Nie Zachód, nie Wschód : Francja i Polska w oczach niemieckich podróżnych w latach 1750–1850

Struck, Bernhard GND

The following publication is a extended version of the doctoral dissertation and is the result of many-year research carried out in major German libraries specializing in modern times, such as Staatsbibliothek Berlin, Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Göttingen, and Herzog-August-Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel. German-language travel reports on Poland and France published in between 1750 to 1850 were used by the author as the source material. The author collected 352 reports on France and 116 reports on Poland. All descriptions come from actual travels and do not contain fictitious descriptions. They are a collection of feelings and views of their authors. Moreover, these are the reports that reached the public and formed a part of the discourse in both countries. Based on source texts, the changes in the perception of Poland and France covering the period of 100 years have been presented. The main point of the publication revolves around the question regarding the perception and description of France and Poland. The author also takes into account the comparability of both images and analyses their similarities, differences and occurring changes.

The book is divided into three chapters. In the first part, Struck considers a few basic issues, i.e. who and when wrote the travel diaries and what content was to be saved and thus conveyed; who among the bourgeois society at that time belonged to the educated group of people traveling and compiling the diaries; and who conveyed and to whom among the societies, unknown images of foreign countries and societies through reports written in the form of diaries. The author presents profiles of the travellers and authors of the analysed diaries, and focuses on their social, professional, geographical and religious origin. He begins with the statement that the social profile of travellers and writers-travellers underwent a change in the 18th century. Until then, it was mostly nobility that had travelled to foreign countries. However, in the second half of the 18th century, travels and their literary heritage acquired a much more middle-class character. On the basis of on the analysed sources, Struck draws a conclusion that a great number of travellers came from a middle-class background, and spent a substantial part of their lives in cities, getting education, or working professionally. Only a small number of travellers came from nobility and they usually held the title of baron. The vast majority of the authors came from North German Protestant areas, graduated from universities and held higher education diplomas. Among the representatives of the lower nobility, only a few did not have education, and their distinguishing feature was the ownership of land. When it comes to the age of the travellers, this group was quite homogeneous. Mostly working people in their 40 with the adequate social and financial status travelled to foreign countries. A smaller group consisted of young noblemen and patricians who would set off on a journey at the age of about 20 - right after graduation. Travellers also held professions that allowed for mobility - they were usually lawyers and educators, scientists, physicians, clergy, as well as writers and journalists, for whom the expansive development of the book market at the end of the 18th century created great opportunities of earning. It was characteristic of travellers to write about the issues related to their profession. Women can also be found in the analysed group of traveller for whom the educational and professional opportunities were limited, but the developing book market and literature gave them some opportunities to make money, even though their profits were far from handsome.

Further on, the author focuses on the motives and typology of traveling to France and Poland. In the case of travelling to France, education had an unquestionably strong position. Educational travelling was primarily focused on Paris, which was the centre of not only the French, but also European culture and enlightenment. Medical purposes started gaining popularity, as the waters of the Pyrenees attracted many expeditions. Later on, traveling through the provinces caused by agrarian and economic reasons also became popular. However, such trips also had educational and medical nature. In comparison to France, Poland remained on the margins of European travel destinations, because after all it was not such an interesting country. The lack of educated networks in large cities meant that the trip to Poland almost always came down to visiting the provinces and was usually caused a particular occasion, such as family reunion, or a visit. Later on, political educational travel became very popular, especially in the 1780s and 1790s. The popularity of this type of travelling was caused by the events such as the announcement of the Constitution of May 3, the Kościuszko Uprising, and the second and third partitions. Making a classic educational journey was then difficult due to the lack of big cities, which, being cultural centres, could serve as a destination. This problem also concerned France, where apart from Paris, there was no other centre that would attract travellers to such an extent. When it comes to Poland, medical travel practically did not exist. Over time, the trips changed into agrarian-economic expeditions during which the cultivation of land, farming and wood management were observed and analysed. In terms of some sources, it is impossible to distinguish typological forms of traveling and to assign specific types of travelling to specific social groups.

