Faulconer’s Voyage

Today I bring you the second in a series of posts about the books we are slowly identifying as part of Fielding Lewis’s personal library.  You can read more about the library project here.  As you may recall, I mentioned that while the 1781 probate inventory provides us with a list of the titles in Fielding’s library, that list still requires quite a bit of research.  The inventory-taker often used only partial titles, or in some cases substituted the author’s name for the title of a book.  Today’s subject is a perfect example of exactly how confusing this list can be at times.

The seventh item in Fielding’s library inventory reads, “Faulconers Voyage 1 Volo”.  The valuation column is torn at this point on the page, so we do not know its value.  Our research has led us to speculate that “Faulconers Voyage” refers to a somewhat mysterious book entitled The Voyages, Dangerous Adventures and Imminent Escapes of Captain Richard Falconer, published in London by William Rufus Chetwood.  Why mysterious? Well, there are several odd circumstances surrounding this book. First, although it appears that the book is written by this Captain Falconer as true-life account of his career at sea, it may actually be a work of fiction.  Captain Falconer has never been identified as a real person.  The leading candidate for the real author is the man listed as the book’s publisher – William Rufus Chetwood.

Chetwood is the next rather mysterious element of the book’s story.  Not much is known about him at all.  He was either English or Irish, and although his birth date is unknown, he was actively publishing manuscripts by 1713. In that year, he is listed as the publisher for an interesting work called A Poem on the Memorable Fall of Chloe’s P-s Pot, which has been attributed to Jonathan Swift.  Thereafter, his name shows up again and again as a publisher of poems and plays.  He also penned quite a few plays for the stage during his career, some of which had modest success.  Towards the end of his life, he suddenly started writing adventure novels, most of which had to do with the sea and sea-going vessels, including the 1736 novel The Voyages, Travels and Adventures of Captain W.O.G. Vaughn, which was very similar to Captain Falconer, except that Chetwood claimed authorship of it.  This sudden interest in sea adventures has led to speculation that Chetwood may have spent his early years on a sailing vessel, perhaps explaining why there are so few records of his early days. In any case, none of Chetwood’s work in the theater, as a publisher or as a novelist amounted to much in the way of income.  While his birth date is unknown, his date of death is exact: March 3rd, 1766.  That date is found in the records of The Marshalsea, a debtors’ prison in Dublin.

The date of publication for Captain Falconer is the last bit of mystery surrounding the book. Chetwood’s seagoing works do not show up prior to the mid-1730′s, but a copy of Captain Falconer sold at Bonham’s in 2012 shows it’s publication date as 1720 inside the front cover.  Did Chetwood make an early attempt to sell one of his seafaring novels as a real-life account? When that failed to garner much interest, perhaps he switched to advertising his work as fiction?

Captain Falconer is just one of many novels included in Fielding Lewis’s personal library, making his collection a little different than the standard assortment owned by Virginia gentlemen of the day.  Most of the social elites who could afford to amass a library stocked it with philosophical works, treatises on law and science, perhaps some titles dealing with medicine.  And while those types of books also make an appearance in Fielding’s office, his collection has more than its share of adventure and intrigue.  The inclusion of Captain Falconer may be a nod to Fielding’s lifelong association with merchant vessels, both his father’s fleet and his own.  In any case, it certainly shows a glimpse of a man who read for fun and pleasure, as well as education.

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