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Reviewed by:
  • Transports: Travel, Pleasure and Imaginative Geography, 1600–1830, and: Polite Landscapes: Gardens and Society in Eighteenth-Century England
  • Ann Bermingham
Chloe Chard and Helen Langdon, eds. Transports: Travel, Pleasure and Imaginative Geography, 1600–1830 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996). Pp. 341. $50.00.
Tom Williamson. Polite Landscapes: Gardens and Society in Eighteenth-Century England. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995). Pp. 182. $35.00

Transports: Travel, Pleasure and Imaginative Geography, 1600–1830 brings together historians of art, literature, science, and anthropology to examine the practice of the Grand Tour. Emerging as it did in the sixteenth century as part of the Renaissance fascination with antiquity, the Grand Tour presented northern European travelers to Italy, not only with the relics of a revered past but with a contemporary culture both foreign and frightening. John Nash and Roger Ascham described Italy with all its fatal dangers and seductions as Europe’s “apothecary shop of poison” and “Circe’s Court.” It is precisely this unsettling confrontation with the foreign and the strategies used by travelers to grasp and govern it that the editors of and contributors to Transports explore. In this sense, the collection is a departure from the usual histories of the Grand Tour—the biographies of the tourists and the compilations of the things they saw, said, bought, and sketched. Although eminently useful in providing the information needed to situate the Grand Tour within a European tradition of travel and cultural exchange, these histories too often do not query the cultural meanings tourists brought to the experience and took away from it. As this collection shows, the Grand Tour was a representational and discursive practice that for over two hundred years provided travelers with an adventure in cultural, political, and self-discovery. [End Page 406]

As Chloe Chard points out in her excellent introduction, tourists employed a variety of means to manage their encounter with the unfamiliar. When not resisting the wonders of Italy with laconic, defensive dismissal, or, alternatively, embracing its cultural offerings in an effort at transformative self-improvement, travelers attempted to probe its secrets and observe its life with the detached eye of the scientist. Many tourists struggled for words to describe things for which they had no words, demonstrating in the process the provincialism of language and the limits it places on experience. Others abandoned words for pictures, depicting ruins through an idealizing Virgilian haze or delineating the fires of Vesuvius with a Burkean sublimity. As this suggests, the Grand Tour was about negotiating the unfamiliar in terms of the familiar and indulging travel’s transgressive pleasures and dangers without fully inhabiting them.

The collection is filled with original and incisive essays. Ken Arnold, for instance, deals with the trade in exotic curiosities, those souvenirs brought back by voyagers and assembled in cabinets of curiosity. Assimilated as “knowledge,” curiosities were part of a larger intellectual movement toward the study of cultural difference. Richard Hamblyn discusses the British fascination with Vesuvius in terms of the nascent science of geology and the Vulcanist theory of the formation of the earth’s crust, but also shows how the volcano’s explosive geological history was used to explain the hot-blooded temper of the native Neapolitans. Focusing on the work of eighteenth-century volcano tourists such as Sir William Hamilton and Joseph Wright of Derby, Hamblyn explores the gradual differentiation of the discourse of “science” from “art.” Nicholas Thomas contrasts the “fabrication of obscurity” in Captain Cook’s narratives of the natives of New Zealand with John Reinold Forster’s efforts to illuminate their customs in terms of his own Enlightenment understanding of civil society. Richard Wrigley provocatively connects the discourse of “artistic influence” with eighteenth-century theories of contagion, in particular with the fears of Rome’s unhealthy air. As he shows, the city’s artistic heritage was as much an oppression as an inspiration for artists, and hence the aesthetic discourse of influence contained within it darker images of the body’s helplessness before Rome’s threats of fever, madness, and death. In addition, there are fine essays by Roy Porter on visitors’ accounts of London’s wonders; by Rosemary Bechler on Lord Byron’s “Grander...

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pp. 406-407
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