At long last, CBe is dipping its toes into ebook waters.
The first two ebook editions are Not So Barren or Uncultivated: British Travellers in Finland 1760–1830 and No Particular Hurry: British Travellers in Finland 1830–1917. (Print editions of these are still available from bookshops and from the CBe website, and a third volume – 1917–1942 – will be appearing in print later this year.) These are anthologies: they present extracts from the writings of, well, British travellers in Finland, introduced and with linking passages by Tony Lurcock. Compiled over many years, they are also labours of love – for Finland, and for (some of) the travellers.
Being neither short fiction nor poetry, these books sit a little awkwardly on the CBe list, but they are very welcome. Tony Lurcock originally approached me for advice on how to self-publish the first volume. I started reading. ‘In the Introduction I have presented the writers against the background of their times, describing some of the cultural, social and literary ideas which they reflect. Themes such as “the picturesque” can then be mentioned in the body of the book without further digression. It is by no means necessary to read the introduction to enjoy the contents of the book, nor need the book be read chronologically, in full, or indeed at all. That is the way with anthologies.’ My italics. I was seduced.
We learn, through the travellers, about not just the landscape of Finland but its progressive social character. Finland is ‘undoubtedly the best educated nation in the world’ (Young, 1911); it was the first country in Europe to enfranchise women (1906) and to elect them to parliament (1907); in 1908 Travers sets off eagerly ‘to the only civilised country in Europe, the one place where women have got their full rights’.
We witness the bemusement of travellers when experiencing the sauna and naked bathing – ‘This was my first experience of a bath à la Finnoise, and I am not anxious to renew it, for to stand in puris naturalibus and be soaped from head to foot by a buxom lady (even of mature years) is somewhat trying to a novice’ (Harry de Windt) – and local food and drink: ‘A supply of Finnish beer, a sort of attenuated rhubarb and magnesia tends to gravitate the solidities, but it is funny stuff’ (George Francklin Atkinson); ‘With regard to that brown rye-cake of Lapland, I brought a piece home to England, which my dog saw and annexed. He is a fox-terrier of lusty appetite, and he tried to eat it. He tried for a whole afternoon, and finally left the cake alone on a lawn, very little the worse for the experience’ (C. J. Cutliffe Hyne).
But perhaps the chief pleasure of the books lies in the linking commentary of Tony Lurcock, whose style has an odd affinity with that of many of his travellers. Here is Captain Batholomew Sulivan (who later sailed with Darwin on the Beagle): ‘Sometimes we meet a small boat with two or three people in it, and a cow standing as quietly as possible, though looking too large for the boat to hold in safety.’ Here is Lurcock: ‘On the evidence of the various accounts given by travellers, one may say confidently that the Great Coastal Road was not great, not always coastal, and not always even a road.’ There are not many books of this kind, and possibly none in which the content and the style and temperament of the compiler combine so happily.
For sale from Amazon: here and here. The Amazon pages carry some 5-star reader reviews for both books.
(Coming next, ebook editions of two of my own poetry collections: Paleface, 1996, and The Age of Cardboard and String, 2001. The print editions were once published by Faber.)