How has the idea of the South come to exert such a powerful hold over our imagination? From the beaches of Southern Europe to the Great White South of the Antarctic; from South America to the South Pacific, South explores this most diverse and captivating of regions. The South has long since cast its spell on writers and artists, from Goethe and Poe, to Gauguin, Lawrence and Kerouac; while landscapes of ice and snow, sand and sea, have lured explorers southwards for centuries, often with fatal consequences. This book will follow in the footsteps of Cook, Scott, John Muir and others as they recount their journeys.
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About the Author
Merlin Coverley is a writer and bookseller. He is the author of Psychogeography and The Art of Wandering in the Pocket Essentials series.
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By Merlin Coverley, Nick Rennison
Oldcastle BooksCopyright © 2016 Merlin Coverley
All rights reserved.
All dwellers in the Teutonic north, looking out at the winter sky, are subject to spasms of nearly irresistible pull, when the entire Italian peninsula from Trieste to Agrigento begins to function like a lodestone. The magnetism is backed by an unseen choir, there are roulades of mandolin strings in the air; ghostly whiffs of lemon blossom beckon the victims south and across the Alpine passes. It is Goethe's Law and is ineluctable as Newton's or Boyle's.
Patrick Leigh Fermor
The Mediterranean is the model for the concept south , and it is a rare Briton whose pulses do not race at mention of that compass direction.
There are many ways to characterise the division between the north and the south in Europe. It may be done by highlighting differences in landscape and climate, the sea and the sun of the Mediterranean south contrasted with the colder more mountainous terrain of the north. Equally one may identify a fault line between the peoples of the north and south, their customs, language, religion and morality; the stereotypically easy-going existence of the Catholic south, for example, is often contrasted with what is frequently perceived (usually by those who live there) to be the more industrious lifestyles of their Protestant counterparts in the north. Architectural styles, diet, and a preference for beer or wine, the ways in which we confirm this continental divide seem endless; but what is more difficult to identify with any degree of precision is the point at which one world gives way to another. For we carry our own sense of north and south within us, an internal compass which regulates our worldview and which impresses our personal and imaginary vision onto the world around us. In his essay 'Ordered South' (1874), Robert Louis Stevenson, a writer whose life, perhaps more than any other, followed an unerring southerly course, has described the sensations that this moment of transition entails:
Moreover, there is still before the invalid the shock of wonder and delight with which he will learn that he has passed the indefinable line that separates South from North. And this is an uncertain moment; for sometimes the consciousness is forced upon him early, on the occasion of some slight association, a colour, a flower, or a scent; and sometimes not until, one fine morning, he wakes up with the southern sunshine peeping through the persiennes, and the southern patois confusedly audible below the windows. Whether it come early or late, however, this pleasure will not end with the anticipation, as do so many others of the same family. It will leave him wider awake than it found him, and give a new significance to all he may see for many days to come. There is something in the mere name of the South that carries enthusiasm along with it. At the sound of the word, he pricks up his ears; he becomes as anxious to seek out beauties and to get by heart the permanent lines and character of the landscape, as if he had been told that it was all his own – an estate out of which he had been kept unjustly, and which he was now to receive in free and full possession. Even those who have never been there before feel as if they had been; and everybody goes comparing, and seeking for the familiar, and finding it with such ecstasies of recognition, that one would think they were coming home after a weary absence, instead of travelling hourly farther abroad.
Stevenson was 'ordered' south to the French Riviera on health grounds, but the experience he relates above was by no means unique to him, for by 1874, young men across Europe had been performing a similarly southward migration for more than two centuries. Of course, the motivations behind such excursions changed over the intervening years, as the Grand Tourists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries gave way to the invalids and sun-worshippers of the nineteenth and twentieth. Today the growth of mass tourism has transformed the coastal landscapes of southern Europe, creating a seemingly endless series of anonymous beachside communities, supported by a transient population of predominantly northern European holidaymakers. These changes, some gradual, others much less so, have been witnessed and recorded by an array of writers and travellers, from Goethe to Nietzsche; DH Lawrence to Laurie Lee; Norman Lewis to JG Ballard. Such a disparate series of observations and impressions, of different regions and at different periods, might at first glance appear to hold little in common, but on closer inspection all these accounts, regardless of time and place, demonstrate the endurance of our fluctuating, but apparently boundless, fascination with the south.
