be done," answered the captain.
So they filled a small boat with the things that he would need the most—an ax, a hoe, a kettle, and some other things. They also put in some bread and meat and other food, enough for several weeks.
Then four of the sailors rowed him to the shore and left him there.
Alexander Selkirk was all alone on the island. He began to see how foolish he had been; he thought how terrible it would be to live there without one friend, without one person to whom he could speak.
He called loudly to the sailors and to the captain. "Oh, do not leave me here. Take me back, and I will give you no more trouble."
But they would not listen to him. The ship sailed away and was soon lost to sight.
Then Selkirk set to work to make the best of things. He built him a little hut for shelter at night and in stormy weather. He planted a small garden. There were pigs and goats on the island, and plenty of fish could be caught from the shore. So there was always plenty of food. Sometimes Selkirk saw ships sailing in the distance. He tried to make signals to them; he called as loudly as he could; but he was neither seen nor heard, and the ships came no nearer.
"If I ever have the good fortune to escape from this island," he said, "I will be kind and obliging to every one. I will try to make friends instead of enemies."
For four years and four months he lived alone on the island. Then, to his great joy, a ship came near and anchored in the little harbor.
He made himself known, and the captain willingly agreed to carry him back to his own country. When he reached Scotland everybody was eager to hear him tell of his adventures, and he soon found himself famous.
In England there was then living a man whose name was Daniel Defoe. [Footnote: De foe'.] He was a writer of books. He had written many stories which people at that time liked to read.
When Daniel Defoe heard how Selkirk had lived alone on the island of Juan Fernandez, he said to himself: "Here is something worth telling about. The story of Alexander Selkirk is very pleasing."
So he sat down and wrote a wonderful story, which he called "The
Adventures of Robinson Crusoe."
Every boy has heard of Robinson Crusoe. Many boys and indeed many girls have read his story.
When only a child he liked to stand by the river and see the ships sailing past. He wondered where they had come from and where they were going. He talked with some of the sailors. They told him about the strange lands they had visited far over the sea. They told him about the wonderful things they had seen there. He was delighted.
"Oh, I wish I could be a sailor!" he said.
He could not think of anything else. He thought how grand it would be to sail and sail on the wide blue sea. He thought how pleasant it would be to visit strange countries and see strange peoples.
As he grew up, his father wished him to learn a trade.
"No, no, I am going to be a sailor; I am going to see the world" he said. His mother said to him: "A sailor's life is a hard life. There are great storms on the sea. Many ships are wrecked and the sailors are drowned." "I am not afraid" said Robinson Crusoe. "I am going to be a sailor and nothing else."
So, when he was eighteen years old, he ran away from his pleasant home and went to sea.
He soon found that his mother's words were true.
A sailor's life is indeed a hard life. There is no time to play. Every day there is much work to be done. Sometimes there is great danger.
Robinson Crusoe sailed first on one ship and then on another. He visited many lands and saw many wonderful things.
One day there was a great storm. The ship was driven about by the winds; it was wrecked. All the sailors were drowned but Robinson Crusoe.
He swam to an island that was not far away. It was a small island, and there was no one living on it. But there were birds in the woods and some wild goats on the hills.
For a long time Robinson Crusoe was all alone. He had only a dog and some cats to keep him company. Then he tamed a parrot and some goats.
He built a house of some sticks and vines. He sowed grain and baked bread. He made a boat for himself. He did a great many things. He was busy every day.
At last a ship happened to pass that way and Robinson was taken on board. He was glad to go back to England to see his home and his friends once more.
This is the story which Mr. Defoe wrote. Perhaps he would not have thought of it, had he not first heard the true story of Alexander Selkirk.