In chapter one, Struck also pays attention to the preparation for the trip done by the traveller. He analyses previously published works, which the authors referred to, and wonders how these texts influenced the perception of foreign countries and the expectations of travellers before setting off. In Poland, the number of such sources is significantly lower. Struck refers to the publications, their authors and titles, and briefly discusses them. He outlines the profile of emerging public opinion, reading practice and the reception of travel literature. He also focuses on the recipient of travel reports. He concludes that between 1760 and 1830 travel reports were the basic medium for passing on the information of foreign countries. Such reports had a wide circle of readers and regardless of the form of publication they initiated debates and caused opinion-forming perception of France and Poland. At the end of chapter one, the author focuses on the practical aspects of traveling. He analyses common means of transport, i.e. carriages that were used initially, and steamships and railways that were used later. He concludes that such a change, though positive from a time saving point of view, significantly influenced the intensity of perception of the environment as well as blurring the experienced space. Approx. 1800, one of the most important means of transport was a post stagecoach, which resulted in a number of travellers’ descriptions regarding the speed of travel and the condition and quality of the roads. In terms of this aspect, both France and Poland were favourably assessed. However, in the case of Poland one can find several negative opinions. The author also examines travel practice in relation to the reports about innkeepers and guests, as well as with reference to language skills and ease of communicating.

At the beginning of chapter two, geographical differences between the eastern and western parts of Europe are analysed. Struck summarizes the most important concepts by which Europe was divided and defined in modern times. He notices that regardless of the presented geographical patterns, Germany always serves as the dividing line. He points out that in travel reports East and West used as geographical terms did not play any significant role until the 1820s and 1830s, as the dividing line was more related to the northern and the southern part of the continent.

Struck finds it interesting that according to German travellers, Poland was clearly associated with the northern part, i.e. with Scandinavian countries. This opinion was due to the specific climate, poor urbanization and economy, low population, but also historical events, the nature of the country and its people. Until around 1800, France was also perceived as the country divided into North and South, rather than East and West. According to travel reports, the territory of France occupied both the southern and northern parts. The northern regions of France were much less frequently visited by German travellers than the southern parts of the country.

Then Struck moves on to the aspect of perceiving and describing various forms of boundaries that constitute an imaginary map in the minds of travellers, i.e. state borders, language, currency, culture, politics, administration, economy, social issues, and even religions and faith. He hierarchizes the categories from the perspective of perceiving borders, and analyses the categories that simply appear in the reports. He also focuses on the fact whether these borders tend to change depending on the period, or region in which the traveller is located. Struck also tries to differentiate between the actual and perceived boundary. He also considers the criteria travellers used while crossing the borders and traveling in the vicinity of border areas. He analyses cultural differences and similarities of Poland and France.

The descriptions of crossing the French and Polish borders presented by Struck are by no means unique. For the traveller from the end of the 18th century, the national border did not seem to have any meaning yet, and its exact description did not appear in any of the quoted reports. The differences between border areas in the pre-revolutionary period and until the beginning of the 19th century were presented as gradual changes and described as ethnological phenomena. Around 1800, travellers used spatial and point references while describing borders. Linear or nationally contextualized descriptions were not used. The perception of clear borders was used rather with reference to provinces and cities, e.g. at the entrance to Strasbourg. At that time, the authors were more interested in changes in landscapes, various cultural differences, the condition of the roads, the image of villages, as well as languages and dialects.

Many features of the described German-French border region had a significant role determining cultural differences, as perceived by travellers. These descriptions included: depictions of natural and topographic conditions, which often derived from a physiocratic view of the country and its agriculture, architecture style, and culinary culture; different social relations in the countryside, customs, outfits, language, dialects; facial features of local population. The German-French border described as linear and national – did not play any significant role until the period after 1820. In terms of the change in the perception of borders, the breakthrough came only after the Napoleonic wars, which had an impact on then similar description patterns of German-French and German-Polish border space. Struck concludes that from 1840 terms such as „state” and „nation” as well as „German” and „French” seem to have come into use in the context of describing the German-French border. He also claims that the period between 1815 and the 1830s can be regarded as the time of development of national thinking and designation of the nation.

Travellers visiting France around 1800, similarly to those visiting Poland, travelled across these areas without crossing a clear, linear border. In these regions, until the 19th century, travellers did not have to comply with any rules related to national borders. Territorial changes and the new border layout on both sides for a long time had little impact on their perception and description. Until the beginning of the 19th century in France and Poland, cultural, linguistic, economic or regional differences and borders in relation to the neighbours were treated as real borders regardless of the actual state borders, and played a greater role than the nation related aspects. While in the case of the German-French border the perception of the border evidently changed, no such phenomenon occurred in Poland. It was caused by the lack of a real territorial and state border.

The travellers focused on mainly larger cities as their main destination for the. However, arriving at these cities had to be accompanied by previously travelling through provincial, rural and agricultural regions. At first, these areas did not enjoy popular at all and consequently their descriptions were neglected. They gained importance only in the 18th century. Struck presents patterns of perception and description of rural-provincial areas as well as the descriptions of nature and landscape in travel literature. He focuses on transformations in the perception of space, nature and landscape. Referring to the description of both countries, he tries to capture similarities and differences as seen by travellers.

