Travel Writing 1700-1830: An Anthology (Oxford World's Classics)

by Various | Travel |
ISBN: 9780192840516 Global Overview for this book
Registered by LittleBigDave of Selby, North Yorkshire United Kingdom on 10/26/2008
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Journal Entry 1 by LittleBigDave from Selby, North Yorkshire United Kingdom on Sunday, October 26, 2008
Conflict and Opposition on The Grand Tour –

This essay will look at different types of conflict and opposition that occured and were written about within The Grand Tour and 18th Century travel writing. Focussing primarily, but not entirely on the works of Tobias Smollett, Laurence Sterne and James Boswell it will address the problems that could arise due to tourism within a country that is experiencing military conflict; it will examine the case of the splenetic traveller versus the sentimental traveller by looking at the motivations and ideological approaches of each style and the essay will also look at the differences and similarities between factual, didactic travelogues and fictional picaresque style novels of the time, examining the similarities and differences and how each was affected and influenced by the other and how the use of fact and fiction were reconciled within each genre.

The Grand Tour started as a tradition in which young English gentlemen of affluent family background supplemented their formal university education by taking trips to Europe, ostensibly with the intention of learning about foreign cultures, manners and traditions. The writings of the Grand Tour were originally intended to be objective and unbiased reporting of the traveller’s findings. In the 1660s the Royal Society published instructions for scientific travellers, calling for accurate observation and a sober, unadorned prose style (Bohls & Duncan, 2005: xxiii). In reality this was not always strictly adhered to and many travel writings of the time, both factual and otherwise, stand out specifically because of their subjective narrative style. The writings of The Grand Tour were extremely popular in their era and helped give rise to the travel novel and also to commercial tourism and package holidays as we know them today, yet Grand Tourists, essentially the first tourists, were covering entirely new ground and venturing into the unknown, this brought with it many opportunities for conflict, difficulties and clashed of culture.

Arguably one of the most notable and important points of conflict that is to be witnessed in the Grand Tour writings is the conflict between the indigenous population and the tourists, especially when the writer is travelling in a country that is in the midst of military dispute or uprising. One such instance of this is the French Revolution, which rather than preventing tourism, in some cases encouraged British travellers to go observe and document the events happening. Jeremy Black writes,

The Revolution had two apparently contradictory consequences for tourists. On the one hand it made more tourism more difficult, if not, really or apparently, hazardous. On the other it made France, in particular Paris, more exciting to visit. As many tourists were young men… difficulties did not outweigh the excitement but increased it (Black; 2004: 345)

Sometimes this curiosity was misjudged and the reception for British tourists, or strangers in general was not always favourable in these turbulent times and brought its own conflict for the visiting tourist. Arthur Young experienced this when travelling to France during the Revolution with the intention of examining the wealth and national resources of the country. Young wrote from an anthropological and rather detached standpoint at times,
I was for two hours a spectator at different places of the scene… near enough to see a fine lad of about 14 crushed to death by something as he was handing plunder to a woman, I suppose his mother, from the horror pictured in her countenance (Bohls & Duncan, 2005: 45).

This passage the shows Young’s detachment and lack of concern for the importance of what is happening and later on when Young stumbles into trouble and is threatened with hanging for not wearing a ‘cockade’ he writes, “had I not declared myself an Englishman, and ignorant of the ordinance, I had not escaped very well” (Bohls & Duncan, 2005: 45) this attitude shows the dangers the Grand Tourist faced when visiting countries during times of war. If not fully understanding the correct protocols or the implications of being a foreigner in a war torn country the dangers were exacerbated and it was easy to stumble blindly into potentially dangerous, and possibly fatal situations. Like most Grand Tourists Young was never one to pass up an opportunity to promote British ideals and traditions and used this dangerous opportunity to educate the French peasants whome he was being accosted by on the workings of the British taxation system and how its implementation in France may improve their lot, this resulted in Youngs writing, “they gave me a bit of a huzza, and I had no more interruption from them” (Bohls & Duncan, 2005: 45).

Not all confrontations ended so amicably, Tobia Smollett was apt to react with venom to any affront or imagined slight he suffered at the hands of a local whilst abroad. Tobias Smollett was the archetypal splenetic traveller; inspired to embark upon his journeys abroad at the behest of his physicians on account of his ill health which made him susceptible to illness in the damp British weather Smollett left Britain in search of sunnier, drier climes in the hope of combating his affliction. This failing health, plus grief over the loss of his only daughter were undoubtedly a contributing factor in Smollett’s short temper and often dour attitude to travel.

