The Grand Tour

Three Views of the Grand Tour

[Click on image to enlarge] The Grand Tour was an extended educational journey through Europe undertaken by aristocratic men in their late teens or early twenties, who were accompanied by their tutors. While women including Mary Wollstonecraft, Maria Edgeworth, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Lady Anna Miller undertook tours of Europe similar to the Grand Tour and wrote interesting accounts of their travels, the idea of the Grand Tour did not occupy the same central position in a woman's education that it did in a man's education. Grand Tours typically lasted from two to three years. The usual itinerary included stops at European cities including Calais, Paris, Turin, Venice, Naples, Florence, and Rome, although the Tour could be contracted or expanded to include other destinations.

Tutors, known as "bearleaders" — a title that hints at the unruly behavior of their charges — were supposed to inculcate lessons along the way, pointing out the most important buildings, paintings, views, and historical sites of note to the young men. In addition, tutors had the task of watching over their students' recreation, to see that they did not gamble away their inheritances or contract syphilis by pursuing unwise amours. Ideally, a young man sent on the Grand Tour would return home not just with souvenir portraits painted against a backdrop of Roman monuments, but with new maturity, improved taste, an understanding of foreign cultures, and a fresh appreciation of the benefits of being born British. However, bearleaders were often poor but well-educated men who hoped for preferment or places in the church from their patrician students, a circumstance that may have compromised their ability to enforce their pupils' good behavior.

The selections below offer three views of the way that gentlemen on the Grand Tour engaged with English literature and language. First, extracts from a letter written by Lord Chesterfield to his son Philip Stanhope outline a parent's hopes and fears for his son's education while on the Grand Tour. Second, an enthusiastic letter from young William Beckford demonstrates the kind of synergistic educational convergence of literature and place that the Tour was designed to promote. The last inclusion is an excerpt from The Gentlemans Pocket Companion, For Travelling into Foreign parts, a practical guidebook for those undertaking the Tour, complete with maps and handy travelers' dialogues in any of the five foreign languages that a gentleman might encounter on his way. Enjoy the tour!


View 1: A Parent's Fears and Hopes

Philip Dormer Stanhope, Fourth Earl of Chesterfield, from Letters Written by the Late Right Honourable Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield, to His Son, Philip Stanhope (1774)

The letters of Philip Dormer Stanhope, Fourth Earl of Chesterfield (1694–1773) to his illegitimate son Philip Stanhope (1732–1768) were not originally intended for publication, but they quickly became classics of conduct literature when they were published by Stanhope's widow in 1774 as Letters Written by the Late Right Honourable Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield, to His Son, Philip Stanhope, Esq.; Late Envoy Extraordinary at the Court of Dresden. The quantity of advice dispensed in the letters is daunting: Chesterfield wrote over four hundred letters to Philip during his son's lifetime.

Here, Lord Chesterfield writes from London to Philip, who is in Turin with his bearleader, Mr. Harte. Walter Harte (1709–1774) was an Oxford scholar, a poet, and a friend of Alexander Pope. Chesterfield counsels his son on the proper behavior of an Englishman abroad, concluding with the cry, "Adieu, my dear child! Consider seriously the importance of the two next years, to your character, your figure, and your fortune" (212). Young Philip — who was being groomed for a career in courtly diplomacy — is not the only man addressed; observe Chesterfield's covert hints to his son's tutor, Mr. Harte, about his duties to both father and son.

From Letter XCVII; London, May 15, 1749 (O.S.)

