Eighteenth-century travel literature

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Eighteenth-century travel literature


Eighteenth-century travel literature


An excerpt from a journal article about the rise of foreign travel in eighteenth century Europe, and how it influenced travel writing such as Lawrence Sterne's "A Sentimental Journey".


Carole Fabricant


University of Pennsylvania


Cambridge University Press




Daniel Johnson


"A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy"


Journal Article





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In A Sentimental Journey (1768), Laurence Sterne reflects upon ‘how many a foul step the Inquisitive Traveller has measured to see sights and look into discoveries; all which, as Sancho Panza said to Don Quixote, they might have seen dry-shod at home’ and pointedly asks, ‘Where then, my dear countrymen, are you going?’ ‘To all corners of the globe,’ a contemporary might well have replied; and indeed, by 1768 there were few distant climes that had not been sighted, explored, traded with, taken possession of, catalogued or written about by British travellers, who seemed to have little interest in remaining ‘dry-shod at home’ when they could experience first-hand both the pleasures and the ‘travails’ (a word closely linked to, and often interchangeable with, ‘travel’ during this period) of journeying abroad. The chief European destinations were France and Italy, countries that (despite their negative political and religious associations) possessed a particular cultural cachet for the affluent on the Grand Tour – the best known of the many (including increasingly middle-class) forms of European travel at the time. It is thus a fitting irony that Sterne's admonishments against foreign travel occur while he himself is preparing for a trip to Europe, and that what follows is an account of his journey through France.

That the term ‘tourist’ gained currency in the latter part of the century is, then, hardly coincidental. The word appears several times, for example, in the diaries of John Byng, its usage typified by his insistence on ‘drag[ging] forth’ a fatigued travelling companion because, as he wryly notes, ‘we must move about as tourists’. The self-consciousness reflected in this remark, of being a clearly identifiable figure defined by the act of touring and expected to behave in particular ways as a result of this adopted role, pervades much of eighteenth-century travel literature, assuming an especially risible form in Arthur Young’s remark, in his famous tour of France (1787–9), on the traveller’s tendency to be upon the full silly gape’ in the search for novelty, even in circumstances in which it is ridiculous to look for it’ – as if Parisians, not being English, would be walking on their heads’.

Original Format

Journal Article


Carole Fabricant, “Eighteenth-century travel literature,” Enlightenmens, accessed March 21, 2023, http://enlightenmens.lmc.gatech.edu/items/show/710.

Output Formats