Travel and Travel Literature

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TRAVEL AND TRAVEL LITERATURE. Travel writing was perhaps the most diverse genre of literature in early modern Europe. A single travel account contained nautical information including wind direction and speed, ocean depth, latitude and longitude, astronomical observations, and distance traveled each day. Coastlines were mapped, interiors explored, exotic plants and animals described for the first time by Europeans, or the observations of previous explorers confirmed. Accounts contained military intelligence regarding city fortifications, water supplies, populations, points of dissent that might be exploited, and notes on local commerce. Of great interest to European audiences were the customs and manners of indigenous populations encountered. All of this was rolled together and given a narrative form combining both adventure and philosophical reflection on Europe in the mirror of the other. European audiences were enthralled. Travel literature was the second-bestselling genre in the early modern era, behind only history.

Already in the sixteenth century enterprising editors began collecting the accounts of navigators and voyageurs. Richard Hakluyt's (15521616) Principal Navigations, Traffiques and Discoveries (1589) celebrated the English maritime tradition from the sixth to the sixteenth century; in a second edition he expanded his collection to include translations of French and Italian voyages as well. It is only through Hakluyt's edition that Sir Francis Drake's report of his privateering and circumnavigation of the globe survives, as the original report disappeared without being published shortly after he submitted it to Queen Elizabeth I. Hakluyt himself drew on the English precedents of Richard Eden's Decades of the New World or West India (London, 1555), which had been revised and expanded by Richard Willes in The History of Travayle (London, 1577). These in turn can be traced to the Italian collection by Giovanni Battista Ramusio, Navigationi et viaggi (Navigations and voyages, 3 vols; Venice 15501556). Hakluyt inspired several other collections and continuations of travel literature over the centuries, and in the nineteenth century a "Hakluyt Society" was founded, dedicated to the history of navigation and discovery, which exists to this day.

Useful for popular entertainment, moral edification, and scientific inquiry, travel literature also exerted direct influence on national policy. While neither Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca's (c. 14901557) urging of the Spanish crown to take a greater interest in proselytizing in Central America nor Sir Walter Raleigh's (15521618) advocacy of British exploration in greater Guiana were of direct consequence to national policy, other authors managed to get their message heard. William Dampier's A New Voyage round the World (1697), Voyages and Descriptions (1699), and A Voyage to New Holland (1704) were instrumental in directing England's attention to the Pacific, which previously had been ceded to the Spanish and the Dutch. John and Awnsham Churchill's Collection of Voyages and Travels (1704), modeled on Hakluyt and inspired by Dampier's commercial success, was a comprehensive plan for establishing naval bases in the Pacific for further exploration, commerce, and warfare. As the influence of Holland and Spain declined in the Pacific in the eighteenth century, England and France enjoined rivalry over Pacific hegemony.

England and France raced to be the first to discover the Terra Australis incognita, the southern continent believed to be a geographic necessity to balance the landmass of the northern hemisphere. In the late 1760s the British and French happened upon Tahiti nearly simultaneously. In 1767 Samual Wallis landed on the islands first, but Louis Antoine de Bougainville was in the area also from 1766 to 1769. He dispatched his scientific team to collect plant and animal specimens from the islands, and he even brought a native Tahitian named Ahutoru back to Paris. Immediately upon his return to France in 1769 Bougainville announced the discovery of the islands he named New Cythera, after the Aegean island where the goddess Venus first washed ashore. The discovery showed that the French navy could still compete with the British in the wake of the Seven Years' War (17561763), and thus it occasioned a great deal of national pride. The British responded with James Cook's first voyage (17681771), underwritten by the Royal Society, and in a separate expedition in 1774 Tobias Furneaux brought to London the Tahitian Omai, in answer to Ahutoru. Whether French, British, or Spanish, the voyages of discovery were always patriotic endeavors in addition to having geopolitical, military, and economic significance.

Travel literature created an odd association between men of action and men of letters. Shakespeare set his Tempest (c. 1611) on a spooky island, perhaps inspired by William Strachey's "True Repertory of the Wracke and Redemption of Sir Thomas Gates" in Bermuda (written 1610, published 1625). Strachey's shipmates initially found the island a desert, "onley fed with raine water, which neverthelesse soone sinketh into the earth and vanisheth away." Other places were populated by bats and indigenous people who did not respond well to the castaways' kindnesses. Shakespeare's "island seem to be a desert," (II. 1), Sebastian proposed to "go a bat-fowling" (II. 1), and the native Caliban returned Prospero's generosity by attempting to rape his daughter Miranda (I. 2). Even the sprite Ariel appeared in Strachey's account of "an apparition of a little round light, like a faint starre, trembling, and streaming along with a sparkeling blaze, halfe the height upon the Maine Mast, and shooting sometimes from Shroud to Shroud, tempting to settle as it were upon any of the four Shrouds." It remained half the night and finally disappeared at dawn. Nevertheless Strachey wanted to disabuse the English of the image of Bermuda as islands that "can be of no habitation to man, but rather given over to devils and spirits"but this is precisely the legend Shakespeare built upon.

