The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

VII. The Literature of Travel, 1700–1900

§ 19. Dilke’s Greater Britain

The growth of the British oversea dominions has produced many books of travel. Conspicuous among them are Sir Charles Dilke’s two books Greater Britain (1868) and Problems of Greater Britain (1890) which contain the observations of two journeys in America and the Antipodes. They are notable both for their lucid, easy mode of expression, and still more for their political insight and clear perception of immediate difficulties and of future possibilities—possibilities which have since, in great part, been realised.

Only actual books of travel have here been mentioned. It would pass the scope of this chapter to do more than hint at the influence of these books and of personal travelling reminiscences upon English poetry and prose fiction. Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, Michael Scott’s Tom Cringle’s Log, Charles Kingsley’s Westward Ho!, Charles Reade’s The Cloister and the Hearth, R. L. Stevenson’s Treasure Island, are typical examples, and the list might be endlessly extended. Every poet of the nineteenth century, from Wordsworth to Tennyson and Browning, has left upon his pages some impression of his travels. From Fielding to Stevenson one may dip into the novelists almost at random to find sketches of travel. The first chapter of Guy Mannering is a vivid picture of a Scottish journey. Tom Jones and Humphrey Clinker take us along the country roads of England. Vanity Fair gives a picture of continental travel before the days of railways: Pickwick is fresh with the more homely humours of the English roadside and coaching inn. Upon another plane, Charles Lever’s wanderings inspire his pen. Later literature abounds with smaller books of the same family—fictitious or half-fictitious stories of trips on foot or bicycle, in canoe or caravan, at home and abroad.

One other reflection occurs. Although the literature of travel is not the highest kind, and, indeed, cannot be called a distinct branch, of literature, yet a history of English literature rightly assigns a space apart to such books, because this kind of writing, perhaps more than any other, both expresses and influences national predilections and national character. In view of the magnificent achievements and splendid records of other nations who have preceded or accompanied the British in the fields of travel and discovery, it would be most inappropriate to attempt any kind of national comparison. But books of travel and books inspired by travel have, probably, been more read in Great Britain than any other books except novels. The educational value of pleasant travel-books is great. They have provided the substance of a thousand books for boys; and thus, both directly and indirectly, have guided and fired the inclinations of many generations of boys. And every reader, whether boy or man, finds in his favourite books of travel some image of himself and some hint towards moulding himself.