Young Crusoe and his Father by George Cruikshank as the headpiece for the opening chapter in John Major's edition of The Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1831). The half-page vignette renders the son more sympathetically than the moralistic father. Vignette: 5.3 cm high x 4.7 cm high, p. 1. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]

The Passage Illustrated: The Rebellious Youth

My father, a wise and grave man, gave me serious and excellent counsel against what he foresaw was my design. He called me one morning into his chamber, where he was confined by the gout, and expostulated very warmly with me upon this subject. He asked me what reasons, more than a mere wandering inclination, I had for leaving father’s house and my native country, where I might be well introduced, and had a prospect of raising my fortune by application and industry, with a life of ease and pleasure. He told me it was men of desperate fortunes on one hand, or of aspiring, superior fortunes on the other, who went abroad upon adventures, to rise by enterprise, and make themselves famous in undertakings of a nature out of the common road; that these things were all either too far above me or too far below me; that mine was the middle state, or what might be called the upper station of low life, which he had found, by long experience, was the best state in the world, the most suited to human happiness, not exposed to the miseries and hardships, the labour and sufferings of the mechanic part of mankind, and not embarrassed with the pride, luxury, ambition, and envy of the upper part of mankind. He told me I might judge of the happiness of this state by this one thing — viz. that this was the state of life which all other people envied; that kings have frequently lamented the miserable consequence of being born to great things, and wished they had been placed in the middle of the two extremes, between the mean and the great; that the wise man gave his testimony to this, as the standard of felicity, when he prayed to have neither poverty nor riches. [Chapter I, "Start in Life," pp. 2-3]


Cruikshank sounds the keynote for young Crusoe's rebellion against his parents' plans for him to remain in York and go into business under his father's watchful eyes. Whereas Stothard has some sympathy for the elderly, infirm merchant and his aged wife, Cruikshank has enabled the reader to identify with the youth by eliminating the wife from the frame, and by the old man's reproving gesture, indicative of pontificating about the virtues of "the middle state" and the positive aspects avoiding the high life of the aristocracy and the menial work and privations of "the mechanic." Cruikshank makes Crusoe, Senior, something of a Pantaloon, while his son seems too tall and lanky for the respectable suit that marks him as a child of upper-middle-class privilege. Whereas the earlier illustrator was able to suggest the family's affluence through hangings and furnishings, Cruikshank's small-scale vignette limits him to showing the ornate, high-backed arm-chair, fur-lined robe, and fur hat.

Related Material

Parallel Scenes from Stothard (1790), Wehnert (1862), and Cassell's (1863-64)

Left: Stothard's 1790 realisation of this same moment, "My Father was a wise and grave man: gave me serious and excellent counsel against what he foresaw was my design." (copper-plate engraving, Chapter I). Centre: Wehnert's depiction of the gouty elder admonishing his son for an unacceptable travel lust, Crusoe's father giving his advice. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

Above: The Cassell's house-artist's realistic wood-engraving of the final interview between young Crusoe, yearning to travel, and his cautious parent, advising him to go into business in York, Crusoe advised by his Father. [Click on image to enlarge it.]


Defoe, Daniel. The Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner, with introductory verses by Bernard Barton, and illustrated with numerous engravings from drawings by George Cruikshank expressly designed for this edition. 2 vols. London: Printed at the Shakespeare Press, by W. Nichol, for John Major, Fleet Street, 1831.

De Foe, Daniel. The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Written by Himself. Illustrated by Gilbert, Cruikshank, and Brown. London: Darton and Hodge, 1867?].

Defoe, Daniel. The Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner. (1831). Illustrated by George Cruikshank. Major's Edition. London: Chatto & Windus, 1890.

Patten, Robert L. "Phase 2: "'The Finest Things, Next to Rembrandt's,' 1720–1835." Chapter 20, "Thumbnail Designs." George Cruikshank's Life, Times, and Art, vol. 1: 1792-1835. Rutgers, NJ: Rutgers U. P., 1992; London: The Lutterworth Press, 1992. Pp. 325-339.

Last modified 21 February 2018