Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss
My anxiety kept me awake till near morning, when, after a short sleep, I
rose, and we were soon all at work. My wife, after milking the cow and
goats, harnessed the cow and ass, and set out to search for drift-wood
for our use. In the mean time, I mounted the ladder with Fritz, and we
set to work stoutly, with axe and saw, to rid ourselves of all useless
branches. Some, about six feet above our foundation, I left, to suspend
our hammocks from, and others, a little higher, to support the roof,
which, at present, was to be merely sailcloth. My wife succeeded in
collecting us some boards and planks, which, with her assistance, and
the aid of the pulley, we hoisted up. We then arranged them on the level
branches close to each other, in such a manner as to form a smooth and
solid floor. I made a sort of parapet round, to prevent accidents. By
degrees, our dwelling began to assume a distinct form; the sailcloth was
raised over the high branches, forming a roof; and, being brought down
on each side, was nailed to the parapet. The immense trunk protected the
back of our apartment, and the front was open to admit the breeze from
the sea, which was visible from this elevation. We hoisted our hammocks
and blankets by the pulley, and suspended them; my son and I then
descended, and, as our day was not yet exhausted, we set about
constructing a rude table and some benches, from the remainder of our
wood, which we placed beneath the roots of the tree, henceforward to be
our dining-room. The little boys collected the chips and pieces of wood
for fire-wood; while their mamma prepared supper, which we needed much
after the extraordinary fatigues of this day.
The next day, however, being Sunday, we looked forward to as a day of
rest, of recreation, and thanksgiving to the great God who had
Supper was now ready, my wife took a large earthen pot from the fire,
which contained a good stew, made of the flamingo, which Ernest had told
her was an old bird, and would not be eatable, if dressed any other way.
His brothers laughed heartily, and called him the cook. He was, however,
quite right, the stew, well seasoned, was excellent, and we picked the
very bones. Whilst we were thus occupied, the living flamingo,
accompanying the rest of the fowls, and free from bonds, came in, quite
tame, to claim his share of the repast, evidently quite unsuspicious
that we were devouring his mate; he did not seem at all inclined to quit
us. The little monkey, too, was quite at home with the boys, leaping
from one to another for food, which he took in his forepaws, and ate
with such absurd mimicry of their actions, that he kept us in continual
convulsions of laughter. To augment our satisfaction, our great sow, who
had deserted us for two days, returned of her own accord, grunting her
joy at our re-union. My wife welcomed her with particular distinction,
treating her with all the milk we had to spare; for, as she had no dairy
utensils to make cheese and butter, it was best thus to dispose of our
superfluity. I promised her, on our next voyage to the ship, to procure
all these necessaries. This she could not, however, hear of, without
The boys now lighted the fires for the night. The dogs were tied to the
roots of the tree, as a protection against invaders, and we commenced
our ascent. My three eldest sons soon ran up the ladder, my wife
followed, with more deliberation, but arrived safely; my own journey was
more difficult, as, besides having to carry Francis on my back, I had
detached the lower part of the ladder from the roots, where it was
nailed; in order to be able to draw it up during the night. We were thus
as safe in our castle as the knights of old, when their drawbridge was
raised. We retired to our hammocks free from care, and did not wake till
the sun shone brightly in upon us.
Next morning, all awoke in good spirits; I told them that on this, the
Lord's day, we would do no work. That it was appointed, not only for a
day of rest, but a day when we must, as much as possible, turn our
hearts from the vanities of the world, to God himself; thank him,
worship him, and serve him. Jack thought we could not do this without a
church and a priest; but Ernest believed that God would hear our prayers
under his own sky, and papa could give them a sermon; Francis wished to
know if God would like to hear them sing the beautiful hymns mamma had
taught them, without an organ accompaniment.
"Yes, my dear children," said I, "God is everywhere; and to bless him,
to praise him in all his works, to submit to his holy will, and to obey
him,--is to serve him. But everything in its time. Let us first attend
to the wants of our animals, and breakfast, and we will then begin the
services of the day by a hymn."
We descended, and breakfasted on warm milk, fed our animals, and then,
my children and their mother seated on the turf, I placed myself on a
little eminence before them, and, after the service of the day, which I
knew by heart, and singing some portions of the 119th Psalm, I told them
a little allegory.
"There was once on a time a great king, whose kingdom was called the
Land of Light and Reality, because there reigned there constant
light and incessant activity. On the most remote frontier of this
kingdom, towards the north, there was another large kingdom, equally
subject to his rule, and of which none but himself knew the immense
extent. From time immemorial, an exact plan of this kingdom had been
preserved in the archives. It was called the Land of Obscurity, or
Night. because everything in it was dark and inactive.
