Transcript of the Grand Tour video

Transcript of Iain Brown's filmed talk about the Grand Tour.

I'm Iain Gordon Brown. I'm Principal Curator of manuscripts at the National Library.

In the 17th and 18th centuries and into the 19th century, young men - and they were young and usually men - went from this country to France and Germany, but particularly to Italy, in pursuit of culture, entertainment, diversion and this became almost codified as a stage in the education of young, aristocrats and men of gentry status.

I've brought along a number of examples which show how young men enjoyed themselves in Europe and particularly in Italy. The aim, the theoretical aim, was to gain educational advantage, but the real aim was also to 'sow some wild oats' and to have what might almost be called a 'gap year' experience.

A classic volume of Grand Tour letters relatively new to the National Library is this.

These are the letters of a young Scotsman from Berwickshire called Roger Robertson. He came from a landowning and legal family. He was the very example, the very type, of the virtuous and scholarly young man on the Grand Tour. Not for him too much drinking and wenching - much more buying good books in Venice, much more seeing the sights of Rome, much more seeing the antiquities of Naples and its glorious bay.

Robertson's letters are really rather remarkable things. He wrote regularly to his father, to his mother and to his sisters.

He would regularly write to his father in French just to show him that he was actually learning something abroad. He would write to his mother and sisters about topics that they would be interested in - fashions, social life, clothes - but a very careful distinction was preserved between writing to his father about scholarly, cultural matters. He was oh so very careful to make sure that his father understood that he wasn't getting into mischief or up to any trouble.

He was conscious, as so many young men weren't, that it was his father who was bankrolling the whole episode and that fathers needed to be sweet-talked by young men on the Grand Tour.

The importance of the Grand Tour really can hardly be over-emphasised. It had an enormous impact on British - and in this case Scottish - life and taste.

For many years the National Library has collected those records, and I myself have bought quite a significant number of Grand Tour letters and journals over the years, and our collection really is now quite distinguished and important.


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