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date: 20 February 2020

Travel Literature

Abstract and Keywords

This article explains the approach of the Transcendentalists towards travel and travel literature. Those who wrote about traveling and travel literature often disparaged both. Ralph Waldo Emerson even called traveling “a fool's paradise”. However the article says that despite giving disparaging remarks most of them loved travel literature, cited it frequently in their own writings. The article also mentions the reason for this double standard of the Transcendentalists on both these topics. Travel literature provided an escape from New England's provincial orderliness. Its stories of hardships endured and dangers overcome offered agreeable examples of stoicism or at least pluck. The glimpses they provided into alien societies presented vantage points from which to view America's shortcomings. Most of the Transcendentalists became travelers in pursuit of education, health, or lecturing income; they recorded their impressions in letters, journals, memoirs, and poems. Some of them even published travel narratives.

Keywords: travel literature, travel narrative, New England, river trip

Transcendentalists who wrote about traveling and travel literature often disparaged both. In “Self-Reliance,” Ralph Waldo Emerson calls traveling “a fool's paradise” (EmCW 2:46). In “The American Scholar,” he treats the urge to write travel books as the sign of depleted inspiration: “Authors we have in numbers, who have written out their vein, and who, moved by a commendable prudence, sail for Greece or Palestine, follow the trapper into the prairie, or ramble round Algiers to replenish their merchantable stock” (EmCW 1:60). But these remarks tell only half the story. Like most other Transcendentalists, Emerson loved travel literature, cited it frequently in his own writings, and recommended it to his friends. It is not hard to understand why. Travel literature provided an escape from New England's provincial orderliness. Its stories of hardships endured and dangers overcome offered agreeable examples of stoicism or at least pluck. The glimpses they provided into alien societies presented vantage points from which to view America's shortcomings, as when Thoreau in Walden compares the everyday torments of his townsmen, trapped in tasks they never finish, to the fantastic penances of the Brahmins, who sit exposed to four fires and the heat of the sun or, like caterpillars, measure with their bodies the breadth of vast empires (Walden 4).

When Transcendentalists became travelers—often in pursuit of education, health, or lecturing income—they recorded their impressions in letters, journals, memoirs, and poems. Examples of such intimate travel writing include Frederic Henry Hedge's brief account of his schoolboy days in Germany, written shortly before his death for his friend Joseph Henry Allen; the letters and journals that Emerson wrote during his 1827 trip to St. Augustine and during his 1833 European tour; Margaret Fuller's letters from her 1843 tour of the Great Lakes region; the seven long letters that Theodore Parker sent to Convers Francis from Europe in 1844; Emerson's journals and letters written during his tour of England and (p. 397) France in 1847–48; Fuller's letters from Europe, written between 1846 and 1850. The Transcendentalists drew upon their private writings when they wrote travel narratives for publication, but this intimate travel writing displays candor, freshness, and wit that make it worth studying for its own sake.

The first Transcendentalist to publish a travel narrative was Henry David Thoreau, who did most of his traveling within the United States. Two of his early essays, “A Walk to Wachusett” and “A Winter Walk,” both published in 1843, show how easy it is to find beauty and sublimity within walking distance of Concord. “A Walk to Wachusett” records a three-day summer trip with Richard Fuller, Margaret's younger brother. Setting out westward, the two men walk through the villages of Acton, Stowe, and Sterling before ascending Wachusett. Thoreau notes that the hop fields they pass through may remind the traveler of Italy or the south of France since the hop vines' “solid and regular masses of verdure, hanging in graceful festoons from pole to pole,” are as sinuous as grapevines (ThEx 32). They note that the dialect of the villagers they meet—who call the mountain Wor-chusett—differs from their own Concord speech: “Their tongues had a more generous accent than ours, as if breath was cheaper where they wagged” (33). When they reach the mountain's summit, they experience a sudden sense of remoteness, “as if we had travelled into distant regions, to Arabia Petrea, or the farthest east” (37–38). They dine on blueberries and read Virgil and William Wordsworth in their tent. The night proves cold and windy, but the stars and moon console them by shining through the tent, leaving them to marvel at the richness and lavishness of nature, “which can afford this superfluity of light” (40). It is mid-July; the early morning twilight begins as soon as the moon sets. Finally the sun rises up out of the sea and shines on Massachusetts, spread out before them like a map. When they return to the “desultory life of the plain” below they vow to remember that “we have only to stand on the summit of our hour to command an uninterrupted horizon” (46).

