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Sandie was to be the great man of the family. He was therefore■ her pet; and the greater part of her maternal care, in respect to his education, consisted in confidential discourses with him by the fireside when the rest of the family were absent, and in occasional consultations how they should screen some little misdemeanour from the eyes of his father.
Young Selkirk was a clever enough boy, and quickly learned all that was taught at the school of his native town. Besides reading,, writing, and arithmetic, he is said to have made considerable progress in navigation—a branch of knowledge likely to be of somerepute in Largo, not only on account of its being a sea-coast town, with a considerable fishing population, but also in consequence of its having been the birthplace and property of Sir Andrew Wood, a distinguished Scottish admiral of the preceding century, whose nautical fame and habits must have produced considerable impression on it. At all events, whether owing to the ideas he received at school, or to the effect on his mind of the perpetual spectacle of the sails in Largo Bay, and of his constant association with the Largo fishermen, Selkirk early determined to follow a seafaring life. Either out of a disposition to let the boy have his own will, or as thinking the life of a sailor the likeliest way to the attainment of the great fortunes which she anticipated for her son, his mother favoured his intention; his father, however, opposed it strenuously, and was anxious, now that his other sons were all settled in life, that his youngest should remain at home, and assist him in his own trade. This and young Selkirk's wayward and obstinate conduct seem to have kept him and his father perpetually at war; and a descendant of the family used to shew a walking-stick which the old man is said to have applied to the back of his refractory son, with the affirmation: 'A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool's back.' Notwithstanding the boy's restless character, respect for his father's wishes kept him at home for a considerable time: a father's malediction being too awful a thing for even a seventh son. to brave with impunity.
The first thirteen years of Selkirk's life coincide with the hottest period of the religious persecutions in Scotland. He would be about three years of age at the time of the assassination of Archbishop Sharp, which took place at not a very great distance from Largo; and the chief subject of interest, during his boyhood, in Fife, as in the other counties of Scotland, was the position of the church, then filled by Episcopalian and indulged clergy, greatly to the disgust of the people. What part old Selkirk and his family may have taken during the time when it was dangerous to shew attachment to Presbytery—whether they professed themselves Covenanters, or whether, as is more probable, they yielded a reluctant attendance at the parish church—cannot be ascertained ; but the following entry in the parish records of Largo, referring to the year 1689, immediately after the Revolution had sealed the restoration of Presbytery in Scotland, will shew that if they did attend the parish church, it was not out of lukewarmness to the popular cause, or affection for the established
clergyman: 'Sabbath, 1689.—Which day, the minister being
obstructed in his duty, and kept out of the church by a great mob armed with staves and bludgeons, headed by John Selkirk, divided what money there was amongst the poor, and retired from his charge.' John Selkirk, who thus signalised himself by heading the mob for the expulsion of the conforming clergyman, was the eldest brother of our hero, who, however, is reported himself to have testified his enthusiasm by flourishing a stick with the other boys. This outburst of Presbyterian zeal freed Largo from the unpopular clergyman, and in a short time in it, as well as in the other parishes of Scotland, the Presbyterian rule was re-established.
SELKIRK GOES TO SEA—RETURNS TO LARGO—INCURS KIRK CENSURE FOR QUARRELSOME CONDUCT.
One of the first youths in Largo to experience the stricter discipline of Presbytery, whose restoration he had celebrated, was Alexander Selkirk. His high spirits, and want of respect for any control, led him, it would appear, to be guilty of frequent misbehaviour during divine service; for under date the 25th of August 1695 is the following entry in the parish records: 'Alexander Selcraig, son of John Selcraig, elder, cited to appear before the session for indecent conduct in church.' This seems to have been more than our hero, now in his nineteenth year, could submit to. The elder's son to appear before the session, and be rebuked for laughing in church! Within twenty-four hours after this terrible citation, the young shoemaker was gone; he had left Largo and the land of kirk-sessions behind him, and was miles away at sea. When the kirk-session met, they were obliged to be content with inserting the following paragraph in the record: 'August 27th.—Alexander Selcraig called out; did not appear, having gone to sea.' Resolved, however, that he should not escape the rebuke which he had merited, they add: 'Continued until his return.'
