Paltock, Robert (DNB00)

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PALTOCK, ROBERT (1697–1767), romance-writer, born in 1697, was only son of Thomas Paltock of St. James's, Westminster. His father was the third husband of his mother, Anne, whose first and second husbands were respectively Mr. Johnson of Woodford, Essex, and Edward Curle or Curll (d. 1691), jeweller, of Red Lion Square, Holborn. His grandfather, John Paltock (1624–1682), attorney, of Thavie's Inn, London, who married on 14 Sept. 1648 Elizabeth (1631–1707), fourth daughter of Francis Steward of Braughing, Hertfordshire (Chester, London Marriage Licenses, ed. Foster, col. 1013; Clutterbuck, Hertfordshire, iii. 150), benefited greatly under the will (P.C.C. 81, Penn) of his uncle, Thomas Paltock (d. 1670), of Botwell, in the parish of Hayes, Middlesex, and of Kingston-upon-Thames, and left property in London, Suffolk, Middlesex, Essex, and Hertfordshire (will in P.C.C. 89, Cottle). After the death of Robert's father in 1701 (cf. Letters of Administration, P.C.C. 12 April 1701) his mother lived chiefly at Enfield, Middlesex. Robert seems to have been a favourite with his paternal grandmother, for in her will, proved on 7 Feb. 1706–7, she left him, on his coming of age, one hundred and fifty pounds and her house at Enfield, provided that her daughter, Elizabeth Paltock, should die without lawful issue (will in Commissary Court of London, Bk. 1706–7, f. 247). Robert's mother died at Enfield in January 1711–12 (Parish Register), leaving her son to the care of her ‘loving friends,’ Robert Nightingale and John Grene, or Green, of Enfield (will in P.C.C. 75, Barnes). Like many of his kinsfolk, Robert became an attorney, and for several years resided in Clement's Inn, London. From the will of his brother-in-law, Brinley Skinner (d. 1764) of Ryme Intrinsica, Dorset, sometime consul at Leghorn, it is clear that before August 1759 Paltock had quitted Clement's Inn for a residence in Back Lane, St. Mary, Lambeth (will in P.C.C. 485, Simpson).

Paltock died in Back Lane on 20 March, 1767 (cf. Letters of Administration, P.C.C. 15 April 1767), and was buried at Ryme Intrinsica (Hutchins, Dorset, 3rd ed. iv. 493–4). By his marriage to Anna, daughter of John Skinner, Italian merchant, of Austin Friars, London (ib. ii. 609), he had issue John (1731–1789), a Bengal merchant; Robert (b. 1737), surgeon at Ryme Intrinsica, who became possessor of the Skinner property there on the death of his cousin, Eleanor Boddington, in March 1795 (ib. iv. 492); Anna, who ‘married a clergyman with eight children;’ and Eleanor, who married twice. Mrs. Paltock was buried at St. Mary, Lambeth, on 14 Jan. 1767 (Par. Reg.)

