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The Entertaining Traveler’s Need for Sobriety
 

Alarice Lacanlale
Modern Britain
Professor Stansky
May 30, 2000



 
 
 
 

"Here you may range the World from Pole to Pole,
Encrease your Knowledge and delight your Soul.
Travel all Nations and inform your Sense,
With Ease and Safety at a small Expence:
No Storms to meet, no Passage Sums to pay,
No Guide is wanting to direct the Way;
No Alps to climb, no Desarts here to pass,
No Ambuscades, no Thieves to give you Chace;
No Bear to dread, no Tyger near to fright,
No Flies to Sting, no Rattle Snake to bite;
No Floods to ford, no Hurricanes to fear,
No dreadful Thunder to surprize the Ear;
No Winds to freeze, no sun to scorch or fry,
No Thrift or Hunger, and Relief not nigh."
 
  --"THE," The World in Miniature (1752)


    It is almost impossible to believe that a well-seasoned traveler could exist in the eighteenth century. However, such a traveler did exist -- he covered the regions of Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Europe (an eighteenth century map of the world), – evidence of his experiences remains in his two volumes collectively entitled The World in Miniature. Not only does he share his newly-found information, but he does it in such a way that can be easily understood by almost any reader, providing intricate and detailed illustrations and maps, carefully labeled sections, and a complete and specific index of topics (an image of the index pages). This compilation is laced with straightforward description, but it also contains an element of entertaining narration. The question then remains: is this traveler a truly serious one within eighteenth century standards? Or is he simply to be regarded as a story-teller, without much substantiality?

    John Locke once required that the true traveler be a "compleat gentleman." This meant he had to be "the best scholar [who] is fittest for a traveller, as being able to make the most useful observations: experience added to learning makes a perfect man." [1]   Even further, Locke asserted that "going abroad is to little purpose, if Travel does not sometimes open his Eyes, make him cautious and wary, and accustom him to look beyond the outside."[2] Therefore, much criticism was made of those who undertook of seemingly impulsive voyages, if they did not amount to productive results, for the psychological, educational, and mental make-up of the voyager. The typical traveler was weighed down by responsibilities created by travel societies and guides, for although there was an abundance of publications and advice, he had to rely mostly on himself: "A lack of schools teaching what we would call today political economy, modern history or modern languages meant that such knowledge must necessarily be gleaned by first-hand observation." [3] This called for a heavy dependence on and use of the senses, which can be fallible or biased. According to the many advisory texts for travelers, there ranged a variety of expectations – these are summarized quite well in the following:

[The genuine traveler] must dedicate his principal Studies towards tracing such secret, tho’ powerful Effects and Consequences, as are produced by the various Systems of Religion, Government, and Commerce in the World: He must observe how these Systems operate on different People. The human mind is in some Sense . .  moulded or formed by these different Systems: So the Political, the Religious, and Commercial Characters of any People will be found for the most Part to be a Result of this three-fold Combination.[4]     In effect, the traveler had to piece together and blend an interdisciplinary palette of cultures – these he could gather from the barrage of advice he was subject to. How he was supposed to analyze these elements on his own was a different story altogether. Such demands necessitated "methodical, thorough inquiry" on the part of the traveler, and we have yet to observe whether The World in Miniature passes the test according to Locke and his contemporaries. Is this travel volume objectively informative and the evidence of a wiser, affected, and enlightened traveler? Or is it a compilation of accounts containing some facts, but having more of a fictional quality for the reader’s amusement? It appears that the author does create some form of balance between fact and entertainment. For in addition to his direct descriptions, he adds in between many colorful statements that can qualify as nothing else but opinion. These include his many generalizations about a nationality’s temperament and make-up, plus his judgments on lifestyles regarding religion, customs, and the like.

    First of all, it is important to note that the author of The World in Miniature never reveals his identity throughout the two volumes. He signs the preface with his initials, THE. Therefore we can tell little about his social background. On the basis of style and level of literacy we can assume however that he is at least middle class by birth and/or education or even of a higher class. There was also the convention that much of the writing of the time was anonymous. Gentlemen were not supposed to do anything so vulgar as to write for gain. All we can deduce from the title page and preface, his only direct communication with the reader, is that his purpose is to create a balance between facts and entertaining details. For many people in 18th century England, traveling abroad to continents outside Europe was quite rare – the Grand Tour to Europe was at a peak. With so much interest sparked in the Continent itself, areas such as the East for example were less concrete destinations, and were more seen as exotic regions that belonged solely in books and stories. In addition, travel there incurred high costs and was dangerous at times; as a result it was limited mainly to the adventurous and/or scholarly few.

