Touring and Travel on the Continent
The year 1825, when the Ruskins made their first Channel crossing, initiating the Tour of 1825, is noted as a watershed for middle‐class British travel by historians studying the opening of Netherlands, Belgium, and northern France, since more rapid crossings were made possible by the rise of steam packet lines. The steam packets accommodated large excursion parties along with individual travelers, providing amenities such as food and drink and even entertainment, with music performance being common onboard (Williams and Armstrong, “Steam Shipping and the Beginnings of Overseas Tourism”). For travelers of modest means, the steam lines greatly increased the efficiency, reliability, and carrying capacity, improvements that were critical for travelers who could take holidays from employment only on a limited budget and for definite periods—a point expressly made by John James Ruskin in a letter of March 1825, determined to “chuse Summer in future for any little Travelling” with his family, since he suffered chill, weariness, and loneliness from his business travel during the autumn and winter months (Burd, ed., Ruskin Family Letters, 131).
The slowness and obstinance of French postilions were decried by English travelers, justly or unjustly, from the eighteenth century through the nineteenth, and their extraordinary appearance in their huge jackboots—big as barrels and rimmed with iron to protect their legs—was a frequent subject of commentary (Black, The British Abroad, 135–36; Hibbert, The Grand Tour, 36–37). Traveling to Paris in 1817, the Liverpool Congregational minister, Thomas Raffles (1788–1863), objected to post horses taken “from the field, the cart, or the plough” and presenting “a worse appearance than the most miserable hawkerʼs cart in the streets of London”, while the postilion cut no “less extraordinary figure than his horses. His enormous boots, weighing from 5 to 7 pounds each, in which there is room for two legs of ordinary size—his powdered hair and long pigtail—his enormous whip, in the smacking of which he makes the most wonderful evolutions over his head, and the most terrible noise that can be imagined, and by the regulation of which, on principles known to themselves, he apprises the postmaster as he enters a town or village, whether the travellers be French or English, and whether they pay well or ill—altogether make up so grotesque a figure” (Raffles, Letters, 21–22).
On the Tour of 1833, the young travelers soon got into the spirit of English bemusement and exasperation over the figure of the French postilion—Ruskin, in the satirical essay, “Hast ever heard of the peace of Aix La Chapelle” [“Aix La Chapelle”], and his cousin, Mary Richardson, in her travel diary. At the start of the tour, Mary was “much amused with the postillion cracking his whip very loud” to encourage his “most miserable looking animals”, but she soon professed weariness over “waiting a long time as usual” for horses as ”for every thing in this country”. In a set piece flavored with Dickensian irony, she narrates the upset caused by an incompetent postilion who, as “a coachman” and unused “to ride on horseback”, “got frightened and trembled all over” and nearly ran their horses into a shop, bringing a crowd into the street to surround and burden the carriage with assistance. He was replaced by a postilion affecting such nonchalance that, “with the greatest coolness . . . [he] stopped 20 times to sort something or other” with the tackle. In general, she concludes disapprovingly, “[i]n France and Belgium, the postillions stop in the middle of every stage, if only five miles, to get beer or brandy”, cracking their whips on approach to a place where someone would always bring them their refreshment” (Diary of Mary Richardson, 1833, 2–3, 14–15).
As guides, besides relying on the services of a cicerone, like Salvador, the Ruskins carried guidebooks on their tours abroad. In the 1820s through the mid‐1830s guidebooks, like middleʼclass travel generally, were undergoing a transition. The vade‐mecum for English travelers landing in Normandy and the Low Countries, John Murray IIIʼs Hand‐book for Travellers on the Continent, did not become available until 1836. Whereas Murrayʼs Hand‐book is now often credited with founding the genre of the modern English travelerʼs guidebook, for earlier journeys like the Ruskinsʼ, taken after the reopening of the Continent following the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and continuing through the mid‐1830s, travelers often relied on publications that combined personal travel narrative with some practical advice. As Pieter François has shown, in the period prior to the publication of Murrayʼs Hand‐book, there appeared numerous examples of the guidebook genre, particularly relating to the Low Countries, but in an emergent and somewhat inchoate form. Only gradually, after Waterloo, the modern guidebook emerged as a genre distinct from the so‐called travel account, in that the guidebook came to offer mainly practical travel advice, whereas the more traditional travel account emphasized topographical description and narrative from an individual perspective (albeit not too individualistic, lest decorum and authority seem to succumb to eccentricity). In the immediate post‐Waterloo period, these genres were often mixed in the same book, with traces of the eighteenth‐century travel account governing the narrative (for example, in the adoption of an epistolary form), while tables of practical advice were added to recommend the book in a crowded field (François, “If Itʼs 1815, This Must Be Belgium”, 76–82).
This transitional and eclectic period of travel writing is reflected in the Ruskinsʼ book purchases immediately before and after their first major Continental journey, that of 1833 journey. Besides arming themselves with a German grammar book, the Ruskins carried a work by Mariana Starke (1762–1838), whose travel books both François and James Buzard characterize as typical of the transitional period of travel writing, displaying characteristics both of the guidebook and the travel account, and whose work Charles Batten similarly describes as moving away from the decorum of the eighteenth‐century travel account (François, “If Itʼs 1815, This Must Be Belgium”, 76, 90; Buzard, Beaten Track, 68–70; Batten, Pleasurable Instruction, 30). The Starke work acquired by the Ruskins may have been Travels in Europe, a popular guidebook first published by Murray in 1820 as Travellers on the Continent, and available in a “considerably enlarged” eighth edition in 1833.
Starkeʼs Travels in Europe along with her more portable Information and Directions for Travellers on the Continent, which was published on the Continent by Galignani, approached closely to the form of the modern guidebook, Buzard comments. Even Starkeʼs much earlier success, Travels in Italy (1800), had been “felt by many before the rise of the Murray and Baedeker guides to be the best available vade‐mecum for Italy”. This work, Buzard remarks, “was by no means single‐mindedly devoted to the role of ‘handbook’”. It was characteristic of the transitional period of travel writing, in having “the appearance, when we look back at it with generic presuppositions founded on Murray and Baedeker, of an impressionistic ‘travel book’”—that is, as still relying, despite its “serving as a makeshift [modern] ‘handbook’ in the absence of any alternative”, on such eighteenth‐century> conventions as a series of letters containing the travelerʼs personal impressions balanced by judicious reflection (Buzard, Beaten Track, 68, and see 69–70).
Diary of Mary Richardson, 1833, © The Ruskin, Lancaster University.