Marion at Historians are Past Caring has a splendid post on “Revolutionary Tourists” – Wordsworth and Byron, drawn to other people’s wars and revolutions. The long history of this phenomenon is often ignored in discussing current ISIS tourism.
It’s different, but it intersects with Katharine Susannah Prichard’s tour of the Soviet Union in 1933; she tried to see it as the utopia she wanted it to be, and wrote a book to that effect.
In the summer of 1790 William Wordsworth was 20 years old, and half way through a fairly undistinguished Cambridge degree, when he and a friend, Robert Jones, set out to walk across France from Calais to the Alps. It was to be a gap year, an opportunity to postpone the serious business of growing up and settling down. Each of them had just £20 to pay their way, and most of their journey was on foot, walking 12 to 15 miles before breakfast.
The French Revolution had broken out a year before – they reached Calais on 13 July, the eve of the anniversary of the fall of the Bastille – but the revolution was still largely a constitutional affair, and in the countryside they weren’t seriously affected by the political changes going on around them.
More than a year later, Wordsworth went back to France, reaching Paris at the…
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