Travel journals offer us a window into the past. They free us from the interpretations and opinions of modern historians and offer us eye-witness accounts, from the perspective of a visitor to a foreign land. The big events in history often had an impact on what tourists found when they arrived at their destination, but they were seldom the focus of their writing. Instead, they have left us with a snapshot of everyday life: the rich and the poor, the towns and the countryside, the behaviour and the misbehaviour. It is probably the closest we will ever come to travelling back into the past to find out what life was like. These old journals do not deserve to be forgotten; they are the key to our own history.
This will be the initial focus of my blog – an exploration of largely forgotten travel journals. I will be looking mainly at 19th Century journals. It was a century that saw an explosion in the diversity of journals, with travel became faster and easier as the century progressed.
But the blog will not be limited to the 19th Century or even to journals. I want to look at publications from the past in general, investigating far beyond the well-known classics, finding interesting gems from long-forgotten books. There are many many thousands of books that have long since gone out of print, and are rarely read today, including some writers who were as popular as modern best-selling authors in their day. Non-fiction will be the richest seam to mine, but there may be some occasional forays into the world of fiction, and I will also be attempting to unearth some unpublished manuscripts for their historical insights.
Instead of ploughing right in with my first look at a 19th Century journal, I felt it was important to explain first the premise of the blog and what lies ahead. The posts will be a mixture of simple quotes from interesting texts with some degree of commentary, and essays interspersed with relevant quotes.
I hope you enjoy sharing this journey through the windows into history that forgotten texts offer us. We’ll get straight on with the first journal soon…