La Dolce Vita? Italy By Rail, 1839-1914

Diana Webb looks into the pleasures and pitfalls of an early tourist experience.

In the 1840s Charles Dickens observed and unforgettably caricatured the English members of an early package-tour doing the rounds of Rome; he supposed that they had been brought from London in nine or ten days. This was soon to change dramatically. The Baptist minister Samuel Manning, revisiting Italy in the 1870s, observed that now 'Turin may be easily reached from London in thirty-six hours. It is not long since the distance from London to York occupied the same time.' In Alps and Sanctuaries, first published in 1881. Samuel Butler remarked: 'Wednesday morning, Fleet Street; Thursday evening, a path upon the quiet mountain side, under the over- spreading chestnuts, with Lombardy at one's feet.’

Butler was conscious not only of the immense acceleration of the pace of travel which had taken place in the past generation, hut of its significance on the time-scales of the world's history:

The first period, from the chamois track to the foot road, was one of millions of years; the second, from the first foot road, to the Roman military way, was one of many thousands; the third, from the Roman to the medieval, was perhaps a thousand; from the medieval to the Napoleonic, five hundred; from the Napoleonic to the railroad, fifty. What will came next we know not, but it should come within twenty years, and will probably have something to do with electricity.

He was also aware of the psychologically disorientating effects of these transformations: 'science is rapidly reducing space to the same unsatisfactory state that it has already reduced time.'

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