The Grand Tour
According to the historian, Ian Littlewood, the first recorded usage of the term 'Grand Tour' is in Richard Lassels' travel narrative, The Voyage of Italy (1670), although twenty years earlier the diarist John Evelyn had described a traveller on a journey through Europe 'making the tour as they call it.' The ideas behind the Grand Tour, however, the custom of travelling through continental Europe which was undertaken, largely by aristocratic young men (young women would have to wait another 200 years or so), between the mid-seventeenth and mid-nineteenth centuries, have their roots in Enlightenment thought. Indeed, the very name, Enlightenment (in French, Les Lumières) is, as Adam Gopnik notes, suggestive of the metaphors of warmth, light and sunshine which were employed to illustrate the illumination of dark superstition through reason, and which had the inevitable, yet irrational, consequence of promoting the idea of distinct national cultures as reflections of their own particular climates. With its newfound emphasis upon the senses and physical stimuli as the source of all knowledge, Enlightenment thinking saw the environment and the natural world take on a new relevance and as a result the idea of travel developed a role as a crucial part of a young man's education. Thus from around the latter half of the seventeenth century, young men of a principally wealthy, predominantly northern European Protestant background began to head southward through continental Europe in search of the classical antiquities and Renaissance treasures of the south. Over time a well-trodden circuit was established through France and Switzerland before crossing the Alps into northern Italy. From there the intrepid traveller, accompanied, according to wealth and status, by a retinue of guides and servants would head southwards via Turin to Florence, before turning north to Padua and on to Venice, the cultural highpoint of the Tour. The ruins of ancient Rome came next, and finally Naples. For many this marked the southernmost extent of the Grand Tour, but for the more adventurous the Greek ruins on Sicily, or even Greece itself, awaited, before the return journey home, often via Germany and the Netherlands.
Describing the Tour as a rite of passage, the historian, John Pemble, writes: 'On the threshold of the South he [the Grand Tourist] experienced an apotheosis. He passed from the circumference to the centre of things, and his thoughts dwelt on roots, origins, essentials and ultimate affinities'. Lasting anywhere from a few months to several years, the Tour was certainly presented, perhaps even intended, as primarily an educational experience, one that provided an opportunity to expose oneself to the splendours of the classical world, while permitting the ruling classes to mix with aristocratic European society before returning home suitably elevated, both morally and spiritually. This in any event was the official version. In reality, however, the scholarly and artistic elements of the Tour paint only half the picture, and the unofficial version has less to do with cultural enrichment and more to do with sexual adventure. That this was the case was not lost on the public left at home who often viewed the Tour and the motives of those who chose to experience it with great suspicion. If, however, the sexual element was a central feature of the Grand Tour from the outset, it is hardly surprising that such motivations remain unspoken in the numerous contemporary accounts of such travellers' adventures, in which the cultural element is always in the foreground. For, as Littlewood notes, as a record of their observations, 'letters home commonly tell of the churches visited, not the brothels.'
The first wave of eighteenth-century Grand Tourists envisaged a role for themselves as that of the 'cultural connoisseur', whose goal was 'to pick his way through Europe gathering information and artefacts, developing his understanding of social institutions, refining his manners along with his appreciation of the arts.' But in the following century this rather rigidly interpreted view of cultural acquisition gradually gave way to a sense that the Grand Tourist was engaged upon a quest for personal fulfilment. In his popular guidebook, The Grand Tour (1749), the scholar and antiquarian, Thomas Nugent, summarises the purpose first envisaged for the Tour: 'to enrich the mind with knowledge, to rectify the judgement, to remove the prejudices of education, to compose the outward manners, and in a word to form the complete gentleman.' Such worthy notions are, however, somewhat at odds with other rather less rarefied descriptions, such as the depiction of the traveller to be found in the following lines from Alexander Pope's The Dunciad (1743):
... he saunter'd Europe round, And gather'd ev'ry Vice on Christian Ground; Saw ev'ry Court, heard ev'ry King declare His royal Sense, of Op'ra's or the Fair; The Stews and Palace equally explor'd, Intrigu'd with glory, and with spirit whor'd;
The glaring disparity between such accounts simply confirms the existence of the Tour in both its official and unofficial guises, as well as acknowledging the unavoidable fact that the public, including, of course, the families of those whose sons had embarked upon the tour, were well aware of the twofold nature of the experiences awaiting them in southern Europe. In short, if not officially recognised, sexual liaisons were not only to be expected but to a degree actively encouraged as an important element of a young man's education. Such an education inevitably gave rise to some unwelcome consequences and sexually transmitted disease came to be regarded as an occupational hazard; while the doctor who would have been responsible for administering an uncomfortable course of mercury treatment was seen as 'an essential member of the supporting cast.' Such considerations would have been further amplified by an awareness of the fact that 'one of the main functions of the Grand Tourist when he got home was to breed sons to continue the family line.'
If there was an awareness of the potential threat posed by what was widely seen as a degenerate and pervasive southern morality, then such a threat was seen as part of the implicit challenge presented by opposing ways of life to the established order at home. In the case of the Grand Tour, populated as it was almost solely by aristocratic and wealthy young individuals, any fear of potentially revolutionary sentiments being exported homeward was mitigated by the fact that few of these highly privileged individuals were likely to question a system which promoted their own interests. In terms of personal behaviour, however, in even offering up the opportunity to compare one's own way of life with another which, in the south at least, appeared to be characterised by a sexual freedom unparalleled in the countries of the north, the Grand Tour 'had opened another door to moral truancy.'
Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, there was one country, more than any other, which encapsulated, in the minds of northern Europeans at least, this twofold sense of the official and unofficial aspects of the Tour: Italy. The cultural axis of European travel as well as the notorious home to 'every kind of sexual iniquity', Italy remained throughout this period the primary attraction and principal lure of the Grand Tour. 'No other country', writes Littlewood, 'has been so long and so consistently associated with erotic freedom. From the Renaissance until well into the twentieth century its identity for British travellers was shaped by a reputation for transgressive pleasure that stretched back to the more colourful Roman emperors.' While sodomy was regarded as the sexual act most peculiarly associated with Italy, its broader reputation for sensuality and decadence was as well-known to would-be visitors from the north as was its warm climate and its repository of classical treasures, and such a national perception went some way to maintaining the pivotal role that the country, and in particular Venice and the south, enjoyed within the standard European itinerary of the day. Of course, such an itinerary changed over time, subject to fluctuating intellectual and cultural (as well as sexual) fashions, but perceptions of just what constituted the 'South' and quite where it began and ended, were shaped most clearly by the political and social realities of the period. Thus throughout the eighteenth century, with the Turks continuing to control Europe east of Vienna, and in conflict with the Christian countries of the Mediterranean, the contours of southern European travel became rigidly delineated and the favoured route of the Grand Tour was fixed accordingly. Greece was effectively ruled out, with the consequence that the remnants of the classical Greek world still available for perusal in southern Europe were now to be found predominantly in Rome, southern Italy, and on the former Greek colony of Sicily. It was here, on the extreme southern boundary of the European continent, that the idea of the 'South' was crystallised in the minds of those northern Europeans who had first made its 'discovery'; and it was through their travels that perceptions of the region would be shaped for future generations.
Goethe's Italian Journey
On 28 August 1786, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) was on holiday in Carlsbad celebrating his thirty-seventh birthday. In the eyes of the public he was an enviable figure: as the author of Götz von Berlichingen and Werther he had been famous since his early twenties; as a Privy Councillor in the government administration at Weimar he had gained both respect and responsibility; in addition he had a long-term mistress in the form of Charlotte von Stein, an aristocratic member of the Weimar Court. Outwardly, then, all looked well; in reality, however, Goethe was frustrated, overworked and disillusioned. He was under pressure to produce a new work that would establish the promise of his youthful reputation; he felt suffocated by his life at the Weimar court and by his huge administrative responsibilities; and he was embroiled in an unsatisfactory and frustratingly platonic relationship with a woman eleven years his senior. In short, Goethe was a walking mid-life crisis and the time was ripe for him to make his escape.
Goethe's father, Johann Casper Goethe, had visited Italy in 1740, at the time an unusual journey to make for a German Protestant who was not an aristocrat. His journey was a highly influential one, however, for as a result of this trip he came to idealise the country, passing on his journal to his son and encouraging him to make his own pilgrimage south. Yet despite several opportunities, Goethe had thus far resisted the temptation to do so, getting as far as Switzerland and within sight of Italy in 1775 before choosing to return home. By 1786, however, his father was dead and when it came to turning his back on his life in Weimar there was really only one destination that Goethe had in mind. In the end, his journey appears to have been spontaneous rather than planned, and on 3 September 1786, in the middle of the night, he made his getaway: 'On 3 September at 3 in the morning I crept out of Carlsbad, they wouldn't have let me go if I hadn't. They could tell I wanted to get away [...] but I wasn't going to be stopped, for it was time.' Leaving his travelling companions under the impression that he was taking a short excursion into the mountains, Goethe jumped into a coach and without a servant and travelling light and incognito – he assumed the name of Möller – he headed swiftly southward through Bavaria and Austria before crossing into Italy and moving on to Rome. And it was here, some eight weeks after his initial flight and by now having acquired another identity – this time that of a painter called Filippo Miller – that Goethe finally wrote home to disclose his whereabouts. An account of this headlong rush south can be found in his diary of this period (available in English as The Flight to Italy), but it is not through this document that Goethe's journey has since been celebrated, but instead it is the account he was to write some twenty-five years after these events, in which he was to describe both this journey and the following two-year period he spent travelling through Italy, a period in which he shed his old self altogether to emerge a quite different person.
Excerpted from South by Merlin Coverley, Nick Rennison. Copyright © 2016 Merlin Coverley. Excerpted by permission of Oldcastle Books.
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Table of Contents
Introduction: The Idea of South 9
Chapter 1 Goethe's Law 21
The Grand Tour
Goethe's Italian journey
Nietzsche's Discovery of the South
Heliotherapy and the Invention of Sunbathing
Southern Twilight: DH Lawrence in Italy
Gold Rush: Spain and the Tourist South
Chapter 2 In the South Seas 71
Terra Australis and the Utopian South
Transit of Venus: Do Bougainville, Cook and the Discovery of the South
The Arrival of the Missionaries
Paradise Lost: Melville and Stevenson
Noa Noa: Gauguin and the Tahitian Dream
The Nuclear South
Chapter 3 Magic South 119
Walking South: John Muir
South of the Border
Kerouac in Mexico
Sur, Borges and 'The South'
Chapter 4 The Polar South 163
Arctic and Antarctic
The Aristocrats of the South
The Polar Gothic
Coleridge, Poe and Lovecraft
The Antarctic as Refuge
Chapter 5 South of the River 223