    Thus it was authors such as "THE" who brought other countries and cultures to the hands of those who could not undertake such grand voyages. Although the author claims to have written the travel volumes for his own "Benefit", much seems to cater to audiences looking for an exciting narrative, full of descriptions of wild beasts, amusing rituals, strange diets and clothing. Perhaps the author typified the main interests and diversions of 18th century English society (or at least literate society). If so, one may interpret from much of his discussion and writings what kind of topics he considered to be more important, more entertaining, and more useful. For in his own words:

It is agreed on all Hands that Books of Travels are exceedingly entertaining to most Readers, especially if the Writer appears to be a Man of Veracity, and is not tedious in his Descriptions of Things of little moment: the latter Fault is carefully avoided in this Work, otherwise it could never have been reduced to this Compass, and yet I may venture to say there are not many Things omitted that are worth a curious Reader’s committing to Memory, and in reality he will find nothing dry herein, but what is absolutely necessary in a Work of this Nature.  And what is here related.  I hope will not be thought to exceed the Bounds of Truth. [5] (Preface).     On the surface, the volumes appear to be in a uniform format, divided into sections by continent and then by region/country. However, going further into the separate accounts for each country, one can see that there is a less rational network of paragraphs. Each article begins with a description of the country’s location on the globe, as well as a general description of the climate, geography, and "soil." The main topic for each section is italicized in the margin, and it is not uncommon to see the subject of Punishments immediately followed by something completely unrelated such as Liberal Arts: A great man formerly was seldom call’d to account for killing a peasant, or any other person under his power, but the late Czar has introduced more humanity amongst them, and he would punish governors, with severity, if they opprest those under their power. Learning and the liberal arts were ‘till very lately perfect strangers to Russia, for no people ever took more pains to excel others, than they to remain in ignorance. [6]     Such jumps occur throughout the two volumes, which leads one to question the way the author went about collecting his information. In other words, he lacks in some sense a systematic and logical way of dispensing his knowledge. This may have been the same process in which he went about interpreting his observations. The eighteenth century saw the emergence of empiricism and the scientific method, which included "a clearly defined and accepted approach to any problem: detailed observation of natural phenomena; accurate measurement; study of behavioral changes; and description of phenomena exclusive (in so far as it was possible) of value judgments."[7] Whether The World in Miniature goes by such characteristics of empiricism remains to be seen.

    One can not deny the abundance of factual content in the volumes. Past the accurate measurements of longitude and latitude, boundaries and such (please see the map of the world), he offers a great deal of useful information for any casual or serious traveler. Especially in the case of the European countries, he goes over numerous monuments of interest, and the more essential elements of major cities such as water-works, buildings, and historical monuments. The author also provides facts concerning the climate of a country and its individual regions, along with the common types of flora and fauna native to the area (although this topic is brought up mostly in the Asian and African sections). Oftentimes he even delves into the historical background of a region or city, as in the case of Germany and France. Not surprisingly, the longest account is on England, whose history he covers starting from the Antient Inhabitants and Druids all the way until "modern-day" 1700s.

    It is interesting to compare the author’s description of his own country, England, with his writings on other countries. There is a noticeable sense of pride in his homeland, for in no other account does he rave as such: regarding the Genius of the English –

