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Vol i (of ii ), p.1

Life And Adventures Of Peter Wilkins, Vol. I. (of II.), page 1

 part  #I. of  Life And Adventures Of Peter Wilkins Series


Life And Adventures Of Peter Wilkins, Vol. I. (of II.)

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Life And Adventures Of Peter Wilkins, Vol. I. (of II.)

  Produced by David Widger



  WITH A PREFACE BY A. H. BULLEN, Editor Of "The Works Of John Day," "ACollection Of Old English Plays," Etc.



  In one of those bright racy essays at which modern dulness delights tosneer, Hazlitt discussed the question whether the desire of posthumousfame is a legitimate aspiration; and the conclusion at which he arrivedwas that there is "something of egotism and even of pedantry in thissentiment." It is a true saying in literature as in morality that "hethat seeketh his life shall lose it." The world cares most for those whohave cared least for the world's applause. A nameless minstrel of theNorth Country sings a ballad that shall stir men's hearts from age toage with haunting melody; Southey, toiling at his epics, is excludedfrom Parnassus. Some there are who have knocked at the door of theTemple of Fame, and have been admitted at once and for ever. WhenThucydides announced that he intended his history to be a "possessionfor all time," there was no mistaking the tone of authority. But to beenthroned in state, to receive the homage of the admiring multitude, andthen to be rejected as a pretender,--that is indeed a sorry fate, andone that may well make us pause before envying literary despots theirtitles. The more closely a writer shrouds himself from view, the moreeager are his readers to get a sight of him. The loss of an arm or a legwould be a slight price for a genuine student to pay if only he coulddiscover one new fact about Shakespeare's history. I will not attempt toimpose on the reader's credulity by professing myself eager to acquireinformation about the author of "Peter Wilkins" at such a sacrifice; butit would have been a sincere pleasure to me if I could have brought tolight some particulars about one whose personality must have possesseda more than ordinary charm. The delightful _voyage imaginaire_ herepresented to the reader was first published in 1751.*

  * Some copies are said to be dated 1750. It appears on the list of new books announced in the "Gentleman's Magazine" for November 1750.

  An edition appeared immediately afterwards at Dublin; so the book musthave had some sale. The introduction and the dedication to the Countessof Northumberland (to whom it will be remembered Percy dedicated his"Reliques" and Goldsmith the first printed copy of his "Edwin andAngelina") are signed with the initials "R. P.;" and for many years theauthor's full name was unknown. In 1835, Nicol, the printer, sold byauction a number of books and manuscripts in his possession, whichhad once belonged to Dodsley, the publisher; and when these were beingcatalogued, the original agreement * for the sale of the MS. of "PeterWilkins" was brought to light.

  * It is now in the collection, shortly to be dispersed, of the late Mr. James Crossley of Manchester, a gentleman who was esteemed throughout his long life not less for unfailing courtesy than for rare scholarship. Mr. Crossley promised to search for the document and send me a transcript of it; but his kind intention was frustrated by his death. Paltock's name is sometimes written Pultock or Poltock. There is no ground for identifying the author of "Peter Wilkins" with the "R. P., Gent.," who published in 1751 "Memoirs of the Life of Parnese, a Spanish Lady, Translated from the Spanish MS."

  From this document it appeared that the author was Robert Paltock ofClement's Inn, and that he received for the copyright 20L., twelvecopies of the book, and "the cuts of the first impression"(proofimpressions of the illustrations). The writer's name shows him to havebeen, like his hero, of Cornish origin; but the authors of the admirableand exhaustive "Bibliotheca Cornubiensis" could discover nothing abouthim beyond the fact that he was not a bencher of Clement's Inn. ThatPaltock should have chosen Clement's Inn as a place of residence isnot surprising. It still keeps something of its pristine repose. Thesun-dial is still supported by the negro; the grass has not lost itsverdure, and on August evenings the plane-trees' leaves glint goldenin the sun. One may still hear the chimes at midnight as Falstaff andJustice Shallow heard them of old. Here, where only a muffled murmurcomes from the work-a-day world, a man in the last century might havedreamed away his life, lonely as Peter Wilkins on the island. One canimagine the amiable recluse composing his homely romance amid suchsurroundings. Perhaps it was the one labour of his life. He may havecome to the Inn originally with the aspiration of making fame and money;and then the spirit of cloistered calm turned him from such vulgarpaths, and instead of losing his fine feelings and swelling the ranks ofthe plutocrats, he gave us a charming romance for our fireside. Withthe literary men of his day he seems to have had no intercourse. Not asingle mention of him is to be found among his contemporaries, andwe may be sure that he cut no brilliant figure at the club-houses. Nochorus of reviewers chimed the praises of "Peter Wilkins." So far asI can discover, the "Monthly Review" was the only journal in which thebook was noticed, and such criticism as the following can hardly betermed laudatory:--"Here is a very strange performance indeed. It seemsto be the illegitimate offspring of no very natural conjunction, like'Gulliver's Travels' and 'Robinson Crusoe;' but much inferior to themanner of these two performances as to entertainment or utility. It hasall that is impossible in the one or impossible in the other, withoutthe wit and spirit of the first, or the just strokes of nature anduseful lessons of morality in the second. However, if the invention ofwings for mankind to fly with is sufficient amends for all the dulnessand unmeaning extravagance of the author, we are willing to allow thathis book has some merit, and that he deserves some encouragement atleast as an able mechanic, if not as a good author." But the bookwas not forgotten. A new edition appeared in 1783, and again in thefollowing year. It was included in Weber's "Popular Romances," 1812, andpublished separately, with some charming plates by Stothard, in 1816.Within the last fifty years it has been frequently issued, entire ormutilated, in a popular form. A drama founded on the romance was actedat Covent Garden on April 16, 1827; and more than once of late years"Peter Wilkins" has afforded material for pantomimes. In 1763 a Frenchtranslation (by Philippe Florent de Puisieux) appeared under the titleof "Les Hommes Volants, ou les Aventures de Pierre Wilkins," which wasincluded in vols. xxii.-xxiii. of DePerthe's "Voyages Imaginaires" (1788-89). A German translation was published in 1767, having for title"Die fliegenden Menschen, oder wunderbare Begebenheiten Peter Wilkins."Whether the author lived to see the translations of this work cannotbe ascertained. A Robert Paltock was buried at Ryme Intrinseca Church,Dorset, in 1767, aged seventy (Hutchin's "Dorset," iv. 493-494, thirdedition), but it is very doubtful whether he was the author of theromance.

