- Alessandro Verri and the End of the Philosophical Journey of the European Enlightenment
After ascending the staircase of the Queriniana Library in Brescia, one enters a hall adorned with a bust of Cardinal Angelo Maria Querini and covered with frescoes depicting moments from the benefactor’s life. On the northern wall are painted three maps, the first showing how, as a young monk, he sailed to England from Holland in January of 1711, the second how he returned the following March and traversed Flanders, the third how he came to France, where he stayed before returning to Italy. Above them one reads “Providus urbes et mores hominum inspexit.” The generous Cardinal clearly held travel to northern Europe in high esteem.1
The Commentarii Historici de rebus pertinentibus ad Angelum Mariam S.R.E. Cardinalem Querinum of 1754 present more scenes and more extended narration of this journey “ultra montes.” Most important, it seems, were Querini’s meetings with the learned. In Holland he visited the genealogist Imhoff, the exegete Le Clerc, and the Jansenist theologian Quesnel; in England he spoke with Thomas Burnet, author of the Telluris theoria sacra, with William Cave, whose Historia scriptorum ecclesiasticorum he had read in Florence, and he conversed [End Page 86] on “arduous” matters with Isaac Newton. In France he saw Fénelon and Malebranche, and he visited Richard Simon, author of the Histoire critique du Vieux Testament. He was at the center, that is, of the religious-scientific controversies of his time—those that surfaced with the application of scientific methods to the study of the Scriptures. As a Benedictine, and one who was interested in the history of the Order, he was at home at Saint-Germain-des-Près.
The young Querini, so curious and affable, was certainly one of the best of the European-minded travelers of the early eighteenth century. His enthusiasm was not at all atypical though. His was an age that saw travel as well worth the effort and the trouble. No less of an authority than Francis Bacon had favored it in his Essays as part of “education” for the young and “experience” for the mature. But there is another characteristic of Querini’s early travels that bespeaks his times, and even more precisely: their direction. It was not the direction that learned travel had generally taken during the two previous centuries. The travel of the Humanists was from the North to the South.2 Likewise young British aristocrats on the Grand Tour, beginning in the days of Francis Bacon, headed from England through Paris to Rome.3 Travel in Europe during the Renaissance and the Baroque Age moved, that is, towards the center of Antiquity and of its rebirth. Learned travel northward, to the emerging centers of scientific, religious, and philosophical thought, and of political and social reform, with not only Paris, but the Dutch cities, and especially London as goals, was a new phenomenon. It got its start only in the last decades of the seventeenth century, when to the cultural height of the France of Louis XIV was added the attraction of a prosperous Holland with its great banks and universities, and its freedom of thought, and then, above all, a fascination with England, with its Royal Society, its Glorious Revolution, and its Temperance Act. This was travel forward in time, travel to what Europe could and should be. It was “philosophic” travel in the most generous sense of the word, tolerant and optimistic, the travel mode par excellence of the European Enlightenment. And indeed Querini’s youthful travels presage his open-mindedness and broad-mindedness as Cardinal, when his correspondents would include not only the Italian [End Page 87] scholars one would expect, such as Maffei and Muratori, and those he had met, like Malebranche and Newton, but also Montesquieu, Voltaire, and even Friedrich II.
No one has better described the arrival of this new northward direction of learned travel, with its primary destination of London, than Paul Hazard. He sees it beginning around 1660, when those “obstacles” that had been associated with England—incomprehensible language, bizarre customs, the crossing of the Channel—start to be overcome. By the opening...