Defoe’s Tour and the Historian

F. Bastian finds that in composing his lively Tour, Defoe drew upon memories of journeys he had actually made and also upon the writings of earlier observers.

Defoe’s Tour Thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain has enjoyed two distinct lives, serving a different purpose in each. It has sometimes been described as a guide-book; but it was intended rather as substitute for actual travel. Those who lacked the time or money to make long journeys, or who had no stomach for the risks and discomforts of the open highway, could, at the expense of a few shillings, explore ‘the most flourishing and opulent country in the world’ while relaxing by their own firesides.

It was not the only work of its kind in the eighteenth century. In 1714 John Macky had brought out the first volume of his Journey through England, and when a second edition appeared early in 1722 with an additional volume, he commented in his preface:

But what prompted the Author most to finish this

Second Volume, was the coming out of a certain

Book, call’d Misson’s Observations through England,

stufied with the greatest absurdities imaginable.

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