They yield to no nation in Europe. None has been more industrious to improve the mechanicks arts; and the world to this day is obliged to them for many of their useful inventions and discoveries. Here are made the best clocks, watches, barometers, . . . and all sorts of mathematical instruments. For building . . . they have a singular talent. . . As to liberal arts, where shall one find a people so generally knowing? Here experimental philosophy is improved to a wonder; and no foreign church is better stocked with divines than England, which makes their works so much request beyond sea. [8]     Thus he goes on in this style with regard to England. His obvious preference for his compatriots is hard to ignore. Much of his discussion of other nationalities is characterized by a distant, often critical tone. Granted, it is difficult to make observations without a vision shaped by preconceived notions, stemming from one’s cultural background. In this case, the author is clearly affected by his patriotic ties to Britain – one may look at it as a standard by which everything else’s quality is determined. For example, in describing the French, he takes on a classic British attitude: They are merry and sprightly in their temper . . . but excessive, vain, and talkative; for if a Frenchman talks of his own country to foreigners, he asserts it to be the finest kingdom in the world; the clemency of the air, is no where to be paralleled . . . their laws . . . the best that ever were instituted; and their prince the greatest monarch in the universe . . . And this vanity appears in every thing. [9]     It seems that the author’s high claims about England in his opinion do not compare to the extent of French "vanity." He goes on to write about the Irish, once again falling into generalization. Especially on the issue of a people’s psychological and behavioral nature, it is almost impossible to accomplish what "THE" attempted – in doing so he ends up with a highly opinionated personal observation, exceeding his claim of the "bounds of Truth:" The Irish excel in nimbleness and the flexibility of all parts of the body . . . are constant in love, impatient to abuse and injury . . . in all affections most vehement and passionate . . . In a word, if they are bad, you shall no where find worse, if they be good, you shall no where find better. [10]     As to more distant cultures, it is interesting to see whether his views towards other races or nationalities differ at all, as can be interpreted from his style and tone. Is his writing voice respectful, condescending, or indifferent? Towards the Russians, he takes on a somewhat condescending and once again critical tone regarding their laws and government: As to the laws of Russia they are no other than their ancient customs, which the late czar collected into a body. Their punishments for criminal offences seem to be arbitrary . . . which shews, whatever laws they have, the grandees act as arbitrarily as if there were none; and the sovereign deals with them in the very same manner. [11]     Going on to other races, regarding his writings on Asian countries, one can get a slight tone of superiority from some sections ( an eighteenth century map of Asia). By superiority, this means that his same standards hold – he does not seem to achieve objectivity; his observations of non-Europeans must be "appraised" on a scale in which Europeans effect the absolute value. Many of his conclusions originate from his views as a European, and are simply explanations of how other countries relate to a European epicenter. Take the following excerpt on the Chinese; it is hard to miss the numerous instances in which the description is a reaction to how they relate to Europeans: Before they were acquainted with the Europeans, they looked upon all the people on the face of the earth to be barbarous to them; and when they found us skilled in arts and sciences, they stood amazed to think which way we should come by them . . . The Chinese are acknowledged by all to be an ingenious people, and yet far from knowing any thing of the learning of the other parts of the world, till the Europeans found the way to them; they are not very learned, their skill in natural philosophy is but small, logic they have none. [12]     He also has much praise at times for non-European lands. There is definitely a balance between his condescension and his admiration for other countries and races. His attitude is from the European standpoint. For example, one of his most complimentary descriptions can be found in the section concerning the Great Mogul’s Country (India): The pleasure of the morning and evenings is inconceivable to Europeans in the northern latitudes, they not having such purity and brightness in the heavens, nor such a perpetual verdure as here, where you see blossoms, and ripe fruit on some trees . . . [these are] the finest ideas we can form of a terrestrial paradise. [13]     Thus one may conclude from such passages that his writings abound with subjective observations, going well beyond simple factual details. >From this point of view, it seems that he has strayed from his promise in the preface, which is to not "exceed the Bounds of Truth." At the same time, one should note that from his perspective, his perceptions of these countries and their inhabitants were true in his eyes, for in effect he was the ultimate source of information. Presumably one may conclude that he only recorded information that he deemed truthful; whether his data is the Truth is almost impossible to judge. What is significant regarding this issue is what his purpose was in recording these observations.

    It is possible he meant solely to inform people of his findings from his travels. True, he seems to purposely cover a set group of topics, such as Geographical situation, Persons and Genius, Government, Laws and Customs, and Flora and Fauna. Most of his sections follow this general list, but he also expounds and elaborates on related (and some not so related) topics such as punishments, personal hygiene, and alcoholism. One will notice that in many sections, he tends to linger over the topic of punishment, for example. He describes it in such a manner that can elicit fear, excitement, and amusement from the reader. For example, regarding Siamese punishments:

