Books on Travel and Description

Heluetiorum Respublica. Diversorum Autorum, Quorum Nonnulli Nunc Primum in Lucem Prodeunt. Cum privilegio. 2nd edition. Leiden: Elzevier Press, 1627.

Bound in vellum, this little guide to Switzerland would slip handily into a pocket. Three editions were printed in 1627, of which this is the smallest. Although the Latin claims that some of the various authors' works have not been previously published, much of the text is a reprint of a 1576 Zurich publication by Josias Simlar.



Melville, Herman. Narrative of a Four Months' Residence among the Natives of a
Valley of the Marquesas Islands; or, A Peep at Polynesian Life.
London: J. Murray, 1846.

Published in 1846, five years before his first critically acclaimed novel Moby Dick, Herman Melville’s non-fictional tale, Narrative of a Four Months' Residence among the Natives of a Valley of the Marquesas Islands; or, A Peep at Polynesian Life, gives his true accounts and cultural observations during a four month journey aboard a whaling expedition in the Pacific Ocean. Through a Western perspective, Melville records his observations during his travels in the Polynesian islands, noting the behaviors and culture of native Polynesians. In one example from the text, he describes ‘barbaric’ tattooing of natives living in the Marquesas Islands, saying:

I beheld a man extended flat upon his back on the ground, and, despite the forced composure of his countenance, it was evident that he was suffering agony. His tormentor bent over him, working away for all the world like a stone-cutter with mallet and chisel. (240)



Emerson, Ralph Waldo. English Traits. Boston: Sampson and Company, 1856.

In his mid-nineteenth century travel narrative entitled English Traits, American poet, essayist, and transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson records his detailed accounts and demographic observations of the nation of England, taken from his perspective as an American traveler. Comparable to an anthropological ethnography, Emerson analyzes the nation of England while noticing the topography of its land, as well as the “abilities," manners, and even body types of its people. Often making striking comparisons between the traits he observes among the English and those of Americans, he writes in his chapter titled "Race" that the characteristic body types of the English are far stronger and larger in size than the Americans. While estimating the weight difference between them, he supposes, “…a hundred English taken at random out of the street, would weigh a fourth or more, than so many Americans" (70).



Thoreau, Henry David. A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1866.

Transcendentalist, naturalist, and American author of Walden and Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau gives his reflective accounts of a week-long retreat among the banks of the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, located near the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border. Published in 1866, Special Collections' edition features an ornately designed book cover that evokes Thoreau’s naturalist aestheticism. The book offers his every day accounts and ruminations during his week-long travels on the two rivers, describing both his personal experience of isolation from society, as well as the beauty of nature and his own desire to be a part of it. In a concluding passage, he describes the beautiful simplicity of natural objects, such as pebbles and logs, and resolves to become like them: “…the shining pebbles, not yet anxious to better their condition, the chips and weeds, and occasional logs and stems of trees, that floated past, fulfilling their fate, were objects of singular interest to me, and at last I resolved to launch myself on its bosom, and float whither it would bear me” (Thoreau 11).



Livingstone, David. Livingstone's Africa: Perilous Adventures and Extensive Discoveries in the Interior of Africa. Philadelphia: Hubbard, 1872.

Scottish Presbyterian medical missionary and African explorer David Livingstone’s writings are recounted in Special Collections' 1872 edition of Livingstone’s Africa: Perilous Adventures and Extensive Discoveries in the Interior of Africa. Included in this volume are a series of black and white illustrations of Central Africa, letters written during his travels, and his personal commentaries on the African cultures and the people he encounters. Livingstone’s Africa provides a Western perspective of nineteenth century Central Africa, and many of his annotations reflect his own fascination with ‘exotic’ Africa. In one passage, he describes the women of Manyema, noting their ornate wardrobe: “All dressed in their best candy-colored, many-folded kilts, they reach from waist to knee; when two or three thousand are together, they form an interesting sight” (Livingstone 529). He also makes note of their industriousness as traders at market, adding “the Manyema women, especially far doen the Lualaba, are very pretty and very industrious. The market with them is a great institution, and they work hard and carry far, in order to have something to sell” (Livingstone 529).


Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Poganuc People: Their Loves and Lives. New York: Fords, Howard, & Hulbert, 1878.

