William Falconer (1732–1770) suffered a catastrophic shipwreck as a young man, which became the subject of his celebrated poem The Shipwreck (1762), with revised and extended editions in 1764 and 1769. He is also the compiler of the Dictionary of the Marine which remained the standard work of nautical reference until the end of the sailing ship. Largely forgotten through the 20th century, Falconer's work is now being recognised as a significant and unique contribution to our understanding of the literature, and indeed the world view, of the eighteenth century. This essay traces his life and intellectual development from an impoverished childhood to a career in both the merchant and Royal Navy, and to distinguished achievements as poet, sea-scientist and lexicographer.

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