Crusoe teaches his Parrot to talk (top of page 81) — the volume's twenty-third composite wood-block engraving for Defoe's The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner. Related by himself (London: Cassell, Petter, and Galpin, 1863-64). Chapter IX, "A Boat." The illustrator takes full advantage of the potential of the composite wood-block engraving to convey realistic portraiture, showing the protagonist in a moment of leisure devoid of anxiety. Half-page, framed: 14 cm high x 14 cm wide, including the ornate border of leaves. Running head: "Crusoe succeeds as a Baker" (page 83).

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The Passage Illustrated: Becoming an Instructor of Language

But first I was to prepare more land, for I had now seed enough to sow above an acre of ground. Before I did this, I had a week’s work at least to make me a spade, which, when it was done, was but a sorry one indeed, and very heavy, and required double labour to work with it. However, I got through that, and sowed my seed in two large flat pieces of ground, as near my house as I could find them to my mind, and fenced them in with a good hedge, the stakes of which were all cut off that wood which I had set before, and knew it would grow; so that, in a year’s time, I knew I should have a quick or living hedge, that would want but little repair. This work did not take me up less than three months, because a great part of that time was the wet season, when I could not go abroad. Within-doors, that is when it rained and I could not go out, I found employment in the following occupations​—​always observing, that all the while I was at work I diverted myself with talking to my parrot, and teaching him to speak; and I quickly taught him to know his own name, and at last to speak it out pretty loud, “Poll,” which was the first word I ever heard spoken in the island by any mouth but my own. This, therefore, was not my work, but an assistance to my work; for now, as I said, I had a great employment upon my hands, as follows: I had long studied to make, by some means or other, some earthen vessels, which, indeed, I wanted sorely, but knew not where to come at them. However, considering the heat of the climate, I did not doubt but if I could find out any clay, I might make some pots that might, being dried in the sun, be hard enough and strong enough to bear handling, and to hold anything that was dry, and required to be kept so; and as this was necessary in the preparing corn, meal, &c., which was the thing I was doing, I resolved to make some as large as I could, and fit only to stand like jars, to hold what should be put into them. [Chapter IX, "A Boat," page 80]


Crusoe mentions the parrot, another survivor of the wreck, on a number of occasions. Moreover, since the ornate borders in the Cassell edition sometimes feature wild parrots (as in Crusoe Writing His Journal), Poll becomes in this scene a triumph of patient domesticity for Crusoe. Poll now becomes as significant a companion as the dog until the arrival of Friday because Crusoe has been teaching him how to emulate an important human function: speech: "I quickly learned him to​know his own name, and at last to speak it out pretty loud, Poll, which was the first​word I ever heard spoken in the island by any mouth but my own"​(Chapter IX, "A Boat," p. 80).

Thus, in the illustration the Cassell artist foreshadows Crusoe's becoming Friday's teacher. Although the illustration does not reveal as thorough a knowledge of the text as Cruikshank's Crusoe and Poll the Parrot in dialogue in that it lacks the accumulation of text-based details, the closeup woodblock-engraving of Robinson Crusoe as a patient teacher is situated in terms of the home-made chair, the sabre, and the pallisade. Moreover, the castaway is still wearing European clothing salvaged from the wreck. Here, the Cassell's illustrator enforces belief in the illustration not by using Defoe's own technique of supplying countless small but telling details, but by studying Crusoe's facial expression and telling gesture. Other illustrators such as Cruikshank have situated Crusoe and his parrot in the cave, surrounded by such elements as the umbrella, hat, two cats, the hammock and blanket, the spade and wicker fishing basket, table laden with food, and even a pewter mug salvaged from the wreck. The Cassell's illustration, however, focusses instead simply upon the relationship between Crusoe and Poll.

The particular moment realised reinforces Crusoe's status for much of the first half of the story as a castaway, but it also constitutes a deviation in that he is not working. Having survived a near-death experience, Crusoe turns from hunting and gathering to agriculture, and during the rainy season he works under cover, taking a break here from such indoor labour as seed storage.

Related Material

Parallel Scenes from Stothard (1790), a Children's Book (1818), and Cruikshank (1831)

Left: Stothard's 1790 realisation of the interior of the hut in a later episode, Robinson Crusoe and Friday making a tent to lodge Friday's father and the Spaniard (copper-plate engraving, [Chapter XVI, "Rescue of the Prisoners from the Cannibals"). Centre: A realisation of the interior of the hut, Robinson Crusoe reading the Bible (1818). Right: Cruikshank's study of Crusoe's instructing Poll the Parrot, Crusoe and Poll the Parrot in dialogue (1831). [Click on the images to enlarge them.]


Defoe, Daniel. The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner. Related by himself. With upwards of One Hundred Illustrations. London: Cassell, Petter, and Galpin, 1863-64.

Last modified 12 March 2018