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'Why God no Kill the Devil?' The Diabolical Disruption of Order in Robinson Crusoe
Author(s): Nicholas Hudson
Source: The Review of English Studies, New Series, Vol. 39, No. 156 (Nov., 1988), pp. 494-501
Published by: Oxford University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/516220
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'WHY GOD NO KILL THE DEVIL?'
THE DIABOLICAL DISRUPTION OF ORDER
IN ROBINSON CRUSOE
By
NICHOLAS HUDSON
ALTHOUGH Crusoe
experiences
little
difficulty
in
persuading Friday
to
adopt
correct notions on most
points
of Christian
doctrine,
he
finds his
pupil strangely unreceptive
to his
scriptural
account of the
devil. 'If God much
strong,
much
might
as
Devil,'
Friday
asks,
'why
God no kill the
Devil,
so make no more do wicked?'
(p. 218).1
Crusoe
can offer no answer to this
problem
and
eventually
retires to
pray
for
inspiration, leaving
Defoe's commentators with their own
problem
of
how to
interpret
his confusion. Solutions to the
problem
have
varied,
but most have had in common the
assumption
that Robinson Crusoe is
a
deeply
orthodox,
unambiguous,
even
'allegorical'
account of the
hero's
spiritual journey
towards faith and trust in God. There must be
an
appropriately pious
reason for Crusoe's hesitation.2
A broader consideration of Defoe's
writings suggests,
on the other
hand,
that he was
genuinely
baffled
by
the kind of
problems
raised
by
Friday.
As revealed
by
Defoe's
subsequent
discussions of the devil in
Serious
Reflections during
the
Life
and
Surprising
Adventures
of
Robinson Crusoe
(1719)
and,
most
notably,
The Political
History of
the
Devil
(1726),
the devil
presented perhaps
the central
challenge
to
Defoe's
continuing
effort 'to
justify
and honour the Wisdom of
Providence'
(p. 1). Throughout
his
writings
he deliberates on the
heterodox
possibility
that God has
given
the devil an
unjust range
of
liberties or
that, indeed,
the devil is as
strong
as God. This
essay
will
examine the nature and sources of these doubts.
1
All references in the text are to The
Life
and
Surprising
Adventures
of
Robinson
Crusoe,
ed.
J.
Donald
Crowley (London, 1972).
2
George
A.
Starr,
for
example,
has
interpreted
Crusoe's
difficulty
as
simply 'part
of the
traditional
conception
of the
fledgling spiritual guide' (Defoe
and
Spiritual Autobiography
(Princeton, 1965), 90). J.
Paul Hunter has
pointed
out
that,
according
to 17th-cent. accounts of
missionaries,
Indian converts
frequently questioned
the Christian
teachings
on the devil: Defoe
is
being historically
accurate
('Friday
as a Convert: Defoe and the Accounts of Indian
Missionaries',
RES NS 14
(1963), 243-8).
Most
recently, Timothy
C. Blackburn
interpreted
the
episode
as a dramatization of the failure of
reason,
as
championed by contemporary deists,
to
discover the
mysteries
of the revelation
('Friday's Religion:
Its Nature and
Importance
in
Robinson
Crusoe', Eighteenth-Century Studies,
18
(1985), 360-82).
Oxford University
Press 1988 RES New
Series,
Vol.
XXXIX,
No. 156
(1988)
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'WHY GOD NO KILL THE DEVIL?'
In The
History of
the Devil Defoe broaches the
questions
which,
once
solved,
might
remove all doubts
concerning
the devil's role in
providence:
'Who is he? What is his
original?
Whence came he? And
what is his
present
state and condition?'3 These are
virtually
the same
issues which Crusoe
attempts
to elucidate when
Friday
reveals he has
no 'Notion of an evil
Spirit;
of his
Original,
his
Being,
his
Nature,
and
above all of his Inclination to do Evil'
(p. 217).
