Stranger in Ireland: the problematics of the post-union travelogue

Glenn Hooper

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    "Amongst those many advantages, which conduce to enrich the mind with [a] variety of Knowledge, to rectify and ascertain the Iudgement, and to compose outward the highest story of perfection," remarked James Howell in 1642, was "Peregrination or Forraine Travell" (11). Historiographer to the King, author of a number of wide-ranging studies, Howell's mid-17th-century interpretation of the advantages accruing to the traveler suggests a familiar, if over-simplistic, story. In being exposed to the hazards and challenges of inter-ethnic complexity, Howell sees the traveler undergoing a radical transformation of self or, at the very least, a re-evaluation of previously held theories that make the very effort of traveling a beneficial and modernizing affair. Whether 17th-century traveling was ever as simple as Howell suggests and whether, given the increasingly involved nature of the activity itself, it could be performed with the sort of self-improving clarity and sense of purpose he envisions is, of course, another thing entirely. Certainly Edmund Spenser, in his A View of the Present State of Ireland (written in 1596 but not published until 1633), seemed to take a more political approach to the subject, one that tied the travelogue more directly to the ideological strategies of the day than to any program of intellectual enrichment or self-discovery: "This ripping up of ancestries is very pleasing unto me, and indeed savoureth of good conceit and some reading withall. I see hereby how profitable travel and experience of foreign nations is to him that will apply them to good purpose" (47). Establishing a direct link between the travel-narrative form and the necessities of empire, between the accumulation of information and the practicalities of colonial politics, Spenser identifies one of the single most important attributes of the travel-narrative form: epistemological power.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)25-47
    Number of pages23
    JournalMosaic Journal
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 1995


    • Ireland
    • history of travel
    • travel books


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