Monday, 16 December 2013

Castaways 15

“I was now landed, and safe on shore, and began to look up and thank
 God that my life was sav’d in a case wherein there was some minutes
 before scarce any room to hope. I believe it is impossible to express to
 the life what the extasies and transports of the soul are, when it is so
 sav’d, as I may say, out of the very grave….”
                                                                      Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe

Seven years after Rousseau submitted his Second Discourse, he published his neo-romantic novel Julie ou la Nouvelle Héloïse. Extolling a love for nature, and the ‘mythe du bon sauvage’ hidden in its pages, its release was so popular, that it was rented by the hour in French bookshops. Rousseau’s hero was modeled after George Anson, the English naval commander, who had been contracted by the South Seas Company in 1740, for a mission to disrupt or capture Spain's Pacific possessions. Poorly provisioned, and with impossible orders, his benefactors expected his expedition to live off the pillage of the sea, and the land. By the time he limped into Juan Fernández, at daybreak on the 9th of June of the following year, Anson had lost sight of his five other ships, having taking nine days, and the further loss of an additional eighty men, to even find the islands, because of the mistake in his navigation charts. The delay, however, may have save his life, as he arrived after the last Spanish ship had left. His crew was too weak to lift the anchor, and took several weeks to recover their strength. Their improvement led to questions that eventually helped identify vitamin C deficiency as the cause of scurvy. Anson’s later capture of the Acapulco galleon, Nuestra Señora de Covadonga, off the coast of the Philippines, made him a rich man. His circumnavigation of the globe laid the basis for subsequent scientific and survey expeditions by Captain Cook. Only 188 of his original 1854 sailors had survived the voyage. Anson’s exploits were documented in the 1748 publication of A Voyage Round the World. He served as the prototype for Patrick Obrien’s Aubrey-Maturin series, which in turn provided the inspiration for Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. An incident on his round the world voyage was the subject of William Cowper’s famous rhyme of this ancient mariner.

                          ‘They left their outcast mate behind,
                           And scudded still before the wind...
                           No poet wept him: but the page
                           Of narrative sincere,
                           That tells his name, his worth, his age,
                           Is wet with Anson's tear.’

 The poem was called The Castaway.

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