In “A Winter Walk,” Thoreau's compass is even smaller. He describes an excursion of a single day in which he never leaves the neighborhood of Concord. The essay begins by describing the snowfall that has silently covered the fields and filled up the windowsills before the walker awakes; it ends by exploring the dreams that fill his mind as he sinks on comfortable pillows and imagines far-off lands. In between lies the exercise of the senses in a landscape made new by the season. Ordinary sounds—wood being chopped, a dog's baying, a rooster's crowing—sound clear and bell-like even at a distance. “The ground is sonorous, like seasoned wood, and even the ordinary rural sounds are melodious, and the jingling of the ice on the trees is sweet and liquid” (ThEx 57). The cold air invigorates, so that the walker enjoys “an Indian summer still in the increased glow of thought and feeling” (58). Remote glens are our “Lapland and Labrador” (61), and pickerel fishers on the ponds look like the natives of Nootka Sound. A trip on ice skates leads through beds of frozen cranberries, as a muskrat darts away under the transparent ice to its hole in the bank. When night falls and the walker leaves the farmer's hearth for his own bed, he imagines the lonely encampment of the Winnipeg fur trader or luxuriates in visions of Greece, Italy, and the coming of spring.

(p. 398) “A Winter Walk” created the pattern for the longer excursions that followed—A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers and the travel narratives published in full only after Thoreau's death: The Maine Woods, Cape Cod, and “A Yankee in Canada.” As a traveler, Thoreau sees with unusual precision and feels with unusual intensity, often interspersing his perceptions with lengthy quotations from his own or others' writings. By one estimate, A Week is “ninety per cent digression and ten per cent narrative” (McPhee 77).

This book had its beginnings in a river trip that Thoreau took with his younger brother, John, in 1839. Thoreau had taken notes during the trip and apparently thought of expanding them into an essay, but the project was halted when John died of tetanus in January 1842. After this tragedy Thoreau planned a longer narrative that might serve as a memorial to his brother. His first draft of A Week was finished by the fall of 1845, shortly after his move to Walden Pond. The book condenses the experience of two weeks into one. It begins with “Saturday”: After a rainy morning turns into a mild afternoon, the two brothers give their homemade boat a vigorous shove and drop silently down the slow stream. They tie up for the night near Billerica and dine on bread, sugar, and cocoa boiled in river water. The silence makes each night sound vivid—owls, twigs cracking, fire bells in a nearby village, dogs barking, the crowing of the hopeful rooster. From the Concord they enter the Middlesex Canal, from which they are locked down into the Merrimack. Passing the village of Nashua in New Hampshire, Thoreau is reminded of the bloody battles between settlers and Indians early in New England's history, which now sound more legendary than the tales of Etruscans or ancient Britons. Eventually the Merrimack becomes too narrow and turbulent to navigate. The brothers moor their boat and set off overland to climb Mount Agiocochook. When they return for the downstream journey they find that the river current, once their antagonist, now sweeps them by familiar landmarks with a speed that is “very near flying” (ThWeek 361). Friday evening finds them near Concord, and in starlight their boat grates against the bulrushes of its native port.

Thoreau's move to Walden Pond in 1845 was partly prompted by his desire to have time and privacy to work on A Week. He continued to revise and expand his initial draft throughout the two years he spent there. During his second year at Walden he took another river trip, this time up the Penobscot River to Mount Katahdin. “Ktaadn,” his account of the trip, was serialized in five issues of John Sartain's Union Magazine of Literature and Art in 1848. Thoreau would make two more Maine trips—and write two more essays—during the 1850s: “Chesuncook” appeared in three installments in the Atlantic Monthly in 1858; “The Allegash and East Branch,” the story of his final journey, appeared in print only when all three essays were published as The Maine Woods after Thoreau's death.

