Dr Iain Gordon Brown - Frolics in the Face of Europe: Sir Walter Scott, Continental Travel and the Tradition of the Grand Tour

On 3rd June 2021 the Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club virtually hosted at talk by Dr. Iain Gordon Brown. 

Dr. Iain Gordon Brown is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London and of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, was formerly Principal Curator of Manuscripts in the National Library of Scotland, where he is now an Honorary Fellow.

He has also held the office of Curator of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scotland’s national academy (of which Scott was the third President). A widely-published scholarly author, he has edited Scott’s Interleaved Waverley Novels: An Introduction and Commentary and Abbotsford and Sir Walter Scott: The Image and the Influence, and has written numerous articles and essays on aspects of the man and his world. A past President of the Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club, he is a member of the Curatorial Expert Advisory Panel of the Abbotsford Trust, and of the Faculty of Advocates Joint Abbotsford Advisory Committee. Formerly President of the Old Edinburgh Club, and a Trustee of Edinburgh World Heritage, he is currently an Associate of the Centre for the History of the Book in the University of Edinburgh and is Consultant to the Adam Drawings Project at Sir John Soane’s Museum, London. He is also a Trustee of the Penicuik House Preservation Trust and a Vice-President of the Edinburgh Decorative and Fine Arts Society.
The intellectual history and culture (in its broadest sense) of Scotland in its Golden Age of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries has long been a major area of interest, and the focus of many of his books and articles which have covered a wide range of inter-related topics. For over four decades he has also worked on the history of the Grand Tour, publishing extensively on British travellers, scholars, artists and architects in Europe between the 1690s and the 1850s. 

Sir Walter Scott wrote frequently of his desire to travel widely in Europe. However, he actually made only three Continental ventures. Two were to Belgium (including the battlefield of Waterloo), Northern France and Paris, where he immersed himself in local culture and society and on which he published an excellent travel book. Then, shortly before his death, he at last journeyed to the Mediterranean, the British Admiralty giving him free passage in a warship – a notable gesture of concern for the welfare of what today would be called a ‘national treasure’. Scott visited Malta, and many cities of Italy. His months in Naples and his weeks in Rome provoked both interest and sadness: most of all they caused him to reflect from afar on Scotland, the land of his birth, his mind and his heart. He returned through the Tyrol and German lands, regions of the Continent he had long wished to see, but which he could by then barely appreciate.

These European trips are full of interest for the modern reader. But equally, and almost more so, are the many other schemes Scott entertained for wider travelling, notably in the Iberian Peninsula, in Switzerland and Germany, and even (latterly) in Greece and the Aegean. In this book, all these actual and projected journeys are examined in the context of the Grand Tour tradition, and also in that of the new kind of ‘romantic’ travel that, after 1815, came to succeed older, prescribed forms. 

Frolics in the Face of Europe (the phrase is derived from a letter of Scott’s of 1824) draws on his vast correspondence and his moving journal; on his verse, and his prose fiction; and on the literature of travel which gave him such a wide knowledge of the world without even leaving his study in Edinburgh or his library at Abbotsford. A series of vignettes or pen-portraits emerges of journeys completed, and voyages merely dreamed of. Many social, literary and artistic connections are made; events, places and personalities are linked, often in surprising ways. Walter Scott emerges as a man with ambiguous ideas about travel: one who knew that he ought to travel, and to have travelled more than he did. But he was a writer of profound imaginative power, whose vicarious travelling allowed him to spend most of his time where he really wanted to be: in his native Scotland. This book offers a fresh view of Scott as the 250th anniversary of his birth approaches.