Engaging with Man, Engaging with Nature: A Commentary on the Travel Writing of Pierre Jean Grosley and Ramond de Carbonnières

Anne Privett

Each summer, for the past five years, I have traveled to Savary Island, B.C. to "repose my wearied spirit" on the mountains, the ocean, and especially on the absence of civilization and the regular amenities thereof. The island is divided: the western half submits to residents who wish for large homes and tennis courts while the eastern half (Indian Point) supports those who want to escape from those very things. There are only a handful of permanent residents on the eastern half and they have built their homes and gardens with a respect and reverence for nature that is rarely found in the city, or Savary Shores (the western half). The visitors to the island fit, generally, into the same western and eastern categories; all escaping the city, but only some willing to leave the city behind. It is a modern distinction between the tourist and the traveler. It is impossible to engage with nature without engaging with the people on Savary Island. I have found that encounters with both visitors and residents, negative or positive, have influenced my experience of nature and, in turn, knowledge of myself. Therefore, the effects of our Romantic Travelers' encounters with people (tourists, travelers or native residents) on their experience of nature have interested me greatly. Pierre Jean Grosley and Ramond de Carbonnières' travel writing provides two perspectives (the tourist and the traveler) of both nature and its human inhabitants. How each man engages with the people he meets mirrors the way he engages with his natural surroundings. My desire to blend in with the residents of Indian Point place my traveling experiences on par with de Carbonnières Travels in the Pyrenees. However, I am also very aware of the preconceptions I have of tourists, which is also evident in Grosley's New Observations on Italy and its Inhabitants.

A tourist is someone with a "pre-digested conception of what he or she sees and does not closely engage with the countryside or its people" . Most travelers of the Romantic Period would have read other travelers' journals before departing on their journeys. Pre-digested conceptions, then, were not uncommon but some relied more on these idea than others. Pierre Jean Grosley's 1769 New Observations on Italy exhibit many instances of these 'pre-digested' conceptions. Firstly, he utilizes Livy's words to describe his descent into Italy (see page 38). It is obvious that Grosley regards Italy, as was the popular conception, as an exotic and mysterious place; consider his fear of the supposed state-spies-as-fishermen (296). Grosley's interactions with the people he encounters are superficial and notably for his personal benefit. The travelers he meets on the River Brenta are only mentioned because they do not warn him of the dangers of oysters or their salesman (297). He notes the monks of the first priory in his journal because of their trout and the "six livre crown-piece" paid without return of violet seeds (36). When Grosley does venture into a village, he interacts with the Autochthones only in the hopes of getting change for a French crown (32). His observations of the Benedictines and their burial practices reveals that he believes "such pious contrivance[s] for mortifying pride" to be mere Catholic superstition (205). Proceeding from Montselice to Ancona, Grosley encounters the first travelers to have an opinion of him (as he has had many of others). A "devout Procaccio" insists that Grosley and his companions "do not believe in God" (332-33). Grosley generalizes the people of Italy saying that it was but a "common saying among the Italian mobility" (332-33). Grosley refers to passing pilgrims as "howling" their litanies and to other religious arguments heard en route as benefiting him by producing Italian words he would not have discovered in books (333).

Grosley is very caught up with the complexities of travel; instead of focusing on the scenery he makes careful account of the cost and number of carriers needed for the journey across Mont Cenis (37). He is also very concerned with history. Discussing Hannibal and his army takes precedence again over the scenery (36). On the River Brenta, Grosley divides his time between " the delicious houses" and a book "called Arcadia" rather that his natural surroundings (269). Just as Grosley dealt with the people of Italy on a superficial level he too engages with nature is such a way. Of what description there is, it is very aesthetic-oriented (the picturesque) and only once slightly suggests the sublime. Grosley's descent into Italy is only related in terms of its length (38). He pays attention to the to beautiful colours of the narcissus, ranunculus and violets crossing Mount Cenis (35). Most of his description is found during the approach to Mount Cenis. Obviously disagreeable (but perhaps the only reason why it was described), Grosley focuses on the fog, the "nauseous smell" and the "yellowish scum" (31). Crossing the River Brenta, he does acknowledge his surroundings as an "earthly paradise", but this paradise is described in one sentence, leaving much to the imagination of the reader (297). His experience borders on the sublime as he descends into Italy "by storm", his carriage hung over a very precise "two or three thousand perpendicular feet" (38). Engagement with only the picturesque, produces little reason for Grosley to examine himself and what he has learned from his experiences, save an assessment of the effects of oysters on one's stomach.

