“The world is a kind of book, in which he, who has seen his own country only, has read but one page…” Longfellow
What is a Travelogue? The Merriam-Webster definition states: 1. a piece of writing about travel. 2. a talk or lecture on travel usually accompanied by a film or slides. 3. a narrated motion picture about travel.
When I searched for a « travelogue » or “travel blog” on WordPress I could not find one post without an eye-catching photo of the traveler’s destination. “A piece of writing about travel”; can you imagine a travelogue without pictures in our modern world high-tech Iphone cameras?
Longfellow created one of the first “travelogues” or “travel sketches” in 1830, just as photography was discovered. Outre-Mer: A Pilgrimage Beyond the Sea (Philadelphia: McKay Publishers) depicts distinctive features of each European country Longfellow visited sans photos. To me, this is would be an unimaginable task. For example, I recently visited one of the most breathtaking towns in the world; one that you can only imagine on a postcard or calendar! As our tour bus came over the mountain and I saw Hallstatt, Austria for the first time, I was awestruck; speechless. In fact, I posted a blog soon after and decided to just let the pictures speak for themselves. I had no words to describe its magical beauty.
After I returned home, I attempted to relay my impressions of Hallstatt through painting: the calm, still lake reflecting every cloud in detail, the peace I felt walking through this Alpine haven, the marvel of God’s creation hidden far away. Sans espoir!
What if Longfellow had seen this enchanted ville? How would he have described his first response? Would Longfellow have focused more on the inhabitants, food, customs and language of Hallstatt rather than the nature and architecture surrounding it? [I believe he would have stood more of a chance to discover these treasures than I had as most of the “locals” leave town during tourist season!]
Back to Outre-Mer. What was the purpose in Longfellow writing this travelogue? According to Thomas H. Pauly in his article “Outre-Mer and Longfellow’s Quest for a Career”, the original intent of traveling around Europe and subsequently publishing his travel sketches of his experiences was to show the value of his profession as a teacher of European languages and literature (New England Quarterly, 32). This “literary” experience would help him prepare his duties as Bowdoin’s first professor of modern languages and make him a better teacher.
Longfellow scolded one of his colleagues, Slidell, who had previously traveled and written travel sketches of his trip to Spain saying that his writings did not provide useful and valuable information; “only dreamy sensations and vague recollections of a sunny land” (33). Consequently, Longfellow set out to provide something different in his travelogues. He wanted to break away from conventional guidebook information in which the account resembles the speech of a tour director with its disjointed sequence and presumed authority (38).
For those of you who love to travel in Europe (especially France) and value Longfellow in verse, Outre-Mer is this convergence of two. I found a used library copy (pub 1892) in very good condition from AbeBooks for a very reasonable price. In this small treasure trove, one can find Longfellow’s depictions in verse of Normandy, Auteuil, Cimetiere Père Lachaise, Rouen [see blog post], Valley of the Loire, and a journey to Spain.
In the Foreword, Longfellow invites his readers to join him on his pilgrimage with these words:
“Lystenyth, ye godely gentylmen, and all that ben hereyn! I am a pilgrim benighted on my way and crave a shelter till the storm is over, and a seat by the fireside in this honorable company. As a stranger I claim this courtesy at your hands; and will repay your hospitable welcome with tales of the countries I have passed through in my pilgrimage (7).
He had me at “lystenyth”!
Longfellow, Henry W. Outre-Mer: A Pilgrimage Beyond the Sea. Philadelphia: McKay Publisher. 1892.
Pauly, Thomas H. “Outre-Mer and Longfellow’s Quest for a Career”. New England Quarterly, Vol. 50, No 1 (Mar. 1977) pp. 30-52.JSTOR.
Copyright 2020 by Robyn Lowrie. May be quoted in part or full only with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www.frenchquest.com)