Last week I picked up my copy of the Works of Daniel Defoe with the goal of reading his Journal of the Plague Year (published in 1722 about a 1665 plague in London). Reading the account of that plague was rather depressing, but fascinating. After reading portions of the Journal, I found myself looking through another work by Defoe I read years ago in the same volume, The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719). In thinking about these two works by Defoe I thought that our current predicament is like both. We have a plague of sorts, but while COVID-19 is extremely serious, it does not seem to threaten us with the 50-60% death rates of many historic plagues. We are also isolated and cut off from other people. Robinson Crusoe was shipwrecked on a deserted island and had to “shelter-in-place” for a long, long time (28 years, 2 months, and 19 days, to be exact!). The first week or so of our shelter-in-place was fun in a way -you could sleep a little later. But I imagine that after a few weeks of this we might start to identify in some way with Mr. Crusoe’s plight.
Chapter four of Robinson Crusoe has one of the most profound discourses on gratitude in all of literature. I offer it here for your edification. We are all tempted to grumble in our situation and despair about the future. Gratitude goes a long way towards keeping things in God’s perspective. Crusoe reminded himself of what he knew to be ultimately true about his situation and this led to thankfulness for God’s goodness. See Colossians 3:15. Here is Defoe’s passage from Robinson Crusoe.
I now began to consider seriously my condition, and the circumstances I was reduced to; and I drew up the state of my affairs in writing, not so much to leave them to any that were to come after me-for I was likely to have but few heirs-as to deliver my thoughts from daily poring over them, and afflicting my mind; and as my reason began now to master my despondency, I began to comfort myself as well as I could, and to set the good against the evil, that I might have something to distinguish my case from worse; and I stated very impartially, like debtor and creditor, the comforts I enjoyed against the miseries I suffered, thus:-
I am cast upon a horrible, desolate island, void of all hope of recovery.
But I am alive; and not drowned, as all my ship’s company were.
I am singled out and separated, as it were, from all the world, to be miserable.
But I am singled out, too, from all the ship’s crew, to be spared from death; and He that miraculously saved me from death can deliver me from this condition.
I am divided from mankind-a solitaire; one banished from human society.
But I am not starved, and perishing on a barren place, affording no sustenance.
I have no clothes to cover me.
But I am in a hot climate, where, if I had clothes, I could hardly wear them.
I am without any defense or means to resist any violence of man or beast.
But I am cast on an island where I see no wild beasts to hurt me, as I saw on the coast of Africa; and what if I had been shipwrecked there?
I have no soul to speak to or relieve me.
But God wonderfully sent the ship in near enough to the shore, that I have got out as many necessary things as will either supply my wants or enable me to supply myself, even as long as I live.
Upon the whole, here was an undoubted testimony that there was scarce any condition in the world so miserable but there was something negative or something positive to be thankful for in it; and let this stand as a direction from the experience of the most miserable of all conditions in this world: that we may always find in it something to comfort ourselves from, and to set, in the description of good and evil, on the credit side of the account.
I am blessed every time I read this. I commend Robinson Crusoe to you. It would make great shelter-in-place reading. We often think of it as a child’s adventure story, but it is really a profound account of joyful perseverance in the face of hard Providences.