The Grand Tour Correspondence of Richard Pococke & Jeremiah Milles Volume 3: Letters from the East (1737-41)

Rachel Finnegan

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2011, Pococke Press,                                                                                                         336 pages

Editor: Rachel Finnegan

This Volume 3 is the final in the series and reproduces 43 of the 48 letters (with summaries of the remaining 5) sent by Pococke to his mother from the time he sailed from Livorno to Alexandria in September 1737, until his arrival 3 years later at Messina, where he was obliged to undergo a period of quarantine. It represents a complete and continuous epistolary account of a 3-year voyage of Egypt, the Holy Land, Syria, Lebanon, Asia Minor, Turkey, the Greek islands and mainland Greece.

It is this part of his travels that brought Pococke immediate and lasting fame, since 2 years after his return he published his book, A Description of the East and some other Countries, in 2 volumes (1743 & 45). In addition to offering a unique collection of 178 engravings (views, architectural line drawings, maps and plans), some of which are recognised as anticipating the more famous works of James "Athenian" Stuart, Nicholas Revett and Richard Chandler, Pococke's book provides a scholarly account of his observations while travelling in the "Sultan's dominions". Though the book had its share of contemporary critics (the most strenuous of whom were rival travel writers of the East) it has been greatly admired over the centuries and, among other things, has earned the author recognition as a pioneer in Homeric topography.

By contrast, the daily entries in his journal letters offer a more immediate and intimate account of the architecture, customs, landscape, climate, natural history and cuisine of the Ottoman Empire in the first half of the eighteenth century. The letters also reveal much about Pococke's social experiences, and tell of the "many civilities" he received both from the host communities, and from the (largely identifiable) "Franks" (foreign residents) including British merchants, diplomats and clergy from the various Christian churches and orders active in the East.

In common with the correspondence reproduced in Volumes 1 & 2 of this series, the Eastern letters are written in a light and amusing style, intended to entertain and placate his anxious mother, and offering us an alternative view to that of Mrs Delany that he was "the dullest man that ever travelled". The volume concludes with an appraisal of Pococke's reputation as a travel writer and divine, and introduces an obscure satirical poem (Meekness & Ambition, or the Hypocrite Detected) which, printed in the year of his death (1765), attempted to discredit his name as Bishop of Ossory.