Academic journal article Connotations : a Journal for Critical Debate

From Scotland to the Holy Land: Renegotiating Scottish Identity in the Pilgrim Narrative of William Lithgow*

Academic journal article Connotations : a Journal for Critical Debate

From Scotland to the Holy Land: Renegotiating Scottish Identity in the Pilgrim Narrative of William Lithgow*

Article excerpt

I. An Unlikely Pilgrim

That an early modern Presbyterian Scot deeply distrustful of Catholics and Papist practices and highly suspicious of the beliefs and actions of Islamic "infidels" should undertake a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, then part of the Ottoman Empire, seems an unlikely event. That he should arrive there in a caravan guarded by Turks, tour sacred sites with Catholic guides, acquire relics, and attempt to serve an intermediary role between King James VI /I and the Catholic Padre Guardiano of Jerusalem on his return appears even more improbable. But such is the case of William Lithgow of Lanark, Scotland, who, six years after the Union of the Crowns, set out on a lengthy journey, chiefly on foot, that included a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Lithgow details his adventures in the Levant and elsewhere in his travel narrative first published in 1614 as A most delectable, and true discourse, of an admired and painefull peregrination from Scotland, to the most famous kingdomes in Europe, Asia and Affricke and later renamed The totali discourse, of the rare adventures, and painefull peregrinations of long nineteene yeares travayles, from Scotland, to the most famous kingdomes in Europe, Asia and Affrica. Lithgow revised, expanded, and added illustrations and prefatory material to his travelogue during his lifetime - other versions appearing in 1616, 1623, 1632, and 1640 - taking into account new journeys as well as changing personal and historical circumstance.1

At first glance, the experiences of WiUiam Lithgow (1582-C.1645) in Europe, Asia, and Africa, in which the Turk, Arab, and Moor are often negatively stereotyped, seem to lend themselves to post-colonial readings, but Linda CoUey, Nabil Matar, and others have rightly cautioned against imposing a colonialist or imperiaUst hermeneutic on works like Rare Adventures which contain little material on colonial efforts.2 As CoUey reminds us in Captives: Britain, Empire and the World, 1600-1850, early modern British subjects were routinely captured and enslaved in foreign lands, deprived of their agency and power. Matar details this disempowerment of "European Christians" in countries under Islamic rule in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, emphasizing that "[n]o MusUm fell on his knees before a Briton: rather he hunted down, humihated, and often held captive, the 'Goure' (fca/ir, infidel) who could not but submit to the indignity" (Islam in Britain 4). William Lithgow is all too aware of his status as a member of both subjugated ethnic and religious groups that suffer indignities in the Holy Land. In this capacity, he is the object of the Turkish gaze and is regularly referred to as a "Frank" - a term used by the Ottoman colonizers of the Holy Land and neighbouring nations to describe a person of "Western nationaUty" (OED "Frank" n? and a? A.2.). Lithgow's Scottishness and Protestantism, from the perspective of the Turk, is elided, and he is reduced simply to the nebulous and inferior Western Christian 'other.'

This is not to say that aspects of "colonial or imperial fantasies" (Nayar 2) do not appear in non-colonial early modern British works such as Rare Adventures. Matar proves the contrary in Turks, Moors, and Englishmen in the Age of Discovery, arguing that it was all too common for the British to transfer the language used to describe colonized American Indians onto the Oriental colonizer in the Ottoman Empire in a bid to feel superior despite the obvious subjection of the British to the Turk (16). More recently, in English Writing and India, 1600-1920, Pramod K. Nayar shows that, in describing their pre-colonial experiences in South Asia, the British often imagined India in terms of the marveUous and monstrous, categories Edward Said associates with Orientalism (2). Nevertheless, though similar images of alterity appear in colonial and non-colonial texts, the latter should not be read in terms of British colonization or empire building since they do not operate within a framework of "an insidious and all-powerful imperialism" nor draw on "a systematic discourse of power and knowledge" (Melman 107). …

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