Paltock's fame rests enduringly on his original and fascinating romance, entitled ‘The Life and Adventures of Peter Wilkins, a Cornish Man … With an Introduction by R. S., a passenger in the Hector,’ 2 vols. 12mo, London, 1751; with plates by Boitard. It is dedicated to Elizabeth, countess of Northumberland, whom Paltock took (so he gallantly assured her) as the prototype of his enchanting heroine Youwarkee. The introduction and dedication are signed with the initials ‘R. P.,’ and for many years the author's full name was unknown. But in the ‘Monthly Magazine’ for December 1802 (p. 379) a correspondent signing himself ‘Libernatus’ gave the author's name correctly, and added that the present was not the original title, ‘that being “Peter Pantile,” or something like it, which the booksellers objected to.’ It has been plausibly suggested that Paltock named his hero after John Wilkins, bishop of Chester, who, in the second part of his ‘Mathematical Magick,’ had seriously discussed the question whether men could acquire the art of flying. The original agreement for the sale of the manuscript of ‘Peter Wilkins’ was brought to light in 1835 at a sale of books and manuscripts which had once belonged to Robert Dodsley the publisher, and was acquired by James Crossley [q. v.] of Manchester, a portion of whose library was sold in 1884. According to this document, Paltock received for the copyright 20l., twelve copies of the book, and ‘the cuts of the first impression’ (proof impressions of the illustrations). Some copies of the book are said to be dated 1750, which is probable, as it appears in the list of new books announced in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ for November 1750. An edition appeared immediately afterwards at Dublin, so the book must have had some sale, despite the sneering criticism of the ‘Monthly Review.’ A new edition appeared at London in 1783, and another at Berwick in 1784. It was included in Weber's ‘Popular Romances,’ 1812, and published separately, with some charming plates by Stothard, in 1816, 2 vols. 12mo. Within the last fifty years it has been frequently issued, entire or mutilated, in a popular form. An excellent reprint of the original edition, with some of the quaint plates by Boitard, was published under the editorship of Mr. A. H. Bullen in 1884, 2 vols. 8vo. ‘Peter Wilkins’ afforded material for a pantomime, ‘with songs,’ produced at Sadler's Wells in 1800. A ‘melodramatic spectacle in two acts,’ founded on the romance, was acted at Covent Garden on 16 April 1827 (printed in vol. xxv. of Lacy's ‘Acting Edition of Plays’). In 1763 a French translation by Philippe Florent de Puisieux was issued at Paris, 3 vols. 16mo, and was included in vols. xxii.–xxiii. of De Perthe's ‘Voyages Imaginaires’ (1788–9). A German translation was published in 1767 at Brunswick, 8vo.

Of ‘Peter Wilkins’ Coleridge is reported to have spoken in terms of enthusiastic admiration (Table-Talk, ed. 1851, pp. 331–2). Southey, in a note on a passage of the ‘Curse of Kehama,’ says that Paltock's winged people ‘are the most beautiful creatures of imagination that ever were devised,’ and adds that Sir Walter Scott was a warm admirer of the book. With Charles Lamb at Christ's Hospital the story was a favourite; while Leigh Hunt never wearied of it (cf. his essays in London Journal, 5 Nov. 1834; Book for a Corner, ed. 1868, i. 68).

In 1751 appeared a dull tale called ‘Memoirs of the Life of Parnese, a Spanish Lady: interspersed with the story of Beaumont and Sarpeta. Translated from the Spanish manuscript, by R. P., Gent.,’ London, 12mo. As it is dedicated to Frances (1723–1810), wife of Commodore Matthew Mitchell or Michell (1706–1752), M.P., of Chitterne, Wiltshire, who was Paltock's second cousin, there can be no doubt that Paltock was the author, although the book is unworthy of him.

Paltock has been doubtfully identified with the ‘R. P., Biographer,’ who published in 1753 ‘Virtue Triumphant and Pride Abased in the Humorous History of Dicky Gotham and Doll Clod’ (Notes and Queries, 5th ser. ix. 372). The ‘Monthly Review,’ in some six lines of condemnation, considers it to have been written for the express entertainment of the kitchen, but no details are given, and no copy of the book is accessible.

[Athenæum, 2 Aug. 1884 p. 145, 16 Aug. 1884 p. 206, 14 Feb. 1885, p. 215; Introduction to Peter Wilkins, ed. Bullen, 1884; Boase and Courtney's Bibl. Cornub.; Boase's Collect. Cornub.; Will of Edward Curll in P.C.C. 186, Vere; Will of Robert Paltock in P.C.C. 105, Gee, 1705; Clutterbuck's Hertfordshire, ii. 119; Hoare's Wiltshire—Hundred of Heytesbury, i. 172, 174–5; Hutchins's Dorset, 1803, ii. 603; Allibone's Dict. ii. 1495; cf. both Foster's and Harleian Society's editions of Chester's London Marriage Licenses; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. xii. 445, 8th ser. viii. 204.]

G. G.