A textual history of J.R. Wyss's The Swiss Family Robinson


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A textual history of J.R. Wyss's The Swiss Family Robinson
The Swiss family Robinson
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viii, 106 leaves : ; 28 cm.
Holden, Philip, 1962-
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Children's fiction   ( lcsh )
English thesis M. A
Dissertations, Academic -- English -- UF
bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Thesis (M. A.)--University of Florida, 1986.
Bibliography: leaves 103-105.
Statement of Responsibility:
by Philip Holden.
General Note:
General Note:

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University of Florida
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oclc - 15191706
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To Anne Jones


I would like to thank John Seelye for originally draw-

ing my attention to this topic, and my other committee

members, John Cech, my chairman, and Alistair Duckworth, for

their helpful suggestions for revision and other research.

I would also like to thank Mr. William Black for in-

valuable moral assistance and intellectual support.



My thesis topic drew surprise, even horror, from my

colleagues. Semiotics and Shakespeare were fine; The Swiss

Family Robinson was, to say the least, peculiar. I imagined

being at a job interview, or before a Ph.D. candidacy

committee, and admitting as my major academic asset that I

seem to be the only person upon this planet with something

approximating a complete knowledge of the textual history of

Wyss's work. After an extensive search through indexes and

bibliographies, I have been unable to find a single critical

work, or even article, concerning one of the most important

children's books of the last two centuries. Introductions

and editors' commentaries have, almost without fail, proved

highly inaccurate, and much of my work has been concerned

with the laborious correction of previous mistakes (see

Chapter Seven).

However, I think I have had better motives for under-

taking. this study than a mere desire to prove myself a supe-

rior scholar to most of Wyss's 20th century editors. First,

there was the potential the text offered as unexplored ter-

ritory in the overexplored field of English Literature.

Second, and perhaps more important, was the text's role as a

socio-political barometer, measuring changes in morality and

educational theory; there is still much work to be done on

this subject. Finally, there was the pleasure of reading

and writing; The Swiss Family Robinson has only maintained

its position as a best-selling children's book because it is

entertaining. I was surprised to discover how popular the

novel still is; over half of the people I talked to about it

knew the plot, either from childhood reading or from seeing

the 1960 Disney movie. If the number of new translations of

Wyss's work has declined this century, the educational

debate it inspires, and the mythemes it amplifies are still

very much with us.




PREFACE . . . iv

ABSTRACT. . . .. vii




W.H.G. KINGSTON . . 31

MRS. H.B. PAULL . 45






BIBLIOGRAPHY. . . .. 101

BIBLIOGRAPHY. . . .. 103


Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts



Philip Holden

August 1986

Chairman: Dr. John Cech
Major Department: English

The Swiss Family Robinson, by Johann Rudolf Wyss, is

one of the most important works in the history of children's

literature. It synthesizes the educational ideas of Pes-

talozzi and Rousseau with the fiction of Defoe to produce a

text with fascinating pedagogical possibilities.

The first English translation of The Swiss Family

Robinson was made by Mary Godwin, in 1814. Further transla-

tions and adaptations appeared throughout the 19th century,

the most popular being those of Mrs. H.B. Paull (1868), H.

Frith (1878), and W.H.G. Kingston (1879). Other Victorian

versions of Wyss' novel exhibit intriguing variety, but none

has achieved lasting popularity.

The 20th century has seen no completely new transla-

tions of The Swiss Family Robinson. However, it has seen

an increase in the quality of illustration of Wyss's text,

and the making of two films of the book. With many editions


of The Swiss Family Robinson still in print, the future of

the work as a children's classic seems assured.

Dr John Cech



The Swiss Family Robinson's genesis exhibits a textual

confusion only equaled in complexity by its eventual fate as

an English language text. The novel was first published in

German in Zurich in 1813, with authorship firmly ascribed to

Johann Rudolf Wyss, the Swiss poet; yet even at this early

stage, it was the work of three men. Its nominal author had

compiled the text from a manuscriptI left by his deceased

father, Johann David Wyss, a pastor at Seeldorf and later at

Munster. In the evenings, according to at least one editor

of Wyss's novel,2 the family would gather around the fire

and listen to Pastor Wyss's stories; upon his death a

manuscript detailing the stories was discovered. The family

in The Swiss Family Robinson have no surname; and they

represent, despite the myopia of several translators, Wyss

the elder, his wife and their four sons. Based on internal

evidence in the text, it seems as though the elder Wyss was

responsible for much of the content and that his son Johann

1"The Swiss Family Robinson," The New York Times 26
Oct. 1958: 8.

2The most imaginative rendering of this is given in
Wyss, trans. Baker, but Baker also mentions the genesis of
the manuscript. Further discussion in Chapter VI.


Rudolf gave it its shape and approached the publishers. A

second son, completing the family effort, provided woodcuts

for the first edition.

The form of The Swiss Family Robinson reveals its

origins: it is episodic, presumably deriving from the many

shorter stories that Wyss the younger strung together. Its

genesis is certainly not unique in this respect: Alice in

Wonderland and Watership Down are only two of many popular

children's books that derive from children's stories told to

a particular child (Lewis 26). However, the dual authorship

of the Wyss text complicates matters. The novel does

possess a rudimentary thematic unity, a gradual expansion

and colonization of the island after shipwreck, but it does

not have the dramatic integrity of its famous model, Robin-

son Crusoe. Defoe's novel is a drama of election,

suffering, and redemption; his protagonist is alternately

fearful, surprised, shocked, elated, and repentant. After

reading Robinson Crusoe, we find that images from it remain

imprinted upon the consciousness, among them Crusoe's road-

to-Damascus conversion, his planting of the cross, and above

all the footprint in the sand. By contrast, if we think back

to a childhood reading of The Swiss Family Robinson we are

struck by the absence of memorable images or events; at best

we may recall a few locales, such as the cave or treehouse,

and perhaps one or two of the animals that the family

discovers. At the end of Wyss's original the family are

still on the island, very happy there; a brief postscript

concerning their deliverance is only added in order to ex-

plain how the manuscript supposedly came into the author's

hands, and thus to maintain an illusion of veracity. The

drama of salvation, so essential to Crusoe, is incidental to

the Swiss father; he and his boys proceed confidently

through what has been called a "prolonged picnic."3

If the form of The Swiss Family Robinson reflects its

origins, it also reveals something concerning its purpose.

The novel's departure from its model are significant and not

solely due to Wyss's lack of merit as a writer; rather, they

signal a fundamentally different intention from that of

Defoe. Robinson Crusoe is perhaps a sophisticated spiritual

autobiography; The Swiss Family Robinson, as one translator

expresses it, is a representation of "a complete educational

process" (Wyss, trans. Davenport Adams), and that educa-

tional process is an innately Swiss one. Close behind the

figure of the Swiss father stands the figure of the Swiss

educator Heinrich Pestalozzi, and behind him, a little in

the distance, the towering form of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Before considering the philosophical background to Wyss's

work, however, it is perhaps necessary to summarize the

salient features of Wyss's narrative, particularly for those

of us who have only encountered the substantially altered

3The phrase is Baker's. Wyss, trans. Frith, ed. Baker


translation of W.H.G. Kingston, or worse still a Disney

movie infiltrated by escapees from Treasure Island.

In Wyss's original novel, a Swiss family is shipwrecked

on an island near Malaya while on its way to participate in

the founding of a colony in the South Seas. There are no

survivors of the wreck save the father, mother, and their

four sons; the father then narrates the story.

From the first the family shows great resourcefulness,

fortitude, and above all, industry. Robinson Crusoe may

take a month to build a boat, but the family knock one

together in a day. Like Crusoe, they are aided by the fact

that the wreck remains intact for some time before breaking

up, but they also benefit from an additional piece of good

fortune; since the ship has been on its way to found a

colony, it contains seedlings, mills, livestock, even a

pinnace--in short, all that is needed to maintain civi-

lization in the wilderness. With such advantages, the Swiss

Family put Crusoe to shame: they manufacture tools,

clothing, and even a carpet for their cave home. In this,

if in nothing else, the greatest Robinsonade certainly im-

proves upon its predecessor.

The narrative of Wyss's novel, as might be expected in

the work of a pastor's son, is characterized by a good deal

of piety. The boys make trivial departures from the path of

virtue, are reprimanded and steered back on course by their

father, but suffer none of the deep doubt and automachia

which so trouble Crusoe. The father compares the family's


situation on the island to that of Adam and Eve before the

Fall, and the family move to a dwelling place that they name

"the promised land" (Wyss, trans. Godwin 35). Perhaps the

most intriguing aspect of the Christianity they practice is

revealed in the father's speech after telling his children a

parable on their first Sabbath as castaways:

Human creatures are the colonists of God; we are
required to perform the business of probation for
a certain period, and sooner or later, we are
destined to be taken hence. (Wyss, trans. Godwin

Here we see Crusoe's Covenant of Grace replaced by a

Covenant of Works; it seems possible that the colonists may

achieve salvation through terrestrial virtue, through the

process of colonization itself.

The flora and fauna of the Swiss family's island show

unusual, and often implausible variety. Antarctic species

such as penguins mingle freely with Australian kangaroos and

African ostriches. These animals, when killed (and such is

their likely fate, for the family shoots on sight, killing

far more frequently than is necessary for food and clothing

--Johann Rudolf's grandfather was, after all, an officer in

the artillery) are examined in great detail, and form the

subject of the father's natural history lectures. The dis-

covery of a high tree becomes a geometry lesson in which the

father asks the boys to compute the trunk's diameter from

its circumference. Similarly, a simple discovery of

sugar cane prompts a discussion of the properties of vacuum:

My poor boy now began to complain of fatigue; the
sugar cane galled his shoulders, and he was
obliged to shift them often. At last he stopped
to take breath. "No," cried he, "I never thought
that a few sugar canes could be so heavy. How
sincerely I pity the poor negroes who carry heavy
loads of them! Yet how glad I will be when my
mother and Ernest are tasting them!"
While we were conversing and proceeding
onwards, Fritz perceived that from time to time I
sucked the end of a sugar cane, and he would needs
do the same. It was in vain, however, that he
tried: scarcely a drop of sap reached his eager
"What can be the reason," said he, "that
though the cane is full of juice, I cannot get out
a drop!"
"The reason is," I answered, "that you make
use neither of reflection or of your imagination."
"Ah! I recollect now; it is not a question of
air. .?" (Wyss, trans. Godwin 38-39)

This dialogue continues for another page or so, with the

father allowing his child to work out the solution for

himself, then amplifying the conclusion. The incident sets

the pattern for the rest of the book; every discovery or new

happening becomes an excuse to learn. If a child absorbed

half the didactic content of Wyss's book, he or she would

have a solid grounding in mathematics, history, physics, and

natural history.

The family constructs a treehouse and another dwelling

in a cave, and gradually comes to control its immediate

surroundings. Animals are domesticated and crops sown: in-

genious substitution means that the family have every com-

fort that could reasonably be asked for. At the end of the

narrative proper, we are given a picture of the Swiss family

tending their crops and livestock and waiting with eagerness

for the rescue. The postscript of Wyss's original text

describes the arrival of an English ship, and the prospect

of conveying the manuscript to Europe; its presence seems to

be an attempt to give the appearance of fact.

In writing his "complete educational course," as the

French critic Charles Nodier put it (Wyss, trans. Davenport

Adams iv), Wyss was fortunate that his native Switzerland

was something of a hotbed of radical educational thought and

practice. We have, in the study of literature and

philosophy, a tendency to concentrate on great traditions,

rather than marginal, minor or transitional ones: thus,

Rousseau becomes an important figure in French philosophy,

and his disciple Pestalozzi, through his German language

writings, a part of the educational tradition of Frobel and

the Prussian schools. In fact Rousseau, Pestalozzi and Wyss

are part of a tradition of Swiss educational theory of some

coherence, which extended to the New World and had con-

siderable influence, through the example of Pestalozzian

schools founded at Owenite communities, upon the founding of

the United States' public school system.4 Just like any

other work, The Swiss Family Robinson did not spring fully-

formed from the head of its creator; it is the product of

its environment, of Rousseau the theorist and Pestalozzi the

practitioner, and a brief exploration of that environment

will serve to illuminate Wyss's textual concerns.

4Gutek documents Pestalozzi's influence upon the
American educational system far more copiously than is pos-
sible here.

An introduction to Jean-Jacques Rousseau should perhaps

take the form of a caveat. Rousseau's educational ideas are

often discussed as though he advocated the complete abandon-

ment of the child to the forces of nature (Ellis passim).

In fact, his educational classic, Emile, advocates a care-

fully structured course of study. In order to receive the

ideal education Emile is closeted from the world and its

vices until he reaches maturity; the only book he is per-

mitted to read during this time is, appropriately, Robinson

Crusoe. "God," Rousseau states at the beginning of his

novel, "makes all things good; man meddles with them and

they become evil" (1). Emile is brought up in bucolic

surroundings, free from "that cruel education that

burdens a child with all sorts of restrictions" (52), and

comes, through the careful guidance of his tutor, to realize

that God is in everyone and everything. Much of Emile's

learning comes, however, not from mere interaction with na-

ture through trial and error, but rather from a carefully

structured educational program. When bringing up a child,

Rousseau comments, the parent/tutor should conceal the

mechanisms of guidance, allowing the child to "think he is

master, when you are really master" (84). The child's emo-

tional responsiveness should be cultivated at an early age;

"there is no original sin," Rousseau writes, "in the human

heart" (56), and children should be steered towards a

realization of innate qualities through experience. In

Emile, perhaps, we see Wyss's Swiss Family in embryo.


Rousseau's Emile may not seem radical to the modern

reader, who may well share many of its assumptions, but it

presented a direct challenge to the traditional 18th century

philosophy concerning childcare. Educational practice in

the 18th and indeed in much of the 19th century, arose from

a concept of the child fundamentally different from

Rousseau's. Rousseau believed in the innate innocence, per-

haps even the moral superiority of the child; the doctrines

of both the Roman Catholic Church and dissenting churches

stressed the concept of original sin. Children's education

often consisted of sound beatings and memorization of long

passages of scripture. "In Adam's fall/ we sinned all" (1),

emphasized The New England Primer, and such complicity in

original sin meant that children were beaten whether or not

they had done something wrong. An American mother, writing

late in the 17th century, epitomizes Calvinist concerns in


Corn is produced with much labor (as the hus-
bandman well knows) and some land asks much more
pains than some other doth to be brought back into
tilth; yet all must be plowed and harrowed .
Some children (like sour land) are of so tough and
morose a disposition that the plough of correction
must make long furrows on their back and the har-
row of discipline go often over them before they
be fit soil to sow the seed of mortality much less
of grace in them. But when by prudent nurture
they are brought to fit capacity, let the seed of
good instruction and exhortation be sown in the
spring of their youth, and a plentiful crop may be
expected in the harvest of their years.
(Bradstreet 285)

In such a climate, Emile was revolutionary; indeed

Rousseau's thought forms the basis for many contemporary at-


titudes towards children. However, the plan of education

outlined in Emile was impractical and, for those other than

the very rich, prohibitively expensive. A popularization of

Rousseau's theories was needed, and this was provided by

Rousseau's disciple, Heinrich Pestalozzi.

