Touring London and Edinburgh in the 18th Century

London and Edinburgh are two very different cities despite their proximity and popularity. Many of these differences can be traced back as far as the late 18th century when both cities were undergoing a number of changes due mostly to the commercial revolution. London was expanding very quickly and while Edinburgh was certainly modernizing it remained relatively small in comparison. Both London and Edinburgh had an influx of tourists wanting to see what the city life was all about. Edinburgh, however, also had the advantage of getting people close to the highlands of Scotland, which soon became a touring hotspot as well. On our recent trip abroad to both cities I was able to see in person and make connections with many of the things we had only read about in class beforehand. By not only comparing literature about 18th century tourism in London to that in Edinburgh, but also to our recent trip abroad we are able to make a number of connections.

In The Expedition of Humphry Clinker by Tobias Smollett published in 1771 the characters take a trip to the highlands of Scotland after stopping for a few nights in Edinburgh. They take notice of the differences between the highlands and the lowlands. Reading the description of their trip I can’t help but notice similarities with our recent trip to the highlands via The Hairy Coo Tour. Smollett writes of the highland trip, “to come hither it was necessary to cross a small inlet of the sea, in an open ferry-boat – This country appears more wild and savage the further we advance.” This is so similar to our trip on the tour where we rode a boat across Loch Katrine and got to see all of the nature that the Highlands is known for.  It also says something about tourism in Edinburgh at the time. It seems as though many people interested in visiting Edinburgh would end up touring the highlands as well like the characters do in Humphry Clinker. Not as big nor as modernized as London, Edinburgh’s proximity to the rugged highlands certainly helped bring tourism in the 18th century just like it still does today.

View From Boatride on Loch Katrine

      View From Boatride on Loch Katrine

london 1

Street Performer Near the London Eye

While Smollett wrote about the differences between the lowlands and the highlands there is also lots to say about the differences between Edinburgh and London. Reading Visitors to London by Cesar de Saussure has shaped my image of 18th century tourism in London. In this foreigner’s accounts we are able to understand more about what the city of London was like in the 1700s. Certainly more modernized than Edinburgh, but also bigger in size and population meant more tourism in the city of London and still does today. Saussure describes one particular place that reminds me of one of my nights in London recently. He writes, “Entertainment is given [At Sadler’s Wells] all the summer through…you first see rope-dancers, tumblers, and acrobats; after that tricks of skill and daring are performed.” One particular night that I stayed in London I went to a high tourist spot to see the London Eye. When I got there I noticed a circus was going on and there were food trucks and street performers. I ended up sitting in the grass and watching a man do tricks on the street for a growing audience. I couldn’t help but think how typical it all was and how similar it must be to 18th century London when people were coming from all over to see things such as a circus.Unlike Edinburgh, London was becoming an international metropolis in the late 1700s. The size of London alone meant people might not have even be able to see the whole city when they came for a visit let alone take a trip outside of the city for other attractions. Clearly there was also lots of stuff going on in the city that made people want to come. Much like our own experience where there was always so much to see and do that it was overwhelming at times.

Both London and Edinburgh have certainly changed and modernized a lot over the past few hundred years, but we can still see a lot of those same differences between the cities. It’s interesting to compare the way 18th century tourism in London and Edinburgh is described in literature of the time with my own modern experience of the two cities. I was surprised at the number of similarities and connections I was making throughout my trip with different things we had read in class. I think in lots of ways it made my experience a richer one because I understood aspects of the history of both cities that I would have otherwise been unaware of. I also enjoyed getting to compare London to Edinburgh in the same way many of the characters we read about did.

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