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Thomas Coryate

Posted in English Literature, Historical articles, Literature, Travel on Sunday, 5 June 2011

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Thomas Coryat (c.1577 – 1617) was one of the first eccentric English travellers to wander through Europe and write an account of his travels.

Coryate, picture, image, illustration

Thomas Coryate

He might be said to have been the first English gentleman to undertake what would come to be called the Grand Tour. Later journeys took him as far as Greece and beyond to Asia, where he visited Persia and even India. He was born in Crewkerne, and from Somerset went up to Winchester College, and after that Gloucester Hall, now Worcester College, Oxford. His brilliance and unusual interests recommended him in courtly circles, and he was adopted by Henry, Prince of Wales, as his favourite intellectual oddity, being treated almost as a court jester.His first journey in 1608 was substantially undertaken on foot, and his account of it, Coryate’s Crudities, appeared in 1611. This fascinating and influential volume contains more interesting detail about European life at the time than any other contemporary account; the proof of this may be simply seen in Coryate’s noting the fork’s usage in Italy, and indeed that of the umbrella as a parasol, both of which were then adopted by the English. Grander examples of Coryate’s influence lie in the world of music, for he gave us the first elaborate account of a great church service in San Rocco in Venice, listing works by Gabrieli and other composers of the Venetian School, noting both the polyphonic sacred works and several great instrumental compositions. Greetings from the Court of the Great Mogul (1616) is a series of letters from Agra and other exotic cities, and many more destinations beckoned, but Coryate died of dysentry in 1617. Notes from his last journey were gathered together in Purchas his Pilgrimes in 1625.

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