Patronage: beyond the panegyric and the jeremiad

Patronage: beyond the panegyric and the jeremiad


This was a talk delivered at the University of Chicago at a conference of cultural policy.  It made one or two participants very angry, one of whom accused me of being “a tenured, post-modern professor”.   A comment I can only call risible, for all sorts of reaasons


This paper has a simple aim: to unpackage some of the concepts that we routinely use in discussing issues of patronage – notably patronage itself, artistic freedom and intellectual integrity and culture – in order to clear the ground for a better discussion of issues of policy in the arts and humanities. In particular I want to suggest two ways forward: first to move beyond what I call the panegyric and the jeremiad versions of patronage which have dominated the publicly acrimonious debates about patronage policy; and secondly to call for a rethinking of the almost universal (in the west) trope of culture as a commodity.

In my view no proper understanding of the nature and dynamics of cultural patronage can be confined to an analysis of the relations between patron and client.   Who the patron is, what she proposes or does offer, how much control she is able to exert over the activities and institutions patronised is affected by the place of the patron-client relationship within a larger social, cultural and ideological field or frame.   The same can be said for the client: what he requests, expects or needs from a patron and what he provides the patron are also largely shaped by this larger context. This is not to deny individual agency – the importance of individual will and particular talent – but to argue that analytically they have to be understood within their constraints.

In a society and polity such as the United States, all acts of patronage are framed within two contexts: the public and the market. This has not always been so in the past, nor is it necessarily the case in other sorts of political regime. Its also possible to imagine totally private acts of patronage (the commissioning of a work of art solely for the private gratification of its commissioner) but not only is this not our general concern, but in practice this is rarely how even private commissions are conceived of in this country. This is because intellectual and artistic work produces something we consider both a commodity and a good. Potentially, at least, it has both exchange and aesthetic/moral value, both of which are the result of different sorts of opinion.

In such a context, the range of possible actions which we might call patronage is very considerable: the commissioning and financing of intellectual and artistic work, its purchase after completion, its use and adaptation to new environments and so on. And the range of potential patrons – the central governments, local authorities, non-profit organisation of individuals – the sorts of bodies that Milton Cummings has analysed – is equally great. But they all have to operate in and are constrained by a certain sort of political and economic order.

We can see this through a example in which a patron and clients moved into such a regime from another. The work of Index on Censorship before 1989 was chiefly concerned with the patronage of dissident writers in the Soviet/East European block. To that end they published in the West the manuscripts of works that were banned but smuggled out of the East, and they mobilised international opinion to support writers persecuted for their views. After 1989 these activities were largely redundant, and Index switched to providing stipends (grants and fellowships in the western manner) to help eastern writers seeking to make a precarious living in a tough (but uncensored) literary marketplace.   Some of these writers, though glad of their freedom, found it very difficult to adapt to these new conditions, and found that what they had once had to say was deemed of less interest and commercial value than when produced under a regime of censorship and persecution.

If the meaning of every act of patronage is affected by the political and economic framework, both institutional and ethical, in which it occurs, it is also true that all acts of patronage leave their mark on the work they support – who patronises and how affects the significance and status of the work produced. This may seem most obvious when a work is directly commissioned, whether it be a portrait or a study of the ethics of patronage, but it is also true when patronage does not seem to touch the form and content of an individual work, because, as the case of Index shows, they affect its presentation and reception. There are two issues here which are sometimes distinguished but are related: the first has to do with the “freedom” of the creator to decide on the nature of his/her work; the second with the question of meaning and value of the work which, once in the marketplace or the public sphere, is up for grabs or the object of opinion. In its purest, most romantic form, this view sees every act of patronage, no matter how ostensibly benign, as a threat or challenge for those who want to maintain the autonomy of art or the integrity of intellectual endeavour. Having a patron is to engage in a Faustian pact. The assumption behind such a view is the existence of some pure realm of artistic and intellectual endeavour, a cloud-cuckoo land inhabited by artists and humanists unencumbered by personal prejudice, social intrigue, professional (de)formation, habit, money and moral inertia. This is a good way to point out the iniquities of the world but it is a lousy account of the avant-garde or the Academy. It is a view that confuses the liberal claim that artists and humanists should enjoy aesthetic and intellectual self-determination (a good liberal demand) with the larger claim for the purity of the work produced, one that in a sense seeks to prejudge or predetermine the judgement of the work by the public and in the market. (It is also a claim that is recognised in the widespread use of peer review commonly employed by modern foundations and endowments.)

Here the issue is in large part one of the value and significance of the work produced. The productivist view of value and meaning – that who makes art makes its meaning and value – with its roots in romanticism, modernism and in Marxist aesthetics, privileges the moment of creation over and against reception and consumption, the former being natural – as in Marx’s remark, that Milton “produced Paradise Lost as a silkworm produces silk, as the activation of his own nature” – the latter being alien.

Much of the uneasiness expressed by artists and intellectuals about patronage stems from the way it repeatedly reveals the socially (and spatially) grounded nature of artistic and intellectual activity. The same work patronised in one context does not have the same import as when patronised in another. A Puccini aria from Turandot sung in a state-subsidised opera house is the same work (or part of a work) as the song adopted by FIFA for Italia 90, but Nessun Dorma with its stirring climax of “vincero” has quite a different meaning when performed at La Scala or on the pitch of San Siro. Conversely, the patronage of wealthy east coast women, like Amelia Elizabeth White, helped transform native American artefacts of the South West into a truly American art in the 1920s and 1930s.   Pots once in the adobe were given a different sort of value when exhibited in the 1931 Exposition of Indian Tribal Arts in Manhattan.   The situatedness or relational character of meaning has, of course, become a cliché of scholarly analysis in recent years, but it does not seem, on the whole, to have led to a deliberate consideration (especially by patrons themselves) of the performative character of different sorts of patronage. A study such as Balfe’s Paying the Piper, though full of interesting case studies, revealingly characterises the effects of patronage in terms of unintended consequences.   The cliched disclaimer of the patron – “I’m not going to interfere” – is a nonsense, and inhibits a proper discussion of what forms the interference might take and what its implications are.   Nor is it useful to confine such a discussion to the effects of patronage on the artistic process without considering questions of presentation and reception which are bound to be central in the U.S political/cultural context.

Historically patronage has been the object of two symbiotically related discourses: the panegyric and the jeremiad.   Since classical antiquity critics, artists and patrons themselves have shaped two exemplary patrons: one with good taste, discernment and discretion, who has nurtured genius and protected skill, a person worthy to join a pantheon of patrons that runs from Pericles and Maecenas to who knows who; the other a tasteless, ignorant, interfering and controlling figure (usually contrasted with the figures in the pantheon) whose intervention produces mediocre, compromised or bad work from an alienated client.   The good and bad patron can either be an individual or an institution. Both versions have their exemplary anecdotes which follow a pattern either of patronal prescience or of risible ignorance. Ironically the panegyric usually paints a rather distanced picture of the patron who remains in the background, somewhat removed from the creative work itself, while the jeremiad usually offers a much more detailed depiction which foregrounds an active, hands-on patron.

Closely connected to these two versions of patronage are two versions of the market. On the one hand, the market was often seen as a source of (abstract) freedom from the (personal) forms of dependence associated with private patronage. (This, for instance was Haydn’s view of the commercialised concert world of London in the 1790s whose freedom (and great profitability) – “How sweet is some degree of liberty!” – he contrasted with the impositions of the Esterhazy court.)   On the other, patronage – construed as a publicly-minded philanthropic or `disinterested’ act – was explicitly distinguished from the marketplace, and its representatives – dealers, impresarios, publishers – which, though they were recognised as important intermediaries between writers, artists etc. and an audience or public, were/are also seen to inhibit, restrain or compromise creative work because of their commodification of culture and attention to the bottom line. From this point of view, the value of patronage is that it provides a free space (free, at least, from market pressures or `the culture industry’) so that the artist’s work is `uncompromised’. The case is construed as all the more compelling when the patron purports to be a public body whose ostensible purpose is the pursuit of the public good rather than private profit or gain (the state or the non-profit sector). The powerful effect of occupying this high moral ground can be seen in the way that men of commerce – like Josef Conrad’s literary agent and protector, J.B. Pinker, or the Impressionist dealer, Durand-Ruel to cite two nineteenth-century examples – were concerned to emphasise their role as patrons of art who sacrificed profit to bring what they considered great works of art before the public.

But, as I have been arguing, the pursuit of a free space opened up through patronage is a utopian enterprise, a romantic wish which inhibits an engaged analysis of what is at stake in considering the politics of patronage. The two versions of patronage – panegyric and jeremiad – are better understood as complementary accounts of the contradictory relationship between patronage and its intellectual and cultural objects: at once enabling and controlling, liberating and inhibiting, facilitating and restricting. Yet this contradiction is premised on two caricatures – one of artistic freedom, the other of total patronal or institutional control.   Its not that artistic creativity and intellectual freedom or over-determined or ill-informed patronage are not real issues; its that we need to handle them in ways that move beyond the discourses of patronage. We need some other mode of analysis to look at issues of control, interpretation, ownership and value.

One way to move beyond the discourses of patronage has been to analyse the use-value of the patron-client relationship. Thus patronage is interpreted as a means of manifesting or instantiating economic, political and social power (as in the Renaissance notion of princely magnificence), elaborating or creating social distinction through the distribution of `cultural capital’ (thus Bourdieu), as a form of memorialisation and commemoration (of individual or group), or, as in the “contingent value” analysis of economists like Kahneman and Knetsch, as “the purchase of moral satisfaction”, what they touchingly call “the warm glow hypothesis”.

Its noticeable how much more attention is paid in such accounts to the use-value of the patron-client relation to the patron rather than to the client, whose needs are either passed over in silence or assumed to be obvious. This asymmetry is probably explained by the frequent desire of such analyses to demystify patronage, to explain “what is really going on”, usually by casting such conduct in rational actor terms and, quite often, thereby condemning it or revealing it to be a sham.   (It also tacitly endorses the romantic view of the artist or intellectual and is slightly embarrassed to discuss his material and daily needs.)   But the poverty of such accounts lies in their failure to capture the special qualities and nature of cultural work (its aesthetic form or moral content), and in their rather one dimensional account of the motives and meaning of the patron-client relation.

Such analyses also point to the difficulty we have in dealing instrumentally with activities (and the things they produce – images, texts, objects) whose value is seen to derive from their non-instrumentality, Kant’s famous “purposiveness withour purpose”.  Much social and cultural theory of the last twenty years has been spectacularly (I would say fetististically) obsessed with the aesthetic – with attempts to abolish, demystify or explain its contaminated nature.   But, as John Guillory has so clearly argued, what such a move often entails is a “logical misstep” in which the “impurity” of the aesthetic (its inevitable imbrocation in social relations) is taken as a denial of the reality of the aesthetic.

What is needed, then, is the explicit recognition (and consequent analysis) on the part of patronising bodies of how their activities change the meaning and import of the intellectual and cultural endeavour they support. Too often the ostensible purposes of patronage are treated, almost self-evidently, as tantamount to their effects. This, in turn, entails the abandonment of some of the great clichés that surround the discussion of patronage and the recognition that it is the fluidity not fixity of cultural and intellectual endeavour which is the source of its value. We need, as it were, another genre or form for the discussion of patronage, apart from the panegyric or the jeremiad. On the other hand, it is unhelpful, once we recognise the limitations of ideas of intellectual objectivity and aesthetic purity, to take this as an end to discrimination. Rather there should be a more direct engagement between producers and patrons over the meaning and significance of the work patronised, a recognition that patrons are inevitably involved in this process.



Thoughts on ‘Tradition’.

This is a piece written as a contribution to a series fo reflections on ‘tradition’ published in the Art Bulletin.  Interestingly it has never provoked any comment, either positive or negative.

At Cambridge University in the 1960s, my fellow students and I were implacably hostile to ‘tradition’.   We reveled in Quentin Skinner’s denunciations from the podium of the British conservative philosopher and doyen of the National Review, Michael Oakeshott, whose critique of rationality and plaudits for change tempered by practice and tradition seemed at once hopelessly limited and, in an easily-heard echo of Edmund Burke, deeply opposed to any sort of rationally-justified radical innovation.   Oakeshott and Burke were deemed to offer a descriptive and prescriptive account of change as a process of reverential accretion that we wanted (in somewhat contradictory fashion) both to deny and ignore.   It is obvious, then, that we saw ‘tradition’ as an unwelcome constraint, mortmain, the suffocating dead hand of our ancestors. This was pretty blind, as well as a sign of the times, because it threatened to inhibit us from addressing properly questions about the processes of artistic, political and social change. Our case against the invocation of tradition – that it served as a means of avoiding those very same questions – still seems to me a telling one, though our own position seems, in retrospect, little better.   All of which is to say that the tenor of these remarks is that claims based on ‘tradition’, ‘traditions’, and ‘the traditional’ are worthy objects of scholarly criticism, but that ‘tradition’ has very limited value as a term of critical analysis.   This may seem provocative; it is intended to be so. But just think about the ways in which the term is used. As often as not the concept is platitudinous, flabby and capacious – for example in the use of terms as ‘the Western Tradition’ in Art, the Christian, Islamic, Chinese, European etc. etc, tradition[1]. It provides a useful, often heuristic hold-all that when put under any serious analytic pressure splits at the seams.   When the term is used more specifically, as when seeking to create a genealogy or canon – for example in F.R. Leavis’s The Great Tradition (1948) – it is frequently tendentious.   When used as a precise descriptor, it often turns out to be little more than an elegant variation for ‘conventional or customary practices/values’, as in Thomas Kuhn’s discussion of “tradition-bound” scientific research,[2] or as something more aptly described as a genre or style.   It also serves as a shorthand reminder of the self-evident point that much artistic and intellectual facture refers – in a multitude of ways – back to its precursors.   But, of course ‘tradition’ carries more freight than convention, and it’s the perlocutionary force (to use J.L Austin’s term) of the term’s employment that raises red flags for me.   To say of a belief or a practice that it is a tradition, is to give it not just a certain character – to claim that its origins lie in an (ill-defined) past, but to invest it with a certain symbolic importance and to assert that its strengths lie in its continuity with the past, and that that continuity constitutes a part of its validation.   Eric Hobsbawm makes this point in functionalist terms in his introduction to the collected volume he and Terence Ranger edited, The Invention of Tradition (1983). Tradition-making, he argued, was a means of legitimating certain practices and beliefs, of creating continuities, in order to cope with processes of rapid social change; its objects were the making of ‘Gemeinschaft’, the fabrication of certain sorts of community, the legitimation of (sometimes novel) institutions, and the inculcation of values, all of which laid claim to be traditional, and therefore legitimate and worthy of conservation and transmission.   Such claims, he emphasized, were more frequently made in ‘modern’, as opposed to ‘customary’ societies, but were not peculiar to them.   Tradition may not have been an invention of ‘modernity’, but it has had a huge investment in the concept to which it is symbiotically tied. Think of ‘heritage’, the commodity version of tradition, and ‘nostalgia’, a modern disease, that takes the form of hankering for a world we have apparently lost, but in fact we never had. The great strength of The Invention of Tradition was that it demystified the trans-historical claim for tradition(s) to have existed ‘time out of mind’ or since ‘time immemorial’, and that it also dispelled the spatial miasma that surrounds the location of tradition, by administering a strong dose of history, reminding us that both the category ‘tradition’ as well as many so-called ‘traditions’ were rooted in specific and identifiable circumstances and chronologies, and that the continuities they claimed were, in Hobsbawm’s word, frequently “factitious”.(2)

Hobsbawm and Ranger were interested in the creation of tradition(s), but much of the scholarship about artistic and literary practice, even when (perhaps especially when) enamoured of the concept of tradition, has been concerned with what the literary critic, Walter Jackson Bate, called “the burden of the past”.   Here the play is not so much between traditional and modern as between traditional and original.   In TS Eliot’s 1919 essay, ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’, and Harold Bloom’s enormously influential, psychoanalytically-informed study, The Anxiety of Influence: a Theory of Poetry (1974), and in many an art historical monograph devoted to a single artist, we are presented with different accounts of how innovation and creativity, even genius, works. This has the virtue of grappling with the knotty question of the processes by which change and invention occur, though usually rather crudely formulated as a task of distinguishing plodding sheep from swift-footed goats, those who are overawed by their predecessors and follow meekly in their footsteps and those who succeed in surpassing or overtaking their predecessors, creating something new: thus Eliot talks of “immature” and “mature” poets, and Bloom of “poets” and “strong poets”. These heroic accounts of creativity –whether, as in Eliot’s case, as an act of creative self-effacement or “depersonalization”, or, as with Bloom, through a series of confrontational mis-readings of poetic forefathers – depend heavily on an idea of tradition, as seen from the artist’s point of view.   This sort of analysis is, of course, not new, and can be found in the extremely rich classical and renaissance discussions of imitatio and aemulatio as mechanisms for cultural inheritance and transmission, though these tend to be more rigorous because less concerned with ‘a tradition’ than with the relations between particular individuals or between particular works.

Transmission is a process whose recuperation enables us to answer the questions of how, why, and through whom it has occurred, and to examine what has changed in the process. The range of possible answers to these questions is extraordinarily wide-ranging.   Temporally linear models of cultural transmission embodied in the term ‘tradition’ seem both a rather parsimonious account of cultural and intellectual exchange, and ones that lock us into binaries shaped by concepts of innovation and originality.   In short, ‘tradition’ is mere reification, albeit, as Hobsbawm and his colleagues demonstrated, one of a most powerful kind.

[1] “Tradition” appears far more often in the title of art historical works about non-European arts – Native American, African, Asian, Australian aboriginal, etc – than about western art.

[2] But see Hobsbawm’s distinction between ‘routines’, ‘conventions’ and tradition. The Invention of Tradition, 3.

Travel literature

This is a talk I gave to the Harvard eighteenth-century seminar.  Its very much in the rough – a series of musings with a rather unsatisfactory ending.


Tonight I want to offer you a rather opinionated survey of English language travel literature in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. My approach will be synthetic and systemic – I will be dealing with the dynamics of a body of writing rather than attending to close reading, though I want to reassure you that, given that I don’t have a factory of graduate students, I am not going to bore you, Stanford style, with a series of graphs, maps and trees. (Just one graph). I still think that close reading is one of the best ways in which to understand the nature and appeal of particular works of travel literature in the period.


In 1811 the British Review prefaced an account of Zebelon Pike’s Exploratory Travels through the Western Territories with a deft summation of the different types of travel literature available to its readers, identifying six classes of travel writers. The first were those who had discovered countries ‘before unknown to the European public’, like Marco Polo on China and Philip Johan von Strahlenberg the eighteenth-century Swedish cartographer of Siberia; second were those who delivered more accurate information on countries ‘before imperfectly known’, such as Michael Symes in his account of the mission to Burma in 1795; third were travels distinguished by the superior knowledge of the traveller, such as those of the French artist and Egyptologist, Vivant Denon; fourth were travellers who had “distinguished themselves by skill in any particular department”, a category that included Arthur Young and his Tours examining agriculture, as well as mineralogical tours and those “describing the pictures of Italy for the advantage of artists and amateurs”.   Fifth were travels “which were not so remarkable for the information they convey, as from their originality or singularity, or from some uncommon circumstances relative to the author” – inevitably invoking Laurence Sterne. Finally there were the “one half, or perhaps two thirds” of books of voyages and travels, which the reviewer dismissed as “falling under no definite description” and affording “neither instruction nor amusement”.


There are a number of interesting features to this account. First, its appearance in a journal, the British Review, reminds us of the tremendous importance of the periodical press, especially from the first decade of the nineteenth century, in disseminating travel literature, not just through the publication of extended extracts from expensive travel books, but also in shaping perceptions of them. As Robin Jarvis has shown for North America, and Janice Cavell for Arctic exploration, travel accounts were largely mediated through the Reviews and magazines.   Travel writing was never confined to travel books. Its also striking how easily the reviewer refers to foreign authors of travel literature. The bibliographical evidence of translations shows how international the genre always was, though the direction of translation was predominantly towards rather than away from the English language. And the reviewer clearly imagines a readership drawn to all types of travel literature which she treats as a variegated whole, albeit one mostly composed of literary dross. In this, like many other commentators, the author finds the amplitude and ubiquity of travel literature, its disconcerting capaciousness, as troubling – there is just too much bad writing – just as it has troubled and perplexed modern critics.


What little we know bears out this sense of radical expansion.   As contemporaries often remarked, the period saw a huge increase in travel, whether voluntary or coerced, in which Europeans reached lands and oceans that were relatively unexplored, and many more (including slaves like Olaudah Equiano) travelled along what were referred to as “beaten tracks”, whether the horrendous middle passage or the genteel Grand Tour: more travels begat more travel literature, just as more travel literature begat more travelling. There are no precise numbers here. William St Clair’s figures in his The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period are extremely unsatisfactory on travel literature; the University of Wolverhampton data base on travel writing between 1780 and 1840 contains more than 5,000 entries of which 204 were written to women. A Google ngram shows certain signs of change, but the general point I want to make is about the widespread belief that there was an unprecedented amount of bad travel writing, chiefly in the form of European tours.


Like our nineteenth-century reviewer, scholars of travel literature have tended to recognize its heterogeneity, what Steve Clark, calls its “mixed and middle brow form”. It is a commonplace that travel writing can take many different forms – Paul Smethurst mentions “the memoir, scenic tour journal, topographical essay, romantic narrative, exploration journal and guide book” to which we might add biography, autobiography, a substantial body of verse, as well as various forms of fiction. On the other hand, critics have long been mindful of differences within travel literature. Tzvetan Todorov has drawn a distinction between two sorts of travel narrative: the Allegorical, which, “submits the travellers observations to a pre-conceived design that they are used to illustrate”, and the Impressionistic, which “neglects the world and concentrates on the self, recounting the successive impressions of that self”.   I would say that all travel literature contains three major components: observations about ‘the out there’, the environment the traveller represents; particularities about the experience of travel – its processes, fortunes and vicissitudes; and finally the relation of the traveller to the travels. These are what Henry Brougham in the Edinburgh Review identified as “a description of the countries [the traveller] sees, with the narrative of his own adventures, and the delineation of his feelings”. All of these very readily bleed into one another; how they are configured and what relative weight they are given largely shape the form that the travel account assumes. We are dealing here with a spectrum rather than a marked polarity.


What did not vex the British Review though it did trouble some contemporaries and has certainly troubled literary scholars is the generic relation between the putatively factual travel account and fiction. I’m inclined to think that this issue has been exaggerated, especially when it comes to the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (too much Crusofication.) The issue of veracity in travel narratives, of course, never went away, and was often a problem in particular cases, as the unfortunate African explorer, James Bruce was to discover in the response to his stories of Abyssinians eating live (horse) flesh reported in his Travels to Discover the source of the Nile (1790). But the notion that illuminating travel literature could assume fictional forms was something of a commonplace by the early nineteenth century. When the West Country gentlewoman, Marianne Colston, in her rather plodding Journal of a Tour in France, Switzerland and Italy of 1822, remarked that “The immortal Corinna of Madame de Stael, and the 4th Canto of Childe Harold, are, after all that has been written, the best guides and companions of the visitor to Rome. Here are found ideas sublime as their objects, and immortal as the recollections of the city which gave them birth”, she was merely reiterating what had become a cliché. The early nineteenth century was littered with fictions larded with travel information, with verses accompanied by detailed factual annotations, and by travels, like Anna Jameson’s Diary of an Ennuie, that used fictional devices to conceal the identity of the author. Was it not Mary Shelley who wrote that touring was “acting a novel”?


This blend was more often considered a benefit than seen as a problem. Similarly, the boundaries of the category usually defined as Travels and Voyages in periodicals and reviews always remained porous: the borders between fiction and fact, memoir, biography and travel narrative were often crossed.   As Stephen Bending in his study of the periodical reviews puts it, “In practice, the definition of novel, romance, memoir or sentimental travel [was] constantly shifting with the categorization of the monthly catalogues, and [was] redefined with each new issue of the reviews. (1993: xvii)  Travel literature had a tendency to wander. It was precisely this capacious mutability that gave the genre its strength and staying power.


What mattered to readers and to critics in this period was less veracity than the capacity of authors to shape their accounts in such a way as to engage and convince the reader of the plausibility and interest of their narratives. Work on reader reception of travel literature – I’m thinking especially of the work of Robin Jarvis, of David Allan on Commonplace Books, and of the findings coming out of the Open University Reading Experience database project run by Stephen Colclough – demonstrates the importance to readers of the notion of transport, of the ability of the author to move the reader alongside him or herself, as a key indicator of a successful travel narrative. The assertion that the author was present – ‘on the spot’ was the usual phrase – was immediately witnessing (and also immediately recording an occurrence in their journal) had long been a necessary condition of truth claims, but “on the spot” was also where the author wished to place the reader. Of course transport comes in different forms and levels of intensity. It could refer, in the manner of Longinus, to the sublime but it could also, in somewhat more prosaic fashion, refer to mental or imaginative displacement in which the reader was not simply lifted out of herself, but moved to a specific spot. Thus the poet William Cowper’s response to reading accounts of James Cook’s Pacific voyages: “My imagination is so captivated upon these occasions, that I seem to partake with the navigators, in all the dangers they encountered. I lose my anchor; my main-sail is rent to shreds; I kill a shark, and by signs converse with a Patagonian, and all this without moving from my fireside.” By the 1820s John Galt, the Scottish novelist and speculator, biographer and friend of Byron, could mock such attitudes in the character of Mr. Duffle, the protagonist of his travel novel The Steamboat. Listening to the tales of his fellow passengers, Duffle remarks, “I was so taken up, not only with the matter, but the manner of the different narrations, ….that I was transported, as it were, out of my own natural body, and put into the minds of the narrators, so as to think with their thoughts and to speak with their words.” This is more like the sympathy of Adam Smith than the sublime of Edmund Burke. In fact it is much more like Lord Kames’s account in the Elements of Criticism of how literary representations could create what he called “ideal presence”, where the reader is “thrown into a kind of reverie; in which state, losing the consciousness of self, and of reading, his present occupation, he conceives every incident as passing in his presence, precisely as if he were an eye-witness”. And, as Kames goes on to say, “ it makes no difference whether the subject be a fable or a true history: when ideal presence is complete, we perceive every object as in our sight;…history stands upon the same footing as fable: what effect either may have, depends on the vivacity of the ideas they raise; and with respect to that circumstance, fable is generally more successful than history”.


The preferred solution (one that readers came to expect) of travel literature was to employ what Nigel Leask calls “affective realism”, a mode of presentation he traces back to the German naturalist George Forster in his Voyage Round the World published in 1777, and which later flourished with the writings of Alexander von Humboldt. Seen from this point of view, the effect of the real, what James Buzard has called “the authenticity effect”, was not purely a matter of detailed empirical description, but of placing the narrator in the account as an affective and aesthetic respondent, so that narratives of suffering, of elevated consciousness and of feeling were both desirable (as techniques to move the reader) and not seen as incompatible with the desire for facticity. Rather they were a way of consolidating truth claims – as demonstrating presence “on the spot” – and of exciting the sympathy of the reader, leading them into a more complete appreciation of what was described.   When Arthur Young planned to publish his Travels in France during the Years 1787, 1788, 1789, he first sketched it in two parts, one conveying the results of his investigations into French agriculture, the other being a version of his travel journal with most of the personal material edited out. But he was persuaded by a friend, shocked that he had “absolutely spoiled my diary, by expunging the very passages that would best please the mass of common readers”, that he should let his journal “go as it was written. – To treat the public like a friend, let them see all, and trust to their candour for forgiving trifles.”


Though Young followed his friend’s advice, he found it hard to adopt “a careless and easy mode of thinking and writing” most likely to please the public, and was deeply anxious about the “trifling” nature of many of his comments. The issue of how much subjectivity, of how much “I” to place in a travel narrative, remained a fraught one – think for example of Mary Wollstonecraft’s Advertisement to Letters written during a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark (1796), where the author both asserts and apologizes for her first person narrative (a claim complicated by her gender), but which, as Ingrid Horrocks has shown, was part of Wollstonecraft’s view that travel writings should have an “insinuating interest” or “connecting thread”, which would transport stationary readers with them on their journey.” Jarvis’s work on reception shows that readers were little concerned with, and sometimes actively hostile to too much staging of the authorial self. Perhaps that was because, what remains a tour de force in the hands of Wollstonecraft, regrettably became one justification for the avalanche of travel writing about Europe that followed the Peace of Paris in 1815. Though narrators were often forced to concede that the places they visited and described were familiar stations on the “beaten track” of European tourism, they frequently justified their accounts as revelatory of the traveller rather than the travels. Thus Thomas Jefferson Hogg, Shelley’s friend and biographer, responded to “the usual reproof, ‘How can you think of publishing another book of travels, when there are already so many”, in his tart and ironic Two Hundred and Nine Days; or, the journal of a Traveller on the Continent (1827), by maintaining that “I do not believe that an individual, however . . . humble, ever existed, whose life, written by himself with candour and simplicity, would not be interesting, and in some points, even instructive: the Journal of a Traveller is his life during the period of his travel; it is consequently amusing, not only on account of the countries of which he treats, but as a piece of autobiography”.


The injunction for the travel writer to transport the reader was at bottom a preoccupation of the period after the 1760s, but instructions about how to travel and what to relate were, of course, much older.   A long-standing literature, the ars opodemica, had sought to establish the protocols and comportment of the ‘good’ European traveller.   Justin Stagl, has identified about three hundred such works published between the late sixteenth and the late eighteenth centuries. Along with instructions to ambassadors, political surveys and questionnaires from scientific institutions like the London Royal Society, these were intended to render travel and travellers useful to savants, to states and to members of ruling elites. A typical, if rather late example would be An Essay to Extend and Direct the Inquiries of Patriotic Travellers, written by Arthur Young’s friend and global traveller, Count Leopold Berchtold, and published in English, French and German in the last quarter of the eighteenth century.   Such works addressed almost every aspect of travel in order to ensure that it was accurate, instructive and productive. They dealt with the appropriate preparations for travel – reading and language instruction for example; with comportment – how the traveller should behave when meeting ‘others’; with the proper objects of inquiry; the means of obtaining information; and with the ways in which it should be recorded and organized, using instruments, notes, journals, and diaries, as well as gathering specimens (whether natural or man-made) in order to constitute collections.   From the early eighteenth century this literature became more and more specialized, catering for the botanist, the antiquary and the mineralogist – Linneaus’s instructions on plants, Saussure’s on geology for example – the British Critics category 4 of skills in a particular department – but its broader agenda shifted during the Enlightenment towards a schema that reflected the categories of conjectural history, placing different cultures and peoples, their manners, customs and character, within a chronology of human development, and identifying natural phenomena as part of an ever-lengthening natural history. This can be seen as early as Josiah Tucker’s pamphlet of 1757, Instructions for Travellers, but was to become a common feature of much Enlightenment travel writing.


One area which had not been addressed in the ars opodemica literature was precisely the question of how to present what was discovered through travel to the reader. But most of these earlier works were not intended for the general reader or the reading public at large, but rather for a readership that was primarily scholarly and male – much of this literature appeared in Latin rather than the vernacular languages. The situation changed substantially from the 1760s onward, when travel literature proliferated, became fashionable, and reached a much larger reading public. In this context manner became every bit as important and matter.


At the same time, the rigor and system of conjectural and natural history were hailed by many commentators as a sign of how the modern travel narrative had improved. William Fordyce Mavor, the Scottish educationalist and editor of General Collection of Voyages and Travels, published in 1800 in 28 duodecimo volumes, writing about older travel books spoke of how “The most monstrous fables disfigured their accounts, and credulity received, with undistinguished eagerness, truth and fable, wisdom and error. It was reserved for modern times to create, as it were, a new region in the world of knowledge; it was reserved for modern times to enlarge our acquaintance with human nature, by carrying our researches into modes of life original and distinct, and separated in all their characteristics from all the systems of civilized Europe.” “Few countries can be named”, claimed the antiquarian John Pinkerton, editor of another large – 17 volume – collection of edited travels, “that have not, within the last fifty years, been described in a manner so superior to the former weak narratives, that very few of them retain any other interest, than that of amusement. The old catalogues of pictures and statues, with trifling adventures by sea and land, which were called books of travels, have sunk into obscurity before the new and important works, which illustrate the phenomena of nature, and display the politics and ethics, the agriculture and commerce, the state of the arts and sciences.” This travel literature constructed what Johannes Fabian describes as “a system of coordinates (emanating of course from a real center – the Western metropolis) in which given societies of all times and places may be plotted in terms of relative distance from the present”.


This ‘imperial’ and ‘global’ view, very much grist to the post-colonialist’s mill, saw that the task of the travel narrative was to see through appearances and uncover the hidden structures and system that lay beneath. As Tucker put it in his tract, the modern traveler “should constantly bear in mind the grand Maxim, That the face of every Country through which he passes, the Looks, Numbers, and Behaviour of the People, their general Clothing, Food, and Dwelling, their attainments in Agriculture, Manufactures, Arts and Sciences, are the Effects and Consequences of some certain Causes.”   Because of this, the traveler, says Tucker, “must dedicate his principal studies towards tracing such secret, though powerful Effects and Consequences, as they are produced by the various Systems of Religion, Government, and Commerce in the World”. He needs to learn “whether and how far the said Effects may be ascribed to the natural Soil and Situation of the Country. – To the peculiar Genius and singular Inventions of the Inhabitants. – To the Public Spirit and Tenor of their Constitution, – or to the Religious Principles established, or tolerated among them”.   Particularities were vitally important, but only as signs of larger, more profound historical processes.


Causes, system, moving beyond and beneath surfaces and in depth: these were the preoccupations of such critics as they fought what they (rightly) saw as a loosing battle against the plethora of superficial narratives. Though, as we shall see, the chief site of this struggle was in the reviews and journals, the most sustained attempt to shape travel writing in the period came in the form of a series of best-selling travel books (though largely neglected by modern scholarship) by the Scottish physician and Edinburgh literary figure, Dr. John Moore. In his A View of Society and Manners in France, Germany and Switzerland (1779), and A View of Society and Manners in Italy published two years later Moore made clear that good travel writing involved both a sympathetic narrator and a capacity to discern the hidden workings of large historical forces.   This was precisely the view of figures like Jeffries and Brougham in the Edinburgh Review, and, as Horrocks has shown, of Mary Wollstonecraft in the Analytical Review. What Wollstonecraft wanted was a narrative that “assigned causes” and ensured that “effects [were] traced up to their parent cause”.   Something she achieved, with a clear feminist twist, in her own Letters written in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. She was scathing about superficial accounts which she dismissed as “trivial”, “puerile” and “vacant” and, in the case of Mrs. Piozzi’s Observations and Reflections – a work that, despite its modern reputation, was a critical and commercial failure – as “childish”, “desultory”, “lax” and “thin”. The metaphor Wollstonecraft uses, as Horrocks highlights, is one about depth: “Those who can readily gather flowers, will not laboriously turn up the earth for the most valuable minerals”.


But like John Moore, and Arthur Young’s anonymous adviser, Wollstonecraft saw a concern with depth, structure and causes, as entirely compatible with the sort of self-staging that James Buzard has seen as Lord Byron’s special contribution to travel writing. She found Alexander Jardin’s Letters from Barbary, France, Spain, Portugal, etc. (1788) overworked and excessively polished. “This kind of leisurely revision”, she wrote, “often breaks the connecting thread, and renders the descriptions less interesting, by lowering the spirit of the first composition.”   Effective travel literature required an actor as well as an author, a sentient presence conveyed through a spontaneous text. As she herself put it, “I perceived I could not give a just description of what I saw, but by relating the effect different objects had produced on my mind and my feelings, whilst the impression was still fresh”.


So, one major consequence of the proliferation of travel narratives was an attempt to rein in and discipline them; to argue for quality and depth. We can think of this in terms of Nigel Leask’s discussion of the ambiguous or conflicting meanings of curiosity. On the one hand the term was sometimes used pejoratively as a sense of wonder and desire to possess a singular object, a superficial attachment to the exotic. On the other, it also was understood positively to mean an inclination to knowledge expressed as a rational, philosophical articulation of foreign singularities. Not flowers – decorative, immediately attractive, easily picked – but minerals, concealed, useful, discovered only by hard-working excavation.


It is not, of course, my claim that many or indeed most travel narratives followed these injunctions and, though reviewers were much exercised about the ability of authors to produce “affective realism”, many ordinary readers of the sort examined by Jarvis, Allan and Colclough, derived a great deal of pleasure simply from learning new and exotic facts about unfamiliar places, and showed little propensity to pursue deep or hidden meaning. Thus what most struck Matthew (Monk) Lewis in reading Pierre Marie Francois de Pages, Travels Round the World (1791-2) was the author’s description of how “In Madagascar, the ceremony of the circumcision concludes by firing from a musket the fore-skin of the Patient”.


