There are many reasons why people would want to leave their own home to travel somewhere new. Many wander elsewhere for leisure or business purposes, but how much tourism is undertaken for an educational experience? (Those wild semesters spent in Barthelona surely can’t all count.)
At the start of the 18th century, young Englishmen would set foot on an adventure that they hoped would change their lives. The Grand Tour was the traditional voyage through Europe undertaken by upperclass boys on the verge of adulthood to gain perspective in all senses. Art. Architecture. Music. Dance. Horsemanship. Swordplay. Literature. Philosophy. Etiquette.
Our very word ‘tourism’ comes from the concept of the Grand Tour, which not only provided a liberal education, but allowed those who could afford it the opportunity to buy things that were unavailable at home. And of course doing so would increase person’s — a family’s — prestige. Despite deviations from the true righteous purpose driving the Grand Tour, many of the travellers were forever influenced by what they learned on the road.
Increased trade in India also inspired young men to indulge themselves in other cultures and boosted fascination in things ‘other.’ Similar trips were made by the wealthy of Northern European nations during the Enlightenment. The Grand Tour was a trip that varied in the length depending on how long these young men would travel and get exposed to cultural artifacts and the aristocratic society of other European nations. Young men from the ages of fourteen to twenty would head out with this ideal itinerary for self-discovery.
The term ‘Grand Tour’ was introduced by Richard Lassels in his 1670 book Voyage to Italy. A visit to the home of the Renaissance was considered essential for young artists, to understand proper painting and sculptural techniques though direct experience with bonafide Masters. Grand tourists of the titled sort would return with lots of paintings, books, drawings, figurines and instruments. Their souvenirs would be displayed in libraries, cabinets of curiosity, gardens and drawing rooms, as well as in galleries built purposely for their display.
The standard areas of focus abroad were fencing, riding, and dancing. The latter was said to produce grace and “Manliness’, and honed the young men’s confidence. The ruling classes from all corners of Europe believed those were the qualities pertaining to a perfect gentleman.
The Grand Tour was such an important part of a genteel young man’s education that university was disregarded as an alternative. Due to the romantic appeal of the Grand Tour most were stuck with a tutor to guide them through the experience, often called a ‘bear leader.’ The trip was a regimented sequence of events. However, by the time they reached Italy, many were on a freer rein. The young men would began to gain a better sense of high fashion and when they felt they had learned all they could, they would continue on to the next locale to gain more information.
It was argued, and widely accepted, that knowledge came entirely from the external senses, that what one knows comes from the physical stimuli to which one has been exposed. Thus, one could ‘use up’ the environment, taking from it all it offers, require a change of scenery. Travel, therefore, was necessary for one to develop the mind and expand knowledge of the world.
From Dover, the travellers crossed the Channel to Paris, where they learned the intricacies of the French language and increased their general levels of sophistication and wit. The idea was to venture to cultural centers of the time, to the City of Light, Rome and Venice. Some would argue that Italy was the whole point, owning to the eternal achievements of the Roman Empire. The Coliseum was a particularly hot ticket.
Other destinations included Spain, Portugal and some Eastern European countries, but due to the lack of appeal and the difficulty to travel there, these places were often overlooked. Few traveled the mountainous way to Germany, especially with the threat of robbers. Many Grand Tourists stayed for shorter periods and went off with giddy intentions to pursue activities anything but scholarly.Yet in the end, it was hoped that a brush with the loftiest echelons of human nature would shake the fluff from maturing minds, and shape them, like quarried marble, into more refined modes of thinking.
Sources: Cohen, M., “The Grand Tour: constructing the English gentleman in eighteenth-century France”, History of Education, vol 21, no 3, pgs 241-257, 1992
Cohen, M., “The Grand Tour: Language, National Identity and Masculinity”, Changing English: Studies in Reading and Culture, vol 28, no 2, pgs 129-141, 2001
Rosenberg, M., Grand Tour of Europe, Online, 2003