From Addison to Gibbon
These lines are from Goldsmith’s The Traveller, published in 1764, a convenient focal year for the commencement of our study. Quoted thus in isolation, the passage epitomises the contemptuous attitude of the English Grand Tourists to what they supposed to be the modern Italian character. From Chaucer to Milton contemporary Italy had been a recurrent stimulus to English poetic achievement, whether it was the stimulus of Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio, of the sensationally ‘Machiavellian’ Italy of the dramatists, or of the exciting intellectual activity which Milton found in Italy in 1938–9.1 But in the century following the Restoration Italian influence, supplanted by the French, was at its nadir.2 The Grand Tourists followed each other over their well-trodden paths from year to year with a disappointing monotony and lack of inspiration. Recoiling from contact with contemporary Italian life, they contemned its apparent poverty and squalor as a pitiful contrast with the former greatness of Rome, a greatness to which they felt themselves, the British ruling classes, to be the rightful and magnificent heirs.
KeywordsEighteenth Century English Literature Sole Tenant Optimistic Assertion Italian Setting
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- 6.T. Green, Extracts From The Diary of A Lover of Literature (Ipswich, 1810) p. 26; entry for 24 February 1797.Google Scholar
- 7.E. Gibbon, Memoir of My Life ed. G. A. Bonnard (London, 1966) p. 80.Google Scholar
- 8.See G. A. Bonnard (ed.), Gibbon’s journey From Geneva To Rome: His Journal From 20 April To 2 October,1764 (London, 1961) pp. 130–86;Google Scholar
- G. M. Young, Gibbon (London, 1932) p. 58; and Nomina Gentesque Antiquae Italiae, in Gibbon, Miscellaneous Works, vol. iv (London, 1814) pp. 155–326.Google Scholar
- 9.J. E. Norton (ed.), Letters, vol. i (London, 1956) pp 197–8; letter of 21 July 1765.Google Scholar