Entry updated 10 July 2019. Tagged: Author.
(1697-1767) UK lawyer and author, known almost solely for what was probably his only work of fiction, The Life and Adventures of Peter Wilkins, a Cornish Man: Relating Particularly his Shipwreck Near the South Pole; his Wonderful Passage Thro' a Subterranean Cavern into a Kind of New World [for full subtitle see Checklist] (dated 1751 but 1750 2vols), an example of Proto SF that, after half a century of neglect, became almost as well known in the nineteenth century as Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726; rev 1735). The influence of Defoe's Robinsonade is manifest in the earlier chapters of Paltock's tale, which is narrated within an implied Club Story frame long after Wilkins's adventures began with travels to Africa and elsewhere, and discovery, after an Underground journey, an Antarctic Lost World, where initially he survives as did Crusoe.
Swift's influence may be detected in the second half of the tale, though Paltock was less at heart a satirist than a romancer. Wilkins eventually discovers the inhabitants of the hidden land, being deeply intrigued by their main Invention, mechanical wings that enable them to fly (see Flying). It is possible that the protagonist's name homages John Wilkins, whose Mathematical Magick (1648) describes flying machines. The character Wilkins soon marries a native woman, and in due course becomes a kind of philosopher king, teaching his new folk the arts of eighteenth century civilization (see Imperialism; Utopia), and himself inventing aerial warfare. After several decades, by now a widower, he flies homewards, is shot down by a merchant ship but is saved, and tells his tale to a fellow voyager (clearly Paltock) before dying in sight of England. The emphasis throughout Peter Wilkins on the story itself, rather than the lessons it might impart, marks it as a narrative precursor of Fantastika; Mary Shelley knew the book well. [JC]
born Little Hadham, Hertfordshire: 16 October 1697
died London: 20 March 1767 [buried at Ryme Intrinsica, Dorset: may have moved there in early 1767]
works selected editions only
- The Life and Adventures of Peter Wilkins, a Cornish Man: Relating Particularly, His Shipwreck Near the South Pole; His Wonderful Passage Thro' a Subterranean Cavern into a Kind of New World; His There Meeting with a Gawry or Flying Woman, whose life he Preserv'd, and Afterwards Married her; His Extraordinary Conveyance to the Country of Glums and Gawrys, or Men and Women That Fly. Likewise a Description of this Strange Country, with the Laws, Customs, and Manners of its Inhabitants, and the Author's Remarkable Transactions Among Them. Taken from his own Mouth, in his Passage to England, from off Cape Horn in America, in the Ship Hector. With an INTRODUCTION, Giving an Account of the Surprizing Manner of his Coming on Board that Vessel, and his Death on his Landing at Plymouth in the Year 1739. Illustrated with Several CUTS, Clearly and Distinctly Representing the Structure and Mechanism of the Wings of the Glums and Gawrys, and the Manner in Which They Use Them Either to Swim or Fly. By R S, a Passenger in the Hector (London: Jacob Robinson and Robert Dodsley, 1750) as by R S [book is dated 1751: published in two volumes: illus/Louis Peter Boitard: binding unknown/]
- The Unrivalled Adventures of that Great Aeronaut and Glum, Peter Wilkins, Taken from the Original Ms of the Author (London: T Tegg, 1802) [rev vt of the above: much cut: binding unknown/]
- The Life and Adventures of Peter Wilkins, Among the Flying Nations in the South Seas: Taken from his own Mouth, in his Passage to England, off Cape Horn, in America, in the Ship Hector; by R S, a Passenger (London: Joseph Thomas, 1839) [rev vt of the above: published in two volumes: explicitly bowdlerized for "the perusal of children": hb/]
- The Life and Adventures of Peter Wilkins (London: Reeves and Turner, 1884) [vt of the above: published in two volumes: edited by A H Bullen: first scholarly edition: hb/]
- The Life and Adventures of Peter Wilkins (London: J M Dent and Sons, 1928) [vt of the above: illus/hb/Edward Bawden]
- The Life and Adventures of Peter Wilkins (London: Oxford University Press, 1973) [vt of the above: best text: edited by Christopher Bentley: hb/nonpictorial]
previous versions of this entry