In “Ktaadn,” Thoreau tells the story of a trip with his cousin George Thatcher, traveling up the Penobscot River to the neighborhood of Mount Katahdin. When they reach the base of the mountain, Thoreau decides to ascend the mountain alone, pulling himself up the perpendicular sides of waterfalls by the roots of firs and birches, following stream beds, finally walking across the matted tops of stunted (p. 399) pine trees to a point beneath the mountain's south peak. Attempting another ascent the next day, he reaches an aggregation of loose rocks that look like the raw material of a planet. On his journey homeward Thoreau broods on the revelation that his encounter with the rocky mountain—not a garden for humankind but the dwelling place of necessity and fate—has given him. It reminds him that our bodies, too, are made of the same stuff as Katahdin's top: sheer matter, as alien to our minds as rocks and stones.

“Chesuncook,” the second chapter of The Maine Woods, records a journey to Chesuncook Lake in 1853. This time his cousin has engaged an Indian named Joe Aitteon to lead them. When they camp at night Joe pitches his canoe with a mixture of rosin and grease kept in a cauldron by the riverbank. Thoreau watches him carefully, for, as he admits, they had employed Aitteon chiefly to afford Thoreau an opportunity to study his ways. The next morning, while exploring one of the river's tributaries, they surprise two moose, whose long ears make them look like great frightened rabbits. Thoreau's cousin shoots; one moose dashes away. Half an hour upstream they discover it—a cow—lying dead in shallow water. Joe's expert skinning work with his pocketknife both fascinates and repels Thoreau, who sees the warm milk streaming from the rent udder as the red flesh gradually emerges from the skin and fur. He is struck by the delicacy and tenderness of the moose's hoofs and by her long upper lip, adapted to browsing on trees. At the same time, he admits that the afternoon's tragedy has destroyed for him the innocence of the adventure. He would be happy to spend a year in the woods, hunting and fishing to support himself, but hunting for the satisfaction of killing seems to him like going out in a pasture to shoot your neighbor's horses. In the same way, he wishes that more people would visit the Maine woods to see the pine tree lifting its evergreen arms to the light, not to calculate its value as timber. Thoreau will end “Chesuncook” with a plea that some land be set aside where the bear, the panther, the moose, and the pine may flourish unmolested, as once the kings of England reserved forests for their game.

“The Allegash and East Branch,” the longest chapter in The Maine Woods, records Thoreau's 1857 trip to the Allegash Lakes with a Concord friend, Edward Hoar, and an Indian guide named Joe Polis. Polis, an educated man who has represented his tribe at Augusta and Washington, can also make a canoe and pilot it expertly over rapids and falls; shoot and skin a moose; roll a pipe quickly out of birchbark; make medicinal teas out of native berries and leaves; and imitate the calls of birds and moose. This trip is the longest of Thoreau's three Maine journeys; it proves exhausting even with Polis's experience and woodcraft to rely on. Mosquitoes, black flies, and the midges called no-see-ums torment the men; the carries between the waterways are bogs. Nevertheless, Thoreau loves the impenetrable woods, so dense that there is hardly room for their campfire smoke to ascend.

If the forest is the hero of The Maine Woods, the sea dominates Cape Cod, a narrative based upon Thoreau's first trip to the cape with Ellery Channing in 1849, though it contains material Thoreau collected on later trips as well. The travelers originally planned to travel from Boston to Provincetown by steamer, but an October storm forces them to change their plans. Instead they take the train to (p. 400) Cohasset, where a brig carrying immigrants from Ireland had just been wrecked. Thoreau describes the grim scene they found on Cohasset beach: bodies covered with white sheets, people lifting the sheets to search for their dead, revealing “marble feet and matted heads” and wide-open, lusterless eyes (Cape Cod 5). Yet farther down the beach they see an old man and a boy collecting seaweed that the storm had cast up. “If this was the law of Nature,” Thoreau wonders, “why waste any time in awe or pity?” (9).