Nevertheless there was a horizon of expectations, a sense of what constituted good travel writing, that encompassed all six of the British Critics types of travel writing, and was shared by reviewers and by readers who, even when titillated by exotic detail, often commented on the literary and presentational weaknesses of the text. We might see that horizon as defined by the long-standing expectation of utile et dulce, the Horatian twins that had often been invoked as the desiderata of travel literature. But I think more is at stake here. Some modern commentators have argued that travel literature was deemed safe – the purveyor of unthreatening curiosities, a suitable literature for women and children.   But this, I think, fails to see that from the 1770s if not earlier, travel literature was heavily entangled with a whole panoply of issues to do with human nature, sensibility, national character, history, nature, individual psychology and the sense of the self. It was clearly perceived as weighty. In this sense the post-colonial critics are right about the centrality of travel literature to the so-called “Enlightenment project”, even if they exaggerate its uniformity, fail to analyse its contentiousness, and neglect its reception.

At the same time the publication of the accounts of Cook’s voyages – the point at which the compiler John Pinkerton fixed the beginnings of ‘modern’ travel writing – was also the moment when issues of presentation, the importance of the sensible direct witness, and the questioning of the role of editors and compilers really took off.   Such issues made clear that, though complex, the relations between sensibility and science were far from invariably hostile. Sterne may have been rejected as a model by some travel writers – “I am writing the account of a real Tour, and not in imitation of Sterne’s Sentimental Journey”, protested Henry Swinburne in his Travels in the Two Sicilies (1783) – but the techniques that Sterne satirized and Yorick used to engage the reader can be found everywhere in more ‘scientific’ narratives. As Paul Smethurst concludes: “scientific realism did not define itself against the practices of the picturesque or romanticism, but instead adapted and incorporated these into their representational technique.”



What, then, finally, about the unruly child of travel literature, the European tour, an area of travel literature that grew most rapidly in the early nineteenth century, was most complained about, and was least likely to end up in large compendia of travels.   Here the problem of what James Buzard and others have emphasized as the issue of belatedness was most acute. – of following beaten tracks and arriving at the place that is already known and well described. (Of course there was one genre of travel writing that thrived upon and celebrated repetition – the formal travel guide, those manuals that culminated in Murray and Baedeker, and that explicitly claimed authority by incorporating the findings of their predecessors). But for most others it was a problem famously defined by Yogi Berra’s line, ‘its déjà vu all over again’.


What were the responses to this problem? I would point to at least three strategies of displacement. One, of course, was simply to journey further afield, to explore territories that were either underexplored or almost unknown to the more general reader. Hence Joseph Banks’ dismissal of the convention the Grand Tour, “every blockhead does that… “my Grand Tour shall be one round the whole globe” and Byron’s 1807 remark that “I shall not travel over France, & Italy the common turnpike of coxcombs and virtuosos, but into Greece and Turkey in Europe, & Russia & at which parts of our Globe, I have a singular propensity to investigate”. A second, for those who were not able to travel further afield, was, as we have seen, to place even greater emphasis on the singular feelings and sentiments of the author, as a sign of distinction and singularity. The European travel narrative was the site of some the greatest and some of the worst instances of travels as, in Chloe Chard’s words, “the adventure of the self”. In addition it was, as Chard also argues, the space in which the symbiotic distinction between traveller and tourist first emerged, a difference not just between good and bad travellers, but good and bad narrators.


Finally I want to point to a form of displacement that I think has largely gone unnoticed, namely the turn away from the printing and publication of such narratives. There are an increasing number of these that survive in manuscript. These are not diaries or journals – of which many survive from the entire period – but lavishly made up albums, produced not on the spot, but after the journey’s end. They are often pastiche – a mixture of their assembler’s thoughts and reminiscences, extracts from guides, and (more often than not) selected visual souvenirs – prints, gouaches, aquatints.   They were intended to be shared by a readership of family and friends, restricted to intimate acquaintance. Thus Ortho William Hawtrey Hamilton’s three volume Recollections of a Tour through France, Switzerland and Italy in the summer and autumn of 1822 is dedicated to his “beloved son” with the rider that “I should like these three volumes to be regarded as a family heirloom”. I am sure that there are other forms of displacement or relocation that we might suggest, but I leave you with these three: travel towards new places, towards a rich and dynamic interiority, or into the domestic sphere of the family album.

The Clifford Lecture: Fire and Ice, Travel and the Natural Sublime in the Age of Enlightenment

This was the James Clifford Lecture delivered at the American Society of Eighteenth-century Studies annual conference, Pittsburgh, 2 April 2016.

When we reached the little plain on Vesuvius, our labours were richly recompensed by the sight of five distinct streams of fire issuing from two mouths, and tumbling wave after wave, slowly down the mountain, with the same noise, and in the same manner, as the melting Glaciers roll into the Valley of Chamouni : indeed, while I contemplated this awful and extraordinary scene, I could have fancied myself transported to the base of the Montanvert, had it not been for the crimson glare and excessive heat of the surrounding scoriae.


Mariana Starke, Information and Directions for Travellers on the Continent (5th edition, revised, Paris, Galignani, 1826), 257.


In the spring of 1814 a consortium of London booksellers published the final, seventeenth volume of John Pinkerton’s A General Collection of the best and most interesting Voyages and Travels in all parts of the World. Many of which are now first translated into English. Digested on a new plan. * In 1804 Pinkerton, a Scottish antiquary, forger and historian, friend and correspondent of Edward Gibbon and Horace Walpole, had published his Modern Geography, which claimed to systematize knowledge of the known world, and his General Collection published a decade later offered its readers a global history of travel from a predominantly European point of view.   Its geographical scope is remarkable.   Beginning with a volume on the Arctic, the North East Passage, and Iceland, it includes two volumes on British travel, and individual volumes on France, on Italy, Spain and Switzerland, and on the northern countries of Germany, Scandinavia and Russia. Two volumes are devoted to Asia, and one to the so-called Asiatic isles – including Australasia.   North and South American travels take up a further three volumes, Africa another two. The final tome in the series includes an annotated bibliography of travel writings that runs to a staggering 255 pages, and a justificatory essay entitled, ‘retrospect of the origin and progress of discovery’.


Pinkerton’s massive work was only one of a series of projects, promoted by the booksellers, to synthesize both the world and its discovery by Europeans. They including William Fordyce Mavor’s General Collection of Voyages and Travels, published in 1800 in 28 volumes, and Robert Kerr’s A General History and collection of voyages and travels.   Similar projects were launched in France, notably Gilles Boucher de la Richarderie, Bibliotheque universelle des voyages, au notice complete et raisonne de tous les voyages ancient et modernes dans les different parties du monde (Paris 1808, 6 vols.) Every group of booksellers in the first decades of the nineteenth century seems to have needed its collection of travels, all of which – at least in Britain – were marketed as part books, appearing in monthly segments, and all of which made certain claims to comprehensiveness.


At one level this phenomenon does no more than to speak to the well-known general fascination with works of travel, but something more is happening here. Pinkerton’s volumes begin with an essay on astronomy in which the entire earth is treated as a scientific object.   The history of the travel accounts he goes on to reprint and eventually examine are then framed as a progressive and increasingly rigorous account of the world, that brings – or so it seems – the entire earth within its orbit.   What we have here is planetary thought, connecting geography, natural history, history and political economy. Nature and culture march in step. Exploration and the account of its achievement merge together into one larger narrative of gradual systematization. The conquest of knowledge and the textual incorporation of territory advance together. * William Mavor takes a similar view: Speaking of the ancients , he writes, “The most monstrous fables disfigured their accounts, and credulity received, with undistinguished eagerness, truth and fable, wisdom and error. It was reserved for modern times to create, as it were, a new region in the world of knowledge; it was reserved for modern times to enlarge our acquaintance with human nature, by carrying our researches into modes of life original and distinct, and separated in all their characteristics from all the systems of civilized Europe.”

Pinkerton (patriotically) sees the accounts of James Cook’s first voyage (1768-71) as a turning point in travel writings:

The voyages of Cook may therefore be regarded as forming an illustrious epoch ; the observations being so candidly and carefully stated, as to excite the emulation of succeeding writers, who have conspired to introduce into the accounts of all countries a superior discernment, and more important topics, than had been formerly traced. Few countries can be named that have not, within the last fifty years, been described in a manner so superior to the former weak narratives, that very few of them retain any other interest, than that of amusement. The old catalogues of pictures and statues, with trifling adventures by sea and land, which were called books of travels, have sunk into obscurity before the new and important works, which illustrate the phenomena of nature, and display the politics and ethics, the agriculture and commerce, the state of the arts and sciences. (17, xxix)


Many of the major genres of travel writing are reproduced in his volumes – narratives of seaborne exploration (Columbus, Dampier, Cook etc), scientific inquiry (Lazzaro Spallanzani, Deodat de Dolomieu), political economy and improvement (Arthur Young), antiquities and natural history (Thomas Pennant), as well as plans, maps and inventories from surveyors like Carsten Niebuhr in the Persian Gulf and Francis Buchanan in Mysore; but there is one conspicuous absence. There are no sentimental journeys in the manner of Laurence Sterne, and precious little that could be described as picturesque or anecdotal.   Pinkerton is interested in system not sentiment. What Pinkerton and his fellow hacks, producing these vast syntheses and systematizations, were doing was to create a global grid for the reader, in which history and geography locate climates, societies and cultures all in relation to one another.  Such claims to universality are, of course, as bogus as those associated with our contemporary cult of globalization, but they speak to the often-made assertion in the period that the greater number of particulars examined, the more robust the science.


Of course, rather like the mission statements of modern universities, Pinkerton’s claims are a mix of wishful thinking, hyperbole and willful omission. They are designed to reinforce the truth claims of travel accounts that many scholars, notably Nigel Leask, have emphasized were deemed to be exceptionally weak, to overlook the lack of coherence of many accounts, which mixed personal narrative with factual enumeration, and to assert a control over the world that was far more fragile and much less complete than Pinkerton’s synthesis might suggest.


But Pinkerton’s account effectively identified what had become an enduring tension or fissure in travel writing. When the English editors of the Genevan artist and naturalist, Marc Theodore Bouritt’s, Description des Glacieres de Savoye originally circulated their translation among friends in the 1770s, they were shocked to find that adding the term ‘picturesque’ to Bouritt’s title meant that “it gave room, it seems for a presumption that it was a mere descriptive Trifle, which though it might delight and entertain the Fancy, could not merit the attention of a man of sense; as if it were indubitably certain, that what is recommended to the Taste, must therefore be unworthy of judgment.”   The editors complained bitterly that “writing has been separated into two distinct classes, the scientific and diverting”, leading them to mount an elaborate defense of accounts, such as Bourrit’s, that they claimed successfully combined both taste and truth.


Such tensions, between narrative and enumeration, vivid description and precise observation, which can be seen as operating between certain genres of travel literature, and which the commercial pressures of travel publishing sought to deny, were more often found within texts, and its these that I now want to explore.   I choose to do so by focusing on two natural environments, those of fire and ice, because such landscapes were widely held to be or held to produce the sensation of the sublime, what Edmund Burke in his Enquiry into the Sublime and Beautiful, dubbed “the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling”. They were also the sites of some of the most intense scientific scrutiny in the period.   More specifically I have chosen to focus on European mountains, notably the Alps but also the Pyrenees, and on the Italian volcanoes, chiefly Vesuvius but also Etna, because in the period before the French revolution these sites assumed a particular importance both in travel narratives, scientific investigation, and genteel tourism. Together with the accounts of the Pacific Islands and their inhabitants, they were the ground on which there was a determined attempt to ensure that natural philosophical description should become a necessary part of travel literature, and they were the site where a self-consciously heroic view of the natural philosopher as travelling investigator was fully elaborated.   And unlike the South Seas, these European sites were relatively accessible to a class of traveller who could follow in the footsteps of the savant.

In discussing the sublime, my approach is one that is not concerned to trace an intellectual genealogy from its most famous eighteenth century proponents – Edmund Burke and Immanuel Kant – but to follow in the path sketched by Peter de Bolla and Andrew Ashfield, which emphasizes the richness and variety of the tradition of sublimity. My treatment, then, follows that of Noah Herringham’s work on geology in treating the sublime, “not as a unitary mode of representation, but as a category animated by culturally specific practices” (Romantic Rocks, 28), in my case specifically travel narratives, tourism and natural philosophy.


Pinkerton’s travel narratives, especially those dealing with mountains, whether of ice or fire, are littered with the language of the sublime, usually used at the beginning and/or end of a description, bracketing a detailed account. This framing, which establishes a degree of separation between what is described as sublime and the author/viewer, reinforces the sense that sublimity is best felt or described by the subject at a distance.   Hence the frequency with which the adjective sublime was applied to the noun ‘prospect’.   Travel narratives, intended to draw in the reader, are rarely the site of precise usage and critical distinction, and Pinkerton’s selection is no exception; it is replete with clichés of the sublime.   Typically, wonder, admiration and awe is provoked by objects described, for example, as “undoubtedly formed for astonishment and delight, and …the source of the sublimest ideas”.   The same phrases recur: “awful grandeur and gloomy greatness”, “imposing majesty”, “dreadful” (Arthur Young); “immensity”, “darkness”, “unbounded prospects”, “fear and pleasure” (Coxe).


A common feature of all these descriptions is their invocation of the cliché that the sublime is unrepresentable, an assertion usually made just before the author embarks on a long description.   The Reverend William Coxe, author of the highly successful Travels in Switzerland, was particularly egregious in this regard.   Time and again he tells his reader, “I have not yet met with such astonishing scenes of wildness, horror, and majesty, as occurred in this day’s journey.”, only to add that, “Description generally fails in representing the most ordinary exhibitions of nature; how inadequate then must it be to the singular combination of sublime objects, which I shall now attempt to delineate?” Similarly, Patrick Brydone in his extremely successful A Tour Through Sicily and Malta, first published in 1774, regales the reader with an astonishingly vivid rendering of the sublimity of the Sicilian volcano of Etna (a description that was repeatedly reprinted in the magazines), while ruefully confessing of its summit that “here description must ever fall short, for no imagination has dared to form any ideas of so glorious and so magnificent a scene”.   One cannot help thinking that such professions are a none too covert way of promoting the literary skills of the author.

Overall, Pinkerton’s authors leave three major impressions. First their language is promiscuous. One hears echoes everywhere of a raft of authors on the sublime, not just Longinus and Burke, but Joseph Addison, James Thomson, Lord Kames, Archibald Alison and Hugh Blair. And secondly, the travellers describe a wide variety of relations between the feelings of the sublime, and those prompted by other aesthetic categories such as the beautiful or the picturesque: quite often the sublime is treated as a sort of beauty; on some occasions, the different affects are elided, as when sublimity is treated as “lovely” or “enchanting”.  In short, there is nothing philosophically rigorous in these evocative descriptions. Thirdly, most accounts, and notably those that were commercially successful, combine – albeit in a rather awkward manner – the aesthetics of travel and scientific observations.   This might be expected in such works as those by savants – Horace Benedict de Saussure on the Alps, Lazzaro Spallanzani on southern Italy and Sir William Hamilton on Vesuvius. Savants needed the sublime to propagate science.   But this sort of juxtaposition was equally common in more general travel writing.   Brydone’s account of his travels in Sicily and up Etna is peppered with calculations of temperatures and heights and barometric pressure. Coxe’s account of Switzerland marries quotes from Virgil with an extremely detailed discussion of the evidence for the height of Mount Blanc as compared with other mountains both in Antiquity and in the rest of the world, contrasting unproven assertion with modern measurement: “conjectures”, he writes, “are now banished from natural curiosity”.   By the 1760s and 1770s travel writers clearly felt an obligation to gesture – and sometimes even more – to forms of scientific description.

Of course, although they use the language of the sublime, there are important (and obvious) differences in nearly all accounts between descriptions of glacier covered mountains and fiery volcanoes.   The volcano, at least when erupting, is characterized by loud and unexpected noises (usually compared to cannon fire), and by movement – of lava and ash – and agitation. It was an image of instability: almost all accounts reiterate that what made the ascent of a volcano difficult was not its height (though in the case of Etna at 10,990 feet [3,350m] and more than twice the height of Vesuvius (4,202) this was a problem), but the quantities of ash and clinker that your feet sank into, rending the climb, as one commentator put it, more arduous than any climb ever.  The goal of a volcanic ascent was to observe the crater, a bubbling, burning, viscous, mass of indeterminate depth, a sort of fluid barrier between the atmosphere and the underworld.   In contrast, Mount Blanc, indeed all high snow covered mountains, were characterized as what the Genevan patrician and savant, Horace Benedict de Saussure, called “an abode of cold and silence”. Though avalanches and glaciers (often compared to lava flows) were signs of movement and mobility, on the whole the mountains were associated with a sort of massive, adamantine illegibility. Perhaps this is what Voltaire was thinking about when he wrote to volcanologist and savant, Sir William Hamilton in Naples, memorably contrasting the “eternal calm” of his beloved alps with volcanoes “full of caprice…too lively, that often become angry without reason”.   Volcanism was less about grandeur, about an adamantine monumentality or stability, which often entailed a certain static quality, than about violence and (e)motion.   Sublime action rather than sublime being.   And if one of the themes of the alpine sublime was imperviousness, the activity of the volcano – the outpouring of its innards, the extrusion of its viscera – entailed a certain active liminality, in which the interior secrets of nature were (threateningly) exposed. (Romantic rocks, 32.) It is not surprising that, although both the Alps and volcanoes were co-opted by the French revolutionaries, that the volcano – a sudden violence force of destruction that nevertheless had regenerative power – was much the most common metaphor and analogy with political and social change, and that fear of volcanic eruption also became a metaphor for fear of Revolution.

All of which is to say that the sublime feelings primarily though not exclusively associated with volcanoes were those of fear and danger, whereas those of high mountains were awe and exaltation, what the Swiss naturalist, Jean De Luc, described as “a kind of sensation of immensity it is impossible to explain”.   Whether in the form of a Rousseauian reverie on a pristine natural order or as a piece of natural theology, accounts of the Alps expressed the transformative spiritual effects of mountain air.   As Bourrit put it in his New Description of the Alps, “only one idea remains, but it is strong, it is the Sovereign of nature, who seizes all the faculties of your soul, His idea is sublime; nothing distracts; only he reigns here: that one feels is so strong, so transcendent, that one feels oneself changed. Neither the temples where one gives adoration, nor the view of its altars, produces nearly as profound a feeling of his presence.”

A further difference in accounts of the alpine and volcanic sublime is that alpine sublimity was figured as solitary, whereas volcanic sublime was – somewhat unexpectedly – figured as social.   Saussure’s comment during the first evening of his unsuccessful attempt of 1785 to climb Mount Blanc is often cited: “the repose and profound silence which reigned in this vast expanse, enlarged still further by the imagination, inspired me with a sort of terror; it appeared to me that I alone had survived in the universe; and that I saw its corpse stretched out at my feet.”   The reader would hardly know that the Genevan stood only a few feet from a cabin that contained eighteen sleeping men.   Leaving St. Gotthard nearly a decade earlier, the travel writer and cleric William Coxe commented that “I frequently quit my party, and either go on or before, or loiter behind, that I may enjoy uninterrupted, and with a sort of melancholy pleasure, these sublime exhibitions of nature in her most awful and tremendous forms.”

In contrast, the Vesuvian sublime was never that of the isolated individual confronting nature, but an experience that was emphatically social. In fact to ascend the volcano alone was seen as a diminished experience. There was a long history of male sociability on the mountain, and this sense that the experience of Vesuvius, and especially of an eruption, was an event that should be shared with one’s closest friends.   When the English painter, Joseph Wright of Derby finally made it up Vesuvius in 1775, his biggest regret was the absence of his friend, the clockmaker and geologist, John Whitehurst – “I wished for his company when on Mount Vesuvius, his thoughts would have centr’d in the bowels of the mountain, mine skimmed over the surface only; there was a very considerable eruption at the time, of which I am going to make a picture. ‘Tis the most wonderful sight in nature”.

Similarly, Sir William Hamilton, the British attaché, vulcanologist and antiquarian who did more than anyone else in the English-speaking world to propagate Vesuvius’s volcanic activity, wrote to the President of the Royal Society, Sir Joseph Banks, that his greatest disappointment was not to be able to share with him the experience of the 1778? eruption: “I long’d for you, [David] Solander and Charles Greville, for tho’ I have some company with me on these expeditions sometimes yet they have in general so much fear & so little curiosity that I had rather be alone”.   Perhaps Hamilton was thinking back to the most important homo-social moment of the northern Enlightenment in Italy, which occurred during the eruption of October 1767, when Hamilton, the great antiquary and scholar, Johann Joachim Winckelmann, the libertine pornographer, the Baron d’Hancarville, together with Baron Riedesel, the author of an important travel guide to Sicily, collectively, and at considerable risk, descended into the volcano’s crater. The heat was so fierce they were forced to strip naked, while they dined on a picnic of pigeons they roasted in the lava streams.

If the sense of male friendship and solidarity was in part a function of shared danger, this was also one of the circumstances that enhanced romantic love between men and women.   Of course it is not just danger that fuelled romantic passion. It was the power and force of the volcano itself, the way it ignited the energy and the enthusiasm that fuelled desire and romance. The French artist, Madame Vigee Le Brun, climbing Vesuvius in 1790, wrote to her friend the architect Alexandre-Theodore Brongniart, “For a while I became Vesuvian, so much do I love this superb volcano. I believe that he also loved me, because he celebrated and welcomed me in the most grandiose manner”.   This sense of the volcano as a stimulus to desire had a long pedigree.   Sir William Hamilton described how in December 1770 during what he called “quite a lady’s eruption” he fell for a young woman [Lady Hampden] who was half his age: “nothing can express the glorious scene of Saturday – There were numberless Cascades of fire, the Scoria of the Lava formed arch’d bridges from Space to Space and the Lava ran rapidly under these arches whilst we stood upon them with great security. Mrs. Hampdens beautifull face lighted up by the reflection of the fiery Streams was not a circumstance to be forgot – I was half in love with her before we went to Vesuvius but her courage & the passion she has taken for my favourite object here, has quite undone me.”

The question for the savant however (even one as ardent as Sir William Hamilton) was still that of how these descriptions of mountains as sites of (different sorts of) emotional intensity connected with a more deliberate and colder discourse associated with the tasks of scientific observation.  Observation, as Lorraine Daston has emphasized, was central to scientific practice in the Enlightenment, and entailed an active engagement of the senses and intellect. As the Genevan pastor and botanist, Jean Senebier commented in L’art d’observer (1775), : “attention alone renders the observer master of the subjects he studies, in uniting all the forces of his soul, in making him carefully discard all that could distract him, and in regarding the object as the only one that exists for it at that moment”.   Johann Wolfgang von Goethe endorsed this view that scientific investigation demanded painstaking attention: “As soon as an observer gifted with acute senses happens to pay attention to objects, he becomes both inclined to make observations, and excellent at them”. The aim, however, was not to observe individual curiosities – the modern savant was very concerned to distinguish himself from the casual collector and admirer of naturalia – but to use particulars to reconstruct a picture of nature and, above all, to understand its laws, identifying what Daston calls “uniform particulars” to create a system.   So when Saussure ran into Hamilton’s nephew, Charles Greville, a lifelong collector of gems and crystals, at the St Gotthard pass in 1775, he dismissed him because “he was not a serious student and did not attempt to generalize”.  This did not, by the way, prevent the British Museum from paying £xxxxxx for his collection in 1


In short, a grid of local facts was to be turned into a global view of nature. This entailed precision, repetition and comparison in order to construct a general object – not Vesuvius or Etna or Stromboli – but volcanoes, not Mount Blanc, Dome du Gouter or Mont Buet, but Alpine mountains. So scientific knowledge depended, in the first instance, on a mass of detailed observations such as those of Vesuvius undertaken between 1779 and 1794 by Padre Antonio Piaggio at the behest of Sir William Hamilton, or those which Saussure undertook at the summit of Mount Blanc in 1787, when he measured temperature, air pressure, magnetic field, humidity and the colour of the sky using thermometers, a hygrometer, electrometer, two barometers, and a cynometer.   Such findings were written in notebooks, sometimes later redacted for publication, and included diagrams, measurements and numbers, often produced by instruments such as thermometers, hygrometers, barometers and theodolites.    Such knowledge was not, as Daston points out, intended to prove but to discover – to produce rather than test hypotheses about nature through patient discernment.

Much investigation, as several savants recognized, was repetitive, dull and unexciting; nevertheless skilled observation became increasingly associated with the idea of genius, with virtuosity and ingenuity, both in fashioning more precise instruments and in deftly recording nature.   Tabular results may have been prosaic and routine, but their recovery and constitution, especially when it put the observer at risk or in danger, was not. The heroic genius of the savant, embodied in a figure like Saussure, shifted the site and nature of sublimity which now lay in the actions of the philosopher rather than in the materials he surveyed. The engraving after the painting of Saussure by Jean-Pierre Saint-Ours, which as Martin Rudwick points out, was circulated throughout Europe, embodies this juxtaposition, in which the sublime sky and mountains are depicted together with Saussure and his instruments of science: a miner’s hammer, collecting bag, clinometer, hygrometer, and telescope.   Cian Duffy has made this same point more abstractly: “one effect of the remediation of the encounter with the ‘natural sublime’ to the general public through many of the cultural texts…is that the sublime which the individual describes becomes implicated with their own persona through the act of description.”

Perhaps then the narrative that combined sublime reflections on nature’s powers and majesty and scientific facts was largely unproblematic.   Perhaps the translators of Bourrit were right when they argued that science and aesthetic pleasure were compatible. After all the most commercially successful – best-selling – travel accounts were often a combination of the two. The spectacle of natural philosophy was not just enacted, as Simon Schaffer reminds us, in the lecture theatre and public exhibition spaces, but also in the textual descriptions of making observations in the field, descriptions that gave general epistemic authority to such accounts. We can see this very clearly in the carefully orchestrated self-fashioning of Sir William Hamilton as a volcanic savant through a whole series of publications for very different audiences between the mid-1760s and 1790s, or in the flurry of rival accounts of the Alps published by De Luc, Burrit, Raymond, Dr. Michel-Gabriel Paccard and Saussure.   Almost all of these accounts, even when quite technical, were reproduced in a whole range of contemporary periodicals, and not just in scientific publications. They were not just contributions to knowledge but rival claims for scientific ‘genius’.


The context of these works was commercial and touristic as much as scientific.   Both the Alps and Vesuvius (Etna was, at least at this time, too remote) fostered well developed tourist industries in the last quarter of the century.   As a Franciscan friar pointed out to Hester Piozzi, the former Mrs. Thrale, when she visited Naples in 1785, “that’s our mountain, which throws up money for us, by calling foreigners to see the extraordinary effects of so surprising a phenomenon.” Vesuvius boasted a well developed system of guides, a souvenir lava and rock trade, and a vast array of pictures and models for the visitor; in Chamonix, at the foot of Mt Blanc, there were no hotels in 1760; but there were three well appointed inns by the 1780s. Visitor figures to Chamonix rose from a meager 30 in 1772 to 2,000 in 1785. Jacques Balmat, who together with Dr. Paccard was the first to reach the summit of Mt. Blanc was financially rewarded by the Sardinian authorities who ruled the region because, in the words of the Sardinian envoy in Geneva: “this [ascent] is regarded in the area as an epochal event which will attract even more foreigners and the curious to the Glacieres”.


Curiosity, wonder, aesthetic appreciation – these were the feelings that were known to draw the traveller or tourist to the spectacles of fire and ice on the slopes of Vesuvius and Mt Blanc, but how was he and she to be persuaded to see nature as the savant intended, not just as an emotional stimulus but as part of the order of things?  One way to achieve this was for savants to portray the sublime and aesthetics more generally as both the precursor and stimulus to a more sober analysis.   As John Playfair, the Scottish mathematician and natural philosopher put it in his Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory of the Earth(1802): “as soon as he [the savant] has recovered from the general impression made by the novelty and magnificence of the spectacle before him, he begins to discover the footsteps of time”.   Similarly Brydone on Etna: “the senses, unaccustomed to the sublimity of such a scene, are bewildered and confounded, and it is not till after some time, that they are capable of separating and judging of the objects that compose it.”


Popularizers of science like Humphry Davy, who gave the first series of lectures in England on geology in 1805 at the Royal Institution, were emphatic that “the beauty, the majesty and the sublimity of the great forms of nature have their effect in the imagination rather increased than diminished by being connected with the view of philosophy” (13).   As he went on to explain, “the imagery of a mountain country, which is the very theatre of all science, is in almost all cases highly impressive and delightful, but a new and higher species of enjoyment arises in the mind when the arrangements in it, their harmony and subserviency to the purposes of life are considered.”   Davy wants both the sublime and the beautiful. If, on the one hand, he is pointing to the beauty and harmony of nature, he is also pointing out that the capacity to see things scientifically enhances sublimity. As he says, “To the geological enquirer every mountain chain offers striking monuments of the great alterations that the globe has undergone. The most sublime speculations are awakened, the present is disregarded, past ages crowd upon the fancy, and the mind is lost in admiration of the designs of that great power who has established order in which at first view appears as confusion”.   The words echo those of Bourrit on the top of Le Buet a quarter of a century earlier: “By contemplating these enormous monuments to the decay of the universe, thoughts are moved back many centuries and fixed on an imposing antiquity so well attested in this place”. Davy is playing a subtle game here, one that seeks to combine the aesthetics of confusion and deep time with an assertion of what is key for him, the order of nature, which can only be seen scientifically.

But as Adam Smith realized natural philosophy was just as easily understood as a process of demystification in which sublime feelings of fear and awe were dispelled by an understanding of the beauties of the connected system of nature. “Thus”, he writes in his Essays on Philosophical Subjects, “the eclipses of the sun and the moon, which once, more than all other appearances in the heavens, excited the terror and amazement of mankind, seem now no longer so wonderful, since the connecting chain has been found which joins them to the ordinary course of things.”… “Philosophy”, Smith argues, “by representing the invisible chains which bind together all these disjointed objects, endeavours to introduce order into the chaos of jarring and discordant appearance, to allay the tumult of the imagination, and to restore it, when it surveys the great revolutions of the universe, to that tone of tranquility and composure, which is most agreeable in itself, and most suitable in its nature.”.   Just as he saw the market, so Smith sees the economy of nature as a beautiful system.   Davy, for all his confusion, concurs: At the end of his tenth lecture he explained, “Even the most terrible of the ministrations of nature in their ultimate operation are pregnant with blessings and with benefits. Beauty and harmony are made to result from apparent confusion, and all the laws of the material world are ultimately made subservient to the preservation of life and the promotion of happiness”.

It is this commitment to understanding system and to searching out order that distinguishes the rigorous natural philosopher from the traveller with only desultory curiosity; it is also what and makes his activity sublime.   In an astonishingly self-congratulatory remark in his preliminary discourse to Voyages in the Alps, Saussure gives himself almost God-like qualities: “What language can reproduce the sensations and paint the ideas with which these great spectacles fill the soul of the Philosopher? He seems to dominate above our Globe, he discovers the sources of its motion, and to recognize at least the principal agents that effect its revolutions.” Placed at the summit of the highest mountain in Europe, where “I saw placed under my eyes those majestic summits …I seized their relation to each other, their connection, their structure, and a single glance cleared up doubts that years of labour had not been able to dissolve.” Saussure is jostling for status on the summit with an all-seeing God.

As part of a progressive narrative of modernity, the natural philosopher not only contrasted himself with the unsystematic inquirer, but even more prominently with ordinary people who lack education.   Kant, in his discussion of the natural sublime in his Third Critique contrasts the response of a Savoyard peasant, whom he concedes is good and intelligent but also uncultured, to that of Saussure himself. According to Kant, the response to the Alps and Mount Blanc of Saussure, who uses his “soul-stirring sensations” for “the instruction of men”, is quite different from that of the Savoyard peasant, who “in the indications of the dominion of nature in destruction, and in the great scale of its might,… will only see the misery, danger, and distress which surround the man who is exposed to it”.

It is striking how often apparently ‘scientific’ reports penned by savants include accounts of the responses of indigenous peoples, usually dubbed ignorant, superstitious and fearful.   Hamilton’s reports of volcanic eruptions on Vesuvius usually included stories (for which there was very little philosophical justification) of popular turmoil and terror, and of the invocation of the relics of St Gennaro, to save the city of Naples from its sins. Such narratives set up an explicit contrast between a vision of natural disaster as divine retribution for human sin, and eruptions as an example of a benign natural order, their occurrence a part of a self-regulating nature. This was the message that Davy offered his lecture audience as the climax of his geological survey.   “Volcanoes when superficially examined appear rather as accidents than as orderly events in our system. But when they are accurately considered, it will be found that their effects are not unimportant in the economy of things and that they bear a distinct subservience to the general harmonious series of natural operations (136)…the earthquake and the subterraneous fire have their uses in our system. They at first terrify and destroy, but a few years only pass away and their desolating effects disappear; the scene blooms with the fairest vegetation and becomes the abode of life”.

So the act of overcoming fear in the face of the erupting volcano was never simply a matter of physical security; it also depended, as Adam Smith understood, upon a cognitive move in which understanding and knowledge dispelled fear based on ignorance.  The savant had every reason to play up the difficulty and danger of his investigations, as long as his fortitude was made clear, a determination that grew out of scientific curiosity, his determination to extract the system of nature from his researches.


This contrast between the savant and the superstitious layman can be seen very clearly in the work of the most important artist portraying Vesuvius in the later eighteenth century, Jacques Volaire, known as the Chevalier Volaire. He arrived in Naples in 1767 and, apart from brief excursions, remained there until his death in 1799.   During his time in the city he produced a steady stream of pictures of the volcano in eruption, depicting the eruptions of 1767, 1771, 1774, 1776, 1779 and 1794.   His clients included diplomats like Sir William Hamilton, the Cardinal de Berni (the French ambassador in Rome), the Austrian ambassador, and Francois Cacault, a consular official in Naples who also traded in pictures for Parisian clients. He sold pictures to Charles Townley and Henry Blundell on their 1777 visit to Naples, to Mrs Piozzi when she was there in 1785-6, to French aristocrats like the tax farmer, Bergaret de Grancourt and Viconte de Saint-Pardoux (on his Grand Tour of 1777), and to monarchs such as Catharine the Great, the Duke of Savoy and Ferdinand IV of Spain. Many of these paintings were very large, approximately four feet by eight, though he also produced smaller versions of his pictures approximately 15 x 30 inches. Almost all of his works were night scenes – Vesuvian tourism was nocturnal, and most of Volaire’s works claimed to depict a specific moment or event, and sometimes claimed to have been produced on the spot and with a high degree of exactitude. (Only a very few of his paintings were fantasy pictures, such as those that combined the effects of the eruptions of 1771 and 1779.)

Volaire’s pictures, for all their startling effects, were works that told tales that chimed in with the attitudes and beliefs of the philosophical travellers and Enlightened figures who were his patrons and customers. Most, though not all, of Volaire’s paintings adopt one of two points of view: close to the volcano on the so-called Atrio del Cavallo, or at a distance, looking south east towards Vesuvius from the Ponte della Maddalena and the city of Naples. In the former, as in the painting now in the Chicago Art Institute, inscribed “Vue de l’Eruption du mont Vesuve du 14 mai 1771”, we see both the artist and the genteel observers gesturing towards the lava flow in a manner that indicates that they are engaged in observing a natural phenomenon that might inspire sublime feelings, but which does not entail fear.

One recalls the Royal Society’s praise of Sir William Hamilton’s “philosophical fortitude in the midst of the Horrors of Vesuvius”, and their admiration for his “resolution” and “constancy” in observing a phenomenon that he had “so minutely as well as philosophically accounted for and described”. Or Simon Linguet’s description of Giovanni Mario della Torre as a savant avec “une attention et un courage rares”.  Here we see the figure described by David McCallam: “when the intrepid savant faces down the terrible danger of the volcano, the volcano yields to him not only its secrets, in the form of scientific data, but also its sublimity”.

On the Ponte della Maddalena however, as the painting now in the North Carolina Art Museum depicts, the response is very different. Neapolitans are fleeing from the eruption, they pray, superstitiously, to San Gennaro, to intercede on their behalf, or hold up his image in an attempt to ward off the danger of the volcano. The painting depicts a persistent cliché about the Neapolitan populace – that they were superstitious and fearful rather than modern and enlightened. Volaire’s paintings thus establish the difference and distance between the Grand Tourist or philosophical traveller, who was his patron, and the Neapolitans he depicted. Volaire’s work was the most conspicuous instance of this topos, but not the only one. It can be found in the work of the German artist Jacob Phillip Hackert, the Austrian Michael Wutky, and in at least one of Pietro Fabris’s works for Sir William Hamilton’s Campi Phlegraei.

The construction of the heroic savant marginalized or obliterated those who were deemed to be of restricted vision – either because unable to transmute the local into the general, or to see beyond their superstitions.   Thus, as we see, it was a commonplace among travellers that the Neapolitan lazzaroni were either indifferent to or terrified of their volcano, despite the fact that savants’ visits to the volcano could only be made with local guides, and their safety only ensured by their local expertise. Similarly, a comparable process of erasure happened in the case of Mount Blanc. Jacques Balmat, a smallholder and crystal hunter (note not collector) and Michel-Gabriel Paccard, a doctor, both from Chamonix, were the first to reach the summit of Mount Blanc, but their achievement was immediately downplayed, portrayed as a preparatory expedition to the ascent of the savant, Saussure.   Saussure’s swiftly published account of his own expedition (which included Balmat who was vital to the ascent) circulated first as a brief relation and then in much longer form, and overshadowed the achievements of Balmat and Paccard.   When Immanuel Kant published his Physical Geography in 1802, he declared, “Saussure was the first mortal to climb the summit of Mount Blanc”.