Heinrich Pestalozzi first read Emile while studying at

the University of Zurich in 1760, and found it to be a

"visionary and highly speculative book" (Pestalozzi xvi).

He was so impressed by Rousseau's work that he named his

child Jean-Jacques, and brought him up in a manner as

similar to Rousseau's prescriptions as possible within a

limited financial budget. The experiment was a failure;

Jean-Jacques could neither read nor write at the age of 12,

and he died soon after of "a falling sickness" (Silber 27),

despite his father's emphasis upon physical fitness.

However, Pestalozzi continued undeterred, convinced that he

had erred in not following Rousseau's principles rigorously

enough. In the first half of his career he wrote educa-

tional and literary texts, and attempted to promote his

ideas to various European monarchs; in the second half of

his life he attempted practical applications of those texts

through the establishment of model schools and institutes.

Pestalozzi's work influenced The Swiss Family Robinson

in two ways. The first was literary: in 1781 Pestalozzi

published Leonard and Gertrude. Part novel, part polemical

document, part blueprint for a new society, the book became

immensely popular throughout Europe. Pestalozzi begins his


long and rambling work with a description of life in a Swiss

village, an observation, he stresses, drawn faithfully from

nature (Silber 38). He describes the poverty and injustice

endemic in village life, and then shows how political and

social improvements can enhance the lot of the village's

inhabitants. Before it turns into pure polemic, the book

is structured as a novel, and the improvements that the vil-

lagers make in their quality of life center around the "new

education" (Silber 44), that a peasant woman, Gertrude,

provides for her children.

Gertrude's methods are similar to those of Rousseau in

Emile, but they are adapted to the reduced circumstance in

which her family lives. She continually emphasizes the

practical, elevating experience above theory and teaching

children with materials available in her own household:

She taught them to count the number of steps from
one end of the room to the other, and the two rows
of five panes each in one of the windows, afforded
her the opportunity to enfold the decimal rela-
tions of numbers. She also made them count their
threads while spinning, and the number of turns on
the wheel, when they wound the yarn on the skein.
Above all, in every occupation of life she taught
them an accurate and intelligent observation of
common objects and the forces of nature. (Silber

Practicality for Pestalozzi, however, does not mean that

children should be given a narrow, purely vocational

education; rather, there must be a balanced cultivation of

all a child's faculties. The environment in Leonard and

Gertrude, just as in The Swiss Family Robinson, provides all

the materials that are necessary for a full, natural

education. Pestalozzi's novel continually stresses the

practical at the expense of the theoretical, common sense at

the expense of book learning. "It is God's will," he con-

cludes later in the work, "that all mean learn their most

important lessons in homes" (Silber 46); the function of the

parent as educator is enhanced. If Robinson Crusoe provides

a model for The Swiss Family Robinson in terms of content

and situation, then Leonard and Gertrude provides an equally

important model in terms of purpose.

Pestalozzi also influenced the writing of The Swiss

Family Robinson in a less direct, but perhaps more profound

way. Not content with merely formulating educational

theory, Pestalozzi wanted to practice it; his early

experiments, however, failed financially. In 1798 he was

given another chance: the Swiss government provided him with

a poor school for homeless children in Stans, Unterwalden,

and apparently unlimited funding.

The Stans experiment began with a poorly-constructed

building and 70 disoriented children. Pestalozzi gives a

vivid description of his starting conditions in his Letter

About My Time in Stans (1799):

Many [children] came with scabies of long standing
so that they could hardly walk, many with open
sores on their heads, many in rags crawling with
vermin, many so thin that one could count all
their bones, sallow, stupefied, with fear in their
eyes and .wrinkles of distrust and anxiety on their
brows; some were bold and arrogant, habitual
beggars, liars and cheats; others were crushed by
their misery, meek but suspicious, frightened and
glum. Lazy indolence, lack of practice in the use
of faculties and skills were general. Out of 10
children hardly one knew the ABCs. (Silber 112-3)


Undeterred by such unpromising raw material, Pestalozzi

began his experiment. He followed an unstructured program,

first establishing an atmosphere of love and trust, then em-

phasizing "training in attentiveness, in carefulness, and

. reliable memory" (Silber 114), before moving on to

more formal education. His results were, by all accounts,

remarkable, and the children prospered. The Stans experi-

ment was cut short by preparations for war, but it was

successful enough to promote great interest throughout

Europe in Pestalozzi's methodology.

Pestalozzi went on to teach and to train teachers at

his institutes at Burgdorf and Yverdon; disciples from these

institutes set up schools of their own. In 1801, he pub-

lished his most influential work, How Gertrude Teaches Her

Children; despite its title, which was given to it by a pub-

lisher keen to capitalize upon the success of Leonard and

Gertrude, it is not a fictional work, but an outline of the

Pestalozzian Educational Method. Pestalozzi was, like

Rousseau, opposed to rote learning from books; at the same

time it is misleading to characterize him as wishing for a

total abandonment of formal pedagogical methods to a

"natural" education. In How Gertrude Teaches Her Children

he attempts to show how, once we have discovered "the essen-

tial laws of Nature" (Pestalozzi 80), we may then build a

curriculum upon them: "so our knowledge goes from confusion

to definiteness, from definiteness to plainness; and from

plainness to perfect clarity" (85). A key element in the

clarifying of the laws of nature was a stress upon the most

natural of all relationships, that of parent and child.

Pestalozzian education encouraged the participation of

parents: schools were established almost as community

centers, with the eventual object being the reforming of the

whole of society through education. They were the subject

of fierce debate and sometimes of attack, their principals

often being denounced as atheists. The first Pestalozzian

school in the United States, opened in Philadephia by Joseph

Neef in 1804, was closed down amid accusations of atheistic

indoctrination. This, then, was the educational environment

in which The Swiss Family Robinson was written.

The 1813 text of The Swiss Family Robinson emerges from

its background of educational debate as an intriguing mix-

ture of Rousseau, Defoe and Pestalozzi. The Swiss father

provides enlightened tutoring along the lines of Emile, but

the ingenuity of his methods owes much to Gertrude. A more

detailed discussion of the radical education methodology in

The Swiss Family Robinson will be given when we consider

Mary Godwin's 1818 translation of Wyss's 1813 text. Wyss's

novel became popular throughout the continent, particularly

in France, and it suffered many alterations or adaptations

which turned it from its original purpose. Its author

longed to write a sequel but was prevented from doing so by

his work as poet and composer; instead, he delegated respon-

sibility to another writer, the Baroness Isabelle de



Montolieu published the first volume of a new five-

volume French text in 1824, with Wyss's full approval. She

doubled the length of the novel, appending what has become

known as the second series to Wyss's original. Montolieu's

complete text soon became canonical; it was translated back

into German, possibly with Wyss's approval, and became the

text upon which all post-1840 English translations are ul-

timately based. The second series is, however, radically

different from Wyss's original novel (which is now called

the first series) in terms of both tone and taste: Montolieu

comes from a very different philosophical background, and

the two halves of her complete work are rather uneasy

partners, joined rather clumsily together.

Montolieu's text initially revised Wyss's first series

lightly, deleting its postscript. The Baroness then allows

the hapless family to remain upon the island for several

more years before their rescue. From the outset of the

second series, the pace of the narrative quickens. The

shipwreck of the first series is transformed by Montolieu

into a "deliverance" from an imperfect to a perfect world.

One of the first events of the second series is a competi-

tion arranged by the father for his children, in sharp con-

trast to the emphasis placed on cooperative virtues in the

first. The competitive aspect of Montolieu's narrative per-

haps gives some hints of her philosophical background: when

she was writing her edition, in the early 1820s, Pestaloz-

zian schooling seemed to have been a fleeting and unsuccess-

ful experiment. Its replacement was monitorial schooling,

and this educational philosophy seems to have had some in-

fluence on Montolieu's text.

Monitorial schooling operated through a series of

monitors, or more advanced pupils who would pass their

knowledge on, as teachers, to the less advanced. It had the

dual advantage of inculcating a sense of independence and

responsibility in the monitors (in theory, at least) and,

more significantly, of educating a large quantity of stu-

dents at a minimum cost. Monitorial schools operated

through competition and incentive: learning was frequently

achieved through games which gave a prize of medals, candy

or toys to the winner. Pioneered by Andrew Bell and Joseph

Lancante, monitoring schools spread throughout Europe and

the United States; by 1830, however, the momentum had been

lost, possibly due to the beginnings of the public school


Monitorial schools, unlike Pestalozzian establishments,

were not the products of a coherent educational philosophy:

Montolieu's indebtedness to them is therefore less notice-

able or significant than Wyss's to Pestalozzi. Nonetheless,

competition occupies a far more prominent place in

Montolieu's narrative than it does in Wyss's. The boys are

older in the second series, more independent, and more able

to spend time in each other's tutelage: the enlightened

tutor/father moves further into the background.

The celebratory games at the beginning of the second

series provide an important clue to Montolieu's literary

model; she is far more Homeric than Rousseauean, far more

concerned with the fantastic than with the educational. A

huge python crushes and swallows the family's faithful

donkey, and is only killed after a struggle of epic

proportions. The family is far more colonialist in their

attitude, exterminating a whole tribe of monkeys (an inci-

dent which has disturbing implications and distresses

several translators) and establishes a series of forts and

farmhouses over its domain. The action is less unified,

less contained; the colony is in the process of expansion,

and the narrative focuses upon that expansion at the expense

of education.

Montolieu's family are certainly more eager colonizers

than their equivalent in the first series; they are also

more keen to stress their philosophical independence.

Wyss's protagonists twice mention Crusoe as a quasi-

mythological predecessor; Montolieu's father dismisses him

with the words "The life of Robinson is but a finely wrought

fiction" (Wyss, trans. Godwin 331). The Bible, Wyss's book

of instruction given by the King as law to his people, is

much reduced in stature in Montolieu, the father commenting

that he does not think it appropriate to take scripture

literally. When discovered by an English ship (after them-

selves rescuing a female English castaway) the family

decides to remain upon the island, only two sons departing;


but the colony's numbers are augmented by new settlers.

Montolieu's narrative ends with New Switzerland, as the

colony is named, established as a fully-fledged colony with

regular shipping ties to Europe.

The text of The Swiss Family Robinson, then, is of

mixed parentage; it is the product of two disparate

philosophies and environments, and it is the work of a

pastor, a poet, and a baroness. Later in the century trans-

lators would be presented with a dilemma over precedence;

there would be debate over whether Montolieu's version of

the first series should supersede that of Wyss, or whether

the Wyss novel was the primary text. Early in the century,

however, publishers and translators were more interested in

monetary rather than in these scholastic matters.


Already the tempest had continued six days; on the
seventh its fury seemed still increasing; and the
morning dawned upon us without a prospect of hope,
for we had wandered so far from the right track,
and were so forcibly driven towards the south-
east, that none on board knew where we were. (1)

This beginning to Mary Godwin's second, and most influential

translation of The Swiss Family Robinson in many ways might

serve as an autobiographical statement. Mary Jane

Clairmont, later Mary Godwin, jumped into history on an

April morning in 1801; her life before that date is shrouded

in obscurity (Marshall 248). William Godwin, anarchist and

philosopher, author of Political Justice, had suffered a

decline in fortune after the death of his first wife, Mary

Wollstonecraft. Preparing for a quiet life as the father of

two girls, Godwin was understandably surprised by Mary

Jane's eager introduction of herself to him with the words

"Is it possible that I behold the immortal Godwin?" Her

flattery seems to have been effective; they were married in


Mary Jane's past is intriguing, particularly because of

a suggestion of Swiss ancestry that provides a tenuous link

with Wyss and the book that she would deliver to the

English-speaking world. Her attempt to cover up her past


suggests that both she and her daughters may have been

illegitimate; she was, curiously, fluent in French and

claimed to have witnessed the French Revolution in her

childhood. Her life had indeed been "without prospect of

hope" until she met Godwin, yet living under his shadow and

that of Mary Wollstonecraft, whose portrait still hung in

her husband's study, must have been difficult. How much she

was in sympathy with her husband we do not know; certainly

many of Godwin's friends found her difficult, if not

unpleasant--Charles Lamb referred to her as a "damned infer-

nal bitch" (Marshall 287), and satirized her in his Works as

Priscilla Pry (Marshall 288). However, she did have the

last laugh upon her detractors; her translation of The Swiss

Family Robinson reached a far wider reading public than any

of Godwin's works.

The Swiss Family Robinson was produced as a part of the

Godwin's larger scheme of the Juvenile Library. William

Godwin had a longstanding interest in pedagogy, and in 1805,

although penniless, began his library of books for children

with 100 pounds borrowed from a friend. The project, which

resulted in the publication of such children's classics as

the Lambs' Tales From Shakespeare, has often been disparaged

as an attempt to cash-in on the expanding middle-class

children's book market; in fact, Mary and William Godwin had

a sincere philosophical commitment to achieving social

change through education. For example, the first volume

published by the Library, Godwin's Fables Ancient and Modern


(published under the pseudonym of Edward Baldwin because of

Godwin's still notorious reputation), attempts to convey not

only scientific information by methods similar to those of

Wyss, but it also attempts to instill moral precepts. One

story, "Washing the Blackamoor White" (Marshall 249),

directly confronts the issues of racism and slavery; other

tales exhibit strong egalitarian impulses. The Juvenile

Library was, in fact, investigated by the Privy Council,

whose agents found in its publications "every principle

possessed by republicans and infidels these days" (Marshall

289) but, puzzlingly, took no further action.

