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2000-09, 327, Book Reviews, Book Trade, Neil A Radford

Book Review

Journeys Through the Market: Travel, Travelers and the Book Trade.  Edited by Robin Myers and Michael Harris. St Paul‟s Bib-liographies, Oak Knoll Press, 1999. xiii, 152pp. ISBN 1-58456-014-2 (USA) or 1-873040-56-3 (UK). $US39.95.

Travel has for centuries been known to the book trade as a saleable commodity. It began with explorers’ accounts of their discoveries, and later expanded to encompass the experiences of those who travel for pleasure and the guide books which help them on their way. If you add accounts of shipwrecks and other travel disasters, and the considerable literature of imaginary voyages and travels, the field, for reader or collector, is large indeed. These are the papers from a conference which explored some aspects of the development of travel literature.

Probably of greatest interest to readers of Biblionews, and also to social historians in Australia, will be the paper by Bill Bell of the University of Edinburgh, on the shipboard reading of mid-19th century emigrants to Australia, a topic very little studied but of potential importance in gaining a full appreciation of our history and cultural development. Between 1830 and 1880 a million and a half emigrants embarked on the long voyage from Britain to Australia. It is not surprising that they turned to reading for diversion from the inevitable boredom of their three months’ passage.

Publishers sensed this new demand and made up “libraries” of books, some in purpose-built cabinets or cases, for use at sea by both seamen and passengers. Others recommended lists of titles from which suitable choices could be made, especially by friends as parting gifts. Steerage passengers faced strict luggage limits which restricted the number of books they could bring, and the Bible, an emigrant handbook and perhaps a Scott or Dickens novel were all that most steerage passengers could take. Emigrants lent their books to each other and organisations such as the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge provided collections of edifying and improving publications to be shared among those on board. Some ships had libraries, but the contents of these varied greatly in quality and usefulness. Bell has examined emigrants’ unpublished diaries and published reminiscences to identify the sorts of books and magazines they read to prepare themselves for their new lives in the antipodes. His paper lays a good foundation for more work in this area.

Anthony Payne, the leading bibliographer of Richard Hakluyt, contributes an essay on Hakluyt’s travel books. His Principall Navigations, Voiages and Discoveries of the English Nation (1589) first made the accounts of discoveries of distant lands easily available to the English reader. Between 1580 and his death in 1616 Hakluyt was involved in the publication of at least 26 books of travel and exploration, a remarkable contribution which Payne describes and analyses with impressive scholarship. Some of these early texts survive only because Hakluyt translated and published them, and later voyage collections by Thevenot (1663), Harris (1705) and others were built on his foundations.

In the 17th and 18th centuries about one in ten sea voyages ended in disaster. Michael Harris of Birkbeck College, London, has studied newspaper and periodical reports of shipwrecks in the late 17th century and his work reveals interesting information about how newspapers at this time gathered their news. Enterprising publishers began to issue separately published accounts of wrecks, including the subsequent hardship and suffering of the survivors. In parallel with the voyage collections compiled by Hakluyt, Thevenot, Harris and others there arose compilations of shipwreck narratives. The first appeared in 1675, its avowed purpose being to illustrate the power of prayer and God’s mercy towards those in peril. The subsequent popularity of shipwreck nar-ratives was more likely due to the public’s appetite for stories of thrill and danger than religion; if there were shocking accounts of cannibalism, either among the survivors or because of attack by bloodthirsty savages, so much the better.

During the 18th century the publishing focus in travel literature shifted from explorers’ accounts to those of what we now call tourists. The Grand Tour of Western Europe became an accepted part of the educational experience of the social elite, who published accounts of their travels and relied for guidance on the accounts of others. This literature is described and analysed by Jeremy Black of the University of Exeter. Much of it was didactic in nature, advising future travellers about both the pleasures and dangers of travel. Foreigners were dishonest, ate unhealthy food, practised Catholicism, and often held republican views, so the refined British tourist needed to be forewarned and always on their guard. Many accounts of the Grand Tour had their origin in diaries or letters, and possess an informal spontaneity lacking in the more formal accounts written for publication after returning home. Black makes interesting observations on the conflict in travel literature between informal subjective spontaneity which may lack depth and accuracy, and the less engaging but more accurate and considered objective account written to appeal to a wider audience.

The growth in British travel to Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries led to an increased demand for accurate advice on where to go, what to see and where to stay. Guide books became the profitable staples of some London booksellers and publishers. Giles Barber, a librarian, reviews the development of English-language guide books to Europe up to 1870. Some included useful phrases and sample conversations in foreign languages such as those in The Gentleman’s Pocket Companion for Travelling into Foreign Parts (1722). Here the English traveller is supplied with French, German and Italian versions of such essentials as how to negotiate a room at an inn, how to ask directions to the privy (answer: “Go straight up and you will find it on your right hand; if you see it not you will soon smell it.”) and how to ask the chambermaid for a kiss. For historians, old guide books are remarkable sources of period information and mirrors of contemporary values and habits. For collectors the challenge is to “complete the set” because, despite being produced in large numbers, guide books were (and are) generally treated as disposable.

Alongside the populist material published for use, the book trade offered high-priced illustrated works for the private libraries of the wealthy.

Charles Newton of the Victoria and Albert Museum examines illustrated books of the Middle East published in the first half of the 19th century when the development of the processes of lithography and aquatinting made lavish illustration possible, providing a form of first-class armchair travel.

The volume concludes with a brief account of the information resources of the Royal Geographical Society, London, where the conference was held.

All conference proceedings are a mixed bag in terms of quality and relevance, but anyone interested in travel literature is sure to find something of value in this volume, as well as many things of unexpected interest and entertainment.

Neil A. Radford



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