King's College London
Online Exhibitions
Ploughing the sea: Latin America observed

Books for the armchair traveller

Cover in navy cloth, with pictorial design in black, red and blue depicting a sailing boat on a river with a seagull in the foreground and a view of the shore in the background.Pictorial cloth binding from Pearce Edgcumbe's Zephyrus (London, 1887).Cover in blue cloth, stamped with pictorial design in gold depicting a large tree fern with two men at its trunk and a woman in the foreground holding leaves.Pictorial cloth binding from Villiers Stuart's Adventures amidst the equatorial forests and rivers of South America (London, 1891)Throughout the 19th century the majority of British visitors to Latin America were there on business; although some, like the banker Pearce Edgcumbe, combined business with excursions to places of interest, genuine tourists were few.

Perhaps precisely because the sub-continent was so remote from Britain and so little visited by the British leisure traveller, published accounts of Latin America proved to be steady sellers, feeding the Victorian armchair traveller's insatiable appetite for descriptions of distant lands.

The two books on display are typical of the dozens of similar travel accounts to be found in the bookshops of late 19th century Britain, their decorative covers enticing the prospective reader with motifs of exoticism and the picturesque.

Both are illustrated within by line drawings, helping the reader to picture lands, which, as Edgcumbe states in his preface, 'are little known except to those who travel thither on business purposes.'

While marvelling at descriptions of tropical forests, exotic fauna and majestic rivers and coastlines, British readers could also derive a satisfactory sense of their own domestic comfort, compared with the uncomfortable, inconvenient and occasionally dangerous journeys narrated at length in these two accounts.

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