Smollett’s travel writing, whilst didactic and informative to some extent also had an ulterior purpose that was served by his subjective and splenetic attitude. Throughout his travels Smollett constantly compares and contrasts the countries he is visiting with England, invariably finding the host country and the hosts themselves lacking in some way in comparison to his homeland and his countrymen. In this sense Smollett’s writing was less about integration and learning about other countries and cultures so much as about experiencing other cultures with a view to denigrating them in order to strengthen British identity and perpetuate the belief of British superiority over other nations, in his own mind and in the minds of his readers. Smollett’s spleen is evident in his many tirades against the French,
If a Frenchman is admitted into your family, and distinguished
by repeated marks of your friendship and regard, the first return
he makes for your civilities is to make love to your wife, if she
is handsome; if not, to your sister, or daughter, or niece. If
he suffers a repulse from your wife, or attempts in vain to
debauch your sister, or your daughter, or your niece, he will,
rather than not play the traitor with his gallantry, make his
addresses to your grandmother (Smollett, 1979: 59)

Yet more reports of the French character and manners read in a similar vein,

If a Frenchman is capable of real friendship, it must certainly be the most disagreeable present he can possibly make to a man of a true English character… If there were five hundred dishes at table, a Frenchman will eat of all of them, and then complain he has no appetite… The French have the most ridiculous fondness for their hair (Smollett, 1979: 60).

Two distinct styles that are in opposition to each other are that of the splenetic traveller, as characterised by Smollett and the sentimental traveller. Each of these approaches to travel writing has distinctly different ideologies and aims and there is a marked dichotomy between the splenetic traveller’s and the sentimental traveller’s opinions of the countries they are visiting. It was passages such as these vitriolic attacks on the French that inspired Sterne to parody Smollett and his splenetic effusions in his own travel writing, the novel A Sentimental Journey. Sterne writes of Smollett, here depicted as the character Smelfungus,

The learned Smelfungus travelled from Boulogne to Paris-- from Paris to Rome--and so on--but he set out with the spleen and jaundice, and every object he pass'd by was discoloured or distorted--He wrote an account of them, but 'twas nothing but the account of his miserable feelings (Sterne: 2003: 24)

Sterne’s protagonist Mr Yorick is the antithesis to Smollett’s splenetic traveller. Yorick is a ‘feeling man’ with very different motivations and ideologies to Smollett. Sentimental Journey attempts to extol the virtues of decorum, good manners and tolerance in a bid to help people of all cultures get along with each other in all the encounters they may share. It is no coincidence that as well as being a novelist Sterne was also an Anglican clergyman, and writer of religious sermons. In some ways the philanthropic and benevolent dogmas being championed in Sentimental Journey are an extension of Sterne’s own religious based beliefs, his fiction here being infused with his true feelings. Yorick’s belief system tells the reader that to deny the spleen and travel forth with a positive attitude allows one to appreciate the full beauty of ones surroundings and those one meets.

James Boswell it seems found a happy medium between integration and self promotion. In a picaresque style Boswell travelled to various countries, meeting people of note and whilst being friendly and self deprecating at times he was also unabashed and unafraid to ask for favours in order to further his reputation and social standing, going so far as to use his family connections in order to request the Order of Fidelity from the Margrave of Baden-Durlach whilst visiting him.

Each of these writers had a very different approach to travel writing, so far as to be in opposition with each other, and each had their critics. One main criticism was the issue of fact versus fiction in their writings. Frank Brady, implying that Boswell may have adapted his image and sometimes become a caricature of himself says, “Boswell was willing to create ‘a dramatic persona for the sake of his book’ whatever the cost to his reputation” (Brady: 1972). Whilst Boswell is quoted as saying of one of Smollett’s critics, Philip Thicknesse,
All travellers generally mean to tell the truth; though Thicknesse observes, upon Smollett’s account of his alarming a whole town in France by firing a blunderbuss, and frightening a French nobleman till he made him tie on his portmanteau, that he would be loth to say Smollett had told two lies in one page; but he had found the only town in France where these two things could happen (Grant; 1977: 17).

