The Mediterranean exercised a particularly strong attraction for the British and even more so for British writers. According to Paul Fussell,
To sketch the history of the British imaginative intercourse with the Mediterranean in modern times is virtually to present a survey of modern British literature…. The Mediterranean is the model for the concept south, and it is a rare Briton whose pulses do not race at mention of that compass direction. 1
Britons, just like other northern Europeans, visited the South, particularly Italy, for varied purposes—to tour classical ruins, study Renaissance art, bask in the sun, experience exotic lands or escape from their homeland. For some there was also a sexual, or homosexual, purpose in the voyage. 2 As with Winckelmann and Platen, cultural interest and sexual longing went hand in hand, and in the Mediterranean the British could try to satisfy both appetites.
British homosexuals had an especially pragmatic reason for going to the Mediterranean: persecution of homosexuals in Britain. Until the 1860s, homosexual acts were punishable by death under British law, and from that date a sentence of life imprisonment could be imposed. At the end of the eighteenth century, judges still sent convicted sodomites to the pillory, where the battering they received from mobs sometimes resulted in maiming, blindness or death. The early nineteenth century saw a rise in prosecutions of sodomites. For those who escaped capital punishment or imprisonment, conviction could bring fines, social ruin and suffering.
Despite such punishments, a lively ‘homosexual’ subculture existed in Georgian London, complete with meeting places, a slang vocabulary and coded signals for recognition. 3 Pleas for changes in the law were regularly heard; Edmund Burke counted among those who expressed outrage at the fate of homosexuals sent to the pillory. The most adamant demand for acceptance of homosexuals was in the writings of Jeremy Bentham, moral philosopher, scholar and promoter of utilitarianism. Bentham wrote lengthy manuscripts about the need for toleration of sodomites and even