Academic journal article Explorations in Renaissance Culture

Fashioning Familiar Space in the Domestic Travel Writing of John Taylor the Water-Poet

Academic journal article Explorations in Renaissance Culture

Fashioning Familiar Space in the Domestic Travel Writing of John Taylor the Water-Poet

Article excerpt

In the last of his travel accounts, The Certain Travailes of an Uncertain Journey, written shortly before his death in December of 1653, John Taylor the Water-Poet reflects on the motivations of travelers and more specifically on the significance of traveling upon domestic soil:

   Some do disdain, and hold it in high scorn
   To know thatcht cottages where they were born
   Some cross the sea to see strange lands unknown
   And heer, like strangers, do not know their own.

   Nosce Teipsum, know thy selfe, and then
   Each one will know himselfe the worst of men.
   Many of foreign travels boast and vaunt,
   When they, of England, are most ignorant.
   But yearly I survey my country native,
   And, 'mongst 6 cases, live upon the dative. (Chandler 284-85)

Responding to the profound increase in the number of English travel ventures abroad during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, Taylor expresses concern about the consequences of turning attention away from one's homeland. (1)

In Taylor's time, foreign travel was typically viewed as an enriching experience, both for individuals exposing themselves to a wealth of customs and practices (including the opportunity to learn foreign vernacular languages) and for the political and commercial interests of the state. (2) Taylor's lines, however, transform foreign travel into a potentially detrimental enterprise whereby English travelers abroad become strangers to their native land, physically and intellectually distant from home. Taylor, in turn, defends his annual domestic journeys as an opportunity for self-discovery. As such, "liv[ing] upon the dative" suggests the travels shape Taylor, much as the dative case acts upon and thus defines its subject. Indeed, to know one's country is to know oneself, but Taylor does not simply advocate this by exploiting clear-cut distinctions between self and other. Rather, he undertakes idiosyncratic domestic travel ventures and appropriates the discourse of travel writing dealing in exotic encounters abroad to establish a distinctly English authorial persona predicated upon notions of English civility and hospitable reception among readers, hosts, and others encountered in the course of his ventures. Whether distinguishing himself from English travelers abroad who have become strangers to their own land, crossing unsettled boundary lines such as the one dividing England and Scotland in the early seventeenth century, or encountering xenophobic English villagers who treat him as a threatening outsider, Taylor negotiates transitional spaces between the familiar and the foreign to promote himself and his textual output. (3)

While Taylor had journeyed abroad on several occasions (to Prague and Germany around 1617 and to Cadiz and other parts of Spain while serving in Elizabeth's navy several decades earlier), the Water-Poet distinguished himself throughout his writing career first and foremost as a domestic traveler. Over the course of nearly four decades, Taylor undertook frequent idiosyncratic travel ventures within the Atlantic Archipelago. (4) These include such noteworthy feats as walking penniless on a wager from Southwark to Edinburgh while relying entirely on the generosity of hosts along the way, rowing from London to Kent in a boat made of brown paper, and sailing a tiny wherry on the open sea to Salisbury.

Throughout these efforts and more generally in his career as a Thames waterman and an aspiring writer, Taylor staunchly supported an ideal of Englishness firmly bound to the monarchy and its commitment to conservative Anglican values. (5) While this loyalty to king and country is most overtly apparent in Taylor's civil war era pamphlets, in which he condemns Puritan detractors and voices his own unwavering support for the Royalist cause, Taylor's travel writing serves his strong nationalist commitment in less openly political ways. Some critics have suggested that Taylor's democratizing strategies of self-promotion stand in sharp contrast to his support of conservative Royalist and anti-populist values, particularly during the civil war period. …

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