As we have seen what may at first sight have seemed a weakness on the part of natural philosophy, its dryness – what Brydone called “its cool and tasteless triumphs”, associated with “the hard and impenetrable temper of philosophy” – was successfully overcome by savants and scientists in the second half of the eighteenth century. They did not fight the powerful expressions of feeling associated with the sublime, which might have threatened to overshadow their precise descriptions and data. Instead they made such feelings the handmaiden of science, while crafting themselves as heroic, sublime figures enduring danger and discomfort in the pursuit of philosophical truth. Their sublimity derived from their actions in nature, including the prosaic activities of measurement and precise description that seemed so removed from an aesthetic that spoke of boundless horizons, obscurity and darkness.   Narratives such as those of Saussure and Hamilton were never just philosophical interventions; they were also guarantors of intellectual and social prestige, spread through publications designed to claim priorities for their authors, and often to secure their places politically.   They also, as we have seen, excluded or downgraded others who were in fact a part of the story.   As we have learned repeatedly, narratives of modernization and progress are often of great benefit to their proponents; for others, they are much more of a mixed blessing.




“Neo-realism and re-enactment”.

A version of this originally appeared in Iain McCalman and Paul A Pickering (eds), Historical Re-Enactment: from Realism to the Affective Turn. ( 2010), pp. 79-89.

It links to my on-going interest in Italian neo-Realism and my interest in historical distance, and can be read in conjunction with my “Microhistories and the Histories of Everyday Life”, Cultural and Social History, vol 7, no 1 (2010) pp. 87-110, with which there are certain overlaps, and which also discusses neo-realism in relation to Italian microstoria.

Many thanks to Iain McCalman and Jonathan Lamb whose experience (including a mutiny) on the replica of Cook’s Endeavour inspired the conference for which this paper was written.





What are we to do about re-enactment? Here’s a term that seems to cover a multitude of sins and a myriad of forms – the Christian sacrament of communion, the activities of societies for creative anachronism, Shakespeare’s history plays, movies about the Alamo, art forgeries, a lot of pornography, most scientific experiments. Perhaps it is better to ask why supposedly sane academics have come to be interested in or pre-occupied by re-enactment. One easy answer is to say of re-enactment, as of sexually transmitted disease, that there is a lot more of it about nowadays. But re-enactment has been around for two hundred years or so. Its forms and frequency may have fluctuated but it has been a general feature of the culture of modernity, with its progressive view of history which figures change as both progress and loss. (Think for example of nineteenth and early twentieth-century world’s fairs almost all of which contained not just evidences of modernity, but re-enactments of the savage and the primitive.) [1]

In fact recent academic concern with re-enactment is rather more specific. It seems to me to be part of an anxiety about the proliferating interest in the past, from which its natural custodians – professional historians – have been largely excluded. (OK we all know the names of those who haven’t, but they are not many more than the fingers on one hand.)   Amateur enthusiasts, the representatives of identity politics and, above, all, participants in the culture industries that produce TV, video, and film – not academics – are the creators, purveyors and consumers of this past. What they create is a past that is at once consumer good and cultural possession.

The responses of academics to this phenomenon – at least of those who have not dismissed re-enactment as an illusory and unimportant path to historical understanding – have been threefold. The first two are anthropological in character. The post-Durkheimian world of social and cultural history seeks to analyse the functions, purpose and meaning of re-enactment, and to locate it within the categories of collective identity and memory and, in its more sophisticated versions, within the realm of social conflict. Pierre Nora’s series of volumes Les Lieux de Memoire stand as a (distinguished) representative of this trend.[2] This is a way of re-appropriating re-enactment and bringing it back into the realm of scholarly history.

The second response is ethnographic or (to use Garfinkel’s term) ethno-methodological (if you can’t beat them, join them): to act not just as an observer of re-enactment but as a (possibly privileged) participant, the fate of the historians (and other academics) who took part in The Ship.   The third response is to treat re-enactment more formally, to attend to its mechanics or poetics, as in Jonathan Lamb’s four-fold classification of re-enactment as pageantry, theatre, house and realism.[3]

In this paper I want to pursue a path closer to Lamb’s than any other – one that attends to the poetics of re-enactment, though what I want to argue is that we have become preoccupied with a particular notion (a sentimental and naively somatic) idea of how re-enactment does and should work, which has occluded other ways in which we might want both to practice and analyse re-enactment. Specifically I assume that all forms of re-enactment either tacitly or explicitly assume a notion of the real, and that this is the question to which we should attend. I make my argument using the case of Italian neo-realism or, more specifically, using the example of one neo-realist film, Roberto Rossellini’s 1946 masterpiece, Paisa, released in the Anglo-phone world as Paisan. (I restrict myself to this case study in part because I don’t want to get into the vexed debate, that has run since the 1940s, of what neo-realism is or was).[4] Rather I focus on the techniques and assumptions that underpin Paisa’s notion of the real. My aim is not to argue that we should revert to neo-realism, which like sentimental re-enactment has a very specific historical context, but to point out that any serious discussion of re-enactment must address the question of the poetics of the real.

I want to begin by looking at re-enactment from the point of view of the re-enactors, and then move to those who create re-enactments but may not be participants in them. I realise that a distinction between participants and impresarios is not always a clear one, but it has its heuristic uses, not least in discriminating those who often wish to overlook, and those who necessarily have to address the poetics of re-enactment.


One of the fundamental and certainly one of the most enduring historical problems has been about how to deal with the distance between the past and the present, the distinction between subject and object, participant and narrator/recorder/witness. History – as text, image or performance – constitutes the means by which these binaries are connected. My sense is that enthusiastic re-enactors embrace re-enactment in part because they believe that this tricky problem can be short-circuited or avoided through the process of re-enactment. Thus re-enactment is trailed at one web-site as follows: “Have you often wondered what it might have been like to actually live in the past? Historical re-enacting gives you that chance”.[5]   Self-descriptions of re-enactors seem to collapse the distance between past and present, reducing it to zero so that the re-enactor inhabits a sort of overwhelming timelessness in which the present self and past other merge into a single identity, a unique individual experience.   (As one would expect with such a sentimental view, what is important is not the truth of the enactment but its psychological effects.) Paradoxically historically specific paraphernalia are usually what make this possible – certain foods, clothes, locations – enabling the re-enactor not just to wear dead men’s shoes but to inhabit their skins.[6] This is, of course, a form of fetishism, in which authentic objects supposedly provide the subject with a complete experience of the past.

On the whole re-enactors seem to see re-enactment as experiential and somatic. Re-enactors typically fight battles, rehearse rituals etc.[7] They are about doing things, not about thinking things. ( I don’t know of too many examples of them engaging, for instance, in philosophical or theological arguments). This seems to be part of a widespread assumption that language and thought are culturally and temporally specific while feeling and somatic experience are in some sense timeless, an adjunct of human nature. To fight as a seventeenth-century soldier, to sail as an eighteenth-century mariner, to cook as a nineteenth-century housewife (apologies for the sexual politics, but they are ‘in period’), to suffer as a twentieth-century victim of persecution is to replicate and indeed inhabit their ‘experience’ through performance. Again, the issue of distance is occluded. But, as Martin Jay reminds us in his admirable book, Songs of Experience. Modern American and European Variations on a Universal Theme, our notion of experience also works against this sort of identification: “the word experience has often been used to gesture toward precisely that which exceeds concepts and even language itself. It is frequently used as a marker for what is so ineffable and individual (or specific to a particular group) that it cannot be rendered in conventionally communicative terms to those who lack it. Although we may try to share or represent what we experience, the argument goes, only the subject really knows what he or she has experienced”.[8]   Re-enactors, it seems, are engaged in seeking the triumph of hope over experience.   Put less factitiously, their notion of experience is an instance of what Karel Kosik has called “the pseudo-concrete”[9], a view that seems to have forgotten the human mind.


Of course the picture produced by those whose task it is to create re-enactments – I’m thinking here chiefly of those who produce historical media – TV and the like – have a somewhat more complex and sophisticated view. The creators of a commodified version of the past have to think about what strategies will best connect the product to the consumer, a process that, given the ways in which marketing strategies work, is largely seen as a question of establishing forms of identification. (I want to ask, what other sorts of tactic are there now? Identity seems to have swallowed everything.)


Re-enactments of this sort tend to come in two rather different flavours. The first falls into the realm of traditional political and military history (though there is also a social history version of this) and tells a story in which the audience is invited to take sides with the forces of light in their struggle with the forces of darkness. The temporal and narrative structure of such recreations is usually heroic and progressive, supposing a fairly standard idea of linear time. They often entail an unseen master narrator – think of Sir Lawrence Olivier in the 26 program ITV series ‘The World at War’. The attraction of such re-creations to an audience is through an identification with the goodies, a group whose character – national, ethnic or whatever – is assumed to be that of most of the audience. The nature of the identification is not necessarily sympathetic, though it often is. But the chief assumption is not that we wish to inhabit this re-enactment, but that we recognize that it in some ways made or makes us what we are. Identity is more important than sympathy.   Such re-enactment enables us (whoever the ‘us’ are) to place ourselves in a larger history, to see ourselves, ordinary as we may be, as participants in or the beneficiaries of a transformation – the growth of democracy, the emancipation of minorities, the defeat of totalitarianism, the emancipation of the self etc. As Taylor Downing, the managing director of Flashback Television puts it, talking about his mailbag, “there are millions of intelligent and thinking people who are genuinely interested in how the past has helped to make us what we are”.[10] These large scale narratives, rare cases in which abstract notions are purveyed to a public, are normally scaled down by concentrating on a small group of heroic figures. It is possible, however, for there to be considerable distance between what is re-enacted and the audience. The crucial question is whether there is a linear narrative (often what post-structuralists would call a myth of origins) that can connect the past to the present.

This sort of re-enactment approximates to what I, using a term derived from Jay Appleton’s analysis of landscape,[11] have called ‘prospect history’.   What do I mean by this?   Prospect history presents a single, superior point of view – a bird’s eye perspective or from a lofty peak – in which an extensive, large scale landscape is surveyed. The viewer or narrator is not in the picture but outside it. Subject and object are clearly differentiated and distinct.   Because of height, size and distance, what is observed and recorded is general not specific, an undifferentiated shape or aggregated trend whose contours and surface can be seen, even when it lacks distinct detail. The pleasures of this sort of history are formal and abstract, a bit like the aesthetic appeal that Adam Smith attributed to the contemplation of the workings (and wonders) of the market.

This sort of history can be contrasted with what I call ‘refuge’ history. Refuge history is close-up and on a small scale. Its emphasis is on a particular place rather than space, the careful delineation of particularities and details. The pleasures of refuge history derive from a sense of belonging, of connectedness – to both persons and details – in which the observer is also a participant.   Its assumption is that knowledge and insight come from sympathy and understanding, from a process of loving recuperation. Refuge history is Heimlich. It looks to the Adam Smith of The Theory of Moral Sentiments rather than the Wealth of Nations. The assumption is that, as ordinary people who lead ordinary lives, ordinary life in the past is something that we can relate to our own experience, and something that we can imaginatively inhabit. The distance between the past and our own experience is radically reduced, because we believe that we have the same sort of experience – that of the everyday. And the reduction of scale makes everything more human – easier for the viewer to relate to sympathetically

A third sort of re-enactment is what Robert Darnton has called “incident history”,[12] and whose best example is probably the various versions – textual, filmic and musical – of the Return of Martin Guerre. Some of these – like Martin Guerre – belong to the old and time-tested genre of “strange but true” – their appeal is because of their oddity (and by virtue of that fact belong in the ahistorical category of the not normal),[13] but many others, such as the rehearsal of political crises or major battles, attempt to bring together the two sorts of history I have called prospect and refuge.

But the general point I want to make is that almost all of these versions of how re-enactment can and does work are shaped by the dominant terms sympathy and identity, whose chief virtue lies in the claim that they reduce distance. Now, while I see the merits of the claim for distance reduction, I see no merit to the notion of distance elimination. Indeed I see claims of distance elimination as inevitably and invariably false, illusory even when claimed by the re-enactor to be subjectively authentic.   Distance, I want to suggest is something we should work with rather than seek to remove.   Once we recognize that it inevitably is there, we can do other things with it apart from seeking its elimination.


All of this is by way of preliminary remarks before embarking on a case of show and tell. What I want to do is to look at how Roberto Rossellini recovers the experience of Italy’s liberation in ways which do not occlude distance and which, in my view, render a far more plausible and realistic re-enactment of what the process of liberation meant for many of those who participated in it.   Paisa – together with Roma, Citta Aperta – is conventionally cited as one of the first and most important films called neo-realist. Neo-realism was not just a cinematographic convention, but part of a larger post-war cultural movement intent on ending the ideological and aesthetic obfuscation of everyday life, a process largely (though not exclusively) equated with the spectacular culture of Italian fascism. (Later, in the Cold War, its target shifted to the spectacle of Hollywood and of consumer society.)   Though, as many of those identified as neo-realist have pointed out, not a coherent movement, it exemplified a quite shameless attempt to render the real. As Italo Calvino put it in the preface that accompanied the re-publication of his great neo-realist novel, Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno (first published in 1947): : “those who now think of ‘Neo-realism’ as a contamination or coercion of the literature by non-literary forces, are really shifting the terms of the question: in reality the non-literary elements were simply there, so solid and indisputable that they seemed to us to be completely natural; for us the problem appeared to be entirely one of poetics, of how to transform that world which for us was the world into a work of literature”.   Rossellini said, “What mattered to us was the investigation of reality, the [film’s] correspondence to reality”, The critic Cesare Zavattini, who was also the script-writer for Ladri di biciclette (The bicycle Thieves) , put it similarly: “What we are really attempting is not to invent a story that looks like reality, but to present reality as if it were a story”.[14]

Zavattini’s neo-realist manifesto adduced three main principles for neo-realist cinema: to shoot in the present tense in order to explore the impact of history on everyday life; to use episodic narrative to historicize the role of chance; to use non-professional actors to show that the flow of public history and the rhythm of private behaviour are neither neatly joined nor totally unrelated, but mostly at odds, while their effects overlap and intersect with one another.[15]

Roberto Rossellini’s Paisa, perhaps more than any other film, comes to embody these aims and principles.[16] I’m aware that there is considerable debate about the interpretation of the film, particularly about its contribution to issues of nationhood and identity at the end of war.[17]   But here I’m chiefly concerned with Rossellini’s strategies, both rhetorical and particularly narratological, in conveying or representing ‘the real’. It is instructive, in this context, to contrast Paisa with Rossellini’s other post-war masterpiece, Roma Citta Aperta.  The latter has rightly been characterised as a melodrama, one in which there is a clear struggle between wrong and right. But Paisa takes an altogether different form, one that plays out the tension between a progressive heroic narrative of the liberation of Italy by the British and Americans in 1943-4 and a series of stories that cast an unflinching eye on the human costs of freedom.   These stories are not figured as a struggle between right and wrong (there is brutality on all sides), but as a study in how the grand sweep of history gets worked out in everyday lives.   Its themes are not bravery and heroism – though this is shown – but of shared sacrifice and suffering (a Christian theme found in much of Rossellini’s work).[18] The characters are pushed and buffeted by the grand forces of the military struggle but also by chance, misfortune and misunderstanding. We are made acutely conscious of how strongly attached people are to the intimate pleasures of ordinary life – love, friendship, family, (Christian) fellowship – how much these are sought as a comfort and a refuge, and how powerfully they are disrupted by the sweep of history. The object of the film is not to re-act scenes from the invasion/liberation but to convey to the audience the emotional experience of those years.

Rossellini depicts six scenes set in different regions of Italy which follow the Allied advance, beginning in Sicily, then moving to Naples, Rome, Florence, Emilia-Romagna, finally ending in the Po Valley.   This grand narrative is represented as an impersonal inexorable process, signed by brief clips of maps, diagrams and a large abstract arrow, marking the movement of the allies and of time. These shots are accompanied by reassuring newsreel footage of retreats, victory parades and cheering crowds of the sort familiar to everyone who watched newsreels in Europe and America at the time.   They embody a cheerful optimism which is reinforced by our (retrospective) knowledge that the good guys will and did win. They constitute both in their narrative form and scale an instance of prospect history.

But the stories – in the present tense – have a very different effect. They reduce the conflict to a human scale – indeed, they make it human – yet in doing so they undercut or, at the very least, re-write the positive story of liberation.   In all but one case the effects and unintended consequences of the Allies liberation – the sufferings and misunderstandings that follow in the wake of war – are revealed as the larger narrative thread is entangled with a series of ordinary, personal everyday stories.

Every segment of Paisa deserves detailed treatment, but the constraints of space force me to confine my remarks to the very first episode, set at the beginning of the Allied advance through Sicily. It opens with the grand historical narrative, but the heroic bombast of the voiced-over allied landing quickly elides into a scene of confusion, a babble of voices, a tissue of misunderstanding, and a powerful sense of the entanglement of grand history and ordinary lives, when American soldiers first meet the local Sicilian population. As in the rest of the film the characters (many not actors but ‘ordinary people’) speak in a babble of languages and dialects – American English, English English, German, Sicilian, Neapolitan, Roman, Tuscan and Venetian dialects of Italian, as well as the pure version of the language. The opening linear narrative of the film is disrupted by a whole series of trajectories and points of view.

The American troops take a young Sicilian girl, Carmela, to guide them through a minefield.   They reach a castle tower, leave the woman with one of their number, “Joe from Jersey”, and continue their advance. Much of the episode is taken up with the attempts of Carmela and Joe to communicate despite their ignorance of the other’s language.   Joe admits his fears, talks of his job as a milk-float driver back home, and of his sister and her child. Carmela, mistakenly thinking he is showing her his wife or girlfriend, betrays a certain jealousy, and Joe, to show the family resemblance with his sister, uses a cigarette lighter to illuminate the photograph in his wallet. Rossellini then brutally cuts to a group of German soldiers who cry out as they see Joe’s light. A shot rings out. Joe falls dead at Carmela’s feet.   The swiftness of the transition is shocking. Carmela hides as the Germans take over the tower. Angered by the death of Joe – his gestures of friendship have rendered him a friend not an alien presence – she shoots one of the German’s with his rifle. When the Americans return to the tower, they find Joe’s body and assume that Carmela, “the dirty Eye-Tie”, has treacherously killed him. But in the final shot we see Carmela’s body sprawled on rocks at the sea’s edge where she has been thrown by the Germans.

This episode contains many of the features repeated in other parts of the film. The military action, filmed under cover of darkness, is hard to understand both for the soldiers and for the film’s viewers (just as in the final episode set in the Po Valley, a night landing of supplies in almost completely unintelligible). Apart from the scenes with Carmela and Joe, the episode is shot at middle distance so that the spectators are not directly engaged in the action but watching an unfolding story whose plot is almost impossible to detect. Here as elsewhere in the film the camera conveys in its framing and movement what Leo Braudy has called a “sense of detached, almost cold observation” that undercuts a sentimental view of events.[19]   Again, as throughout the film, the longing for intimacy, understanding and friendship clashes headlong with the brutal pressures of war. Time and again moments of connectedness and warmth – a shared meal, the washing of hands, a gift of a medicine, playing a mouth organ – are disrupted by conflict; dreams of union are thwarted.

At one level Rossellini is offering us a universal account of the vicissitudes of war, a sort of humanist analysis of what military conflict means for those who cross its path. At the same time, in its sensitivities to place – each of the episodes has regional character and feel, conveyed by the landscape and the people who inhabit it – it is culturally specific. (Neo-realist commentators, regardless of their ideological complexion, were highly conscious of how what they were doing grew out of a special historical conjuncture.) But Rossellini is not maudlin and rarely sentimental. His audience, like many of the characters in Paisa, is on a journey of discovery or realisation. It is not asked to act a part in the theatre of sympathy. The camera, the vehicle of image making – restless, mobile and detached, works not as a bond of sympathy but as a tool of understanding.   Throughout his career, Rossellini was preoccupied with the persuasive and instructive power of the visual media – a huge part of his output were the numerous and lengthy historical programs he made for television in his later years.[20] In Paisa (and other work of this period) Rossellini seems concerned to make clear that we should learn from history, even when we recognize that we have moved beyond it. We can reconstruct our sense of the past without having to inhabit it, because the point of reconstructing the past is to make us better equipped to live in the present. As many critics have pointed out, this sort of position is very much derived from Benedetto Croce, the influential liberal Italian philosopher.[21]

In the Poetics Aristotle famously distinguished historical truth that was concerned with particular events and what did or has happened, from poetic truth that was concerned with universal (human) matters and with what might or what we imagine could have happened.   Some commentators on Paisa have been concerned to emphasize its historical truth – the use of ‘real’ American soldiers and Italian partisans, or Neapolitan street urchins, and the filming in the ‘real’ locations where battles raged, and atrocities were committed.   But every bit as important as these fragments of authenticity and veracity are to the film, they pall in my view when placed beside the much larger verities that Rossellini explores about conflicting temporalities, about the complex dialectic between big history and small everyday lives, and about the way in which the forces of history are constantly led to deviate or change as a result of chance. (This, crucially, is neo-realism’s notion of the real.) Re-enactment, it seems to me, is not going to get much beyond a site of modern fantasy and nostalgia (pleasant as this may be), unless it can begin to address the issues of the relationship between historical and poetic truth (I know Aristotle wanted to keep them apart, but never mind), the issue of forms of narration, and of dealing with contingency and chance.   And to succeed in doing so one needs, as Rossellini’s camera shows, a degree of detachment, a consciousness of the processes by which we represent the real.




[1] Alex Geppert,   Fleeting Cities: Imperial Expositions in Fin-de-Siècle Europe (2010, 2013).

[2] Pierre Nora references

[3] See Lamb’s essay in this volume

[4] For an excellent account of the debate see Lucia Re, Calvino and the age of Neo-Realism: Fables of Estrangement (Stanford University Press: Stanford, 1990), esp chs.1-3.


[6] Thus debates at websites concerned with “standards of authenticity” seem chiefly preoccupied with dress and utensils, whether domestic or military.

[7] Even the most perfunctory search of re-enactment web sites reveals an overwhelming military predominance

[8] Martin Jay, Songs of Experience. Modern American and European Variations on a Universal Theme (

[9] Karel Kosik, Dialectics of the Concrete: A Study on the Problems of Man and the World (Boston and Dortrecht, 1975), 2.

[10] David Cannadine (ed.), History and the Media (Palgrave: Basingstoke and New York, 2000??),

[11] Appleton, Jay (1996), The Experience of Landscape, revised edition, Chichester: Wiley

[12] Robert Darnton “It Happened One Night’, New York Review of Books v.51, no. 11 (24 June 2004).

[13] For some important comments on the appeal of such strange but true stories to historians see Catharine Gallagher and Stephen Greenblatt, Practicing New Historicism, (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 54-6

[14] Italo Calvino, The Path to the Spiders’ Nests, trans. Archibald Colquhoun, revised Martin McLaughlin (Cape, 1998), 9-10. David Forgacs, Sarah Lutton, and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, Roberto Rossellini. Magician of the Real, London: British Film Institute. 2000, 39, 151; Robert Stam, Film Theory an Introduction, (Oxford: Blackwell, 19 )., 73.

[15] For Zavattini’s views see Cesare Zavattini Cinema. Diario cinematografico Neorealism ecc, a cura di Valentina Forrtichiari e Mino Argentieri (Classici Bompiani, Milan, 2002), esp. 741-769.

[16] Even though, it should be added, their views of neo-realism came to differ.

[17] Angela Dalle Vacche, The Body in the Mirror. Shapes of History in Italian Cinema (Princeton UP: Princeton, 1992), 102, 180-8, 194-5, 197-201; Peter Brunette, ‘Unity and Difference in Paisan’, Studies in the Literary Imagination 16, 1 (1983), 91-111.

[18] For Christian neo-realism see Tag Gallagher, “NR+MC2: Rossellini, ‘Neo-Realism’, and Croce”, Film History 2 (1988), 87-97.

[19] Leo Braudy, “Rossellini: From ‘Open City’ to ‘General della Rovere’”, in Leo Braudy and (ed.) 659.

[20] The best known remnant of this work is his The Rise to Power of Louis XIV.

[21] See especially, Tag Gallagher, ‘NR=MC2’, Film History (1988), 90-1.

Vesuvius and the Buried Cities in the age of Romanticism

Vesuvius and the buried cities in the age of Romanticism


This version lacks images.  If anyone is interested in the full monty, they should email me.



One of the wittiest travel books written about Naples is Le Corricolo [the title refers to a type of Neapolitan carriage], published by the dramatist, journalist and novelist, Alexander Dumas, about his visit to the city in 1835.   In a pause from its breathless dialogue, Dumas turned his attentions to the volcano, Vesuvius, that towers over the Bay of Naples.   He portrayed the smoking mountain as a brilliant actor whose calculated performance gives it bigger billing than its more physically impressive rivals of Etna and Stromboli. “In nature as in art, in the creations of God as in the work of man, in the volcano as in drama”, Dumas writes, “alongside real merit there is reputation”.   Taking advantage of its “admirable position and magnificent mise en scene” Vesuvius burst into prominence in AD 79 and followed this up with more than fifty eruptions, making so much noise and smoke that it “eclipsed” its rivals. Dumas describes the volcano’s dramatic first entry – the debut of its “carriere volcanique” as “a master stroke”: “To wrap the countryside and the sea in a dark cloud; to spread terror and night over a vast expanse; to send ashes to Africa, Syria, Egypt; to eliminate two cities such as Pompeii and Herculaneum; to asphyxiate from a distance a philosopher such as [the elder] Pliny and to force his nephew to immortalize the disaster in an admirable letter – you have to admit that’s not too bad a beginning for a volcano” . But that was just for starters: “From that time Vesuvius never neglected anything to justify the fame it had acquired in such a terrible and so unexpected way. Sometimes bright as a mortar flare and vomiting torrents of lava from nine mouths of fire, sometimes pumping up seawater and throwing out bubbling sprays to the point of drowning three thousand people, sometimes crowning a plume of flames that rose in 1779, according to some calculations, to eighteen thousand feet in height, its eruptions, which one can follow exactly in a collection of colored prints, all have different characters and always offer the most grandiose and picturesque views.”


The fires of Vesuvius, as Dumas well knew, thrived on the oxygen of publicity: “travelers’ tales, the exaggerations of guides, the admiration of the English, who, in their philanthropic enthusiasm, would give over their fortunes and their wives for just one chance to see Naples and its surroundings burning”. Vesuvius, Dumas concluded, “is not just famous, its popular.”


Dumas was, of course, right. By the mid-nineteenth century Vesuvius and the bay of Naples had become ‘popular’, an attraction for travellers and the object of innumerable paintings, prints and lithographs, not just because of the great natural beauty of the Bay – an allure since the time of the Ancients – but in large part because of the uncovering of the hidden cities buried in the eruption of AD 79 (excavations began before the mid-eighteenth century, but their full implications were only revealed in the early nineteenth), and also because of an enthusiasm for mountains, volcanoes and geological phenomena that, before the last quarter of the eighteenth century, was very much a minority taste.   This book looks, as Dumas looked, at the processes by which this natural site became identified as a particular sort of place and, again like Dumas, sees nature and the volcano as an active force, an actor in its own making. At the same time, it does not neglect the human values and processes by which Naples and the volcano were shaped.   But the approach I adopt is rather unusual.   I don’t confine myself to looking at Vesuvius and the buried cities merely as tourist sites or from the point of view of their foreign visitors.   This, as Dumas’ account reminds us, is, of course, an important part of the story, but only a part.   Rather, its very much the claim of this book that the volcano and the buried cities have to be understood as part of a highly contentious history that was both local – about Neapolitan society, politics, science and religion – and international – about the politics of European regimes, the history of the earth, and the place of science in society. The optics here therefore involve closeness and distance: the book begins in Naples with a detailed account of who was on Vesuvius, what they were doing there and how they understood their experiences on the mountain.   Aristocratic Neapolitans, Swiss mercenaries, English entrepreneurs, Austrian and German soldiers, French traders and writers, Italian, English and Danish geologists, American politicians and literati, Russian and German architects and painters, along with a bevy of tourists, local guides and tradesmen all found their way to the slopes of the volcano.   The mountain bubbled and seethed not just with lava, but with men and women whose passions, interests and aims were as disparate as their origins.   The volcano was an end point – no-one climbed Vesuvius to get somewhere else – but it was also often one stopping place in a journey towards some larger end.   And what those visitors wrote, depicted and inscribed, what rocks and lavas, images and engravings they collected and dispersed throughout much of Europe, not only placed Vesuvius and the buried cities at the heart of contemporary debates about politics, science and taste, but helped shape a virtual Naples, untethered from its Neapolitan surroundings, dispersed and displayed in panoramas, dioramas, and exhibition spaces, and re-enacted in public pleasure gardens, as well as in scientific lecture rooms and on the stage. There is no better way of understanding Europe in the age of Romanticism than by viewing it through the lens of the Bay of Naples.


  1. Introduction: Naples, the city and the Kingdom.


This opening survey focuses on the Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras, before the restoration of the old Counter-revolutionary regime in Naples in 1815. I emphasize a number of features of the Kingdom and the city that may not immediately seem to be part of the story but, as we shall see, the volcano and the excavations could never easily be separated from the turbulent history of the region.   Naples had long been in thrall to a foreign power. For many centuries subordinate to the Spanish monarchy, more recently under French revolutionary dominion, for much of the 1820s it was under Austrian military occupation, as well as the client of British and French commercial interests.   It was not just an independent kingdom, though it was certainly that, but also a client or colony, a pawn in the power struggles and commercial interests of militarily and economically more powerful states.   In the post-Napoleonic world its reactionary politics were protected and dictated by the Holy Alliance led by Austria, just as earlier its progressive agenda under Napoleon and his brother-in-law, Joachim Murat, King of Naples between 1807 and 1814, had been dictated by the French.   Foreigners dominated its economy: its commerce run by the French and English, its industry, such as it was, by the Swiss. No proper understanding of Naples is possible without the sort of investigation of its foreign communities that I provide here. Naples was what one Italian scholar has called a “multi-city” of diverse populations, comparable to such ports as Bordeaux, Hamburg, Istanbul, Livorno [Leghorn], Trieste and Salonika.


At the same time there were deep political fissures within Naples itself.   One of the most powerful intellectual centres of the European enlightenment, the first to appoint a professor of political economy, and with a tradition of critical thinking in philosophy and jurisprudence, it was also the home of an entrenched Catholic church and of an autocratic monarchy, both made all the more reactionary by the French revolution.   The French invasion of 1799, the establishment of a republic and its subsequent collapse in a bloody counter-coup famously aided by Lord Nelson, the return of French rule (1806-1815) that pushed a reformist agenda on a Gallic model, the restoration of the old regime in 1815, and a further constitutionalist revolt against the restored monarchy in 1820: all of these events polarized Neapolitan society and not just, as the clichéd view often has it, along the lines of a progressive elite (younger sons of the nobility, liberal clergy) ranged against a hide-bound superstitious populace, the famously impoverished and ill-clad lazzaroni, who so fascinated foreign visitors.


So, in many respects Naples exemplified the post- Napoleonic world through much of Europe, marked by a struggle between reactionary authorities, both lay and clerical, terrified of revolutionary resurgence, and radical republicans, like the Italian Jacobins and carbonari who infiltrated the Neapolitan army, hatched their plots in exile in Parisian cafes or at the Libreria Italiana in London’s Soho, or, less fortunately, were incarcerated in the prison camps of the political gulag on such small volcanic islands as Lipari and Favignana,.   Caught between the two were moderate reformers, both autocratic and liberal, many of whom struggled to effect change by compromising with the prevailing powers, seeking to hold office whatever the political complexion of the regime.   Naples, in other words, cannot be understood except as part of a larger international system of ideologically driven conflict, nor without attention to its diverse population, not least its substantial foreign communities.


  1. Vesuvius – whose volcano?


A volcano, it goes without saying, and as Dumas was at pains to point out, is not an inert or fixed object, a stable feature of the natural landscape.   Subject to a timescale beyond human temporality, by turns benign and terrifying, seemingly with a will of its own – at least one beyond human control – Vesuvius, like other volcanoes, was often anthropomorphized, seen as a creature of moods, one that was often dormant, sometimes silent, and occasionally lowering, wrathful, spiteful, and with an uncontrollable temper.   The volcano’s physical appearance was constantly changing – sometimes radically, after a major eruption, but also incrementally, as fissures and flows shifted the shape of its grounds.   For much of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, it was almost constantly erupting at a low level – though there were occasional major eruptions such as those of 1761, 1779, 1794, 1822 and 1834 – so that it was at once spectacular, especially at night when its flames could be seen most clearly, and yet ordinarily not life-threatening: a perfect object of sublime tourism. The experience in 1820 of the Irish novelist and travel-writer, Lady Morgan, was typical. “The mountain”, she wrote, “though it never raged with that fury which adds alarm to admiration, was sufficiently active to excite an incessant interest”.


But how the volcano was seen, imagined, described and experienced also varied greatly according to the values and position of the viewer.   For many Neapolitans Vesuvius was a symbol of their country – often painted into the background of royal portraits, modeled in public firework displays, sometimes seen as the underlying cause of the passionate temperament of the Neapolitan populace. But the volcano of the smallholder cultivating vines on its lower slopes, of the humble guides from Resina (now Herculaneum) who led visitors up the mountain was very different from the volcano of the Neapolitan savant and university professor, the cultivated foreign visitor, or the young soldiers who spent their leisure hours racing up the mountain.   But, overall, the volcano was a source of livelihood for many – the savant just as much as the poor guides.  As a Franciscan friar pointed out to Hester Piozzi, the former Mrs Thrale, “that’s our mountain, which throws up money for us, by calling foreigners to see the extraordinary effects of so surprising a phenomenon.” For others the volcano was a site of recreation, and an object of science.


Often these activities worked together – they made up an economy of Vesuvius – but in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, there were fundamental conflicts over how the volcano should be seen.   On the one hand there was a long-standing sense that the volcano was, as one poet put it, the “Mysterious Agent of Eternal Will”, its behaviour a symptom of divine approval or displeasure. The devastating eruption of 1631 – that over three days included violent earthquakes, torrential downpours, mudslides and flooding, as well as two huge pyroclastic flows of deadly burning gas, stream, dust ash and boulders, and three separate tsunamis – led to thousands of deaths, and was the worst eruption since the catastrophe of AD 79 that had destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum.   The scenes of devastation and death were a boon to the Counter-Reformation church, which co-opted the volcano to the cause of religious and moral reform. This not only reinforced the cult of San Gennaro – the saint who supposedly saved the city from Vesuvius in 1631 and the liquefaction of whose blood (attempted on three festival days a year) was a sign of good or ill-fortune – but also that of other patron saints, religious orders and fraternities in the city.   Every major eruption prompted huge religious processions and calls for spiritual reform as a way of propitiating for the nation’s and individuals’ sins.


The Church’s volcano was not, of course, that of the Enlightenment. In his remarks on volcanoes in his Theory of the Earth, the Scottish savant, James Hutton, took explicit aim at the traditional Christian view: “Volcanoes are not made on purpose to frighten superstitious people into fits of piety and devotion, nor to overwhelm devoted cities with destruction”. Rather their effect, though ostensibly terrifying and sometimes highly destructive in the short term, should be seen as an example of a benign natural order, their eruptions an instance of a self-regulating nature. As the Baron Holbach put it in the Encyclopedie:   “Les volcans doivent etre regardes commes les soupiraux de la terre, ou comme les chiminees par lesquelles elle se debarasse des matieres embrasees qui devorent son sein…Le volcans sont donc un bienfait de la nature”. The object of the natural philosopher was to chart, understand and, if possible, exploit these natural processes (for example by identifying the properties in volcanic soil that made it so fertile).   This was an aim of most of the many scientists who made their way to and up the volcano, among them Alexander von Humboldt, Gay Lussac, Leopold von Buch, Sir Humphry Davy, Deodat de Dolomieu, Charles Babbage and Charles Lyell.


