Friday's Footprint: Crusoe discovers a human footprint on the beach by George Cruikshank as the realisation in vignette of one of the chief narrative moments in John Major's edition of The Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1831). The half-page vignette contains a distinctly Cruikshankian touch: as Crusoe expresses alarm at his discovery, his dog studies him quizzically, inviting us to study both of them. Clearly, Crusoe's showing such an extreme response lies outside the dog's experience of his master. Vignette: 6.7​ cm high by 6.5 cm wide, p. 146. [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 Most Memorable Moment

It happened one day, about noon going towards my boat, I was exceedingly surprised with the print of a man’s naked foot on the shore, which was very plain to be seen on the sand. I stood like one thunderstruck, or as if I had seen an apparition. I listened, I looked round me, but I could hear nothing, nor see anything; I went up to a rising ground to look farther; I went up the shore and down the shore, but it was all one; I could see no other impression but that one. I went to it again to see if there were any more, and to observe if it might not be my fancy; but there was no room for that, for there was exactly the print of a foot — toes, heel, and every part of a foot. How it came thither I knew not, nor could I in the least imagine; but after innumerable fluttering thoughts, like a man perfectly confused and out of myself, I came home to my fortification, not feeling, as we say, the ground I went on, but terrified to the last degree, looking behind me at every two or three steps, mistaking every bush and tree, and fancying every stump at a distance to be a man. Nor is it possible to describe how many various shapes my affrighted imagination represented things to me in, how many wild ideas were found every moment in my fancy, and what strange, unaccountable whimsies came into my thoughts by the way. [Chapter XI, "Finds Print of Man's Foot on the Sand," pp. 145-146]


The picture follows this passage immediately, so that the reader re-plays the moment of discovery even as the narrator recalls his terror ("I fled like one pursued") and his inability to sleep that night, even in a secure location. Robert L. Patten has analyzed Cruikshank's pencil sketch upon which he based this engraving, noting how the goatskin parasol acts as a kind of exclamation point to Crusoe's shocked downward glance and his recoiling at the realisation that, after all these years, he is not alone on this little island at the mouth of the Orinocco:

When Crusoe and his dog discover Friday's footprint (a must for any illustrator), Stothard's hero muses, while Cruikshank's starts back amazed, apprehensive, hopeful, "like one thunderstruck,"as the text insists (fig. 68). Every line of Crusoe's body mimes a startled nervous reflex, his umbrella makes a grotesque exclamation point, and his dog draws back, front legs stiff, head turned to his master, ear roots tensed, tail arrested. Cruikshank picks moments of travail and resourcefulness. And he designs his cuts to be dropped into the text, where they play with and against the surrounding letterpress to bring out the medley of tones inherent in the narrative. [pp. 336-337]

Related Material

Parallel Scenes from Stothard (1790), and the Children's Books (1818, 1820), and Cassell's (1863)

Left: Stothard's 1790 realisation of this highly charged moment, Robinson Crusoe discovers the print of a man's foot (Chapter XI, "Finds the print of a man's foot on the sand." (copper-engraving). Right: A colourful realisation of the scene from a early 19th c. children's book Robinson Crusoe's terror at the print of the human foot (hand-tinted copper-plate). [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Left: An elegant oval vignette of Crusoe in "island dress" on the shore, I was much surprized at the print of a man's foot on the shore (1820). Right: Cassell's realistic realisation of the same scene, Crusoe sees a Foot-print in the Sand (1863-64). [Click on the images to enlarge them.]


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.

Defoe, Daniel. The Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner. (1831). 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 22 February 2018