Historical Spotlight: Alexander Selkirk

In the early 18th Century, Daniel Dafoe published his intriguing novel, Robinson Crusoe. Some readers may be surprised to learn that Dafoe’s story was based, in part, on a real-life episode of a sailor named Alexander Selkirk. Selkirk had spent around 4 years alone on a small island off of the coast of Chile, after being put ashore by his commanding officer. Following a certain period of fear and uncertainty, he would eventually be forced into a more powerful and physically enhanced way of life. This was, of course predicated upon his survival.

He astonished his English rescuers upon first meeting.

“Our pinnacle return’d from the shore…with a man cloth’d in goat-skins, who look’d wilder than the first owners of them.”

Whether using his increased stamina and strength to successfully flee and hide from inquisitive Spanish sailors who would surely have taken him as a prisoner–

“…he had much ado to escape; for they not only shot at him, but pursue’d him into the woods, where he climb’d to the top of a tree…but went off again without discovering him.”

–or┬áto pursue and capture wild goats–

“When his powder fail’d he took them by speed of foot; for his way of living, and continual exercise of walking and running, clear’d him of all gross humours, so that he ran with wonderful swiftness thro the woods, and up the rocks and hills.”

–Selkirk completely redefined his physique from the ground up.

“He soon wore out all of his shoes and clothes by running thro the woods; and at last, being forced to shift without them, his feet became so hard that he ran everywhere without annoyance, and it was some time before he could wear shoes after we found him. For not being used to any so long, his feet swelled when he came to wear ’em again.”

Three hundred-odd years ago a Scotsman named Selkirk was a unique example of fitness as a European for his era. He had to be marooned on a desert island to achieve his distinction, but achieve it he did. Ironically, being rescued would be the worst thing that could happen to him physically, as he likely returned to his former state of health back in Great Britain. But for a short period of time he was one of the worlds greatest athletes!

Meanwhile, the following exchange did not happen in Weimar, Germany–

[knock knock]

Anna Magdalena Bach [answering door]: Ja Fritz?

Fritz Kleinenwasser: Frau Bach, I am here for my harpsichord lesson.

Anna Magdalena Bach: Sorry Fritz, Herr Bach is still at his Ashstanga Yoga class….please have a seat.


The real lesson for us modern men and women? Use and work your body to its fullest potential and it will serve you with dependability and regularity. Neglect will cultivate the opposite effect. Besides, who the heck want gross humours?

Quotes excerpted from A Cruising Voyage Round the World by Woodes Rogers, (1712)