Travels far and near

[Cross-posted from Modsquad]

I’ve been reading Leibniz’s correspondence with Thomas Burnett of Kemnay. Burnett is probably best known as one of the people via whom Leibniz tried to communicate with Locke. He was, more generally, a source of news for Leibniz about things published in English — his own personal book review section.

Locke’s work is indeed a repeated topic, but there are all sorts of other topics besides: a fashion for Aesop’s Fables, Dryden’s translation of Virgil, etc, etc. But this seems like a good occasion to notice an interest in travel literature.

This interest was not confined to Burnett and Leibniz. See Lewis’s post about Ippolito Desideri’s Account of Tibet. And Locke obviously had some interest in this, as shown by Essay I.iii.9, with its reference to (among others) “the voyage of Baumgarten, which is a book not every day to be met with”. But not all of the travels written about were terribly distant.

John Toland wrote a book about his travels to Berlin and Hanover — one that describes his visits to courts and meetings with philosophers, but which I remember most vividly for a passage expressing Toland’s great enthusiasm for Prussian signposts. (Toland has other relevance here as the author of Christianity not Mysterious, and also of a Life of Milton that Burnett sent to Leibniz, and which Leibniz commented on.)

Various examples of not so distant travels appear in the Leibniz-Burnett correspondence. A letter from Burnett to Leibniz in March 1699 (A1.16, N372) mentions travel books including Martin Lister’s A Journey to Paris in the Year 1698 and Martin’s  A Late Voyage to St Kilda [non-subscription version][St Kilda wiki page]. Leibniz made approving note of both of these (A1.18.N211, p382), and the second led Leibniz to ask Burnett whether the Irish language was much like the Welsh, as well as to speculate about the ways in which one linguistic example in the book resembles Greek (p388).