Today I thought I would talk about the Grand Tour, a rite of passage for many young men and women of a certain level of society in the time immediately preceding the events of Pride and Prejudice. You likely already know something of this subject, and there may even be posts on this site discussing it, but as I have never written about it and it may be the subject of an upcoming variation, I thought I would put in my two cents.
The Grand Tour was basically a long pilgrimage popular among the elite of society, and more specifically those who could afford it. Beginning in about the 1660s, the youth of Europe would set out on a tour of the continent, stopping in the major centers of culture and learning. While one might conclude that a large part of the reason for such a journey was to carouse and enjoy oneself (and that assumption would not be mistaken) it was also considered an educational rite of passage for those fortunate enough to be able to afford it. The traveler would study in the various centers of learning, experience new cultures, and would return home better prepared to face the responsibilities that awaited them, of a more liberal and enlightened mindset.
There was no set itinerary for a Grand Tour, for the steps a traveler followed would sometimes depend on the whims of the moment or the traveler’s personal preferences. There were, however, several must-see stops that included:
- Paris. What tour could be complete without seeing the jewel of France? Although construction on the Arc de Triomphe had only just begun in 1810 and would not be completed for another 25 years, and the Eiffel Tower was not even a glimmer in its creator’s eye (Gustave Eiffel was not even born until 1832), there was plenty to see and do in Paris, and experiencing the culture, the courtly manners and high fashion was considered necessary for a true gentleman.
- Geneva. The city was known as the birthplace of Calvinism and a great hub of learning.
- Turin or Milan. Italian art and learning was often a stop that would consume several months. In order to reach Italy, the traveler would need to undertake the passes of the Alps, such as the Great St. Bernard Pass, which required walking, as roads had not been developed that would allow for the passage of carriages. The carriages would be disassembled and carried over by hand! If one was truly wealthy, a hired chair might be utilized, and servants to carry the traveler over the rough terrain.
- Venice. While Venice and its canals were a must see stop for many, the city was considered too decadent for young ladies, and was often avoided. Young gentlemen, however, considered it among the highlights of their journeys.
- Rome. With many monuments such as the Coliseum and the Sistine chapel, Rome often the furthest stop to the south, though some travelers might venture as far as Naples to study music. In addition, travelers might visit the recently discovered sites of Herculaneum and Pompeii. And how about having your portrait painted by an Italian artist!
- Vienna. Once finished with Italy, a traveler would return north toward the German states, spending time in Vienna, studying at the university and learning music there. While Munich, Berlin, and other such German cities were visited, the most common destination was Vienna.
As you can likely see from the itinerary, this was not a journey completed in a couple of weeks. A typical Grand tour would often consume two years of a traveler’s life. The stops would consume several months, and the learning they received was considered valuable training for their future lives. The Grand Tour was mostly popular among young men, but young women could also partake, though they would generally travel in the company of an elder, sometimes a relation, though not always. They could also accompany a patron.
Unfortunately, the strife of the late 18th century and early 19th brought the practice of Grand Tours to an end. The wars on the continent and the increased reach of the Napoleonic Empire rendered the journey unsafe, and as Englishmen were generally unwelcome anywhere in French-dominated Europe, young men of Mr. Darcy’s station were denied the pleasures their forbears had experienced. After the final defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, Grand Tours had a bit of a renaissance until the advent of large railway systems in continental Europe in the mid 1800s made travel much more accessible and convenient for the masses.
I hope you enjoyed this little peek into Grand Tours. If you are interested, there are quite a few sites that give more in depth descriptions.
As a final note, Unintended Consequences, my latest shorter novel, is currently in the final stages of preparation. I anticipate releasing it on the 12th of May. If everything goes well, I might even decide to put it out earlier!