Sometimes their criminals are order’d to be toss’d by the elephants, which they will . . . toss a man from on to another, without killing him . . . [punishments are] generally adapted to the crime; [he who is] guilty of extortion or robbing has melted gold or silver pour’d down his throat; lying is punish’d by sewing of their mouths. [14]     The same goes for Russia; he provides the reader with a lengthy description of about four of Russia’s main instruments of punishment. His style of narration goes beyond mere description, for he flourishes it with colorful phrases such as "exquisitely beautiful," or "so sluggish is their motion, and so gross their shape" (regarding the Danes). One will also find a sense of humor bordering on sarcasm in his writing, for example, with the Danes once again, he says that "Denmark seldom produces a bright genius, they are neither good at invention or imitation." [15] In describing the Poles, he claims they are "so inured to hardship, that they even look upon the Germans as an effeminate sort of people." [16]Likewise, his description of Ireland’s shape is that it is of an "oblong form – resembling an egg or bear’s foot." He also includes many detailed and elaborated illustrations, such as one of the Chinese Fishing Bird. The volumes also include several sketches of different nationalities which offer the reader a chance to match words to images (see images of costumes).

    It is difficult to ignore the element of amusement he maintains all throughout his writings. For whom does he write these passages? Is it merely for himself originally, as he stated in the preface, or did he have a more general audience in mind? There are two sides to the explanation. Firstly, he could be writing for himself and his own amusement. Secondly, he could also be writing for a group of travelers such as himself who could put his information and observations to good use. Even for the majority of the population that did not venture beyond Britain, he is able to provide a good overview of other regions and countries. In addition, the fact that he includes a lengthy in-depth discussion of England shows that this might even be more of a general book than specifically for travelers. He provides a detailed history of England, all the way from the time of its "Antient Inhabitants" the "Britons" [17] before the arrival of the Romans, until the 18th century. Perhaps he included such thorough accounts to emphasize his British roots. Although they are not easy to miss throughout his writings on other countries, his full account on England leaves no room for doubt – his outright appreciation of his native country outshines the rest.

    One may conclude from these various explanations that the author probably had a general audience in mind; first and foremost, he wrote for himself. Secondly, he may also have aimed his writings towards his immediate circle, i.e. his friends, who most probably shared his interests. Lastly, his preface also admits that by reading these two volumes, one does not need to travel: "Travel all Nations and inform your Sense, with Ease and Safety at a small Expence." [18]

    Regarding the author’s outlook towards other countries and nationalities, for the most part he writes in such a detailed manner, one can not help but find him observant and sensitive. At the same time, one can not deny that his ties to England are strong enough to somewhat distort his views, as many of them are simply comparisons to his homeland. In one sense, he does qualify as a serious traveler, for according to Locke, he followed the guidelines; he makes "useful observations", and shows that he has both experience as well as learning behind him after his travels. Although at times his organization of topics is a little incoherent, overall he cuts a logical path through his discussion of each country. Therefore, the answer is yes, he is a serious traveler by eighteenth century standards. However, he also achieves a balance by integrating entertaining elements such as intricate illustrations, humorous statements, and his own personal views on the world and its inhabitants. In doing so, he is able to satisfy both scholars and philosophers such as Locke, and accordingly, entertain the general literate population with amusing accounts of an otherwise inaccessible world outside Britain and Europe.
 
 

Endnotes

[1] Clare Howard, English Travellers of the Renaissance (New York, 1913), p. 36
[2] John Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education (Cambridge, 1934), p.186
[3] Anita Damiani, Enlightened Observers (Beirut, 1979), p.5
[4] Josiah Tucker, Instructions for Travellers (London, n.d.) p.1
[5] The World in MIniature (London, 1752), p.4 (Vol. 1)
[6] Ibid, p.11 (Vol. 1)
[7] David Mackay, In the Wake of Cook, Exploration, Science and Empire (London, 1985), p.6
[8] The World in Miniature (London, 1751), p.165 (Vol. 1)
[9] Ibid, p. 127 (Vol. 1)
[10] Ibid, p.190 (Vol. 1)
[11] Ibid, p.11 (Vol. 1)
[12] Ibid, p.7 (Vol. 2)
[13] Ibid, p.180 (Vol. 2)
[14] Ibid, p. 12 (Vol. 2)
[15] Ibid, p.28 (Vol. 1)
[16] Ibid, p.37 (Vol. 1)
[17] Ibid, p.158 (Vol. 1)
[18] Ibid, p.1 (Vol. 1)
 

Bibliography

Primary Sources

The World in Miniature. London: 1752.
Locke, John. Some Thoughts Concerning Education. Cambridge: University Press, 1934.
Tucker, Josiah. Instructions for Travellers. London: n.d.
Secondary Sources