And
just
as
Friday
responds
to Crusoe's account of the devil with
embarrassing ques-
tions,
Defoe admits in The
History of
the Devil that the Bible has left
sceptics wondering why
God has not killed or at least
kept
the devil
imprisoned:
I know it has been
questioned by
some,
with more face than
fear,
how it
consists with a
complete victory
of the
Devil,
which
they say
was at first
obtained
by
the
heavenly powers
over
Satan,
and his
apostate army
in
heaven,
that when he was cast out of his
holy place,
and dashed into a
place
of
punishment,
a condemned
hold,
or
place
of
confinement,
to be reserved there
to the
judgment
of the
great day:
I
say,
how it consists with that entire
victory,
to let him loose
again
and
give
him
liberty,
like a thief that has
broken
prison
to
range
about God's
creation,
and there to continue his
rebellion, commit new
ravages
and acts of
hostility against
God,
make new
efforts at
dethroning
the
almighty
Creator;
and in
particular
to fall
upon
the
weakness of his
creatures,
man?4
Defoe
promises
that he will
give 'good
answer to these
questions'.
In
fact,
he never mentions the
questions again.
He does affirm later that
'the earth is the Lord's and the
kingdoms
thereof',s
but he makes little
effort to reconcile this conventional tenet of
orthodoxy
with his
chronicle of all the
times-ranging
from Noah's flood to the
corrup-
tion of the
Popes-when
the devil was
'truly
and
literally
the universal
monarch,
nay
the
god
of the world'.6 The
History of
the Devil covers
four millenniums of
struggle
between God and Satan for
'empire'
over
mankind. More often than
not,
Satan's
designs
have
succeeded,
'forcing,
as it
were,
his maker in a new kind of
creation,
the old one
proving
ineffectual'.7 The verb 'to
force',
which is used more than
once in Defoe's account of the devil's
triumphs,
seems
remarkable,
for
it elicits the heterodox
impression
that God has not been in full
control of the devil's activities.
History
has
apparently
been
dominated
by
a Manichean
struggle
between
good
and evil in which
the forces of evil have often been able to thwart the
designs
of
good.
3
Satan's
Devices; or,
the Political
History of
the Devil
(London, 1819; repr. Wakefield,
Yorks., 1972), I,
ii. 242.
4
Ibid. 39-40. 5 Ibid.
II,
viii. 341.
6
Ibid.
I,
ix. 144.
7
Ibid. x. 175.
495
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Thus,
seven
years
after Robinson
Crusoe,
Defoe was still
allowing
sceptical questions
about the devil to be
expressed
in his
writings,
but
was still unable to mount a
convincing
or
entirely
orthodox case to
answer those
questions.
A
major
instance of the troubles he encoun-
ters in The
History of
the Devil is his treatment of the devil's activities
in the New
World,
an issue of obvious relevance to Crusoe's
religious
instruction of
Friday.
Defoe entertained an unusual
theory
on the
barbarity
of
primitive people
which we should first
explain
before
showing
how it undermined his efforts to
justify providence
in both
The
History of
the Devil and Robinson Crusoe.
In The
History of
the Devil Defoe
argued
that Satan was in 'full and
quiet possession'
of all the native
peoples
of
America,
such as
Friday
and his nation.8 There was
nothing
unusual about this
opinion,
but
whereas Richard Baxter and other writers on the devil had
suggested
that the Indians
consciously practised
Satanism,9
Defoe maintained
that the Indians were not aware that their
society
harboured an evil
being. According
to
Defoe,
the devil would not have achieved such
success if he were
readily recognized
as the devil.
Thus,
primitive
people
all
practised devil-worship-but
with the full conviction that
they
were
worshipping
the true God. Defoe was convinced that belief
in a benevolent
Deity
was so natural to men that it could never be
erased. The devil's
only
recourse
throughout history
had been 'to set
up wrong
notions of
worship,
and
bring [men]
to a false
worship
instead of a
true,
supposing
the
object worshipped
to be still the
same'.10 That the natives were
worshipping
the devil could be
determined
by
their use of
'bloody
sacrifices',
a
practice
which fulfilled
the devil's
objective
of not
only corrupting
men's souls but also
destroying
their bodies. Defoe did not
directly
refer to cannibalism
among
the
natives,
but cannibalism served as his
metaphor
for the
devil's
promotion
of bloodshed
throughout
the world:
'mankind,
worse than the ravenous
brutes,
preys
on his own
kind,
and devours
them . . .
by
all the
ways
of fraud and allurement that hell can
invent.'11
The
implication
of Defoe's
argument
was that the devil rather than
innate wickedness was the
major
instigator
of bloodshed
among
primitive people
and indeed mankind in
general.
