h2g2 Literary Corner: The Joys of 'Abroad'

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Regular readers of the h2g2 Post will know that one of our pet hates is bad travel writing. If you can't make it interesting, keep your holiday snaps to yourself.

This month, the h2g2 Literary Corner will take advantage of the Create theme to bring you some of the worst travel writing you can find. For edification and lulz.

The Joys of Abroad

Ed Note:Abroad is actually the title of this book, which was written by a clueless American member of the New York social register, name of J. Henry Coghill, in 1868. You can find the whole opus here if you're a travel writing masochist. These are just a few highlights, not even the most noxious ones.

Don't you love the combination of 'facts and figures' with the utterly self-referential? Remember: if you write like this, people a hundred years from now will find out that you were disappointed by the dilatory lawn mowing in Hyde Park and got tired in the museum. They will singularly fail to care.

What Happened to the Author in London, Because It's All About Him (And Little Howie)

The Crystal Palace

5th [October] – After an early breakfast we left by railway for the Crystal Palace, Sydenham; and what shall I say of this mammoth edifice1? The main building is, without the wings, sixteen hundred feet long by three hundred wide, with a tower at each end three hundred feet high; when the wings are added, and the tier of galleries above, which extends around the entire building, the distance travelled in going through all is upward of two miles in extent2. The grounds are in keeping with the palace, and beautifully laid out in lawns, groves, and fountains. In the nave known as the fine arts courts are, fac similies3 of the actual remains of the architecture and sculpture of the successive ages and schools, intended to give the untravelled visitor the same advantages which have been hitherto the privilege of the traveller only. These
courts are rich with the art of heathen4 Egypt, Assyria, Greece, and Rome, Mahometandom, Spain and Byzantium, Christian Italy, France and England. There are in the building a great many works of art and industry, and one is thoroughly tired out before he gets half through5.

6th. – Visited the House [sic] of Parliament, and was much pleased with the whole of the interior arrangements, and particularly so with the many beautiful historic paintings on the walls6. The rooms are lighted from the ceilings with gas, through stained
glass. The effect is said to be fine. This is one of the most magnificent buildings ever erected continuously in Europe, and probably the largest Gothic edifice in the world. It covers an
area of nearly eight acres, has one hundred stair-cases, eleven hundred apartments, and more than two miles of corridors. It is warmed through sixteen miles of steam pipes, and the cost of
the gas for one year is $17,500. The cost of the building was upward of two millions sterling. The first stone was laid April 27, 18407.

From here we went through St. James [sic] Park, and visited the Queen's mews (or stables). We saw only a part of her stud of horses (which number one hundred). The twelve horses of state
were there. They are of a rich cream-color. There were also twelve jet blacks, used for ordinary state occasions. Among numerous equipages were two new carriages, and another of an earlier age, enormously large, richly carved, and clumsy-looking8. Little Howie, after giving it a thorough examination, remarked that "they had devoted more to the outside than the in9."

7th, Sunday10. – Went again to hear Mr. Spurgeon, and was as much pleased with him as before. His text was from Hebrews x: 15-18. His manner is easy and graceful; he fills the enormous room without any apparent effort11; his language is plain, but forcible and impressive. He is an orator, and his own earnest feelings are thrown into his sermons.

8th. – We drove through Hyde Park, and were much disappointed, there being nothing attractive about it. The grounds are not well kept; the grass was high and uneven, and everything bore evidence of neglect12. We went next to Kensington Gardens, which are laid out with much taste, and are very pretty. From here we drove to Regent's Park, about five hundred acres in extent. We spent most of our time here in the zoological gardens, which contain, probably, a larger collection of birds, animals and reptiles, than can be found at any other place in
the world. Everything pertaining to the arrangements is as perfect as can be made13.

9th. – Called at my bankers, walked through some of the business streets, and returned to my hotel, quite fatigued.

Ed. Note: Doesn't 1868 London just come alive for you in this thrilling travel description? This is why we loathe these travel writers. Here we are, just itching to know what it was like, the sights, the sounds, the smells. . . and he was 'quite fatigued'. This or that was 'good' or 'bad' or 'disappointing'. Ye gods and little fishes. Don't leave the future with nothing to go on, share. Like h2g2 does, right?

The Literary Corner Archive

Dmitri Gheorgheni

07.08.17 Front Page

Back Issue Page

1Something other than, 'It's really mindbogglingly huge,' we hope.2Nope. Ah, well.3When reading bad travel writing, it is important to realise that you can always learn something   – such as, in 1868, they didn't know the word 'facsimile'.4Victorians were obviously superior to anything 'heathen'. Note Spurgeon reference below.5Aargh! The only reason we opened this book was to find out something about the Crystal Palace. Other than its measurements, we have learned nothing. Jerk.6We hope somebody informed Government of this stamp of foreign approval.7Gack. Notify the Bureau of Boring Statistics.8The Queen must have been devastated by this critique, and ordered a complete overhaul of her equipage.9Wasn't that clever of Little Howie? Score another one for the witty Coghills.10Why do we care that it's Sunday? Oh, right. Spurgeon.11This is actually kind of interesting. Saying, 'We went to hear Spurgeon' is like saying 'We went to hear Billy Graham.' Spurgeon was a really famous evangelist. His church, the New Park Street Chapel, could seat 1200, and it was always packed. The microphone hadn't been invented yet. Spurgeon's lung power was impressive.12And this guy was from New York City?13Pass the zoo, then.

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