A Grand Tour Journal 1820–1822: The Awakening of the Man by Edward Geoffrey Stanley (Edited by Angus Hawkins) - review by Peter Davidson

Peter Davidson

It Could Do with a Lick of Paint

A Grand Tour Journal 1820–1822: The Awakening of the Man


Fonthill Media 224pp £25

Perfected and polished by Eton and Christ Church, Edward Geoffrey Stanley, the future Earl of Derby and prime minister, made a leisurely tour of Italy and parts of Switzerland and the Alps in 1820–22 and was, on the whole, gloriously unimpressed by what he saw, as he recorded in his journal, published for the first time here. He was serene in his confidence that he deserved the best of everything and was thus endlessly disappointed.

There are gems throughout, but the entries for 18 and 19 January 1821 offer a good sample: ‘Dined with the Aylmers, stupid dinner. Mr and Mrs Hutchenson, do not like either … Opera, Madame Appony’s box, none but the Hitroffs and the intended of Catherine – do not like him. Disappointed with the Doria palace’.

And all this only a few days after the Capitol had really let him down, ‘a cruel disappointment’. Poor chap. To be fair, later on he does say that having looked at prints and read travellers’ accounts before he set off, his initial disappointment with everything was the result of exaggerated expectations. Even Goethe said much the same of his own, earlier Italian journey: he lamented the ‘Piranesi effect’ of prints of Rome, which implied a gigantic scale, rendering the reality an inevitable disappointment.

This journal is fascinating as a period piece documenting a late stage of the grand tour, after the Battle of Waterloo, when the English were confident earls of creation, on gracious good terms with their quondam allies and prepared to con-descend to speak Italian and French at surprisingly international evening parties. The nature of British travel to Italy changed with the Napoleonic Wars, becoming less exclusive and as much focused on scenery as on the monuments of antiquity. It is also notable that living artists seem to have formed much less of the society of Rome than they had done before the wars.

Stanley was not a collector, virtuoso or devotee of the literature and structures of classical Rome, though he did hire a cicerone to show him a few choice monuments of Roman antiquity. While he was interested in seeing pictures, taking particular enjoyment in the works of Guido Reni, Titian and Guercino (and he thought one of the Vatican Raphaels as good as a backlit transparency), he was apparently less interested in buying them, even though sterling must have been breathtakingly strong in relation to most European currencies in the 1820s. Maybe he concluded, with his characteristic confidence, that all the best ones were in England already. Lord Byron is definitely a presence in this journal. Indeed Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, which had been published in episodes from 1812 to 1818, has the status here of a guidebook, indicating how to respond to places as well as which places to see. The phenomenon of landscape-orientated travel was clearly becoming established, and Stanley was most deeply moved by extensive mountain landscapes, as well as by the mightier works of Roman engineering. He was also vastly impressed by fumarolic Vesuvius, which was gearing up for its spectacular 1822 eruption, describing his ascent of the sublimely muttering volcano in detail.

Fascination with this, and with the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum, caused him to gravitate towards Naples (which he visited twice) rather than Rome. It is notable that the 18th-century mutual suspicion between the travelling Englishman and the pretender-harbouring Papal States had certainly ended by the time of the death in 1807 of Cardinal York (or King Henry IX, if you like that sort of thing). By 1820, it had been replaced by a serene postwar confidence that the Whig milordi were welcome everywhere, entitled to the deference of British Catholic exiles abroad (being supporters of Catholic emancipation at home), without surrendering their right to denounce the ‘mummery’ enacted in the basilicas of Rome. When he saw the pillars of the ancient Temple of Concord at Spoleto embedded in the walls of a modern chapel, Stanley wished it ‘burnt to the ground together with the wretched mendicant Monks’.

Stanley was very aware that a different sort of English person had started to travel, and his disappointment at finding the ‘bad’ English at dinners and evening receptions forms a running joke in the journal. While he did not particularly enjoy expatriate evening parties where the flavour was ‘blue’ because too many Tories were present, he did not object to seeing fellow nobles of the opposite party. But the ‘bad English’ figure largely in this journal, by which phrase he seems to mean anyone without a title, unless they have been to Eton and Christ Church or their equivalents. Those who have prospered in trade are absolutely beyond the pale. (A decade later, Stanley would have shrunk in horror at the sight of the senior partner in the wine-shipping firm Ruskin, Telford and Domeq splashing his mercantile guineas around Italy in the company of his unsmiling wife and his precocious note-scribbling, mountain-sketching son.) The height of his well-bred loathing is reserved for the English party who went to ‘eat Beefsteaks and drink Porter by moonlight in the Coliseum’.

Stanley’s journal has been splendidly edited, and most generously supplied with footnotes, by the late Angus Hawkins, an expert on Stanley’s political career and on the high politics of the 19th century. His identification and knowledge of the whole gamut of elite Europeans travelling and dwelling in Italy in the 1820s are remarkable. One of the most engaging aspects of Stanley as a traveller is his genuine interest in the Italian tongue, in particular idiosyncratic and dialect phrases. These, however obscure, are neatly rendered in the footnotes, though one of the more jaw-dropping profanities appears to have been prudently softened in translation.

The most memorable incident of Stanley’s tour was a misadventure at Benevento. Summoned into the presence of the commandant, who was positively rude, he demonstrated his Englishman’s contempt by putting his hat on. A lieutenant ‘attempted to strike it off, on which I knocked him down’, he writes. (I have often wondered about this operation, which the hero of every Victorian novel can perform, and concluded that the most likely modus operandi would be a forceful right cross to the jaw.) The gendarme having been floored, Stanley was ‘arrested, as well kicked as those Gendarmes could do it, but being Papal soldiers it was not very awful’. And thus the future Lord Derby offered his bequest to history. He is the only English prime minister – so far – to have spent a night in jail.

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