The return which the kirk-session thus looked forward to did not take place for six years, during which we have no account of Selkirk's adventures, although the probability is that he served with the buccaneers, who then scoured the South Seas. To have persisted in calling the young sailor to account for a fault committed six years before, would have been too great severity. The kirk-session, accordingly, do not seem to have made any allusion to the circumstance which had driven him to sea; but it was not long before a still more disgraceful piece of misconduct than the former brought him under their censure. The young sailor, coming home, no doubt, with his . character rendered still more reckless and boisterous than before by the wild life to which he had been accustomed at sea, was hardly a fit inmate for a sedate and orderly household, and quarrels and disturbances became frequent in the honest shoemaker's cottage. One of these domestic uproars brought the whole family before the session: the peace and good order of families being one of the things which were then taken cognisance of by the ecclesiastical authorities in every parish. The circumstances are thus detailed in the session records: 'November 1701.—The same day, John Guthrie delated John Selcraig, elder, and his wife Euphan Mackie, and' [his son] 'Alexander Selcraig, for disagreement together; and also John Selcraig' [Alexander's eldest brother], 'and his wife Margaret Bell. All of them are ordered to be cited against next session, which is to be on the 25th instant.'
Agreeably to this citation the parties appeared—the father, the mother, the eldest son and his wife, and our hero. On this occasion, John Selcraig, the elder, 'being examined what was the cause of the tumult that was in his house, said he knew not; unless that Andrew Selcraig' [another of the old man's sons who lived in the house, and who was but half-witted]' having brought in a can full of salt water, of which his brother Alexander did take a drink through mistake, and he' [Andrew]' laughing at him for it, his brother Alexander came and beat him, upon which he ran out of the house, and called his brother John' [John and his wife, Margaret Bell, would appear to have lived in a neighbouring house; and Andrew had run into it to call his brother]. 'Being again questioned what made him' [Selkirk the father]' sit upon the floor with his back at the door, he said it was to keep down his son Alexander, who was seeking to go up to get down his pistol. And being inquired what he was going to do with it, said he could not tell.' Such was the tenor of the old man's evidence. On the same day the culprit Alexander was called; but he had contrived to go to Cupar, to be out of the way. Directing a second citation to be issued against him for next session, the court proceeded to examine the other witnesses. The younger John Selkirk gave his evidence as follows: 'On the 7th of November last, he being called by his brother Andrew, came to his father's house; and when he entered it, his mother went out; and he, seeing his father sitting upon the floor, with his brother at the door, was much troubled, and offered to help him up; at which time he did see his brother Alexander in the other end of the house casting off his coat, and coming towards him; whereupon his father did get up, and did get betwixt them' [Alexander and John], 'but he did not know what he did besides, his' [John's] 'head being borne down by his brother Alexander; but afterwards, being liberated by his wife, he made his escape.' Margaret Bell, John's wife, who thus courageously rescued her husband from the clutches of Alexander, was next examined. She declared that her husband being called out by his brother Andrew to go to his father's house, she followed him, 'and coming into the house, she found the said Alexander gripping both his father and her husband, and she, labouring to loose his hands from her husband's head and breast, her husband fled out of doors, and she followed him, but called back: "You false loon, will you murder your father and my husband both?" whereupon he' [Alexander] 'followed her to the door; but whether he beat her or not, she was in so great confusion she cannot distinctly say, but ever since she hath had a sore pain in her head.' The last witness examined was Andrew Selkirk, whose laughter at his brother's mistake had been the original cause of the quarrel. Andrew, however, was able to say 'nothing to purpose in the business,' and the further investigation of the matter was adjourned until the next meeting.