After leaving the railroad at its terminus in Bridgewater, the travelers board a crowded stagecoach to take them to the cape. They ride through the bayside towns—Barnstable, Yarmouth, Dennis, Brewster—to Orleans, passing salt works with low, turtlelike roofs and roadside bunches of poverty grass, a low moss that grows where nothing else will. The next morning they set out in a driving wind and rain, determined to walk the remaining thirty miles to Provincetown. Thoreau admires the cape's curious landscapes: roadside fences made partly of whalebones, small neat houses with stunted apple trees the size of currant bushes, and octagonal windmills resting on cartwheels so that the sails can be turned to the prevailing winds. They are surrounded by sand, yet the inhabitants manage to raise crops of corn on plowed “soil” that looks like a mixture of salt and cornmeal. All morning as they walk northward they can hear the roar of the Atlantic several miles away. Finally the sandy plains give way to an upland marsh covered with bayberry, shrub oaks, and beach plum, and they find themselves on a bluff overlooking the Atlantic, where waves ten or twelve feet high cascade over the sandbars like waterfalls. From the high plateau on which they stand, the sand slopes steeply downward for a hundred feet before it reaches the beach. They will alternate between bank and beach until they reach Provincetown, on the cape's clenched fist.

As for the interior of the cape, an “elevated sand-bar,” its few woods consisted of scrub pines and oaks mingled with bayberry, beach plum, and wild roses. They reach Truro and arrange to stay at a lighthouse, the Highland Light. Having watched the sun rise out of the Atlantic, they now have the pleasure of seeing it set into Cape Cod Bay, for the cape here is so narrow that it resembles the deck of a ship. When they reach Provincetown, they watch pickled fish being taken from the holds of ships and spread out to dry: forty thousand codfish in one boat, fifty-six thousand in another. When dry, the fish are stacked on the docks like corded wood. The travelers take passage home on the little steamer Naushon and are startled to discover how quickly the mild shore air turns cold and piercing as it blows over the open sea. Seeing Boston again from Long Wharf makes Thoreau realize that every great coastal city is really a giant wharf. Museums, colleges, churches, scientific organizations, and lyceums all grow from the barrels and bales on the dock: “The more barrels, the more Boston” (Cape Cod 211). On the cape's Atlantic shore, in contrast, he had seen the untamed ocean—a thousand breakers rushing shoreward like wild horses, manes blown back by the wind.

In “A Yankee in Canada,” Thoreau confronts a different kind natural wonder—the St. Lawrence River. In autumn 1850, he and Ellery Channing took advantage of cheap rail-and-steamboat promotional fares—seven dollars for round-trip (p. 401) passage—to visit Montreal, Quebec, and the great river that connects them. At Montreal the St. Lawrence is as broad as a lake and deep enough to accommodate oceangoing vessels of six hundred tons. Below Quebec the river widens from eleven miles across to nearly one hundred miles before it flows into the gulf. Each tributary of the great river has its own falls or rapids, and Thoreau and Channing visit the most famous: the Falls of the Montmorenci below Quebec, where the river falls perpendicularly nearly two hundred fifty feet before tumbling into the St. Lawrence in a vast white sheet; the Falls of St. Anne, where Thoreau ventures out on a pair of dead trees that had dropped across the torrent, walking on one slippery trunk and using the other for a handrail as he peers over the precipice into the foam a hundred feet below. At Quebec they hire a calèche to take them nine miles southwest to the Falls of the Chaudière. Thoreau sees a brilliant rainbow just below the precipice. He stands on a level with the keystone of its arch, marveling at its intense colors. It formed a complete semicircle, “so intensely bright as to pain the eye, and apparently as substantial as an arch of stone” (ThEx 137).

The only work of human art to match the Great River is Montreal's church of Notre Dame, the largest ecclesiastical structure in North America, capable of seating ten thousand. The church seems to Thoreau like a great cave in the midst of the city, its altars and tinsel sparkling like stalactites, disposing all visitors to serious and profitable thought. The scene outside the church is, by contrast, a constant parade of soldiers. Thoreau and Channing watch white-gloved soldiers drill on a parade ground, obeying their commander's signals with a precision and promptness that makes them look like one vast centipede. The sight of this drilling makes Thoreau long for a different kind of army: “If men could combine thus earnestly, and patiently, and harmoniously, to some really worthy end, what might they not accomplish!” (ThEx 91).

