Of Travel by Francis Bacon

"Let him sequester himself from the company of his countrymen"

Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon (1561-1626). Stock Montage/Getty Images

A statesman, scientist, philosopher, and author, Francis Bacon is generally regarded as the first major English essayist. The first edition of his "Essayes" appeared in 1597, not long after the publication of Montaigne's influential "Essais." Editor John Gross has characterized Bacon's essays as "masterpieces of rhetoric; their glowing commonplaces have never been surpassed."

By 1625, when this version of "Of Travel" appeared in the third edition of "Essayes or Counsels, Civill and Morall," European travel was already part of the education of many young aristocrats.

(See the essay by Owen Felltham also titled "Of Travel.") Consider the value of Bacon's advice to the present-day traveler:  keep a diary, rely on a guidebook, learn the language, and avoid the company of fellow countrymen. Also notice how Bacon relies on list structures and parallelism to organize a number of his recommendations and examples.

Of Travel

by Francis Bacon

"Travel, in the younger sort, is a part of education; in the elder a part of experience. He that travelleth into a country, before he hath some entrance into the language, goeth to school, and not to travel. That young men travel under some tutor or grave servant, I allow well; so that he be such a one that hath the language, and hath been in the country before; whereby he may be able to tell them what things are worthy to be seen in the country where they go, what acquaintances they are to seek, what exercises or discipline the place yieldeth; for else young men shall go hooded, and look abroad little. It is a strange thing, that in sea-voyages, where there is nothing to be seen but sky and sea, men should make diaries; but in land travel, wherein so much is to be observed, for the most part they omit it; as if chance were fitter to be registered than observation: let diaries, therefore, be brought in use. The things to be seen and observed are, the courts of princes, especially when they give audience to ambassadors; the courts of justice, while they sit and hear causes; and so of consistories ecclesiastic [church councils]; the churches and monasteries, with the monuments which are therein extant; the walls and fortifications of cities and towns; and so the havens and harbours, antiquities and ruins, libraries, colleges, disputations, and lectures, where any are; shipping and navies; houses and gardens of state and pleasure, near great cities; armories, arsenals, magazines, exchanges, burses, warehouses, exercises of horsemanship, fencing, training of soldiers, and the like: comedies, such whereunto the better sort of persons do resort; treasuries of jewels and robes; cabinets and rarities; and, to conclude, whatsoever is memorable in the places where they go; after all which the tutors or servants ought to make diligent inquiry. As for triumphs, masks, feasts, weddings, funerals, capital executions, and such shows, men need not to be put in mind of them: yet are they not to be neglected."

Overseas travel during Francis Bacon's time wasn't something just anyone could do, and without air travel, it wasn't something one did on a lark for a quick vacation, either. It took a lot longer to get somewhere, so once there, you were going to stay a while. In this section he advises travelers to have a tutor in the language or a servant who's been to the place before as a guide.

Today this advice still can apply, though you don't have to hire someone to go with you. Maybe you know someone who's been to the country or city before and can give you dos and don'ts. You can have a travel agent put together an itinerary for you. When you get there, you can hire a local guide or find tours at the local tourism office. Bacon's point is to draw on others' knowledge of the place before you go, so you don't end up walking around blindfolded ("hooded") and not able to fully understand the place while you experience it.

Learning any of the local language that you can before you depart only helps you in the daily details of getting from point A to point B and finding the absolute essentials: food and drink, a place to sleep, and lavatory facilities, though Bacon was too genteel to point these items out specifically. 

He advises people to keep a journal of what they see and experience, which is good advice as well. Trips last only so long, and memories of the finer details can fade. If you write them down, though, you'll be able to re-experience the trip later, through your first-impression eyes. And don't just write down a few things on the way over there and then drop it.

Keep it up throughout your trip where you'll be seeing new things all the time.

See historical buildings where "courts of princes" or "courts of justice" took place. See churches, monasteries, monuments, town walls and fortifications, harbors and shipyards, ruins, and colleges and libraries. You might be able to see fencing demonstrations or horse shows, though nowadays you're likely not to run into many "capital executions." You can take in plays and attend talks, see artifacts, and do whatever other activities of interest your guide or friend recommended are "musts" for the place.  

"If you will have a young man to put his travel into a little room, and in short time to gather much, this you must do: first, as was said, he must have some entrance into the language before he goeth; then he must have such a servant, or tutor, as knoweth the country, as was likewise said: let him carry with him also some card, or book, describing the country where he travelleth, which will be a good key to his inquiry; let him keep also a diary; let him not stay long in one city or town, more or less as the place deserveth, but not long: nay, when he stayeth in one city or town, let him change his lodging from one end and part of the town to another, which is a great adamant of acquaintance; let him sequester himself from the company of his countrymen, and diet in such places where there is good company of the nation where he travelleth: let him, upon his removes from one place to another, procure recommendation to some person of quality residing in the place whither he removeth; that he may use his favour in those things he desireth to see or know; thus he may abridge his travel with much profit."

Besides language tutoring and advice from a friend, Bacon advises that you want a good guidebook to help you get around, which is still perfectly good advice today. He also advises to not spend too long in any one place—not even in the same part of town. Try out different sections.

And don't isolate yourself with your traveling group or people from your home country. Interact with the locals. Get advice from residents of the place you're visiting on what to see and do and where to eat. Your travel will be richer for it if follow locals' recommendations because you'll find places that you might not otherwise have found. Some advice never goes out of style.

"As for the acquaintance which is to be sought in travel, that which is most of all profitable, is acquaintance with the secretaries and employed men of ambassadors; for so in travelling in one country he shall suck the experience of many: let him also see and visit eminent persons in all kinds, which are of great name abroad, that he may be able to tell how the life agreeth with the fame; for quarrels, they are with care and discretion to be avoided: they are commonly for mistresses, healths, place, and words; and let a man beware how he keepeth company with choleric and quarrelsome persons; for they will engage him into their own quarrels. When a traveller returneth home, let him not leave the countries where he hath travelled altogether behind him; but maintain a correspondence by letters with those of his acquaintance which are of most worth; and let his travel appear rather in his discourse than in his apparel or gesture; and in his discourse, let him be rather advised in his answers, than forward to tell stories: and let it appear that he doth not change his country manners for those of foreign parts; but only prick in some flowers of that he hath learned abroad into the customs of his own country."

For a 17th century aristocrat, it was probably easier to make acquaintance with ambassadors' employees, but they didn't have travel agents or the internet, either, to find out about destinations. It's definitely good advice to be on good behavior while traveling, though.  

Upon your return, as Bacon points out, your friends aren't going to want to hear you go on and on ad nauseam about your trip. Neither should you discard your previous way of life and completely adopt the customs of the place you've just returned from. But definitely do learn from your experience and incorporate knowledge and practices that you've picked up to make your life better—at home.