The session met again on the 29th of November; and this time the culprit was present. The following is the entry regarding the interview between the future Robinson Crusoe and his ecclesiastical judges: 'Alexander Selcraig, scandalous for contention and disagreeing with his brothers, compeared, and being questioned concerning the tumult that was in his house, whereof he was said to be the occasion, confessed that he having taken a drink of salt water out of a can, his brother Andrew laughing at him for it, he did beat him twice with a staff. He confessed also that he had spoken very ill words concerning his brother; and particularly that he had challenged his elder brother John to a combat of dry nieves' [dry fists], 'as he called it, else then, he said, he would not care even to do it now, which afterwards he did refuse.' [The meaning seems to be, that at first he told the session to their face that he would not care even then to challenge his brother, but afterwards retracted the expression.] 'Moreover he said several things; whereupon the session appointed him to compear before the face of the congregation for his scandalous carriage.' This punishment, the greatest disgrace which could be inflicted on a Scotchman of that day, the young sailor actually underwent; for on the next day, Sunday, November 30, 1701, 'Alexander Selcraig, according to the session's appointment, compeared before the pulpit, and made acknowledgment of his sin in disagreeing with his brothers, and was rebuked in the face of the congregation for it, and promised amendment in the strength of the Lord, and so was dismissed.' Did ever this scene of himself, standing abashed on a stool, and suffering a public rebuke before a whole churchful of people, recur to him when, a few years after, he was standing by his hut in his desert island, with his hairy cap on his head, and without a single human face to look round upon? Did he laugh, or did the tears come at the recollection?
Probably Selkirk would not have staid to undergo the punishment inflicted on him by the session, but would have gone off to sea, as on the former occasion, had the season not been too far advanced for him to find a ship. He therefore remained at Largo during the winter; whether assisting his father at his trade, or going about idle, we do not know. In the spring of 1702, he seized an opportunity of going to England; and a short time afterwards we find him engaged to proceed with the celebrated Dampier on a buccaneering expedition to the South Seas. That our readers may understand the nature of this expedition, during which that extraordinary event happened to Selkirk which has made his name so famous, it will be necessary to give a brief account of the people called the Buccaneers.
THE BUCCANEERS—SELKIRK JOINS A PRIVATEERING EXPEDITION UNDER DAMPIER—ACCOUNT OF THE VOYAGE.
As is well known, the Spaniards were the first to discover and take possession of the lands in the New World, including the choicest islands of the West Indies and the rich coasts of South America and Mexico. It was not long, however, before adventurers of other nations, especially French, English, and Dutch, pressed into the newly-discovered seas, and attempted to procure a share of the good things with which the American islands and shores abounded. The Spaniards, whose savage cruelties to the unfortunate natives of the lands they had discovered had made them absolute lords of every portion of American ground on which they had .planted themselves, resisted the new-comers with all their strength; attacked their ships, drove them out of the spots where they endeavoured to found their small settlements, and in a hundred other ways annoyed and injured them. The consequence was, that the English, French, and Dutch adventurers who had congregated in the West Indian Archipelago were unable to settle down permanently in any place, but were obliged to keep up a continual war with the Spaniards, in order to maintain their existence. Hayti, or San Domingo, being the earliest and most flourishing of the Spanish settlements, became the principal haunt of these rivals and enemies of the Spaniards. A number of French adventurers, whom the Spaniards in their narrow jealousy had driven out of the island of St Christopher, took up their headquarters in the small island of Tortuga, adjoining the northern coast of San Domingo, and convenient as a station from which they could make expeditions into the latter island, for the purpose of hunting the wild cattle and swine with which it swarmed. This of course increased the animosity of the Spaniards, who resented these incursions upon their territory, and attacked the intruders without mercy whenever they surprised them in the woods of San Domingo. Compelled thus to associate themselves for mutual safety in bands of considerable force, and joined by adventurers of other nations, the Buccaneers, as the French were called, from the custom of buccaning or drying and smoking the