Grand Tour

views updated May 08 2018


GRAND TOUR. Protracted travel for pleasure was scarcely unknown in classical and medieval times, but it developed greatly in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, becoming part of the ideal education and image of the social elite as well as an important source of descriptive and imaginative literature and art. As tourism developed, its patterns became more regular, and the assumptions about where a tourist should go became more predictable. Literary conventions were also established. The term the "grand tour" reflects a subsequent sense that this was an ideal period of the fusion of tourism and social status as well as a contemporary desire to distinguish protracted and wide-ranging tourism from shorter trips.

The grand tour is commonly associated with aristocratic British travelers, more particularly with the eighteenth century. But travel for pleasure did not begin then, and it was not restricted to the British. There was a more general fascination with southern Europe among northern Europeans. The vast majority of those who had traveled to Italy over previous centuries had done so for reasons related to their work or their salvation. Soldiers and those seeking employment had shared the road with clerics discharging the tasks of the international church and pilgrims. Such travel was not incompatible with pleasure, and in some cases it fulfilled important cultural functions as travelers bought works of art or helped spread new tastes and cultural interests. This was not the same, however, as travel specifically and explicitly for personal fulfillment, both in terms of education and of pleasure, the two being seen as ideally linked in the exemplary literature of the period.

Such travel became more common in the seventeenth century, although it was affected by the religious (and political) tensions that followed the Protestant Reformation of the previous century. The war with Spain that had begun in 1585 ended in 1604, and England had only brief wars with France, Spain, and the Dutch over the following seventy years. It was no accident that the earl and countess of Arundel went to Italy in 16131614 or that a series of works on Italy, including Fynes Moryson's Itinerary (1617), appeared in the years after the Treaty of London of 1604.

However, divisions culminating in civil wars (16421646, 1648, 16881691) in the British Isles forced people to focus their time and funds on commitments at home and also made travel suspect as in some fashion indicating supposed political and religious sympathies. Concern about Stuart intentions in large part focused on the real and alleged crypto-Catholicism of the court, and this made visits to Italy particularly sensitive. The situation for tourists eased with the Stuart Restoration of 1660, and Richard Lassels, a Catholic priest who acted as a "bearleader" (traveling tutor), published in 1670 his important Voyage of Italy; or, A Compleat Journey through Italy.

The expansion of British tourism from 1660 was part of a wider pattern of elite cosmopolitan activity. Throughout Europe members of the elite traveled for pleasure in the late seventeenth century and the eighteenth century. The most popular destinations were France, which meant Paris, and Italy. Italy held several important advantages over Paris. The growing cult of the antique, which played a major role in the determination to see and immerse oneself in the experience and repute of the classical world, could not be furthered in Paris, although Paris was seen as the center of contemporary culture. There was little tourism to eastern Europe, Iberia, and Scandinavia let alone beyond Europe.

There was no cult of the countryside. Tourists traveled as rapidly as possible between major cities and regarded mountains with horror, not joy. The contrast with nineteenth-century tourism and its cult of the "sublime" dated from Romanticism toward the close of the eighteenth century, not earlier. The Italian cities offered a rich range of benefits, including pleasure (Venice), classical antiquity (Rome and its environs, the environs of Naples), Renaissance architecture and art (Florence), the splendors of baroque culture (Rome and Venice), opera (Milan and Naples), and warm weather (Naples). Once tourism had become appropriate and fashionable, increasing numbers traveled, a growth interrupted only by periods of war, when journeys, although not prohibited, were made more dangerous or inconvenient by increased disruption and lawlessness. The outbreak of the French Revolutionary War in 1792, however, led to a major break in tourism that was exacerbated when French armies overran Italy in 17961798. Thereafter tourism did not resume on any scale until after the final defeat of Napoleon in 1815.

See also Art: The Art Market and Collecting ; Italy ; Paris ; Travel and Travel Literature .


Black, Jeremy. The British Abroad: The Grand Tour in the Eighteenth Century. New York, 1992.

Jeremy Black

grand tour

views updated May 18 2018

grand tour. A standard part of the education of the English aristocracy between the Restoration and the outbreak of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars in 1789, though since it could take two or three years, it was extremely expensive and only a few could afford it. It therefore tended to be limited to elder sons. It had several objectives—to broaden the mind, to introduce the tourist to classical civilization, to encourage social grace, to improve the command of languages, to establish useful personal and diplomatic links, and to enable wild oats to be sown at a discreet distance. It was usually undertaken between the ages of 17 and 22, under the supervision as ‘bear-leader’ of a prudent clergyman, if one could be found. The tourist was frequently required to write long letters home reporting progress, and often resorted to copying from guide books to eke out inspiration: a stream of advice, exhortation, and often reproach flowed in the opposite direction. The basic tour was to Paris and on to Rome, though many variations were possible, and Holland, Germany, and the Habsburg dominions were often included. Greece and Spain were much less popular and only a few intrepid souls penetrated to Stockholm, St Petersburg, and the Ottoman empire. Many commentators, such as Smollett, Johnson, and Gibbon, disapproved, arguing that the tour encouraged habits of dissipation and that the noblemen were too young to have much appreciation of what they saw. Others were concerned that tourists might come to admire Roman catholicism, but Anglican clergy were at hand to point out superstition, and bugs and brigandage were sufficiently common to impress most travellers with the delights of home. The English ‘milord’, tutor in tow, was a well-known sight on the continent and was not popular, save among innkeepers, since he was often arrogant and complaining. ‘I find everything here so extremely inferior’, wrote J. C. Villiers from France in 1778, ‘that I glow with pride and rapture when I think that I am an Englishman.’ Some tourists came to grief. George Damer's sexual proclivities got him into a scrape in Rome in which a coachman was killed and money had to be distributed to get him off: Viscount Morpeth caught venereal disease and died at the age of 22. The advent of railways in the early 19th cent. meant that the journeys could be made in a few weeks and the tour did not survive in its traditional form.

J. A. Cannon

Grand Tour

views updated May 14 2018

Grand Tour. Obligatory Continental journey, especially taking in Italy and France, regarded as an essential part of the education of a young gentleman from the British Isles in the C18. It encouraged a sophisticated taste among the aristocracy and landed gentry, led to the formation of many great collections, gave much work to the compilers and publishers of guide-books, and promoted the cause of Palladianism and Neo-Classicism. Certain persons who had been on the Grand Tour founded the Society of Dilettanti in London in 1732.


H. Osborne (1970).

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