News from Abroad: Letters Written by British Travellers on the Grand Tour, 1728-71

News from Abroad: Letters Written by British Travellers on the Grand Tour, 1728-71

News from Abroad: Letters Written by British Travellers on the Grand Tour, 1728-71

News from Abroad: Letters Written by British Travellers on the Grand Tour, 1728-71

Excerpt

The grand tour has in recent decades become the focus of much scholarly research and comment, which understandably treats it as a striking phenomenon, a significant cultural feature of eighteenth-century life. Scholars look, as it were, from the outside in. What this volume offers is a view from the inside. The travellers speak for themselves: each responded differently, was curious about different things, enjoyed different pleasures. The Tour emerges as a vast panorama of opportunities and experiences, far wider than any individual could take in. The point is all the more evident from the fact that none of these correspondents was writing with a view to publishing his or her letters; these have an immediacy unhampered or refined by thoughts of an eventual public readership. Spence did think of publishing, but nothing came of the idea. Others followed the fashion of disseminating their ex periences to the general public. To publish one’s letters meant shaping them as a corpus, endowing seemingly impromptu and personal letters with a kind of homogeneity, and providing a discursive unity. Such a volume could then be read and criticized as a crafted response to the Tour. For example William Beckford, who published his Tour letters as Dreams, Waking Thoughts and Incidents (1783), is said by one critic to illustrate ‘the movement from North to South that the Tour entails’. The letters in this collection are strictly ‘familiar’ and informal: that is part of their distinctive appeal.

One of the advantages of the informality of many of these letters is that they are full of detailed casual observations that catch the eye, or of unusual anecdotes. Lyttelton noticed the curious use of the ballot box during the election in Genoa and how easy it was to cheat (30 November 1729); he grows weary of losing money at cards, ‘but tis no less certain that without them I shall soon be weary of Lorain. The Spirit of Codrill has possest the land; from Morning to Midnight there is nothing else in every house in town’ (21 July 1728). Spence recounts how he nearly fell into a vat of wine:

1 Chloe Chard, Pleasure and Guilt on the Grand Tour: Travel Writing and Imaginative Geography, 1600–1830 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999), 14.

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