A steamer trip down the river to Quebec lands them not only in a different city but almost in a different century. As the travelers climb a zigzag street blasted through the rock to the Upper Town, they feel as if they have wandered into one of Froissart's chronicles or Scott's romances. Quebec's citadel seems like a relic of the middle ages, and the soldiers who fight sham battles on the Champs de Mars to commemorate the famous battle between Montcalm and Wolfe only strengthen Thoreau's impression that both British and French Canadians are wedded to the past. Once the travelers leave Quebec to walk thirty miles to the Falls of St. Anne, their sense of the archaic grows even stronger. The neat whitewashed houses fronting the St. Lawrence, the men in the fields wearing their bonnets rouges, the women wearing dresses made from stiff, homespun material, the wayside shrines with images of Christ or the Virgin Mary, the stone churches, appear to Thoreau “as old as Normandy itself, and realized much that I had heard of Europe in the Middle Ages” (ThEx 125).

The travelers find that their stumbling American French does not help them much in conversation. After one night in a village public house, Thoreau remarks that “we here talked or murdered French all the evening with the master of the house and his family, and probably had a more amusing time than if we had completely (p. 402) understood one another” (ThEx 108). French place names, however, delight him: la Rivière du Sault a la Puce; la Rivière de la Rose; la Rivière de la Blondelle; la Rivière de la Friponne. On a bridge near St. Anne he asks a man in a field the name of the river they are crossing. It is la Rivière au Chien—Dog River. That blunt name suddenly makes him thinks of “the life of the Canadian voyageur and coureur de bois,” roaming the wildest Arcadia in the world (125). Even the names of humble Canadian villages—St. Fereole, St. Anne, St. Hyacinthe—affect him as if they had been names of the renowned cities of antiquity. They “reel, if I may so speak, with the intoxication of poetry,” as if “it needed only a little foreign accent, a few more liquids and vowels perchance in the language, to make us locate our ideals at once” (126). Thoreau's travels, which began with visits to mountains and unspoiled woods, take him inexorably back to human civilization and human speech. The French explorers who named the Pointe aux Trembles (after the aspens that once covered it) wrote “a poem which the mass of men hear and read,” a poem that testifies to the marriage of mind and nature in language itself. “Inexpressibly beautiful appears the recognition by man of the least natural fact, and the allying his life to it” (93–94).

If the unconscious poetry of naming beautifully allies natural fact to human life, too much description can overwhelm the most sublime scenery, as Margaret Fuller discovers when she visits Niagara Falls in 1843. She is traveling with her friends the Clarkes—Sarah, James Freeman, and their mother, Rebecca—via the Great Lakes to Chicago. Before they set out on their lake voyage, they travel to Niagara Falls. Fuller tells us that she arrived quite prepared to give her approbation to “the one object in the world that would not disappoint,” yet the sight of the cataract at first leaves her strangely unmoved. Instead she is gradually drawn to other aspects of the scene: the almost-hidden whirlpool below the falls; the rapids, which are so swift that they cease to seem so; the perpetual trampling of the rushing waters. The effects of these phenomena gradually give her a “proper foreground” for appreciating the falls. “Before coming away, I think I really saw the full wonder of the scene” (Summer 4). Her slight hedging here reflects the difficulty of escaping the torrent of words let loose upon the scene by generations of explorers and travelers. “Happy were the first discoverers of Niagara,” she writes, “those whose feelings were entirely their own” (5).

After Fuller and the Clarkes reach Chicago, they make lengthy excursions by lumber wagon into the countryside. In the Rock River Valley the party comes upon a landscape that impresses her by “its fullness of expression, its bold and impassioned sweetness” (Summer 32). Sadly, the beauty of the landscape seems lost upon the settlers at the nearby farms. Men seem wholly absorbed by material needs; women complain of isolation and drudgery. Even more painful is the contempt and revulsion that the white settlers in Wisconsin display toward the Indians they have only recently banished from their villages and hunting grounds. Fuller calls this behavior “the aversion of the injurer for him he has degraded” (72). To her, Indian manners seem marked by “gentle courtesy” (74), even in tents full of sickness and destitution. When she later travels alone to Mackinac Island, where Indian tribes gather to receive their annual payment from the federal government, she sees the same “decorum and delicacy,” (p. 403) particularly among the women, who fold and return with a “lady-like precision” any item of hers they take to examine (111). Still, seeing thousands of Indians camped in wigwams on Mackinac Island at least allows Fuller to witness Indians living in their own societies instead of as degraded figures on the margins of white settlements. Her most exhilarating experience among the Indians comes not on Mackinac but at Sault Sainte Marie, where two young Indian men in pink calico shirts paddle her in a birchbark canoe down the three-quarter-mile-long rapids. As they begin the descent she expected some “gasp of terror and delight, some sensation entirely new to me” (150). To her surprise, the Indians negotiate the rapids so skillfully that she finds herself in smooth water before she has time to feel anything but “the buoyant pleasure of being carried so lightly through this surf amid the breakers” (150).

