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West of Suez: Britain and the Mediterranean, 1704-1967

Literature of the Grand Tour

From the second half of the 18th century the literature of the Grand Tour became less didactic and more concerned with the sensibility and personal experiences of the author. This development is often attributed to the influence of Lawrence Sterne’s A sentimental journey through France and Italy (1768).

Travel in Italy was difficult during the Napoleonic period, when all of the peninsula was either a part of France or ruled by a French (Napoleonic) prince. When peace was restored, British writers and painters returned to Italy in search of subject matter for essays, poems and works of art.

View of the Castle of Otranto with figures in the foregroundView of the Castle of OtrantoIn 1816 the Scottish landscape painter Hugh William Williams (1773-1829) began a two-year tour of Italy and Greece. He published an account of his travels in 1820, written in the form of letters and illustrated with engravings made after his own drawings.

The account of his Italian travels begins in Florence. En route to Rome, he stopped in Livorno and visited the English cemetery to view the grave of Tobias Smollett. Continuing south, he went to see the excavations at Pompeii.

Williams sailed to the Ionian Islands from the port of Otranto in Puglia. His sketch of the Norman castle would have had resonances for his British readership. Horace Walpole’s novel The Castle of Otranto (first published in 1764) had done much to associate Italy in the English literary imagination with mystery and romance.

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