- An Intrepid Scot: William Lithgow of Lanark's Travels in the Ottoman Lands, North Africa and Central Europe, 1609-21.
Clifford Bosworth's study of William Lithgow's travels adds to the growing body of scholarship dealing with early modern travel and travel narrative. Along with Fynes Moryson, Thomas Coryate, George Sandys, Henry Blount, and others, Lithgow is one of the most interesting travel writers of the period. The most important and most extensive text that Lithgow produced, The Totall Discourse, of the Rare Adventures, and painefull Peregrinations of long nineteen Yeares Travayls, from Scotland to the most Famous Kingdomes in Europe, Asia and Affrica (London, [End Page 680] 1632), is a blustering, lively work that testifies to the toughness and irascibility of this Scottish Protestant zealot. What is so fascinating about Lithgow is his combination of two characteristics: on the one hand, a violent sectarianism, an ego-driven sense that he possessed a superior truth and virtue apart from the alleged follies and vices of all non-Protestants, and, on the other hand, a powerful desire to see and experience a variety of foreign places and peoples, accompanied by a willingness to endure extreme hardship and to risk the many dangers of the road. His physical and doctrinal tenacity met their ultimate test in 1620, when, during what Bosworth terms his "abortive third journey" (151), Lithgow was accused of spying and heresy and consequently imprisoned and tortured by the Spanish authorities in Malaga. Lithgow was stretched on the rack, and the tattoo that he had acquired in Jerusalem, depicting the crown and name of King James, was violently ripped from his flesh at the order of the inquisitor. Lithgow narrowly escaped being burned at the stake and returned to Britain a crippled martyr for his cause.
For those who are unfamiliar with Lithgow and The Totall Discourse, Bosworth's study will offer a useful summary of Lithgow's life and writings, along with helpful references and commentary. In its introductory sections, the book contextualizes Lithgow's writings by discussing conditions in seventeenth-century Scotland and the presence of Scottish natives in places like France and Poland. Although this study deals primarily with the travels that Lithgow undertook between 1609 and 1621, Bosworth also gathers what little information there is about Lithgow's career before and after that period, reconstructing his formative years in Scotland, as well as his later years. Bosworth rightly argues that the international Protestant-Catholic struggle was what defined Lithgow's narrative persona and his perspective as a traveler. Throughout his writings, Lithgow vigorously promoted the Protestant claim to religious truth and used lively polemical language to attack Islamic, Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Greek Orthodox "superstition" and "error" wherever he encountered it.
An Intrepid Scot provides a narrative account of Lithgow's travels, interlaced with commentary that identifies and supplements Lithgow's misperceptions and shortcomings as a reporter. A specialist in Middle Eastern studies, Bosworth draws upon his own understanding of the early modern past in order to measure and qualify Lithgow's descriptions of the Ottoman Empire, North Africa, and Central Europe. For example, when he discusses Lithgow's comments on Ottoman rule and the Islamic faith, Bosworth identifies Lithgow's misperceptions and cultural biases, pointing out, among other things, that Lithgow failed to perceive that Muslims were not a "homogenous group." Where the Scottish traveler is "confused" or "misinformed," Bosworth takes pains to correct him, and much useful information is added so that we begin to see more clearly the kind of ideological agenda that Lithgow's narrative serves (68–69).
Bosworth makes it clear from the start that he does not admire what he calls "Lit. Crit. Jargon" (xvii), and he declares that Said's Orientalism is "[o]ften perverse and wrongheaded and patently biased in its coverage" (9) without explaining why [End Page 681] he thinks this is so. Thus, readers should not expect this...