Religion in the Age of Enlightenment


Religion in the Age of Enlightenment, Robert Paltock


The only extant eighteenth-century review of Robert Paltock's The Life and Adventures of Peter Wilkins, a Cornish Man (1750) compares the novel to both Gulliver's Travels (1726) and Robinson Crusoe (1719), claiming that Paltock attempts to blend qualities of those two books but fails because there is "no very natural conjunction" between them. The reviewer's judgment, however, seems excessively harsh-in fact, positioning Peter Wilkins between these two novels makes a great deal of sense. Like Crusoe, Peter Wilkinsfeatures a reasonable, Whiggish male protagonist who, through labor and solitude, undergoes a spiritual transformation while stranded on a deserted island. What is more, after living on the island a number of years, Peter encounters a nation of natives inhabiting the islands surrounding his own and attempts to convert and civilize them. The second half of the novel diverges greatly from Crusoe's topical realism, depicting Peter's encounters with an island nation of flying people. Indeed, the fantastic nature of the flying islanders is less reminiscent of Crusoe's cannibals than of Gulliver's Lilliputians, Brobdingnagians, and Houyhnhnms.

Peter describes these fantastic flying people in the dispassionate tone of both Gulliver's Travels and Robinson Crusoe, though the narration lacks the obviously sardonic undercurrent of the former or the sense of plausibility of the latter. That the social commentary in Peter Wilkins is less immediately apparent than the social commentary offered in Gulliver's Travels is, no doubt, the source of the reviewer's consternation and of what he terms the text's "unmeaning extravagancies."