But wait a moment—The original editions of Robinson Crusoe (and most, if not all, later editions) give the date of Crusoe’s departure from the island as December 19th, 1686, instead of 1687. Mr. Wright suggests that this is a misprint; and, to be sure, it does not agree with the statement respecting the length of Crusoe’s stay on the island, if we assume the date of the wreck to be correct. But, (as Mr. Aitken points out) the mistake must be the author’s, not the printer’s, because in the next paragraph we are told that Crusoe reached England in June, 1687, not 1688. I agree with Mr. Aitken; and I suggest that the date of Crusoe’s arrival at the island, not the date of his departure, is the date misprinted. Assume for a moment that the date of departure (December 19th, 1686) is correct. Subtract the twenty-eight years, two months, and nineteen days of Crusoe’s stay on the island, and we get September 30th, 1658, as the date of the wreck and his arrival at the island. Now add the twenty-seven years which separate Crusoe’s experiences from Defoe’s, and we come to September 30th, 1685. What was happening in England at the close of September, 1685? Why, Jeffreys was carrying through his Bloody Assize.
“Like many other Dissenters,” says Mr. Wright on p. 21, “Defoe sympathised with Monmouth; and, to his misfortune, took part in the rising.” His comrades perished in it, and he himself, in Mr. Wright’s words, “probably had to lie low.” There is no doubt that the Monmouth affair was the beginning of Defoe’s troubles: and I suggest that certain passages in the story of Crusoe’s voyage (e.g. the “secret proposal” of the three merchants who came to Crusoe) have a peculiar significance if read in this connection. I also think it possible there may be a particular meaning in the several waves, so carefully described, through which Crusoe made his way to dry land; and in the simile of the reprieved malefactor (p. 50 in Mr. Aitken’s delightful edition); and in the several visits to the wreck.
I am no specialist in Defoe, but put this suggestion forward with the utmost diffidence. And yet, right or wrong, I feel it has more plausibility than Mr. Wright’s. Defoe undoubtedly took part in the Monmouth rising, and was a survivor of that wreck “on the south side of the island”: and undoubtedly it formed the turning-point of his career. If we could discover how he escaped Kirke and Jeffreys, I am inclined to believe we should have a key to the whole story of the shipwreck. I should not be sorry to find this hypothesis upset; for the story of Robinson Crusoe is quite good enough for me as it stands, and without any sub-intention. But whatever be the true explanation of the parable, if time shall discover it, I confess I expect it will be a trifle less recondite than Mr. Wright’s, and a trifle more creditable to the father of the English novel.[C]