The contrast between the pious and the Enlightened versions of the volcano is very clearly depicted in the work of the most important artist portraying the volcano in the later eighteenth century, Jacques Volaire, known as the Chevalier Volaire.   Born in Toulon, a pupil of Vernet, who employed him as his assistant for eight years, he lived for eighteen years in Naples, dying there in 1799. During his time in the city he produced a steady stream of pictures of the volcano in eruption, depicting the eruptions of 1767, 1771, 1774, 1776 and 1794.   The work received little official recognition – he exhibited in Paris on only three occasions – but he made a successful living from providing wealthy tourists and local diplomats with paintings of eruptions that his clients sometimes had witnessed.   His clients included diplomats like Sir William Hamilton, the Cardinal de Berni (the French ambassador in Rome), the Austrian ambassador, and Francois Cacault, a consular official in Naples who also traded in pictures for Parisian clients. He sold pictures to Charles Townley and Henry Blundell on their 1777 visit to Naples, to Mrs Piozzi when she was there in the 1780s, to French aristocrats like the tax farmer, Bergaret de Grancourt and Viconte de Saint-Pardoux (on his Grand Tour of 1777), and to monarchs such as Catharine the Great, the Duke of Savoy and Ferdinand IV of Spain.   Many of these paintings were very large, approximately four feet by eight, though he also produced smaller versions of his pictures approximately 15 x 30 inches. Almost all of his works were night scenes – Vesuvian tourism was nocturnal – and many, like the works of Joseph Wright of Derby, who was in Naples in the spring of 1774, and in a manner first developed by the Neapolitan artist, Carlo Bonavia, contrasted the fiery reds and golds of the erupting volcano with the silvery light of the moon.   Most of Volaire’s works claimed to depict a specific moment or event, and sometimes claimed to have been produced on the spot and with a high degree of exactitude. (Only a very few of his paintings were fantasy pictures, such as those that combined the effects of the eruptions of 1771 and 1779.)   But the issue of verisimilitude was, as one might expect, not nearly as prominent as it was to become in the nineteenth century.


Volaire’s pictures, for all their startling effects, were works that told tales that chimed in with the attitudes and beliefs of the philosophical travellers and Enlightened figures who were his patrons and customers. Most, though not all, of Volaire’s paintings adopt one of two points of view: close to the volcano on the so-called Atrio del Cavallo, or at a distance, looking south east towards Vesuvius from the Ponte della Maddalena and the city of Naples.   In the former, as in the painting now in the Chicago Art Institute, inscribed “Vue de l’Eruption du mont Vesuve du 14 may 1771”, we see both the artist and the genteel observers gesturing towards the lava flow in a manner that indicates that they are engaged in observing a natural phenomenon that might inspire sublime feelings, but which does not entail fear.   One recalls the Royal Society’s praise of Sir William Hamilton’s “philosophical fortitude in the midst of the Horrors of Vesuvius”, and their admiration for his “resolution” and “constancy” in observing a phenomenon that he had “so minutely as well as philosophically accounted for and described”.


On the Ponte della Maddalena however, as the painting now in the North Carolina Art Museum depicts, the response is very different.   Neapolitans are fleeing from the eruption, they pray, superstitiously, to San Gennaro, to intercede on their behalf, or hold up his image in an attempt to ward off the danger of the volcano.   The painting depicts a persistent cliché about the Neapolitan populace – that they were superstitious and fearful rather than modern and enlightened.   Volaire’s paintings thus establish the difference and distance between the Grand Tourist or philosophical traveller, who was his patron, and the Neapolitans he depicted.   Volaire’s work was the most conspicuous instance of this topos, but not the only one. It can be found in the work of the German artist Jacob Phillip Hackert, the Austrian Michael Wutky, and in at least one of Fabris’s works for Sir William Hamilton’s Campi Phlegraei.


The volcano as an Enlightened scientific object may seem very different from Vesuvius as a site of recreation and pleasure, but as both Humboldt and Davy emphasized in epic works written at the end of their careers (Humboldt’s Cosmos and Davy’s Consolations in Travel or the Last Days of a Philosopher), scientific understanding depended upon and did not conflict with an appreciation of the aesthetics of nature. The sense that Vesuvius, like other volcanoes, was less an instrument of God’s wrath than a part of an increasingly legible nature, one that excited the feeling of the sublime, certainly encouraged visitors to the volcano and shaped their responses to it.   Before the last quarter of the eighteenth century volcanic tourism, like that of mountains in general, was poorly developed. It is rare to find, until this date, many remarks about the aesthetic pleasures of Vesuvius, which was usually described as ugly, threatening and repugnant; the term most commonly used about the slopes of the volcano was ‘desolation’ (Musella), but thereafter paeans of praise to its powers and its ‘terrible beauty’ were commonplace.   So commonplace indeed that Dumas, in a characteristically playful and perverse move, refused to give his readers a detailed description of the volcano, referring them to his earlier account of Etna and Stromboli, and to “three admirable pages” by Chateaubriand, who had earlier taken the same route up the mountain.


So Vesuvius was claimed by a whole range of people – polite tourists, local savants, international scientists, pious Neapolitans, painters and writers, local guides, farmers and subjects – and played many different parts – not just Dumas’ flamboyant exhibitionist and terrorist – in many different lives.


III. The Visitors Book: Livre d’Or.


Historians often fantasize about a document or series of documents – a diary densely packed with revealing entries, an intimate journal, a survey full of arcane information, a set of letters that uncovers a passionate friendship or love affair – any special source that reveals what usually remains hidden.   We have only a hazy idea of who visited Vesuvius and with what purpose in mind.   It is easy to think that the volcano was visited by a procession of the famous – writers and intellectuals like Percy Bysshe Shelley, François-René Chateaubriand, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Hans Christen Anderson, Henry Longfellow, James Fenimore Cooper and Charles Dickens – painters like Joseph Wright of Derby, Jacques Volaire, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, J.M.W. Turner and Madame Vigée Lebrun – and scientists like Alexander von Humboldt, Humphry Davy and Charles Lyell. Indeed, there is an entire genre of Italian works that reproduces this tourist pantheon.   We are also told repeatly of British, French and German grand tourists who climbed the slopes of the volcano. But precise evidence about who was on what were generally viewed as the increasingly crowded slopes of the volcano has been very hard to come by. Fortunately a remarkable document, Ms Ital. 139 in Harvard’s Houghton Library, records visitors and their comments for the period between 1826 and 1828.   It is the only known survivor of what were a long series of visitors books (known to the French as livres d’or), running at least from the 1770s to 1850s, kept at the so-called Hermitage half the way up the volcano.   The book enables us to move beyond the customary generalities: it provides detailed information about the numbers, nationality, gender, residence, and often age of visitors; and more interestingly, it reveals both shared and different attitudes towards the volcano, as well as the different purposes behind a visit. The book is a large, leather-bound volume that is in poor condition: many of its more than 110 folios have been cut out, or bear the signs of excisions, probably made to remove the signatures of persons of renown. The binding is cheap and serviceable, but the paper is of quite a high quality and has survived remarkably well. It contents are written chiefly in four languages – English, Italian, French and German but there are also entries in Latin, Portuguese, Spanish, Greek, Russian and Polish.   The entries are often written in an execrable script, there are many errors of vocabulary and orthography (lots of entries were obviously not written in the mother tongue), and the text is interleaved with squiggles, interpolated comments, and the occasional diagram and drawing.   It is a pastiche of commentary produced under far from ideal circumstances: more than one entry was written while sitting on a mule, and many were scribbled by visitors intoxicated by the hermit’s wine.


The numerous entries in the visitors’ book to Vesuvius (over 2,000 in all), making it resemble nothing so much as a modern on-line social media site, contain, like the genre the book prefigures, a fair share of banalities, bad verse and weak witticisms, but they also open a unique window into the sensibilities and feelings that fuelled volcanic tourism in the Romantic era, embody the complex struggles that rent Neapolitan state and society in the early nineteenth century, and bear witness to an exceptionally mobile and fluid world after the huge disruption of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars.


The Hermitage, the home of the visitors’ book to Vesuvius, was presided over by ‘the hermit” who was famously importunate in seeking the signatures of his visitors.   The book was well known to nineteenth-century tourists, even before they arrived on the volcano; apart from its mention in personal narratives, it appears in numerous guidebooks.  The hermits themselves were all seen as men of God, sometimes as Franciscans, but were usually described as having a disreputable past. (One had worked as a French hairdresser in London). By the 1820s trade on the volcano was so brisk that it required two hermits. Whatever their origin, faith, morals or past employment, and despite their supposed retreat from society, the hermits were essentially innkeepers. When the visitors arrived at their door, they were usually served with glasses of lacryma Christi, the famous wine made from grapes harvested on the slopes of Vesuvius. Sometimes they were served food (Stendhal, who described the wine as undrinkable, ate an omelet), provided at what Alexander Dumas bitterly complained were exorbitant prices, and they could, if space permitted, spend the evening or night in one of the Hermitage’s rooms. A great many visitors’ to the volcano traveled at night, as the air was cooler and the lava and fire of Vesuvius were more spectacular in the dark; often they ate or rested at the Hermitage before setting out around midnight, returning the following morning for breakfast.


The visitors came from more than one hundred and twenty locations throughout Europe and North America. If we exclude the months of July and August, when there were almost no visitors to Vesuvius because of the summer heat, then over 110 visitors a month climbed the volcano.   There was a high season – during September and October for the Italians and during the winter months up to Easter for everyone else – and the number of visitors shot up when an eruption began, as in March 1828, when 135 people climbed the mountain in the course of three days. (21-23 March). This is hardly mass tourism, but it cannot have entailed the pleasures of solitude. And, of course, the figures do not include the large numbers of guides, at least one for every sightseer (more usually two or three), nor do they usually include the servants who accompanied many of the parties, nor the three gendarmes who were stationed on the mountain.

So, among the visitors to Vesuvius were a number of long distance travelers, of all nationalities, but predominatly British, who we might describe as tourists. However, these were by no means a majority. Most of those visiting Vesuvius were in Naples for other reasons.   A large number were resident in the region, even if only temporarily – by which I mean years rather than months. The frequency with which visitors proudly record the number of times they have ascended the volcano reveals a core of local users of the mountain. The city had a heterogeneous foreign community that the Neapolitan police estimated at about 3,000, which consisted of British and French merchants (who dominated Neapolitan foreign trade), Jewish bankers, Swiss manufacturers in the textile business, German servants, European and American diplomats, and a substantial body of genteel residents and retirees, both scholars and gentlemen and former military men – British, French, Austrian and German. Two active military bodies were prominent. First and foremost were the officers from among the 7,500 Swiss mercenaries in the six regiments that King Francis employed, because he would not trust his own officer class, who had led the 1820 constitutional rebellion. Secondly, there were periodic waves of sailors from the British Royal Navy, which used the port of Naples – together with Malta – as the centre for its operations in the Eastern Mediterranean. Visitors to the volcano included professional groups – of artists, architects, engineers, university professors, geologists and the like – as well as foreign businessmen – in shipping, the textile trade and banking, who were in Naples on business.   Finally, there were significant numbers of Neapolitans – including a strong representation of noble visitors – who regularly climbed Vesuvius.   Women made up about 20 to 25% of visitors; children, especially French children were quite common; family parties were the norm; and a remarkably large number of visitors were quite old – in their 60s and 70s.


Contrary to the Romantic cliché of the virtues of solitude, the ascent of Vesuvius was all about the climb as a shared, exhilarating, exhausting and hazardous experience – one whose dangers intensified romantic friendship. So, the most striking feature of the journey up Vesuvius was its importance as a means of expressing and solidifying important attachments – between men and women of the same nation, among groups of men, like army officers and sailors, who depended on one another for their safety both on and off the volcano, among friends and acquaintances, among families, and between lovers or husbands and wives.   The idea, as one French woman put it, was to “venire ensemble”. This explains why so many of the visitors to the volcano traveled in groups – six Italian professors of “lettore”, the entire Caracciolo clan of Neapolitan aristocrats, Rothschilds from three different cities, six geologists (obviously on a professional mission), groups of Italian gendarmes, Sardinian courtiers, Jewish merchants, British, Austrian and Swiss army officers, doctors, engineers, architects, a party of four French artists in May 1828, sailors from HMS Asia, HMS Pelican and HMS Mastiff, as well as the groups of families and relatives and co-nationals.   Occasionally this sense of collective solidarity was reinforced in the visitors’ book by framing, bracketing or putting a group in a box, like the “noisy Paddys” who climbed the volcano in September 1828, though few went as far as a large French party of visitors who pictured themselves as a constellation of names, like a map of the heavens.


These signs of solidarity were not just a matter of professional or national identity; they were, as many remarks make clear, closely bound up with the idea of friendship, especially among the young male visitors to Vesuvius. The Swiss soldier, Grutther, wrote of his journey with “his dearest friend, Joseph Villarosa”; in February 1828, Luigi Boncaglia of Imola described the struggle of climbing the volcano in snow and high winds with “mio ottimo Amico”, Giacomo Morelli of Verona.   Guiseppe Konig, a Swiss soldier whose brother was also serving in Naples, and who was often on the mountain, emphasized on more than one occasion that he climbed “not just for the spectacle of Vesuvius, but for the company of true friends”. His friend, Raffaele Garzia, confessed that his apprehension of the mountain was dispelled by the “perfect company” of the two brothers. Three Italian aristocrats described themselves as “tutti e tre”; another Italian, though disappointed in the view because of fog, was gratified to be “in unione di amabile compagnie”, while a party of French and Italian climbers in January 1828 wrote of “la grande satisfaction de la bonne compagnie”. To climb Vesuvius alone was generally seen as a diminished experience.


So the Visitors’ Book seems to reveal an international community of visitors collectively engaged in a highly scripted performance, an enactment of romantic feelings of the sublime. But it reveals much more.   When a fully-fledged eruption began in March 1828 the disturbances of nature produced disturbances among the ever-growing number of visitors.   The British started quarreling with the Swiss; the Francophones with the Anglophones, the Swiss with the Neapolitans, and especially with the guides. Insults and national clichés were strewn through the book, including a rather ugly vein of anti-Semitism aimed at the Neapolitan Rothschild family. The conflict among the tourists on the volcano was, in fact, a rehearsal of a larger political conflict that was embedded in the history of southern Italy.   The presence of so many Swiss in Naples was explained by the recently failed constitutional revolution of 1820, which had been led by liberal aristocratic army officers.   The Rothschilds had bankrolled the Austrian invasion of Naples that had ended the liberal revolution.   Many Neapolitans were in exile in Britain; and the British community in Naples was both liberal and a strong supporter of Italian unification. The abuse by the Swiss officers of the Neapolitan guides, who they claimed were cowards, afraid of the eruption, recalled the cowardice of the Neapolitan army when faced by its foes in 1820. In short, politics and the everyday intruded into the visitors’ shared experience, disrupting its pleasures.


The common story of what we might call ‘sublime friendship’ was undercut by conflicts and differences in politics and nationality. And the idea of friendship was also inflected in complex ways.   The striking difference between Italians, especially Neapolitans, and other visitors, is their dense presence on the volcano in the months of September, October and November, whereas most visitors climbed the volcano in the Spring. But then the Neapolitans were on Vesuvius more often than not to celebrate saints days – especially that of San Gennaro – by feasting together on the mountain.   They often climbed to the summit and peered, like so many visitors, into the crater, but eating and drinking in and around the Hermitage, or celebrating Mass in its tiny chapel was their main purpose.   Their entries in the visitors’ book reveal how well these visitors knew one another: they consist, as often as not, of gently satirical, finely drawn portrayals of the members of a party, depicting their foibles, fears and oddities; they are suffused with an intimate affection. In this they differ from the German language entries – written chiefly by Swiss, German and Austrian soldiers – many of which are suffused with nostalgia for their homeland, and which adapt German ballads and drinking songs to comment on the volcano and the pains of displacement.   Friendship was important to these young men far from home, but was expressed in the boistrous form of drinking contests and races up and down to the summit, with times carefully recorded in the Visitors’ Book.


There were many sides to the experience of climbing Vesuvius revealed in the remarkably rich vein of story-telling that runs through the visitors’ book.   Much of the comment is anecdotal and personal, reminding us of how broad generalizations about motive, feeling and intent fail to capture the complexity of what was an intense experience.   But the challenge is to connect these stories to larger historical narratives and this I do in sections IV on the politics of volcanoes: vulcanology, revolution and reform in Europe and Naples, and section V, A dialogue with the dead: Vesuvius, the buried cities, and counter-Revolution.

  1. 1. The Politics of volcanoes: Vesuvius and Revolution.


As we have seen, Enlightened notions of volcanoes in general, and of Vesuvius in particular, stressed the importance of volcanic activity in helping achieve the equilibrium of a self-adjusting ‘nature’.   Short-term disaster and destruction were, in the long run, beneficial and regenerative; the failure to appreciate this was usually seen as a sign of ignorance and superstition. It is remarkable how often descriptions in scientific journals of eruptions, such as those sent by Sir William Hamilton to the Royal Society in London, also included accounts of popular fear and superstition, apparently as a way of underlining the difference between modern science and old-fashioned irrational beliefs.   These descriptions tacitly refer to the view of some skeptics that it was the sort of trepidation and panic produced by natural disasters like volcanic eruptions that was the common origin of all religions; uninformed fear was exploited by priests for their own religious ends.

These views of course served the anti-clerical agenda of the Enlightenment, self-consciously positioning them as progressive, but the radical tinge to volcanism was made much brighter by French revolutionaries, and especially the supporters of the terror, who drew an analogy between volcanic eruption and the processes of violent regeneration that radicals believed to be necessary to produce a better world. The sentiments are well captured in the popular play staged in 1794, Barra, ou la mère républicaine, in which the message of the play was that

“The revolutions of governments, like great crises in nature, topple everything, in order to regenerate everything. Sorrow, no doubt, for those who are struck by the explosions of one or the other volcano! But, while children and fools hit the wall that they blindly collide with, wise men submit with grace to the imperious law of necessity. Happy! For from the midst of chaos we are plunged into, one can see…the emergence of order and perfection.”

Probably the most frequently performed play of the Terror, Le jugement dernier des rois, written by the republican atheist, Sylvain Maréchal, and first performed almost immediately after Marie Antoinette’s execution, portrays a volcanic island inhabited by a single French political exile, a victim of royal persecution, who has taught its ‘savage’ inhabitants not to fear the volcano nor to countenance monarchs or priests.   A rock bears the inscription, “It is better to have for a neighbour/ A volcano than a King/ Liberty….Equality.”   Here a party of sans culottes incarcerate all the monarchs of Europe along with the Pope – on the stage, the parade of shackled rulers was almost invariably the most popular part of the play. Incapable of productive labour or of feeding themselves, they soon begin to quarrel, but their altercations are abruptly ended by a volcanic eruption, a massive on-stage explosion, that consumes them all.   The play was performed in every major city in France, had more than 100,000 viewers, and a print run of 20,000 including an edition of 6,000 for distribution to troops in the Revolutionary army.   It was only the most conspicuous instance of the frequently reiterated view that Revolution was a natural phenomenon, albeit facilitated by human intervention, and that volcanic eruptions were the perfect model of natural, revolutionary processes because they were regenerative as well as destructive.


The analogy persisted into the nineteenth century. So when the Catalan geologist, Carlos de Gimbernat, wanted to celebrate the uprisings and Revolutions of 1820 in Spain and Naples, he made stamps to plunge into the soft lava of Vesuvius and make medals to distribute to friends.



The French aristocrat the Duc De Levis, on his visit to Vesuvius on 12 September 1827, was immediately reminded of the analogy between Revolutionary and volcanic force.   Originally sympathetic to the Revolution, he had fled to England in late 1791, but his mother and three sisters had been guillotined.   As he watched the volcano, he recalled in the visitors’s book the terrible destruction of men and things he had witnessed, and reflected on the willingness of man to countenance such enormities as long as their desires were satisfied.    In 1830, when Europe was again convulsed in Revolutions and uprisings, Marianne Talbot, a genteel English woman resident of Naples, made frequent comparisons in her journals between political turbulance and the threatening rumblings of the volcano. In short, the connection between volcanoes, Vesuvius and revolution was commonplace, even amongst those who feared the return of Revolutionary violence.   The smouldering and sometimes quiet volcano seemed very much like the hidden political energies in favour of radicalism and reform that always threatened to rupture the fragile surface of the early nineteenth-century conservative political consensus.




Of course, there was a countervailing view of the volcano.   Comparing popular political energy and its revolutionary power to a process of natural destruction which was not aberrant, but part of a self-regulating order, was anathema to the counter-revolutionaries, conservatives and Christians of the 1820s and 1830s, fearful of resurgent reformism, popular protest and political revolution. There were therefore powerful reasons for them to appropriate volcanic eruption to the orthodox Christian and conservative camp, but, as we shall see in part V, this reassignment of volcanic power was achieved by focussing not on contemporary eruptions (where the Revolutionary analogy was obvious), but by turning back to the past, treating the famous eruption of AD 79 as a case of divine punishment for polytheism, libertinism, luxury and excess.


  1. 2. The politics of volcanoes: Geology, Vesuvius and Naples.


Vesuvius was an important site of scientific investigation because, as Alexander von Humboldt remarked, it was almost constantly erupting (and therefore producing scientific material), was conveniently located near a major city, and was small enough that it could be climbed in a few hours.   Dubbed by many ‘the laboratory of nature’, it was the beneficiary of changes in geological science which from the late eighteenth century had come to recognize that a single diluvian explanation of the earth’s history was grossly inadequate, that igneous rocks were to be found almost everywhere, and that therefore the role of fire and of volcanoes was far more important in understanding the earth than had previously been thought. By the 1820s, European scientists knew of almost all of the world’s volcanoes, including those in the Americas as well as Asia, but Vesuvius, in part because of its famous classical eruption, but also because of some hard lobbying by Neapolitan savants, was tantamount to a site of pilgrimage for geologists, and almost every major figure in the field spent time on the mountain, gathering specimens and measuring temperatures and magnetic fields. There was a constant procession of well-known geologists who spent time on the mountain and in the Bay of Naples examining its volcanic action, cooperating with local savants who had spent much of their lives Vesuvius-watching.   Before 1815 there was a steady flow of French and German visitors (Von Buch, Humboldt and Gay Lussac in 1805, for example), after 1815 there was a flood of Brits: Sir Humphry Davy (1814-15, 1819-20, 1823?), William Buckland (1816), John Playfair (1817), G.Paulette Scrope (1822), Charles Daubeny (1823-4), the young James Forbes, Charles Babbage, and Charles Lyell (all in 1828).   These men spread scientific knowledge of the volcano through their numerous publications in the journals of learned societies in Paris, London, Berlin, Edinburgh, Copenhagen and Philadelphia.


Such men of science were doubtless mindful of the analogies frequently made between volcanic activity and political revolution, but their concerns were different.   All of them were trying to understand the processes by which volcanic action worked – something that they agreed required repeated and careful observation and measurement – and many were also concerned about what contribution these researches might make to the vexed question of the history of the earth, and the means by which it had come to assume its present form.   These issues are sometimes framed as a struggle between virtuous Vulcanists (who saw igneous forces as vital to a history of the earth that extended back into deep time) and reactionary Diluvians (who saw water and particularly the Flood as crucial to a terrestial history confined to Biblical time).   But by the early nineteenth century most geologists recognized that the history of the earth was greater than that of Biblical time, even when they were committed to a theory of inundation, and there were a complex range of positions towards the agents of change, often entailing both water and fire.


The concern of savants and geologists from Naples was not primarily with the geological debates of the early nineteenth century or the grand narratives to which the history of the earth has been attached.   This was in part because they saw the investigation of Vesuvius as a political and intellectual project whose ends were not primarily to discover the forces that explained the history of the earth, but to ensure that the Vesuvian case – the case of what was always referred to as “our Vesuvius”, nostro Vesuvio – and the data it provided were recognized as vital to a modern understanding of the earth.   What mattered was the presence of Vesuvius in the grand narrative rather than the nature of the narrative itself. Thus at the beginning of the study by Teodoro Monticelli and Nicola Covelli of the largest Vesuvian eruption of the nineteenth century, that of 1822, they wrote: “We consulted the ancient and modern writers about our volcanoes and the papers of foreign people on the same topics, as well as the most famous authors of Geology and Mineralogy; however having found that geologists are divided into two tendencies, one of which ascribed most external and internal terrestrial phenomena only to waters, and the other one only to fire, we simply tried to study their doctrines, without embracing any one of them; we only intended to give exact reports of things observed by us”.


Monticelli was the most important native geologist of the early nineteenth century in Naples.   His career was devoted to the promotion not just of Vesuvius, but to the idea that the study of the volcano could help further a view of the Kingdom Naples as a modern, progressive society devoted to scientific exploration rather than characterized by superstition. Teodoro was the younger son of minor nobility from Brindisi, who went, like so many younger sons, into the church. In Brindisi, Lecce, Naples and Rome he was educated in philosophy and mathematics, and was taught by the followers of Antonio Genovesi, who held the first chair in Political Economy in Europe, established in Naples in 1754. By the 1790s he had became a radical Jacobin, associated with the private studio of the defrocked priest, Carlo Lauberg, which taught applied mathematics and chemistry for revolutionary ends. Arrested in 1794, released, and then arrested again in 1795, he spent the next six years first in gaol and then as a prisoner on the remote island of Favignana off the north-west coast of Sicily.   Freed in 1801 as part of the amnesty negotiated at the Treaty of Florence, he studied and worked first in Rome (where he first became interested in geology), and then returned to Naples as director of the Royal College in 1806.   With the French occupation of Naples his fortunes flourished, and in 1808 he was made permanent Secretary of the Academy of Sciences and a professor at the University of Naples.   His early work was on husbandry, bee-keeping and irrigation systems as mechanisms for modernization and improvement, but from 1808 onwards he published a succession of works on Vesuvius, including a innovative account of the 1822 eruption, and, together with a chemist, Nicola Covelli, the Prodromo of Vesuvius, a comprehensive analysis of its rocks and minerals.   Described by the visiting Duke of Buckingham as “the great naturalist here”, and by Alexander von Humboldt as “the learned and zealous observer of the Volcano”, Monticelli was the key figure in the scholarly and public reception of Vesuvius.


We get a clear sense of the Neapolitan context of Monticelli’s geological and mineralogical work from his Prodromo della Mineralogia vesuviana of 1825. Its dedication to the king is a survey of all the scholarly and scientific institutions in Naples, its cabinets of minerals, physics, chemistry, zoology and pathology and their importance to German, French and English visitors, as well as a powerful plea for the teaching of the useful sciences, promoted through observation and experiment. It asserts what Neapolitans tried to embed as a commonplace of Vulcanism: that Vesuvius, because of its ease of access and constant eruptive state was simply the best place (and here they were thinking globally) to uncover the secrets of Vulcanism.


But Monticell never confined himself to volcanology. Under both the French and Restoration regimes he sat on commissions on statistics, public instruction (he had a long-time interest in Pestolozzi’s educational methods and gave volcanic specimens to Pestolozzi schools), as well as commissions on arts, manufactures and industry, bridges and roads, waterways and forests, and the development of steam navigation.   His career path – of radical, then administrator under the French occupation, and then reformer when the Bourbons were restored – was one paralleled by many friends and colleagues. They all had to tread a fine line: they liked the French reforms (many served as Intendents in the provinces), but not the foreign presence; they were committed to a more modern Naples after 1815, but had to work under an absolutist ruler.


Monticelli was determined to insert Vesuvius (both materially and intellectually) into the international geological narrative, because he very much wanted Naples to be seen as part of a modern, scientific world, containing institutions to sustain it.   He wanted this perception to be both local and international.   This involved several interconnected stratagems: acting as a fixer between the volcano, the local scientific community and foreign visitors to Naples; bringing Vesuvius to the attention of a local and international public through the display of collections, accounts of Vesuvius’s activity, and the international circulation of specimens; and finally, protecting and ensuring the status of Vesuvius as a scientific object in the face of criticism and hostility from the local Church and other conservative forces.  From the 1790s, when chemical experiments on the minerals and gases of the volcano became much more common, there was hostility from conservatives who claimed that such investigations were hubristic and futile, creating the impression that science could somehow harness forces whose destiny was decided by God.   To interfere with these was viewed as an act of modern hubris.


Against this perception, rooted in the religious culture of Naples, Monticelli opposed the collective power of the international scientific community.   Almost every important geologist and major public figure who came to Naples between 1808 and 1840 met him, and he frequently accompanied them on an ascent of Vesuvius.   His surviving correspondence is littered with letters of introduction, from the likes of Alexander von Humboldt to Humphry Davy, for savants from Britain, Germany, France, Scandinavia and the New World.   Monticelli was a master of the small significant gesture: at Christmas in 1814 he entertained Sir William Gell, who was to become the greatest English-language expert on Pompeii, at his country house at Bosco Tre Case on the south slopes of Vesuvius, before taking the English érudit on his very first visit to the ruins; in 1820 he orchestrated the visit of the Crown Prince of Denmark, a passionate geologist who became a lifelong friend and correspondent, to Vesuvius and gave him the use of his laboratory at the foot of the volcano; when Humboldt arrived in Naples in 1822, from a diplomatic mission in Verona, Monticelli lent him instruments and log tables to pursue his work. When Lyell arrived in 1828, he couldn’t observe the volcano in its entirety, because of its eruptive state – Monticelli provided him with drawings of the parts of the volcano he could not see. He made travel arrangements for William Buckland and his wife in 1826, and frequently dealt with the logistics of the Davy family.   When Davy and his wife left Naples for Rome in the Spring of 1820, he wrote to Monticelli,”the things that you have done for me, and the things we did together I will never forget”. Monticelli also offered the services of his secretary to the Duke of Buckingham who was bent on a survey of all the volcanic islands of the Mediterranean. What Buckingham did not realize is that, Emanuele Donati, was not just a geologist but a carbonaro, who used the trip to meet with fellow radicals at their different stopping points.


Monticelli also drew visitors into the scholarly life of Naples. He persuaded Charles Babbage to sit on a commission – to which the Catalonian geologist Carlos de Gimbernat also contributed – into the curative powers of the waters of Ischia, and had the chemist and botanist, Charles Daubeny, author or A Description of Active and Extinct Volcanoes (1826), speak about his researches to the Royal Academy of Science.   In part this was to draw on foreign expertise, and acquire kudos by association, but it was also a deliberate attempt to shape the perception of visitors about the intellectual life of Naples itself.   In the 1820s a number of Neapolitan intellectuals mounted a campaign to dispel what they saw as the often superficial and frequently misinformed foreign misapprehensions about both the volcano and the kingdom that surrounded it. Someone like Leopoldo Pilla, a protégé of Monticelli’s (though they were to fall out later), who became professor of geology at Pisa, and who died on the battlefield fighting for the revolution in 1848, started a series of publications, Le Spectatore del Vesuvio, designed to reveal the scientific value of Vesuvius to foreigners, whose visits, he argued, were too brief, too superficial, and too dependent on other accounts to be properly informed. In 1827 Gabriele Quattromani produced the Itinerario delle due Sicilie (also published in a French edition), as the first “Mappa Statistica” of the Two kingdoms with the overt object of rebutting most foreign accounts which he dismissed as “romanzi” (novels.) Much of the data the Itinerario contained came from reports of commissions on the Neapolitan infrastructure to which Monticelli had contributed.


A central feature of Monticelli’s hospitality was a visit to his collection of Vesuvian lavas and minerals.   On 25 January 1820, for example, Christian, Crown Prince of Denmark, visited Monticelli’s collection with Humphry Davy, describing it as “unique” for “objets volcaniques”; he was also struck by its collection of fossils from Northern Europe, which he thought much richer than was usually found in Italy.   Originally housed in Monticelli’s home, the Museum moved to the Palazzo Penne in the centre of Naples in 1825, and at his death contained 6600 specimens from Vesuvius and a further 1400 minerals from other volcanoes in the Azores, Sardinia and Iceland.   This was an entirely separate collection from the royal cabinet of minerals, which had its own curator. Like many others, Christian was fascinated by the collection, which included many volcanic substances that he could not recognize or name. As was often the case, this visit prompted a request that Monticelli put together a collection of “the most interesting specimens” for the visitor.   As the Duke of Buckingham, another passionate aristocratic collector, commented, “the collection of Vesuvian minerals is immense and beautiful, and supplies all of Europe”.


One way to ensure Vesuvius’s place in the grand narrative of geology was not through a process of concentration, but of dispersal: to distribute samples of the volcano to schools, cabinets, academies, universities and laboratories. Monticelli was big in the rock business.   Visitors to his collection were given samples, but Monticelli, either for a fee or as part of a system of gift exchange, also distributed larger collections of minerals all over the world. Quite often he was solicited for samples, often in return for election to an academy or in response to a gift of samples from other geological sites.   Monticelli received minerals from Etna, Trieste, Udine, southern England, the lower Rhine, Norway, Bohemia, and Baltimore; he supplied minerals not just to London, Paris and Copenhagen, but to Jena, Dresden, Turin, and Philadelphia.   The circulation of these material objects worked through a network of exchange and information (letters, offprints and books) that included more than one hundred and fifty correspondents in Germany (Berlin, Jena, Freiburg, Dresden, Heidelberg and Bonn), London (the British Museum, the Royal Society and the Geological Society), Paris (the Academie des Sciences, the Ecoles des Mines, and the Institut Historique), Scandinavia (Copenhagen, Helsingfors, Uppsala, Stockholm), Russia (St.Petersburg), as well as in the New World in New York, Washington (the National Institute for the Promotion of Science), Buenos Aires, Rio di Janeiro, and Mexico City.


Monicelli contributed to the circulation of knowledge in other ways. He wrote detailed accounts of almost every significant eruption of Vesuvius between 1813 and the 1840s, many of which were published in learned journals in Germany, Switzerland, Paris and London. These narratives were complemented by his analytical work, of which the most important was the Prodromo that he published with Nicola Covelli.   The Prodromo is a work that connects the particular specimens of Vesuvius – the physical samples that he and others collected and were contained in his collection – to a much larger scientific world.   On the one hand, as we have seen, Monticelli framed the book firmly within the realm of local, Neapolitan science. The Prodromo was published in Italian, though it would have been perfectly easy to have produced it in French, given Monicelli’s facility with the language, which he used in much of his research correspondence. The unique minerals discovered on the volcano were all given names with local associations – Christianite, after the Danish Prince, Breislakite, after the Roman geologist, Scipione Breislak (one of the first savants to examine volcanic gases), Davina, after Humphry Davy, and Biotina, after the French physicist, Jean-Baptiste Biot, who had worked with Monticelli during a visit to Naples in 1825. But, at the same time, each entry for a particular mineral followed a standard format: their geometric structure, their physical and chemical characteristics, the varieties of determinate and indeterminate forms; their dimensions; effect of light on them; their arrangement and distinguishing features.   At the same time, Monticelli and Covelli adopted the taxonomy of the French crystallographer, Rene Just Hauy, and used his work to prepare abstract diagrams of the crystals and their variations that enabled readers to compare the Prodromo’s findings with specimens from far afield.   They created a sort of matrix, at once local and universal, within which to place their findings, a combination of circulating objects, texts and abstractions.


Such strategems had, of course, been used in scientific and intellectual communities for hundreds of years; they were the modus operandi for the dissemination of knowledge.   Neapolitan savants like Monticelli were therefore following a familiar path.   But for them Vesuvius and the information it revealed, while fascinating in their own right, also mapped out the route that they wished to follow towards a modern Naples.



  1. Enter the Romans: the buried cities and Vesuvius.


The gradual discovery of the ancient cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii famously had an enormous impact on European taste, launching a neo-classicist aesthetic in art, architecture, dress and personal adornment that swept the Continent.   It also had a profound effect on how Vesuvius was understood. Here, the earliest excavations at Herculaneum were less important than those that proceeded apace from the 1760s, when the site of Pompeii was fully identified.   Herculeanum remained largely buried, covered by a thick, largely impenetrable cover of more than twenty meters of ash and pumice, on which rested much of the town of Resina.   As a source of remarkable antiquities it surpassed what was later unearthed in Pompeii, but its attraction as a place to be visited and imagined as a living city was inhibited by its subterranean obscurity, by the need to travel, as visitors complained “through damp, cold passages, without light or fresh air”, marked by a darkness that was “too deep to be dispelled by the feeble glare of a few torches”.   Herculaneum remained an antiquarian’s dream, but for other visitors it was a stygian cave when compared to the open buildings and bright skies of Pompeii.   These soon eclipsed the earlier site as the most easily imagined and accessible buried city, one whose excavation made it comparatively easy for visitors to imagine both a complete antique environment, and the terror and suffering inflicted on the population by Vesuvius’s spectacular eruption in AD 79.


The process of identification with the Pompeian victims was a gradual and complex one that unfolded over decades rather than years. It required a redefinition of antiquity that embraced everyday life as much as the heroic; it needed to be able to see that an entire environment, and not just a few artifacts, were being exposed to public view; and, by juxtaposing human and object remains of the ‘city of the dead’ (a phrase attributed to Sir Walter Scott, though it preceded him), poets, artists and writers (less usually antiquaries) fashioned stories about the final hours of the city that fed back into versions of Roman life and culture.