Ramond de Carbonnières' Travels in the Pyrenees (1789) offer an experience quite different from that of Grosley's in Italy. De Carbonnières fully engages with the people he encounters and by extension is able to engage with nature and himself at a deeper level. I would like to suggest that perhaps engaging with the local people is in fact de Carbonnières way of accessing the more profound experiences and realizations that can be occur while traveling. Initially, de Carbonnières approaches nature with a scientific eye, recognizing the aesthetic and practical usages of the Rhododendron (51) and the exact measurement, in toises, of Lake Oncet (53). He does, however, describe the scenery around the lake as "grand", "immense", "majestic" and "profound", signaling to the reader aspects of a sublime experience (53). De Carbonnières experiences pockets of the "immensity of nature" and its effects on his person (56). Consider, on page 54, when he begins to feel the "charm", "that lightness of body, that agility of limb, and that serenity of mind". And again, briefly, when he was "inhaling piece of mind" (58). Although a 'repose for the wearied spirit', these experiences do not encourage de Carbonnières to look deeper than what is right in front of him. It is his encounters with the native mountaineers and shepherds that encourage introspection. I am continually delighted at de Carbonnières astonishment with the idea of traveling for curiosity's sake. Admiring the two barefoot mountaineers, de Carbonnières credits them with taste, grace, agility and romantic happiness (63-4). De Carbonnières has also spent time with the shepherds native to the region. It is in his encounter with these shepherds (pages 66-69) that I believe he gains access to nature and reason for self-contemplation. De Carbonnières recognizes the shepherd as "unfortunate men" in that they are "condemned to perpetual solitude" (66). This solitude is neither entirely solitary nor negative. Each shepherd has his flock and is far from the " sphere of influence" of the town (67). One can sense a deep admiration in de Carbonnières noting of the shepherds connection with nature and his flock as well as his simplicity. Even though the height of Primitivism was in the 1760s, these sentiments seem to be very clear echoes of that philosophy. It is when meeting with these shepherds that de Carbonnières sheds his shoes, his class and his scientific viewpoint. He realizes he is not above the shepherd's "gratuitous hospitality" and understands the "miserable superiority which the power of spending a little money bestows" (68). It is a humbling experience for he has neither been laughed at nor treated with "feigned deference", he has been considered an equal (68). Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho and a comparative examination of William Coxe and Helen Maria Williams travel writings of Switzerland brought forth the idea that men tend to view nature with a more distant or scientific eye while women are likely to engage nature and its sublime effects. De Carbonnières does indeed have that scientific eye, but it seems to me that he accesses nature and its effects on himself only in a different manner than Williams: his experiences it through people. As defined as "someone who becomes a part of the life of the people and their natural world" , Ramond de Carbonnières is indeed a traveler.

I identify most easily with Ramond de Carbonnières. Watching the tourists of Savary Island walk the beaches with their cell phones, dropping beer caps on the tidal sands, convinces me outright that a more simplistic life is not only better for the natural world but also for human beings. With only a few changes of clothes and simple food I have found myself trying to embody the Primitivism written about in texts books. Encounters with tourists are mostly frustrating - I can't pick up all the bottle caps nor convince them not to drop them. But when I do meeting a tourist who is in fact a traveler I realize that, like Pierre Jean Grosley, I have many negative preconceptions of city-dwellers and, as much as I may try to deny it, I am a city dweller as well. My experiences with the residents of India Point are similar to those of Ramond de Carbonnières and the shepherds. I have received nothing but hospitality and have not been treated as a city-dweller. The generosity and acceptance of the residents I have met is paralleled only by the natural world which, even after the mansions and tennis courts of Savary Shores, still welcomes one more traveler, still offers the ocean, the sands and forests.

Pierre Jean Grosley and Ramond de Carbonnières travel writing provides two perspectives (the tourist and the traveler) of both nature and its human inhabitants. How each man engages with the people he meets mirrors the way he engages with his natural surroundings. Grosley's encounters with other travelers and Italians are superficial and mainly for his benefit (change for a French crown, a trout dinner). Likewise, his descriptions of nature, though few, are concentrated on the picturesque rather than sublime. Due to this, Grosley has little reason for self-examination. De Carbonnières, on the other hand, engages with nature beyond his initial scientific attempts. He accesses nature, and in turn increases his knowledge of self by engaging with the people he encounters, specifically the shepherds of the Pyrenees. I find I am able to relate my own experiences on Savary Island with both of these travelers, although more so with Ramond de Carbonnières.

Works Cited

de Carbonnières, Ramond. Travels in the Pyrenees; containing a description of the principal summits, passes, and vallies. Trans. F. Gold. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Browne, 1813. (Original work: Observations faites dans les Pyreneés, 1789)

Grosley, Pierre Jean. New Observations of Italy and its Inhabitants. Trans. Thomas Nugent. London: L.Davis and C. Reymers, 1769. Vol.1

Noyes, Russell. English Romantic Poetry and Prose. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1956. Introduction, xxii.