William, Mary and the Lambs each contributed several

original works, translations, and collections to the

library; but due to poor management it was never a

profitable business. In 1814 Mary Godwin translated Wyss's

newly-published Zurich text in an abridged form as The

Family Robinson Crusoe; four years later she made a full

translation and gave the book the name by which it has since

been known in the English language, The Swiss Family

Robinson. The novel was the most popular of all the works

published by the Juvenile Library. Unfortunately for the

Godwins, however, pirated versions soon appeared, and they

remained financially dependent upon William's disciple,


We know little of Mary Godwin's politics, but her con-

cerns in writing for the Juvenile Library seem to have

parallelled her husband's. The Swiss Family Robinson would,


at first sight, seem an unlikely text for any writer with

radical or Jacobin tendencies to translate. Its piety, for

instance, seems in direct contradiction to Godwin's declared

atheism. We should not forget, however, that Mary and Wil-

liam were married in a church, and that they strongly disap-

proved of William's daughter Mary's elopement with Shelley.

William moved from the atheism of Political Justice back to

organized religion by way of pantheism; by 1806 he could

write in a letter that "by God we mean the great invisible

principle, acting everywhere, which maintains the life of

everything around us" (Marshall 271). Godwin's second mar-

riage would surely have reinforced his movement back towards

institutionalized religion; at the same time it is likely

that Mary adopted some of his pedagogical ideals. If Wyss's

Christianity stamped itself a little too firmly upon the

text of The Swiss Family Robinson than either William or

Mary would have wished, the family's piety would at least be

a strong selling point in a society eager to inculcate

Christian virtues in younger readers.

If we negotiate the hurdle of Christianity, or at least

push it aside for a moment, we may begin to see some of the

principles of Godwin's Political Justice operating within

his wife's translation. The society that the family estab-

lished may not quite be a blueprint for Owen's New Moral

World, but it does have some possibilities as an educational

model. Like Emile, the Swiss family are set in a "natural"

environment, without outside interference; and, like Emile,


they undergo a process of "natural education." By 1814, it

would seem, many of the Godwins' frequent disputes over the

bringing up of children were finished; to judge by her

translation of The Swiss Family Robinson, Mary had espoused

William's ideas. William Godwin insisted that each child be

allowed to develop at his or her own pace, rather than being

prepared, at the very outset of education, for a definite

mission in life: "Man," he wrote in Political Justice, "is

a species whose excellence lies in his individuality" (556).

Godwin's own children were educated according to a

principle of free will; his stepson Charles and son William

went to the English public school Charterhouse, but Godwin

insisted that they had the right to miss classes, if they so

wished, on his behest, emphasizing his belief that the

authority of the teacher is derived from the enlightened

tutoring of the parent. Godwin's daughters, as well as

Mary's, were educated at home, but great stress was laid

upon the development of their creative faculties, to the

point where Jane, his daughter by his first marriage, would

write waspishly of the Godwin household, "If you cannot

write an epic poem or novel, that by its originality knocks

all other novels on the head, you are a despicable creature,

not worth acknowledging" (Marshall 267). We see the same

process at work in The Swiss Family Robinson. When the boys

kill a turtle there is much debate as to what to do with its

shell: Ernest wishes to make a shield of it, Jack to make

it into a tiny boat, and Francis to manufacture a tiny house

with it. The father applauds the imagination shown by each

boy, and finally asks Fritz his opinion. The boy replies:

Fritz--I thought, father, of cleaning it
thoroughly, and fixing it by the side of our
river, and keeping it always full of pure water
for my mother's use when she has to wash the
linen, or cook our victuals.
Father--Excellent, excellent, my boy! All honor
to the founder of the pure-water tub. This is
what I call thinking for the general good. (Wyss,
trans. Godwin 147)

Imagination then, is to be applauded but, in particular, im-

agination put in service of the community rather than with-

held for oneself.

A central theme of Godwin's Political Justice is that

human beings are inherently good. Environmental factors,

such as poverty and injustice, cause crime and suffering.

Punishment, Godwin writes, is unjust because it assumes free

will, and most crime arises from necessity; in a famous pas-

sage he expresses the opinion that the murderer is no more

guilty than the knife he uses (633). Mary Godwin's Swiss

family investigate a natural environment for themselves; the

boys learn from their mistakes and through their father's

interpretation of those mistakes, not from any punishment

inflicted upon them. At one point Jack nearly drowns in a

marsh; he is saved by holding on to the tail of a jackal he

has shown kindness to and adopted as a pet. Thus, environ-

ment teaches him a lesson: be careful where you walk, but

also, more importantly, respect other creatures and they

will respect you. When told of the incident, his father

amplifies its implications a little, performing the function


of enlightened tutor, but the essential lesson is given by


Political Justice calls for a return to a more natural

form of government; self-determination and independence are

seen as basic to the nature of humankind. Human beings seek

truth and justice through their own rational faculties; one

should defer not to rank, but to knowledge. "Government,"

Godwin argues, "is in all cases evil; it ought to be intro-

duced as sparingly as possible" (556). Systems of govern-

ment based upon hierarchies and, indeed, the concept of law

itself are unjust because they prescribe rules to govern

situations rather than reacting to an individual case's

merits. In The Swiss Family Robinson we have, of course,

the parable on the Sabbath, which seems to contradict God-

winian ethics. Wyss's Swiss father speaks of a Great King

who tests the adherence of the inhabitants of his earthly

island to a book of law; if they are successful in his test,

they are admitted to the Heavenly City. Law and the rule of

law, whether temporal or divine, are anti-Godwinian, but it

is interesting in this context to note how the boys respond

to the parable:

Father--You, Fritz, I see, are thoughtful: Tell me
what struck you most in my narration.
Fritz--The goodness of the Great King, and the in-
gratitude of the colonists, father.
Father--And you, Ernest, what is your thought?
Ernest--For my part, I think they were great fools
to have made so bad a calculation with
little pain they might have passed a very agree-
able life in the island and would have been
sure of going afterwards to the Heavenly City.
Jack--To the mines, gentlemen, away with you! You
have well deserved it.

Francis--For my part I should have liked best to
have lived with the men who were dressed in the
colours of the rainbow. (Wyss, trans. Godwin 113)

The father's reply to the boys' assertions is not to place

one above another, but simply to assert "I perceive that

each of you, according to his age and character, has seized

the meaning of my parable" (113). Excellence thus arises

from individuality, for the father makes it clear that there

is no universally truthful way of viewing the parable. A

Godwinian solution is thus posited to a non-Godwinian

situation; Mary Godwin skillfully adapts the text to satisfy

the needs of her own philosophy.

Mary Godwin's interpolations into the Wyss text are

designed to promote the virtues of equality and cooperation.

In the sugar cane episode mentioned earlier, Godwin makes

Fritz not only groan under the weight of the canes, but also

pity the "negro" who has to cut cane for a living. This is

an addition to the original with a definitely Godwinian

bent: we should not forget that a book which later became

the vehicle for much racist philosophy (see Chapter V) was

very much anti-racist in its first and second English

editions. In Mary Godwin's translation the wife has a more

prominent role than in most others; she is scarcely a lead-

ing protagonist and Mary's view of female emancipation was

perhaps a little less radical than that of Mary

Wollstonecraft, but she does at least perform useful and es-

sential tasks. After telling the parable, the father com-

ments sadly:

I cannot forgive myself for not having thought of
bringing it [the Bible] from the vessel. Should
we not be able to go on another voyage, we shall
be forever deprived of this divine doctrine.

His wife, however, quickly interrupts:

Have you then forgot my enchanted bag, which I
have promised shall furnish everything you can
desire? You wish for a Bible: In a minute I will
put one into your hands; and heavily do I rejoice
in having the power to procure you so great a
satisfaction. (180)

This is hardly a conversation between equals, but it is at

least a conversation in which the woman displays some irony

and control; future translations would very much reduce the

status of the Swiss mother until she almost vanishes from

sight. Godwin does attempt to clothe Wyss's text with some

pretensions to egalitarian philosophy, even though her

material is perhaps too unruly to give the attempt much

chance of success.

Despite its apparent simplicity, Mary Godwin's

translation, is, in fact, a multi-layered text in which many

of Wyss's original impulses towards egalitarianism and

"natural education" are amplified. In preaching her gospel

of self-determination and self-reliance Godwin increases

Pestalozzian emphasis with the text. It is likely that she

and her husband were familiar with Pestalozzian education,

for there was certainly contact between the educational

ideas of the Swiss educator and the English Left. Pestaloz-

zian schools were, in fact, established at Owenite com-

munities in England, and also at New Harmony, Indiana, and


Yellow Springs, Ohio. Mary Godwin's Swiss family live in a

community not unlike an Owenite utopia; though the father is

an authority figure, he is willing to delegate authority as

the boys become older; he is more supportive than

repressive. In their natural environment, the boys

naturally turn out for the good, and their vices are trans-

formed into virtues on the island: Ernest, initially lazy,

becomes an intellectual, and Jack, initially timid, develops

into a sensitive and artistic boy. Fritz's tendency to im-

petuousity is curbed by the environment, and he becomes a

responsible explorer and role model for the other boys. The

theme of salutary character development is one theme that

persists in most translations of the work, although such

development is frequently brought about in very non-

Rousseauesque ways. Mary Godwin's work is profoundly

didactic; its title page contains the words "forming a clear

illustration of the first principles of natural history and

many branches of science which apply most immediately to the

business of life." It would be a mistake, however, to

regard it as a political textbook even to the degree that

Emile is one. Godwin's preface, widely reprinted in the

19th century, perhaps gives us a more comprehensive view.

In its pages, she writes, "the useful, the moral and the en-

tertaining so naturally mix with each other that every

generous taste is satisfied" (Godwin, preface).

Early editions and revisions of The Swiss Family Robin-

son were based upon the Godwin text, and many attempted to

focus its didactic content. Several early editions boasted

"improved natural history," and corrected Wyss's somewhat

eccentric descriptions of birds, fish, animals and plants to

make them more consistent with contemporary (and often still

inaccurate) knowledge. Whereas this process might at first

sight seem desirable, increasing the educational value of

the text, it was, in fact, often the first,.unwitting step

in the marginalization and eventual excision of didactic

content. To provide precise and scientific description

without disrupting the flow of the narrative, translators

would present natural history information in the form of

footnotes. The Baldwin and Craddock (Godwin's Juvenile

Library) edition of 1834 attempts such a tactic, retaining

Godwin's text but amplifying when necessary at the foot of

the page. Detail, once relegated to footnotes (and it was a

common practice in the improved edition to put the father's

explanations of natural phenomena as footnotes from the

editor), became ideal material for the abridger's scalpel in

the 1840s; many severely mutilated editions were produced,

especially at the cheaper end of the library, by less

reputable publishers.

Mary Godwin's translation of Wyss's first series has a

history of separate publication extending well into the

1840s. Its virtues are strong ones; when Dent, later in the

century, came to choose a translation of The Swiss Family

Robinson for his standard-setting Everyman Library, he chose

Godwin's, with an appended second series, even though much

more modern translations were available. By the middle of

the 1830s, however, publishers were coming under increasing

pressure to produce a sequel incorporating the second series

of the 1824-6 Montolieu text. Various compromises involving

postscripts, imprecise translation, or complete revision

were devised; what the market cried out for, it would seem,

was a complete translation of Montolieu's The Swiss Family

Robinson in its entirety. Confusion, in fact, persisted for

another 30 years, and then, quite suddenly, the three impor-

tant translations of The Swiss Family Robinson appeared

within a decade of each other.


The translations of Mrs. H.B. Paull, W.H.G. Kingston

and Henry Frith reflect the change in bookselling and book

production that occurred in the 50 years between Godwin's

first edition and Paull's. Paull's translation appeared in

1868, 10 years before those of Frith (1878) and Kingston

(1879); all three are clearer, better researched, and tex-

tually more coherent than previous Victorian editions. The

cost of printed books declined substantially in the second

half of the 19th century; by 1847 Simms and McIntyre were

publishing their Parlour Library at the cost of one shilling

per novel, and that price was at once matched by Routledge's

Railway Library (Atlick 299). However, novels in such a

price range had standards of printing pared to the bone:

they were printed on worn plates, had text cramped to

economize on paper, and were frequently pirated from other,

more respectable publishing houses which held their

copyrights. With increasing literacy there came a demand

for clearer texts for libraries, mechanics institutes and

public schools, texts that would inform, were easily

readable, and which did not disintegrate upon the first

reading. It was at this market that the translations of

Paull and Frith were targeted; Kingston, as we shall see,

aimed for a slightly different readership.

Literacy in Great Britain and the United States rose

steadily from the time of Godwin's translation to that of

Paull's, and indeed it continued to rise for much of the

rest of the century. In Britain, it is possible that one-

half to two-thirds of working class adults could read in the

1830s; furthermore, the Registrar-General's figures indicate

a steady rise in literacy from 1830 to 1850 (McCann 41).

This rise seems to have taken place before, and not as has

commonly been supposed, as a result of the 1870 Education

Act, which made free education mandatory, and it was brought

about through Sunday School Instruction: the 1851 British

census reveals that approximately one-third of all British

children of school age did not go to day school. In the

United States, the public school movement did not make real

gains until the 1830s, and it is likely that literacy had

been on the increase for some time. "Yellowbacks" and other

cheap editions of books provided the newly literate public

with reading material; if they proved to be beyond the means

of a working reader, they might be purchased by a reading

circle, or borrowed from one of the previously mentioned

public institutions. A children's classic such as The Swiss

Family Robinson, particularly one that claimed to impart

moral instruction, would certainly have been much in demand.

The pressure of increased readership upon publishers

and translators of The Swiss Family Robinson in the 1840s

created two effects: abridgement and the desire for

sequels. Abridgement reduced the need for expensive

typesetting, and also substantially cut the amount of paper

required. The preface to an abridged Simpkins and Marshall

edition of Wyss's work (1852) explicitly mentions cost-

cutting as a motive for condensation. If the text was being

shortened by abridgement, however, it was also being

lengthened by sequels: Montolieu's French edition had been

completed in 1826, and versions of its second series soon

appeared before a reading public eager for more family


The appearance of Montolieu's edition hearalded a

period of chaos for English and American translators, pub-

lishers and booksellers. Most publishers already had a

pirated version based upon Godwin's text on the market,

selling well. Godwin's translation of Wyss's first series

had included, as we have seen, a postscript describing the

arrival of a rescuing ship upon the family's island which

then takes their journal back to Europe to be published as

Wyss's text. If editors were to add Montolieu's second

series to Wyss's first, they would first have to remove the

postscript, and thus abandon the rather coy pretense of the

novel to fact. Many English and American editors did follow

this path, either publishing a second series which ignored

the postscript and continued the story, or publishing a


complete, one-volume work combining both series and with the

postscript removed. This process introduced some

inconsistencies, since Montolieu, in her 1826 edition, had

also revised Wyss's first series to make its style a little

more in keeping with the tone of her work. The publication

of a second series as a separate volume also created

problems because of the presence of the postscript in the

first; it was important, the publishers knew, to keep the

business of purchasers of the Godwin text.