Before the French revolution, the visitors to Herculaneum and Pompeii were chiefly fascinated by the surviving artifacts, excavated from the sites, many of which had been removed from their place of discovery and placed in a series of rooms in the nearby palace at Portici.   These objects of everyday life conveyed an entirely different sense of classical culture – and one seemingly much closer to the present – than that conveyed by the great works of classical civilization, whether textual or in the form of antiquities.   They sat well with the general sense that classical erudition was no longer the sole or even primary vehicle to understanding, but at best an aid to the imaginative reconstruction of the past. Objects – ordinary objects – were more eloquent than texts, and the story that they told was not aesthetic but what we today would call ‘ethnographic’.   As Stendhal put it, before the object “one has the sense of being transported into antiquity, and so long as one has the habit of trusting only one’s eyes, instantly knows it better than any scholar”.   When Winckelmann wrote in 1752? about the household objects found at Herculaneum, he praised them for their beauty and taste, treating them as aesthetic objects.   A half century later the poet and dramatist August Creuze de Lesser preferred the Pompeian “instruments of all the mechanical arts” – “observers cannot get enough of them” – to classical statues.   Twenty years earlier Charles Dupaty, a deputy from the parlement of Bordeaux, contemplating the loaves of bread that had survived since the eruption of AD 79, commented, “We are astonished and delighted that something so perishable (eggs, bread…) has escaped so many centuries after what happened at Herculaneum. We like to see a grain of corn triumph over time just like the bronze statue, and share eternity.”   A young, unidentified American, someone well versed in classical literature and history, who frequently referred to Dupaty in his journal of 1796-7, captured perfectly the shift in sensibility: “In the heroic character of illustrious people one hardly can realize any of their scenes of domestic life. There is a natural curiosity in wishing to see every thing that has been rendered famous by its connection with them but we can’t easily imagine or it does not readily occur that those people have wants & feelings like ourselves. Here in beholding such objects evidently the relics of some great calamity one feels for the sufferings of humanity and the ravages and desolation caused by a destructive conflagration are at once brought to the mind. We may be astonished in viewing the prostrate Columns of Superstitious Grandeur or the fallen monuments of Ancient Magnificence but here the heart is softened and acknowledges its connection with the great family of mankind.” Perhaps, he concluded, “it is the most interesting collection of Antiquities in the world, & enables one to form a juster idea of the arts and sciences, domestic and ornamental of the ancients, & of their customs & manners than the most labored descriptions – indeed, it should be seen, not described.”


It is notable that before the nineteenth century the emphasis of commentators is less on Pompeii (and Herculaneum) as environments – places of living – than on the objects that identified classical civilization as every bit as prosaic and ordinary as modern everyday life. This is partly explained by the early wholesale removal of the highest quality images and artifacts from the sites where they were discovered, a move encouraged by the Neapolitan monarchy’s desire to control its cultural treasures, but also by an attitude that saw the sites as sources of cultural booty, but not of value as historic environments.   But, as Goran Blix puts it in his study of the cultural politics of Pompeian archaeology, this was about to change: “Between 1750 and 1830, Pompeii is transformed from a grave to be robbed into the image of a lost civilization; in the process, a sweeping change has occurred – in the nature of the objects exhumed, in the value attached to the artifacts, and in the gaze of the beholder.”   It took time for this to happen not least because the work of excavation was unsystematic, haphazard, often crude rather than conservationist, and often interrupted because of political conflict or the financial difficulties of the Crown.   Important buildings were unearthed in the 1760s and 1770s – the Porta Ercolano, theatre, Temples of Isis and Escapulus, the house of the Gladiators, house of the surgeon and the house of Diomedes – but it was only in the early nineteenth century that a proper sense of a complete civic environment was revealed. During the French occupation, Caroline Bonaparte, the wife of the King of Naples, Marshal Murat, made clear that she wanted to delimit the perimeter of the city, establish its exact dimensions, name individual dwellings and streets, and establish inventories of dwellings’ contents. As Sir William Gell’s map of 1817 makes clear, such a task remained far from complete, but it turned Pompeii itself into an object of inquiry and interest, and not just a container or hunting ground for antiquities.



The role of architects and archaeologists was vital to this process. In 1809 Queen Caroline employed the French architect, Francois Mazois, to conduct and publish an accurate survey of the city, which eventually appeared as Les Ruines de Pompei, published between 1824 and 1838. Mazois’s magnum opus was only one of a growing number of illustrated books, prints and engravings, that made it altogether much easier to understand Pompeii as a developed urban environment. Jacob Phillip Hackert, the German artist who enjoyed the patronage of the Neapolitan court, and who had painted a number of pictures of Vesuvian eruptions, produced a series of views of Pompeii between 1792 and 1794 that were widely circulated after his brother had engraved them.   Franceso Piranesi published his engravings after his father’s drawings in Antiquities de Pompeia in 1804 (check). In the second decade of the new century, Carl Theodor Muller produced a series of lithographs based on works by the Swiss artist, W.J Hubner, which were published collectively as Collezione di vedute pittoresche dell antica citta di Pompeia. These views became the model for many subsequent prints of Pompeii in the nineteenth century.   By the 1830s there were a number of architectural works, including Pompeiana; the Topography, Edifices and Ornaments of Pompeii, published between 1817 and 1832 by the English antiquary, Sir William Gell, Delineations of the celebrated city of Pompeii (1818), by the engineer James Patison Cockburn and the engraver William Bernard Cooke, and Suite des Vues Pittoresque des Ruines de Pompeii of the architect Henry Wilkins, published in Rome in 1819. After the restoration of the monarchy, French architectural students who won the Grand Prix de Rome, were required to complete a “restauro”, a plausible drawing of how a classical building might once have looked. Pompeii was a favourite subject. In 1824, for example, Felix Emmanuel Callet producing drawings of the forum of Pompeii both in its (imagined) former and present state.



Félix-Emmanuel Callet, Comparison between ruins and reconstructive hypotese of the Forum, 1823.


The effect of these architectural and archaeological investigations, many using such technologies as the camera lucida, was twofold. Their publication enabled both visitors and those at a distance, those who had never seen Pompeii, to imagine the city as a whole, an ensemble of streets and buildings that had once been a living urban environment. As the Russian poet, Konstantin Nikolaevic Batyushkov, remarked after his visit to Naples in 1819 (he made four trips to Pompeii and two to Vesuvius), Pompeii was the “cemetery of an entire city”, and not just a set of ruins. This vision was very much enhanced by the practice, in the manner of Callet, of accompanying detailed drawings of buildings and streets with imagined versions of them prior to the eruption of AD 79, scenes that included the presence of Romans going about their daily business. As Blix puts it: “The major publications of engravings from Pompeii testify to the instant and un- canny character of archaeological resurrection: Saint-Non, Francois Mazois, William Gell and [much later] Carl Weichardt all drew sumptuous recreations right beside their drawings of the actual ruins.”


Temple of Isis.

The sense that Pompeii was the cultural artifact, rather than the objects within it, underpinned both the increasingly frequent complaints about the removal of findings from the site, and the competing suggestion that the city should become a museum in its own right. Pompeii became a sort of microcosm of the ancient world: Bulwer Lytton’s sententious description in his best-selling novel, The Last Days of Pompeii (1834) captures what had become a cliché:

Pompeii was the miniature of the civilization of that age. Within the narrow compass of its walls was contained, as it were, a specimen of every gift which luxury offered to power. In its minute but glittering shops, its tiny palaces, its baths, its forum, its theatre, its circus – in the energy yet corruption, in the refinement yet the vice, of its people, you beheld a model of the whole empire. It was a toy, a plaything, a showbox, in which the gods seemed pleased to keep the representation of the great monarchy of earth, and which they afterwards hid from time, to give to the wonder of posterity”.


The view that the integrity of the buried cities should be maintained dated back to the critics of the early excavations (and removals) from Herculaneum. As early as 1739 Charles de Brosse had written to a friend that “by excavating and leaving everything in place, the city would become an unequalled museum”, a thought that at that point was nothing more than a fantasy.   But, from the 1760s, when the scope of Pompeii became increasingly apparent, there were more frequent calls for conservation by antiquaries like Sir William Hamilton.   In the 1770s, Dr John Moore suggested that Pompeian houses should be fully reconstructed and have their roofs restored. Such longings – for such they were – were even more frequent in the nineteenth century.   Chateaubriand had complained in 1826 about the removal of ordinary things from Pompeii, saying that if they remained in situ they would comprise a museum “della vita privata del populo romano”.   Few however, went as far as J.M. La Riche, author of Vues des Monuments antiques de Naples (1827), who suggested that local people should dress in antique costume in return for being housed in restored Pompeian buildings, or as Louise Colet, the writer and lover of Flaubert, who suggested that the entire city should be covered with a huge glass dome, somewhat in the manner of the Crystal Palace. Nevertheless at least one English genteel tourist was reported as having spent several days, dressed in Roman costume, staying in one of Pompeii’s less dilapidated buildings.























Fragonard, Travellers viewing a skeleton at Pompeii, 1775.


But if what we have been describing is a living antiquity – a world of utensils and furnishings, mundane activities such as cooking, drinking, eating and selling, of work and leisure – into which viewers and visitors could project themselves through a process of recognition of what was familiar (in more senses than one), Pompeii was also, superabundantly, a place of death.   By the early nineteenth century, the number of bodies/skeletons of Vesuvius’s victims that had been recovered in Herculaneum was relatively small (the large number of bodies on the beach at Herculaneum were only discovered in the 1970s).   The body count in Pompeii was much, much higher. In the 1760s and 1770s, new excavations there led to the discovery of bodies on a variety of sites – in the gladiators’ barracks, the Temple of Isis, the Villa of Diomedes – that attracted international attention. As Andrew Wallace Hadrill has explained, this was also the moment at which, for a variety of reasons, there was a decisive shift in the pattern of interest, away from the buried city of Herculaneum, which had revealed such spectacular hidden treasures, and towards Pompeii, whose more easily uncovered remains exposed the life and death of antiquity. As he memorably puts it: “The memory of Herculaneum was buried, with its backfilled tunnels; now Pompeii was the place to let the imagination run riot. Instead of dark tunnels and charred timbers, the visitor could meet ancient life” – and, we might add, death.(378) [1]


The discovery in 1766 of what proved to be the gladiators’ quarters, with a cache of arms, thirty-four bodies, including several women with jewelry, and four men with their legs manacled to the floor, sparked a fascination with their fate. The Emperor Joseph II’s stage-managed visit to Pompeii in April 1769, which involved the (re)exhumation of a female skeleton in an underground room in the quarters, subsequently named after the Emperor, was symptomatic of a new interest in human remains, whether skeletons, such as those found in the gladiators’ barracks, or human impressions in the volcanic ash. Examining the female skeleton, Joseph purportedly “for a long time…stood reflectively before these tokens of an intense human drama” (A Recover.174).   The wealthy French tax farmer, Bergeret de Grancourt, visiting the same spot several years later, wrote, “in the room downstairs where they must have done the washing, we could see all the implements, the stove, the washtub etc….and a heap of volcanic ash upon which rested the skeleton of a woman, as if, having tried to escape from the choking ashes coming in from all sides, she had finally fallen backwards and died.”


These remains were, I believe, the first to be the subject of a sententious narrative, appropriately written by Sir William Hamilton.   In his account of these discoveries, sent in a letter to the Society of Antiquaries in London, and published as Account of the Discoveries at Pompeii in 1777, Hamilton writes of the washerwoman (he has ascribed this identity to her solely on the basis of her presence in the room) as waiting “for death with calm resignation, and true Roman fortitude, as the attitude of the skeleton really seems to indicate”.   He goes on to add, “It was at my instigation that the bones were left untouched on the spot where they were found”.   Hamilton’s concern to have the scene remain in tact is as much about preserving the story he has constructed as it is about the conservation of the room.


Between 1771 and 1774 at the suburban villa usually referred to as the Villa of Diomedes, a further large group of skeletons was found – more than twenty women and children in the cellar, as well as a male figure under the portico surrounding the garden, holding a key and a lot of coins, and who was quickly identified (on the basis of the keys) as Diomedes.   Francesco La Vega, the director of the excavations, cut and removed from the cellar several of the impressions of human forms in the lava that were transferred to the museum at Portici. The bones remained, many of them stolen by later visitors.   But one set of impressions, though they no longer survive, had a lasting effect on the narrativization of Pompeii. Charles Dupaty described the fragments as follows: “one [impression] represents half of her bosom, which is of exquisite beauty; another, a shoulder, a third a portion of her shape, and all concur in revealing to us that this woman was young, and that she was tall and well made, and even that she escaped in her shift; for some pieces of linen are still adhering to the ashes.” (Ant Recov.175) Admired by many male visitors including Chateaubriand (1804), this fragment inspired Gautier to write his novella of necrophilic fetishism, Arria Marcella (1852), in which a young man falls in love with the impression of the hip and bosom of a Pompeiian victim from the Villa of Diomedes.[2]


It was not until the 1860s that the practice of making plaster of Paris casts of the victims became common, and thereby revealed their death agonies in all their vivid enormity, but from the beginning the remains made more and more visitors conscious of the terrible details of human suffering. In a report to the Royal Society in 1795, William Hamilton wrote of one skeleton: “having engaged the men that were digging to take off the piece of hardened tufo, that covered the head, with great care, and, as in a mold just taken off in plaster of Paris, we found the impression of the eyes, that were shut, of the nose, mouth and of every feature perfectly distinct”.   These fragile impressions, though they often crumbled to dust, had a more powerful effect than the skeletons themselves and prefigured the famous plaster of Paris casts made by Fiorelli after the Risorgimento.


The skeletons, the impressions in the ash which revealed the death agonizes of the volcanoes victims – all apparently so striking, so intimate and shockingly revealing of the feelings of those who died centuries earlier, profoundly affected how visitors saw the volcano and their presence under its shadow, exciting a deep sense of sympathy and compassion for these ancient victims.  As Harriet Dennison wrote in her journal in 1816: “what an awful scene it must have been! The very thought of what the people must have suffered makes one shudder”.   She was echoing the sentiments of many others. Dr John Moore remarked, “It is impossible to view these skeletons, and reflect on this dreadful catastrophe, without horror and compassion”, a sympathy that was reinforced by evidence that the volcano’s victims were not just the heroes of classical antiquity, like the Elder Pliny, but ordinary citizens going about their everyday activities – working, baking bread, attending the theatre – before they were immolated in the sudden eruption.


This sense of identification reinforced an awareness that, though the volcano might now be an obligingly incandescent object of sublime taste, it would one day again exercise its unstoppable capacity for destruction: what happened in AD 79 would certainly happen again.   The excavation of the past revealed an impending future, binding together the visitor and the volcano’s victims.   Jane Home, daughter of a West Indian planter, the wife of the future Lord Wedderburn, wrote that “From the top [of Vesuvius] there is the most heavenly prospect of the Campagna Felice, but one is struck with horror to see what beautys what fertile plains Vesuvius has yet to destroy when one sees in the heart of these rich Meddows streams of antient Lava – upon the whole it is more dreadful than pleasing to see”. Mrs Piozzi made the connection explicit: “How dreadful are the thoughts which such a sight suggests! How very horrible the certainty, that such a scene might be all acted over again tomorrow; and that, who today are spectators, may become spectacles for traveler s of a succeeding century, who mistaking our bones for those of the Neapolitans, may carry some of them to their native country back again perhaps.” There was a growing sense even among the most transitory of visitors that in contemplating both the volcano and its classical victims, they were contemplating the inescapable fact of their own mortality. Vesuvius, as Lady Blessington remarked, was “like a sleeping giant in grim repose, whose awakening, all dread”.


  1. Dialogue with the Dead: Vesuvius and the buried cities, depiction and narration



Before the French revolution, most of the bodies found at Pompeii were viewed with a mixture of sympathy and horror.   The story in which they were placed was one of victim-hood and loss.   But in the early nineteenth century, commentators began to embellish on the findings of artifacts and human remains constructing narratives about the circumstances of the eruption in AD 79 and sententious stories about the lives of the victims.   They were helped by the paucity of surviving accounts of the events of AD79. In effect all that most narratives could draw on were the two famous letters written twenty five years after the eruption by the younger Pliny to the historian Tacitus, accounts that focused on the death of his uncle, the elder Pliny. But in the era after the fall of Napoleon, there began a veritable orgy of storytelling about Pompeii.   As Jon Seydl puts it in his rehearsal of the events of the 1820s that contributed to what he calls “the Last Days phenomenon”, “This sequence of events should not be understood as a teleological chain of influence as much as a cascading cultural shift in which accounts of Pompeii move from a focus on mass destruction to more particularized stories that culminate in the cataclysm.” It is striking how discoveries made in the 1760s and 1770s only receive the full narrative treatment after 1815. Only in the Eighteen-teens did the presence of a female skeleton in the gladiators’ barracks spawn a story of a lover’s tryst.   Similarly the remains at the Temple of Isis became a story about priests sharing a final meal, and one of them seeking to hack his way to escape with an axe.   Most famously, a small niche on the left exterior side of the Porta Ercolano, first excavated in 1763, had become, according to Mariana Starke in 1802, “the sentry box of the guard”, where, according to Sir William Gell in his Pompeiana (1817-19), “was found a human skeleton, of which the hand still grasped a lance. Conjecture has imagined this the remains of a sentinel, who preferred dying on his post to quitting it for a more ignominious death, which, in conformity with the severe discipline of his country, would have awaited him.” Ant.Rec.141   The original record of the excavation of the gate makes not mention of any skeleton, and from a very early date the niche was identified as a tomb or altar, but by the early nineteenth century and for the following forty years, the story of the soldier rooted to his post was to remain one of the most frequently told stories of the last days of Pompeii.


As several commentators have noticed, in the early nineteenth century it became comparatively unusual to see the sorts of representation of contemporary volcanic eruptions produced by Volaire and his Enlightenment colleagues in major exhibitions and collections.   Such depictions lived on as tourist souvenirs and as part of the portfolio of many local Neapolitan artists such as those of the Posillipo school, but, as Nicholas Daly has pointed out, “many representations…focus less on the spectacle of the volcano per se, and more on the collision of the volcano with humanity, and the moment of destruction and preservation.”   In fact there is a marked shift away from the depiction of contemporary eruptions and towards the portrayal of the historic eruption of AD 79.   This is partly explained, of course, by the progress of the excavations of the buried cities and the richness of their findings, but this, of itself, cannot explain the shift.   When the largest eruption of the nineteenth century took place in 1822, it was used in London to promote Burford’s panorama of Vesuvius and Pompeii, not the contemporary explosion. The same was true of the Vauxhall Gardens transparency of the following year, and of John Martin’s huge canvas at the Egyptian Hall depicting the Destruction of Herculaneum and Pompeii exhibited in the Egyptian Hall in 1822.


In this explosion of Vesuviana, across a whole variety of media, the volcano became not the prime object of interest but a sort of deus ex machina in a moral tale or fable.   Bulwer Lytton’s The Last Days of Pompeii (1835) remains the best known of series of literary works that included Thomas Babington Macaulay’s prize winning poem Pompeii (1819), Edwin Atherstone’s verses, The Last Days of Herculaneum (1821), Thomas Gray’s novel, The Vestal, or a Tale of Pompeii (1830), and the American, Sumner Lincoln Fairchild’s lengthy and lurid The Last Night of Pompeii (1832).   But the last days and their tales of woe and misfortune were also a favoured topic of academic painting.



In 1812 the skeletons of a woman and three small children were discovered, together with a quantity of jewelry, near the Mammia tomb.   Joseph Franque, a French painter living in Naples, recreated the moments before their death in his Scene During the Eruption of Vesuvius exhibited at the Paris Salon in March 1828.   The painting was based on an elaborate report of the find by the French antiquary, Aubin-Louis Millin, who combined breathless narrativising with a detailed description of the artifacts found at the site:


“A mother fled, dragging after her a part of her family: two daughters, and an infant whom she clutched in vain against her breast. There was no longer any hope; still gasping for breath in the midst of swirling clouds of burning cinders, and pressing against the walls of the portico, they fell exhausted by fatigue and suffering. The ash covered them, burying them all in the same tomb; their remains were mingled, and almost indistinguishable from one another. One could almost see this unfortunate family embracing one another in their last breath”.   Franque’s painting is a characteristic mix of accuracy and licence. The jewelry precisely follows the excavation report, for example, representing a curled serpent’s ring on the daughter’s right hand, but it places the family in a chariot rather than an alcove, and adds a mirror, chest and lyre, signs of wealth but also vanitas symbols.


Franque was a Professor in the Academia dell Belli Arte in Naples, and it is possible that his painting, which was completed in 1826, was seen by a young Russian artist, Karl Briullov, who was to produce what became the most famous of all the visual representations of Pompeii’s final days, The Last day of Pompeii, painted between 1827 and 1833.   Briullov had come to Naples with his brother, Alexander, who was trained as an architect and had an abiding passion for Pompeii. The two, like many artists before them, had been sent to Italy on scholarships – in this case awarded by the St.Petersburg based Society for the Encouragement of Artists – for a four year visit to the peninsula. Karl, willful, brilliant and supremely talented, had been the star pupil at the St. Petersburg Academy, showered with medals and prizes, but had quarreled with its Director. Together with Alexander, he turned to the recently founded Society, which was not an Academy with fixed rules, but a body of the great and good (including patrons and collectors) who wished to encourage the arts in Russia. The brothers had arrived in Rome in May 1823.


At first, Karl followed the usual path of an artist visiting Italy: he copied Old Masters – though few were so ambitious as to take as their model Raphael’s School of Athens – he worked on a couple of history paintings, but he also executed a number of private commissions, chiefly genre paintings and sketches of Neapolitan life that he sent back to clients in Russia.   But his ambitions changed in 1827. In that year he resigned his stipend from the Society, which had grumbled about the content of his picture, Italian Midday, the portrayal of a voluptuous, vivacious and smiling peasant woman admiring a bunch of grapes she appears to have plucked from a vine. “The aim of any artist”, they wrote to him, “should be to portray a model with gracious proportions whereas your model could not be considered gracious since she belongs to the lower class.”   (They had not complained about his Italian Morning, which had portrayed an altogether more patrician and classical (though bare-breasted) woman at her morning toilet.)   Karl was able to forego their stipend and dismiss their complaints as a plea for empty uniformity because in 1827 he met the extremely beautiful, very rich, notorious heart-breaker, Countess Yulia Samoilova, who, whether or not she was his lover, became his admirer, muse, and patron, funding and fuelling what became a powerful mutual attachment.   She accompanied the two brothers to Naples in 1827, though there is no evidence that she climbed the volcano.


Alexander Briullov, Bivouack on Vesuvius, 1824.



The sources of Karl’s fascination with Vesuvius and Pompeii are hard to disentangle.   His brother was one obvious influence – he had sketched out a restoration scheme for Pompeiian baths as early as 1826, had certainly visited the city before his trip with his brother, and is known to have excited Karl’s interest with descriptions of the archaeological site.   There is some suggestion – in the form of surviving sketches, supposedly dated to 1824 – that the brothers may even have been together in Naples and on Vesuvius, shortly after their arrival in Italy. Briullov had also seen in Florence a performance of Giovanni Pacini’s opera, L’Ultimo Giorno di Pompei, whose spectacular climax included a reenactment of the eruption of AD 79 with vivid visual effects, and temples and buildings that crashed onto the stage.[3] Possibly it was after this performance that Count Anatole Demidov, the rich Russian industrialist and art collector who lived for much of the time in Florence, commissioned Karl to produce a Pompeiian picture.   Whatever its origin, Karl’s interest in the subject quickly developed into an obsession.   He spent the next six years working on the painting, producing his first sketches in 1827, studying documents and artifacts in Naples museums before beginning the painting itself in 1830.   The huge canvas – approximately 15 x 21 feet (456.5x 651) was first exhibited in Rome, and then in Milan, where it was seen by the British writer, Bulwer Lytton, and Paris, where it won the Salon’s First Gold Medal, before reaching its destination, St Petersburg, in August 1834.




Briullov’s The Last Day of Pompeii was a triumph: it excited the praise of Italian and Russian critics (the French were lukewarm), gained him election to the academies of Bologna, Milan and Florence, and the praise of the public who crowded to see the canvas when it was publicly displayed.   For Nicolai Gogol, Briullov’s painting was “one of the most brilliant phenomena of the nineteenth century”; Sir Walter Scott, “having contemplated it in silence for more than an hour” declared it an “epic in colours”. The painting made Briullov’s reputation – the Tsar summoned him back to Russia to be Professor of Painting at St Petersburg – but it also marked his apogee.   Profoundly depressed after its completion, he never again created a history painting that either satisfied him or commanded the same sort of public success.   He spent years on a large painting of The Siege of Pskov, a patriotic history painting, but abandoned work on it in 1843. Back in Russian he became a fashionable portrait-painter, a caricaturist, and an habitué of literary, musical and artistic circles, but never really fulfilled his earlier promise as a history painter.   In 1849 he left Russia for good, spending his last three years chiefly in Italy, producing portraits and the many genre scenes that seem to have been his special passion.


The power and effect of Briullov’s painting in part derives from its size, but also, as Gogol observed in an essay devoted to the picture, from its composition and illumination.   The early sketches for the composition are far more compressed, the space of the figures far more confined, than in the final version of the painting. Briullov stretched the space occupied by the figures, opened up the sky by pushing back the tumbling buildings, and made the whole into a series of brilliantly illuminated vignettes, each of which, although they contributed to the whole, could be viewed or read as discrete representations with their own story and moral.   On the right we can see the younger Pliny pleading with his mother to escape the city (Briullov has transposed the scene from Misenum to Pompeii itself); next to them two young men, one a soldier, carrying a man, presumably their father, in a desperate attempt to take him to safety (some have suggested that the figure represents the Elder Pliny); in the lower centre lies a dead mother with her child, while close by is an open bundle of her scattered possessions, including a key and a mirror; above her, a pagan priest looks back towards the volcano, his left arm wrapped around his possessions. On the left of the canvas is a Christian priest and close by him, a mother and her two children.   On the steps of the tomb to the left (the painting is aptly set in the Via dei Sepolcri), surrounded by panic-stricken figures, we can see the head of Briullov himself, and above him a box containing paints, brushes and a palette.  The painting is full of allusions to figures and poses derived from Raphael, Poussin and classical sculpture, deliberately placing its creator within a long classical tradition, but it also connects the antique and the present, not only in the figure of Briullov himself, but in several female figures whose faces are those of his beautiful patron, Yulia Samoilova.


Some scholars have placed Briullov’s painting in the context of what has been termed ‘the school of catastrophe’, the effloresce of writing and painting in the 1820s depicting epic disasters from classical and Biblical history. Works by J.M.W. Turner, John Martin, and Francis Danby of the plagues of Egypt, the Deluge, the Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and of the apocalypse, portrayed all-powerful natural forces overwhelming a sea of stricken humanity. No doubt Briullov’s picture fits into this pattern, but it was also different. As Gogol pointed out, when he contrasted Briullov’s painting to Belschazzar’s Feast (1820), and The Fall of Nineveh (1829), works by the English artist, John Martin, “in which great catastrophes are presented in fearsome grandeur”, The Last Day of Pompeii combined epic scale with an intimacy that could not be felt in the British pictures: “The overall impression from these [English] pictures is striking and is full of an exceptional unity; but…They are like distant views; they only convey a general impression. We are aware of the terrible position of the crowd, but we cannot see the person on whose face would be expressed the full horror of the destruction that he himself is witnessing.”   Turning back to Briullov, Gogol concluded that, “the concept that is here presented to us in distant perspective is suddenly placed full-square before our eyes by Briullov…and we ourselves seem to be caught up in its world.” These sentiments are echoed in the words of another of Briullov’s commentators, Bulwer Lytton, whose novel, The Last Days of Pompeii, may well have been inspired by viewing Briullov’s picture in Milan. “This picture is full of genius, imagination and nature. The faces are fine, the conception grand…the most natural touch is an infant in its mother’s arms: – her face impressed with a dismay and terror which partake of the sublime; the child wholly unconscious of the dead event – stretching its arms toward a bird of gay plumage that lies upon the ground struggling in death, and all the child’s gay delighted wonder is pictured in its face. This exception to the general horror is full of pathos, and is the true contrast of fine thought.” Lytton seems to have misremembered the scene, or to have viewed a version that was later altered – in the extant verison of the picture the mother lies dead, the child looks stricken, there is no bird – but the overall effect is clear; catastrophe is rendered domestic and intimate, and therefore all the more touching.


This is why, in Gogol’s crucial phrase, we are not so much outside observers of the scene; rather “we ourselves seem to be caught up in this world”.   Briullov represents a very specific time and place – 24 August AD 79, the via dei sepolcri outside the gates of Pompeii – and, like other painters of the catastrophic school, goes to considerable lengths to secure a degree of historical accuracy – his figures refer to particular skeletons found in the city, the tombs and artifacts match surviving objects – but it is the sense that we share in, or are a part of this disastrous scene that is vital to its power.   This requires not only a sympathetic attachment to the inhabitants of the ancient world, but also a sense that the viewer’s future might also involve catastrophic misfortune.   At the very simplest level we might think of such identification as an awareness of human frailty and mortality, a reminder – like the mirror, a vanitas symbol that lies at the bottom centre of the painting – of the brief and transitory nature of human life.   But, and here Briullov is far from alone, it is the sense of the precipitous, sudden and violent intervention of an unstoppable force, its brutal intrusion into the rhythms and patterns of everyday life, that make this event so terrifying. Briullov renders graphically what the narrator in Madame De Stael’s novel Corinne finds so shocking: “everything…is preserved in a frightening way…The amphorae are still prepared for the next day’s banquet; the flour that was going to be kneaded is still there…Nowhere else can be seen so striking a picture of the interruption of life.”[4] (Bk 11, ch.4, 198-9). It is not just about death, but about a particular sort of death, one that seems to entail the destruction not just of individuals, but the obliteration of the very fabric of life – of kin and family, work and play, and of religious faith. It is this that makes the buildings and artefacts of Pompeii, in Constanze Baum’s happy phrase, ruins of suddenness rather than ruins of duration; there is none of that gentle erosion and decay we might associate with the sublime Roman ruins depicted by Piranesi, just violent and savage destruction.   So, if, on the one hand, the viewers of Briullov’s painting needed to understand the classical world as akin to their own – a view largely fashioned through the excavations of the destroyed cities – they also needed a sense – not uncommon in the age of Revolutions – that massive destructive change was an experience that they might have to endure.   The young future Russian socialist, Alexander Herzen, saw the force of the Vesuvian eruption depicted by Briullov as analogous to the unstoppable absolute power of the Russian Tsar over his people: “On an enormous canvas the crowds closely packed, terrified people, in disorder, trying vainly to save their lives…they will perish under the force of a wild, senseless, merciless power…against which any resistance is futile. The inspiration for this force Briullov took from St Petersburg”. Such analogies between natural and political force were, as we have seen, common in the early nineteenth century, though they more usually referred to the powers launched by the French Revolution.


Vesuvius was important, not as a modern sublime spectacle but as both the destroyer and conservator of a classical world. What are we to make of the extraordinary proliferation of narratives and moral vignettes about the destruction of Pompeii?   A great many of the stories – whether Gray’s or Bulwer Lytton’s novels or the verses of Fairchild – depict the eruption of AD 79 as providential punishment for the sins of Pompeii: a city of slavery, greed, luxury and debauchery, a pagan, polytheistic culture given to sexual excess.   This providentialist narrative is one that links such depictions to catastrophes depicted in the Bible, and rendered so vividly by the likes of John Martin, JMW Turner and Francis Danby: the fall of Nineveh, Belshazzar’s Feast, the plagues of Egypt, and the destruction of Sodom.   Thus Fairfield in his The Last Night of Pompeii claims that we should feel “little regret and less astonishment at the terrible overthrow of cities as excessive and not so venial in their crimes as Gomorrah”. Lytton follows suit: as the volcano showers the city, a Christian cries, “Behold! The Lord descendeth to judgment! He maketh fire come down from heaven in the sight of men! Woe! woe! Ye strong and mighty! … Woe to the idolater and the worshipper of the beast!   Woe to ye who pour forth the blood of saints, and gloat over the death-pangs of the sons of God!”   Pompeii is sin city.


This connection is made even more explicit by the importation – for which there is no historical evidence – of Christians into these Pompeiian narratives. Repeatedly Christians are portrayed as victims – of pagan priests, or imperial persecution, or abstract injustices, rescued, like other virtuous characters, at the very last minute by the action – the eruption – of the Volcano. Glaucus avoids death in the amphitheatre in Bulwer Lytton, the innocent virgin avoids rape by the priest of Isis in Fairchild; the virtuous wife in L’Ultimo Giorno di Pompei is spared from being buried alive.   The volcano does not just chastise the wicked; it also aids the virtuous and Christian.   Even when it causes their death, as in Briullov’s painting or Gray’s novel, it shows them as having the sorts of virtue that will grant them ultimate salvation.   We are presented with antithetical views of life, crudely associated with stock characters: the cruel and sexually predatory pagan priest, memorably Arbaces in Bulwer Lytton; the miser scrambling for gold on the ground or hugging his riches to his chest (see Briullov); the cowardly pagan – all these contrasted with the mother seeking to protect her child, the children seeking to protect elderly parents, or the loving couple holding one another in their arms.   Destruction is the result of pagan sin; the embrace of Christianity offers redemption and a future. A certain Christian view has, then, in the 1820s high-jacked the volcano and the city of the dead.


But there was also something else going on in these narratives of Pompeii. For if Vesuvius represents a destructive force, there is also way in which the recuperation of the buried cities constitutes a sort of resurrection, a triumph not only over the forces of revolution, but an occasion for the assertion of continuity, of historical survival in the face of terrible forces. The language of resurrection, survival, and continuity was used repeatedly, sometimes before the aftermath of the French revolution, but much more frequently thereafter. Charles Dupaty talks of the “triumph over time” of a grain of corn at Herculaneum; a generation later, Felicia Hemans, in her verse on the mold of a mother and child, exclaims:


“Oh! I could pass all relics/ Left by the pomps of old,/ To gaze on this rude monument,/ Cast in affections mold./ Love, human love! What art thou/ Thy print upon the dust/ Outlives the cities of renown/ Wherein the mighty trust!”


In quite a common image, Thomas Gray in The Vestal compares Pompeii to the story of sleeping beauty, a beautiful creature in slumber waiting to be awakened not with a prince’s kiss, but by the shovel of the archaeologist. Gautier’s novella, Arria Marcella, is also about the effect in the present of something from the distant past –

“the curve of a breast has survived through the centuries when so many empires have vanished without leaving a trace”. Human flesh triumphs over the lava and ash that destroyed it.   For Bulwer what survives is not flesh but the Christian soul. At the end of The Last Days, Glaucus, writing of his conversion to Christianity, asserts, “We know that we are united in the soul, as in the flesh, for ever and ever!   Ages may roll on, our very dust be dissolved, the earth shrivelled like a scroll; but round and round the circle of eternity rolls the wheel of life – imperishable – unceasing!”    Goran Blix, in his study of the politics of archaeology perfectly captures the appeal of Pompeii in the early nineteenth century: “this city embodied a contradiction that lay at the heart of archaeology’s power of enchantment: it had been abruptly annihilated and just as suddenly resurrected, and this stark contrast of violence and redemption provided an irresistible melodramatic script for the comprehension of history; while conceding that history was a violent process that littered the past with vibrant cultures, it also dissociated ruin and amnesia and suggested that lost worlds might leave imperishable traces. Loss and memory were cemented into a single felicitous narrative at Pompeii.”


The frieze that adorned Berlin’s Neues Museum when it opened in 1855 encapsulates these stories about Pompeii.   Executed by the sculptor, Hermann Schievelbein, it portrays the destruction of the ancient city, drawing directly on Briullov and Bulwer rather than on the historical record.   But Pompeii is not just an end, it is also a point of origin, a beginning, portrayed both by the line of Christians retreating from the city, and the group of Pompeiians who, having fled the town with numerous artefacts, present them to the architect of the Museum, Friedrich Andreas Stuler, and its first Director, Ignaz von Olfers.   The place of the frieze, between ancient and more recent works of art, establishes it as a link in a historic chain of development in which the Christian era succeeds that of the ancient world.   The presence of Christians in the destruction of Pompeii, here as elsewhere, was vital to the themes of resurrection and historical continuity, while the gifts to Stuler and Olfers underline the importance of the museum as a conservator of the past.






VII Virtual Vesuvius: the volcano goes viral.


When the Duke of Buckingham visited Naples in 1828 he witnessed two eruptions of Vesuvius. The first occurred on the mountain itself, the second took place in the famous opera house of San Carlo in Naples at the end of a performance of Pacini’s Il Ultimo Giorno di Pompei, “the last scene of which”, the Duke recorded in his journal, “is a beautiful representation of the eruption of Vesuvius, taken from the life”.   Buckingham’s experience was in no way unusual; by the middle of the nineteenth century, there had been hundreds of re-enactments of volcanic eruptions, and especially of the eruption of AD 79, staged in a variety of media across Europe.   Such large-scale spectacles were performed frequently in London and Paris, but also in Berlin, Dresden, Leipzig and New York. Major eruptions produced clusters of these events, as in 1779, 1805, 1822 and 1835.   At a time when entrepreneurs of spectacle were experimenting with new media in the context of the theatre and the public lecture room, as well as creating entirely new ways of representing nature, such as the panorama and diorama, versions of Vesuvius and Pompeii were one of Europe’s greatest visual attractions.


