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A madcap guide for travelers

This 1611 book by Thomas Coryate has been called the first travel guide printed in England.

A title of the book followed by a description, beneath which is a portrait of the author. Scenes from the book surround the page.

Thomas Coryate. Coryats Crudities. [London,] W[illiam] S[tansby], [1611]. Folger call number STC 5808 copy 1.

This is the title page of Coryats Crudities, which has been called the first travel guide printed in England. Published in 1611, this popular work offers an account of Thomas Coryate’s journey—largely on foot—through France and northern Italy to Venice, and then back by way of Switzerland, the Rhine valley, and the Low Countries. By his own account Coryate visited 45 cities in about 140 days. Then as now, a traveler’s memoir in which the author mocks his own difficulties abroad was a surefire recipe for a hit.

Coryate, who called himself the “Odcombian legstretcher” after his provincial hometown of Odcombe, was an adventurer of no mean wit who played a self-mocking part in the inner circle of King James’s son Prince Henry. Remarkably, he embarked on his brisk tour of Europe in 1608 with little if any grasp of French, Italian, or German—a fact that sometimes created difficulties. But with Latin and some Greek, he could communicate with any well-educated European. The breakneck speed of Coryate’s journey across Europe explains his self-deprecatory title, Crudities, from the French meaning of the term as a piece of raw food that could, as he notes, be “hastily gobled.”

The title page, engraved by William Hole, effectively captures the tone of Coryate’s book, showing the author seasick during the passage to Calais at upper left and, at lower right, pelted with eggs by a Venetian courtesan as he flees in a gondola. Yet Crudities also provides thorough and comprehensive reports on the towns and cities Coryate visited, from the inscriptions on local monuments to the details of everyday life. Among the latter is the first written English reference to that future British icon, the umbrella—then in use by the Italians as a parasol. 

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