Once back in New England, Fuller began collecting her journal notes and the letters she had written to friends to write a book about her impressions of the West. Summer on the Lakes, in 1843 was published in Boston on June 4, 1844, and contains, in addition to the travel narrative, poems and letters written by Fuller and her friends; a thinly veiled autobiographical narrative; and a prose tale translated from the German. Even so, Fuller's book was modestly successful and favorably reviewed. Horace Greeley, the editor of the New-York Tribune and already an admirer of her Dial essay “The Great Lawsuit,” encouraged her to move to New York and become the editor of the paper's literary department. Fuller flourished in New York; during her twenty months with the newspaper she wrote 250 articles for it and prepared two of her own books for publication. When some wealthy Quaker friends, the Springs, planning a tour of Europe offered to pay some of her expenses in exchange for tutoring their son during the trip, she accepted their offer. Greeley helped with an advance of $120 for fifteen travel letters to the Tribune (Fuller, Dispatches 8). He would send her $10 for each additional letter she wrote.

Fuller's thirty-seven “dispatches” allow us to follow her as she travels with the Springs from England through France to Italy, where she takes up residence when the Springs depart. Her first nine dispatches record impressions and experiences in England and Scotland. In the Lake District, Wordsworth, fine and florid at seventy-six, receives them at Rydal Mount. In Edinburgh she meets De Quincey, whose reminiscences of events long past still have an eloquence “subtle and forcible as the wind, full and gently falling as the evening dew” (Dispatches 68). In London she encounters the acerbic Thomas Carlyle, who poured on his listeners “a kind of satirical, heroical, critical poem, with regular cadences” (101). She also meets the Italian exile Joseph Mazzini, whose friend and correspondent she became (Capper 2:323–24). She enjoys the London literary world and the celebrity her recently published Woman in the Nineteenth Century brought her (2:288–98). At the same time, the poverty she sees on city streets dismays her. In Glasgow the listless, woeful faces of women in tatters make her think of the inscription on the gates of Dante's Inferno, and the plight of the London poor is scarcely better: “Poverty in England has terrors of which I never dreamed at home” (Dispatches 79, 88).

When Fuller and the Springs reach Italy, she feels immediately at home. At Genoa she can scarcely believe that she has touched the shores “to which I had (p. 404) looked forward all my life, where it seemed that the heart would expand, and the whole nature be turned to delight” (Dispatches 129). She soon discovers that the Italian people have less reason to rejoice in their homeland, however. The Austrians, who then occupied northeastern Italy, tolerated nothing that threatened their rule, and the conservative cardinals who surrounded the pope were hostile to change. Would the pope continue to take modest steps in the direction of popular representation and liberty? Would the Austrians ever leave? The fearlessness of the Italian demonstrators suggested that the people were on the road to eventual freedom, though no one could say how long it might take to achieve it.

The dispatches Fuller sent to the Tribune in 1848 express her hope that the Austrians will be expelled and the rulers of the Italian states will be forced to concede rights to their peoples—constitutions, representative assemblies, the popular vote. The agitations in Italy were part of a larger series of European insurrections that Fuller followed closely and described in the six lengthy dispatches she wrote during the year. First there was pride at seeing the members of the new Roman constituent assembly swear the oath of office before the pope. Then came exhilarating news from Paris that King Louis-Philippe had been forced to abdicate his throne. Insurrections followed all over Europe. In Italy the people of Naples forced their king, Ferdinand II, to grant them a constitution. In March the Milanese and the Venetians drove the Austrians out of their cities. Fuller shared the revolutionary excitement as a dark, rainy winter ended in a joyous spring. Her twenty-third dispatch, dated March 29, 1848, rejoices alike in sun and good news. “Nature seems in sympathy with the great events that are transpiring; with the emotions which are swelling the hearts of men” (Dispatches 209). But would this joyous spring lead into a lasting season of happiness? In subsequent months reactionary rulers would take back the freedoms they had been forced to grant, crushing democratic movements in bloody assaults. The Austrians retook Milan. In November the pope fled his palace disguised as an ordinary priest and took refuge with the king of Naples. Several European powers immediately plotted to restore the Pope to his throne (Capper 2:412–20, 426).