In her loosely based autobiographical work, Harriet Beecher Stowe depicts the life and times of a small Puritan town Poganuc, based on her childhood in Litchfield, Connecticut. This first edition copy features colorful characters like Miss Dolly and Colonel Davenport, local politics, small town religiosity, and anecdotal recipes for life. In the concluding paragraph of the book, she beautifully describes the Poganuc land, rivers, and people, writing:

Generation passeth, generation cometh, saith the wise man, but the earth abideth forever. The hills of Poganuc are still beautiful in their summer woodland dress. The Poganuc River still winds at their feet with gentle murmur. The lake, in its steel-blue girdle of pines, still reflects the heavens as a mirror; its silent forest shores are full of life and wooded beauty…As other daisies have sprung in the meadows, and other bobolinks and bluebirds sing in the tree-tops, so other men and women have replaced those here written of, and the story of life still goes on from day to day among the Poganuc People. (375)



Holmes, Oliver Wendell. Our Hundred Days in Europe. London: S. Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington, 1887.

A well established physician and professor of physiology, Oliver Wendell Holmes also proved to be an exceptional writer in his day, publishing both critically acclaimed volumes of poetry, as well as books on the subject matter of American history. Later in life, he wrote Our Hundred Days in Europe in 1887, which accounts of his extensive travels touring Western Europe-—fifty years after his first trip to Europe in his youth. Proposing his book as a “Rip Van Winkle experiment,” Holmes writes about the exceptional changes he encounters among Europe over a half century of progress. He also gives his own opinions and presumptions regarding the American's attraction to Europe, writing:

Give him all these advantages, and he will still be longing to cross the water, to get back to that old home of his fathers, so delighful in itself, so infinitely desirable on account of its nearness to Paris, to Geneva, to Rome, all that is the most interesting in Europe. The less wealthy, less cultivated, less fastidious class of Americans are not so much haunted by these longings. But the conveinance of living in the Old World is so great, and it is such a trial and such a risk to keep crossing the ocean, that it seems altogether likely that a considerable current of re-migration will gradually develop itself among our people. (313)



Kipling, Rudyard. From Sea to Sea: Letters of Travel. New York: Doubleday & McClure, 1899.

Considered one of the most popular writers in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Rudyard Kipling’s rich body of work includes a number of short stories, novels, poetry, and children’s fiction, including the highly popular novel The Jungle Book (1894). While journeying across America, Kipling records the sights and wonders he encounters in his anthologized collection of letters entitled From Sea to Sea: Letters of Travel. With chapter titles such as "Explains How Two Vagabonds became Homesick through Looking at Other People's Houses" and colorful characters such as “Old Man California,” Kipling offers insightful and creative readings of humanity and cultural observation. Special Collections' 1899 copy of this book features an embossed cover of an ornate ship at sea.



Audubon, John Woodhouse. Audubon's Western Journal, 1849-1850; Being the MS. Record of a Trip from New York to Texas, and an Overland Journey through Mexico and Arizona to the Gold-fields of California. New Mexico: Rio Grand Press, 1969.

John Woodhouse Audubon, son of the famous John James Audubon and a well known nineteenth century American painter, is best known today for his oil paintings of American wildlife, including scenes of airborne wild ducks and roaming antelope. Throughout his lifetime, he traveled extensively throughout North America, and subsequently returned to the American natural landscape when creating subjects for his paintings. He records the accounts of his travels in the West in his mid-nineteenth century journal, entitled Audubon's Western Journal, 1849-1850. Available in Special Collections, this rare edition of Audubon’s recorded travels gives insight into his meticulous attention to detail while observing his natural surroundings. In the following excerpt, he beautifully describes the migrating wild geese, saying:

Day and night (these beautiful moonlight nights), flock after flock of wild geese pass almost hourly over our heads to the north. I give up in despair trying to fathom the use of their migration when hundreds of their fellows are known to breed so far south. The courtship is kept up as they fly high over the grassy plains where they fed last fall, for if you look closely at the flock, you will see that with the exception of the old gander, a fourth larger than the others, as a rule all the rest are in pairs, and the males follow the females so closely that the line is composed of two very near together, two a little distance from them, and so on to the end. (Audubon 216)


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