  Paltock's fame may be said to be firmly established. An American writer,it is true, in a recent "History of Fiction," says not a word about"Peter Wilkins;" but, we must remember, another American wrote a"History of Caricature" without mentioning Rowlandson. Coleridge admiredthe book, and is reported to have said: "Peter Wilkins is, to my mind, awork of uncommon beauty.... I believe that 'Robinson Crusoe' and 'PeterWilkins' could only have been written by islanders. No continentalistcould have conceived either tale.... It would require a very peculiargenius to add another tale _ejusdem generis_ to 'Robinson Crusoe' and'Peter Wilkins.' I once projected such a thing, but the difficulty ofthe preoccupied ground stopped me. Perhaps La Motte Fouque might effectsomething; but I should fear that neither he nor any other German couldentirely understand what may be called the _desert island_ feeling.I would try the marvellous line of 'Peter Wilkins' if I attempted itrather than the real fiction of 'Robinson Crusoe'" ("Table-Talk," 1851,pp. 331-332). Southey, in a note on a passage of the "Curse of Kehama,"went so far as to say that Paltock's winged people "ar
e the mostbeautiful creatures of imagination that ever were devised," and addedthat Sir Walter Scott was a warm admirer of the book. With Charles Lambat Christ's Hospital the story was a favourite. "We had classics of ourown," he says, "without being beholden to 'insolent Greece or haughtyRome,' that passed current among us--'Peter Wilkins,' the 'Adventures ofthe Hon. Captain Robert Boyle,' the 'Fortunate Blue-Coat Boy,' and thelike." But nobody loved the old romance with such devotion as LeighHunt. He was never tired of discoursing about its beauties, and he wrotewith such thorough appreciation of his subject that he left little ornothing for another to add. "It is interesting," he writes in one place,"to fancy R. P., or 'Mr. Robert Paltock of Clement's Inn,' a gentlelover of books, not successful enough, perhaps, as a barrister to lead apublic or profitable life, but eking out a little employment or a bitof a patrimony with literature congenial to him, and looking oftenerto 'Purchase Pilgrims' on his shelves than to 'Coke on Littleton.' Wepicture him to ourselves with 'Robinson Crusoe' on one side of him and'Gaudentio di Lucca' on the other, hearing the pen go over his paperin one of those quiet rooms in Clement's Inn that look out of itsold-fashioned buildings into the little garden with the dial in it heldby the negro: one of the prettiest corners in London, and extremely fitfor a sequestered fancy that cannot get any further. There he sits,the unknown, ingenious, and amiable Mr. Robert Paltock, thinking of animaginary beauty for want of a better, and creating her for the delightof posterity, though his contemporaries were to know little or nothingof her. We shall never go through the place again without regarding himas its crowning interest.... Now a sweeter creature [than Youwarkee] isnot to be found in books; and she does him immortal honour. She is alltenderness and vivacity; all born good taste and blessed companionship.Her pleasure consists but in his; she prevents all his wishes; hasneither prudery nor immodesty; sheds not a tear but from right feeling;is the good of his home and the grace of his fancy. It has been wellobserved that the author has not made his flying women in general lightand airy enough... And it may be said, on the other hand, that thekind of wing, the graundee, or elastic drapery which opens and shutsat pleasure, however ingeniously and even beautifully contrived, wouldnecessitate creatures whose modifications of humanity, bodily andmental, though never so good after their kind, might have startled theinventor had he been more of a naturalist; might have developed a beingvery different from the feminine, sympathising, and lovely Youwarkee.Muscles and nerves not human must have been associated with inhumanwants and feelings; probably have necessitated talons and a beak! Atbest the woman would have been wilder, more elvish, capricious, andunaccountable. She would have ruffled her whalebones when angry; beenhorribly intimate, perhaps, with birds' nests and fights with eagles;and frightened Wilkins out of his wits with dashing betwixt rocks andpulling the noses of seals and gulls. ("Book for a Corner," 1868, i. 68,&c.) Could criticism be more delightful? But in the "London Journal,"November 5, 1834, the genial essayist's fancy dallied even more daintilywith the theme: "A peacock with his plumage displayed, full of 'rainbowsand starry eyes,' is a fine object, but think of a lovely woman set infront of an ethereal shell and wafted about like a Venus.... We are topicture to ourselves a nymph in a vest of the finest texture and mostdelicate carnation. On a sudden this drapery parts in two and fliesback, stretched from head to foot like an oval fan or an umbrella; andthe lady is in front of it, preparing to sweep blushing away from us and'winnow the buxom air.'"