This thesis
may help
to
explain why Friday
and his nation seem to be neither 'noble
savages'
8
See Satan's
Devices,
viii. 123.
9
See Richard
Baxter,
The Saints
Everlasting Rest,
9th edn.
(London, 1662),
256.
Baxter,
one of Defoe's favourite
divines,
upheld
belief in various diabolical
phenomena
such as witch-
craft and
possession
in The
Certainty of
a World
of Spirits (1691),
a work which was later blamed
for
helping
to
legitimize
the Salem witch trials of 1692.
10
History, I,
x. 174. See also
I,
ii. 33. l Ibid.
II,
iv. 296.
496 HUDSON
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'WHY GOD NO KILL THE DEVIL?'
nor without
strong
traces of mankind's
original
innocence and
good-
ness. In recent
years,
critics have
generally agreed
that Defoe
absolutely rejects
the idea of the noble
savage,
and
gives
an
essentially
Hobbesian or Calvinist account of man in his natural
state;
in the
words of
J.
Paul
Hunter,
Defoe's
depiction
of cannibalism
'vividly
dramatizes the horrors of natural
depravity'.12
While this
interpret-
ation is consistent with Crusoe's reaction to the cannibals when he first
sees
them,
it does not
explain why
he finds little evidence of
depravity
when he
finally
meets a cannibal. In
fact,
just
the
opposite
is true.
Friday
is like a 'child'
(p. 209)-grateful, honest,
happy,
affectionate.
This
seeming paradox-that
an otherwise innocent and benevolent
people
could be reduced to acts of cannibalism-is
partly explained
when Crusoe
questions Friday
about his
religious
beliefs.
Friday
tells Crusoe of his
god,
a benevolent
deity
named
Benamuckee
('much good')
who lives on
top
of a mountain. Crusoe
finally
tells
Friday
that Benamuckee is a 'Cheat' and that if his
priests
talked to
anyone
on
top
of the
mountain,
'it must be with an evil
Spirit' (p. 217).
It is then that he instructs
Friday
on the devil. It
would
seem, therefore,
that Benamuckee demonstrates how the devil
has achieved
power
over
primitive
nations
by setting
himself
up
as
God,
taking advantage
of mankind's natural desire to
worship
a
deity.
Like mankind before the
fall,
Friday
has no
understanding
of
evil;
he
worshipped
Benamuckee with no
inkling
that this
might
be the devil.
And
although Friday's people
are
guilty
of
cannibalism,
Crusoe
indicates in A Vision
of
the
Angelic
World
(1720)
that these abomin-
ations had been incited
largely by
the devil rather than
by original
sin
or an inherent
propensity
to evil: 'if the Devil had not been in
them,
they
would
hardly
have come
straggling
over the Sea so
far,
to devour
one another.'13
By indicating
that
cannibalism-perhaps along
with a
great
deal of
human evil-results
largely
from the
instigation
of Satan rather than
12
J.
Paul
Hunter,
The Reluctant
Pilgrim
(Baltimore, 1966),
130-1. See also
Blackburn,
pp.
364-5; Virginia Ogden Birdsall, Defoe's Perpetual
Seekers
(Lewisburg, 1985),
24-49.
13
A Vision
of
the
Angelic World,
appended
to Serious
Reflections during
the
Life
and
Surprising
Adventures
of
Robinson Crusoe
(London, 1720),
35. This treatment of evil
among
primitive people
does not
necessarily
contradict Defoe's
opinions
on
'original sin',
which in fact
were not
perfectly
in line with the traditional
theology
of Puritanism. In The
Family Instructor,
11th edn.
(London, 1734),
Defoe described
original
sin not as the inherent or
necessary
evil
attributed to mankind
by
strict
Calvinism,
but as 'a natural
Propensity
in us to do Evil'
(p. 21).
