Friday, September 23, 2016
Baedeker's Guides :Spanish are 'indolent'; Greek 'filthy'; Italians 'dishonest'; 'Orientals' 'stupid'Britain described as 'a place of parsons, puppy dogs and peculiar people'
The informed, detailed, authoritative and unguardedly rude Baedekers .The guides were founded in 1832 by German publisher Karl Baedeker They contain unforgiving comments on 'natives' a traveller might encounter Spanish are 'indolent'; Greek 'filthy'; Italians 'dishonest'; 'Orientals' 'stupid'Britain described as 'a place of parsons, puppy dogs and peculiar people'
An Englishman on holiday in Spain a century ago found a country with little to recommend it. Waking up on the first morning and consulting his guide book, he would have read the following description: ‘Spain is a bleak and often arid land, with few traces of picturesqueness.’
The towns, the guide continues, are wreathed in tobacco smoke and the cafes are ‘very deficient in comfort and cleanliness’. The guide further warns that the service from waiters, chambermaids and porters is generally very slack and that the traveller should always count his change.
In the Spanish countryside there is great danger of highway robbery, while in the cities the police will arrest anyone they can lay their hands on.
Donkey work: Edwardian tourists riding on donkeys and camela with their native guides at the Sphinx at Giza, Egypt in 1910
The railway carriages and omnibuses are so filthy that a clothes brush, a duster and some insect powder should always be at hand. As for the national sport of bull fighting, it is ‘the most unsportsmanlike and cowardly spectacle’ a civilised man will ever see.
This is the account of Spain given in the 1914 Baedeker Guide. These small, red books, bound in leather, were the first recourse for an Englishman abroad in the late 19th and early 20th century.
I came to Baedeker through my maternal grandfather, who amassed a collection of more than 130 of the red guides. He was possessed by a particularly keen sense of wanderlust, even into his 80s, and bought many hundreds of antique travel books.
The tone of the Baedeker guides is informed, detailed, authoritative — and riotously, unguardedly rude.
Alongside the city maps, ferry time-tables, and guides to churches, monuments and museums, there are unforgiving comments on the ‘natives’ a traveller might have the misfortune to encounter.
The Spanish are indolent, the Greeks filthy, the Italians dishonest and the ‘Orientals’ as stupid as children. The guides reflect an imperial attitude that would be unthinkable today.
For a century, Baedeker — founded in 1832 by German publisher Karl Baedeker — was the indispensable guide to Europe, the Middle East and beyond.
He prized himself on the accuracy of his books and was once discovered keeping count of how many stairs there were to the roof of Milan cathedral by placing a coin on every 20th step. He wanted his readers to know exactly how far they would have to climb.
By the outbreak of World War I, 992 editions of the guides had been published, covering Europe, Russia, North America, India and the Middle East.
After Germany, Britain was the biggest consumer of the books. It was the red Baedeker, small enough to fit in an overcoat pocket, which the British took as protection when they ventured abroad.
Today, many people know of Baedeker through reading or watching the film adaptation of E.M. Forster’s A Room With A View. In the opening chapters, our heroine Lucy Honeychurch (played in the film by Helena Bonham Carter) finds herself in Florence without a Baedeker.
A vintage Baedeker, which is guilty of terrible racial stereotypes
The guide is supposed to be a shield against Italian passion and without its protective influence, Lucy finds herself being kissed by an Englishman made hot-blooded by the Tuscan sun.
The name was also made famous by the Baedeker Raids of World War II when the Germans targeted bombing campaigns over English cities such as Bath, Canterbury, and Norwich, singled out for their architectural beauty by Baedeker’s Guide To Great Britain. The aim was to depress morale by destroying our Regency terraces, cathedrals and medieval streets.
In return, the RAF razed Leipzig, demolishing the Baedeker HQ.
Reading the guides today you are struck by how patrician they are in their view of the world. These are books for travellers from the two great European imperial powers: Britain and Germany.
In an age before political correctness, it was possible to be really very rude indeed about foreigners. It is not just the Spanish who are liable to run off with your change. In Italy, according to my grand-father’s 1912 guide, extortion is the national hobby and begging the national plague. Customs officials unfailingly pilfer your luggage and the cab-drivers, boatmen and porters are insolent and rapacious to ‘an almost incredible pitch’.