On the one hand, these shows drew on the use of spectacle in the many scientific lectures that were popular throughout Europe in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Humphry Davy, long before he had actually seen a volcano in action, ended his lectures on geology, first in delivered in 1805 at the Royal Institution, with a simulated eruption. “I remember with delight”, one spectator remarked, “the beautiful illustration of his theory exhibited in an artificial volcano constructed in the theatre of the Royal Institution. A mountain had been modeled in clay, and a quantity of the metallic bases introduced into its interior; on water being poured on it, the metals were soon thrown into violent action – successive explosions followed – red hot lava was seen flowing down its sides, from a crater in miniature – mimic lightnings played around, and in the instant of dramatic illusion, the tumultuous applause and continued cheering of the audience might almost have been regarded as the shouts of alarmed fugitives of Herculaneum and Pompeii”.   This was not the only working model on show in London that year. A M. Du Bourg used a model of Vesuvius with a nightly eruption of lava to promote the sale of his cork models of classical buildings at the Crown and Anchor on the Strand, and the so-called London Museum opened its doors with a Vesuvian eruption. These simulations, held in doors, were soon eclipsed by outdoor eruptions of a large scale, such as those held in Vauxhall Gardens during the seasons of 1823 and 1826 and at the Surrey Zoological gardens during the summers of the 1830s and 1840s.   Some of these used illuminated transparencies that were shown at night, but others were huge pyrotechnic displays that normally ended an evening’s entertainment. By the 1830s these events had spread to the provinces, staged in Southampton, Liverpool, Hull, as well as in Dublin and Edinburgh.


Vesuvius also proved a popular subject matter for the panorama, a 360 degree immersive representation which was invented by the Scottish artist, Robert Barker, who opened the world’s first dedicated panorama building in Leicester Place in 1793.   By the early nineteenth century there were panoramas in almost every European capital. Their versions of Vesuvius almost invariably refrained from representing contemporary eruptions (even though their occurrence helped stimulate interest in the volcano); Robert Burford, the partner of the Barker family, staged Vesuvian panoramas in 1822, 1824, 1825, and 1848, all of which took the classical eruption and the ruins of Pompeii as their subject matter. The performances in the pleasure gardens similarly referred explicitly to AD 79.


The problem for the panorama, as a visual device, was that it (comprehensively) represented a single moment in time.; it was static.   The use of natural top lighting to illuminate the image gave the viewer a certain sense of temporal change, but what was seen lacked the verisimilitude conveyed by motion – not just temporal change but change through time.   This problem, eventually solved as we shall see by ‘moving panoramas’, huge, lengthy canvasses that were rolled past a stationary audience, was in the first instance addressed by artists in the theatre, scene painters who experimented with a mixture of mechanical and optical devices to simulate motion and the passage of time.


Philippe De Loutherbourg, a French academician who was employed by the actor and theatre manager, David Garrick, as a scene painter at Drury Lane theatre, was the most innovative stage set designer of the period, using coloured lantern slides, Argand lamps and transparencies to create unprecedented effects. He went on to develop the so-called Eidophusikon, a machine that, through the use of back-lit scenery, semi-transparent colours on strips of linen, models, and special light effects, together with “a winding machine” was able to simulate motion and movement through time.  De Loutherbourg is, of course, credited (or condemned as) the person who transformed London staging, enveloping actors in a complex machinery of scenery and illusion that achieved unprecedented verisimilitude.   His innovations were largely responsible for the transformation of the nineteenth-century theatre with its preference “for show over sentiment”, and for the importance (reflected in salaries and the attention they received on playbills) of artists, like Clarkson Stanfield, who staffed ‘the spectacle departments’ of theatres in London and Paris.   The techniques that he mastered were behind the Dioramas opened in Paris and London by Louis Daguerre and Karl Gropius (both scene painters) in Berlin, though the diorama relied on the manipulation of natural rather than artificial light.   By the 1830s it was commonplace to end performances of Pacini’s Ultimo giorno di Pompei and Daniel Auber’s grand opera La Muette de Portici, both fequently performed works throughout Europe, with a grand finale featuring a Vesuvian eruption. Pixerecourt’s drama Tete de Mort ou les ruines de Pompeii, enjoyed one hundred and sixteen consecutive performances in Paris in 1827-8, every one of which ended with an eruption that completely engulfed the stage.


By the 1850s rival moving panoramas, sometimes called cycloramas, offered their visitors a tour through Europe that culminated with a trip to Vesuvius.   Reichardt’s Tour of Europe shown in London’s Baker Street took two hours to scroll through 30,000 feet of canvas, travelling “one thousand miles in less than two hours”, before arriving at the volcano.   The rival “Gigantic moving panorama of Europe” mounted by the American J.R. Smith, concluded with “the ascent of Vesuvius; interior of the crater; eruption of Vesuvius”; it also enabled spectators “to assist” at the excavations at Pompeii.


These extravagant displays of Vesuvius and Pompeii were part of the commodification of the sublime in the early nineteenth century.   They sold the experience of shock and awe, the feeling that visitors had experienced on the slopes of Vesuvius, for a fee, placing their customers in the comfort and familiarity of theatres, dioramas, panoramas and pleasure gardens.   They tamed nature, freed viewers of the dangers and discomforts that many Vesuvian visitors experienced, but they did so by creating a visual experience whose effect depended upon its realism.   The claim was repeatedly made by the creators of these sensational simulacra that the dress of the Pompeiians, the jewelry they wore and the implements they carried, like the devastation of the volcano itself, were rendered with such detail and accuracy as to persuade the viewer that they were present – immersed in the experience of volcanic destruction. Panorama artists claimed to have made their drawings from “the very spot” where the action occurred (Robert Burford was on Vesuvius in 1828 making drawings for a new panorama); catalogues supplied with such exhibitions referred to the researches of antiquarians like Sir William Gell, and to the last findings from excavations.   No lesser authority than Alexander von Humboldt conceded that the panorama was “almost substitute for traveling through different climes. The paintings on all sides evoke more than theatrical scenery is capable of because the spectator, captivated and transfixed as in a magic circle and removed from distracting reality, believes himself to be really surrounded by foreign nature”.


But the ‘shock of the real’ was despised by many critics, artists and writers, for precisely those qualities of verisimilitude that excited its spectators.   John Constable dismissed the Diorama as “without the pale of art as its object is deception”. For romantics like Coleridge and Wordsworth, the hyper-realism of these new forms of representation – what they both called “the tyranny of the eye” – crushed reflection, overpowered with their immediacy, and were hostile to what they most valued – the power of the imagination. Violett-le-Duc condemned Daguerre’s invention because “the diorama stinks of the machine”.


The sense that these new realist technologies were a juggernaught that rode over the sensibilities of the artist and the aesthete was well founded, but failed to recognize the shifts in audience and purpose they embodied. The object of these spectacles (at least ostensibly and in the publicity that surrounded them) was not aesthetic but didactic – not pleasure but knowledge – hence the importance of accurate detail and clear delineation.   They were not intended for the art connoisseur, the sort of patron who had commissioned Volaire’s Vesuvian landscapes, but for a less affluent, more bourgeois audience made up of families, and therefore of women and children. At the same time, such spectacles used new techniques to capture their viewers. As Tom Gunning, who describes these events as “attractions”, emphasizes, they involved “direct stimulation and shock of display, the inciting of visual curiosity and pleasure, and the solicitation of attention through surprise and astonishment”.  It was this combination of sensation and sober instruction that so repelled the Romantic critics.


But these new illusions and spectacles had the effect of enshrining Vesuvius and Pompeii in an itinerary of polite tourism that was sustained by virtual travel.   They not only presented a technologically manufactured experience, subordinating the experience of the Bay of Naples to modern science, but thereby made it accessible to a much-expanded spectatorship.   As Blackwood’s Magazine explained in 1824:


Panoramas are among the happiest contrivances for saving time and expense in this age of contrivances. What cost a couple of hundred pounds and half a year half a century ago, now costs a shilling and a quarter of an hour. Throwing out of the old account the miseries of travel, the insolence of public functionaries, the roguery of innkeepers, the visitations of banditti, charged to the muzzle with sabre, pistol and scapulary, and the rascality of the custom-house officers, who plunder, passport in hand, the indescribable desagremens of Italian cookery, and the insufferable annoyance of that epitome of abomination, an Italian bed.


The new forms of representation not only revealed Vesuvius and resurrected Pompeii, they transported these and other sites directly to the viewer.   As The Times commented in April 1830:


“Thanks to the contrivances of modern ingenuity, the ‘long drawn aisles and fretted vaults’ of the Cathedral at Rheims are now fixed snugly in the Regent’s-park, and the rocks of Mont St. Gothard, torn from their old foundations, are reposing quietly in the same vicinity. All this is owing to the magic pencil of Messrs. Daguerre and Bouton, who, if they have not given us the realities of these magnificent objects, have at least given us imitations of them so wonderfully minute and vivid, as to appear more like the illusions of enchantment than the mere creations of art.


Virtual Vesuvius and Pompeii were the precursors of a new sort of tourism that Thomas Cook was soon to exploit.   As Mr Booley explained in an article in Dickens’ Household Words of 1850, the new sorts of travel, virtual or otherwise, were intended to open up the world to the less advantaged:


“It is very gratifying to me,’ said he, ‘to have seen so much at my time of life, and to have acquired a knowledge of the countries I have visited, which I could not have derived from books alone. When I was a boy, such travelling would have been impossible, as the gigantic-moving-panorama or diorama mode of conveyance, which I have principally adopted (all my modes of conveyance have been pictorial), had then not been attempted. It is a delightful characteristic of these times, that new and cheap means are continually being devised for conveying the results of actual experience to those who are unable to obtain such experiences for themselves: and to bring them within the reach of the people – emphatically of the people; for it is they at large who are addressed in these endeavours, and not exclusive audiences….. New worlds open out to them, beyond their little worlds, and widen their range of reflection, information, sympathy, and interest. The more man knows of man, the better for the common brotherhood among us all.”




As Mr. Booley’s remarks show, Vesuvius, the Bay of Naples and the buried cities had become, by the 1850s and 1860s, a common cultural property of bourgeois Europe – one property amongst many in the itineraries of tourism.   The development of the steam boat and the steam train – technologies in which the Kingdom of Naples was a pioneer – and the organizational skills of Northern European Protestants like Mr. Thomas Cook and Herr. Carl Stangen both of whom smoothed the passage of visitors into the Mediterranean meant that, though the volcano and the cities remained objects of geological inquiry, and tied in complex ways to the communities that surrounded them, they had acquired a different valence, one that seemed less rooted in the ways of science and religion, and more in tune with the commercialization of a new Italian, national culture.



[1] He might have been thinking of the comment made by the neo-classical architect and popularizer of Pompeiian designs, William Adam, about Herculaneum: this town “once filled with temples, columns, palaces, and other ornaments of good taste is now exactly like a coalmine worked by galley slaves who fill in the waste rooms they leave behind.”


[2] Compare Felicia Heman’s altogether more materal and less sexualized verse of 1828, “impression of a woman’s form, with an infant clasped to the bosom, found at the uncovering of Herculaneum”:

“Oh! I could pass all relics/ Left by the pomps of old,/ To gaze on this rude monument,/ Cast in affections mold./ Love, human love! What art thou/ Thy print upon the dust/ Outlives the cities of renown/ Wherein the mighty trust!”

[3] Giornale delle Due Sicilie 21/11/25 on the performance in Naples: poi in modo straordinario l’ultima scena presentate un quadro per quanto grandioso altretantto desolante e terrible, la distruzione della citta sotto la pioggia di cenere e lapilli in mezzo all’inordamento delle fiumane di fuoco che tra boccavano dal Vesuvio”. ”

[4] Cf earlier remarks of another female author, Hester Piozzi: “these are the things to strike [and] terrify those who examine them”. (Corr. 1, 176-7).

The Blessing of the Bikes

And now for something completely different, a short piece about a Florentine experience some years ago:  The Blessing of the Bikes.


Hoping to clear our heads after a New Year’s Eve of carousing and singing old Partisan songs, we headed out of Florence and up into the hills to the north for a brisk walk. The day was clear, crisp and bright, the perfect weather for a stroll near the monastery of Monte Senario, a thirteenth-century foundation devoted to poverty, penance and prayer, perched on a hill with wonderful views of the Mugello. We were looking for tranquility, but as we drove up the hill from the village of Bivigliamo, the traffic grew heavier.   By the time we reached the monastery, zipping the Alpha Romeo into a parking space vacated only seconds earlier, we were in a crowd. As we turned into the long driveway leading to the huddle of religious buildings, we were greeted by the sight of row upon row – hundreds – of motor bikes, neatly arranged at an angle on either side of the road so that other vehicles and pedestrians could drive past. There were sleek, low-slung sport bikes, Suzukis in bright colours with rear exhausts like ship’s pennants, bulky Honda Gold-Wings with CD speakers and padded leather seats, and Moto Guzzis from the 1930s and 40s, all in red trim, bristling like Christmas trees with levers and handles. Lambrettas and Vespas in the pastel shades of the late 50s and 60s with beautifully curved rear ends reminiscent of voluptuous girls from Rome or Naples stood next to massive grey BMWs whose sheathed machinery accentuated their power.   Of course there were Harleys, with their long forks and high handle bars but also rarer, less flashy Anglo-Saxon machines like British Triumphs and Nortons.   More and more bikes drove up the hill, their drivers revving the engines, hinting at their power and speed while dexterously avoiding families and couples walking arm in arm in the winter sunshine. The light accentuated the brilliant colours. Scarves and little flags of peace dangled from handlebars; bikers strutted in a mix of brilliant red, purple and blue leathers and neoprene suits, their helmets pushed up above their heads, like knights at rest after a hard ride. Most of the crowd were dark-haired youths in their twenties, but there were plenty of biker couples as well as middle-aged men with sleek grey hair and leathers that bulged at the midriff. Every machine was pristine. The wooden handles on the old Moto Guzzis were polished to a rich hue. We were surrounded by gleaming metal, chains and drive trains glistening with oil. Everywhere machines were being stroked, polished and admired, their owners preening themselves in the sunshine. My son was mesmerized; my wife, a biker in her earlier life, was in seventh heaven.

But why were they there? What was happening? We knew there was a race track at Scarperia, a few kilometers away, and that the serpentine roads in the hills round Monte Senario were much favoured by bikers wanting to show off their skills, but why congregate around this isolated house of God?   The answer soon lumbered into view. A priest advanced along the line of bikes. He had a small container full of holy water mounted at the end of a stem he held out with one hand.   In the other he carried something that looked like a cross between a wallpaper brush and the sort of flywhisk favoured by African dictators that he kept on dipping into the water and shaking over each of the gleaming metal bodies.   He was a bulky man with a full beard who one could imagine, despite his priestly habit, mounted on a Harley, a sort of clerical Hells Angel.   He joked with the motorcyclists as he walked along, good humouredly scattering a few drops of Holy Water on machines that, as he pointed out, were Japanese.   We had stumbled on the annual blessing of the bikes, a collective rite to secure safe journeys (if at high speed) in the year to come.

Apparently it works. The snorting dismissal of lots of British friends – “of course they need a blessing, given how fast they drive and how many accidents there are” – could not be further from the truth. Italy has far more bikes than any other country in Europe – at nearly three and a half million almost three times as many as its nearest rival – and the highest per capita density after Greece. But it also has one of the lowest accident rates. Some say that anyone who drives a motorbike has to be crazy. This is certainly true in Greece and Portugal, but also holds for Britain which, despite one of the best general road accident rates in Europe, has one of the worst for bikes. Either Italians are much better drivers (a view you can be sure everyone at Monte Senario would endorse) or they enjoy some special protection.

Driving back to Florence later that day, I thought about the ironies and contradictions of the scene we had witnessed. It had been a celebration of speed, technology and beautiful modern design, a love-in between high-tech and historic machines and the people who not only drove them but cherished them dearly. The bikes (not to mention their outsourced parts) came from three continents, consumer goods for prosperous westerners assembled by the global economy.   Yet here were crowds of Tuscans – they came not just from Florence, but from Prato and Poggiobonsi – religiously, or superstitiously at any rate, seeking divine protection or, at least, a bit of good luck.   The crowd can hardly have been particularly pious – Tuscany has the lowest church attendance in all of Italy – but, of course, what was at issue here was far more than religious belief.   What we witnessed was one of those collective rites of association that are key vertebrae in the backbone of central Italian social life.   Modern, global, traditional, distinctively Italian – ‘whatever’, as they say nowadays – it was the perfect start to the New Year, a celebration that had us all smiling as I gunned the Alpha round the sharp bends that descended back into the city.



Cyber-punk to Enlightenment

This essay was originally written for a conference in New York University about the Enlightenment and the present, but its published version appeared in

Michael Schiach et al (ed.), History-Making, Public History, Historiography: a Festschrift for Eckhart Hellmuth (Munich. 2011).

It seemed perfectly placed as a contribution to the volume for an old friend and collaborator, probably the least pompous German history professor to grace the academy.  His festschrift included a CD recorded by a well-known Munich female punk singer who also happened to have been his graduate student.  Its presentation on a hot and sticky afternoon in the Bavarian capital was a great occasion.

From Cyber-Punk to Enlightenment: Neal Stephenson’s The Baroque Cycle.

My aim in this paper is to look at a variety of interconnected issues about the Enlightenment and its visibility/purchase in the contemporary world, using the case study of Neal Stephenson’s trilogy, The Baroque CycleQuicksilver (2003); The Confusion (2004), and The System of the World (2004). One of my main objects is to show how notions that we associate with the Enlightenment are disseminated not just (perhaps not even predominantly) by works that emanate from the Academy, but through other means. I became aware of Stephenson and his work in part because it was one of the few ways in which my students at CalTech (and most of them, to be honest, were quite clueless when it came to the Enlightenment either as a body of thought or as an historical period) had acquired some historical knowledge.

As we shall see, the manner in which they learned was profoundly unfamiliar to an academic like myself, and was linked to the poetics of Stephenson’s writing which are a peculiar mixture of realism – telling the reader what this was really like – and a sort of picaresque, whose dynamics (and they run at MTV speed) are redolent of computer games and other sorts of digital technology. As we shall also see, Stephenson’s fictional writing, at least in The Baroque Cycle, has a strong didactic streak. Stephenson defines science fiction as “fiction that’s not considered good unless it has interesting ideas in it”.

My paper is split into three parts. The first is a very brief survey of the Baroque Cycle, concentrating on the final volume, The System of the World, and its poetics. The second takes on the larger themes of the work, in particular the questions of the value and abuse of science.   I use this as a way of opening up a discussion about Stephenson’s progression from hip, witty, irreverent writer of cyber-punk fiction to the turn to a more serious contemplation of history, something I connect to his critique of contemporary culture in his famous web-published essay, In the Beginning was the Command Line (

  1. The Baroque Cycle.

It is virtually impossible to summarize the plot of a three-decker novel that extends over 3,000 pages, and I won’t attempt to do so.   In essence this is the fictional version of Roy Porter’s Enlightenment. Britain and the Modern World. Set in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the main plot line, a thread that runs through all three volumes, though there are a huge number of diversions and sub-plots, is the so-called priority dispute between Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibnitz about the development of calculus. The cycle is written in two distinctive registers. It alternates picaresque action sequences of violence, squalor and brutality with long passages of philosophical and scientific exposition, switching its pace from the fast-forward furiousness of an MTV video to the glacial slowness of the academic expositor. Its cast of characters includes many historical figures: not just Newton (here called ‘Ike’), and Leibnitz (thankfully without a diminutive), but also Louis XIV, Peter the Great, a succession of British royals, politicians and military leaders like the Duke of Marlborough, and a bunch of members of London’s Royal Society, including Oldenburg, Wilkins and Robert Hooke. Accompanying them is a range of fictional figures from high and low life. These include Jack Shaftoe, adventurer, king of the vagabonds and counterfeiter, and his lover, the beautiful Eliza, Countess of Zeur, who are the protagonists of the picturesque scenes in the trilogy. But the centre of the narrative is Daniel Waterhouse, a puritan American and founder of the Massachusetts Bay Colony of Technological Arts, a man who combines the sententiousness of Polonius with the qualities of the most boring geek you ever sat next to in a physics class. Like James Boswell a generation later, he has an uncanny knack of turning up at the right place at the right time.   He rooms with Newton at Cambridge, witnesses the execution of Charles I in 1649 and, in the final volume, is named as one of the Regents to oversee the transition from the Stuart to the Hanoverian succession in 1714. His peregrinations hold the story together.

What links low life and the philosophical, Jack Shaftoe and Isaac Newton, is the issue of gold and money, a matter that unites issues of power and science. Stephenson’s fiction links the manipulation of the coinage and the financial system on which it depended to the struggles over regime change in the early eighteenth century.   Here the key figure is ‘Ike’ Newton who was not just Britain’s foremost natural philosopher but an ardent Whig and the Master of the Royal Mint, every bit as concerned to ensure the circulation of a stable currency as he is to explain the laws governing the motion of objects.   It turns out that Ike is an alchemist intent on finding Solomonic Gold, gold “made through an alchemical process, bearing traces of the Philosophick Mercury” (144). According to Stephenson, he takes the post of Master of the Mint because he believes it will help him find the Solomonic gold that he is convinced has survived down the ages.

Newton’s alchemical interests connect the philosophical conflicts and political plot.   Ike’s alchemy, it transpires, is part of his general vision of the laws of nature, one that diverges from that of his great rival Leibnitz.   According to Stephenson, the historic quarrel between Newton and Leibnitz over who first discovered calculus was part of a larger clash over the relationship between the new mechanical philosophy and the vexed questions of human agency and free will.   At the same time Newton’s obsession with Solomonic gold leads him into a protracted struggle with Jack Shaftoe, the king of the vagabonds and counterfeiter who has his hands on the store of more than twenty-four carat gold.

At the story’s end the quarrel between Newton and Leibnitz – Stephenson’s “Philosophick Showdown at Leicester House” – remains unresolved, and Newton is thwarted both of the gold and of revenge on Jack Shaftoe. It is clear, I think, that Stephenson is signaling to the reader that Newton’s preoccupation with alchemy and fool’s gold was an error, a false path he followed, and from which, in the cycle, he is blocked. The Solomonic gold, the source of so much strife, is subject to a different sort of alchemy.   At Daniel Waterhouse’s behest, it is transmuted into metal punched cards for the Logic Mill – a sort of proto-computer – that Daniel and Leibnitz are trying to develop with the (highly intrusive) patronage of Peter the Great of Russia.

Such a bald summary cannot do justice to the many sub-plots, descriptive excursions, allusions and jokes (some funny, some not) that fill Stephenson’s cornucopia of a text. Stephenson describes his work not just as science fiction but as “a historical, swashbuckler, potboiler epic” in the tradition of Alexander Dumas and Charles Dickens,  But many of the scenes, like Leibnitz’s description of Peter the Great partying with his Cossacks, or the account of Jack Shaftoe and the Jacobites stealing the crown jewels in the Tower of London (complete with spectacular rocketry – a personal passion of Stephenson’s), remind me less of Dumas than the eighteenth-century picaresque fictions of Tobias Smollett. And, in another way, they hark back to the extravagances of the virtual world of Hiro Protagonist in Stephenson’s famous cyber-punk novel, Snowcrash (1992).   But these baroque extravaganzas are dwarfed by grand tableaux crammed with historical detail.   Here the tone is altogether different. Stephenson’s historical, topographical and technical knowledge of the Baroque age and of London is truly remarkable. If you want to know the lay-out of Newgate Gaol and the Fleet prison, the nature of coining and counterfeiting, the beauties of the gardens at Herrenhausen, the dynastic politics of Europe, the operations of the Royal Mint or the lay-out of every last nook and cranny of London, then Stephenson’s your man. Some historical novelists complain about too much information, too many facts; Stephenson wallows in them, drowning the reader in a sea of data. There is a remorseless didacticism, a determination to cover everything, to leave no stone unturned.   Stephenson wants to dispense knowledge, not deal in affect.   Most novelists writing about a steam machine might convey to the reader the sorts of feeling it evoked in the viewer – awe, incomprehension, admiration or fear. Stephenson explains how it works.   For the literary reader – for most readers brought up in the humanities – this plethora of information and implacable instruction makes for rebarbitive reading, crying out for a good editor. For most of my students, trained in the sciences, it is precisely this sort of explanatory detail that makes The Baroque Cycle so riveting.

Lurking in these thickets of facts are the big ideas that make The Baroque Cycle a work of science fiction as much as a portrait of an age.   What Stephenson unveils is the emergence of a new “system of the world”, the forces that made it possible, and the ideas and institutions that sustained it. At its heart is the recognition of a new notion of power (whether mechanical, economic, literary or political) set forth by Daniel Waterhouse and his allies.   As Daniel explains, “I am using the word Power in a novel sense… to mean a sort of general ability to effect change, in a measurable way…Everywhere you look you will see opportunities to put Power to use”.   The key point about power is that it is not a fixed quantity but, like the value of a commercial stock, subject to fluctuations. It can be made to grow. As another character remarks, engines – and these include mechanisms like a bank and a stock market as well as steam machines – can create power and value. As knowledge advances so does power. “The amount of Power in the world … is ever-increasing, and the rate of increase grows faster as more of these Engines are built”.   This power depends on number and measurement – whether in the form of money (the measure of all things), number, or serial time. It relies on what Daniel describes as the “bankers, merchants, clock-makers, or Longitude-finders, … Astronomers and Alchemists” that make it work, but above all it needs the philosophers who in the end animate the parts of the system, give it meaning and make it whole.

The Baroque Cycle is both an account of the emergence of a generally apprehended theory of human progress and an extended meditation on how the power of science can be exploited and distorted. It is the way that many of my students (and, to judge by the commercial success of these novels, many others) have learnt about the important epistemological shift we have given the short-hand form, the Enlightenment. As Stephenson himself has remarked, critical analysis of his work and debate about it has not, on the whole, taken place in the review pages of the mainstream press, nor indeed within the literary academy. To find about Stephenson’s work you have to enter an altogether different network, one comprised of web-sites and on-line reviews and journals like Slashdot, Wired, Sfsite, Librarything, and Squidoo, read web interviews (usually conducted by email rather than face to face) or use the site he developed using Metaweb with its detailed information about the Baroque Cycle in order, as he puts it “to seed a bed of knowledge”.

It’s important, I think, to see that what Stephenson portrays is not merely a history of science or an account of the Scientific Revolution. If it is history of science, it is much more akin to science studies rather than a traditional history of science, placing great weight on cultural practices, and making very clear that science cannot and does not work in isolation. At the same time, Stephenson seems to take a position in which the creation of a define realm of deliberative reason, a sort of public sphere, is the only way to ensure that technical knowledge of the world is not abused.

In the Beginning was the Command Line

Quite a number of Stephenson’s science fiction fans have raised the question of why he should have turned to history, and to the history of what to them seems a remote and obscure era.   At one level the answer is obvious: it allows Stephenson to back-project the world of hackers and geeks, to show that what seems irredeemably modern – attitudes towards science, number and computation – has a longer history than we knew. But something more is going on here, an agenda that we can best see outlined, I think, in Stephenson’s brilliant and fascinating essay, first published on the web and subsequently in book form, entitled, “In the Beginning was the Command Line” ( ).

In part Stephenson’s essay is a lucid and technically well-informed account of how the development of graphic user interfaces (GUIs) solved the problem of general access to software operating systems for those, like me, who are not computer literate. It explains how Microsoft won out over Apple in the pc and software markets, but it also poses a number of questions. Drawing an analogy between cars and operating systems, Stephenson asks why so many people buy an ugly, unreliable station wagon (Windows), and a few go for a much smarter sporty model with bells and whistles that you can’t maintain yourself (Apple), when a completely free and far more reliable model (Linux) is available?   The key development was the invention by Apple of the GUI in 1984, rendering strings of code (what Stephenson calls telegrams) into graphic form, creating “a stack of metaphors and abstractions” between the user and telegrams. This had the effect of making operating systems more user-friendly and initiating the personal computer revolution which made Jobs and Gates very rich. And because the operating systems of Microsoft and Apple couldn’t really be run without GUIs, operating systems and GUIs became one and the same in the larger public’s mind. There are of course no files and folders, no desktop and no waste bin – only strings of ones and zeros, but we have become so beguiled with these graphic representations that it only when we suffer ‘snow crash’, when our screen dissolves into a cloud of pixels, that we realize that we have not been dealing with a thing but a graphic representation. Most of us prefer ease of use and access to a bunch of applications (bolted on to the operating system) and perhaps brand image over free access and much greater product flexibility and reliability.

This is a puzzle to Stephenson who, as an accomplished hacker, can use the complex string of code that flows from the command line of Linux, enjoy its flexibility, and who can share in the fixing of faults that is demonstrably swifter thanks to the open participation of Linux users, all of whom share an interest in repairing and improving the operating system.   His explanation for the triumph of GUI operating systems is largely cultural.   Today, he says, we have what he calls an interface culture, one exemplified in his anecdote of watching a visitor to Disney World watching a cam-recorder screen with an image of Main Street USA. “Rather than go see a real small town for free, he had paid money to see a pretend one, and rather than see it with the naked eye he was watching it on television.” Stephenson sees our passive acceptance of GUIs as analogous to our passive infatuation with all sorts of visual simulacra that give us a reassuring illusion rather than a more troubling – though eventually more productive – knowledge and truth. He compares Disney and the GUIs: “Disney and Apple/Microsoft are in the same business: short-circuiting laborious, explicit verbal communication with expensively designed interfaces. Disney is a sort of user interface unto itself – and more than just graphical. Let’s call it a Sensorial Interface. It can be applied to anything in the real world, real or imagined, albeit at staggering expense”. GUIs may have begun with computing, but now they are everywhere – on wristwatches, phones, VCRs, stoves. “So,”, says Stephenson, “the GUI has gone beyond being an interface for personal computers, and become a sort of meta-interface that is pressed into service for every new piece of consumer technology”

Stephenson concedes that part of the explanation for the triumph of the GUI is an issue of complexity: (there are far more John Brewers using computers than Neal Stephensons).   But he also sees this passivity as an intellectual failure or a failure of intellectuals. In the twentieth century he claims intellectuals “screwed everything up and turned the century into an abattoir”   Only the Americans “didn’t get creamed at some point during all this. We are free and prosperous because we have inherited political and values systems fabricated by a particular set of eighteenth-century intellectuals who happened to get it right. But we have lost touch with those intellectuals, and with anything like intellectualism …We seem much more comfortable with propagating those values to future generations non-verbally”.

For Stephenson this fall from grace has two chief components. The first is a retreat from the word. “The word”, he writes, “in the end, is the only system of encoding thoughts – the only medium that is not fungible, that refuses to dissolve in the devouring torrent of electronic media”… they are “the only immutable medium we have which is why they are the vehicle of choice for extremely important concepts like the Ten Commandments, the Koran, and the Bill of Rights”. What this means, he concludes, is that “Unless the messages conveyed by our media are somehow pegged to a fixed, written set of precepts, they can wander all over the place and possibly dump loads of crap into people’s minds”.

Linked to this is Stephenson’s view that the world of virtual simulacra has created what he calls “a global anti-culture” devoid of any specific identity other than a negation of judgment.   “The basic tenet of multi-culturalism … is that people need to stop judging each other – to stop asserting and eventually, to stop believing) that this is right and that is wrong, this is true and that false”. On the one hand this produces a people without culture: “Anyone who grows up watching TV, never sees any religion or philosophy, is raised in an atmosphere of moral relativism, learns about civics from watching bimbo eruptions on network TV news, and attends a university where post-modernists vie to outdo each other in demolishing traditional notions of truth and quality, is going to come out into the world as one pretty feckless human being.” On the other this nihilism, as he sees it, produces “our suspicion of, and hostility towards all authority figures in modern culture” and our belief that they are “hypocritical buffoons” and that “hip jaded coolness is the only way to be”. Thus modern passive aggressiveness.

In its place Stephenson wants to put something like the Linux community whose free exchange of ideas produces optimal solutions which are the result of the active participation of knowledgeable and critically engaged participants. This knowledge is both technical and historical. “Unix … is not so much a product as it is a painstakingly compiled oral history of the hacker subculture. It is our Gilgamesh epic … What made old epics like Gilgamesh so powerful and so long-lived was that they were living bodies of narrative that many persons knew by heart, and told over and over again – making their own personal embellishments whenever it struck their fancy. The bad embellishments were shouted down, the good ones picked up by others, polished, improved and, over time, incorporated into the story”.   Thus a hacker’s utopia, complete with Stephenson’s favorite bit of software, a freeware window manager called “Enlightenment”..

There is a lot to criticize and ponder here: a naïve sense of the stability of words; some Mickey Mouse history of the twentieth century; the over-determined analogy between going to Disney World and using a GUI – the technologies may be the same but the activities radically different; the characterization of American culture as skeptically morally relativist (whatever happened to religious absolutism?); the sense of the historian (and others) that we have heard versions of this jeremiah many times before (De Tocqueville??). And, in the end, Stephenson recognizes that the sort of pure sphere of deliberative reason he posits must always be quite strictly bounded.

But In the Beginning was the Command Line is important for at least two reasons. First, it overtly signals a shift in view of a generation of writers who were the first to be brought up fully saturated in modern visual media.   In passing, Stephenson alludes to the arguments of David Foster Wallace in his 1990 essay, E Unibus Pluram. Television and American fiction. Wallace’s essay is about the bankruptcy of the position of detached irony as a mode of cultural critique in the American novel This is how he puts it: “My two big premises are that, on the one hand, a certain subgenre of pop-conscious postmodern fiction, written mostly by young Americans, has lately arisen and made a real attempt to transfigure a world of and for appearance, mass appeal and television; and that, on the other hand, televisual culture has somehow evolved to a point where it seems invulnerable to any such transfiguring assault. Television, in other words, has become able to capture and neutralize any attempt to change or even protest the attitudes of passive unease and cynicism that television requires of Audience in order to be commercially and psychologically viable at several hours a day”. This is because television (and, by extension, other visual and spectacular media) have learned “the very same cynical postmodern aesthetic that was once the best alternative to the appeal of Low, over-easy mass marketed narrative.”

Foster Wallace’s account is a penetrating analysis of the American novel from Pynchon and Delillo to Mark Leyner’s My Cousin, my Gastroenterologist, but it does not offer any cure for the disease it identifies.   Indeed it betrays a certain lack of imagination about the future. Stephenson, with his propensity to fix things, to make them work, does however seem to have an answer.   The reception of Snow Crash made Stephenson a cult figure of cyberpunk. As he himself put it, “You get to wear leather jackets and mirrored shades and be hip and cool as long as cyberpunk is hip and cool”.   Stephenson was, at least in his public persona, the embodiment of the attitude that both he and Foster Wallace have subsequently criticized as jaded and cynical.   But if for Foster Wallace the question is one of what should the novel do, for Stephenson the issue is a larger one. (he doesn’t seem to have abandoned his leather jacket.)   His persistent concern in his recent fiction, non-fictional writing and interviews, has been with the position of the sciences and their practitioners in the polity at large. This is obvious throughout the Baroque Cycle. In In the Beginning was the Command Line he characterizes contemporary culture as “a two tiered system, like the Morlocks and the Eloi in H.G. Well’s the Time Machine”. In Wells “the Eloi were an effete upper class supported by lots of subterranean Morlocks who kept the technological wheels turning. But in our world its the other way round. . The Morlocks are in the minority, and they are running the show, because they understand how everything works. The much more numerous Eloi learn everything they know from being steeped from birth in electronic media directed and controlled by book-reading Morlocks”.   The latter “who have the energy and intelligence to comprehend details, go out and master complex subjects and produce Disney-like Sensorial Interfaces so that Eloi can get the gist without having to strain their minds or endure boredom”.   A successful culture is one that makes this disequilibrium work, though one has the sense that Stephenson would like to dispense with it altogether. But the historical work of science fiction takes science out of nature and puts it into history, making clear the complex ways that scientific knowledge comes into play and enabling us to see the forces that shape its results.   Stephenson wants a return to a positive, more critically engaged position that makes clear what is at stake with modern technology and its uses. The good scientist cannot be what Stephenson calls a geek or a mere “propeller head”.   He (and the subject usually seems gendered) should understand what is at stake in scientific work – should, in a sense, be an enlightened citizen, so that critical reason can prevent what Stephenson calls “power disorders”.   The shift in his thinking might be characterized as a move from post-modern irony and cool to an affirmation of Enlightenment values and the unfettered exchange of ideas embodied in the Linux open software movement.


Teodoro Monticelli, Vesuvius and Naples

This is an extended version of a paper that I gave to HPS in Cambridge, and to the symposium on Italian Intellectual Networks of the (early) modern period, organized by the Dutch working group for Italian Studies in December 2017.


In the Spring of 1820, the British chemist, Humphry Davy, wrote from Rome to thank his friend, the Abate and Cavalieri, Teodoro Monticelli, for his hospitality during a recent sojourn in Naples, concluding his letter by remarking that ”the things that you have done for me, and the things we did together I will never forget”.     Davy and Monticelli had been working for some months on the slopes of Vesuvius, in “votre grande et belle laboratoire” (Davy Letters, 21/2/16) as Davy put it, and in Monticelli’s house, investigating the properties of the mephitic gases and crystals produced by the volcano.   Davy’s presence in Naples was officially linked to the task, given him by the Prince Regent, of finding a way to unroll the carbonized scrolls from Herculaneum which scholars hoped would reveal unknown works of classical literature.   But he was far happier – and more successful – in exploring the volcano with his friend.