Dear Boy,

This letter will, I hope, find you settled to your serious studies, and your necessary exercises, at Turin, after the hurry and dissipation of the Carnival at Venice. >> note 1 I mean, that your stay at Turin should, and I flatter myself that it will, be an useful and ornamental period of your education; but, at the same time, I must tell you, that all my affection for you has never yet given me so much anxiety as that which I now feel. While you are in danger, I shall be in fear, and you are in danger at Turin. Mr. Harte will, by his care, arm you as well as he can against it; but your own good sense and resolution can alone make you invulnerable. I am informed, there are now many English at the Academy at Turin; and I fear those are just so many dangers for you to encounter. Who they are I do not know, but I well know the general ill conduct, the indecent behaviour, and the illiberal views of my young countrymen abroad; especially wherever they are in numbers together. Ill example is of itself dangerous enough, but those who give it seldom stop there; they add their infamous exhortations and invitations; and, if these fail, they have recourse to ridicule; which is harder for one of your age and inexperience to withstand, than either of the former. Be upon your guard, therefore, against these batteries, which will all be played upon you. You are not sent abroad to converse with your own countrymen; among them, in general, you will get little knowledge, no languages, and, I am sure, no manners. I desire that you will form no connections, nor (what they impudently call) friendships, with these people; which are, in truth, only combinations and conspiracies against good morals and good manners.

* * *

The length or shortness of your stay at Turin will sufficiently inform me (even though Mr. Harte should not) of your conduct there; for, as I have told you before, Mr. Harte has the strictest orders to carry you away immediately from thence upon the first and least symptom of infection >> note 2 that he discovers about you; and I know him to be too conscientiously scrupulous, and too much your friend and mine, not to execute them exactly. Moreover, I will inform you that I shall have constant accounts of your behaviour from Comte Salmour, the governor of the Academy, whose son is now here, and my particular friend. I have also other good channels of intelligence of which I do not apprise you. But, supposing that all turns out well at Turin, yet, as I propose your being at Rome for the jubilee at Christmas, I desire that you will apply yourself diligently to your exercises of dancing, fencing, and riding, at the Academy; as well for the sake of your health and growth, as to fashion and supple you. You must not neglect your dress neither, but take care to be bien mis >> note 3

* * *


View 2: A Young Man's Letter

William Beckford, from Dreams, Waking Thoughts and Incidents, in a Series of Letters, fromVarious Parts of Europe (1783)

William Beckford (1760–1844) was the son of the lord mayor of London, and no expense was spared in his education. To cite just a few examples of the resources available to this young man, one could note that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was his music teacher, Sir William Chambers instructed him in architecture, and that Beckford had pursued travels in Switzerland where he met Voltaire, who encouraged him to write, even before embarking on his Grand Tour. Beckford, an early reader of the Arabian Nights' Entertainments, was entranced by Oriental tales, and went on to write several, the best known of which is Vathek (1787).

Beckford was clearly attracted to men, and it may be that his Grand Tour was designed by his family to interrupt his homoerotic relationship with eleven-year-old William Courtenay. His family also appears to have endeavored to suppress the publication of Beckford's romantic travelogue. The letters were published anonymously as Dreams, Waking Thoughts and Incidents, in a Series of Letters, from Various Parts of Europe in 1783, and received wider appreciation when revised in volume one of Beckford's Italy; with Sketches of Spain and Portugal (1834). In this letter, Beckford juxtaposes the splendid imaginative visions he has conceived of Rome from his classical education with the prospect of the city itself.

From Letter XXII. Rome, October 29, 1780

We set out in the dark. Morning dawned over the Lago di Vico; its waters of a deep ultramarine blue, and its surrounding forests catching the rays of the rising sun. It was in vain I looked for the cupola of St. Peter's upon descending the mountains beyond Viterbo. Nothing but a sea of vapours was visible.

At length they rolled away, and the spacious plains began to show themselves, in which the most warlike of nations reared their seat of empire. On the left, afar off, rises the rugged chain of Apennines, and on the other side, a shining expanse of ocean terminates the view. It was upon this vast surface so many illustrious actions were performed, and I know not where a mighty people could have chosen a grander theatre. Here was space for the march of armies, and verge enough for encampments. Levels for martial games, and room for that variety of roads and causeways that led from the capital to Ostia. >> note 4 How many triumphant legions have trodden these pavements! how many captive kings! What throngs of cars >> note 5 and chariots once glittered on their surface! savage animals dragged from the interior of Africa; and the ambassadors of Indian princes, followed by their exotic train, hastening to implore the favour of the senate!