Despite the foes massing on every side, in February 1849 the Constituent Assembly of Rome proclaimed the establishment of a Roman republic. When the French arrived outside the gates of Rome, many Americans left, but by now Fuller had reasons for remaining inside the threatened city. She had become the lover of a young Italian from a noble family, the Marchese Angelo Giovanni Ossoli, and the mother of their son, Angelino. Ossoli, as sergeant in the Civil Guard, took part in Rome's defense, and Fuller continued to send dispatches from the besieged city. “I write you from barricaded Rome,” she begins her dispatch of May 6, 1849; “The Mother of Nations is now at bay against them all” (Dispatches 274). Even after the Roman republic falls to the attacking French in July 1849 Fuller refuses to despair. The next revolution, she asserts, will be radical; anyone who tries to rule over another human being will be expelled from civilized society. Even though at present the worst men rule while the best are imprisoned or exiled, by the end of the century Fuller predicts that all Europe will be under republican forms of government (313, 321).

(p. 405) While Fuller was recording the outrages perpetrated by the French occupiers of Rome, her friend James Freeman Clarke was about to begin his own voyage to Europe. Clarke, the pastor of Boston's Church of the Disciples, had long wanted to go to Europe to see the Alps and to look at fine paintings and cathedrals—the chief subjects of the genial travel book he published in 1852, Eleven Weeks in Europe. Clarke's trip had a weightier purpose as well; he planned to attend the Second General Peace Congress in Paris in August 1849. This congress was convened to discuss whether international arbitration could be substituted for war. Interest in the subject was so strong that a hall seating two thousand people quickly filled up; England and the United States sent sizeable delegations. Clarke was especially moved by the speech of the Abbé Deguerry, the curate of the Madeleine, who was handed a note from someone asking what he thought about the recent French intervention in Rome in favor of the pope. The abbé replied: “I know it is contrary to our rules to refer to the politics of the present day, but this much I will say, I do not believe that good can ever come from compelling a people by a foreign force to submit to any government.” His statement was greeted by “an uproar of applause” from the delegates, though the abbé was “sharply taken to task by some of his brother Catholics” (Clarke 114). Paris had relics from the 1848 revolution as well. In Notre Dame, Clarke saw a rich casket containing a bullet and two vertebral bones of the late archbishop of Paris, who was killed in June 1848 when he mounted the barricades to try to quiet the insurgents (120).

