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

§ 6. Clarke

A contemporary of Bruce, more famous in his day but of a less lasting fame, E. D. Clarke, was enabled to satisfy his passion for travel by a succession of tutorships. He had all the high spirit and zest of a true traveller, but these qualities appear not so much in his eleven volumes of Travels in Europe, Asia and Africa, as in his diaries and letters quoted in the biography of Clarke by his college friend bishop Otter. Clarke’s eager curiosity leads him into multifarious and exciting risks, now viewing an eruption of Vesuvius, now surreptitiously visiting the sultan’s seraglio in Stamboul, now pushing his way, in an English uniform, through a fanatical Neapolitan crowd to view the miracle of saint Januarius. At Brixen “Saw a cabinet of Natural History, extensive and full of trash.” At Vienna, beheld “the best clown I ever saw.”

Clarke, through his presence at Alexandria in 1801 when the French army evacuated Egypt, did much to obtain for England the Egyptian antiquities and documents collected by the French savants. To the university of Cambridge, he made valuable gifts. In 1808, he became the first professor of mineralogy, and, nine years later, he was appointed university librarian. He sold his collection of manuscripts to the Bodleian for £1000, and cleared nearly £7000 by the publication of his travels.

Clarke’s friend and correspondent, J. L. Burckhardt, a Swiss by birth, but by adoption a Cambridge man and, in some sort, an Englishman, won an enduring reputation by his extensive travels in Asia and Africa and by his faithful descriptions of oriental life. “During all my journeys in the East,” he writes, “I never enjoyed such perfect ease as at Mecca.” And Belzoni, the explorer of the pyramids, writes, “What shall I say of the late Sheik Burckhardt, who was so well acquainted with the language and manners of these people that none of them suspected him to be an European?” Meantime, the farthest east found an observer in Sir John Barrow, who accompanied lord Macartney in the first British embassy to China in 1792. But the reader should turn, not to Barrow’s formidable quarto volumes Travels in China and A Voyage to Cochin-China, but to his Auto-biographical Memoir, published half-a-century later. He thus describes the ambassador’s entry into Pekin:

  • A multitude of moveable workshops of tinkers and barbers, of cobblers and blacksmiths, together with tents and booths, where tea and rice and fruit with various kinds of eatables were to be sold, had contracted the street, spacious as it was, to a narrow road in the middle, scarcely wide enough to allow two little carts to pass each other: yet within this narrow space were processions bearing umbrellas, flags and painted lanterns—trains carrying corpses to their graves with lamentable cries—others with squeaking music conducting brides to their husbands—troops of dromedaries laden with coals from Tartary—wheelbarrows and handcarts stuffed with vegetables; and if to these be added numbers of pedlers with their packs, jugglers and conjurers and fortune-tellers, musicians and comedians, mountebanks and quack-doctors—with all these impediments, so little room was left for the persons of the embassy that it was nearly three hours before we reached the north-western gate.