Riderless horse pursued by wolves by George Cruikshank as the vignette tailpiece for the John Major edition of The Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1831). Vignette: 6.5 cm high by 6.5 cm wide, foot of page 288, concluding the first novel with a scene from Crusoe's non-island adventures. [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: Horse Attacked by ravenous Wolves in Gascony

The night was coming on, and the light began to be dusky, which made it worse on our side; but the noise increasing, we could easily perceive that it was the howling and yelling of those hellish creatures; and on a sudden we perceived three troops of wolves, one on our left, one behind us, and one in our front, so that we seemed to be surrounded with them: however, as they did not fall upon us, we kept our way forward, as fast as we could make our horses go, which, the way being very rough, was only a good hard trot. In this manner, we came in view of the entrance of a wood, through which we were to pass, at the farther side of the plain; but we were greatly surprised, when coming nearer the lane or pass, we saw a confused number of wolves standing just at the entrance. On a sudden, at another opening of the wood, we heard the noise of a gun, and looking that way, out rushed a horse, with a saddle and a bridle on him, flying like the wind, and sixteen or seventeen wolves after him, full speed: the horse had the advantage of them; but as we supposed that he could not hold it at that rate, we doubted not but they would get up with him at last: no question but they did. [​Chapter XX, "Fight between Friday and a Bear," page 299]


Effective as Cruikshank's small-scale wood-engravings of the wolf attack may be within the text, Phiz's treatment is far more exuberant, and his animals more anatomically correct, in his essentially baroque treatment of the same scene, Horse pursued by Wolves. Cruikshank's oak forest in Gascony is an effective backdrop, but he has included none of the snow that Defoe mentions as part of the context for the attack of the wolves, whose numbers stagger credibility, especially in the winter months, when they would likely be in their dens rather than attaching hapless wayfarers. The analeptic placement of the tailpiece sends the reader back into the text to compare Defoe's description with Cruikshank's exciting realisation.

The horse is well aware that a pack of wolves is hard on his heels, although Cruikshank has included only three of the "sixteen or seventeen" pursuers. The riderless horse may be in a rush, but he does not strain to get away as Phiz's pale, lean horse does to vault the brook, even as he kicks two of the pursuing wolves, sending them tumbling. Another pair of predators attempt to get ahead of their swift prey (left foreground), and Phiz has increased the number of pursuers to seven, and included plenty of white space on the forest floor to suggest the recent snowfall. Whereas the placement of Phiz's illustration, Horse pursued by Wolves, allows for an ideal synthesis of word (p. 229) and image (facing page), and the medium of the steel-engraving permits the addition of considerable detail, Cruikshank is at a disadvantage in that his small-scale tailpiece engraved on wood at the bottom of page 288, the text illustrated occurs on page 281, ahead, in fact, of the previous illustration, Crusoe and his Comrades repelling a massive Wolf attack, in terms of the action of the chapter. The most compelling images, with anatomically correct wolves attacking in great numbers, occurs in the Cassell's edition: The Wolves driven off (1863-64).

Related Material

Phiz's Interpretation of the Wolf Attack (1864)

Above: Phiz's highly dramatic, full-page illustration of the desperate horse attempting to escape a pack of ravenous predators, Horse pursued by Wolves. With a supreme effort, Phiz's sleek, white stallion vaults the brook. [Click on the 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 22 February 2018