Coryate’s Crudities: travels through 17th-century Europe

A curious early travel book

Thomas Coryate’s Crudities (1611) records Coryate’s extensive travels across Europe in 1608. The self-deprecating title, Michael Strachan has suggested, may derive from Dallington’s View of France (1605). Dallington refers to the glut of travel books on the English market as ‘unseasoned crudities’, incapable of being digested for knowledge or virtue.

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The self-deprecation of the title infuses the rest of the engraved title page. It is full of mock-heroic vignettes taken from Coryate’s experiences abroad. Coryate’s seasickness on the Dover-Calais crossing is depicted. His ragged travelling outfit, with lice dropping out of it, is also represented. A Venetian courtesan pelts Coryate with eggs. And from above the portrait of the author, as Ben Jonson glossed it, the allegorical figure Germania ‘pukes on his head’.

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A torrent of panegyrics

The engraved title page gave rise to another curious feature of the book, the mass of prefatory verses which precedes Coryate’s own travel narrative. To inspire verses in praise of the Crudities, Coryate circulated the engraving to many poets and wits.

Coryate belonged to a drinking society which patronised the Mermaid Tavern in London. Fellow patrons of the Mermaid, including Ben Jonson, wrote verses for the Crudities. John Donne and Inigo Jones also contributed. Many of the verses were mocking and derogatory. Donne predicted that the Crudities would be recycled to wrap market wares, and broken up to bind more worthy publications. He tells Coryate:

Go bashful man, lest here thou blush to look
Upon the progress of thy glorious book.

Many other contributors of verses professed not to have bothered to read the Crudities at all. As the torrent of panegyrics got out of hand, Coryate decided to suppress some of them. But the dedicatee, Prince Henry, commanded that all verses received (amounting to 107 pages) be printed in full. The cost of compliance was significant, as Coryate was financing the publication himself.

The tombstone traveller

Coryate’s appetite for travel was not sated by his European perambulations. He set off for the Levant in 1612 to gather material for another book. He visited Constantinople and Jerusalem before taking a route through Iran to India.

Tom Coryate, nicknamed ‘the tombstone traveller’ for his interest in epitaphs, never completed this second narrative. He died at Surat, Gujarat in 1617, aged about 40.

Balliol College Library shelfmark 575 b 6

Video created by Paris O’Donnell

Sources

Michael Strachan. The life and adventures of Thomas Coryate. Oxford University Press, 1962
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, s.v. ‘Thomas Coryate’ and ‘The Mermaid Tavern’