During many ages, this eminence commanded almost every day such illustrious scenes; but all are vanished: the splendid tumult is passed away; silence and desolation remain. Dreary flats thinly scattered over with ilex; >> note 6 and barren hillocks crowned by solitary towers, were the only objects we perceived for several miles. Now and then we passed a few black ill-favoured sheep feeding by the way-side, near a ruined sepulchre, just such animals as an ancient would have sacrificed to the Manes. >> note 7 Sometimes we crossed a brook, whose ripplings were the only sounds which broke the general stillness, and observed the shepherds' huts on its banks, propped up with broken pedestals and marble friezes. I entered one of them, whose owner was abroad tending his herds, and began writing upon the sand, and murmuring a melancholy song. Perhaps the dead listened to me from their narrow cells. The living I can answer for: they were far enough removed.

* * *

I could have spent the whole day by the rivulet, lost in dreams and meditations; but recollecting my vow, I ran back to the carriage and drove on. The road not having been mended, I believe, since the days of the Caesars, would not allow our motions to be very precipitate. "When you gain the summit of yonder hill, you will discover Rome," said one of the postillions: up we dragged; no city appeared. "From the next," cried out a second; and so on from height to height did they amuse my expectations. I thought Rome fled before us, such was my impatience, till at last we perceived a cluster of hills with green pastures on their summits, inclosed by thickets and shaded by flourishing ilex. Here and there a white house, built in the antique style, with open porticos, that received a faint gleam of the evening sun, just emerged from the clouds to discover themselves in the valley, and St. Peter's to rise above the magnificent roofs of the Vatican. Every step we advanced the scene extended, till, winding suddenly round the hill, all Rome opened to our view.

A spring flowed opportunely into a marble cistern close by the way; two cypresses and a pine waved over it. I leaped up, poured water upon my hands, and then, lifting them up to the sylvan Genii of the place, implored their protection. I wished to have run wild in the fresh fields and copses above the Vatican, there to have remained till fauns might creep out of their concealment, and satyrs begin to touch their flutes in the twilight, for the place looks still so wondrous classical, that I can never persuade myself either Constantine, Attila or the Popes themselves have chased them all away. I think I should have found some out, who would have fed me with milk and chestnuts, have sung me a Latin ditty, and mourned the woeful changes which have taken place, since their sacred groves were felled, and Faunus ceased to be oracular. Who can tell but they might have given me some mystic skin to sleep on, that I might have looked into futurity?

Shall I ever forget the sensations I experienced upon slowly descending the hills, and crossing the bridge over the Tiber; when I entered an avenue between terraces and ornamented gates of villas, which leads to the Porto del Popolo, and beheld the square, the domes, the obelisk, the long perspective of streets and palaces opening beyond, all glowing with the vivid red of sunset? You can imagine how I enjoyed my beloved tint, my favourite hour, surrounded by such objects. You can fancy me ascending Monte Cavallo, leaning against the pedestal which supports Bucephalus; >> note 8 then, spite of time and distance, hurrying to St. Peter's in performance of my vow.

I met the Holy Father in all his pomp returning from vespers: trumpets flourishing, and a legion of guards drawn out upon Ponte St. Angelo. Casting a respectful glance upon the Moles Adriani, >> note 9 I moved on till the full sweep of St. Peter's colonnade opened upon me, and fixed me, as if spell-bound, under the obelisk, lost in wonder. The edifice appears to have been raised within the year, such is its freshness and preservation. I could hardly take my eyes from off the beautiful symmetry of its front, contrasted with the magnificent though irregular courts of the Vatican towering over the colonnade, till, the sun sinking behind the dome, I ran up the steps and entered the grand portal, which was on the very point of being closed.

