News from Abroad: Letters Written by British Travellers on the Grand Tour, 1728-71
The volume gathers together, and allows the reader to explore, the diverse experiences of a group of quite unconnected young, wealthy travellers as they made their way through 18th century Europe towards Rome and conveyed their views by letters to friends and family at home.
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Description of this Book
This book provides a selection of private letters written to family and friends from a variety of people while they were on the Grand Tour in the eighteenth century. Although many have been published previously, this is the first time that letters of this kind have been brought together in a single volume. Readers can compare the various responses of travellers to the sights, pleasures and discomforts encountered on the journey. People of diverse backgrounds, with different expectations and interests, give personal accounts of their particular experiences of the Grand Tour. Unlike most collections of letters from the Tour, which recount the views of a single person, this selection emphasises diversity. Readers can juxtapose for example the letters of a conscientious young nobleman like Lyttelton with those of the excitable philanderer Boswell, or the well-travelled aristocratic lady, Caroline Lennox. While the travellers represented here follow much the same route via Paris, through France and across the Alps via the terrifying Mount Cenis, to Rome, in the pursuit of learning and pleasure, the Tour turns out to mean something quite different to each of them.
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||News from Abroad Letters Written by British Travellers on the Grand Tour, 1728-1771 James T. Boulton and T.O. McLoughlin (eds) Liverpool University Press 293pp GBP75 'A man who has not been in Italy is always conscious of an inferiority', declared Dr Johnson. 'The grand object of travelling is to see the shores of the Mediterranean.' With this same grand object in view, 18th-century travellers set off to Paris and Geneva, thence across hazardous Alpine passes to reach Turin and Milan. Some then turned eastwards to Venice, others headed south via Bologna and Florence to Rome, the ultimate culture capital, with a jaunt to Naples if they were lucky and a journey home enlivened by visits to Germany's numerous princely courts. News From Abroad offers us five very different perspectives from the Grand Tour, based on both published letters and manuscript correspondence, written between 1730 and 1770. Two of the tourists, George Lyttelton and Caroline Lennox, were from the leading Whig echelon of the Georgian aristocracy, while another, Joseph Spence, acted as 'bear-leader' (tutor) to a young nobleman. The Irishman James Barry went to Rome expressly to improve his painting technique among the city's many artists' studios. Upwardly-mobile James Boswell's continental trip seems, on the other hand, to have had no loftier purpose than that of acquiring a touch more social polish between bouts of sex and celebrity hunting. All of them were prepared to endure major risks and discomforts along the journey. Crossing the Alps in freezing fog, Caroline Lennox felt herself lucky to be alive. 'One goes in open Chairs for six hours together, carry'd by Men up and down rocks that it seems quite impossible for anything but Goats to walk on.' Joseph Spence needed the assistance of two 'draggers' to help him scramble up Vesuvius, across the 'melted brass, lead, brimstone and earth all mixed together' to its 'vast Caldron all full of Smoak'. If French inns were 'abominable dirty', their Italian counterparts were full of 'nastiness' (politely unspecified) produced by 'shocking eaters of garlic and catchers of vermin'. Boundless curiosity and enthusiasm transcended the flea-bites, foul food, broken-winded nags and wretched roads. Spence almost drowned in a Tuscan wine vat while investigating the process of grape fermentation, Barry was prepared to shiver and starve in a Bolognese garret for the sake of what the canvases of Guido and Guercino could teach him about 'mellowing and fuoco in the colouring'. Even in a dullish Swiss town like Solothurn the irrepressible Boswell found something to enjoy. 'I have walked the ramparts. I have viewed from a Tour the Environs. I have been at a Card Assembly. I have kist ( but no more) a comely healthy Maid at my Inn. I have dined and supt at the French Ambassador's. There is my day.' Sightseeing provided a nominal objective for these visitors but most of them, other than the dutiful, highminded Barry, seem far less interested in antique ruins or old masters than in the immediate actualities of the alien worlds into which they tumbled. To Caroline Lennox, calling on Voltaire was more fun than notching up 'old Roman walls Baths etc which I don't care a pin for.' The great polemicist may have been 'an old wretch loaded with infirmitys' but he possessed 'more talents to divert people's fancy than ever I read'. This book, too, diverts our fancy, informatively introduced and edited, a continuously absorbing ensemble formed of five notably diverse voices from the Grand Tour. Jonathan Keates is the author of The Siege of Venice (Pimlico, 2006). -- Jonathan Keates History Today 201306 ... informatively introduced and edited, a continuously absorbing ensemble formed of five notably diverse voices from the Grand Tour. History Today 201306
James T. Boulton is Emeritus Professor, University of Birmingham; Hon. Professor in the School of English, Bangor University. T. O. McLoughlin is Emeritus Professor, Universite Paul Valery, Montpellier.