MAY 14TH 2007
399 years ago today an under employed Englishman whose London drinking friends included William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, John Donne and the teenage Prince of Wales, set out alone on a walking trip across Europe.
On May 14, 1608, Thomas Coryat, a Somerset bachelor of 32 and house wit to eminent royal and artistic circles in London, began his trip in Calais after a nauseous crossing of the English Channel. He travelled, mostly by foot, up to Paris, down through Lyon, across the Alps into Italy, then made for Venice where he was to stay for a month and a half. The return journey took the traveller through Switzerland, Germany and Holland. On October 3rd Coryat returned to London after a three-day boat journey from Flushing on the Dutch coast, bringing with him news of a great new Italian invention: the fork.
Coryat was neither diplomat nor solider; scholar nor merchant; spy nor smuggler. He travelled not for profit or politics or position at court, but merely for pleasure itself; the more the better. He was the first pure English tourist. The record of his trip, Coryat’s Crudities, was published in 1611 and is the first tourist’s account of Europe. It was groundbreaking work of un-scholarly enjoyment, as Volpone’s author Ben Jonson wrote in an introduction (one of over 150 authors who wrote a preface for Tom Coryat!).
On May 14, 2007, I begin the same trip, also by foot (trains and buses may stand in for horses from time to time – we shall see). Unlike Thomas Coryat, who wrote in a notebook with a quill pen and whose preparation for the trip amounted to little more than watching The Merchant of Venice and joking with Shakespeare, I have several additional tools at my disposal. These include an Apple laptop computer, Leica cameras, a Tri-band mobile, an I-Pod, microphone and Sony Mini disk and an account for the creation a daily blog.