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Perhaps the best candidate for the title of “First Tourist,” or at least the first tourist to record travel experiences, is Thomas Coryat, the Englishman who published Coryat’s Crudities in 1611. This account of his five-month journey across Europe was later supplemented by a letter describing his travel east to Jerusalem, Constantinople, and India (the trip from Jerusalem to India alone required 2,700 miles of walking). At a time when xenophobic moralists loudly denounced travel, Coryat proclaimed that “Of all the pleasures in the world travell is the sweetest and most delightfull.” His Protestant and English prejudices notwithstanding, Coryat was uncommonly open to new experiences in strange lands: in Jerusalem he got a tattoo, in India he rode an elephant, in Venice he interviewed a wealthy courtesan, and in Bergamo he slept in a stable. What gave him the most pleasure, however, was recording his experiences. With the patience of an antiquarian and the eye of an ethnographer, he heaped historical, geographic, and cultural detail into the Crudities. Hence the title of the work, which refers to its large, undigested portions of sententiae, proverbs, orations, epistles, local histories, itineraries, and architectural descriptions. Coryat seems to revel in the strangeness and beauty of everything, from Titian’s paintings in Venice or the giant clock in Strasbourg to curiosities like a madman roaming the streets of Vicenza or an abundance of leaping frogs in Germany. He leaves us dreaming of what he calls the “unspeakable contentment” that is within the reach of even the most impecunious traveler. All it takes is a desire to learn, a willingness to endure bodily discomfort, and a tolerance of risk. Coryat had no fixed itinerary, no hotel or dinner reservations; indeed, he had no maps. Each day involved risky encounters and negotiations with foreigners that would determine his next move. Still, for all of his complaints about danger — the Spanish Inquisition on his tail, vineyard owners chasing him as he munched their grapes — and discomfort — flies, cheese-laden Italian food, seasickness, filthy beds — it is hard to imagine that this self-proclaimed oddball would, given the chance, trade in his difficult but unique experiences for the homogeneity and comfort of a modern “package deal” on a group bus tour. Coryat’s modern readers often assume that he travelled mostly on foot during his five-month European tour. As our color-coded maps indicate (on the wall to your left), that was not the case. The bulk of his walking actually took place during his second “peregrination” abroad when he travelled to the East. He supposedly travelled 2700 miles by foot from Jerusalem to India. This engraving is attached to his letter from India and a poem in which he described himself as a modern Odysseus walking for 10 years or more before returning to his hometown in England. Coryat never did make it home: he died in India in 1617. Coryat proffered a lavish description of the sumptuous “palace of Venus,” the home of a “noble courtesan” in Venice. He was enthralled by the seductive woman and her opulent residence, even going so far as to describe her “chamber of recreation” in intricate detail. Commissioned by Coryat himself, this engraving captures a moment in which he is being tempted by the courtesan’s seductive rhetoric and appearance.
The frontispiece to the Crudities, whose elements Coryat called “hieroglyphics,” depicts memorable events during his journey, from his departure from Dover (A in the enlarged image on the wall to your left) to his return to his beloved small town (I). They require some effort to decipher because they blend his own version of events with that provided by Ben Jonson and Laurence Whitaker, the men who created “An explication of the Emblemes of the Frontispice” that mocks their friend’s ambitious travelogue. Although Coryat was in on the joke at this point, he later found that the humiliation — perhaps best represented by the woman vomiting on his head (L) — had gone too far.
Note: Coryat’s route has been redrawn over digital copies of maps of France, Italy, and Germany from Abraham Ortelius, Theatrum orbis terrarum (Antwerp, 1595) in the Osher Collection. This atlas was the definitive collection of maps at the time Coryat traveled.
1. On May, 14, 1608, Coryat boarded a ship at Dover and arrived at Calais seven hours later.
2. Coryat rode for five hours from Montreuil to Abbeville (20 miles) in a horse-drawn cart.
3. Heading toward Paris, Coryat traveled for five hours by coach from Amiens to Bretreuil, a distance of fourteen miles.
4. After crossing the Oyse river, Coryat arrived in Paris on May 22. He spent five days there, paying particular attention to the palaces (Louvre, Tuileries), Notre Dame Cathedral, bridges, and markets.
5. Coryat rode on horseback from Paris to Fontainebleau. The 28-mile journey took 19 long hours due to injuries sustained by the horse. Frustrated with the horse’s torpor, a man travelling with Coryat had stabbed the horse with his rapier.
6. At Lyons Coryat underwent his first health inspection, without which he could not enter a number of cities, including Venice.
7. Ascending the Alps, Coryat was carried in a chair by two guides for half a mile.
8. Coryat took a ferry from Turin to Cigliano. He commented on the strange technology, which involved a pulley system to get people and horses across the water.
9. After spending one busy day in Milan, Coryat made his way to Cremona on June 17, where he encountered fans and umbrellas, two novelties that would later catch on back in England.
10. Coryat traveled by boat to Venice, the city of his dreams, on June 24, and remained there for six weeks. He described the architecture, history, and people of the city in loving detail.
11. In Bergamo Coryat was unable to find a vacancy at any inn and wound up sleeping in a horse stable. More distressing, a travelling companion was murdered and Coryat was warned that the Spanish Inquisition was lurking nearby.
12. After leaving Bergamo, Coryat encountered a flood and was forced to use a rowboat to continue.
13. After leaving Baden, a town near Zurich, Coryat, who depended on local guides for directions, found himself lost and unable to communicate because he did not speak Dutch. He later got lost in the woods outside of Heidelberg as well.
14. On September 1, Coryat took a long boat trip (about one and a half days) up the Rhine from Basel to Strasbourg, the home of the famous clock which he described in great detail.
15. In Heidelberg, Coryat stood on top of a giant vessel of wine, which he described as “the most remarkable and famous thing of the kinde that I saw in my whole journey.”
16. Outside of Worms, Coryat had one of his more challenging encounters. A local farmer caught him munching on his grapes and Coryat had to get help from others to avoid a brawl.
17. After traveling to Frankfurt primarily by land and returning to Mainz, the rest of his journey became like a modern day river cruise, in which he traveled the Rhine all the way to Dordrecht, viewing many sights from the river and also disembarking at times to walk or stay on land overnight.
18. During the boat ride from Mainz to Cologne, Coryat found to his dismay that he had to join a local custom and help with the rowing, despite the fact that everyone “payeth well for his passage.”
19. Alone throughout much of his travels, Coryat described companionship with other Englishmen during the trip through the Netherlands on the Rhine. 20. Coryat left Flushing on October 1, and arrived in London on the 3rd.
The first century of the Grand Tour experience coincided with ongoing and heated debates about morality in English education. Joseph Hall (1574-1656), a moral philosopher and Bishop of Norwich, was highly critical of the behavior that young aristocrats and their tutors engaged in during their travels on the Continent. Like the pranks of present day “frat boys,” these young Englishmen misbehaved and tested the limits of good judgment while abroad and, according to Hall, discredited their country in the process.
Thomas Coryat (ca. 1577-1617)
Coryat’s Crudities; reprinted from the edition of 1611 to which are now added his letters from India, &c and relating to him various authors being a more particular account of his travels (mostly by foot) in different parts of the globe, than any other hitherto published, 3 vols.
(London: for W. Cater, J. Wilkie and E. Easton. 1776). 20 cm.