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Paltock, Robert

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(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]

Robert Paltock

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


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