Advice for travellers, 1671

Essential things you need to know for your trip

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For a man to travel safely through the world; it behoveth him to have a falcon’s eye, an ass’s ears, a monkey’s face, a merchant’s words, a camel’s back, a hog’s mouth, and a deer’s feet.

As lockdowns ease across some parts of the world, people are considering travelling abroad again. So who better to advise us on the best way to prepare and undertake a journey abroad than Sir Edward Leigh (1603–71)? The first part of his pamphlet Three Diatribes or Discourses was entitled ‘A Diatribe of Travel, or a Guide for Travellers into Foreign Parts’.1 (The other two sections were on ‘Money’ and ‘of Measuring of the Distance betwixt Place and Place’.) I came across this while ferreting for various historic travelogues. It was printed in 1671, the year of Leigh’s death.

Did Leigh actually travel himself? He was born in Leicestershire, educated at Oxford, and then spent six months in France in 1625 to avoid the plague at home in London, ‘with great improvement to himself and his studies’, he claimed. He was a noted anti-Catholic and became a Parliamentarian colonel during the English Civil War; and was MP for Stafford 1645–8. He is mostly known (if at all) for his religious writings. Whether he travelled beyond France isn’t clear, but that stay clearly emboldened him to offer the general advice for travellers I share with you this week.

“Travel in the Younger sort, is a part of Education; in the Elder, a part of Experience.” – Sir Francis Bacon’s Essays.

“There is no Map like the view of the Country; One journey will shew a man more then any Description can. He that searcheth Forreign Nations is becoming a Gentleman of the World.” – Feltham’s Resolves of Travel.2

Many Travellers returning to their own home, bring back only some vain Garbs and Fashions, and are leavened with the ill Customes and Manners of the Countries they passed through… I think it most requisite and fit, that none should Travel without leave of the State, or Publick Council; and at their return should be accountable to the State and Publick Council of their Travels, and the advantages they have made…

The Merchant… brings home exotick Commodities, as Wine, Fruit, Spices, Metals, precious Stones, Silk, and such like, serving both for use and luxury… The well-bred Gen∣tleman… honor, that he may accomplish himself for the service of his Country.

In such a one going to travel; there is required:

First. A competent age. That he be above eighteen or twenty years old: although the years of fourteen or fifteen are more proper for learning the true accent of any language; and all exercises belonging to the body.

[Leigh writes this in an era when the Grand Tour around Europe – for young, upper-class gentlemen, that is – was a relatively new phenomenon.]

Secondly. That he hath the Latin tongue; and some skill in the liberal sciences.

Thirdly. That he be skilful in architecture: able so well to limn [draw] or paint, as to take in paper the situation of a castle or a city, or the platform [plan] of a fortification.

Fourthly. That he be well grounded in the true religion: lest he be seduced and perverted.

Fifthly. He should be first well acquainted with his own country, before he go abroad; as to the places and government. If any came heretofore to the Lords of the Council for a license to travel: the old Lord Treasurer Burleigh would examine him of England. If he found him ignorant; he would bid him stay at home, and know his own country first.

[That was an allusion to the need for any travellers in that era who weren’t soldiers or merchants to have a royal licence, if departing from anywhere other than Dover or Plymouth; some had turned to Lord Burghley, i.e. Elizabeth I’s chief advisor, for help in acquiring one. For that matter, at a time when ‘vagrancy’ (and the spread of disease) was frowned upon, even travel within England required a local licence.]

Sixthly. It were of use to inform himself, before he undertakes his voyage, by the best chorographical and geographical map of the situation of the country he goes to; both in itself, and relatively to the universe: to compare the vetus et hodierna regio [‘old and modern area’]; and to carry with him the republics [government] of the nations to which he goes; and a map of every country he intends to travel through.

Seventhly. Before his voyage, he should make his peace with GOD; receive the Lord’s Supper; satisfy his creditors, if he be in debt; pray earnestly to GOD to prosper him in his voyage, and to keep him from danger: and if he be sui juris [ie. of age] he should make his last will, and wisely order all his affairs; since many that go far abroad, return not home.

In the survey of a country, these things are observable.

First. The Name and its derivation; the Latitude and Longitude of the place. The temperature of the climate. The goodness or barrenness of the ground. The populousness or scarcity of the people. The limits of the country; how it is bounded by sea or land, or both. The commodities, natural and artificial. The discommodities; either imperfections or wants. The manners, shape, language, and attire of the people. Their building; their havens and harbours. The religion and government. The history of the country and families.

Secondly. The Courts of Princes are to be seen and observed; especially when they give audience to Ambassadors: the Courts of Justice, while they sit and hear causes; and so of Consistories Ecclesiastical. The churches and the monuments therein. The walls and fortifications of cities and towns; Antiquities and Ruins; Libraries, Colleges; Disputations and Lectures, where they are. Shipping and Navies; Houses and Gardens of state and pleasure, near great cities; Armouries, Arsenals, Magazines, Exchanges, Bourses, Warehouses; Exercises of horsemanship; fencing; training of soldiers; and the like. Treasuries of jewels and robes; Cabinets; and rare Inventions.

Aubertus Miraeus, in the life of Lipsius, saith that when he came first to Rome, he spent all his time, when he was at leisure, in viewing the stones and ancient places, and other rarities there: and that he spent his time in the Pope’s Vatican library, in comparing together the manuscripts of Seneca, Tacitus, Plautus, Propertius, and other ancients. He viewed also other famous libraries, public and private.

Thirdly. The choice herbs and plants, beasts, birds, fishes and insects proper to that country; are to be taken notice of: together with minerals, metals, stones, and earths.

Their proverbs also should be observed; in which, much of the wisdom of a nation is found.

Fourthly. Learned men, and such as have abilities of any kind; are worthy to be known: and the best books there, are to be inquired after.

Men that travel must be very cautious both of speech and demeanour. The Italian proverb saith, “For a man to travel safely through the world; it behoveth him to have a falcon’s eye, an ass’s ears, a monkey’s face, a merchant’s words, a camel’s back, a hog’s mouth, and a deer’s feet.”…

Fifthly. Make choice of the best places for attaining of the language. As, Valladolid for the Spanish; Orleans or Blois for the French; Florence or Sienna for the Italian; Leipsic or Heidelberg for the High-Dutch [German] tongues. In these places, the best language is spoken…

Change of air by travelling, after one is used to it, is good: and therefore great travellers have been long lived.

[Leigh then offers examples of the travels made by luminaries such as the emperor Hadrian, who “travelled over a great part of the world and with his head bare, though it were cold and wet, and so fell into a deadly disease”, and lists numerous travel writers of his era, finishing thus…]

Sir Benjamin Rudyard whose discourse and speeches were full of apothegms was wont to say, “France is a good country to ride through, Italy a good country to look upon, Spain a good country to understand, but England a good country to live in.”

So wishing the traveller a prosperous voyage: I here cast anchor.

So there you go. Don’t forget your Latin phrasebook, and don’t bring back any “vain Garbs and Fashions” (the fabled ‘lousy T-shirt’ clearly isn’t new). And now I shall cast anchor too.


You can find the whole work here. It was also collected in the Harleian Miscellany.


Owen Feltham (1602–68) wrote a large collection of essays – unlike Leigh, who addresses his advice on travel only to men, Feltham also notably wrote about equality between men and women.