Itineraries and expectations
Travel is everywhere in eighteenth-century British literature. The fictional literature of the age 'is full of travelling heroes enmeshed in journey-plots', and 'almost every author of consequence' - among them Daniel Defoe, Joseph Addison, Henry Fielding, Tobias Smollett, Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, Laurence Sterne, Mary Wollstonecraft - 'produced one overt travel book'. To these must be added the 'numerous essayistic and philosophic performances' that were cast in the form of imaginary travelogues, such as Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels(1726), Johnson's Rasselas (1759), and Oliver Goldsmith's Citizen of the World (1762). Writers seemed to be travelling, in reality or in their imaginations, just about everywhere. Paul Fussell speculates that travel's pervasive appeal may have owed something to the high degree of acceptance which philosophical empiricism had gained in Britain by the end of the seventeenth century. John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) became a sort of bible for those who espoused a ‘blank slate’ conception of human consciousness and held that all knowledge is produced from the ‘impressions’ drawn in through our five senses. If knowledge is rooted in experience and nowhere else, travel instantly gains in importance and desirability. Following the great Renaissance age of colonial exploration and expansion, an articulated, systematic empiricism made travelling about the world and seeing the new and different ‘something like an obligation for the person conscientious about developing the mind and accumulating knowledge’. Merely reading about conditions elsewhere was not enough. Those who could travel, should – though of course precious few actually could.
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