English Travellers in the Near East

English Travellers in the Near East

English Travellers in the Near East

English Travellers in the Near East

Excerpt

Even the serious and relatively reliable works on the Levant published in the eighteenth century rarely possessed lasting merit. This is not surprising, for their authors were chiefly concerned with conveying a quantity of miscellaneous information. The framework--philosophical, historical, geographical--was usually much the same as Sandys had employed, but lesser writers used it to lesser effect. The chief differences in presentation are those that we should expect from a later and politer age. There is an increasing emphasis on antiquities and archaeology, and with the Earl of Sandwich's visit (1738-9) the Levant becomes an extension of the Grand Tour. That the travelling gentleman tends slowly to replace the traveller reflects the fact that the East was becoming accessible. As the power of the Grand Signior declined and European prestige increased, it was possible, at least for the wealthy, to travel in safety and with a certain ease.

Mere information about foreign parts, if it is to interest, must be fresh. Thus most of the eighteenth-century travellers are now unreadable. Three of them, however, call for special mention. As wife of the English ambassador, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu reached Constantinople in 1717. For the next year she recorded her impressions and activities in a series of letters to her friends. An intelligent, inquisitive woman, possessing considerable breadth of outlook, she welcomed contact with an unfamiliar society, and shrewdly noted that 'the manners of mankind do not differ so widely as our voyage writers would make us believe'. The picture of Turkish life which she draws is sympathetic, frank, and accurate; further, as a letter-writer, she could present with agreeable informality the facts for which her correspondents were avid and which so overburden the writings of most contemporary travellers. She was among the first authors to . . .

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