Humphry Davy is hardly unknown in the annuls of science, but few, even among those who study the history of geology or volcanology, will have heard of Teodoro Monticelli.   Yet Monticelli was a powerful figure in his day as well as typical of the many Italian savants, mineralogists and geologists whose work and focus was as much local as international, or perhaps more accurately, who used the international to further local ends. Like many such figures he stood at the intersection of a large body of local knowledge and the greater scientific community, and, like some of his colleagues, he used the promotion of such connections to further a much larger political project, one that looked towards the establishment of constitutional regimes with an educated and enfranchised public, and even towards an entire peninsula united in a single nation. Monticelli belonged to three different but overlapping networks. One connected Italian savants of mineralogy and geology in Sicily, Naples, Rome, the Tuscan cities, and the towns of northern Italy and the Veneto: Milan, Turin, Bologna, Pavia, Padova.   Like-minded, similarly positioned savants were connected through correspondence, exchange of specimens and shared international visitors. Their relations with the travellers was one way in which they were part of a second network that made up a larger scientific community whose centres were, above all, Paris, but also Berlin and London, and which was sustained by correspondence, travel and intellectual and gift exchange. A third, related but rather different in character, consisted of a generation of Italian administrators and functionaries, nurtured first on French revolutionary ideals and then on the views of the French ideologues and Napoleonic functionaries, who were united in a desire for comprehensive reform in which the sciences – not just ‘natural’, but medical, social and political – would achieve a universal salubriousness. Monticelli, I argue, used the prestige acquired as a vital intermediary in the first two networks not only for self advancement (and protection) but to promote the aims of the third network for scientific reform. Vesuvius was vital to this, providing him with the social and cultural capital to pursue his cause.


The volcano and the Bay of Naples gave Monticelli certain advantages.   No site was so spectacular – so sublime – and yet so accessible to the savant and the tourist. In Sicily, the Gemmellaro family presided over Etna, a far more impressive mountain, but it was both more inaccessible and much harder to climb. The savants of the other Italian cities had nothing comparable to offer – no regular eruptions, no vast trove of brilliant crystals and rocks, and (with the exception of Rome) no archaeological remains comparable to those of the buried cities. He was primus inter pares.


But let me begin with Teodoro himself. Teodoro Monticelli was born in 1759, the younger son of minor nobility from Brindisi, who, like many a younger son who did not go into the military, entered the church. In Brindisi, Lecce, Naples and Rome he was educated in philosophy and mathematics, and was taught by the followers of Antonio Genovesi, who held the first chair in Political Economy in Europe, established in Naples in 1754. He became a radical Jacobin and free mason in the 1790s, a member of the Societa patriottica napoletana, linked to the private studio of the defrocked priest, Carlo Lauberg, who taught applied mathematics and chemistry for revolutionary ends. Arrested in 1794, he was then released – it was clear he was an ardent Jacobin, but not that he was an active conspirator – but then re-arrested in 1795, when he was offered a bishopric if he would betray his fellow radicals.   Refusing to do so, he spent the next six years first in the Castel Sant’Elmo high above the city (and in a windowless cell) and then as a prisoner on the remote island of Favignana off the north-west coast of Sicily, where he had been sentenced to ten years of confinement. His incarceration probably saved his life: he was not able to be a part of the brief government of the Neapolitan republic set up by the French in 1799, and radically purged by the Borbons and Horatio Nelson.   Freed in 1801 as part of the amnesty negotiated at the Treaty of Florence, he returned to study and work first in Rome (where he first became interested in geology), and then returned to Naples as Professor of Ethics in 1806. With the (second) French occupation of Naples his fortunes flourished, and in 1807 he was made head of the Collegio del Salvatore and a member of the Ministry of Education. In the following year he became permanent Secretary of the Academy of Sciences, was given the title of Cavaliere, and was appointed to the Internal Commission of general Statistics for the Kingdom, responsible for agriculture.


Monticelli’s early work had been on husbandry – he had written a catechism for small-holding farmers, a treatise on bee-keeping while on Favignana, and an environmental study, Sull’economia delle acque da ristabilirsi nel regno di Napoli [On the restoration/recuperation of the economy of water in the Kingdom of Naples] which some modern scholars see as an early work of Italian environmentalism. As we will see, Monticelli never lost interest in these questions, but from 1808 onwards he published a succession of geological works, including a innovative account of the massive 1822 eruption of Vesuvius, and with a chemist, Nicola Covelli, the Prodromo di Vesuvio, a comprehensive analysis of its rocks and minerals. In these papers he and his colleague measured the fallout of pyroclastic deposits, developed an historical classification of volcanic types, and disagreed with the likes of Humboldt and von Buch over whether volcanoes were the product of processes of elevation rather than eruption. Described by the Duke of Buckingham when in Naples as “the great naturalist here”, and by Alexander von Humboldt as “the learned and zealous observer of the Volcano”, his achievements as a vulcanist were compared by Humphry Davy to those of Horace Benedict de Saussure as a scholar of the Alps. Praise from such savants helped Monticelli establish himself as a key figure in the scholarly and public reception of Vesuvius.


Indeed it may well have been for this reason that Monticelli was able to keep his position, despite the change of regimes. The volcano and his association with it, protected him. The intervention of the Austrians had prevented the Bourbons from purging the Muratist administration to which he belonged in 1815, but after the failure of the 1820 constitutionalist revolt in Naples Monticelli avoided the fate of many of his long-standing friends who were dismissed or forced into exile.   The ardent Jacobin had turned into a pragmatist, willing to accept the Restored dynasty because his positions gave him influence and power.   For the last thirty years of his life he was Secretary both of the Societa Reale Borbonica, and secretary of one of the three academies that made up that body, l’Accademia delle scienze. His offices made him the public face of both institutions, the chief correspondent with other academies, libraries and museums both within the Italian peninsula and in Europe and the Americas.   In 1845, on the last day of the meeting of Italian scientists held at the newly opened Observatory on the slopes of Vesuvius (a project he had ardently promoted but whose inauguration he had been too ill to attend) Monticelli died in his eighty-sixth year.   His funeral in Naples was attended by many of the congress’s participants. Posthumous panegyrics are rarely reliable, but they seem to have agreed on his “serene affability”, and his “aura of modesty”.


Though Monticelli became an assiduous volcanologist, his horizon was bounded by the Kingdom of Naples, and was largely confined to Vesuvius and the Campi Phlegrei.   He never travelled outside the Italian peninsula. (Though he may possibly have visited Davy in London briefly in 1824.) Unlike most of the important geologists of his generation, he never crossed the Mediterranean into Greece, the Holy Land and Egypt, nor did he make it northwards over the Alps to France and Germany. His concerns were local and his observations were not theoretical but resolutely empirical.   As he and Covelli wrote about the eruption of 1822:


We consulted the ancient and modern writers about our volcanoes and the papers of foreign people on the same topics, as well as the most famous authors of Geology and Mineralogy; however having found that geologists are divided into two tendencies, one of which ascribed most external and internal terrestrial phenomena only to waters, and the other one only to fire, we simply tried to study their doctrines, without embracing any one of them; we only intended to give exact reports of things observed by us.


To a certain extent this was a characteristic gesture of many geologists of the 1820s who wished to privilege empirical observation over speculative theory. But it is also probable that Monticelli took this position because his prime concern was less to adjudicate between Neptunists and Plutonists than to ensure that, whatever the larger geological narrative, Vesuvius and the Neapolitan kingdoms would feature within it. For, passionate as Monticelli was about mineralogy, geology and volcanism, his first commitment was to realizing a particular vision of Naples.


Monticelli was determined to insert Vesuvius (both materially and intellectually) into the international geological narrative, because he saw international interest in the volcano as a means to promote Naples as part of a modern, scientific world.   He wanted this perception to be both local and international.   This involved several interconnected stratagems: acting as a fixer between the volcano, the local scientific community and foreign visitors to Naples; bringing Vesuvius to the attention of a local and international public through the display of collections, accounts of Vesuvius’s activity, and the international circulation of specimens; and finally, protecting and ensuring the status of Vesuvius as a scientific object in the face of criticism and hostility from the local Church and other conservative forces.


Let’s look at Monticelli’s strategems.   Almost every important geologist and major public figure who came to Naples between 1808 and 1840 met Monticelli, who frequently accompanied them on an ascent of Vesuvius.   His surviving correspondence is littered with letters of introduction from geologists like Alexander von Humboldt and Humphry Davy recommending savants from Britain, Germany, France, Scandinavia and the New World.   In his dealings with this international clientele, Monticelli was a master of the small significant gesture: at Christmas 1814 he entertained Sir William Gell, who became the greatest English-language expert on Pompeii, at his country house at Bosco Tre Case on the southern slopes of Vesuvius, and took the Englishman on his very first visit to the ruins; he helped Davy on his first visit to Vesuvius in 1814-15, sent him compounds to Rome for his experiments en route to Naples in 1819, and managed all his affairs during the eruption of 1819-20; when an ill-equipped Humboldt arrived in Naples in 1822, from a diplomatic mission in Verona, Monticelli lent him instruments and log tables to pursue his work. When Charles Lyell arrived in 1828, two years before the publication of his path-breaking Principles of Geology he was unable to observe all of Vesuvius, because of its eruptive state – Monticelli provided him with drawings of the parts of the volcano he could not see. He made travel arrangements for William Buckland and his wife in 1826, and made a life-long friend of the Danish archaeologist, Charles Jurgensen-Thomsen, by providing him with accommodation during his visit to Naples in the 1820s.[1]


This was typical. Monticelli helped not just geologists, but scientists of every stripe, agronomists, botanists, physicists and chemists, doctors and philosophers, cartographers and geographers, mathematicians and statisticians, and the many amateurs and polymaths who were typical of the scientific culture of the period.  When the Duke of Buckingham, an ardent amateur geologist, arrived in Naples in the spring of 1828, Monticelli offered the services of his secretary as a guide to the volcanic islands that the Duke was eager to visit in his custom-built (and unpaid for) yacht. Buckingham was delighted with Emmanuele Donati’s services – Donati found and identified specimens, supervised an archaeological dig, and, whether on Capri or in Corsica, worked tirelessly on the Duke’s behalf. When the two men parted in Genoa Buckingham gave Donati ten pounds for travel expenses and a gold snuff box, and arranged to pay him fifty pounds. “He is sorry to go”, the Duke wrote, “and I am equally sorry to lose him, as he has been a very active, quiet, unassuming companion, and has been of great use to me.”   But, as we shall see, there was more to Donati than met the Duke’s eye.


Monticelli also drew visitors into the scholarly life of Naples. He persuaded Charles Babbage, in Italy to recuperate from the loss of his father, wife and son, to sit on a commission – to which the Catalan geologist, Carlos de Gimbernat also contributed – into the curative powers of the waters of Ischia. He had the chemist and botanist, Charles Daubeny, author or A Description of Active and Extinct Volcanoes (1826), speak about his researches to the Royal Academy of Science.   He even persuaded a rather nervous Christian, Crown Prince of Denmark, an amateur obsessed with geology, to present his findings about Vesuvius to a special session of the Academy. Brokering such events gave the academy greater kudos in the eyes of the court, even as it enhanced its reputation among the foreign visitors and dignitaries who were drawn into its affairs.


A central feature of Monticelli’s hospitality was a visit to his collection of Vesuvian lavas and minerals.   On 25 January 1820, for example, Christian, Crown Prince of Denmark, visited Monticelli’s collection with Humphry Davy, describing it as “unique” for “objets volcaniques”; he was also struck by its collection of fossils from Northern Europe which he thought much richer than was usually found in Italy.   Originally housed in Monticelli’s home, the Museum moved to the Palazzo Penne in the centre of Naples in 1825, and at his death contained 6600 specimens from Vesuvius and a further 1400 minerals from other volcanoes in the Azores, Sardinia and Iceland.   This was an entirely separate collection from the royal cabinet of minerals, which had its own curator. Like many others, Christian was fascinated by the collection, which included many volcanic substances that he could not recognize or name. As was often the case, this visit prompted a request that Monticelli put together a collection of “the most interesting specimens” for the visitor.   As the Duke of Buckingham, another passionate aristocratic collector, commented, “the collection of Vesuvian minerals is immense and beautiful, and supplies all of Europe”.


So one way to ensure Vesuvius’s place in the grand narrative of geology was through a process of dispersal: to distribute samples of the volcano to schools, cabinets, academies, universities and laboratories. Monticelli was big in the rock business.   Visitors to his collection were given samples, but Monticelli, either for a fee or as part of a system of gift exchange, also distributed larger collections of minerals all over the world. Quite often he was solicited for samples, often in return for election to an academy or in response to a gift of samples from other geological sites.   Thus Charles Frederic Bachmann, the Director of the Jena Mineralogy Society, accompanied news that they had awarded Monticelli with a diploma with a request for specimens of Vesuvian rocks.   Monticelli received minerals from Northern Europe: Copenhagen, Stockholm, Norway, southern England, the lower Rhine, Bohemia and Geneva. From the Mediterranean: Marseilles, Trieste, Udine, Catania, and Malta, and from the new world: Mexico, and Baltimore; he supplied minerals not just to London, Paris and Copenhagen, but to Jena, Dresden, Marseilles, Turin, Philadelphia, Middlebury Vermont, Washington and Rio de Janeiro, as well as to several Italian museums and collections.


The circulation of these material objects worked through a network of exchange and information (letters, offprints and books) that included more than one hundred and fifty correspondents in Germany (Berlin, Jena, Gottingen, Freiburg, Dresden, Heidelberg and Bonn), London (the British Museum, the Royal Society and the Geological Society), Paris (the Academie des Sciences, the Ecoles des Mines, Musee d’histoire naturelle, and the Institut Historique), Scandinavia (Copenhagen, Helsingfors, Uppsala, Stockholm), Russia (St.Petersburg), as well as in the New World in Vermont, New York, Washington (the National Institute for the Promotion of Science), Buenos Aires, Rio di Janeiro, and Mexico City.


Some of these transactions were at the behest of rulers, diplomats and government officials, others were often facilitated by diplomatic staff who arranged to shepherd valuable specimens through ports and customs. Some were simple commercial transactions with mineral and rock dealers in London, Freiberg, Gottingen, Heidelberg and Vienna. But most of Monticelli’s transactions were either with Academies and Museums, or, on a much smaller scale, with private individuals, often in response to gifts – as small as a single rock – or to direct requests for a few specimens. Many grew out of contacts first made in Naples.


The entire range of such exchanges, small and large, personal and official, can be followed in the on-going development of the relationship between Humphry Davy and Monticelli.   In February 1816 Davy sent some Cornish minerals to the Abate because, as he wrote to his mother, when he had been in Naples, Monticelli had been “excessively civil” to me and “gave me a very fine collection of minerals from Vesuvius”. Three years later, when Davy returned to Naples, Monticelli gave him “a list of substances wanting for his collection”, and Davy wrote to Faraday in London asking him to arrange a reciprocal gift, which he would pay for. Monticelli had already put together another “magnificent collection” for Davy, which the Cornishman asked the Abate “to send to the Royal Institution”, suggesting that if they had any duplicates that were on Monticelli’s wish list they should give them in exchange. Back in London in the autumn of 1820, and newly appointed at the President of the Royal Society, Davy received from Naples two cases of minerals, samples of sea salt, and several bottles of wine.   Davy, on his part, told Monticelli that he was waiting for a means of safe passage before sending him a number of precious stones from Ceylon, which were later brought to Naples by William Hamilton, the British envoy.


The scale of these exchanges changed radically in June 1821 when Davy first proposed that the British Museum buy Monticelli’s entire Vesuvian collection. As he made clear from the outset, they were only interested in his volcanic specimens, not in his collection as a whole. By the following spring Davy had Treasury approval to pay £500 for the collection – he had consulted Henry Fitton Secretary of the Geological Society and Lord Compton on the fairness of the price – and designated Compton, who was then resident in Rome, to ensure that the right rocks reached London. (Back in the summer of 1819 Compton, then in England, had received a shipment of minerals from Monticelli, and had reciprocated with a gift of British specimens.)   After some negotiation – Monticelli persuaded the British government to pay for the packing and shipping – the deal went through, and the collection arrived in London some time in 1823.


It is not clear how much of Monticelli’s collection was acquired by the British Museum, but the sale must have left a gaping hole. Why did he sell such a large part of it and why, indeed, did Davy broker the transaction? Monticelli’s collection was his private property, not the possession of one of the academies or of the crown. He had been complaining bitterly a few years earlier about how costly his Vesuvian ventures had become. Writing to Paolo D’Ambrosio, the Neapolitan envoy in Copenhagen, he complained that he had “lavas, tuffs, pumices, volcanic glasses, scoriae and sublimations” that would have filled a dozen cabinets but “I have no room to house them and no money to make them [the cabinets] each costs at least 16 ducats. I have become poor from frequent expenses…It is cheering for me, the admiration shown by the crowd of foreigners who come to visit it. But …[I] keep on living philosophically and with every kind of hardship”. However justified – and there was certainly an element of special pleading in Monticelli’s comments – we don’t know if Davy was conscious of Monticelli’s financial plight or was interested in helping him, or perhaps even taking advantage of his circumstances. In their correspondence the two men only spoke of the contribution to science the purchase would make.   But Davy was very direct with his Italian friend: he made clear that if he wanted more than £500, the deal would fall through. In their correspondence there was a significant shift – Davy began writing in Italian, shifted to French (in which he was more comfortable) and ended up describing the final deal in English. Whatever the case there seem to have been significant benefits for the Abate. The detailed list of materials, probably drawn up and certainly in the hand of his colleague, Nicola Covelli, served as the basis for the Prodromo di Vesuvio that they jointly authored and was published in 1825, while Monticelli himself was now well enough off to buy the substantial Palazzo Penne in the centre of Naples and to use it to exhibit his remaining collections which, it is claimed, eventually numbered some 16,800 minerals, fossils and rocks. (where? Lower figure earlier)


Davy and Monticelli continued to correspond after the sale of 1823 – exchanging gifts of food, writings and a few specimens – but they never met again. Davy was preoccupied with Royal Society business and then was hampered by ill health. He wrote frequently to Monticelli in 1827-8 when he was recuperating in Rome, promising that they would renew their researches on Vesuvius together. But this, as Davy knew, was wishful thinking; he was too ill for such strenuous activity. The last surviving letter he wrote to the Abate was in February 1828 from Terracina, half way between Rome and Naples. He never made it further south, and died the following May.


The transactions between Monticelli and Davy reveal the complex interplay of self-advancement and camaraderie, vanity and idealism, cooperation, collective endeavor and ambition, that informed dealings among the savants fascinated by the minerals, rocks and fossils that promised to reveal the secrets of the earth. While royalty, grand aristocracy and public figures of renown seem almost to have demanded Monticelli’s help (and specimens) as of right – in much the manner that Alexander von Humboldt did in 1822 – and though there was certainly a thriving market for geological specimens of all sorts, most of the scientists he dealt with engaged in a polite game of give and take that was a way of nurturing relationships that were (at least ostensibly) of mutual benefit.


Monticelli was an exceptionally amenable and hospitable colleague, who went out of his way to help the many foreign visitors who came through Italy in pursuit of learning, aiding, as we have seen, not just geologists and mineralogists, but those interested in archeology and antiquity, agriculture and economics, literature and art. In this respect he was little different from the many savants and friends within Italy who acted as hosts to an itinerant army of international savants. Stefano Borson in Turin, Fillipo Nesti (1807-) in Florence, Luigi Canali (1759-1841) in Perugia, Marco Antonio Fabroni (18 ) in Arezzo, Paolo Salvi (1798-1871) in Pisa, Carlo Giuseppe Gismondi (1769-1824) in Rome, Carlo and Mario Gemmellaro in Catania and Franceso Ferrara (1767-1850) first in Catania and then in Palermo – all of them shared many of the qualities and characteristics of Monticelli. Most of them combined a university professorship with the custody and nurturing of local natural history collections. Borson became professor of the Sardinian mining school at Moutier after teaching mineralogy at the University of Turin. His massive catalogue of the Turin collections, almost entirely his own work, included 9866 specimens: 6027 minerals, 1486 rocks, 748 marbles and pietre dure, and 1605 fossils.   Nesti taught in Florence and curated the zoological and mineralogical collections in the Museo di fisica e storia natural in Florence, which he proudly showed Cuvier when the latter visited in 1809. Similarly, Paolo Salvi was professor of Geology, Canali Professor of Physics and Chemistry and Gismondi Professor of mineralogy; all three presided over important local collections. Gismondi oversaw two.   Nearly all of these savants were polymaths: Canali in Perugia collected meteorological observations and built an observatory; Gemmellaro was a literary figure and an expert on coins and archaeology; Ferrara was a professor of physics, who wrote extensively about archaeology, history, natural history and antiquities.


That said, the ambit of their researches and publications was confined to their localities.   Gismondi was a figure of enormous stature but only ever published a single article, on the subject of minerals in the vicinity of Rome; Borson travelled extensively in France, but limited his publications to studies of Piedmont. Even a well-travelled savant, like Gemmellaro, who served as a surgeon in the British army and navy and who attended Humphry Davy’s lectures on geology at the Royal Institution in London, focused his attentions on Sicily and Catania. As Pietro Corsi has pointed out, the object of such studies was to feed local information – observations and collections – into some of the larger scientific issues, while retaining a strong sense of place. Many of these scholars used local informants to collect materials.   Just as Monticelli regularly employed two men to collect crystals from Vesuvius, the Florentine Fillipo Nesti, trained contadini in the Valdarno to recognize and conserve fossil finds.


In the manner of Monticelli, these local savants were endlessly hospitable and helpful to visitors. When the Duke of Buckingham stayed in Gemmellaro’s house outside Catania during his visit to Etna, he recalled that “my bed he insisted on putting up in his own library, which he made mine during my stay”.   (The Sicilian was rightly proud of his extensive book collection and probably wished to show it off.)   Buckingham was suitably impressed, praising his host as “a good mineralogist and mathematician, … acquainted with many of the scientific men in Europe, and with the best philosophical instruments in use.”   In return for Gemmellaro’s hospitality Buckingham gave him “a mineralogical case, with instruments, telescope, thermometer, compass, &c, put up in it”, concluding that “And thus we parted with this amiable and scientific man, who, having made the natural history of the mountain his study, makes his knowledge available by the most splendid hospitality to strangers.”


We should not be too panglossian about these relationships.   Buckingham was often critical of the collections he visited and the savants he talked to. After dining with Professor Borelli a mineralogist at the University of Turin who worked closely with Borson, Buckingham expostulated, “It is extraordinary how ignorant these philosophers are of everything out of the immediate range of their pursuits. Many of the most interesting localities Borelli did not even know by name.”   Similarly he was dissatisfied with the mineral collection “arranged after the system of Brogniart, by Mr Borson”, complaining that “Its collection of volcanic materials is paltry, and not separated from the rest.” (Borson promptly after Buckingham’s departure wrote to Monticelli, asking him for specimens from Vesuvius.) At Naples Buckingham’s complaints also focused on the local nature of the collections. After praising Monticelli’s Vesuvian collection, he grumbled that “His general collection is meager and bad.” Local strength was parsed by Buckingham as a general weakness.


Conversely, the Italian savants, though they desperately wanted foreign visitors to draw on their local expertise, often felt a certain superiority towards them, because their guests were bound to be less knowledgeable of local conditions. In Catania Gemmellaro used his local knowledge to jealously guard his intellectual independence.   In the 1820s a number of Neapolitan intellectuals mounted a campaign to dispel what they saw as the often superficial and frequently misinformed foreign misapprehensions about both the volcano and the kingdom that surrounded it. Someone like Leopoldo Pilla, a protégé of Monticelli’s (though they were to fall out later), who became professor of geology at Pisa, and who died on the battlefield fighting for the revolution in 1848, started a series of publications, Le Spectatore del Vesuvio, designed to reveal the scientific value of Vesuvius to foreigners, whose visits, he argued, were too brief, too superficial, and too dependent on other accounts to be properly informed.  He was particularly disparaging of the very successful guide written by Canadian geologist and alpinist John Auldjo, the Sketches of Vesuvius, published in Naples and London in both English and French. In 1827 Gabriele Quattromani produced the Itinerario delle due Sicilie (also published in a French edition), as the first “Mappa Statistica” of the Two kingdoms with the overt object of rebutting most foreign accounts which he dismissed as “romanzi” (novels.) Much of the data the Itinerario contained came from reports of commissions on the Neapolitan infrastructure to which Monticelli had contributed.   This concern with the outsider’s point of view was persistent: the argument for the publication of Monticelli’s various papers into two volumes of collected works in 1844? was that it would increase their visibility among foreigners.


This was all the more important after 1815 because of the delicate position that science and new knowledge occupied in the world of Restoration absolutism.   Under the French, Neapolitan savants like Monticelli had assumed positions of power, quite often taken administrative office and promoted legal and educational reform (though with mixed success). His close friend, Francesco Ricciardi, count of Camaldoli, had been Minister of Justice, another, Melchiorre Delfico, had, like many other Neapolitans, served as a regional intendent in the newly constructed government of the provinces. The revival of the Royal Academies, including that of science, the establishment of new chairs in the University, the foundation of the Academia Pontaniana, a body of the great and the good, and the promotion of the Istituto d’Incoraggiamento, which had as its explicit purpose the application of the sciences of mathematics, physics, chemistry, and economics to government administration and to the economy, especially agriculture: all this helped shape a reformist agenda that drew in Neapolitans, even when they were unhappy about French interference, and about the terrible economic burden placed on the Kingdom by its obligations to pay for French armies. These institutions also helped shape an elite in the French manner, a body of administrators, technocrats and scientists, of which Monticelli was an important member. In particular there was a large overlap between the membership of the Academy of Sciences, the Academia Pontaniana, and the Istituto d’Incoraggiamento. Monticelli, Cuoco, Delfico were members of all three.


But this positive, reformist environment and its proponents, though it survived the Restoration, came under suspicion from the Crown and the Church. Neapolitan monarchs, like their counterparts elsewhere in Europe, were eager to win the international prestige that came with the support and development of science and technological innovation. Certainly, the Bourbons were not hostile to new technologies.   Naples, after all, had the first steamship service and the first railway in Italy. (It also had some state of the art panopticon prisons). But the rulers wanted, like the panopticon, to exercise surveillance and control; they were terrified of unleashing the forces of reform and of liberalism, especially those that might produce political change.   This was one reason (though clearly not the only one) why Monticelli and his colleagues were so eager for international recognition and involvement; it bolstered the argument that ‘science’ helped promote Naples and the prestige of its rulers. The list of visitors to Vesuvius touted by Monticelli included savants of the calibre of Humboldt, Buch, Davy and Lyell, but he also often enumerated the large number of Kings and Queens, Princes and Princesses who made the pilgrimage up the mountain. From all points of view the Crown Prince of Denmark was the ideal visitor – unalloyed royalty but also a passionate enthusiast for the new science of geology.


Looking outward was a way of looking in.   This is very clear in Monticelli and Covelli’s Prodromo della Mineralogia vesuviana published in 1825. Its dedication to the king, written in the deferential not to say fawning language of such prefaces, praises the monarch’s achievements as a patron of the arts and science. Surveying all the scholarly and scientific institutions in Naples – its academies, cabinets of minerals, physics, chemistry, zoology and pathology – it attributes their success to royal munificence. At the same time it underscores their importance to German, French and English visitors, and uses them to advocate the teaching of the useful sciences, promoted through observation and experiment.


There was, of course, a deep ambiguity in claiming that scientific investigation, including that of Naples’s greatest foreign attraction, Vesuvius, enhanced the prestige and cache of the nation, an equivocation neatly concealed in the term ‘nation’.   Did such a term refer – as any autocratic ruler, however enlightened, would assume – to the dominion of the Prince, or, as many, like Monticelli, fervently believed – to the body of people. It was possible, indeed, in the context of Restoration Naples, desirable to fudge the issue of who was the beneficiary of science.


Monticelli was in a good place to do so. As Secretary of the Societa Reale Borbonica, Secretary of the Academy of Science, one of the founding members of the Academia Portanana, and as a member of government bodies investigating education, steam navigation, Bridges and Roads, waterways, forestry and hunting, he was very much the royal functionary. But in his writings what emerges is a larger vision of science and learning that harks back to his Jacobin and French roots. What one sees is not a kingdom, but an environment, both natural and human, of great potential and abundance (a trope about Naples that goes back to Pliny), whose failures are attributable to a misuse of resources. Wasteland, swamps and marshland, deforestation and erosion: all were obstacles to farming and cultivation, as well as hazards to the health of livestock and human inhabitants.   Monticelli was obsessed with what is best called ‘good husbandry’, promoting schemes to drain marshland, reclaim wastes and to canalize and control water flow, and set up tanks and other means of water conservation.   What was important was not maximizing profit or making short-term gain so much as securing the long-term well being of the rural community, making nature yield its bounty. Medical science and the investigation of public hygiene were crucial to this process; environmental degradation went hand in hand with endemic diseases, most notably malaria. Part of the reform process involved opening up access to resources, hence concern with the development of a better infrastructure of roads, waterways and bridges – but also the breaking up of monopolies, always a problem in a society that remained quasi-feudal and corporatist.


Such analyses were not couched as criticisms of authority – indeed, in one sense, they emanated from authority itself – nor could they afford to excite the attentions of the censor. And their ability to secure change, much less reform, was seriously limited. When Monticelli republished his Sull’economia delle acque da ristabilirsi nel regno di Napoli in 1821 (just as the new constitutional government had created a free press), he complained bitterly that its first edition of 1809, under the Muratist regime, had been largely ignored. As John Davis points out, the parlous state of Neapolitan finances and the intractable problems posed by the intervention of central powers in local power struggles, made it exceptionally difficult to implement reform, even when the regime was willing.


For most reformers the greatest political stumbling block came in the realm of human capital rather than natural resources.   Figures like Monticelli viewed education as the means by which human resources could best be mobilized.   Instruction was to dispel ignorance, create skills, eliminate poverty and enhance wealth. As the report of the commission on reorganizing public education, penned by Vincenzo Cuoco eloquently put it:

“Only education will enable us to retain our ancient greatness and       ancient glory. Nature has bestowed on us all the capital we need. We        do not lack for industries, but we do lack the knowledge to develop    them; yet this, too, education can provide.”…The purpose of       educating the masses is to make possible communication between the          many and the few.”

Hence the reformers’ fascination with education methods, especially those of the Swiss educator, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, with his commitment to accessible and universal education, and with the Bell and Lancaster systems of schooling which, by training pupils to teach their peers, promised to reduce the cost of education and make it more accessible to the poor. Monticelli was particularly interested in Pestalozzi and sent collections of Vesuvian minerals to Pestalozzi schools. (others elsewhere….)


Science was one thing, but education was another, especially after the failed constitutional revolution of 1820. Moderate as were the changes introduced in 1820 – freedom of speech and of the press, and the creation of a freely elected legislature – they produced the fierce backlash that had been avoided in 1815. The biggest changes after 1821 came in the army, but the educated classes were also badly hit. They had, after all, provided many of the seventy-two mainland delegates to the legislature: eight were professors of ‘science’ and nine were doctors.   Public employees and teachers were purged, students at the University of Naples were rusticated. The Catholic church’s powers over education were enhanced; censorship returned; a Junto for public education was established.   The Minister of Police railed that “the fanaticism of innovation was spread by books. These were the source of the poison that was present in the guise of reform, regeneration, progress and freedom. It was in this way that the spirit of revolution brought desolation to our people, undid morality and destroyed religion.”


Monticelli was closely allied to and personal friends with many members of the regime of 1820-1, but he survived. The next ten years of his career were unquestionably the most active. He moved to the Palazzo Penne, entertained many foreign visitors, became rector of the university, and, after the accession of Francis in 1825, was extremely active on governmental commissions. He seems to have played a double game. It is the nature of such things that they are hard to prove, but there are telling signs – all Vesuvian – that even as he ingratiated himself with the court, he remained, at the very least a sympathizer and fellow traveller with the constitutional reformers.


Monticelli used the fruits of Vesuvius – some of its most beautiful gems and crystals – as gifts to gain favour at court. Working through Caterina de Simone, the Queen’s lady in waiting, who was notorious for taking bribes and gifts from clerics and civil servants, he gave the Spanish wife of Francis I, Maria Isabella, several gifts of gems, including a collection of jewel studs; he was even invited to a royal audience to offer his opinion on a gem stone necklace she had acquired. Monticelli was not a rich man, and he would never have been able to afford the sort of gems that he gave the royal consort, but, because of the identification of the kingdom with the volcano, he could present the products of Vesuvius as a patriotic act, one in which the Spanish born princess could share by the public display of the gems.


Yet even as he was ingratiating himself with a royal consort who was terrified of carbonari, he was sending his secretary, Emmanuele Donati, with the Duke of Buckingham on a tour of the Mediterranean. Donati, who, as we have seen, was greatly admired as a geologist by the Duke of Buckingham, was also a carbonaro. He was arrested on his return to Naples, accused of making contact with fellow radicals on his journey, and suspected of involvement in the Cilento insurrection of June 1828, a rising of a number of carbonari factions in the mountains south of Salerno. (As a rather shocked Duke of Buckingham was to discover, and as Monticelli knew to his own cost, almost every inhabited volcanic island in the Mediterranean was not just a vulcanologist’s paradise, but a secure site where political prisoners were exiled and incarcerated.) How involved Donati was with the plot is unclear, though he did meet with a group of carbonari in Malta who the government believed to be behind the rising. At all events, Donati was forced into exile, and ended up living in lodgings in London’s Tottenham Court Road. It had been the value of his technical knowledge about volcanoes that had enabled him to embark on a journey that proved his political undoing.


As in his secretary’s case, for Monticelli Vesuvius, geology and politics were intertwined. One of the Vesuvian objects he included in the collection that he sold via Humphry Davy to the British Museum was a piece of dark grey trachyte lava that has been pressed into a mold to create an impression that reads, “Alliance of Thunder and Liberty Sealed with the burning lava of Vesuvius. March 1820 by C. Gimbernat”.   This was not just a transformation of nature into culture, but of nature into politics. Gimbernat was a Catalan geologist, a liberal whose father had been fired on political grounds from the medical school he founded in Madrid, and who had worked with Monticelli and Davy on the slopes of Vesuvius in 1819-1820. His lava medal celebrates the acceptance by Ferdinand VII of Spain of the liberal Spanish Constitution of 1812 in March 1820, an event that helped precipitate the constitutional revolution in Naples in July of that year, a revolution that also adopted the Spanish constitution.   Gimbernat may have learned how to make such medals from the Duca de la Torre who had made a number of such medals in the 1790s and who was also on Vesuvius during the eruption of 1819-20. Such lava medals were to become common in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries – two from the 1930s celebrate Mussolini and Hitler – and many, as in these examples, carried a political message. Gimbernat, in fact, made a series of medals, a collection of which now survives in the Museum of Natural Sciences in Barcelona, most of which celebrate the revolutions of the 1820s.


The care with which Monticelli’s collection for the British Museum was assembled, along with its detailed inventory, leaves no doubt that the inclusion of this political slogan was deliberate not accidental. Nor was its inclusion without risks. After 1821 the possession of any item that seemed to embody or express sentiments and ideas associated with the Carbonari was punishable by a mandatory ten years of exile. A part of Vesuvius served, once again, to send a political message.

[1] M becomes a member of the Society of the Antiquaries of the North in Copenhagen in 1844.

“Re-thinking Tourism: visitors to nineteenth-century Naples and the consumption of feeling”

“Re-thinking Tourism: visitors to nineteenth-century Naples and the consumption of feeling” in Shinobu Majima and Toshio Kusamitsu (eds.), The Genealogy of Curiosity and Material Desire (NTT, Tokyo, Japan, 2014). Original publication in Japanese.


The Houghton Library at Harvard University contains one of the most unusual surviving sources for nineteenth tourism, the visitors’ book for the Neapolitan volcano, Mount Vesuvius, for the years 1826-1828 (Mss. Ital.139).   The only extant volume in what were a whole series of visitors’ books, its 150 odd folios list the names, comments and criticisms in four main languages – English, Italian, French and German – of visitors to the Hermitage, a small dwelling, where travelers rested, ate and sometimes slept before embarking on the final hour or so journey on foot up the volcano.   The book is a difficult and incomplete source marred by a variety of terrible hands, blotted and crossed out comments and by excisions and page removals. It is by no means a full inventory of those who climbed the volcano – we know of many instances when visitors failed to sign the book – but it is the most precise and the most revealing evidence I know of ‘tourism’ in nineteenth-century Italy.


The book enables us to reconstruct both a profile of the visitors and a picture of their attitudes and views. Between mid-December 1826 and the end of October 1828, I have identified a total of 2072 visitors to the volcano. About half were British; 20 percent were women, and there were always a good number of children, especially among the French. If we exclude the months of July and August, when there were almost no visitors to Vesuvius because of the summer heat, then over one hundred and ten visitors a month climbed the volcano.   There was a high season – during September and October for the Italians and during the winter months up to Easter for everyone else – and the number of visitors shot up when an eruption began, as in March 1828, when one hundred and thirty five people climbed the mountain in the course of three days. (21-23 March).   This is hardly mass tourism, but it cannot have entailed the pleasures of solitude.



