By Pieter François
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Extra resources for ‘A Little Britain on the Continent’: British Perceptions of Belgium, 1830-1870
Too did not try to conceal his motives for publishing his account. His preface starts with the words ‘They are now published, almost word for word, from my pencillings by the way, without the smallest pretension to literary merit87’. A book review of a travel account in the “Foreign Quarterly Review” refused even to dwell on the standard part of the travel account, as it was already too well known to the readers88. Still, some travel writers were envious about the sales of guidebooks of Murray and Baedeker, and pointed in their direction to explain the disappointing sales figures of their own guides and accounts: Though Murray’s inimitable Guides have deservedly taken the wind out of the sail (some spell it sale) of all manner of journals, - though Sterne has exhausted the sentimental, Thackeray the humourous, Forbes the scientific, and ( ) the dull, I will be rash enough to hazard a few cordial candid notes of travel, on a route that you have gone yourself, or some day will go – and trust that in charity no less than justice you will not bid me occupy that last intolerable blank89.
On the occasion that his steam yacht slowly crossed the border between France and Belgium, he wrote: “The banks were higher here, and we could see in Belgium already a change in the aspect of the country, which appeared very rich with farms, many churches and spires showing the distance”94. Of course, this claim can be true or partly true. However, it also reveals that he was expecting a difference and he might 36 Pieter François have anticipated this feeling the moment he crossed the border. When the British traveller Seth William Stevenson left the Rhineland and changed carriage at the border with Belgium, he even claimed that he immediately knew that he was in a new and French speaking country, as the driver “cracks his whip à la mode de France, treats himself with brandy, and feeds his animals with bread”95.
Often clichés were used as a means to cover up the extremely narrow empirical base upon which the observations of the travellers were founded. There was a great contemporary awareness of this small empirical base, and it was often criticised as one of the most important weaknesses of contemporary travel writing. The reviewer of Frances Trollope’s Belgium and Western Germany in 1833 criticised strongly her lack of contact with the Belgian population99. Finally, it is necessary to analyse what kind of information is missing from the travel literature.
‘A Little Britain on the Continent’: British Perceptions of Belgium, 1830-1870 by Pieter François