Crusoe Conundrums

A rich tradition of illustration has developed around the novel Robinson Crusoe in its nearly 300-year publication history. A few years ago, Penn added a special edition of the groundbreaking novel to its collection: an “extra-illustrated” edition that chronicles the novel’s history as an illustrated text. The anonymous creator of Penn’s Crusoe collected images from no less than 22 different editions of the novel and inserted them into a single text, expanding a two volume work into six. There are 567 individual plates in the overstuffed result of our collector’s labors.


For the past few weeks, I have been working to identify each illustration and create a finding aid to assist readers who wish to study the set. What were at first a dizzying number of Crusoes in shaggy outfits and mostly naked “savages” have since sorted themselves in my mind into distinct series of images, each with its own personality: Phiz’s giddy seamen, Griset’s dark forests, de Sainson’s convincing scenery, etc. But there are still a few sets of illustrations in the edition that elude identification, and that, dear reader, is where you come in. The following images lack attribution, making them difficult to place. Can you identify the illustrator, engraver, or publisher of any of the illustrations below? If so, please leave a comment and I shall be forever grateful to you.

1. The long “s” in the caption to the following illustration indicates that it is from a relatively early edition of the novel. Interestingly, plates that look like this only appear in Vol. II of Penn’s edition (The Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe).


“R. Crusoe saves the Crew of a Ship that took fire at Sea.”

2. Based on the images in David Blewett’s helpful volume, The Illustration of Robinson Crusoe, I believe the following image comes from the earliest illustrated edition of the novel published in French: La Vie et les aventures surprenantes de Robinson Crusoe, Amsterdam: L’Honoré Chatelain, 1720.  However, the illustrations were published again with a few variations in 1761 by Chez Cailliau, Dufour et Cuissart, Paris. Since the plates lack any sort of attribution and I have been unable to find an online version of either the 1720 or the 1761 edition, I am unable to determine which printing the plates are from. Like the early English edition above, Penn’s edition only has plates of this kind in Vol. II.P11903523. The following set of images gives me even less information to work with than the previous two. There are only a few illustrations of this kind in Vol. I of our edition, and they are neither attributed nor captioned. Their style dates them to the 18th or very early 19th century.

Crusoe prays

Crusoe prays

Crusoe discovers human footprints

Crusoe discovers human footprints

4. Last but not least, what is perhaps the most frustrating of the remaining mysteries: a set of very small illustrations, some which are signed Whimper. Josiah Wood Whimper (or Whymper) was a water-color painter, wood engraver and illustrator working in England in the mid-19th century. A few illustrations in our copy have Whimper’s named clearly marked at the bottom of the plate, as below:

Crusoe's ship tossed at sea

Crusoe’s ship tossed at sea (attribution in bottom left corner)

With this signature, I was able to find an edition of Robinson Crusoe illustrated by Whimper and published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, an organization he worked for regularly. An online version of this edition allowed me to identify some of the plates without attribution in Penn’s copy as Whimper’s. But there are other plates in Penn’s copy that are clearly part of the same set (similar size and style) and are not a part of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge’s 1850 edition, as far as I can tell from the e-book. I have as yet been unable to find another edition of Crusoe that includes Whimper’s plates. Did Whimper illustrate another edition of Robinson Crusoe? Perhaps he reused some of the plates from the SPCK’s edition and created a few new ones to form the set present in Penn’s copy. Or perhaps his illustrations were used in an edition that also included works by other artists (this oftened happened with Crusoe). Below are a few unattributed plates from the series.

The fainting priest from Vol. II

The fainting priest from Vol. II

Crusoe in his habitation, Vol. I

Crusoe in his habitation, Vol. I

Hopefully the mysteries will be solved and the finding aid complete soon. Thank you in advance for your help!

Ellen Williams is a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. She is currently working in Rare Book Cataloging and exploring ways to use Archivists’ Toolkit to create finding aids for printed ephemeral collections and serial publications.

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