  For many of us the conduct of life is becoming evermore a thing ofgreater perplexity. It is wearisome to be rudely jostling one anotherfor the world's prizes, while myriads are toiling round us in anEgyptian bondage unlit by one ray of sunshine from the cradle to thegrave. Some have attained to Lucretian heights of philosophy, whencethey look with indifference over the tossing world-wide sea of humanmisery; but others are fain to avert their eyes, to clean forget for aseason the actual world and lose themselves in the mazes of romance. Inmoments of despondency there is no greater relief to a fretted spiritthan to turn to the "Odyssey" or Mr. Payne's exquisite translation ofthe "Arabian Nights." Great should be our gratitude to Mr. Morris forteaching us in golden verse that "Love is Enough," and for spreadingwide the gates of his "Earthly Paradise." Lucian's "True History," thatcarries us over unknown seas beyond the Atlantic bounds to enchantedislands in the west, is one of those books which we do not halfappreciate. And among the world's benefactors Robert Paltock deserves aplace. An idle hour could not be spent in a much pleasanter way than inwatching Peter Wilkins go a-field with his gun or haul up the beast-fishat the lonely creek. What can be more delightful than the descriptionhow, wakened from dreams of home by the noise of strange voicesoverhead, he sees fallen at his door the lovely winged woman Youwarkee!Prudish people may be scandalised at the unreserved frankness shownin the account of the consummation of Wilkins' marriage with this faircreature; but the editor was unwilling to mutilate the book in theinterests of such refined readers. A man or a woman who can findanything to shock his or her feelings in the description of Youwarkee'sbridal night deserves the commiseration of sensible people. Verycharming is the picture of the children sitting round the fire on thelong winter evenings listening wide-eyed to the ever-fresh story oftheir father's marvellous adventures. The wholesome morality, thecharitableness and homely piety apparent throughout, give the narrativea charm denied to many works of greater literary pretension. When PeterWilkins leaves his solitary home to live among the winged people, theinterest of the story, it must be confessed, is somewhat diminished.The author's obligations to Swift in the latter part of the book areconsiderable; and of course in describing how Peter Wilkins ordered hislife on the lonely island, he was largely indebted to Defoe. But thecreation of the winged beings is Paltock's own. It has been suggestedthat he named his hero after John Wilkins, Bishop of Chester, who, amongother curious theories, had seriously discussed the question whether mencould acquire the art of flying. In the second part of his "MathematicalMagick," the Bishop writes: "Those things that seem very difficultand fearfull at the first may grow very facil after frequent trial andexercise: And therefore he that would effect any thing in this kindmust be brought up to the constant practice of it from his Youth; tryingfirst only to use his wings in running on the ground, as an Estrich ortame geese will do, touching the earth with his toes; and so by degreeslearn to rise higher till he shall attain unto skill and confidence.I have heard it from credible testimony that one of our nation hathproceeded so far in this experiment that he was able by the help ofwings to skip constantly ten yards at a time." Youwarkee spread wide hergraundee, and in an instant was lost in the clouds. Had the author givenher the motion of a goose, or even of an ostrich--bah! the thought istoo dreadful.

  Judicious reader, the long winter evenings have come round, and you havenow abundance of leisure. Let the poets stand idle on the shelvestill the return of spring, unless perchance you would fain resumeacquaintance with the "Seasons," which you have not read since a boy,or would divert yourself with Prior or be grave with Crabbe. Now is thetime to feel once more the charm of Lamb's peerless and unique essays;now is the time to listen to the honied voice of Leigh Hunt discoursingdaintily of men and books. So you will pass from Charles Lamb and LeighHunt to the books they loved to praise. Exult in the full-blooded,bracing life which pulses in the pages of Fielding; and if Smollett'smirth is occasionally too riotous and his taste too coarse, yet confessthat all faults must be pardoned to the author of "Humphry Clinker."Many a long evening you will spend pleasantly with Defoe; and then,perchance, after a fresh reading of the thrice and four times wonderfuladventures of Robinson Crusoe, you will turn to the romance of "PeterWilkins." So may rheums and catarrhs be far from you, and may yourhearth be crowned with content!

  A. H. B.

  5 Willow Road, Hampstead, November 1883.

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