I knew not where I was, or to what scene transported. A sacred twilight concealing the extremities of the structure, I could not distinguish any particular ornament, but enjoyed the effect of the whole. The perfume of incense was not yet entirely dissipated. No human being stirred. I heard a door close with the sound of thunder, and thought I distinguished some faint whisperings, but am ignorant whence they came. Several hundred lamps twinkled round the high altar, quite lost in the immensity of the pile. >> note 10 No other light disturbed my reveries but the dying glow still visible through the western windows. Imagine how I felt upon finding myself alone in this vast temple at so late an hour, and think whether I had not revelations.

It was almost eight o'clock before I issued forth, and, pausing a few minutes under the porticos, listened to the rush of the fountains: then traversing half the town, I believe, in my way to the Villa Medici, under which I am lodged, fell into a profound repose, which my zeal and exercise may be allowed, I think, to have merited.


View 3: Encountering Borders in Language

From The Gentleman's Pocket Companion, For Travelling into Foreign parts (1723)

The Gentlemans Pocket Companion, For Travelling into Foreign parts is a guidebook for Grand Tourists, published in the early 1720s, though the flyleaf of this particular volume is signed "H Stanley, 1760," which may indicate its continued usefulness over a longer period. The Companion contains maps, and is bound together with another volume containing dialogues of "Necessary Conversation" for travelers.

The dialogues are printed across the page in columns: English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, and Flemish, as can be seen in this illustration:

[Click on image to enlarge]

The English dialogue in the far left column, which appears below, is meant to be read vertically to form a narrative. Each horizontal line of the dialogue is a small phrase that may be combined with other small phrases, and arranged into new sentences in order to communicate. For example, one could take the short phrase "What News" and combine it with the short phrase "Of the Family" to create the new sentence "What news of the family?" The conversation below takes place between a landlord and a gentleman traveler, in an inn where the weary Grand Tourist has stopped for the night.

From "Common Talke in an Inn"

B. [the landlord character] Will you please
to give me
leave to ask
your Name?
A. [the traveler] My name is Sampson.
B. Of what family are you?
A. Of the Family
of the Scholars.
B. That is right: now
I begin to call you to
mind. How do you?
A. As your friend,
ready to
serve you.
B. I thank you
for your good will.
Whence came
you now,
from beyond the Sea?
A. No. I come from France,
from Spain,
from Italy.
B. What News
in France?
A. Truly none good.
B. How so?
A. They are so incens'd
against one another,
that I do not care
to talk of it.
B. God deliver us
from civil wars,
they are
a great Punishment;
but we must have patience,
we shall have peace
when God pleases.
A. What news have
you in this place?
Is there any that is good?
B. All goes well; but as
for news I have none.
A. By your leaves,
I find myself somewhat
B. Sir,
if you are not well,
go take your rest,
your chamber is ready.
make a good fire
in his chamber,
and let him want for nothing.
A. Sweetheart,
is my bed made?
Is it good?
J. Yes, Sir,
it is a good
the sheets
are very clean.
A. Pull off my stockings,
and warm my bed,
for I am
much out of order.
I shake like a leaf
on a tree.
Warm a
for my head
and bind it well. Gently,
you bind it too hard,
bring my pillow,
and cover me well;
draw the curtains,
and pin them together.
Where is the
Where is the privy?
J. Follow me
and I will
show you the way.
Go strait up
and you will
find it
on your right hand;
if you see it not
you will soon smell it.
do you want
any thing else?
Are you well?
A. Yes, my dear,
put out the candle,
and come nearer to me.
J. I will put it out when
I am out of the room;
what is your will?
are you not well
enough yet?
A. My head lies too low,
raise up the
bolster a little,
I cannot
lie so low.
My dear,
give me one kiss,
I shall
sleep the better.
J. Sleep, sleep,
you are not sick,
since you talk
of kissing.
I had rather die
than kiss a man
in his bed,
or any other place.
Take your rest in God's
name. God give you
a good night,
and good rest.
A. I thank you,
fair maid.

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