The most extensive literary work to emerge from the era of European revolutions was Emerson's English Traits, which grew out of the author's nine-and-a-half-month lecture tour of England and Scotland in 1847–48. Though Emerson attended Chartist meetings in England and crossed the English Channel to witness the French revolution in progress, English Traits is not about revolution but about England and its empire. Immediately upon landing at Liverpool, travelers find themselves wondering “Why England is England? What are the elements of that power which the English hold over other nations?” (EmCW 5:18). Good soil and a climate suited to hard work have made the English sturdy laborers; the “impregnable sea wall” that protects it from invasion necessarily makes it a nation of seafarers. Still, accidents of geography alone do not explain why nineteenth-century England has become (in Sir John Herschel's words) “the centre of the terrene globe” (21), nor why it has produced noteworthy theologians, poets, political leaders, and inventors for a thousand years. Emerson says, “Only a hardy and wise people could have made this small territory great” (29). The “composite” race that now inhabits England shows traces of the three earlier races who colonized the land: the Celts, the oldest inhabitants of Britain, who had in the earliest times “an alphabet, astronomy, priestly culture, and a sublime creed” (30); the Germans or Saxons, distinguished for their military prowess and love of independence; and the savage Norsemen, whose raids first took them from Scandinavian seacoasts into northern France, then in 1066 across the English Channel into England, where “they took every thing they could carry, they burned, harried, violated, tortured, and killed” (33)—and became the land's new aristocracy. From the combination of these three strains one can derive the features of English faces and the traits that mingle in their character. Emerson admires the supreme (p. 406) tenacity of the English, their determination to produce practical results, and the high value they set on pluck. The English “require you to dare to be of your own opinion, and they hate the practical cowards who cannot in affairs answer directly yes or no” (57). Their firmness appears in everything they do. The axes of their eyes seem fixed to their backbones. “Every man in this polished country consults only his convenience, as much as a solitary pioneer in Wisconsin” (58). This self-reliance is matched by a passion for truth. “In the power of saying rude truth, sometimes in the lion's mouth, no men surpass them” (67). Independence, love of truth, and resoluteness of character flower into a tolerance for eccentricity matched nowhere else on the globe. The eccentric Englishman “means by freedom the right to do as he pleases, and does wrong in order to feel his freedom, and makes a conscience of persisting in it” (81). England's prodigious wealth cannot be understood without understanding this defense of individual rights. If it is argued that the current accumulation of public and private wealth would be impossible without industrialization, many other nations have steam engines and factories without acquiring England's wealth or power. England's current international dominance derives from national habits of thrift, self-sufficiency, and a tradition of laws that ferociously safeguard private property. “With this power of creation, and this passion for independence, property has reached an ideal perfection. It is felt and treated as the national life-blood” (93).

In his final chapter, Emerson calls England “the best of actual nations” (EmCW 5:169). Is it also the best of all possible nations? No, for property, no matter how much it is venerated and protected, cannot supply the place of the religious faith that built the cathedrals and wrote the Book of Common Prayer, just as English literature, regardless of its polish, can never recapture the “Saxon precision and oriental soaring” that characterized English literature in its golden age (133). In an earlier chapter titled “Stonehenge,” Emerson tells the story of his trip with Carlyle to see the mysterious monument on Salisbury Plain. On the train trip down from London, Carlyle lodges the complaint that American travelers cling to one another's company instead of manfully confronting Englishmen and acquiring what they had to teach. Emerson replies that he is willing to grant the English every excellence. Yet he knows that when he returns to Massachusetts he will lapse at once into the feeling, inspired by geography, that Americans play the game with immense advantage—that in America, and not in England, lies the future “seat and centre of the British race” (155). Of course, no Englishman would agree with him. Nonetheless, as Emerson prepares to leave the “trim hedge-rows and over-cultivated garden of England” for the “great sloven continent” across the Atlantic, where nature lies “sleeping, overgrowing, too much by half for man in the picture, and so giving a certain tristesse, like the rank vegetation of swamps and forests seen at night” (163), he finds the feeling impossible to efface. The Transcendentalists always carry with them the image of a world still untouched by human beings, just as they bring to the wildest regions of the New World minds formed by the study of classical poetry, as Thoreau quotes Ovid on the way to Wachusett and Homer on the Atlantic beaches of Cape Cod. Reminded of nature's wildness in crowded cities and of civilization's richness in the wilderness, they write travel literature that tries to do justice to both.

Works Cited

Capper, Charles. Margaret Fuller: An American Romantic Life. 2 vols. New York: Oxford UP, 1992, 2007.Find this resource:

Clarke, James Freeman. Eleven Weeks in Europe; and What May Be Seen in That Time. Boston: Ticknor, Reed, and Fields, 1852.Find this resource:

Collison, Gary. “A Critical Edition of the Correspondence of Theodore Parker and Convers Francis, 1836–1859.” PhD diss., Pennsylvania State U, 1979.Find this resource:

Fuller, Margaret. Summer on the Lakes, in 1843. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1991.Find this resource:

——— . These Sad but Glorious Days: Dispatches from Europe, 1846–1850. Ed. Larry J. Reynolds and Susan Belasco Smith. New Haven: Yale UP, 1991.Find this resource:

McPhee, John. “1839/2003: Five Days on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers.” New Yorker (December 15, 2003): 71–85.Find this resource:

Thoreau, Henry David. Cape Cod. Ed. Joseph J. Moldenhauer. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1988.Find this resource:

——— . The Maine Woods. Ed. Joseph J. Moldenhauer. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1972.Find this resource: