American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes
THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN DAY (1839). The Adventures of Robin Day was the final work of long fiction written by playwright, poet, and novelist Robert Montgomery Bird (1806-1854). Bird was born in Delaware but spent much of his life in and near Philadelphia working as a doctor, farmer, scientist, musician, politician, editor, and writer. Although Bird also wrote history, poetry, and drama, he is remembered as the author of historical novels, including Calavar (1834), The Hawks of Hawk-Hollow (1835), Sheppard Lee (1836), Nick of the Woods (1837), and Robin Day.
Originally conceived as a satire on various aspects of American life, Robin Day is actually more a picaresque adventure novel, highly derivative of similar efforts by more accomplished writers such as Sir Walter Scott and James Fenimore Cooper.* The novel is organized around the first-person narrative of a young castaway orphan named Robin Day. The book tells the story of Robin’s many adventures, which include being sold to a sea captain for a keg of rum, accidentally fighting on the British side in a battle of the War of 1812, escaping capture by Indians on the southern frontier, being taken prisoner by the Spanish in Florida, becoming a pirate in the waters off Cuba, and being cast away at sea with a young woman with whom he is in love and who, he finally discovers, is his long-lost sister.
Although the plot of Robin Day is convoluted and improbable, the many nautical adventures in the book make it an important contemporaneous example of the more developed sea fictions of such writers as Cooper and Herman Melville.*
Michael P. Branch