Trompé Setsuled (setsuled) wrote,
Trompé Setsuled

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Fools and Firsts

Well, I've spent all day listening to Willem Dafoe and it's put everything into a very sinister perspective. Just kidding! April Fools--I got you! Actually, I've spend all day listening to Daniel Dafoe audiobooks, finishing the latter half of Robinson Crusoe and immediately following it with the first half of Moll Flanders. I've been listening while colouring pages of my comic having yesterday spent all day inking. I'd hoped to have the chapter finished to-day but I still have three pages left to colour. So if I do finish to-day, it'll be rather late at night.

I've wanted--or I should say lacked (let's use 21st century English, Sets)--no inspiration for industriousness. Looking at the Wikipedia entry for Robinson Crusoe now, I see the Protestant work ethic I perceived was not my imagination:

Robinson Crusoe is filled with religious aspects. Defoe was a Puritan moralist and normally worked in the guide tradition, writing books on how to be a good Puritan Christian, such as The New Family Instructor (1727) and Religious Courtship (1722).

That makes a lot of sense given how much of the book is about how Crusoe finds wisdom and contentment through hard, humble work. Some of his achievements strain credibility, to be sure:

And as nature, who gives supplies of food to every creature, dictates even naturally how to make use of it; so I, that never milked a cow, much less a goat, or saw butter or cheese made, very readily and handily, though after a great many essays and miscarriages, made me both butter and cheese at last, and never wanted it afterwards.

I don't care how hard you go at it, you don't just figure out how to make butter and cheese on your own with no guide or reference material. But maybe I underestimate Providence which apparently tolerates lactose. For all that, Crusoe seems to feel sure he can't make beer.

The differences between Protestants and Catholics from the beginning of the Reformation through the eighteenth century have been a continual point of interest for me over the past couple years. When Crusoe talks of his plantation in Brazil, it's interesting to hear how even in the late seventeenth century he was worried about being discovered as a Protestant and brought before the Inquisition. When he teaches his Man Friday--in a very unself-consciously patronising way, of course--to be a good Christian, though, he reflects on religion in the world to a point where he says:

As to the disputes, wranglings, strife, and contention, which has happened in the world about religion, whether niceties in doctrines, or schemes of church-government, they were all perfectly useless to us, as, for aught I can yet see, they have been to all the rest in the world: we had the sure guide to heaven, viz. the Word of God; and we had, blessed be God! comfortable views of the Spirit of God, teaching and instructing us by his Word, leading us into all truth, and making us both willing and obedient to His instruction of his Word; and I cannot see the least use that the greatest knowledge of the disputed points in religion, which have made such confusions in the world, would have been to us, if we could have obtained it.

Yet later, he confidently refers to Friday as a Protestant as though some part of the teachings he'd given the Carib had been clearly distinct from the beliefs of the Spanish castaway they later encounter. But of course, by the end of the book rejecting the Papist religion is important enough to Crusoe that he goes through a very complicated plan to extricate himself and his wealth from Portuguese territory. Never once does he mention explicitly any philosophical differences between Catholicism and Protestantism aside from the fact that Catholicism has a Pope and an Inquisition.

In interesting contrast to this is another book I've been reading lately, The Adventures of Roderick Random by Tobias Smollett, published in 1748. And what an amazing book it is. I'm about halfway through and I love it so much, I look forward to talking about it at greater length. But for the present purpose; it follows a young man, Roderick Random, in his various adventures, including his work as an assistant surgeon, or "loblolly boy", in the British Navy. I thought his reaction to an Anglican chaplain trying to take confession from him pretty funny:

The person, having felt my pulse, inquired into the nature of my complaints, hemmed a little, and began thus: "Mr. Random, God out of his infinite mercy has been pleased to visit you with a dreadful distemper, the issue of which no man knows. You may be permitted to recover and live many days on the face of the earth; and, which is more probable, you may be taken away, and cut off in the flower of your youth. It is incumbent on you, therefore, to prepare for the great change, by repenting sincerely of your sins; of this there cannot be a greater sign, than an ingenuous confession, which I conjure you to make without hesitation or mental reservation; and, when I am convinced of your sincerity, I will then give you such comfort as the situation of your soul will admit of. Without doubt, you have been guilty of numberless transgressions to which youth is subject, as swearing, drunkenness, whoredom, and adultery: tell me therefore, without reserve, the particulars of each, especially of the last, that I may be acquainted with the true state of your conscience; for no physician will prescribe for his patient until he knows the circumstances of his disease."

As I was not under any apprehensions of death, I could not help smiling at the chaplain's inquisitive remonstrance, which I told him savoured more of the Roman than of the Protestant church, in recommending auricular confession; a thing, in my opinion, not at all necessary to salvation, and which, for that reason, I declined. This reply disconcerted him a little; however, he explained away his meaning, in making learned distinctions between what was absolutely necessary and what was only convenient; then proceeded to ask what religion I professed. I answered, that I had not as yet considered the difference of religions, consequently had not fixed on any one in particular, but that I was bred a Presbyterian. At this word the chaplain expressed great astonishment, and said, he could not comprehend how a presbyterian was entitled to any post under the English government. Then he asked if I had ever received the sacrament, or taken the oaths; to which questions, I replying in the negative, he held up his hands, assured me he could do me no service, wished I might not be in a state of reprobation, and returned to his messmates, who were making merry in the ward-room, round a table well stored with bumbo and wine.
Tags: books, catholicism, christianity, daniel dafoe, protestantism, robinson crusoe, the adventures of roderick random, tobias smollett
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