"In the most fertile and agreeable part of the empire of Reality, the
king had a magnificent residence, called The Heavenly City, where he
held his brilliant court. Millions of servants executed his
wishes--still more were ready to receive his orders. The first were
clothed in glittering robes, whiter than snow--for white was the colour
of the Great King, as the emblem of purity. Others were clothed in
armour, shining like the colours of the rainbow, and carried flaming
swords in their hands. Each, at his master's nod, flew like lightning to
accomplish his will. All his servants--faithful, vigilant, bold, and
ardent--were united in friendship, and could imagine no happiness
greater than the favour of their master. There were some, less elevated,
who were still good, rich, and happy in the favours of their sovereign,
to whom all his subjects were alike, and were treated by him as
"Not far from the frontiers, the Great King possessed a desert island,
which he desired to people and cultivate, in order to make it, for a
time, the abode of those of his subjects whom he intended to admit, by
degrees, into his Heavenly City--a favour he wished to bestow on the
greatest number possible.
"This island was called Earthly Abode; and he who had passed some time
there, worthily, was to be received into all the happiness of the
heavenly city. To attain this, the Great King equipped a fleet to
transport the colonists, whom he chose from the kingdom of Night, to
this island, where he gave them light and activity--advantages they had
not known before. Think how joyful their arrival would be! The island
was fertile when cultivated; and all was prepared to make the time pass
agreeably, till they were admitted to their highest honours.
"At the moment of embarkation, the Great King sent his own son, who
spoke thus to them in His name:--
"'My dear children, I have called you from inaction and insensibility to
render you happy by feeling, by action, by life. Never forget I am your
king, and obey my commands, by cultivating the country I confide to you.
Every one will receive his portion of land, and wise and learned men are
appointed to explain my will to you. I wish you all to acquire the
knowledge of my laws, and that every father should keep a copy, to read
daily to his children, that they may never be forgotten. And on the
first day of the week you must all assemble, as brothers, in one place,
to hear these laws read and explained. Thus it will be easy for every
one to learn the best method of improving his land, what to plant, and
how to cleanse it from the tares that might choke the good seed. All may
ask what they desire, and every reasonable demand will be granted, if it
be conformable to the great end.
"'If you feel grateful for these benefits, and testify it by increased
activity, and by occupying yourself on this day in expressing your
gratitude to me, I will take care this day of rest shall be a benefit,
and not a loss. I wish that all your useful animals, and even the wild
beasts of the plains, should on this day repose in peace.
"'He who obeys my commands in Earthly Abode, shall receive a rich
reward in the Heavenly City; but the idle, the negligent, and the
evil-disposed, shall be condemned to perpetual slavery, or to labour in
mines, in the bowels of the earth.
"'From time to time, I shall send ships, to bring away individuals, to
be rewarded or punished, as they have fulfilled my commands. None can
deceive me; a magic mirror will show me the actions and thoughts
"The colonists were satisfied, and eager to begin their labour. The
portions of land and instruments of labour were distributed to them,
with seeds, and useful plants, and fruit-trees. They were then left to
turn these good gifts to profit.
"But what followed? Every one did as he wished. Some planted their
ground with groves and gardens, pretty and useless. Others planted wild
fruit, instead of the good fruit the Great King had commanded. A third
had sowed good seed; but, not knowing the tares from the wheat, he had
torn up all before they reached maturity. But the most part left their
land uncultivated; they had lost their seeds, or spoiled their
implements. Many would not understand the orders of the great king; and
others tried, by subtlety, to evade them.
"A few laboured with courage, as they had been taught, rejoicing in the
hope of the promise given them. Their greatest danger was in the
disbelief of their teachers. Though every one had a copy of the law, few
read it; all were ready, by some excuse, to avoid this duty. Some
asserted they knew it, yet never thought on it: some called these the
laws of past times; not of the present. Other said the Great King did
not regard the actions of his subjects, that he had neither mines nor
dungeons, and that all would certainly be taken to the Heavenly City.
They began to neglect the duties of the day dedicated to the Great King.
Few assembled; and of these, the most part were inattentive, and did not
profit by the instruction given them.
"But the Great King was faithful to his word. From time to time,
frigates arrived, bearing the name of some disease. These were followed
by a large vessel called The Grave, bearing the terrible flag of the
Admiral Death; this flag was of two colours, green and black; and
appeared to the colonists, according to their state, the smiling colour
of Hope, or the gloomy hue of Despa'r.
"This fleet always arrived unexpectedly, and was usually unwelcome. The
officers were sent out, by the admiral, to seize those he pointed out:
many who were unwilling were compelled to go; and others whose land was
prepared, and even the harvest ripening, were summoned; but these went
joyfully, sure that they went to happiness. The fleet being ready,
sailed for the Heavenly City. Then the Great King, in his justice,
awarded the punishments and recompenses. Excuses were now too late; the
negligent and disobedient were sent to labour in the dark mines; while
the faithful and obedient, arrayed in bright robes, were received into
their glorious abodes of happiness.
"I have finished my parable, my dear children; reflect on it, and profit
by it. Fritz, what do you think of it?"
"I am considering the goodness of the Great King, and the ingratitude of
his people," answered he.
"And how very foolish they were," said Ernest, "with a little prudence,
they might have kept their land in good condition, and secured a
pleasant life afterwards."
"Away with them to the mines!" cried Jack, "they richly deserved such a
"How much I should like," said Francis, "to see those soldiers in their
"I hope you will see them some day, my dear boy, if you continue to be
good and obedient." I then explained my parable fully, and applied the
moral to each of my sons directly.
"You, Fritz, should take warning from the people who planted wild fruit,
and wished to make them pass for good fruit. Such are those who are
proud of natural virtues, easy to exercise,--such as bodily strength,
or physical courage; and place these above the qualities which are only
attained by labour and patience.
"You, Ernest, must remember the subjects who laid out their land in
flowery gardens; like those who seek the pleasures of life, rather than
the duties. And you, my thoughtless Jack, and little Francis, think of
the fate of those who left their land untilled, or heedlessly sowed
tares for wheat. These are God's people who neither study nor reflect;
who cast to the winds all instruction, and leave room in their minds for
evil. Then let us all be, like the good labourers of the parable,
constantly cultivating our ground, that, when Death comes for us, we may
willingly follow him to the feet of the Great King, to hear these
blessed words: 'Good and faithful servants! enter into the joy of
This made a great impression on my children. We concluded by singing a
hymn. Then my good wife produced from her unfailing bag, a copy of the
Holy Scripture, from which I selected such passages as applied to our
situation; and explained them to my best ability. My boys remained for
some time thoughtful and serious, and though they followed their
innocent recreations during the day, they did not lose sight of the
useful lesson of the morning, but, by a more gentle and amiable manner,
showed that my words had taken effect.
The next morning, Ernest had used my bow, which I had given him, very
skilfully; bringing down some dozens of small birds, a sort of ortolan,
from the branches of our tree, where they assembled to feed on the figs.
This induced them all to wish for such a weapon. I was glad to comply
with their wishes, as I wished them to become skilful in the use of
these arms of our forefathers, which might be of great value to us, when
our ammunition failed. I made two bows; and two quivers, to contain
their arrows, of a flexible piece of bark, and, attaching a strap to
them, I soon armed my little archers.
Fritz was engaged in preparing the skin of the margay, with more care
than Jack had shown with that of the jackal. I showed him how to clean
it, by rubbing it with sand in the river, till no vestige of fat or
flesh was left; and then applying butter, to render it flexible.
These employments filled up the morning till dinner-time came. We had
Ernest's ortolans, and some fried ham and eggs, which made us a
sumptuous repast. I gave my boys leave to kill as many ortolans as they
chose, for I knew that, half-roasted, and put into casks, covered with
butter, they would keep for a length of time, and prove an invaluable
resource in time of need. As I continued my work, making arrows, and a
bow for Francis, I intimated to my wife that the abundant supply of figs
would save our grain, as the poultry and pigeons would feed on them, as
well as the ortolans. This was a great satisfaction to her. And thus
another day passed, and we mounted to our dormitory, to taste the sweet
slumber that follows a day of toil.
The next morning, all were engaged in archery: I completed the bow for
Francis, and at his particular request made him a quiver too. The
delicate bark of a tree, united by glue, obtained from our portable
soup, formed an admirable quiver; this I suspended by a string round the
neck of my boy, furnished with arrows; then taking his bow in his hand,
he was as proud as a knight armed at all points.
After dinner, I proposed that we should give names to all the parts of
our island known to us, in order that, by a pleasing delusion, we might
fancy ourselves in an inhabited country. My proposal was well received,
and then began the discussion of names. Jack wished for something
high-sounding and difficult, such as Monomotapa or Zanguebar; very
difficult words, to puzzle any one that visited our island. But I
objected to this, as we were the most likely to have to use the names
ourselves, and we should suffer from it. I rather suggested that we
should give, in our own language, such simple names as should point out
some circumstance connected with the spot. I proposed we should begin
with the bay where we landed, and called on Fritz for his name.