These are just two of many examples of the mingling of fact and fiction in Grand Tour travel writing. Factual travelogues helped to give rise to the travel novel and many authors such as Fielding, Defoe and Smollett wrote both fact and fiction and used many of the same methods, such as the use of local knowledge and the inclusion of foreign dialects in both writings in order to convey an air of authenticity and also to continue the trend of promoting British superiority; being some of the first visitors to document a supposedly, by British standards, savage and uncivilised land gives much scope for hyperbole and invention. Here the didactic travel writer is able to document and inform whilst at the same time feed the readers lust for excitement and exoticism. Chloe Chard says,

a traveller engaged in translating the foreign into discourse will set himself or herself the task of producing an effect of pleasure by imposing on the topography of foreignness a demand for some sort of dramatic departure from the familiar and the mundane… the travel writer who finds a lack of evidence of otherness within the foreign can always invent such otherness - or, at least, conjure it up through some form of rhetorical ‘duperie’ (Chard; 1999: 2)

This shows us that whilst travelogues were essentially documentations of a traveller’s experiences they were also subjectively written and apt to be tainted by the need to enthral the reader with something more than just clinical facts and observations, so it is natural that the likes of Smollet and Sterne, in reciting to the reader their anecdotes, will undoubtedly transgress hard fact and give personal accounts that are, if not fictional, clouded by personal bias and judgement.

This intertwining of fact and fiction in didactic travelogues may have helped give rise to the travel novel, a genre that came close behind the travelogue and whose novels often used their similarity to factual travel writings as a marketing tool. These novels, in a sense were a mirror image of the travel writing in that they were fictional stories infused with realism in order to create a façade of authenticity. Smollett’s novel Roderick Random was, like most travelogues, written as a first person narrative and contained many accurate descriptions of geographical locations, as did his novel Humphrey Clinker. Eliakim Littell writes of Humphrey Clinker,

The Scotticism of " Humphry Clinker " is unmistakeable. The best parts of the book are unquestionably those describing the Scotch portion of the tour, and these are written with an accuracy as to places, persons, and names, which shows that it was Smollett's intention in the book to enlighten English ignorance as to the state of the northern part of the island (Littell; 2005: 665)

This novel, like Smollett’s factual work was both factual accurate in parts, yet was also satirical and caustic of the Scottish societies and cities depicted within it. Because many authors of the travel novel had themselves taken part in the Grand Tour and had travelled to many of the countries they wrote about in their novels their fiction was based on real life experienced and rooted in fact. This shows how the factual travelogue and the travel novel each had a great influence on the other and shared many similarities despite ostensibly being entirely different; one factual the other fictional.

This all shows us that many types of conflict occurred during and because of the Grand Tour and this is reflected in the different types of literary texts that it spawned and inspired. Whilst much of the conflict was rooted in violence such as the French Revolution, and much of it was contentious like the squabbling between Smollett and his hosts, the accusations of fraud and fabrication and the satirising of some authors by other authors it is these things that helped the Grand Tour transcend the genre of mere guide book travel writing and made it transform into such an exciting and varied genre that has spanned the centuries to still keep people’s interests to this day. The texts of the Grand Tour captured the interest of the whole nation and generated a curiosity about overseas and domestic travel that in it’s teaching Britons about the architecture, culture, traditions and ways of life in various countries helped, to a degree, combat the xenophobic mistrust of foreigners and helped to create the booming tourist industry in place presently. The Grand Tour also had a far reaching literary impact, for one thing, Daniel Defoe’s novel Robinson Crusoe was largely inspired by travel writing of the time and was labelled the first British novel, this shows that the Grand Tour has helped to shape both factual and fictional literature and made the literary world what it what it is today.


Primary Sources:

Smollett, T, (1979), Travels Through France and Italy: Oxford University Press

Sterne, L, (2003), A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy by Mr Yorick: Oxford University Press

Secondary Sources:

Black, J, (2004), The British Abroad: The Grand Tour in the Eighteenth Century: Sutton Publishing Limited

Bohls, A & Duncan, I, (2005), Travel Writing 1700 – 1830: An Anthology: Oxford University Press

Chard, C (1999), Pleasure and Guilt on the Grand Tour: Travel writing and imaginative geography 1600 – 1830: Manchester University Press

Grant, D, (1977), Tobia Smollett: A Study in Style: Manchester University Press

Littell, E (2005) The Living Age: University of Michigan

Internet Sources:

Boswell’s Self Presentation and His Critics
Frank Brady (1972) Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 12, No. 3, Restoration and Eighteenth Century pp. 545-555
(accessed: 27th April 2008)

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