He
generally
assumed that this
propensity
could be controlled
through
education and
discipline.
The mind of a
child,
he
argued,
is 'malleable' and
'ready
to be molded into
any
Form
by
wicked
or virtuous influences'
(pp. 64-6).
Consistent with this
doctrine,
Crusoe's education of
Friday
is
remarkably quick
and
easy, suggesting
that
Friday-'a
child'-is
capable
of
being
turned
towards evil or
goodness according
to the
predominant
influence at
any
time. For a
contempor-
ary explanation
of how this
understanding
of human nature differs from the Calvinist
view,
see
497
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original
sin,
Defoe raises a number of serious doubts
concerning
the
justice
of
providence.
First,
why
would a
just
God abandon a whole
nation to the wiles of an evil
being
whom
they
could not
recognize
and
therefore could not avoid? Prominent scholars of diabolical
phenomena,
such as
Joseph
Glanvill,
acknowledged
the seriousness of
this
problem:
unless all men had the
ability
to
distinguish
between the
deceptions
of the devil and the
ways
of
God,
it was
impossible
to
argue
that a
just
and
caring providence
ruled over the world. As Glanvill
wrote in his textbook on witchcraft and the
devil,
Sadducismus
Triumphatus (1688-9),
.. if there be a Providence that
superviseth
us, (as
nothing
is more
certain)
doubtless it will never suffer
poor helpless
Creatures to be
inevitably
deceived
by
the
craft
and
subtlety
of their mischievous
Enemy,
to their
undoing;
but will without
question
take such
care,
that the works
wrought by
Divine Power for the Confirmation of Divine
Truth,
shall have such visible
Marks and
Signatures
... as shall discover whence
they are,
and
sufficiently
distinguish
them from all
Impostures
and Delusions.14
In order to
prove
that
Friday's people
should have
recognized
the
wickedness of their
customs,
Crusoe must
postulate
the existence of
'visible marks and
signatures'
which
distinguish goodness
from evil.
But even when Crusoe first
sights
the
natives,
he assumes that
they
had no
inkling
of the wickedness of cannibalism: 'it is not
against
their
Consciences
reproving,
or their
Light reproaching
them'
(p. 171).
Long
before his
religious
discussions with
Friday,
this
opinion
leads
to doubts
concerning
the
justice
of
God,
for
why
would 'the wise
Governor of all
Things give up any
of his
Creatures,
to such
Inhumanity; nay,
to
something
so much
below,
even
Brutality
it
self,
as to devour its own kind?'
(p. 197).
Crusoe's ruminations on this
topic
are at first
'fruitless',
but
having
observed
Friday's
evident
potential
for
goodness
and
piety,
he
eventually
decides that the natives do
possess
a natural
'Light'
to
distinguish right
from
wrong. They,
not
God,
are
responsible
for
their
falling
into the
paths
of evil:
... I sometimes was led too far to invade the
Soveraignty
of
Providence,
as it
were to
arraign
the
Justice
of so
arbitrary
a
Disposition
of
Things,
that
should hide that
Light
from
some,
and reveal it to
others,
and
yet expect
a
like
Duty
from both: But I shut it
up,
and check'd
my Thoughts
with this
Conclusion . . . as God was
necessarily,
and
by
the Nature of his
Being,
infinitely Holy
and
Just,
so it could not
be,
but that if these creatures were all
Richard Fiddes's admired textbook of Christian
thought,
The
Body of Divinity (Dublin, 1718),
i. 152-228.
14
Joseph
Glanvill,
Sadducismus
Triumphatus: or.
Full and Plain Evidence
concerning
Witches and
Apparitions,
ed.
Henry
More
(London, 1688-9),
ii. 103.
498 HUDSON
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'WHY GOD NO KILL THE DEVIL?'
sentenc'd to Absence from himself,
it was on account of
sinning against
that
Light
which,
as the
Scripture says,
was a Law to
themselves,
and
by
such
Rules as their Consciences would
acknowledge
to be
just,
tho' the Foun-
dation was not discover'd to us.