The guide explains that while the ‘evil sanitary reputation of Naples’ is often exaggerated, it remains a filthy city. The southern Italians, Baedeker explains, believe the ‘brilliancy’ of their climate more than makes up for the dirt.
Travellers are advised to stay in hotels with iron bedsteads as these are less likely to be infested with the ‘enemies of repose’ — Baedeker’s dainty euphemism for bedbugs.
Still, the guide cheerfully concludes, things have improved greatly since the cholera epidemic of 1884, though travellers are advised not to order oysters as they have been known to cause typhus.
Greece is worse. The bedclothes at the inns are full of ‘fleas, bedbugs, lice . . . and other disgusting insects, winged and wingless’. You cannot even console yourself with a glass of wine for the Greek vintages are universally ‘insipid and weak’.
Tangiers market in Morocco is ‘an indescribable mass of Oriental humanity’; and in Egypt, any traveller who comes into contact with the natives ‘should avoid rubbing their eyes with their hands’.
You couldn’t get away with that in a Dorling Kindersley guide today.
Indeed, some of Baedeker’s advice will appal modern sensibilities. In Syria, you are advised to ward off stray dogs with an umbrella and in Egypt it is acceptable to hit a cab driver with your walking stick.
You are, however, advised to ‘sternly repress’ the urge to prod a donkey with a stick to encourage it to gallop. (The original owner of my grandfather’s 1914 Egypt guide, a C. Crampton from Harrogate, put an emphatic ‘X’ in the margin next to this advice.)
Overall, the poor Egyptians are given a hard time of it. The average native, explains Baedeker, is ‘no more intelligent than a child’.
As for the British themselves, Baedeker observes that the country is 'a place of parsons, puppy dogs and peculiar people'
Baedeker is not just guilty of terrible racial stereotypes. He also has a very dim view of the capabilities of women.
A female traveller is a delicate creature who cannot possibly manage certain activities. When it comes to climbing Mount Vesuvius, for example, a man may do it on foot, but as this is too ‘fatiguing’ for ladies, they are advised to take the train. I can say with great satisfaction that I managed it perfectly well as a 13-year-old schoolgirl.
Few countries escape Baedeker’s censure, although the Dutch are grudgingly admired for their cleanliness: ‘Spiders appear to be regarded with special aversion and vermin is fortunately as rare as cobwebs.’
Germany, of course, is beyond reproach. But what of Great Britain?
Certainly, we fare better than some countries. ‘As compared with Continental hotels,’ explains the 1927 guide, ‘British hotels may be said as a rule to excel in cleanliness and sanitary arrangements.’
So far so good, though the guide adds that some hotels can be tolerated by gentlemen, but certainly not by ladies.
Our cuisine is inferior and monotonous and the national dish, the guide remarks disparagingly, is tea with chips and steak.
As for the British themselves, Baedeker observes that the country is ‘a place of parsons, puppy dogs and peculiar people’.
After World War II, Baedekers disappeared from British shelves. Other guides such as Dorling Kindersley, the Lonely Planet and Time Out took their place.
Then, in 2007, the series was relaunched. The red covers remain, but they now come in wipe-clean, plastic jackets. Practical, but with none of the romance of my grandfather’s red leather hardbacks.
In tone they are indistinguishable from other guidebooks. There is nothing to match Baedeker’s sniffy comment on visiting large towns in England: ‘We need hardly caution newcomers against the artifices of pickpockets and wiles of impostors.’
Nor are they as evocative as the originals — for there are passages of lyrical description amid the scorpions and bedbugs. The scenery of Southern Greece, for example, is celebrated for ‘its mountains, its deep-blue gulfs and its clear, ethereal atmosphere which brings distant objects close to the beholder and robs shadows of their depth and gloom’.
While I don’t advocate a return to the days when Edwardian guides advised travellers to wash their hands if they so much as touched a foreigner, there is something refreshing about Baedeker’s acerbic comments on the food, hotels and manners of foreign climes.
This week, many of us will return from August holidays in France, Spain and Italy rather wishing someone had warned us that the local taxis smell like goat sheds, that the paella will make you desperately ill and that you cannot get a decent cup of Earl Grey anywhere in the Mediterranean.