Travellers, Connoisseurs, and Britons: Art Commentaries and National Discourse in the Travel Writings of Daniel Defoe and Tobias Smollett

Open access


This article seeks to explore the interrelationship of two facets characterising eighteenth-century travel writing – art commentaries and national discourse. It is demonstrated that one of the reasons behind the travellers’ repetitious attempts to fashion themselves as connoisseurs was a need to re-affirm their national identity. To this end it offers an analysis of two travel texts coming from two different political moments – Daniel Defoe’s A Tour thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724–1726), constituting an attempt to read the British as a “great” and prosperous nation after the union of 1707, and Tobias Smollett’s idiosyncratic Travels through France and Italy (1766), shedding light on the British attitude towards the South in the aftermath of the Seven Years’ War and at the outset of the cult of feeling in Britain. It will also be argued that the numerous art commentaries throughout the narratives had a political agenda and supported the national discourse underpinning the texts.

[no author]. 1766. Review of Travels through France and Italy by Tobias Smollett. The Critical Review; or, Annals of Literature. Vol. XXI, 401–406. London: A. Hamilton.

Addison, Joseph. 1718. Remarks on Several Parts of Italy. 2nd edition. London: J. Tonson.

Defoe, Daniel. 1927 [1724–26]. A Tour Thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain. London: JM Dent and Co. Web edition published by the University of Adelaide. (accessed 6 December 2017)

Du Fresnoy, Charles Alphonse. 1668. De arte graphica liber. Paris: Barbin.

Smollett, Tobias. 2010 [1766]. Travels through France and Italy. (Foreword by Ted Jones, introduction by Thomas Seccombe.) New York, NY: Tauris Parke.

Steele, Richard. 1891 [1711]. The Spectator. No. 103 (June 28) (Edited by Henry Morley), 372–374. Vol. 1. London: George Routledge and Sons.

Sterne, Laurence. 2002 [1768]. A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy and Continuation of the Bramine’s Journal. (Edited by Melvyn New and W. G. Day.) Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida.

Walpole, Horace. 1974. The Yale edition of Horace Walpole’s correspondence. (Edited by Wilmarth S. Lewis.) Vol. 37. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Ayers, Philip. 1997. Classical culture and the idea of Rome in eighteenth-century England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Batten, Charles L. Jr. 1978. Pleasurable instruction: Form and convention in eighteenth-century travel literature. Berkeley, Los Angeles, CA & London: University of California Press.

Furbank, Philip N. & William R. Owens. 1998. A critical bibliography of Daniel Defoe. London: Pickering & Chatto.

Gibson, William. 2007. Art and money in the writings of Tobias Smollett. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press.

Jones, Richard J. 2011. Tobias Smollett in the Enlightenment: Travels through France, Italy, and Scotland. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press.

McCue, Maureen. 2014. British Romanticism and the reception of Italian Old Master art, 1793–1840. Farnham: Ashgate.

Moroz, Grzegorz. 2013. Travellers, novelists and gentlemen: Constructing male narrative personae in British travel books, from the beginnings to the Second World War. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

Novak, Maximillian E. 1996. Picturing the thing itself, or not: Defoe, painting, prose fiction, and the arts of describing. Eighteenth-Century Fiction 9(1): 1–20. DOI: 10.1353/ecf.1996.0001

Novak, Maximillian E. 2001. Daniel Defoe: Master of fictions. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pears, Iain. 1988. The discovery of painting: The growth of interest in the arts in England, 1680–1768. New Haven, CT & London: Yale University Press.

Pretzler, Maria. 2007. Pausanias: Travel writing in Ancient Greece. London: Bloomsbury.

Rogers, Pat. 1998. The text of Great Britain: Theme and design in Defoe’s Tour. Newark, NJ: University of Delaware Press.

Ross, Ian Campbell. 2007. When Smelfungus met Yorick: Tobias Smollett and Laurence Sterne in the South of France, 1763. In O. M. Brack, Jr. (ed.), Tobias Smollett, Scotland’s first novelist: New essays in memory of Paul-Gabriel Boucé, 74–93. Newark: University of Delaware Press.

Schellenberg, Betty A. 1995. Imagining the nation in Defoe’s A Tour Thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain. English Literary History 62(2): 295–311. DOI: 10.1353/elh.1995.0017

Skinner, John. 1996. Constructions of Smollett: A study of genre and gender. Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press.

Studia Anglica Posnaniensia

The Journal of Adam Mickiewicz University

Journal Information

Cite Score 2017: 0.14

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2017: 0.131
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2017: 0.448


All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 287 272 13
PDF Downloads 91 89 7