Disseminating Walter’s narrative

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, Features, Issue 5 (Sept/Oct 2011), Volume 19

Richard Walter’s narrative was to become an eighteenth-century bestseller. With more than 1,800 advance subscribers, in England it went through four further editions before the end of 1748. Extracts were published in serial form in periodicals, the fullest in London’s popular Gentleman’s Magazine. The first French edition appeared in 1749. It appeared in the private libraries of such notables as historian Edward Gibbon and was read by Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein. The South Seas were a popular setting for fiction. Tobias Smollett’s novel The adventures of Roderick Random, published anonymously in 1748, rewrote the wreck of the Wager, Anson’s store ship. Dr James Lind dedicated his treatise on scurvy, published in 1753, to Anson. The hero of Jean Jacques Rousseau’s novel Julie ou la nouvelle Heloise (1761) sails with Anson, and on his return finds that the heroine has created an idyllic English-style garden, which reminds him of the wild paradises he had seen with Anson, the islands of Tinian and Juan Fernández. William Cowper’s poem The Castaway, written in 1799 and published in 1803, is based on an incident from Anson’s circumnavigation. Cowper depicts with tragic power the suffering of a seaman swept overboard and awaiting death by drowning.

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