(p. 210)
Significantly,
Crusoe has at this
point adopted
a
position very
like that
of
contemporary
deists,
who were
arguing convincingly
that orthodox
writers must either
acknowledge
the
capacity
of non-Christians to
distinguish
between
good
and evil or else
give up
belief in the
justice
of God.15
Crusoe,
we
might say,
is
caught
in a
trap
between
Manicheanism on one hand and deism on the other. None the
less,
the
above statement
represents
a
position
which Crusoe is able to hold
only briefly
before the
culminating religious
discussion with
Friday.
This discussion throws the whole issue of divine
justice
back into
question by revealing
that
Friday
has been the victim of diabolical
influences which he did not
suspect,
and does not understand even
when Crusoe
explains
them.
Timothy
C. Blackburn
may
be
right
to
suggest
that
Friday's ignorance
on this and other
religious questions
dramatizes Defoe's scorn for the deists.16 It should be
kept
in
mind,
however,
that this denial of mankind's natural
understanding
of evil
jeopardizes
Crusoe's faith in a
just providence.
As Crusoe had himself
admitted,
such a
providence
would have
given
the natives the
means,
either
naturally
or
through
revelation,
to
recognize
the wickedness of
Satan's directions.
Thus,
Friday's question 'Why
God no kill the Devil?' is the climax
of a
continuing struggle
with the
theological
issues raised
by
the
barbarity
of the
natives,
a
struggle
which would continue with similar
irresolution and contradiction in The
History of
the Devil. There
is,
moreover,
a further
question
which Defoe and Crusoe
try
to answer.
What should Christians do about cannibals? Could the cannibals be
justly punished
or
persecuted
for sins
they
were deluded into commit-
ting by
the devil? This
problem
is raised
by history,
for the New
World
savages
did suffer enormous
cruelty
and
persecution
when
they
were
conquered by
the
Spaniards.
This
persecution
would
suggest
either that
providence
has
unjustly permitted helpless people
to suffer
for no
good
reason
or,
alternatively,
that God sometimes
judges
the
world
according
to a standard of moral truth
incomprehensible
to
mortals. In Serious
Reflections during
the
Life
and
Surprising
Adven-
tures
of
Robinson
Crusoe,
Crusoe indicates that the
persecution
of the
Indians was authorized
by
divine
justice.
The
Spaniards
were the
'Instruments' of divine
providence
'to
destroy
those
Peoples,
who
15
See
e.g.
Charles
Blount,
The Oracles
of
Reason
(London, 1693),
196.
16
See
Blackburn, pp.
369-74.
499
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were come
up (by
the Influence of the
Devil,
no
Doubt)
to such a
dreadful
height,
in that abhorr'd Custom of human
Sacrifices,
that the
innocent Blood cried for it'.17 Given the devil's own taste for
bloodshed,
however,
it does not seem reasonable to make
providence
the
destroyer
of those
unwittingly
under his influence. Later in
Serious
Reflections,
Crusoe comes close to
contradicting
his
justifi-
cation of
providence:
since
pagans
such as the Indians had no
knowledge
that their actions were
wrong,
'how can
we,
upon any
Christian
Foundation,
punish
or
persecute
the Man for not
exercising
that which God had not
given
him?'18 In The
History of
the
Devil,
Defoe takes the further
step
that
places
the
Spaniards
on the side of
the devil rather than
providence.
The
slaughtering
of the
natives,
he
argues,
was as
pleasing
to Satan as the murderous rituals of the natives
themselves. The
Spaniards 'planted religion
in those countries in a
glorious
and
triumphant
manner,
upon
the destruction of an infinite
number of innocent
people,
whose blood has fattened the soil for the
Catholic
faith,
and to Satan's full satisfaction'.19
Defoe's confusion on this
problem
is shared
by
Crusoe,
whose final
years
on the island seem
preoccupied
with the
question
of what to do
about the cannibals. When Crusoe first witnesses the cannibalism of
the natives who come on
shore,
his
anger
fills him with murderous
designs.
These
designs
are abandoned when Crusoe concludes that
cannibalism is not much worse than the atrocities
perpetrated by
Christian nations at war. In
particular,
he remembers that the
slaughter
of the Indians
by
the
Spaniards
was 'mere
Butchery,
a
bloody
and unnatural Piece of
Cruelty,
unjustifiable
either to God or
Man'
(p. 172). According
to The
History of
the
Devil,
this
brutality
had
greatly pleased
the
devil,
so Crusoe
may
have
good
reason to
'give
most humble Thanks on
my
Knees to God' for
saving
him from the
temptation
to 'Blood-Guiltiness'
(p. 173).
On the other
hand,
he later
decides that Providence does wish him to attack the natives when
they
come on to the island with white
prisoners.
He now
apparently
feels
that the time has come to be the destructive instrument of
providence,
a role he
initially
bestows on the
Spanish conquistadores
in Serious
Reflections.
Significantly,
the attack on the
savages
is
prompted by
a sudden
impulse-mere
instinct rather than
any
reasoned
speculations
on the
will of God. Crusoe
increasingly
finds that his
attempts
to reason
through problems
lead to doubt and indecision rather than
action,
17
Serious
Reflections
during the
Life
and
Surprising
Adventures
of
Robinson
Crusoe,
247-8.
Serious
Reflections
is in the same volume as A Vision
of
the
Angelic Wborld,
but the two works are
separately paginated.
18
Serious
Reflections,
256.
19
History, I,
i. 14.
500 HUDSON
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'WHY GOD NO KILL THE DEVIL?'
indecision which
eventually
forces him to seek divine
inspiration
to
answer the doubts raised
by Friday. Similarly,
in The
History of
the
Devil Defoe
periodically
turns to the
argument
that the wisdom of
providence-the
wisdom which he himself has elsewhere
attempted
to
delineate-is
beyond
the humble
capacities
of human reason. As he
comments on how the first seeds of evil could have been
planted
in the
angelic
nature of
Lucifer,
'I
acknowledge
I do not see
through [this
difficulty];
neither do I think that the
great
Milton,
after all his fine
images
and
lofty
excursions on this
subject,
has left it one
jot
clearer
than he found it.'20 Defoe
frequently
criticizes
Milton,
his most
famous
predecessor
as the devil's
historian,
for
pretending
to know
facts
regarding
Satan's nature and
origin
which the revelation left
concealed. In view of this
criticism,
it is curious how
closely
Defoe
echoes Milton in the
preface
to Robinson
Crusoe,
where he
promises
'to
justify
and honour the Wisdom of Providence'
(p. 1).
Whatever
objections
Defoe later
expressed against
the
possibility
of
entirely
justifying
the
ways
of God to
man,
Crusoe
attempts
to answer the
serious difficulties raised
by,
in
particular,
his observations on the
wickedness of the natives. His resort to various irrational alternatives
to a reasoned trust in God-sudden
impulses,
divine
inspiration-run
counter to the desire for
certainty,
the stolid
empiricism,
and the
hostility
to
superstition
which often informs Defoe's
theology
and is
the foundation of his
technique
as a realistic novelist.
What our consideration of the devil
finally
reveals is that Robinson
Crusoe is not a confident and
systematic
account of a man's
journey
from error to
truth,
irreligion
to
piety, perplexity
to a firm reliance on
the wisdom of
providence.
Crusoe's hesitant
shifting
between reason
and
impulse,
between a desire to reduce the universe to some
logical
order and the
grudging acceptance
of a universe
beyond comprehen-
sion,
reflects dilemmas that
persist throughout
Defoe's later
writings
on
religion.
What is remarkable is that Defoe dramatizes his
per-
plexities
so
ingenuously,
and allows himself to
journey hopefully
down various
theological paths
without
knowing
whether his final
destination will be orthodox or consistent with his
positions
elsewhere.
Historically,
Defoe's discussions of the devil and
provi-
dence illustrate the conflicts and
perplexities
which accumulated when
English
Protestants
began
to insist on a
theology
that seemed
accept-
able to reason and common
sense,
a demand
inseparable
from the rise
of
empiricism
and the increased
liberty
to
question
established
doctrines which followed the
political
events of 1688 and 1714. From
the doubts of
Crusoe,
we
might say, grew
the
scepticism
of Hume and
the need for new
ways
to defend the wisdom of God.
20
Ibid. v. 77.
501
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