In 17081711 one of the most influential travel writers, William Dampier, circumnavigated the globe with the privateer Woodes Rogers, who returned with both ships intact and his holds filled with exotic and expensive items, matching the success of Sir Francis Drake a century and a quarter earlier. Along the way they rescued Alexander Selkirk, who had been put ashore in the Island of Juan Fernandez in 1704 and marooned there for five years. They found Selkirk clothed in goat skins, looking "wilder than the original owners of them." He had survived by hunting and fishing and had passed the time "reading, singing Psalms and praying, so that he said he was a better Christian while in this solitude, than he ever was before." Selkirk was hailed in William Cowper's 1782 poem "The Solitude of Alexander Selkirk:" "I am monarch of all I survey." Selkirk's experience also formed the outline of one of the first English novels, Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719). Selkirk's island, some 500 miles west of Santiago, Chile, is still officially named Isla Robinson Crusoe. Even Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (1798) has a core of truth, adopted from an episode described by George Shelvocke (Voyage round the World, 1726) of being stuck in the doldrums off Cape Horn, the only sign of life "a disconsolate black albatross, who accompanied us for several days, hovering about us as if he had lost himself, till Hatley, my second captain, imagining from his color that it might be some ill-omen, after some fruitless attempts, at length shot the albatross, not doubting, perhaps, that we should have a fair wind after it." Instead that minor atrocity brought Hatley no better luck than Coleridge's ancient mariner.

James Boswell caught the travel bug while speaking with Captain Cook between Cook's second and third voyages in 1776. He told Samuel Johnson that "while I was with the Captain, I catched the enthusiasm of curiosity and adventure, and felt a strong inclination to go with him on his next voyage. JOHNSON: 'Why, Sir, a man does feel so, till he considers how very little he can learn from such voyages.' BOSWELL: 'But one is carried away with the general and distinct notion of A Voyage Round the World.' JOHNSON: 'Yes, Sir, but a man is to guard himself against taking a thing in general."' (Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson, 3 April 1776)

"The enthusiasm of curiosity and adventure"these were the allure of travel literature in the early modern period. Hardship and desperation brought out the best of human perseverance and intrepidity, whether it was the drama of Cook's crew desperately bailing water while trying to hoist the Endeavor off the Great Barrier Reef in 1771 or the exhilaration of William Bligh's arrival at Timor after sailing 1,200 leagues across the South Pacific with seventeen men in a twenty-three-foot open boat, after having been cast adrift by a mutinous crew of the Bounty. Just as exciting was George Anson's four-year Voyage round the World (1748), fraught with near disaster at every step. Storms off Cape Horn reduced a fleet of six raiders to one; raids on Spanish settlements on the west coast of South America as part of the War of the Austrian Succession (17401748) were beaten back; a treasure ship was captured; typhoon winds were so fierce that men lashed themselves to the fore-rigging to serve as sails, and one of the best was blown overboard and last seen treading water in the distance with no chance of rescue; advanced scurvy was healed with miraculous swiftness by fruit and fresh water on a South Pacific island. In scene after scene voyage accounts were a read as engaging as any modern thriller.

Only in rare cases like Dampier and Sir Walter Raleigh did men of action double as men of letters. Usually accounts of voyages around the world were ghostwritten (if not overtly so) by another author, and in the eighteenth century it was the policy of the British Admiralty board to confiscate the captains' logs and other officers' journals and turn them over to an author who collated the information and turned it into literature. In 1771, for example, John Hawkesworth was given a £6,000 advance to compile the scientific journals of Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander and Cook's logs in order to produce "the official" account of the voyage. J. Reinhold Forster thought he bore the right to fill Hawkesworth's role on Cook's second voyage for which he himself was the chief science officer, but after Hawkesworth's performance was panned in the British press, Cook asserted control over his logs and produced his own account. But even here the naval captain had considerable help from John Douglas, a canon of Windsor, in composing the narrative. Richard Owen Cambridge was assigned by the Admiralty to assist Forster, but Forster pulled out of the deal and turned his notes and journals over to his son George, who had also sailed with his father and Cook.

