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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, a real treasure-trove!, 30 Jan 2010
Didier (Ghent, Belgium) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: British Abroad (Paperback)
As I'm partial to historical novels, I had come across the notion of 'the Grand Tour' lots of times (as, for instance, in novels as diverse as Thackeray's 'Vanity Fair' or Nicholas Griffin's 'The Masquerade') so when I found this book on Amazon I jumped at the chance and bought it immediately. And what a good decision that turned out to be! Jeremy Black discusses the Grand Tour at its height (the 18th century) in all its diversity. No stone is left unturned, as you can tell from the chapter headings:
- Numbers
- Routes and destinations
- Cost and finance
- Transport
- Accommodation
- Food and Drink
- War, Disputes, Accidents and Crime
- Health and Death
- Love, Sex, Gambling and Drinking
- Social and Political Reflections
- Religion
- The Arts
- The debate over the Grand tour: conclusions

What's more, this isn't just a secondhand description of the above-mentioned topics. Black riddles each chapter with dozens of not hundreds of quotes and excerpts from private journals and letters to family and friends (argueing, and rightly so according to me, that these often reflect more objectively and honestly the thoughts and feelings of the writers as compared to what's written in journals meant from the very start to be published). I cannot begin to imagine how much material Black must have perused to assemble this tsunami of quotes, but they are highly effective: one really gets a very lively and firsthand insight into the (often hilarious) things people wrote in their own journals or home to friends and family.

The popular view (or one that I held at least) of the Grand Tour as an educational trip along the great historical sights of (mostly) France and Italy tends to make one focus on those activities (society balls, grand receptions at courts, visits to museums or battlefields) and ignoring the rest: the often abominable condition of roads, the unfamiliar food, language problems, religious differences, ... Not so anymore once you've read this book! In fact, apart from having learned an enormous lot about the Grand Tour itself I finished this book with huge admiration for the many people that undertook it: they endured hardships none of us would be willing to suffer while on holiday ;-)

History writing at its best!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wider Perspectives, 24 Feb 2010
Nicholas Casley (Plymouth, Devon, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: British Abroad (Paperback)
This is a review of the 2003 paperback edition, published with the title `The British Abroad - the Grand Tour in the Eighteenth Century'. (While concentrating on the period from 1713 to 1793, he also considers the years from 1689.) The original hardback was published in 1992, but even earlier - in 1985 - the author had entered the field with his `The British and the Grand Tour'. However, instead of merely revising this work, "I have preferred to write a different work", incorporating much new material.

In the preface, Jeremy Black's opening paragraph immediately addresses the point that although "the Grand Tour involved essentially a trip to Paris and a tour of the principal Italian cities", it was not a rigid itinerary and often expanded its horizons to much of central Europe. It was pleasing, therefore, for me to find that Vienna had just as many entries in the index as Venice.

Black then goes on to address the issue of sources, making a clear distinction between accounts intended for publication and more private manuscript letters and diaries: "Letters written on the spot and a the time are a more accurate guide to experience than the polished prose of calm recollection." Black complains that, "By ignoring the vast bulk of unprinted material and concentrating on a small number of familiar texts, a somewhat narrow conception of eighteenth-century tourism has developed."

The benefit of these two points - the wider geographical coverage and the wealth of first-hand material - is evinced in another passage worthy of a quote: "The young man keen on a future military career who attended Prussian manoeuvres in Silesia or his counterpart who studied the glaciers in the Alps is as worthy of attention as his counterpart admiring the contents of the Uffizi." Although the well-known watering places are indeed covered, Black also reviews travels in central Europe, the Balkans, and even Turkey. It is a shame that no map is provided to demonstrate in symbolic form the variety of places visited and routes taken.

The book comprises an introduction, an epilogue and thirteen chapters inbetween. What distinguishes this book from most others on the subject is that these chapters are thematic rather than geographical or chronological. One drawback from this method, of course, is that one misses the account of a typical tour, for Black bombards us with so many solitary examples of each point he makes. There is not space enough here for me to give the full review I would have liked, but a flavour can perhaps be gleaned from a brief description of some of the chapters.

The first considers the sheer numbers involved in the Grand Tour: small by modern standards, but notable all the same. William Bennet recounts how the Swiss marvelled at the number of English there and thought there must be something unhealthy about England for so many to leave. By far the longest chapter is devoted to routes and destinations: how the Grand Tourists reached the continent, where they went when they arrived there, and why.

The types of transport used is another chapter's subject - two Grand Tourists failed to notice earth tremors in Rome, thinking they were merely greater shocks from their carriage's abysmal suspension. Other chapters look at the accommodation used; the food and drink consumed; the wars (they sometimes enhanced a tour), the accidents, the crimes; the health resorts and the deaths. Black's description of disputes shows how little human nature has changed: cheating foreigners and boorish Englishmen.

Another lengthy chapter addresses love, sex, gambling, and drinking, Black concluding that the Grand Tour "fulfilled a major social need ... for young men ... something to do between school and settling into matrimony." In his next chapter, Black goes on to examine the social and political reflections that the Grand Tourists imbibed on their travels, followed then by a chapter devoted to religion. What many authors have argued as the prime purpose of the Grand Tour is contained within the chapter on the arts: music, painting, architecture. Above all, I think, what this book demonstrates is that each view of the Grand Tour was as unique as those who undertook the adventure: in short, there was no typical Grand Tour.

The book's long epilogue addresses the changes effected by the French Revolution and the subsequent wars that closed most of Europe off from the English for a generation. Thereafter, Grand Tourists "were conscious that they were seeing a different world to that toured by their pre-Revolutionary predecessors."

The text is not difficult but is encumbered by the author's felt need to provide background information about who he is quoting and the position they held (or would hold). Pages and pages of cost comparisons do not make for interesting reading either, but the text can be informative and pleasant nevertheless. (Having seen Professor Black give a lecture without notes, I know how riveting he can be.) Reading this book I was constantly reminded of the ethos instilled in me by my O-level history teacher: first make your statement, then state your evidence.

There are some plates in the centre of the book, but most of these are not really of much use, especially as they are monochrome. The bibliography covers fifteen pages, and even then "for reasons of space only some of the primary and secondary material used has been mentioned." The index could be better, omitting for example Horatio Walpole and Ann Radcliffe.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Broad Education, 27 Feb 2013
Amazon Customer (Belfast N Ireland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: British Abroad (Paperback)
This is a readable book, based on solid research and a wide range of sources, explaining why the Grand Tour became such an important part of life for the wealthiest members of British society, how people travelled, where they stayed, what they ate, the sights they saw, the people they met, the money they spent, the illnesses they contracted and the souvenirs they brought back. There are a few illustrations but these are intended only to complement the text, this is not a coffee-table book.

Recommended as a comprehensive but straightforward introduction to Grand Tourism.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 28 Aug 2014
Dennis L. Williams (Dallas, Texas) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: British Abroad (Paperback)
Fun history.
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British Abroad
British Abroad by Jeremy Black (Paperback - 1 July 2003)
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