With great Victorian ingenuity, editors set to work.

The simplest solution to their dilemma was prudent pruning

of the Montolieu second series so that it would "fit" the

Godwin text, its narrative following directly from Godwin's

postscript. The rescuing ship would be blown out to sea

with the first series on board and the family would settle

down to another few years upon their island, exhibiting

surprisingly little disappointment at so narrowly missing

being rescued. This solution, however, was much too easy to

appeal greatly to Victorian inventiveness, and some pub-

lishers produced sequels that owe nothing to Montolieu.

Rather than returning to the French text as soon as the res-

cuing ship has been disposed of, these sequels set off on a

voyage of invention and discovery. The Routeledge second

series of 1851 is one such work; the family sail away from

their island, Ernest and his mother are kidnapped by native

islanders, rescued, and finally become the revered rulers of

a native tribe in a manner that foreshadows Coral Island.


To complicate matters further, Wyss himself had decided

to capitalize on the sequel market. Before his death in

1830 he published Willis the Pilot, which follows the adven-

tures of the boys when they leave the island at the end of

Montolieu's narrative. The father is replaced as tutor by

the homespun Willis, pilot of their rescuing vessel.

Natural history instruction gives way to tutelage in "the

more elementary phenomena of the Physical Sciences"(i), and

we follow the boys from their -island across the world and

into their chosen careers. The book is fascinating to a

student of The Swiss Family Robinson, but less capitivating,

perhaps, to the general reader. The action is less unified,

and the didactic element less carefully married to the text.

In the example below the boys are talking to Willis after

tying up their boat on an unknown coast for the night:

"Besides," remarked Jack, "the bovine race
reproduce themselves more slowly than other
animals; if a single sow, according to a calcula-
tion made by Vauban, were allowed to live for 11
years, it would produce six millions of pigs.
The plants are still more prolific
than the animals. Some trees can produce as many
of their kind as they have branches, or even
leaves. An elm tree, 12 years old, yields some-
times 500,000 pods; and, by the way, Willis, to
encourage you in carrying on the war against
the mosquitoes, a single stalk of tobacco produces
4,000 seeds."
"The leaves, however, are or more use to me
than the seeds," Willis replied. (122)

Despite the pithiness of Willis' comment, this is hardly

stirring stuff.

Willis the Pilot, just like The Further Adventures of

Robinson Crusoe, never achieved the popularity of its

predecessor. In one matter, however, it was prophetic. At

the novel's end, Ernest laments the passing of the New Swit-

zerland he once knew:

It is not, therefore, without regret that we learn
that gold has been discovered in a land so highly
favoured by nature in other respects; for, if such
be the case, then adieu to the peace and the tran-
quility its inhabitants have hitherto enjoyed.
The colony will soon be overrun with Chinamen,
American adventurers, and ticket-of-leave
convictmen. Farewell to the hospitality and
kindliness of the community! (350)

With the coming of Paull's, Kingston's and Frith's

translation, much of the hospitality and kindness of

Godwin's family is lost. American adventurers arrive soon

enough, although the convictmen do not make their appearance

until the 1960 Walt Disney movie. The energy of Kingston's

and Frith's boys, and Paull's continual moral upbraiding of

characters certainly do shatter the peace and tranquility of

the island forever.

Paull's edition should perhaps be studied now if we ad-

vance in strictly chronological order, but it is best first

to look at the translation of W.H.G. Kingston, published some

10 years later, in 1879. Kingston's edition aimed for and

achieved a wider market than either Paull's or Frith's; it

is therefore a benchmark against which to measure all other

19th century editions.

W.H.G. Kingston was one of the most prolific of an

unusually productive generation of children's writers; he is

the author of over 100 books for children. Kingston's

novels, if such a word is not etymologically inappropriate,

invariably have the same essential plot and similar

protagonists. A group of young boys is by some accident or

by plan exposed to a new and exotic environment and has to

overcome and control that environment by utilizing the

virtue of Western, and more specifically British,

civilization. Their explorations and adventures are made

even more exciting by the fact that they are contributing to

the Victorian edifice of Scientific Knowledge. An example

of this occurs in In the Wilds of Florida: A Tale of Warfare

and Hunting:

Our shipper advised us, however, not to make the
attempt. He warned us that the difficulties in
the way--cedar swamps, rivers, lakes and marshes,
wild beast and savage Indians--would prove
insuperable, and that we should probably never
again be heard of.
"Consider, my friends, how much we shall add
to our stock of scientific knowledge," said
Lejoillie, who was not to be turned from his
object. (166)

Lejoillie's argument is, unsurprisingly, persuasive, and he

and his companions march off to find adventure in the

Florida interior.

A central theme of Kingston's books is that the exotic

environment is hostile to Europeans. Its influences upon

"civilized" whites are potentially dangerous, and it must be

firmly controlled. Kingston's boys never lose their

Britishness; indeed, they become more British in response to

an alien environment. In Fred Markham in Russia, Fred and

his brother exchange jokes plucked straight from a public

school locker room as their train thunders across Siberia:


They did not notice the name of the place, but
they suggested it must have been Chudova, which
was one of the principle places on the road.
"Oh, oh, Harry!" exclaimed Fred as he heard
his brother's audacious pun. (101)

This is, of course, harmless juvenile humor, but it is also

an attempt to control the environment through the use of

names, a process we shall see represented more strongly in

Kingston's edition of The Swiss Family Robinson.

Kingston's patriotism can easily .be drawn to much more

absured degrees. In his "factional" work How Brittania Came

to Rule the Waves, he invents a history of Phonecian settle-

ment in Britain to establish the nation's nautical pedigree.

Undismayed at the lack of historical or archaeological

evidence to support his thesis, he develops an elaborate


The Britons had vessels of large size, but they
burnt them to prevent their falling into the
hands of the adversary. (12)

His thematic concerns throughout his fiction are perhaps

best exemplified by another passage from How Brittania Came

to Rule the Waves. The British fleet at the beginning of

the first Opium War with China attack Chusan: their

military prowess and the implied racial inferiority of the

Chinese allow them to capture the town in one day. Soon,

however, events take a turn for the worse:

Chusan was held for many months, at the cost of
the lives of many soldiers, who suffered from the
poisonous exhalations from the paddy-fields,
having nothing else to do to employ their minds.


Here we have patriotism, but also the inexorable hostility

of the exotic environment. The devil, Kingston implies,

will surely find work for idle minds: his Swiss boys are

allowed no such luxury.

Kingston's version of The Swiss Family Robinson, an

abridged translation of the Montolieu text, reflects many of

the concerns of the rest of his fiction. His aim, he

declares in a note on the text, is to remove "sententious

lectures" and substitute "one or two episodes of my own

invention" (ii). He was helped in this task by his wife and

his children, who were doubtless more familiar with popular

Victorian fiction than with Godwin's 1818 text. The result-

ing book is one of Kingston's best works: it is readable,

fast-moving, and lacking in the grossest manifestations of

patriotism and imperialism. When compared to Godwin's text,

however, it lacks subtlety, spirituality, and above all

Godwin's delightful eccentricity: it is, at least to the

adult reader, a little bland.

Kingston's translation is half the length of

Montolieu's 1826 text; it would be surprising, therefore, if

some richness and depth were not lost. The author's

condensation, however, is not uniform: some passages are

reproduced seemingly word-for-word from Montolieu, whereas

others are completely exised. Religious indoctrination, in

contrast to many other 19th century translations, is sharply

reduced. The entire parable on the Sabbath, for example is

replaced with the words:


"My dear Elizabeth," said I, "this morning we will
devote to the service of the Lord. I will en-
deavour to give the children some serious
thoughts. But without books, or the possibility
of any of the usual Sunday occupations, we cannot
make keep them the whole day". (63)

The service the father proposes is over in a second, and his

eager young lads are already straining at their tethers, ur-

ging their father to make them bows and arrows with which to


Kingston and Godwin have fundamentally different views

concerning the effect of environment upon children, and

Kingston makes this change clear from the very beginning of

his text. His boys are much less respectful of their sur-

roundings than are Godwin's; they are more inclined to be

brutal and to try to take control. In one episode early in

the novel Fritz harpoons a turtle (which Godwin

mistranslates as "tortoise") while returning on the boat

from the wreck. The animal, after a brief chase, runs

aground and collapses on the sand. This is Godwin's version

of the following action:

Following the rope, I presently saw the tortoise
stretched-at length on the bottom of the water,
where it was shallow. I soon found means to
put an end to his pain, by cutting off his head
with the hatchet, and he bled to death. (144)

This is certainly a violent act, but Godwin's father does at

least describe the full horror of what he is doing, and

humanely wishes to end the creature's pain. Kingston's ver-

sion is brutal and short:


The turtle was evidently greatly exhausted and no
wonder, since it had been acting the part of a
steam tug and had been dragging, at full speed, a
couple of heavily laden vessels. Its intention
was to escape to land, but I leaped into the
water, and wading up to it, dispatched it with my
axe. (76)

The change of personal pronoun here distances us from the

turtle; furthermore, we do not confront the reality of the

creature's death--there are no words such as "pain" and

"bled" here, and the turtle's death is just another

adventure. Kingston's father seems more removed from his

environment, eager to distance himself from participation in

it. This theme is apparent throughout the translation.

Kingston's rather breathless and swift narrative

deprives him of the full possibilities of devices such as

dramatic irony, used so skillfully by Godwin. When the

family discover the shark's body, Godwin's Swiss father sug-

gests that the family might "take away with some pieces of

his skin, for I have an idea that may in some way be useful

to us" (189). We are thus kept in anticipation of its even-

tual use for some four pages. Kingston, however, is much

more to the point:

"You are right Ernest," said I. "Let us try
to induce these greedy birds to spare us a bit of
the shark's skin; it is extremely rough, and when
dry may be used like a file". (90)

We are not kept in suspense here, and Kingston also omits

Ernest's charming explanation of why the mouth of the shark

is placed under its snout ("with the intention of preventing

him from depopulating the sea and land so excessive a

voraciousness of appetite he possesses" (192)). Kingston's

narrative is more straightforward but gives less freedom to


The Swiss Family Kingston are unashamedly British in

all but nominal nationality, and they even converse in

received pronunciation. The sucking of sugar canes, Fritz

comments, is a "capital plan" (36), but it would be a

"horrid bore" (35) if their contents were turned to vinegar.

More pernicious, perhaps, is their naming of their

surroundings. Listing and naming are the first steps in the

process of establishing control over the landscape. Captain

John Smith, in his A Description of New England, illustrates

this technique:

The herbs and fruits of many sorts and kinds: as
alkernes, currents mulberries, vines,
raspberries, small nuts & c. Oak is the
chief wood: fir, pine., walnut, chestnut, birch,
ash, elm, cypress, cedar, mulberry tree, plum
tree. .
Eagles, gripes, diverse sorts of hawks,
cranes, geese and brents, cormorants, ducks,
sheldrakes, teal, mews and many other sorts,
whose names I know not. (27)

Listing and description of species is, of course, a major

feature of Wyss's original The Swiss Family Robinson. The

family, however, go beyond Smith; they give names to places

and constructions in their environment. The names Godwin's

family gives are arrived at by prolonged debate, suggestions

being mooted, discussed and either accepted or rejected.

Kingston's family, with less desire to fit their names to

the landscape or to describe their environment in terms that


imply empathy, assign them briefly and without disagreement.

Godwin's names are essentially descriptive: the family's

first home becomes "Tent House" and their second "Falcon's

Nest." In Kingston's hands these become the very English

"Tentholm" and "Falconhurst." These names, while etymologi-

cally inappropriate ("Falconhurst" means "falcon's

clearing," scarcely a suitable name for a treehouse), impose

a colonial English, almost manorial presence on the land-

scape. Kingston's family are not so much concerned, it

seems, in interracting with the exoticism of their

environment; rather, they attempt to impose an order upon


In such a masculine narrative as Kingston's, the status

of the Swiss mother is inevitably reduced. She all but

vanishes from sight after the first few chapters, making

brief appearances to be patronized by her husband. When she

suggests moving their dwelling place to the trees, the

father makes a testy reply:

Ay, little wife so that is your idea of com-
fort and security, is it? A tree, I do not know
how many feet high, on which we may roost like
birds? If we had but wings or a balloon, it
would, I own, be a capital plan. (50)

The father's attitude is made even less defensible by the

fact that his wife proves ultimately right; when he decides

to construct the treehouse, he presents it as his own idea.

The most popular translation of The Swiss Family Robin-

son into the language is not, of course, without merit. Its

brevity has the advantage of making the narrative more fast-


paced, as well as the more obvious effect of making it

cheaper to buy. Kingston's use of language is also less

complex than that of Godwin's, a strong selling point among

a newly-literate reading public. At times, Kingston's text

even has an elegant conciseness that Godwin's lacks. In the

discussion over sugar canes, the translator omits Godwin's

longwinded and "sententious" lecture and replaces it with a

simple simile:

"Think a little," I replied .
"Oh, of course," said he, "it is like trying
to suck marrow from a marrowbone without making a
hole at the other end". (30)

This is direct, readily comprehensible writing. Unlike most

other contemporary translations of the first and second

series, Kingston maintains a unity of tone between the two.

Kingston's translation, although 60 years later on the

scene than Godwin's, gained great popularity. At the turn

of the century it was still being published by Routledge

from the original plates that bore the inscription "a new

translation," and over half of all modern editions are in-

debted to it. It was not, however, the first or the most

copious translation of Montolieu's complete text available

to readers in English; that distinction must go to the

translation of Mrs. H.B. Paull.


"Boys from 10 and 12 to 14 and 16," writes Mrs. H.B.

Paull in her introduction to her translation of The Swiss

Family Robinson (1868), "do not use long and pedantic words"

(vi). In her edition of Wyss's work she moves, stylisti-

cally at least, away from the more ornate Montolieu back to

the plain style of the German original, away from French

pedantry to Anglo-Saxon common sense. Her intention is, she

insists, to produce a translation that avoids the extremes

of adaptation and interpolation on the one hand, and an

over-literal mimicking of French or German sentences on the

other. She aims for a very English compromise, and her

edition, like many great English compromises, is a fascinat-

ing muddle. Despite her avowed intentions, Paull feels free

to interpolate passages and to impose a heavy, presiding

morality upon the text. Indeed, Paull seems to have been

very much under the influence of her Biblical namesake (her

works have such titles as Charity Seeketh Not Her Own), and

in her version of The Swiss Family Robinson this influence

is continued. Paull's self-division is not between flesh

and spirit but between self and text; there is an extent to

which she can follow and assimilate Wyss's text; but, when


it becomes too removed from her morality, she has to abandon

it, and register her implacable opposition in footnotes.

Footnotes are the most fascinating aspect, possibly the

most important aspect, of Paull's translation. Several

translators, as we have seen, had used footnotes before

Paull, but these were largely factual in nature, designed to

convey information regarding natural history and the

sciences. There are certainly some informative notes in

Paull's translation: when Fritz and his father find an

unusual exotic bird, Paull notes avidly that "this singluar

bird is a native of Canada, called by some naturalists

Tetrao tympanum but is is better known by the name rough

grouse" (183). Paull's pedantic insistence upon precise

categorization kills something of the spontaneous delight we

experience in the appearance of the bird, but it is cer-

tainly.informative. HoweVer, some of Paull's footnotes go

beyond mere information. When the father and his boys

devise a method of propelling a boat by paddle wheels, Paull


This contrivance is often made use of in erecting
a vane or weathercock. A very clever instance of
this may be seen at the Bow Station on the North
London Railway Line. (332)

A little more parochially, Paull comments disparagingly on

the Swiss boy's dislikes of oysters:

The Swiss must differ from the English in dislik-
ing an edible which the latter consider a luxury.

The effect here is one of enhancing patriotism by

comparison. The Swiss family are worthy representatives of

European civilization in an uncivilized land, but they are

still not quite British: they use a means of propulsion that

is an inferior copy of a British idea, and they do not, un-

like British families (British families, that is, who could

afford to buy Paull's book), have the sophistication to con-

sider oysters a delicacy. There are times, however, when

Paull places herself in a far more radical opposition to the


An important point to remember when we examine Paull's

antagonistic attitude to her text is that she does not con-

sider it sacred. Despite her introduction, in which she

claims that "the incidents and events are faithfully

preserved unaltered in good simple Saxon English,

. with one or two necessary but slight exceptions" (vi),

she feels free to make major interpolations. Her Swiss

family are treated to not one parable on the Sabbath, but

two on successive Sabbaths: Paull was obviously concerned

about the family's abrupt lapse into impiety after only one

week on the island. The second parable is, thematically, a

repetition of the first; it concerns a husband and wife who

are dying of thirst in an Arabian desert. They are rescued

by a fairy who gives the woman a magic cup, from which she

drinks and then makes her husband drink. After narrating

the story, just as with the previous parable, the father

asks the boys for their reactions:

"I think that woman must always have taken care of
the magic glass after this," said Frank.
"And I should love the good fairy always,"
remarked Jack, "for giving it to me."
"Well, boys," I said, "do you know any good
fairy who has given us a talisman?"
"Ah, Papa," said Ernest, "I know who you
mean. Mamma is our good fairy, and ---"
"Let me finish it Ernest!" exclaimed Fritz.
"The talisman Mamma has found for us is the
Bible". (167)

Here Paull has unashamedly altered the text to both stress

piety and to add importance to the role of the mother. A

ministering angel may not be the ideal in female role

models, but the position of Elizabeth in Paull is an im-

provement upon her invisibility in Kingston. Having made

such a radical interpolation in the text, however, Paull

sinks back only a few lines later into an expostulation of

disapproving non-interference.

After the parable the family have lunch, and the father

organizes a tournament for the boys. His rationale for this

is simple:

I had no wish to make my hours of instruction too
long or tedious; or to give them a distaste for
religious teaching, and make them turn a deaf ear
to all I had said; on the contrary I had supplied
them with enough to think over now, and to make
them anxious to hear more on another Sunday. (167)

The father's rationale for Sunday relaxation may seem per-

suasive to the modern reader, but Paull is clearly troubled

by it. Apologetically, she footnotes:

Young readers must remember that when the German
story, of which this is a translation, was
written, 60 years ago, very few pleasant Sunday
stories for children had been written. These boys
also were on an uninhabited island, without
churches, chapels, Sunday schools, or other
pleasant religious services, all of which ought to


make Sundays a happy day for children in England.

Paull's technique here illustrates the way in which she ap-

proaches Wyss's text; she will leave the incident factually

unchanged, but will add a moralizing footnote. Why Paull

felt unable to remove or alter the sections of which she did

not approve is problematic. Having made an interpolation of

two pages in length, she would surely have been inventive

enough to excise the father's comment, or to replace it with

a more positive one, yet she chooses to make no alteration.

Even when Paull has a strong moral objection to an incident,

such as the father's cruelty in horse breaking, she will not

remove it from the text. The result is a narrative that

struggles with itself, a narrative that is consciously the

work of two authors rather than one. In most translations

of The Swiss Family Robinson, the differences between trans-

lator and the text the translator is working from are hidden

or minimized; in Kingston's translation the work becomes

just another of Kingston's stories for boys. In Paull's

there is a certain endearing honesty when contradictions are

brought suddenly, shockingly into the open.

Footnotes are not the only source of confusion and con-

tradiction in Paull's text. A further difficulty results

from Paull's suturing of Wyss's original text to a later

German translation of Montolieu. Thus we have Wyss's first

series married to a secondhand version of Montolieu's

second, and Paull joins the two narratives together


skillfully. However, she forgets to omit the explanatory

preface at the beginning of Wyss's first series; the result

is that we are told that the story is based upon an account

brought to Europe by the captain of a Russian ship, who has

discovered the family living on the island. The mythical

Russian captain, however, does not appear in the narrative,

which ends conventionally with the discovery of Jenny, the

arrival of the Wolfsons and the departure of the two boys in

an English ship with Captain Littlestone. The untidiness of

the novel is further enhanced by some mistranslation. For

example, in her note, Paull gives "volcano" as Jenny's

habitation. The smoke appears to be caused by spray, as

Jenny realizes, and the correct translation should surely be

that of Clinton Locke and Kingston: "smoking rock." Paull

also seems confused as to whether the buffalo the family

discover is a water buffalo or an American bison.

Beneath Paull's surface of confusion and contradiction

there is a persistent, moralistic tone emphasizing frugality

and piety. "We must economize in every way," the father

states early in the book (73), and this statement might

provide a keynote for the rest of the family's actions.

When the boys capture crabs in the brook near the campsite,

their father begs them to "throw the little ones back in the

water to provide us with an unexpected store suitable

for many suppers" (73), and he makes at least three speeches

condemning the slaughter of animals merely for sport:

We have no right to kill God's creatures unless
they are dangerous wild beasts or those we need
for food. (123)

Economy, however, is not the only virtue that the father

wishes to inspire in his offspring. He keeps his boys on a

much tighter rein than does Kingston's father, and lectures

them more sententiously. When Jack hides his lobster so

that the jackals do not eat it, his father comments

disparagingly, "certainly you take care of what belongs to

your self, my boy, but they are happier who care for the

wants of others" (25). The tone here is of a master at an

English public school. Similarly, the boy's genuine delight

on the first Sunday is quickly quashed by their father's


"Sunday!" cried Jack, "that is good news. I can
use my bow and arrow, take a walk, or be lazy,
just as I please."
"That is a very improper speech, my boy." I
said. "Sunday is God's day". (102)

Paull's boys may be initially as active as Kingston's, but

they are soon checked in their exuberance by more contempla-

tive parents. Her translation is characterized not only by

the father's overbearing moralizing, but also by a harsh,

unflinching Calvinism.

Paull's family are much more pious than Kingston's, and

this piety extends a little further than merely observation

of the first two Sundays on the island instead of only one.

When Miss Jenny recounts her adventures to the family, she

attributes her escape from drowning in shipwreck not to her

own ingenuity but to Providence:

Indeed, she assured me that had she not been able
to swim when the boat was capsized, nothing could
have saved her. Yet most of all was Jenny thankful
that God in his infinite mercy not only saved her
life, but sent a wounded albatross to be tended
and cared for till it was well enough to carry a
message to those who could rescue her. (494)

The family exist here in a mechanistic universe in which

grace is already preordained; they may discover God's

intentions, but they cannot alter their situation by means

of works. The industry of the Swiss Family on their island

might hint at the possibility of salvation by works, but

Paull quickly crushes such an anti-Protestant notion. On

reaching Prospect Hill for the first time, Fritz and his

father survey the island and see no signs of habitation.

Fritz is a little dismayed, but his father shows no


Fritz, God has prepared for us another destiny to
the one we intended. He has chosen for us the
life of colonists, and our confidence in the
heavenly Father has not been misplaced. (33)

Paull's family cheerfully endure their stay upon the island

as part of a Manifest Destiny: their discoveries con-

tinually serve to illustrate the goodness of God in all


Paull's translation, then, is concerned with repression

and submission, both thematicaly, and textually: the op-

positional quality of the footnotes is perhaps a repre-

sentation of wider opposition in Paull's world view. Her

translation, when it escapes from its confusion, however,

has many good points. It is probably the most complete

translation of The Swiss Family Robinson available in

English, Frith's version excepted, and it is certainly the

most accurate rendering of Montolieu. In addition, Paull

has a fluent, if rather lecturing prose style that sometimes

blossoms into poetic diction. Her descriptions of nature

are particularly fine:

While thus conversing we arrived at the rocky
source from whence our little river rippled softly
with a murmuring sound over the pebbles, forming
as it fell a charming cascade. But to reach the
Jackal Brook we had to struggle through the high
grass with the chain of rocks on our right, and as
we emerged from it a beautiful prospect lay before
us, very different from anything we had hitherto
seen. The face of the shelving, rocky wall
presented a sight of wonderful magnificence,
resembling greatly a European conservatory. The
ledges and cliffs like the shelves of a hothouse
were rich in rare and blooming plants; not,
however, placed here by the hand of man, but grow-
ing in wild luxuriance. (223)

There is some mimetic alliteration here ("little river

rippled" and "charming cascade"), and some suggestive

figurative language (a "chain" of rocks, rather than a

"line," suggesting enclosure). The comparison of the

countryside to a conservatory is a subtle one: if we have a

conservatory, we must also have a gardener who keeps the

conservatory in order. Paull is clearly not a Wordsworth,

but she shows a greater appreciation of the possibilities of

language than does Kingston.

Allied to Paull's appreciation of language is her ten-

dency to infuse a neutral text with new significance.

In the episode involving the cutting of the sugar canes in

Paull's translation, Fritz complains of tiredness:

"Patience and courage my boy," I replied. "Do you
not recall the fable of Aesop, in which he speaks
of a bread basket, so heavy at the commencement of
the journey and so light at the end of it? Your
burden will diminish in the same manner, for we
shall have an occasion to refresh ourselves before
we reach home. Give me therefore at once a cane,
which shall be to me a pilgrim's staff, as well as
a cruse of honey". (39)

Here new religious significance is given to the sugar cane,

which is only a "staff" to Kingston, and a "walking stick"

to Frith.

Amplification is an endearing trait of Paull's; she

will expound at length in footnotes upon the derivation of a

German word, upon whether or not it is correct to anglicize

the German place names in the text, even upon the precise

scientific name of an animal. Still more curious is her

rationale for amplification: there are clearly limits to her

knowledge of the German language and natural history. Her

translation makes haste to explain away the implausible

presence of so many supplies upon the wrecked ship, and to

give details of an exotic shrub or tree, but it reproduces

the highly implausible episode in which the Swiss father

captures a crocodile by charming it with his singing. Such

unevenness and intriguing details are fascinating to the

historian, since they illustrate a potentially fertile con-

flict and confusion in the text; they are perhaps less ap-

pealing to children. Paull's version is the most copious of

the four major translations of The Swiss Family Robinson,

but it somehow has the air of a book that children, urged on

by their doting parents, do not want to but ought to read.

In Paull's version of The Swiss Family Robinson, the

educational process has become a stasis: "Do I dare?" is

continually answered by "Thou shalt not." The positive

achievements of the family in constructing their island

kingdom become subordinate to victories in self-repression,

in their denial of innate selfishness, thoughtlessness, even

depravity. Paull 's translation, although popular during the

19th century, has faded from prominence in the 20th, and it

is easy to see why. Repression is not so appealing in a

post-Freudian age. Furthermore, Paull's moralizing and

piety restricts action. For the modern editor's or

publisher's purposes, Kingston's narrative is more racy and

secular; if we need a longer, more poetic narrative, that is

best provided by the translation of Henry Frith.


The title of one of Henry Frith's more popular books,

The Cruise of the Wasp, might, a little uncharitably,

describe the writer's literary career. Frith, like

Kingston, was a prolific children's writer and attempted,

one year before the publication of Kingston's translation,

to produce a definitive edition of The Swiss Family Robinson

in English. However, his concerns are very different from

those of Paull and Kingston; whereas Kingston concentrates

upon action in his narrative, and Paull religion, Frith em-

phasizes reason. His Swiss boys are not quite the young

colonists of Kingston; they are more contemplative, perhaps

even more xenophobic. Although contemporary with Frith's,

Kingston's narrative seems to arise out of a view of the em-

pire as still expanding, pushing vigorously outwards.

Frith's text, perhaps, reflects an Empire that, after the

Indian mutiny, has realized its own vulnerability. Frith's

family venture out from their dwellings rather as the

English ventured from their imperial fortresses:

circumspectly, even suspiciously, very aware that only their

gift of reason separates them from the darkness and savagery


A brief glimpse of some of Frith's other writings will

illuminate his concerns in his translation of Wyss's work.

A modern reader exploring Frith's translations, novels, and

"albums" is struck by their constant xenophobia and racism.

At times this seems to arise merely out of ignorance and

speculation, and thus is almost amusing. In Schoolboys the

World Over (1881), Lao, the little Chinese boy, describes

beatings at the hand, or perhaps, as we shall see, head, of

his father:

But it was not the cane that inspired me with fear
so much as his long pigtail, which he often used
as a means of correction--in his more angry mo-
ments he would seize this almost interminable
plat, as hard and as cutting as horsehair. With
this he would bring the blood to the surface of my
body, and I continually bore the marks on my skin.

The physical contortions necessary for the father to carry

out such a punishment would seem to make the cane an easier

alternative for both child and parent, but Frith is perhaps

more concerned with describing the animality of the

uncivilized, opium-addicted Chinese. More disturbing is the

testimony of Woolly-Head, the little Australian aborigine,

later in the same text:

The tribe [I belonged to] was reduced to a few
families,.and will soon have disappeared
altogether; but the aborigines do not mind that,
for they know that when all black men are dead
they will be born again as white men. (223)

Frith here omits to tell us why the tribe has been reduced

to such small numbers, but implies a system of social

Darwinism: black people are lower on his evolutionary scale

than white, and are therefore likely to become extinct when

faced with superior competition. We perhaps see a similar

mechanism operating, albeit subliminally, in the slaughter

of the monkeys in The Swiss Family Robinson.

If Frith's works emphasize xenophobia, they also

foreground "reason" and inventiveness as a means by which

Europeans may overcome the brute strength of savages. In

Escaped from Siberia: The Adventures of Three Distressed

Fugitives (1894), a Russian captive is given a brief respite

from suffering by means of European ingenuity:

"These dogs are killing me with thirst," exclaimed
the unhappy man. "I am all on fire here," he
added, opening his mouth as widely as his lips, so
terribly corroded by the acid, would permit.
The man with the violin was seized with an
idea. Drawing a small empty bottle from his
breast pocket, he made signs to his little pupils
to fill it with water. Then, with his request
complied with, he let the liquid filter drop by
drop into the parched and swollen mouth of the
recaptured convict.
The man gazed at him as a grateful beast
might have done. "Thank you," was all he said;
but he was already revived. (5)

For Frith, Europeans succeed in savage environments because

of their superior intelligence and conscience; they must,

however, be continually on their guard.

Frith's edition of The Swiss Family Robinson was pub-

lished in 1878, 10 years after Paull's but slightly in ad-

vance of Kingston's. Like Paull's version, it is a transla-

tion of a unified first and second series from the German;

unlike Paull, however, Frith does not pretend to be attempt-

ing to produce a faithful rendering of either the spirit or


the substance of Wyss's 1813 text. Frith's translation, its

author claims in his Preface, will be found to contain all

the valuable "features of the best successive editions"

(iv), taking enlivening additions from Paull, Godwin, and

other 19th century translators. "Young readers," Frith fur-

ther states, "have a distaste for books in which a great

mass of information is concentrated in a small space" (iv),

and so there are no footnotes or endnotes. Frith aims, he

claims, to produce "the standard English edition" (iv), and

to some extent he succeeds. His text is fuller, more con-

templative than that of Kingston, and much tidier and less

moralizing than Paull's.

Frith's boys, even more so than Kingston's, are quite

clearly English schoolboys out to have a good time in an ex-

otic environment. The journey of exploration becomes an

"excursion" (20), Ernest is mockingly referred to as a

"capital shot" (60), and Jack appropriates a snuff-box from

the wreck "to collect beetles and insects in" (129), just as

any English schoolboy might. Frith is also sturdily Anglo-

Saxon in his diction: the gourds growing on their trees,

for example, are referred to as wens, and the dog Flora

becomes, more prosaically, Bill. His boys are also late

19th century British in a more figurative sense: they at-

tempt to conquer their environment by the application of

reason, and it is reason that gives them control over that

environment. When the family are abandoned upon the ship by

fleeing sailors at the beginning of the book, the father


remains calm, and the ship eventually comes to rest between

two rocks. The family is then treated to a little moral

lecture upon the significance of their survival:

"My boys," I said, "our companions lost their
reason in their precipitancy. They embarked
without thinking of us, and have fallen victims in
their haste. A greater power has protected us."

For Frith, clearly, reason is a divine gift, and it is

humanity's use of this gift that separates civilization from


Frith's emphasis upon rationality and the intellect

results in a text very different from Paull's. The father's

scientific explanations are more prolonged and much more

precise, but episodes with religious content are truncated.

During their first night on the island, the boys are

surprised by the sudden descent of night. Paull's father

briefly outlines the cause of this phenomenon, that it

results from a change in latitude from that of Switzerland.

Frith's father, however, is not satisfied with so brusque an


"That makes me think," I said, "that we are not
very far from the equator, or at least that we
are between the two-tropics. Twilight is produced
by the dispersion of the sun's rays in the
atmosphere; the more obliquely they fall, the more
the refraction extends; the more perpendicular
they are, the more quickly they disperse. The
country between the tropics, which is directly
beneath the zenith, must consequently lose the
sunlight very quickly." (19)

Scientific methodology is more useful to Frith's family than

a blind faith in Providence; faith is still present, but it


is expressed through confidence in the powers of reason.

Jack, early in the bok, mocks his father's prayers; in Paull

he is condemned as a wicked boy, in Frith merely called

"foolish" (21). The family are in the position of curators

of the island; the parable on the Sabbath, much shortened,

becomes more of a how-to manual giving instructions on the

tending of the island colony than a celebration of God's

grace. God's name is often avoided by the use of periph-

rasis ("the divine compassion" (1), "a greater power" (4)),

and when the Bible is invoked, it is as a celebration that

the family are "still part of the great human family" (99),

rather than as a means of direct access to God. Sunday are

not named as such, and the family seems more inclined to

trust in its own resources than to wait for God to provide.

Frith, in his translation of The Swiss Family Robinson,

seems much more concerned with the maintenance of

colonialism than does either Paull or Kingston. When

Paull's family finds the baby monkey the father is neutral

concerning its fate, and after persuasion, allows Jack to

keep it, commenting that only time will tell whether his

decision is the correct one. Frith's father gives much more

explicit instructions:

I am glad to see at once your good feeling and the
wisdom of your observations, and I consent to the
adoption of your PROTEGE. But you must take care
how you bring him up, as he may be an acquisition
or otherwise, according to the way in which you
train him. (36)


Paull's monkey will, it seems, turns out for good or bad ac-

cording to Providence; in contrast, Frith's Jack has the

capacity to alter and control its destiny. Frith's family

have more possibilities to mold their environment than

Paull's, and are more concerned to follow European

precedent, to resist "going native." They are aided in this

by their possession of a copy of Robinson Crusoe, a feature

of Frith's translation that is strangely reminiscent of

Emile, and to which they refer with great frequency. Indeed,

Defoe's book has a predictive function. Before the dis-

covery of the cavern Fritz does some reading and remarks

that the family "may discover some spacious cavern which

will serve us as a residence, as one did for Robinson

Crusoe" (234). Crusoe's cavern is far from spacious, and

serves him mainly as a storehouse, but Frith's boys are ex-

cited enough by the idea to begin excavations of their own,

which led to the discovery of their extremely spacious


The family also invoke Crusoe, with less certainty, as

a precedent for the building of the treehouse. Frith's

Swiss mother, worried about the lack of security at the tent

dwelling, proposes a removal to the trees. Her husband

belittles her suggestion, but she persists:

You may laugh as much as you please but I am
quite sure that amongst the branches of these
great trees we could construct a small hut with a
ladder leading up to it. Have you not often seen
the same thing in Europe? For instance, do you not
remember that farmer near our old home, who did
much the same thing, and whose hut was called
Robinson Crusoe's treehouse? (64)

The appeal here is not only to Crusoe, but also to European

civilization. The farmer may not be, in Frith's eyes, the

prime representative of European culture (quite why he would

wish to build a treehouse in the middle of rural Switzerland

is not explained), but he is at least Swiss and therefore


Civilized people, Frith maintains in his version of The

Swiss Family Robinson, must be constantly vigilant to keep

their superior status. When the father skins the porcupine,

Jack decides to make a coat of mail out of its hide for one

of the dogs, and determines to "manufacture a headpiece out

of the remainder, which would act as a protection for him-

self against the savages, should we be so unfortunate as to

encounter any." The family are continually wary, prepared

for the worst that the environment can throw at them. They

are also industrious, always occupied; the devil, Frith,

implies, finds work for idle hands. Paull mentions only the

frustration of the family's being cooped up for the winter;

Frith, in contrast, emphasizes that no time is wasted:

My wife employed herself mending clothes; I wrote
out my journal, which Ernest recopied. Fritz and
Jack were occupied in teaching little Frank to
read, or amused themselves in drawing, as well as
they could, any animals that had attracted their
attention. (234)

Constant activity maintains the family's civilized status,

and Frith is, it seems, more concerned with preservation

than discovery.


However, colonial "civilization" is inevitably main-

tained by an undercurrent of violence, and this Frith

acknowledged. His boys and father deal swiftly with the

tribe of monkeys who are causing disruption in their domain;

the boys express some concern, but are reassured that such

destruction is inevitable if the colony is to survive.

Slightly more sadistic is the father's slaying of the


I immediately jumped out in order to recompense
the pilot who had guided us so well. With the as-
sistance of the cord I soon reached the animal
which, fatigued by swimming, was making up his
mind to crawl upon the land, and dealt him a
severe blow on the head with my hatchet. But he
fought so with his feet that I cut off two of
them, and then decapitated him. (129)

The struggle'here seems to be prolonged for no apparent

reason other than to extend the animal's suffering and

therefore, presumably to increase the value of the father's

triumph. The more intimate personal pronoun of Godwin

returns, as does the irony of the first sentence; Frith,

however, is more sardonic, more concerned to build up the

status of an opponent than to show compassion.

Frith's text is an attractive, polished work, without

Paull's or Godwin's rough edges. It is more comprehensive

than Kingston's and, like it, it is a "neutral text," very

much like any other Victorian boys' book. Few Victorian

boys' books are, however, read by children in the latter

half of the 20th century, and Frith's complete The Swiss

Family Robinson is no exception. It has not achieved the


sanctity or fixedness of Kingston's text, but has rather be-

come something of a mine in which later writers have found

much useful material. It is the last of the great, encom-

passing editions of the 19th century that we shall discuss;

later editors would be concerned more with specialization,

with tidying up the ragged edges left by the unifying



The zenith of The Swiss Family Robinson s popularity

came in the second half of the 19th century. Increased book

sales spurred publishers into new ventures in translation

and adaptation, and several publishing houses had two or

even three editions of Wyss's work on the market at the same

time. Some, like Mary Godolphin's The Swiss Family Robinson

in Words of One Syllable (longer names of flora and fauna

cause considerable trouble), aimed for a restricted but

definite audience; others are tailored to suit the tastes of

discriminating parents, increasing the nautral history con-

tent for the more humanist household, or enhancing religious

elements for the more pious. The violent aspects of the

boys' adventures might be decreased (as in Lovell's version)

for the more sensitive child, or increased (Brayley

Hodgetts' translation) to stiffen the patriotic fiber of the

young imperialist. None of the wide range of editions on

the market reached the definitive status of those of Godwin

(with a supplementary second series by J. Clinton Locke),

Paull, Frith or Kingston, although some had pretensions to

it. Specialized or slanted as they are, minor Victorian

editions of The Swiss Family Robinson give the novel's tex-


tual history great richness, and a substantial proportion of

the readers of Wyss's novel have had their vision colored by

the powerful shading of Godolphin, Gardiner, Lovell, Brayley

Hodgetts and Davenport Adams.

The tailoring of The Swiss Family Robinson to a spe-

cialized audience was certainly not new in the second part

of the 19th century. An edition published in New York in

1848 of the Godwin/Locke text is described as "improved by

the author of Uncle Phillip" (4); some of the improvements

are innocuous, such as shorter paragraphing and simplified

diction. However, in the sugar cane episode a more sinister

improvement has been made; Fritz's exclamation of pity for

the negro slaves has been excised. The book was clearly not

intended for an abolitionist audience.

Later in the century specialization became a little

less subversive. Alfonzo Gardiner's edition of 1887 is one

of many boasting improved natural history. Although Gar-

diner emphasizes his concern for scientific accuracy, his

translation itself proceeds in a very haphazard and unscien-

tific way. It is, he comments, based upon the French of

"Baroness de Montolien [sic]" (iv), and is "now placed

before our young people so corrected that in reading

it they will not learn anything which they will after-

wards have to unlearn" (iv). But such a commitment causes

problems to Gardiner; an island in Malaya would not support

half of the species Wyss mentions, and thus strict scien-

tific accuracy would result in a dull book. Gardiner,

however, manages to neatly sidestep the issue, footnoting


In the original edition this island was near New
Guinea; but an island in tropical America,
situated between the mouths of the Amazon and
Orinoco, would more fully correspond with the in-
cidents narrated, and their surroundings. (124)

Gardiner here substitutes Wyss's island with Crusoe's, and

the exchange removes at least some of his difficulties.

Gardiner's text is much abridged; he leaves out many

episodes, most significantly the discovery and rescue of

Miss Jenny: romantic interest, presumably, might distract

the young naturalist. His narrative moves swiftly, only oc-

casionally held in check by footnotes that go beyond mere

scientific objectively. When the boys discover an oyster,

Gardiner footnotes frantically:

There are numerous species of oyster found in the
shallow seas or river mouths of all temperate and
warm climates, but those found on the British
coasts are the best. Oysters breed in April or
May, and the fry or fertilized eggs, we call spat.
This spat adheres to pieces of wood, stone, old
oyster shells & c, and the young oysters become
fit to eat in about a year and a half. (20)

The device of footnoting enables Gardiner to substantially

increase the didactic content of the text without slowing

down the plot. Many of the father's lectures, such as his

discussion of the sudden onset of night in the tropics (see

page 66 above), are relegated to footnotes, and are joined

there by a plethora of scientific or anthropological facts.

When the boys confront monkeys in the cocount trees, Gar-

diner is quick to footnote that "the name of monkey is not,


strictly speaking, a scientific term" (37), and goes on to

discuss the classification of monkeys among "pagan nations"

(37). The desire of the family for Bologna sausages prompts

Gardiner to footnote that the word is pronounced

"bo-lo -nya, not bo-lo-na or bo-log'-na" (48). Such

footnoting must eventually irritate even the most humble

reader; Gardiner seems more interested in displaying a

knowledge of trivia than in using a coherent pedagogical


Indeed, the exuberance of Wyss's material eventually

defeats Gardiner. Penquins may be unlikely inhabitants of

an island near the mouth of the Orinoco, but to eliminate

them would destroy two entertaining episodes. With his

avowed desire for scientific accuracy, Gardiner is caught in

a quandary; "one species," he assures us, "extends to the

warmer regions of Peru" (11). However, by the time the her-

ring school has arrived Gardiner has given up completely.

"The herring," he notes despairingly, "is only found in the

north temperate regions of the globe." (189)

Yet Gardiner's narrative is not without charm; it is

marked with a persistent, if not deeply spiritual piety,

and, as we have seen, by a cheerful national chauvinism.

When Frank wants to sow gunpowder like seed, the father

gives his usual, amused explanation of why this is

impossible, and then ascribes its invention to "Roger Bacon,

a monk of Oxford, in England (who lived in the 13th

century)" (98). The translation is brief and easy to read;


the footnotes, however, often distract the reader, and

Gardiner's attempts at melodrama ("'Lost!' I exclaimed, and

the cry went like a dagger to my heart" (6)), lack the ex-

uberance and unpretensiousnes of Kingston's diction.

Gardiner's translation would certainly provide children with

some fascinating information regarding natural history, but

this dubious improvement in pedagogy is achieved at the ex-

pense of a fluid narrative.

In his edition of The Swiss Family Robinson (1869),

John Lovell employs his children as editors just as Kingston

claims he does; his progeny, however, reach very different

editorial conclusions. Lovell has no illusions regarding

the sanctity of the text; and he refers to Wyss's book as "a

good thought taken at second-hand from the storehouse

of another's [for Lovell, Defoe's] mind" (x), and emphasizes

its "literary inferiority" (x) to Robinson Crusoe. He

praises Montolieu's translation, in which "she wisely ig-

nored the author and looked only to those whom she aspired

to teach and amuse" (xiv), but claims that the story will

survive further transformation. Before attempting such a

task, Lovell tells us, he asked for comments from his

children, who had read a full translation of Montolieu, pos-

sibly Paull's. Their comments concerning the lack of com-

passion that the boys show the animals that they encounter,

and the absence of strong displays of filial affection, led

Locke to replace what he calls "a certain shallowness and

carelessness of reasoning in moral subjects" (xiv). "Errors

in matters of science morality and taste" (xiv),

Lovell boasts in his Preface, "have been removed, and the

work has, in short, been entirely remodelled" (xiv).

The scale of Lovell's remodelling becomes apparent very

quickly to the reader of his translation: his family are

fastidious, polite, and almost too good to be true. The

mother, who merely feels shy at putting on sailor's clothes

in most editions, "naturally [feels] a strong repugnance so

to disguise herself" (7) in Lovell's. Indeed, she exhibits

a rather delicate sense of etiquette throughout the novel,

washing Fritz's face when he is disguised as a savage be-

cause she cannot "bear to see him looking like a negro"

(329). Such consideration for others, Lovell emphasizes, is

also exhibited by the rest of the family. When Fritz and his

father make spoons out of gourds from the calabash tree,

Fritz remarks that Francis may have trouble using one of


And then, thinking of little Francis--"Father," he
said, "let us find a little calabash; the spoons
we have been making will stretch the little
fellow's mouth from ear to ear. I will try and
make him a small set of dinner-things for
himself." (27)

Lovell's grammar here may be a little shaky, but the

morality of his characters most certainly is not.

Lovell's family, like Kingston's and Paull's, are very

much aware of their position as God's colonists. The

father, Lovell tells us in the introduction, was a man who

volunteered to do missionary work when "the light of the

Gospel was being carried into distant lands by a few devoted

men" (xv). A short time after landing, Fritz refutes his

father's statement that the family is doomed to live alone

or perish with a Biblical analogy:

"As to that," cried Fritz gaily, "there are three
times as many of us as there were when Adam and
Eve began life; who knows but that, like the
patriarch of the Bible, we may turn out to be the
progenitors of a great and innumerable nation?"

Fritz does not seem to have given much thought to the logis-

tics of progeniture, but the father is much encouraged by

his reply. Lovell's universe, and therefore his island, is

mechanistic, operating under laws laid down by God that do

not require continuous divine intervention. The chance

killing of a margay and Ernest's speculation on the subject

of why God should allow such destructive creatures to exist

provokes a strong reply from the father:

"It is in vain," I replied, "to hazard guesses
upon the ultimate purpose which God may have had
in view in giving life to the creatures of his
hand. Nevertheless, it may be permissible to
search for the uses of these creatures in the
great scheme of creation. This being so, I may
say that in my belief, all these animals which we
wrongly, no doubt, look upon as being simply
harmful, were created to maintain a certain equi-
librium among others." (74)

The universe may be a Strasbourg clock, running slowly down

while maintaining momentum; Lovell implies that it is

entertaining, if not entirely moral, to speculate upon the

purposes of the clockmaker.

Lovell's Swiss boys are surprisingly modern; they are

more independent of the father than either Kingston's or


Frith's, and less inclined to do thoughtless violence to

animals. The latter quality may be a reflection of the wave

of Victorian sentimentality regarding the treatment of

animals that led to the paintings of Landseer and,

eventually, to the founding of the R.S.P.C.A. When feeding

the chickens, the mother remarks "I already love our dumb

companions here. Shall I tell you why? It is because I

feel that they love me too" (82). Ernest's inability to

shoot a bustard is critized, but looking on the bright side,

the mother comments that "after all it was perhaps

better to leave the poor things alone to take care of their

little ones" (55). Lovell's compassion for animals is per-

haps most marked in his reworking of the slaughter of the

monkeys, which his children objected to as "worst of all"

(xii) and "horrible" (xii). The father sets birdlime as a

trap, just as in all previous versions of Wyss' novel, en-

sares the apes, and then sets the dogs loose upon them.

However, he soon has a change of heart:

On witnessing the distressing terror of these poor
creatures our anger subsided. I called the dogs
back at once. In spite of all the harm the
destructive brutes had done us, we could not help
feeling pity for them. (208)

The apes are set free after receiving a sound beating, and

do not return to further molest the settlers. Kindness to

animals is, to Lovell, not only a sign of good moral charac-

ter but of good common sense; it preserves God's creatures

so that they may function within a Darwinian order.

Lovell's edition is appealing to a modern reader soon

tired of the family's incessant slaughter of animals, but it

also has several faults. One is the frequent use of non-

standard grammar; in an age in which grammar was considered

important such a feature can hardly have been a strong sell-

ing point. Lovell's translation, like Paull's, also ex-

hibits a marked sloppiness of revision: its author emends

some passages, yet neglects to carry his emendation through

the text. He adds a passage in which Ftitz and his father

discover a Bible in the captain's library on the wreck, but

then neglects to cut a passage narrating events later the

same day, in which the mother, amid general rejoicing,

produces a Bible from her "magic bag." Fritz and his father

must, we can only assume, have very short memories. A more

serious fault in the book is that the boys are a little too

nice. They are considerate, polite and respectful, but seem

to have less of a good time than Kingston's sturdy lads.

Lovell cuts out some of their more violent excesses on hunt-

ing expeditions, but he fails to replace the incidents with

equally interesting, "morally correct" occurrences. His at-

tempts at scientific accuracy are barely noticeable; if any-

thing the errors are compounded. Ernest, for example,

achieves the unlikely distinction of having "brought down"

(38) a flying penguin. The ambitions of Lovell's preface

are high, but they are not achieved in the book: in making

The Swiss Family Robinson tasteful, Lovell effectively

neuters it.


"We require," a Buckinghamshire public librarian wrote

in 1849, "duplicates over and over again of such works as

Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, Robinson Crusoe, Cook's

Voyages, and works of that description; but what we are

aiming at is to raise the standard, so as to get [working

class people] to read books of practical science and books

of a higher description altogether" (Altick 220). If this

should prove impossible there was always an alternative:

the infusion of a text with practical science or religion.

Mundella's Code of 1883 allowed school inspectors to ask

children to read not only from standard authors as well as

the Bible, but also from "such works as Robinson Crusoe

Voyages and Travels" (Altick 222). The market for The Swiss

Family Robinson was thus extended to public libraries and

schools, where it might be studied as a reader or, more

commonly, given as a prize. Gardiner's edition, as we have

seen, played to the popular market with an attempt to in-

crease the scientific terminology: W.H. Davenport Adams'

version of 1870, written for Nelson, the Bible publishers,

adds a healthy dose of religious interpolation, a critical

introduction, and more.

Davenport Adams's translation was published a year

after Paull's and marked the first venture of Nelson into

the increasingly competitive market of Wyss's text. Daven-

port Adams sets a somber tone from the beginning, translat-

ing a long critical introduction by the French critic

Charles Nodier and inserting it in the text before his own

introduction. Nodier's introduction is an intriguing docu-

ment in itself, comparing Wyss to Rousseau and discussing

The Swiss Family Robinson in almost proto-anthropological

terms. The serious mood of Davenport Adams's translation is

further enhanced by the presence of quotations from English

literary giants--mainly Shakespeare and Milton--after each

chapter heading. The family now has a surname (Starck), and

there is seemingly unnecessary tampering with the boys'

names: Fritz becomes Frederick; Jack, Rudly; and Francis,

Little Fritz. Not content with such minor changes, however,

Davenport Adams insists upon giving a brief character sketch

of each of the boys before approaching the text proper. His

conclusions, after the benevolence of previous translators,

seem a little harsh:

"Little Fritz" was a boy only eight years of age,
very lively but gentle, whose studies had been
retarded by a feeble childhood. He knew nothing
as yet; but being attentive and obedient, would
quickly acquire that degree of instruction proper
for his age and talents. (3)

The translator seems almost apologetic regarding the

manifest ignorance of "Little Fritz," but he also conceals a

didactic message within his character sketch. "Providence,"

Davenport Adams urges us, paraphrasing Benjamin Franklin,

"never abandons those who do not abandon themselves" (15).

The Parable on the Sabbath in Davenport Adams' edition

burgeons to 12 pages: it is heavily allegorical, almost

Bunyanesque, describing the "Kingdoms of Plenty and

Possibility" and of a great King residing in "the Celestial

City" (126). As if this were not already clear enough, the

father proceeds to give a two-page exposition to his

children, concluding with a remark about death:

[Then] we may hear his gracious voice addressing
to us the consolatory words, "Well done ye good
and faithful servants: ye have been faithful over
a few things, and I will make ye rulers over many
things: enter ye into the joy of your Lord
(Matt. xxv 21). (127)

The translation is peppered with Biblical references of this

sort, and while some scientific facts are brought out, blind

faith in scientific methodology is, Davenport Adams assures

us through the medium of the father, very dangerous:

"It is very strange," I added, "that natural
history, where truth is always palpable, should be
the one of all human sciences which man has most
disfigured by embellishing it with marvellous
circumstances, as if nature was not beautiful and
wonderful enough in itself; as if it needed the
assistance of our silly imaginations to render it
what it really is--grand, magnificent, and ever
worthy of admiration. (107)

After a few such withering blasts the boys are unlikely to

fall prey to such embellishments of silly imagination as


Religion and correct moral behavior were perhaps two

strong selling points for Victorian children's books;

imperialism, it seems, was another. E.A. Brayley Hodgetts"

edition of 1896 admits in its introduction, and not without

some pride, to being "very pig-headed and English" (vi).

This translation, Hodgetts assures us, has undergone careful


I have striven to make [it] as terse and vigorous
as possible, and here and there I have ventured to
leave out certain sentimental strains which,


however appropriate in a German text, would per-
haps sound quaint in English ears. (vii)

However, Germans are not the only race that Brayley Hodgetts

considers overly sentimental; they are positively English

when compared to the French. Like Frith, Hodgetts goes back

to the German original of Wyss for inspiration, but he does

not do this because of a concern for textual history.

"There is little," he writes, "in common between the French

and German languages, and the Teutonic original is more akin

to English hearts and minds in thought and feeling"

(viii). Hodgetts' translation is thus based upon the

original German, and its author even goes so far as to

speculate upon Johann David Wyss's hunting activities, and

to hazard a guess that "it is not improbable that he would

have himself made a capital colonist" (viii).

Hodgetts' edition, despite its differing ancestry, has

affinities with Kingston's. The translator's boys are full

of boundless energy which, at times, the father feels

obliged to check or channel. Hodgetts' father is very cer-

tain of his authority, and very quick to put down any

obstreperous child. On the wreck Jack makes a cheerfully

exuberant suggestion regarding the family's prospective

escape, but the father's response is hardly congratualtory:

"Why should we not get hold of some big.tubs and
paddle ashore? I have often paddled about in god-
papa's pond in that way; it's great fun."
"Good advice is accepted gratefully, even out
of the mouths of children." (6)

This passage also illustrates another curious aspect of

Hodgetts' translation: its paraphrasing or echoing of Bibli-

cal phrases, presumably to lend more authority to the

diction. Authority, as the father makes clear, is

essential; the father must maintain it and yet, at the same

time, cultivate a sense of pride and self-respect among his

sons. On the Sabbath, he devotes time to a parable but then

allows his children the rest of the day for recreation:

I took care that, after our devotion, the boys
should be allowed to indulge in the perfectly
legitimate and childish enjoyment of the Sabbath.
Nothing was further from my object than to bring
up a family of snuffling hypocrites. I wished
them to look up cheerfully to their creator, and
serve Him without sorrowful mumblings. (134)

One can almost smell the polished wood and carbolic of the

English public school at times in Hodgetts' translation:

the boys construct a "dormitory" for themselves in the salt

cavern, and display throughout the novel the exuberance of

clean minds and sound hearts in healthy bodies.

Hodgetts' translation of The Swiss Family Robinson also

interpolates millitaristic images. In the Parable on the

Sabbath the Great King sends "frigates" to Earthland accom-

panied "by a terrible ironclad called The Grave" (96). Jack

remembers his father's time as a chaplain in the army while

musing upon the appropriateness of an outdoor service:

Don't you know that when the soldiers were under
canvas at home, they had no church, and no organ
either, and yet attended divine service? (91)

The intention of these textual interpolations is perhaps to

create a verbal environment in which the military values of

discipline, obedience, and courage may be reflected not only

in the plot but in the language itself. Still, Hodgetts'

boys do exhibit less sensitivity and more robustness than

Lovell's; upon Jack's killing of a large number of gulls

feeding upon the shark's carcass, the father remarks that

"gulls are mostly so stupid that whalers have to kill them

to get them out of the way" (65). The family, additionally,

exhibit Swiss chauvinism that Hodgetts" must wish was

British ethnocentricity. When Ernest brags about his at-

tempt to bring down a bustard, the mother remarks, "If I did

not know all about you, I would take you for a bragging

Gascon, not a Swiss" (61). Similarly, the father comforts

the boys when they are sleeping in hammocks by remarking

that "hardy Swiss boys should be ashamed of complaining of

beds in which sailors managed to sleep comfortably" (57).

Yet the family are admiring of the English; Miss Jenny

writes that she is English on her note sent by albatross,

and her nationality seems to spur Fritz on to even more

furious attempts to find her. The island becomes an English

colony at the end of the novel, with English settlers

planted and two of the boys taken off by an English ship

which is returning to Europe.

The translations of Hodgetts, Lovell, Gardiner, and

Adams all illustrate the variety of texts available to a

London or New York parent in the later 19th century. The

choice is bewildering, and if we can draw assumptions of

sales from the frequency of publications of new editions, it

would seem that the translations of Gardiner and Davenport

Adams were the bestsellers among the specialized editions.

Editions of each of these translations were published well

into the 20th century. They suffered competition not only

from each other, but also from a wide variety of anonymous

and frequently inferior translations, as well as from the

ever-popular versions of Kingston, Godwin/Locke, Frith and

Paull. The 19th century ended with a rich variety of texts

on the market; the 20th century would see a weeding out of-

the minor editions, but also an advance beyond the bound-

aries of the conventional text.


In terms of textual history of The Swiss Family Robin-

son the 20th century comes as something of a postscript; it

is marked by a fragmentation of the text, and no pattern

seems to arise from such fragmentation. Though we might ex-

pect it, there has not been a precipitous decline in the

popularity of Wyss's work. In 1984 there were 11 editions

of The Swiss Family Robinson in print in England (British

Books in Print 6444), and 12 in the United States (Books in

Print 5404), and the majority of these were paperbacks with

a low profit margin and therefore, presumably, high sales.

The number is certainly less than the total number of edi-

tions in print at the turn of the century, but it is still

healthy enough to indicate that Wyss's text is still being

read at a time when most of its contemporary novels have

long been out of print. The.20th century is not a

postscript because of lack of availability of the text, but

rather because of the quantity of new variations of the

text. Remarkably, there have been no major translations in

the 20th century, and only three substantially altered


The century began, as we have seen, with a formidable

range of editions fighting each other for prominence. If we

can draw conclusions from the frequency of publication, it

would seem that Kingston's edition was the most popular,

closely followed by those of Paull and Frith, with that of

Godwin/Locke lagging a little. These editions were not the

only versions to enjoy popularity, however. Cassell pub-

lished a new edition of Lovell's translation in 1909, and

Nelson has kept W.H. Davenport Adams' translation on the

market continually, first as part of the New Century

Library, and afterwards as one of the Nelson Classics and

Nelson School Classics series. There has certainly been an

increase in the number of editions which are, like the Nel-

son Classics, specifically addressed to schools, a continua-

tion of a trend that begins with J.H. Strickney's editing of

Paull for a high school readership in 1885.

Many editions of The Swiss Family Robinson of the

early 20th century are reprints of older and less successful

Victorian editions on worn plates; one such is the edition

of Kingston's text published by A.L. Burt of New York in

1919. Despite its brightly-colored cloth binding it is a

reprint of a Victorian edition on plates so worn that the

type is barely legible. Other later editions were more

ambitious: one published in Philadelphia some 10 years

later features a Godwin/Locke text "retold by Mabel Holmes,

PhD" (i), and has authorship reascribed to David Wyss.

Holmes' enticing introduction tells of the adventures of the


Wyss family and of how the pastor came to write the

manuscript of his famous Robinsonade. The family, she

states, would gather around the fireplace upon cold Swiss

winter nights to listen to Papa Wyss's tales:

One winter he had a subject that lasted him for
months, for he happened to meet a Russian sea cap-
tain who told him how on one of his voyages he had
found, on a desert island near New Guinea, a
shipwrecked Swiss clergyman and his family. (v)

This may not be the most historically accurate introduction

to the work, but it reestablishes a healthy tradition of the

work masquerading as autobiography which extends back to

Godwin's first translation. More seriously erroneous,

however, is Ms. Holmes' assertion that the first translation

of the work into English was that of Mrs. H.B. Paull in

1868. Her ignorance is made all the more surprising by the

fact that she uses Godwin's text as a basis for her own

version. Holmes' edition is, as she writes, somewhat

shorter and more simplified; in common with many 20th cen-

tury editors she excises the slaughter of the monkeys, but

leaves much of the text unaltered.

In their enthusiasm to bring the book to new audiences,

20th century translators and editors of The Swiss Family

Robinson have proved willing to make the wildest claims on

its behalf. Mary Lamberton Becker, in her introduction to

the popular Rainbow Classics Schools Edition (Kingston's

translation) has obviously done some research. A little

knowledge, however, seems to be for her a dangerous thing:

It was first translated into English by William
Godwin, afterwards the father-in-law of Percy
Bysshe Shelly. Some people think the poet himself
may have had a hand in the translation. (11)

This misapprehension concerning the Godwin text's authorship

is a common one, and is perhaps made more easily tenable by

the fact that the translation was first and always has been

published anonymously. Captured by the flow of her

rhetoric, however, Becker goes on to give the date of the

publication of Kingston's edition as 1849 (a typographic

error?), some 30 years too early, and condemns previous edi-

tions of The Swiss Family Robinson as suffering "from a long

line of indifferent illustration" (14). The sparse il-

lustrations of the Rainbow Classic seem indifferent indeed

when compared to the rich engravings of editions such as the

Nelson version of the previous century.

Illustrations have, however, increased in importance in

editions of The Swiss Family Robinson this century. The

1913 Hodder and Stoughton edition uses a slightly emended

Godwin text but is distinguished by a score of anonymous

full-color plates, as wel-1 as by beautiful color-washed

endpapers. Audrey Clark's abridgement of Frith's text, pub-

lished by Dent's Illustrated Children's Classics in 1957,

features color illustrations by the painter Charles Folkard

that have a picturesque 19th century, at times almost Pre-

Raphaelite quality. Clark's abridgement, indeed, is perhaps

the most accessible reworking of Wyss's novel in this

century; its editor simplifies Frith's rather verbose dic-


tion but still preserves the spirit of his text. Her boys

speak the every day English of the 50s, rather than seeming

to have escaped from Eton locker rooms, and they are sub-

stantially less violent. When Turk, the family's dog,

tears an ape to pieces, Frith notes that "his jaws were

still covered with blood" (36). In contrast, Clark is more

interested in the psychology of dog-master relations, and

introduces an element of anthropomorphism:

Turk crouched at Fritz's feet as if he understood
what was being said to him. His limpid eyes
gleamed intelligently, and he glanced from his
young master to the monkey, and back again to
Fritz. (34)

The Frith text exhibits a rather insouciant violence when

the boys set their dogs upon monkeys eating ginseng roots:

Curious to see what they were eating, we let go
the dogs, and the apes fled at full speed. They
all escaped with the exception of two, which were
captured and eaten by the dogs before we could
come to their assistance. (285)

Clark's dogs have more restrained appetites, and she sum-

marizes the above passage with the words "we set the dogs

upon them, and the monkeys fled at top speed" (181).

Clark omits the Parable on the Sabbath, having the

father make a brief reference to Sunday ("It was our first

Sunday on the island and my wife produced a Bible from her

bag, and we took it in turns to read a passage aloud" (78)),

and then go on to talk about more interesting things. The

extent to which Clark modernizes the language can best be

illustrated by a passage concerning the construction of the

treehouse. Frith has:

Meanwhile, I ascended into the tree with Fritz and
took all the dimensions necessary to build a com-
modious residence. (92)

In Clark's hands, this becomes:

Meanwhile Fritz and I climbed the tree to measure
the width of the branches and so on, so that we
could plan the design. (75)

Anglo-Saxon here replaces Latinate diction; Clark's boys at

least speak our language. More subtly, Clark increases the

role of Fritz by making him the subject of the sentence's

main verb. Clark's boys are similar to Frith's, but they do

exhibit more independence from the father.

Other abridgements of this century are Audrey Butler's

(of Frith's text, 1970), and G.E. Mitton's (of Godwin/Locke,

1907). Butler's version cuts religious references, stresses

filial independence, and completely excises the slaughter of

the monkeys, while Mitton's abridgement aims, as so many

translations before it, to cut "long-winded sermons and lec-

tures of the pastor, mostly irrelevant to the story" (4).

Butler's edition has the advantage of being published in the

elegant Collins Schools Series, printed on good quality

paper stock; neither revision, however is as thoroughgoing

or seemingly thematically unified as Clark's.

A'tendency common to all 20th century abridgements is

the enhanced centrality of the Swiss boys; long, didactic

lectures by the father disappear, and the enlightened tutor

fades into the background. With the advent of modernism,

and after Freud, we are more suspicious of our own abilities

to control or direct. Kingston's father is almost like a

19th century scientist in a laboratory; he controls the ex-

periment of his children's education, and brings them up in

strict accordance with his plan. The success of his

experiment, moreover, confirms his faith in an ordered

universe. In the abridgements of Butler and Clark we see

less emphasis put upon the guidance of authority, and more

upon independence.

Fragmentation occurs within 20th century texts of The

Swiss Family Robinson, yet it is even more apparent in works

that take only initial impulses from Wyss's novel. The

parallel with science might be extended: in the 19th century

Kingston, Frith and Paull wrote grand, encompassing

editions, each aiming at being definitive, at unifying all

previous editions much as Maxwell's Grant Unifying Theorem

sought to bring together all the physical sciences. It was

left to the Lovells and the Gardiners of the Victorian

literary world to pursue specialization, to flesh out the

framework a little. In the 20th century Einsteinean physics

has undermined and fragmented the order that the Victorians

perceived; Newton's physics are not invalidated, but are

left as something of a point of departure. The "straight"

texts of The Swiss Family Robinson should perhaps serve us

as a departure point, for the 20th century has seen the

splintering of Wyss's text's influence into new fields:

into satire, into visual media, and ultimately perhaps, into

a submerged mytheme within our society.

As the century has drawn on, The Swiss Family Robinson

has developed its own little family of Swiss Robinsonades.

A satirical translation, directed mostly at Harvard Under-

graduates, was published by Owen Wister in 1922. A more im-

portant adaptation, The Swiss Family Perelman (1950) has

only a loose connection with Wyss's text; Perelman, the

American humorist, in a book assembled from a series of ar-

ticles in Holiday magazine, details his family's experiences

on a world tour. The family has now shrunk from four boys

to a very modern one of two parents, a son and a daughter,

and the children are certainly not the spiritual heirs of

Wyss's boys:

When I convinced them that they might do
five hours of homework daily even en route, their
jubilation was unbounded. They promptly contrived
wax effigies of their parents and, puncturing them
with pins, intoned a rubric in which the phrase
"hole in the head" recurred from time to time.

It is interesting that The Swiss Family Robinson has

become a target for satire, since satire plays upon the am-

biguity of authorial intention; the author says one thing

and means another. Satirical "translations" take the

process of fragmentation further; the presiding intention of

Wyss is removed and the plot is subordinated to a

particular, local truth.

Further fragmentation of The Swiss Family Robinson oc-

curs in a superficially more faithful medium: that of film

and television. Many present-day children know Wyss's novel

through the medium of the Disney movie, and indeed Wyss's

novel has a respectable history in visual media this

century. A 1926 edition of Kingston's translation, pub-

lished by Grosset of New York, was designed to be presented

in conjunction with the "photoplay" Perils in the Wild,

presumably a form of magic lantern show. Two television

series have been produced, in 19581 and 1975. The 1975

production by C.B.S., reduces the family to a nuclear one of

parents Lotte and Karl Robinson, with sons Fred and Ernie

(Terrance 338); the boys, in common with their counterparts

in other 20th century adaptations, show greater independence

The mytheme of a family survival narrative is reflected in

such serials as Lost in Space, a 1960s C.B.S. production in

which Jack Robinson, his wife Maureen, and children Judy,

Penny and Will are stranded on an unknown planet after

having been selected "from more than two million volunteers

to begin the conquest of space" (Terrance 38). By far the

most prominent representations of The Swiss Family Robinson,

however, have been the two film versions, the first by RKO

Radio Pictures in 1940, and the second by Walt Disney in


The RKO production, directed by Edward Ludwig, suffers

from a low budget; it was shot in monochrome in a rather

small RKO studio tank. The result is, as one reviewer

expresses it, "a rather somnolently paced, story-book film"

1The only reference I have found to it is in a New York
Times review. See page xxx above.


("The Swiss Family Robinson" [RKO] 10). Interesting points

for the textual historian are the Swiss mother's almost

pyromaniac efforts to light rescue fires, and the boys'

frequent lamentation for their lost schoolwork, allied with

their continual attempts to persuade the father to build a

schooner to take them home. Special effects, if somewhat

limited in scale, are used extensively; there are no fewer

than three storm sequences. The screenplay maintains con-

siderable fidelity to Wyss, and the family remains its

original size.

With the 1960 Walt Disney movie of The Swiss Family

Robinson we seem to have come full circle. The film was

shot on Tobago in the south Carribean where, if we leave out

Selkirk and concentrate upon the flora and fauna, Robinson

Crusoe's island is to be found. The color and the tropical

vegetation give a lushness lacking in the RKO movie, and the

treehouse like that of many 19th century illustrations, is

extremely impressive. Disney and his director Bill Anderson

do return to the 19th century in more ways than one; they

exercise considerable freedom with the text, and this

freedom, like the freedom of 19th century editors, has an

ideological purpose.

Disney's family (reduced to the Father, Mother, Fritz,

Ernest, and Francis) are very concerned with propriety and

legality. "The ship is ours," Ernest comments early in the

movie, "by maritime law." "Help your mother," the father

admonishes the boys continually, and the Swiss mother is,


indeed, in need of help. Many 19th century editions of The

Swiss Family Robinson would exclude the mother completely:

in Disney's, she is foregrounded again and becomes the butt

for misogynist humor. She falls into the water, much to the

boys' merriment, while leaving the ship, and becomes hys-

terical about the dangers of living in a treehouse. While

the boys and their father are working in the hot sun, she

stays beneath a parasol and makes curtains, knits, and

worries about her sons' safety. A central theme of the

movie is the mother's possessiveness, and her inability to

let go of her children.

Ernest and Fritz, again, exhibit more independence in

the movie than they do in Wyss's book; they are each around

17 years old, and much of the movie is an account of their

voyage of discovery around the island. Disney develops an

explicit contrast between the boys: Ernest is the

intellectual, Fritz a man of action who is always mouthing

such words of wisdom as "there's only one way to find out."

The boys have a nascent, if rather puerile sexuality. When

making their voyage of discovery they take time out to sun-

bathe on a beach, and talk about girls:

"Fritz, when we get to New Guinea, do you think
there'll be any girls of our age?"
"Ernest, by the time we get to New Guinea we
won't care what age they are."

The sexuality soon has a focus; the boys rescue Roberta, an

English girl, from the clutches of the pirates. She is ini-

tially disguised as a boy, and chastely refuses even to

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