The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

VII. The Literature of Travel, 1700–1900

§ 2. Woodes Rogers

Captain Woodes Rogers, commander of two privateer ships, wrote an admirable account of his expedition (1712). He briefly describes the outward voyage to Juan Fernandez, duly narrates with greater fullness the exciting story of his cruise in the south Pacific, the capture of various prizes and of the city of Guayaquil, and the fight with the Manila galleon and her consort. Here and there, the reader is tempted to discern the hand of his pilot Dampier; for example, in the description of “humming-birds, not much larger than humble-bees, their bills no thicker than a pin, their legs proportional to their bodies, and their minute feathers of most beautiful colours.” One passage has a permanent and singular interest; it describes how they found on the island of Juan Fernandez,

  • a man cloathed in goat-skins who seemed wilder than the original owners of his apparel. His name was Alexander Selkirk, a Scotsman, who … had lived alone on the island for four years and four months.… He had with him his clothes and bedding, with a firelock and some powder and bullets, some tobacco, a knife, a kettle, a bible, with some other books, and his mathematical implements. He diverted himself and provided for his sustenance as well as he cold; but had much ado to bear up against melancholy for the first eight months, and was sore distressed at being left alone in such a desolate place. He built himself two huts … thatched with long grass and lined with goat-skins.… He … employed himself in reading, praying and singing psalms, so that he said he was a better Christian during his solitude than he had ever been before.… When his clothes were worn out, he made himself a coat and cap of goat-skins, which he stitched together with thongs of the same, cut out with his knife, using a nail by way of a needle or awl.… At his first coming on board, he had so much forgotten his language, for want of use, that we could scarcely understand him, as he seemed to speak his words by halves.