The Unconventional Miss Starke: Writer and Adventuress

One of the most proficient travel writers of the late 18th century was – a woman: Mariana Starke. Her travel guides were an essential companion for British travellers to the Continent.
Being successful didn’t make life easy for Mariana. Female writing for the public was frowned upon. From her years as budding authoress to the latest edition of her successful travel guide, she always had to deal with criticism from more conventional members of society. Unperturbed by this, she led an unusual life for a woman of her time. Continue reading

Don’t Expect Napkins at an Inn – A Continental Explorer’s View on Georgian England

Portrait of Georg Forster

Georg Forster was a central figure of the Enlightenment in Germany. He travelled with Captain James Cook on the second voyage (1772-1775), and was a member of the Royal Society. He also became known as the founder of modern travel writing.
In 1790, the famous scientist chose England as his destination. Young Alexander von Humboldt accompanied him, at that time a budding scientific talent.
Forster turned the impression of the trip into a book titled “Views of the Lower Rhine, from Brabant, Flanders, Holland, England, and France in April, May and June 1790”. It was published from 1791–94.

Here are some observations on Georgian England meant to amuse readers on the Continent:

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Becoming Alexander von Humboldt – A Budding Explorer in Georgian England

Alexander von Humboldt in 1784 (left)
and in 1806 (right).

Alexander von Humboldt (1769 – 1859) was the celebrated explorer of his generation. It is little known that he started his scientific career with a trip to England in 1790. He was 20 years old, and travelled with the famous Georg Forster, author of “A Voyage Round the World”, member of the Royal Society and of Captain James Cook’s crew on the second voyage (1772-1775).
The experienced explorer and the young men had met in 1789 in Mainz / Germany. Alexander was fascinated by the lively and powerful Forster, his impressive career and exiting plans. He dedicated his first scientific thesis about mineralogical observations on basalts to Forster.
It is no surprise that Alexander was delighted when Forster, recognizing the budding talent, asked the young man to join him on his next trip in 1790. Destination: England.
Find out how the journey to England influenced the life of Alexander von Humboldt.

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Travelling with Turner: Exploring the Swiss Alps in 1802

JMW Turner, © The Tate Gallery

Around the turn of the 19th century, Joseph Mallord William Turner was a young, restless painter, always on the lookout for inspiration for his art. After having toured many parts of Britain, he planned to visit the Continent. He was especially interested in the awe-inspiring, romantic Swiss Alps – considered by many a rocky, dangerous wasteland. Thus, aged about 27, and still being an unknown artist, he decided to follow his plans through. Let’s accompany him on his first ever trip abroad.

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Sleigh Rides: An 18th-Century Winter Pleasure

Hard winters were common in the 18th century, especially on the Continent. Snow and ice made roads impossible to pass by carriages. They were, however, still manageable by mule-drawn sleighs. Actually, in the Alps, frozen roads were easier to travel in the winter than in the summer, and bridges made of snow allowed people to cross many rivers otherwise impassable. Thus, the beginning of the winter did not mark the time to stay at home but to start traveling. Famous poet Goethe, e.g., crossed the St. Gotthard pass, enjoying the winter scenery.

“A great train of mules brought the place to life with the sound of their bells. … The way led up over the rocks of the ever-cascading Reuss and the waterfalls here form the most beautiful shapes.”

Traveling in the winter

Many travelers from England discovered the delights of the picturesque winter scenery while on the Grand Tour.   Continue reading

Byron, Murder, Carbonari!

Masonic object

In this post:
– Ravenna and the poetry of politics
– Plotting insurrection: the tight situation in Italy
– Murder!
– Byron and the secret society of the Carbonari
– Under surveillance and attack

Lord Byron (1788 – 1824), a man of scandals, had by 1815 crowned his wild life with a stormy affair with Lady Caroline Lamb, and a breakup with his wife. He left England to travel the Continent. True to the verdict ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know´’, he didn’t led a virtuous life there. In December 1819, he arrived in Ravenna, Italy, where he took up residence to be near his mistress Teresa Guiccioli, a married woman. There was more scandal and adventure to come: Byron became involved in the national movement in Italy – meaning secret societies plotting insurrection against the Austrian und clerical rulers. Indeed it was in Ravenna that Byron found his calling in serious political activities. Continue reading

Object of Interest: Coach Clocks

Coach clocks were, in principle, enlarged pocket watches with a diameter of 9 to 12 cm. However, a clock to take with you on a journey by carriage had to provide some special features. First of all, it had to be robust against the bumps of the road. That’s why coach clocks were kept in padded protective cases made of copper or brass, often covered with fine leather. The metalwork of the case was done in delicate broken ornaments to allow the sound of the mechanism to penetrate. Continue reading

Travelling in the 18th century? Don’t forget your passport!

The concept of the passport is thousands of years old. King Henry V of England is credited with having invented what can be considered the first passport in the modern sense. These letters of “safe conduct” were first written in Latin and English. In 1772, the government decided to use French, the international language of high finance and diplomacy. This didn’t change until 1858. Thus, Britain’s passports were issued in French even when Britain fought Napoleon.

What did the document look like?

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