Not all travel in the early modern period involved overseas navigation, and many overland expeditions were specifically scientific in intent. Scientific travel marks a major change between the curiosity cabinets of the seventeenth-century collectors and the eighteenth-century project of botanical and zoological (and human) taxonomy. Following the lead of his teacher Olof Rudbeck, who in 1695 had made an overland journey to Lapland, in 1732 Carl Linnaeus crossed the Arctic Circle to the north coast of Norway, chiefly in search of plant specimens, the results of which were published as Flora Lapponica (1737). Several of Linnaeus's students traveled the globe in the taxonomic effort: Daniel Solander explored the South Pacific on Cook's first voyage; on his second voyage Cook picked up Anders Sparrmann at the Cape of Good Hope and took him around the world; Karl Peter Thunberg was the first European to visit Japan in over a century, where he offered medical information to the Japanese and took home numerous plant specimens; and Peter Forskål, traveling with a Danish Hebrew scholar and a German geographer funded by the Danish crown, sent home drawings and specimens from Egypt and Arabia before the expedition was wiped out by malaria in Yemen. J. G. Gmelin spent ten years (17331743) observing the flora and fauna of Siberia on the Russian payroll and published both a travel narrative and a scientific treatise, each in four volumes. The French also sent an expedition to Lapland in the 1730s, led by Pierre Louis Moreau de Maupertuis (16981759) not to collect plant specimens but to make astronomical observations to confirm the theory that, due to its rotation, the Earth is slightly flattened at its poles. These observations were coordinated with a simultaneous expedition to equatorial Peru led by Charles Marie de la Condamine (17011774). Most of the research journeys were governmentfunded and of national interest to the funding monarch, implicitly pitting the scientists against one another in competition. Yet there was a clear sense among the scientists themselves that they were members of an international republic of letters, and through their published travel narratives they shared their findings with each other.

As the volume of travel literature increased rapidly in the late eighteenth century, scholars began to put it to systematic use. Here the observations of travelers constituted the raw scientific data of geography and climate, of flora and fauna, and of human society and customs. In France Abbé Guillaume Thomas François Raynal (17131796) assembled a philosophical and political history of the settlements and trade of the Europeans in the East and West Indies on the basis of travel literature. Earlier in the century Anton Yves Goguet (17161758) brought a wealth of anecdotes from modern travelers to bear on ancient authors to construct a history of humanity in its earliest stages. Montesquieu's Spirit of the Laws (1748) was heavily dependent on travel reports. In Britain Henry Home, Lord Kames (16961782) and William Falconer (17441824) produced histories of global humanity from travel reports. In Germany the first glimmer of modern anthropology emerged in the reading of travel literature by Isaac Iselin (17281782), Johann Gottfried Herder (17441803), and Christoph Meiners (17471810), whose Grundriß der Geschichte der Menschheit (1785; Outline of the history of humanity) contained an eighty-page bibliography of cited travel literature.

See also Botany ; Cartography and Geography ; Colonization ; Ethnography ; Europe and the World ; Exploration ; Herder, Johann Gottfried von ; Linnaeus, Carl ; Montesquieu, Charles-Louis de Secondat de .


Primary Sources

Bougainville, Louis Antoine de. A Voyage round the World. Translated from French by Johann Rheinhold Forster. London, 1772.

Cook, James. A Voyage Towards the South Pole, and round the World Performed in His Majesty's Ships the Resolution and Adventure, in the Years 1772, 1773, 1774, and 1775. London, 1777.

Dampier, William. A New Voyage round the World. 3 vols. London, 16971709.

Forster, Georg. A Voyage round the World (1778). Edited by Nicholas Thomas and Oliver Berghof. Honolulu, 2000.

Gmelin, Johann Georg. Flora Sibirica. 4 vols. St. Petersburg, 17471769.

. Reise durch Sibirien. 4 vols. Göttingen, 17511752.

Hakluyt, Richard. The Principal Navigations, Voiages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation. 3 vols. London, 15981600.

Hawkesworth, John. An Account of the Voyages Undertaken by the Order of His Present Majesty for Making Discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere. London, 1773.

Raleigh, Walter. The Discoverie of the Large, Rich, and Beautiful Empire of Guiana. London, 1596.

Raynal, Abbé (Guillaume-Thomas-François). Histoire philosophique et politique des établissements et du commerce des Européens dans les deux Indes. 6 vols. Amsterdam, 1770.

Rogers, Woodes. A Cruising Voyage round the World. London, 1712.

Shelvocke, George. A Voyage round the World. London, 1726.

Strachey, William. "True Repertory of the Wracke and Redemption of Sir Thomas Gates." In Samuel Purchas, Hakluytus Posthumous or Purchas His Pilgrims. London, 1625. Reprinted in 20 vols. New York, 1965. Vol. 19, pp. 378.

Secondary Sources

Beaglehole, J. C. The Life of Captain James Cook. Stanford, 1974.

Elliott, J. H. The Old World and the New, 14921650. Cambridge, U.K., 1970.

Warner, Oliver. English Maritime Writing: Hakluyt to Cook. London, 1958.

Michael Carhart