"The Bay of Oysters" said he,--"we found so many there."
"Oh, no!" said Jack, "let it be Lobster Bay; for there I was caught by
"Then we ought to call it the Bay of Tears," said Ernest, "to
commemorate those you shed on the occasion."
"My advice," said my wife, "is, that in gratitude to God we should name
it Safety Bay."
We were all pleased with this name, and proceeded to give the name of
Tent House to our first abode; Shark Island, to the little island in
the bay, where we had found that animal; and, at Jack's desire, the
marshy spot where we had cut our arrows was named Flamingo Marsh.
There the height from which we had vainly sought traces of our
shipmates, received the name of Cape Disappointment. The river was to
be Jackal River, and the bridge, Family Bridge. The most difficult
point was, to name our present abode. At last we agreed on the name of
Falcon's Nest (in German Falken-hoist). This was received with
acclamations, and I poured out for my young nestlings each a glass of
sweet wine, to drink Prosperity to Falcon's Nest. We thus laid the
foundation of the geography of our new country, promising to forward it
to Europe by the first post.
After dinner, my sons returned to their occupation as tanners, Fritz to
complete his belt, and Jack to make a sort of cuirass, of the formidable
skin of the porcupine, to protect the dogs. He finished by making a sort
of helmet from the head of the animal, as strange as the cuirasses.
The heat of the day being over, we prepared to set out to walk to Tent
House, to renew our stock of provisions, and endeavour to bring the
geese and ducks to our new residence; but, instead of going by the
coast, we proposed to go up the river till we reached the chain of
rocks, and continue under their shade till we got to the cascade, where
we could cross, and return by Family Bridge.
This was approved, and we set out. Fritz, decorated with his beautiful
belt of skin, Jack in his porcupine helmet. Each had a gun and game-bag;
except Francis, who, with his pretty fair face, his golden hair, and his
bow and quiver, was a perfect Cupid. My wife was loaded with a large
butter-pot for a fresh supply. Turk walked before us with his coat of
mail, and Flora followed, peeping at a respectful distance from him, for
fear of the darts. Knips, as my boys called the monkey, finding this
new saddle very inconvenient, jumped off, with many contortions, but
soon fixed on Flora, who, not being able to shake him off, was compelled
to become his palfrey.
The road by the river was smooth and pleasant. When we reached the end
of the wood, the country seemed more open; and now the boys, who had
been rambling about, came running up, out of breath; Ernest was holding
a plant with leaves and flowers, and green apples hanging on it.
"Potatoes!" said he; "I am certain they are potatoes!"
"God be praised," said I; "this precious plant will secure provision for
"Well," said Jack, "if his superior knowledge discovered them, I will be
the first to dig them up;" and he set to work so ardently, that we had
soon a bag of fine ripe potatoes, which we carried on to Tent House.
We had been much delighted with the new and lovely scenery of our road:
the prickly cactus, and aloe, with its white flowers; the Indian fig;
the white and yellow jasmine; the fragrant vanilla, throwing round its
graceful festoons. Above all, the regal pineapple grew in profusion,
and we feasted on it, for the first time, with avidity.
Among the prickly stalks of the cactus and aloes, I perceived a plant
with large pointed leaves, which I knew to be the karata. I pointed
out to the boys its beautiful red flowers; the leaves are an excellent
application to wounds, and thread is made from the filaments, and the
pith of the stem is used by the savage tribes for tinder.
When I showed the boys, by experiment, the use of the pith, they thought
the tinder-tree would be almost as useful as the potatoes.
"At all events," I said, "it will be more useful than the pine-apples;
your mother will be thankful for thread, when her enchanted bag is
"How happy it is for us," said she, "that you have devoted yourself to
reading and study. In our ignorance we might have passed this treasure,
without suspecting its value."
Fritz inquired of what use in the world all the rest of these prickly
plants could be, which wounded every one that came near.
"All these have their use, Fritz," said I; "some contain juices and
gums, which are daily made use of in medicine; others are useful in the
arts, or in manufactures. The Indian fig, for instance, is a most
interesting tree. It grows in the most arid soil. The fruit is said to
be sweet and wholesome."
In a moment, my little active Jack was climbing the rocks to gather some
of these figs; but he had not remarked that they were covered with
thousands of slender thorns, finer than the finest needles, which
terribly wounded his fingers. He returned, weeping bitterly and dancing
with pain. Having rallied him a little for his greediness, I extracted
the thorns, and then showed him how to open the fruit, by first cutting
off the pointed end, as it lay on the ground; into this I fixed a piece
of stick, and then pared it with my knife. The novelty of the expedient
recommended it, and they were soon all engaged eating the fruit, which
they declared was very good.
In the mean time, I saw Ernest examining one of the figs very
attentively. "Oh! papa!" said he, "what a singular sight; the fig is
covered with a small red insect. I cannot shake them off. Can they be
the Cochineal?" I recognized at once the precious insect, of which I
explained to my sons the nature and use. "It is with this insect," said
I, "that the beautiful and rich scarlet dye is made. It is found in
America, and the Europeans give its weight in gold for it."
Thus discoursing on the wonders of nature, and the necessity of
increasing our knowledge by observation and study, we arrived at Tent
House, and found it in the same state as we left it.
We all began to collect necessaries. Fritz loaded himself with powder
and shot, I opened the butter-cask, and my wife and little Francis
filled the pot. Ernest and Jack went to try and secure the geese and
ducks; but they had become so wild that it would have been impossible,
if Ernest had not thought of an expedient. He tied pieces of cheese, for
bait, to threads, which he floated on the water. The voracious creatures
immediately swallowed the cheese and were drawn out by the thread. They
were then securely tied, and fastened to the game-bags, to be carried
home on our backs. As the bait could not be recovered, the boys
contented themselves with cutting off the string close to the beak,
leaving them to digest the rest.
Our bags were already loaded with potatoes, but we filled up the spaces
between them with salt; and, having relieved Turk of his armour, we
placed the heaviest on his back. I took the butter-pot; and, after
replacing everything, and closing our tent, we resumed our march, with
our ludicrous incumbrances. The geese and ducks were very noisy in their
adieu to their old marsh; the dogs barked; and we all laughed so
excessively, that we forgot our burdens till we sat down again under our
tree. My wife soon had her pot of potatoes on the fire. She then milked
the cow and goat, while I set the fowls at liberty on the banks of the
river. We then sat down to a smoking dish of potatoes, a jug of milk,
and butter and cheese. After supper we had prayers, thanking God
especially for his new benefits; and we then sought our repose among
I had observed on the shore, the preceding day, a quantity of wood,
which I thought would suit to make a sledge, to convey our casks and
heavy stores from Tent House to Falcon's Nest. At dawn of day I woke
Ernest, whose inclination to indolence I wished to overcome, and leaving
the rest asleep, we descended, and harnessing the ass to a strong branch
of a tree that was lying near, we proceeded to the shore. I had no
difficulty in selecting proper pieces of wood; we sawed them the right
length, tied them together, and laid them across the bough, which the
patient animal drew very contentedly. We added to the load a small chest
we discovered half buried in the sand, and we returned homewards, Ernest
leading the ass, and I assisted by raising the load with a lever when we
met with any obstruction. My wife had been rather alarmed; but seeing
the result of our expedition, and hearing of the prospect of a sledge,
she was satisfied. I opened the chest, which contained only some
sailors' dresses and some linen, both wetted with sea-water; but likely
to be very useful as our own clothes decayed. I found Fritz and Jack had
been shooting ortolans; they had killed about fifty, but had consumed so
much powder and shot, that I checked a prodigality so imprudent in our
situation. I taught them to make snares for the birds of the threads we
drew from the karata leaves we had brought home. My wife and her two
younger sons busied themselves with these, while I, with my two elder
boys, began to construct the sledge. As we were working, we heard a
great noise among the fowls, and Ernest, looking about, discovered the
monkey seizing and hiding the eggs from the nests; he had collected a
good store in a hole among the roots, which Ernest carried to his
mother; and Knips was punished by being tied up, every morning, till the
eggs were collected.
Our work was interrupted by dinner, composed of ortolans, milk, and
cheese. After dinner, Jack had climbed to the higher branches of the
trees to place his snares, and found the pigeons were making nests. I
then told him to look often to the snares, for fear our own poor birds
should be taken; and, above all, never in future to fire into the tree.
"Papa," said little Francis, "can we not sow some gunpowder, and then we
shall have plenty?" This proposal was received with shouts of laughter,
which greatly discomposed the little innocent fellow. Professor Ernest
immediately seized the opportunity to give a lecture on the composition
At the end of the day my sledge was finished. Two long curved planks of
wood, crossed by three pieces, at a distance from each other, formed the
simple conveyance. The fore and hind parts were in the form of horns, to
keep the load from falling off. Two ropes were fastened to the front,
and my sledge was complete. My wife was delighted with it, and hoped I
would now set out immediately to Tent House for the butter-cask. I made
no objection to this; and Ernest and I prepared to go, and leave Fritz
in charge of the family.