The Visitors’ Book reveals a remarkably heterogeneous band of visitors, many of whom identified themselves by their city or canton of origin. (The British were exceptions who, when they did identify themselves, tended to record either their military rank or their Oxford and Cambridge college; when an Englishman indicated a town, it was a sure sign that he ranked below a gentleman.)   There were visitors from St Petersburg, from towns in the Ukraine, Greece, Poland, Belgium and the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark; Frenchmen came from Paris, Lyon, Bordeaux, Lille and Rouen. Germans, some of them tourists, others military men, came from as far north as Hamburg, but also from Berlin, Mainz, Leipzig, Frankfurt, Augsburg, Karlsruhr, Koln, Hanover, Stuttgart, and the university town of Gottingen.   North Americans included visitors from New York, New England, Boston, Philadelphia. Baltimore and Hartford, Connecticut.

Heading the visitors was a cross-section of the European aristocracy and gentry. British toffs included the Duke of Buckingham, Lord Carnarvon, Lord and Lady Howard of Effingham, Lord and Lady Bentinck (a family with a special interest in Naples), Italian aristocrats included such illustrious figures as Prince Caracciolo and the Duc de Serra from Naples and Comte de Concina from Rome. First among the Polish, Ukrainian and Russians was the Princess Obolenski, who climbed Vesuvius on February 13, 1827 with a guide and two of her daughters. Other aristocratic visitors came from France, Portugal, Spain, Germany and Austria

British admirals, Neapolitan generals, together with Austrian, Swiss, and German officers of every stripe were numerous.  Otherwise, a great many visitors belonged to the professions. Not surprisingly there were artists (from Paris, London, Germany and Piedmont), architects (from Poland, Germany, France and Greece), and mineralogists (from Britain, Germany and Italy).   But there were also doctors (from Russia, Germany and France), British clerics and continental priests, language teachers and guides, engineers (both civil and military) and a party of Italian professors of “lettore”.

It is rather more difficult to trace members of the merchant and business classes, as they were more inclined to identify themselves by their city than their calling.   But there were traders and shopkeepers from Liverpool, Hull and Glasgow, and Milan, two British tradesmen from Genoa, as well as an entire group of Italian Jewish merchants who went up the volcano together. Finally, there were the parties of diplomatic representatives from Britain, France and Piedmont.

What drew this steady stream of visitors to the volcano?   It might seem self-evident that the natural spectacle of a simmering volcano would be an obvious object of attraction, but it is important to note that this was not the case before the late eighteenth century. Though the volcano was visited by some grand tourists and by savants interested in it as an object of intellectual inquiry, it was only late in the century that visitors came to the volcano in any numbers and continued to do so into the nineteenth century.   Part of the explanation lies in the activity of the volcano itself: as this diagram shows, for much of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries Vesuvius was in a more or less constant state of low level eruption, making it both spectacular but relatively safe. . The experience in 1820 of the Irish novelist and travel-writer, Lady Morgan, was typical. “The mountain”, she wrote, “though it never raged with that fury which adds alarm to admiration, was sufficiently active to excite an incessant interest”

But equally important in explaining the attractions of the volcano were changes both in the composition of travelers to Italy and in the aims and objects of such journeys, a shift from the pursuit of the classics by young men, to the pursuit of replenishment and self-knowledge by people of both sexes and all ages.

The classic grand tour of the eighteenth century was just that – classical. The Grand Tour, like most travels, was highly scripted, and the script that was followed was that of classical literature, its poets, historians and naturalists. The landscape, the environment, statuary and antiquity were there as the means of both recognizing textual allusion and of better understanding works of classical literature, which in turn, were the means to best understand the values of the ancients.   As Lord Chesterfield put it in one of the famous letters to his son: “View the most curious remains of antiquity with a classical spirit, and they will clear up to you many passages of the classical authors”.   The travelers pocket guide book was the classical text of Cicero, Virgil, Tacitus or the Roman poets.   The Irish clergyman, Martin Sherlock, on his tour of 1778-9, wrote that his greatest pleasure was to have “his Horace in one pocket, and his Virgil in the other, and to look at a thousand objects which have been painted by these masters”. Contemporary Italy was of little interest – except logistically – and was often treated with contempt. Thomas Pelham wrote in 1777 that “Italy would be a delightful country if there were not so many Italians”.

This is Italy as classical pastiche. Thus Joseph Addison, in his account of Naples and Vesuvius in his much used Remarks on Several Parts of Italy in the years 1701, 1702, 1703 stitches together a palimpsest of texts: Horace, Virgil, Statius’s Silvae on villas, Ovid, Martial; his most modern literary allusion is to the late fifteenth-century Neapolitan poet Sannagarius.   Admiring the Bay of Naples provoked thoughts of Horace; contemplating and climbing Vesuvius (not a high priority for the classical tourist) was chiefly interesting because its eruption of AD 79 had killed the elder Pliny, the author of the great classical natural History.   Most visitors to Campania were more interested in the area to the west of Naples, the Phlegraean Fields, whose volcanic landscape was far richer with allusion to classical literature: it was purportedly where Hercules fought against a band of local giants; and where, according to Virgil (whose tomb was nearby), Aeneas encountered the Cumaen Sybil and gained passage to the underworld.   Addison’s account was quite typical in that it did not contain any lyrical account of the beauty of the Bay – an absolute cliché in the early nineteenth century – and conveyed very little sense of Naples as a place to be observed.   There was no need for such a description because the environment had already been described by the classical authors.

The centre of the classical Grand Tour was Rome, the capital of the empire, the home and first subject-matter of its authors, and the site of the most spectacular antiquities.   Naples, the pleasure-ground of great Romans, was for the grand tourist a side-show – a place to rest and recuperate in the winter between successive visits to the ancient capital.   But in the late eighteenth century Naples became a much more important tourist destination, and by the mid-nineteenth century it had begun to rival if not replace Rome as the most desirable destination in Italy. As the author of The English in Italy, a three-volume travelogue that masqueraded as a novel, put it, “the Smelfungus” of old, the classic visitor, preferred Rome, but the modern traveler preferred Naples for its pleasure and “delight”.

This shift in taste had two sources – the cult of sensibility, which emphasized (and praised) the capacity of individuals to exercise sympathy and explore their own feelings through contact with the unfamiliar and strange, whether it be wild landscape, the remnants of lost civilizations, or charming natives; and the development of a picturesque aesthetics that provided a visual syntax in emotion, so that waterfalls and torrents, dark woods, rich pastureland or, indeed, the bleak landscape of volcanic ash were seen as objects of both art and feeling. The process was a complex one that did not necessarily entail the rejection of classicism, though it did reject the fetish of reliance on classical texts rather than the direct experience of objects. Commentators made fun of Joseph Addison, who was mocked by Laurence Sterne in his Sentimental Journey through France and Italy (1768) for his satchel of books, and disparaged by Tobias Smollett as “a commentator on the classics rather than as a writer of travels”.   By the early nineteenth century this criticism had become something of a cliché, most eloquently expressed in Madame de Stael’s bestselling novel cum travelogue about Italy, Corinne, or Italy (1806).   As one of her protagonists argues:


“Readings in history, the thoughts they provoke, do not act upon our souls like these scattered stones, these ruins interspersed with buildings. Eyes are all-powerful over the soul; once you have seen Roman ruins, you believe in the ancient Romans as if you had lived among them. The mind acquires its memories through study; the imagination’s memories are born of a more immediate and deep-seated impression that gives life to thought and makes us into a kind of witness to what we have learned”.   Stendhal put it more pithily: “ one has the sense of being transported into antiquity, and, so long as one has the habit of trusting only one’s eyes, instantly knows it better than any scholar”.

Put in a nutshell these changes are best understood as connected to a new (and less specific) notion of travel in Italy. In the Romantic era Italy becomes less a window into a better past (classical antiquity and renaissance art) and more the place in which to explore a series of feelings about oneself.   Italy, present day Italy, becomes a laboratory in which to explore emotions and oneself.

Though this is not quite the same thing, such motives for travel were also connected to the notion that the object of travel was refreshment, renewal, an enrichment of the self though an escape from the ordinary, quotidian and dull.   This is very different from the young man’s grand tour, which was not a period of refreshment (no matter how eagerly young men pursued sexual experience), but a rite of passage between school and university, dominated by the classics, and the later assumption of civic and political responsibilities which very often included marriage.   The modern notion of travel as a form of rejuvenation was first developed in the Romantic era; just as the notion that Italy was the best place for a person of taste to accomplish this was repeatedly endorsed in this period.

No one put this idea better than Samuel Rogers, author of the very successful verse tribute, Italy, a Poem, published in 1830:

No sooner do [men] enter the world than they lose that taste for natural and simple pleasures, so remarkable in early life…Now travel, and foreign travel more particularly, restores to us in a great degree what we have lost…All is new and strange. We surrender ourselves, and feel once more as children”.

In this view the value of travel is experiential.   Again in Rogers’ words:

Would he who sat in a corner of the library, poring over books and maps, learn more or so much in the time, as he who, with his eyes and his heart open, is receiving impressions all day long from the things themselves? How accurately do they arrange themselves in our memory, towns, rivers, mountains; and in what living colours do we recall the dresses, manners, and customs of the people!   Our sight is the noblest of all our senses. ‘It fills the mind with most ideas, converses with its objects at the greatest distance, and continues longest in action without being tired’. Our sight is on the alert when we travel; and its exercise is then so delightful, that we cannot forget the profit in the pleasure.”

Observation, witnessing, direct experience, emotional response – all of these had higher priority than book-learning.   And as a result, the response to Italy’s antiquities and landscape became increasing aestheticized and expressed in emotive terms.  The act of having those feelings became more and more important as sentiment, aesthetics, emotion come to the fore.


Seen from this perspective Naples was an exceptionally rich site.   The juxtaposition of the beautiful (often referred to as picturesque) Bay of Naples with the sublime, all powerful and violent volcano, offered the visitor the full range of emotional and aesthetic experience.   At night the tourist could marvel at the sublime vision of Vesuvius’s glowing lava and periodic spurts of flame.   In the daytime they could climb through fields and vineyards of luxuriant fertility on the lower slopes, until they reached the black, lifeless bleakness that surrounded the volcanic crater, and peer down into its bubbling, violently coloured, turbulent core. The routine was well scripted and much commented upon.   The Irish clergyman, Martin Sherlock, in his Letters of a Traveller (1781) described the view from top of Vesuvius as “the most perfect union of the sublime and beautiful in nature”. Mrs. Hester Piozzi wrote in the winter of 1785 of Vesuvius: “One need not stir out for wonders, while this amazing mountain continues to exhibit such various scenes of sublimity and beauty”. This was the place that Goethe described as: “This peak of Hell which towers up in the middle of paradise”. So the journey up the mountain and into the volcano played out what had long been a trope of the Bay of Naples as a place of contrasts, exceptionally gifted by nature – not least in the rich soils produced by the volcano – but also blighted by natural disaster, misrule and human failure.   The object of the journey was to experience this contrast directly, to stare into the crater, to be surrounded by a deathly landscape, and then to turn back and look down over the Bay of Naples, to admire its fecundity.

Similar sentiments were repeatedly expressed in the Visitors’ Book: one Frenchman described the journey up Vesuvius as crossing “le grand partage” (“the great divide”), and one British visitor, the Hon.R.H. Clifford, remarked that “The idea of horribly beautiful is explained when you reach the verge of the crater of M. Vesuvius”.

In October 1828, John Gartley recorded that “This grand and formidable mountain afforded me the sublimest pleasure I have yet felt – how beautiful and awful are the workings of the volcano”. Italian and Francophone visitors were even more forthcoming.   They praised the “elegantissimo spectacolo” of the eruption, wrote about the terror, wonder and delight they experienced before “the terrible Master of Nature” or the “orendo Vulcano” which threatened to “submerge” the world. One Italian visitor claimed that, “it is impossible to explain how much this beautiful terror pleased me.” A Frenchman who entered the crater called it “the Heart of Our Fate” and described Vesuvius as “the eternal Arbiter” making “of the sky a hell, and of hell a sky”. Five visitors from Campo Basso recorded that they “remained stupified by the repeated shocks, and by the balls of smoke, and flames that this visible inferno erupted”; others “admired the immense force of nature and its admirable effects”.

The contrast between the beauties of the bay and the sublimity of the volcano was scripted as an occasion of moral reflection. “It must be acknowledged”, wrote the physician John Moore, “that we can hardly look around us, in any part of this world, without perceiving objects which, to a contemplative mind, convey reflections on the instability of grandeur, and the sad vicissitudes and reverses to which human affairs are liable; but here those objects are so numerous and so striking, that they must make an impression on the most careless passenger”.

These thoughts of the power of nature and of the fragility of human existence were, of course, reinforced by the progressive unearthing of the ruins of Pompeii. Indeed, it cannot be sufficiently emphasized how much the uncovering of the buried city shaped visitors’ experience of climbing the grumbling volcano. Though both Herculaneum and Pompeii were first discovered before the mid-eighteenth century, it was only by the early nineteenth century, and largely because of the excavations pushed forward by the French King of Naples, Joachim Murat, and his wife Caroline, the sister of Napoleon, that it became clear that what had been unearthed was a new vision of antiquity – not just a series of important artifacts and beautiful antiquities but the abundant material traces of an entire antique way of life accessible through sympathy rather than scholarship. As Bulwer-Lytton, the author of the best-selling, The Last Days of Pompeii, published in 1834, explained,

Pompeii was the miniature of the civilization of that age. Within the narrow compass of its walls was contained, as it were, a specimen of every gift which luxury offered to power. In its minute but glittering shops, its tiny palaces, its baths, its forum, its theatre, its circus – in the energy yet corruption, in the refinement yet the vice, of its people, you beheld a model of the whole empire. It was a toy, a plaything, a showbox, in which the gods seemed pleased to keep the representation of the great monarchy of earth, and which they afterwards hid from time, to give to the wonder of posterity.

What fascinated visitors was not just the Pompeiian wall paintings and lewd graffiti, but the evidence of the everyday – the famous loaf of bread that remained in an oven, the ring marks on a counter top made by glasses, the plethora of utensils for mundane tasks – the identifiable ordinariness of it all. William Clarke, remarked that “towards acquainting us with the habitations, the private luxuries and elegancies of ancient life, not all the scattered fragments of domestic architecture which exist elsewhere have done so much as this city”.

It is notable that the many works of archaeology included not only precise drawings of findings, but imaginative reconstructions of what daily life in Pompeii would have been like.   As Goran Blix points out in his study From Paris to Pompeii (2009): “The major publications of engravings from Pompeii testify to the instant and un-canny character of archaeological resurrection: Saint-Non, Francois Mazois, William Gell and Carl Weichardt all drew sumptuous recreations right beside their drawings of the actual ruins.”

The second source of fascination was the bodies. The practice of making plaster casts of the impressions of victims in the ash did not begin until the 1860s, but from the late eighteenth century, visitors were fascinated by the human remains. Visitors repeatedly referred to a famous exhibit (which no longer survives) in the Royal Palace Museum at Portici of what one excited American tourist described as “the mold of a Woman’s breast of a beautiful shape and with some piece of linen yet adhering to it”. First reported in 1763, commented on by the French traveller, Dupaty (1789), and by the writer, Chateaubriand (1804), this fragment inspired Theophile Gautier to write his story of necrophilic fetishism, Arria Marcella (1852), in which a young man falls in love with the impression of the hip and bosom of a Pompeiian victim from the Villa of Diomedes.

The experience of visiting both Pompeii and Vesuvius – and by the early nineteenth century they were inextricably connected – excited both sympathy for the dead – as Dr John Moore put it, “It is impossible to view these skeletons, and reflect on this dreadful catastrophe, without horror and compassion”, – and reflections on the transitory nature of life. As Hester Piozzi, had put it some years earlier: “How dreadful are the thoughts which such a sight suggest! How very horrible the certainty that such a scene may be acted all over again tomorrow”.   In Samuel Rogers’ poem, Italy (1830), the visitor and the ancient victim share a common fate:

A waking dream awaits us. At a step

Two thousand years roll backward, and we stand,

Like those so long within that awful Place,


There is a sense that the modern tourist will eventually share the same fate as the classical victim. The visitor to Pompeii is suffused with a sense of impending doom.

After the upheavals of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, the potential violence of Vesuvius was often associated, especially by French visitors, with the sense that the social fabric could be ripped apart by a sudden major catastrophe. Nature was a model for culture.   The evidence to be observed at Pompeii was not of a culture and its material manifestations as gradually eroded by time, but of rupture, catastrophe, and sudden obliteration. The city, to use Constanze Baum’s distinction, contained ruins of suddenness rather than ruins of duration.

The volcano, the antiquities and the beauty of the Bay offered the romantic tourist not just a stage but an incredibly powerful set of props with which to enact and express their feelings.   But sentiment requires as much instruction as erudition, so that despite the hostility to reading, the romantic or sentimental tourist was rarely without a literary prompt to tell them how to perform/react/respond to the places they visited.   It was just that works of classical history and literature were replaced by modern fiction and poetry. Of course the early nineteenth century saw a huge proliferation of guidebooks to Italy – more than two hundred in the first half of the century – before the dominance of Murray and Baedeker. But these mainly practical guides, vital as they were, were dwarfed in importance by two literary works, Lord Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812-18) – quoted on more than one occasion in the Vesuvius visitors’ book, and Madame de Stael’s Corinne, or Italy (1807), whose most important dramatic scene – in many respects the fulcrum of the novel – takes place on the volcano. As James Buzard, in Beaten Track, European Tourism, Literature, and the ways of culture, remarks, Byron’s verse “provided an ennobling repertoire of poetical attitudes which tourists could strike in many places abroad”. John Murray, Byron’s publisher, and producer of the most popular England language guides of the nineteenth century, published a pocket-sized Byron’s Poetry, “so as to enable travelers to carry it with their other handbooks”.   Madame de Stael’s extraordinarily popular novel, Corinne, with its triangulated relationship between a British aristocrat, a French noble, and Corinne, an Italian (who turns out to be half British) and which was published in Paris, and then in London, Berlin, New York and Boston within a year of its first appearance, was widely used by tourists as a guide to how to respond emotionally to Italy. As Anna Jameson put it in her, Diary of an Ennuyee (1826), it was “a fashionable vade mecum for sentimental travelers in Italy”.

The visitors to Vesuvius in 1826, 27 and 28, seem, in many respects to have followed the romantic script written for them by their distinguished literary predecessors.   They repeatedly commented on their moving sublime experience, their pleasure at being both terrified and safe, at being exposed to danger and the mighty forces of the mountain, and relishing the intensification of emotion this produced.

Contrary to the Romantic cliché of the virtues of solitude, the ascent of Vesuvius was all about the climb as a shared experience – one that intensified romantic attachments and that cemented friendship. The most striking feature of the journey up Vesuvius for most of the visitors was its importance as a means of expressing and solidifying important attachments – between men and women of the same nation, among groups of men, like army officers and sailors, who depended on one another for their safety both on and off the volcano, among friends and acquaintances, among families, and between lovers or husbands and wives.   The idea, as one French woman put it, was to “venire ensemble”. This explains why so many of the visitors to the volcano traveled in groups – six Italian professors of “lettore”, the entire Caracciolo clan of Neapolitan aristocrats, Rothschilds from three different cities, six geologists (obviously on a professional mission), groups of Italian gendarmes, Sardinian courtiers, Jewish merchants, British, Austrian and Swiss army officers, doctors, engineers, architects, a party of four French artists in May 1828, sailors from HMS Asia, HMS Pelican and HMS Mastiff, as well as the groups of families and relatives and co-nationals.   Occasionally this sense of collective solidarity was reinforced in the visitors’ book by framing, bracketing or putting a group in a box, like the “noisy Paddys” who climbed the volcano in September 1828, though few went as far as a large French party of visitors who pictured themselves as a constellation of names, like a map of the heavens.

These signs of solidarity were not just a matter of professional or national identity; they were, as many remarks make clear, closely bound up with the idea of friendship, especially among the young male visitors to Vesuvius. The Swiss soldier, Grutther, wrote of his journey with “his dearest friend, Joseph Villarosa”; in February 1828, Luigi Boncaglia of Imola described the struggle of climbing the volcano in snow and high winds with “mio ottimo Amico”, Giacomo Morelli of Verona.   Guiseppe Konig, a Swiss soldier whose brother was also serving in Naples, and who was often on the mountain, emphasized on more than one occasion that he climbed “not just for the spectacle of Vesuvius, but for the company of true friends”. His friend, Raffaele Garzia, confessed that his apprehension of the mountain was dispelled by the “perfect company” of the two brothers. Three Italian aristocrats described themselves as “tutti e tre”; another Italian, though disappointed in the view because of fog, was gratified to be “in unione di amabile compagnie”, while a party of French and Italian climbers in January 1828 wrote of “la grande satisfaction de la bonne compagnie”. To climb Vesuvius alone was generally seen as a diminished experience. In May 1828, a British gentleman recorded his disappointment at making the ascent alone: “The Honourable R.H. Clifford ascended alas alone not having the pleasure of society to sweeten the toils of ascent”, while a week later Richard Elwood after he had reached the summit, “drank a bottle of the Hermits Wine to the health of absent friends”.

The model here was Corinne and her British admirer, Oswald Lord Nelvil, in Madame de Stael’s novel: “Oswald and Corinne promised themselves the pleasure of ascending Vesuvius and felt an added delight in thinking of the danger they thus should brave together.”   The hermit’s book is full of couples – most married, some lovers – who climbed Vesuvius together. Two British sailors, for example, shared the journey with their lovers – George Lee with “sa chere amie la Belle Milanese” and RW Oakley with “sua Carolina”.   Of course it is not just danger that fuelled romantic passion. It was the power and force of the volcano itself, the way it ignited the energy and the enthusiasm, so much admired by de Stael, that fuelled desire and romance. The phlegmatic visitors turned fiery: they shouted, as one Savoyard did on the mountain, “Love conquers all”; the young men flirted and courted female visitors, wrote complements in the visitors’’ book.

So the Visitors’ Book seems to reveal an international community of tourists collectively engaged in performing their scripted task as tourists. But it reveals something more.   When a fully-fledged eruption began in March 1828 the disturbances of nature produced disturbances among the ever-growing number of tourists.   The British started quarreling with the Swiss; the Francophones with the Anglophones, the Swiss with the Neapolitans, and especially with the guides. Insults and national clichés were strewn through the book, including a rather ugly vein of anti-Semitism aimed at the Neapolitan Rothschild family. The conflict among the tourists on the volcano was, in fact, a rehearsal of a larger political conflict that was embedded in the history of southern Italy.   The presence of so many Swiss in Naples was explained by the recently failed constitutional revolution of 1820, which had been led by liberal aristocratic army officers. The King of Naples had replaced them with six regiments of Swiss mercenaries.   The Rothschilds had bankrolled the Austrian invasion of Naples that had ended the liberal revolution.   Many Neapolitans were in exile in Britain; and the British community in Naples was both liberal and a strong supporter of Italian unification. The abuse by the Swiss officers of the Neapolitan guides, who they claimed were cowards, afraid of the eruption, recalled the cowardice of the Neapolitan army when faced by its foes in 1820. In short, politics and the everyday intruded into a shared experience of tourism, disrupting its pleasures.

Perhaps one of the reasons why this occurred is because of the nature and composition of the Vesuvian tourist body.   There were, of course, many visitors to the volcano who came from far away, and some of these travelers were engaged in the sort of recreational travel we designate ‘tourism’. But a good many of those who came from great distances to Vesuvius were in Naples for other reasons. The Swiss were there to uphold absolutism; merchants and shopkeepers (chiefly French and British) were involved in trade; artists were there to study their vocation; the British long-term residents were there to study Neapolitan literature and culture; diplomats from many nations were engaged in political intrigue; sailors were en route to the East Mediterranean or the Atlantic. There were also significant retirement communities – of British soldiers and sailors who had come during their service to like the Mediterranean; of French soldiers and functionaries who had served under the Muratist regime; of Austrians who had once been in the army of occupation. For many of these visitors to the volcano their experience was not part of a ‘holiday’ but an opportunity created by other circumstance.

If we turn from our case study to look at the literature on tourism, we can see, I think, almost immediately the weakness of attempts to conceptualize the activity of recreational travel. Fundamental to this literature is a sometimes tacit occasionally explicit modernizing and democratizing historical narrative, in which tourism begins as an aristocratic activity (the Grand Tour), reaches a bourgeois audience in the age of Romanticism, and becomes a form of mass consumption with the advent of railways, public holidays, and leisure entrepreneurs like Thomas Cook in Britain and Carl Stangen in Germany. Secondly, the literature often attempts to provide a universal characterization or ideal type of the tourist, in much the same way as a great deal of the literature on consumption has been built around essentialist notions of the consumer. Thus we have the tourist as “the pursuer of authentic experience” or of “the romantic gaze”, just we have “the manipulated consumer”, the dreaming consumer”, “the identity creating consumer”, and so on.   Both of these concerns – with an historical narrative and with badging “tourists” – are not without some use and plausibility. To take our case study: visitors to Naples numbered in the hundreds in the eighteenth century, in the low thousands in the 1820s (6,000 or so) and had reached 60,000 by the last decades of the nineteenth century, but of course more does not mean the same; nor can the meaning and significance of tourism be reduced through the process that Arjan Appadurai has dubbed “metonymic freezing”, in which one characterization is made to stand in for a range of behaviours.

There are interesting echoes in the most recent work on tourism and travel, which has tried to move beyond the sort of stereotyping I have been criticizing here, and which connects in interesting ways with my case study of Vesuvius. There is now a great deal of data about recent travel and tourism, collected by the United Nations World Tourist Organization. These figures make clear that tourism is a substantial and important sector in the contemporary global economy, whose activities and fortunes are intimately bound up with those of economic activity as whole. Drawing from data from 190 countries, the UNWTO reported that in 2000 travel and tourism accounted for 11.7% of world GDP; 8% of world exports, and 8% of employment.   But the UNWTO statistics reveal a problem that lies at the heart of many tourist studies, namely the difficulty of distinguishing something called “tourism” from travel more generally conceived. Currently the UNTWO statistics for inbound international tourism use four categories: “leisure, recreation and holidays”; “Visiting Family and relatives, health, religion, other”; “business and professions”; and “not specified”.   In 2010 holidays accounted for about 50% of international tourism; visiting family etc 27%; business 15% and 7% other. The trend over the last ten years has been for the holiday category to shrink as a percentage of all tourism, and for the rather miscellaneous visiting family category to grow at its expense.   Moreover qualitative studies have indicated that these UNWTO categories are exceptionally porous, and that increasingly travel involves a combination of more than one, and often several of these factors.   We face then, something of a paradox. On the one hand, it does not seem difficult to identify homo touristicus, a species that comes in many stripes, but is easily spotted by its characteristic plumage, its habitat, appurtenances (notably the camera), and collective behaviours.   Nor is it difficult to identify fairly clearly defined commodities sold as ‘tourist experiences’ or ‘holidays’: two weeks with hotel and meals in Bangkok, for example. But it is increasingly clear that tourism and travel are not confined solely to commoditized leisure. Both tourism and travel seem to have different valences in societies where mobility of all sorts has become a commonplace of contemporary life.

In the social science literature, enhanced mobility and travel seem to have been added to the ever-expanding list of the features of modernity, however and whenever defined, and this situation has led anthropologists and sociologists (I am thinking particularly of James Clifford and John Urry) to try to rethink the questions of travel and tourism. Clifford has argued that if travel has become as much the norm as the exception, we should view ‘home’ as a nodal point rather than a fixed entity. As he puts it, “I am recommending not that we make the margin a new center (“we” are all travelers) but that specific dynamics of dwelling/traveling be understood comparatively.”   He is troubled by the anthropological assumption that cultures are somehow fixed and local, beginning his account with the story of an anthropologist setting out to work in a rural Egyptian village, ostensibly a prime example of a stable culture, who quickly discovers that all its residents, except for one individual who proudly boasts of his singularity in staying put, have either come from or are traveling to somewhere else. Hence Clifford’s conclusion that “It would be better to stress different modalities of inside-outside connection, recalling that travel, or displacement, can involve forces that pass powerfully through – television, radio, tourists, commodities, armies.” (28)

Clifford wants to place travel in the context of a history of cultural contact that he sees as fuelled by three large processes that complicate notions of human agency – the growth of global capital, the development of empires, and the waging of war.   “Virtually everywhere one looks”, he writes, “the processes of human movement and encounter are long-established and complex. Cultural centers, discrete regions and territories, do not exist prior to contacts, but are sustained through them, appropriating and disciplining the restless movements of people and things.”

John Urry, one of the most distinguished sociologists of tourism, has recently emphasized how the growth in mobility and travel in general, as well as the establishment of networks using new media, have begun to change the nature of tourism, so that recreational and social travel has become increasingly less distinct from other sorts of mobility.   In a world where families are dispersed, where people travel for work over long distances, and where migration, exile and emigration are a common experience, tourism has increasingly become implicated in extended kinship chains and networks of sociability, especially the sustaining or reinforcement of friendship. Urry refers to this as the “de-exoticising” of tourism, which he claims has become less associated with ‘time away’ and ‘time out’ than with the sustaining of on-going relationships at a distance, through periodic ‘face-to-face’ encounters. He takes the position of Franklin and Crang in their provocative essay, “the Trouble with Tourism and Tourism Theory”: “Tourism is no longer a specialist consumer product or a mode of consumption: tourism has broken away from its beginnings as a relatively minor and ephemeral ritual of modern life to become a significant modality through which transnational life is organized…it can no longer be bounded off as a discrete activity, contained tidily at specific locations and occurring during set aside periods”.

Urry and his co-researchers tend to assume that his re-formulated object of study is a relatively recent phenomenon, one, as I have indicated, connected to a notion of modernity. Clifford, on the other hand, seems to recognize that there is a deeper history of travel that goes back beyond the immediate past.   While I don’t want to get into the game of pushing ‘modernity’ further and further back in time – a stratagem that has been a major problem for consumer studies – it does seem to me that we can observe the sorts of trend identified by Clifford and Urry in the case of early nineteenth-century Italy and the Vesuvius visitors’ book.   The peculiar/particular pattern of tourist visitors to Vesuvius has everything to do with the Revolutionary and Napoleon wars (what David Bell has called the first total war), and the way in which it dispersed, divided and diasporized people throughout Europe and the Mediterranean littoral, as well as creating important differences that were political as well as national.   And friendship seems to have been an all-important part of Vesuvian tourism.

Of course Vesuvius and Pompeii were never sites integrated into the every day. The crater of Vesuvius was a terminus not a transit point, and there was no reason to make a deviation there except to see the volcano. Similarly there was no economic activity at Pompeii apart from tourism and archaeological investigation. Their status as canonical tourist sites was reinforced by Vesuvius’s suitability as a subject for the new technologies of the moving panorama and diorama, its spectacular nature and the ease with which it could represent change in time (large scale re-enactments of Vesuvian eruptions were staged in almost every major nineteenth-century Europe city in panoramas, pleasure gardens, dioramas and theatres), and by the way in which the historic site of Pompeii lent itself to modern (not classical) narratives, of which the most famous was Bulwer Lytton’s The Last days of Pompeii.

The case study of Naples and southern Italy seems to me to raise a number of important issues. First and foremost, it enables us to examine the processes by which places become “sites” of attraction, spaces that should be visited.   What makes a site desirable may, as in the Neapolitan case, change over time. (Today Pompeii remains an important site, but has largely been separated from Naples, where tourism has been in decline, largely because of the city’s association with organized crime.)   Secondly, it raises questions about the relationship between travel and so-called tourism. Organized tourism, of the sort associated with Thomas Cook, who led a large party of tourists to Naples and Pompeii in 1866, is easy to identify, and may have enjoyed a special salience in certain periods, but it should not be taken as paradigmatic of recreational travel as a whole. We need to bear in mind that patterns of work and travel make possible many different scenarios of leisure-time. Thirdly, it is important to disaggregate tourists, not just in the sense of different types of tourist activity or national origin (a common practice), but in terms of what they bring to their travels. Being a tourist requires the performance of certain rituals, not the abandonment of other beliefs and identities. And finally, it is important to treat sites as entities other than sites. Much contextualization of tourist sites concerns itself with the impact of tourism on the local economy. While an important issue, it is nevertheless also essential to treat the site as part of other circuits of power and knowledge, embedded in different social relations.



The history of tourism and the history of consumption have followed rather different paths that have only occasionally intersected.   The early focus of consumer studies was either on the early modern era, a pre-tourist age, or on the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries where the emphasis was on the emergence of mass consumption rather than on mass leisure.   From the 1960s to the 1980s, studies of leisure and recreation in the early modern and industrial eras focused on the commercialization of leisure, on the struggles of elites to propagate a notion of leisure as ‘rational recreation’ – and therefore as a sort of discipline or social control – and on the connection between organized mass recreation and the conflict over working hours and holidays. Recreation and tourism were placed within the context of class struggle. This research also spawned a number of social historical studies of nineteenth-century resorts and forms of organized recreation such as football.

At the same time, there was a lively debate within historical and sociological circles about the character and importance of tourism, prompted by Daniel Boorstin’s outspoken condemnation of the artificiality of tourism in his The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America (1961).   These issues of authenticity and nostalgia and their place in tourism have persisted down to the present. [1] The object of such tourism, in this literature, is the pursuit of unmediated experience, a circumstance that seems to have been lost in the highly differentiated and deeply mediated realm of modern societies. What is sought is, in Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s terms, ”untouched history” or “untouched nature”.   For Dean MacCannell tourism is about this recuperation, it is what we might call ‘stalking the gemeinshaft’, a task that is both modern and doomed, for the authentic can only be pursued once it is identified and mediated or ‘marked’ as such.   For a sociologist like John Urry, in his enormously influential The Tourist Gaze (1990), this sort of tourism entails what he calls the ‘romantic’ gaze, one “in which the emphasis is on solitude, privacy and a personal, spiritual relationship with the object of the gaze”, and which he contrasts with a “collective gaze” that involves group immersion in present pleasures, tourism as a “sense of carnival”.   Urry’s distinction is socially inflected: romantic tourism is the realm of the middle and upper classes; collective tourism seen as demotic.

Along side these debates there emerged a loosely defined history or genealogy of tourism that charted the progressive democratization of travel as a leisure activity, beginning with the aristocratic grand tour and ending with modern mass tourism. A number of sociologists, notably John Towner, in papers published in Annals of Tourist Research, attempted to quantify this phenomenon, and to chart its changing features. Writing on the Grand Tour itself took almost no notice of this work, because its chief occupations were art historical or with the history of the aristocracy and British elites. A series of important art exhibitions laid out this celebratory story, of which the most important was the Tate Gallery’s Grand Tour. The Lure of Italy in the Eighteenth Century, ed. Andrew Wilton and Ilaria Bignamini (1997), and they were enforced by a series of detailed, empirically rich but analytically weak books by the historian Jeremy Black. Much of the material that underpins this historiography is being added to the Adam Matthew’s web site, The Grand Tour. ( ).   At the same time literary scholars, notably Chloe Chard and James Buzard, produced subtle and revealing readings of the travel literature – guides, memoirs and novels – that depicted the Grand Tour and European travel.

More recently – especially since 2000 – the analytic literature on tourism has shifted its focus, moving away from tourism tout court, and towards an analysis that examines travel more generally and sees tourism less as ‘time out’ than as embedded in certain social relations (see Urry and Franklin and Crang).   Such an approach bodes well for future historical work that needs to attend far more to complex sets of circumstances – local as well as global – that inform and explain what travelers in the past were up to.


Notes for further reading:


Harvard University, Houghton Library Mss Ital.139, The Visitors’s Book to Vesuvius, 1826-1828


Blix, Goran, From Paris to Pompeii: French Romanticism and the Cultural Politics of Archaeology (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008)


Buzard, James, The Beaten Track: European Tourism, Literature and the Ways to “Culture” (New York, Oxford University Press, 1993)


Coltman, Viccy, Fabricating the Antique: Neoclassicism in Britain, 1760-1800 (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2006)


Chard, Chloe, Pleasure and Guilt on the Grand Tour: travel writing and imaginative geography 1600-1830 (Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1999)


Clifford, James, Routes. Travel and Translation in the late Twentieth Century (Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1997).


Davis, John Anthony, Naples and Napoleon: Southern Italy and the European Revolutions 1780-1860 (New York, Oxford University Press, 2009)


Ingamells, John, A Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy, 1701-1800, compiled from the Brinsley Ford Archive (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1997.


United Nations World Tourist Organization at


Franklin, A and M Crang, “The trouble with tourism and travel theory”, Tourism Studies, 1, no.1 (2001), 5-22


Larsen, J., J. Urry & K.W. Axhausen, “Networks and Tourism. Mobile Social Life”, Annals of Tourism Research 34 (2007), 244-262.


Urry, John, “Social networks, travel and talk”, British Journal of Sociology 54, no. 2 (2003), 155-175.

[1] A valuable discussion is John Frow, ‘Tourism and the Semiotics of Nostalgia’, October 57 (1991), 123-151.