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The Life, Adventures & Piracies of the Famous Captain Singleton


"Captivity in Madagascar," published in 1729. The natives themselves, as
described intimately by Drury, who lived amongst them for many years,
would produce just such an effect as Defoe describes on rough sailors in
their perilous position. The method by which Defoe compels us to accept
improbabilities, and lulls our critical sense asleep, is well shown in the
following passages:Ñ
"Thieving, lying, swearing, forswearing, joined to the most abominable
lewdness, was the stated practice of the ship's crew; adding to it, that
with the most unsufferable boasts of their own courage, they were, gen-
erally speaking, the most complete cowards that I ever met with."ÑPage
7.
"All the seamen in a body came up to the rail of the quarter-deck,
where the captain was walking with some of his officers, and appointing
the boatswain to speak for them, he went up, and falling on his knees to
the captain, begged of him in the humblest manner possible, to receive
the four men on board again, offering to answer for their fidelity, or to
have them kept in chains, till they came to Lisbon, and there to be de-
livered up to justice, rather than, as they said, to have them left, to be
murdered by savages, or devoured by wild beasts. It was a great while
ere the captain took any notice of them, but when he did, he ordered the
boatswain to be seized, and threatened to bring him to the capstan for
speaking for themÉ. Upon this severity, one of the seamen, bolder than
the rest, but still with all possible respect to the captain, besought his
honour, as he called him, that he would give leave to some more of them
to go on shore, and die with their companions, or, if possible, to assist
them to resist the barbarians."ÑPage 18.
Now the first passage we have quoted about the cowardice, &c., of the
Portuguese crew is not in keeping with the second passage, which shows
the men as "wishing to die with their companions"; but so actual is the
scene of the seamen "in a body coming up to the rail of the quarter-deck,"
that we cannot but believe the thing happened so, just as we believe in
all the thousand little details of the imaginary narrative of "Robinson
Crusoe." This feat of the imagination Defoe strengthens in the most artful
manner, by putting in the mouths of his characters various reflections to
substantiate the narrative. For example, in the description, on page 263,
of the savages who lined the perilous channel in a half-moon, where the
European ship lay, we find the afterthoughts are added so naturally, that
they would carry conviction to any judge or jury:Ñ
"They little thought what service they had done us, and how unwit-
tingly, and by the greatest ignorance, they had made themselves pilots to
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