Who Were The First European Travel Writers

Who Were The First European Travel Writers



Travel writing is​ a​ major genre. Go into any bookshop and see the​ vast array of​ travel writings aimed to​ appeal to​ every type and taste. There are food travel books for food enthusiasts,​ historical travelogues for the​ historians,​ humorous travel books for the​ irreverent,​ and every other imaginable slant on​ travel. But where did this interest in​ the​ travels of​ others begin?

One of​ the​ earliest European travel accounts,​ where the​ writer traveled for the​ sake of​ travel and wrote about it​ afterwards was written,​ oddly enough,​ not during the​ heydays of​ Greece or​ Rome but in​ the​ year 1336 A.D. Petrarch,​ an​ Italian scholar,​ poet and one of​ the​ earliest Renaissance humanists -- the​ man credited with perfecting the​ sonnet and making it​ one of​ the​ most perfect art forms to​ date -- climbed Mount Ventoux and wrote about it​ afterwards. it​ was a​ climb that resulted in​ far more than just the​ view he described or​ his account of​ the​ satisfaction of​ reaching the​ top. He introduced an​ entire new activity to​ humanity: travel writing.

True to​ the​ genre as​ well,​ Petrarch was critical of​ his fellow travelers or,​ in​ this case,​ those who refused to​ accompany him. He described his companions who stayed at​ the​ bottom of​ the​ slope frigida incuriositas,​ an​ insult that fell just short of​ calling them stupid. a​ loose translation is​ “people with a​ cold lack of​ curiosity”. Petrarch not only talked of​ the​ toil involved in​ reaching the​ peak but went a​ little overboard,​ by today’s standard,​ making allegorical comparisons between climbing the​ mountain and his own moral progress in​ life. it​ was a​ sort of​ vertical Pilgrim’s Progress,​ but it​ would be several centuries before John Bunyan followed Petrarch’s lead.

Then there was Michault Taillement,​ a​ poet for the​ Duke of​ Burgundy,​ who traveled through the​ Jura Mountains in​ 1430 and diarized his personal reflections,​ which included naked terror when confronted by sheer rock faces and blind fear when observing cascading waterfalls.

In the​ same era Antoine de la Sale,​ author of​ Petit Jehan de Saintre,​ climbed to​ the​ crater of​ a​ volcano in​ the​ Lipari Islands in​ 1407 and recorded his impressions. He put his impulse to​ undertake the​ climb to​ “councils of​ mad youth”.

In the​ mid 15th century Gilles de Bouvier gave a​ delightful explanation of​ why one should travel and write. in​ his Livre de la description des pays he wrote: “ Because many people of​ diverse nations and countries delight and take pleasure,​ as​ I have done in​ times past,​ in​ seeing the​ world and things therein,​ and also because many wish to​ know without going there,​ and others wish to​ see,​ go,​ and travel,​ I have begun this little book.”

In 1589 Richard Hakluyt published Voyages,​ a​ text which became the​ template for the​ travel literature genre for many centuries.

In the​ 18th century,​ travel literature was commonly known as​ the​ Book of​ Travels,​ and most often these consisted of​ maritime diaries and the​ public couldn’t get enough of​ them. Captain James Cook's diaries (1784) were the​ equivalent of​ today's best sellers. it​ was in​ the​ 18th century that travel writing matured as​ a​ genre. Every writer had a​ travel book or​ two and today nothing much has changed in​ this respect.

Other later examples of​ travel literature include accounts of​ the​ Grand Tour written by countless aristocrats,​ clergy,​ and others with money and leisure time,​ who traveled Europe to​ learn about the​ art and architecture of​ its past. the​ tradition of​ the​ Grand Tour lasted well into the​ 20th century and was still a​ feature of​ the​ Belle Epoque (the 1920’s). Another travel literature pioneer was Robert Louis Stevenson in​ the​ late 19th century whose “Travels with a​ donkey” introduced a​ light-hearted tone to​ the​ genre.




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