There was a sparse network of cities in the Polish-Lithuanian state. For that reason, travellers understood country’s culture as the agrarian-economic situation and utilitarian-functional use of land. The reports on travelling around Poland contain a lot of information on commercial products, exported and imported goods, animal husbandry, fish factories, manufactures, land use, forestry, mining, and even wood management. Travellers also mentioned the villages which were typical of the image of rural areas. These observations were usually superficial as they were mostly carried out from behind the windows of a moving carriage. These accounts show Poland as a backward country, and the images presented in the travel diaries are rather bleak. The descriptions often contain extensive criticism and suggest changes in improvements in the social situation. However, this kind of pattern of perception of foreign reality was characteristic of the Enlightenment discourse and similar descriptions can be found in literature describing different regions in Germany.

A clear line separating progress and backwardness ran between the city and the village. This contrast is clearly evident in the descriptions of travellers visiting the French province. Although in agrarian and economic terms France was regarded as a fertile country, the agricultural land in the north was contrasted with to the poorer south. The differences of individual regions were emphasized. In this case, the descriptions also abounded in critical remarks. The descriptions of poverty and backwardness are very similar to those referring to Poland. Struck pays a lot of attention to analysing the description of begging in the French territories, which was to derive from the combination of inadequate, backward agriculture and Catholicism. Struck notices, however, that the poverty was described and criticized from the viewpoint of an enlightened city dweller. The province was observed through the eyes of the urban observer, or was interpreted in accordance with an urban context. Rural areas in France and Poland were assessed by ‘urban’ travellers. Their social background, profession and awareness of being enlightened had an impact on their descriptions and criticisms, which were similar both in relation to France and Poland. So the main line of cultural and civilizational divisions was the opposition between the city and the village, or the contrast between the urban and rural world, and consequently the difference between backwardness and enlightenment.

A clear change in the perception of rural space and the appreciation of nature and landscapes took place in the last decade of the 18th century. Struck says that the change in the paradigm of perceiving nature and the way it presents its value first of all concerned the descriptions of France, or at least part of it - a country of leisure and tourism. This is particularly true for the south of France. Lengthy and idyllic descriptions of the extensive French regions in the south became very popular. Nature, or landscape appealed to travellers due to their aesthetic features. This part of the country became a place for recreational tourism. And when it comes to Poland, the landscape was rather far from idyllic. In travel accounts, such rich and picturesque descriptions of nature are rare. The change took place in the second half of the 19th century, when the charm of the idyllic landscape of southern Poland was discovered. In the perception of Polish provincial areas it was characteristic to describe landscape as ‘barren’, ‘empty’, ‘boring’, or even ‘sad’. Poland did not live up to the then ideals of landscape. It was perceived more like rich and fertile country whose potential is not fully used. The small population made the country seem empty. The attractiveness of Polish nature and rural areas in terms of travel destination per se was discovered relatively late. Traveling was largely limited to cities. The discovery of the landscape and nature did not change the general perception, as it was mostly treated as a supplementary attraction on the way to the cities that made the whole trip a bit more enjoyable.

Towards the end of the chapter, Struck carries out a comparative analysis of perception and description patterns that travellers used in relation to French and Polish cities. Taking into account briefly outlined very different conditions regarding urban structures in both countries, it is necessary to generalize, at least to some extent, so as to specifically define comparative units while comparing urbanized spaces in Poland and France.

Poland and France were significantly different in terms of urbanization. The number of described Polish cities is not very high, which is due to the fact that the level of urbanization in Poland was low and travel practice quite rare. Travelling to Poland usually came down to only a few routes. Krakow was described quite comprehensively, and the descriptions were both positive and negative. A lot of information can be found about Lviv and Warsaw, which were rated positively and perceived as a well-developing city.

In the next part of his work, Struck moves from the regional to the national paradigm and presents the political fate of France and Poland. On one hand, he focuses on the partitions of Poland and erasing the state from the map of Europe, and on the other, on France and the Napoleonic wars. He deals with travel literature taking into account the changing cultural perception of the country. He claims that in travel literature the change took place, i.e. society started being described from a social and political perspective. Travel reports increasingly more often include open or hidden criticism of ancien regime. He also devotes a lot of space to statements about the nobility as a community and the royalty, and the last monarchs of France and Poland - Louis XVI and Stanisław August Poniatowski. Descriptions of Versailles are in most cases devoted to architecture - the palace and surrounding areas. The private apartments of the royal family aroused the greatest interest, and they could be visited during the absence of the family members. Travel reports, however, also abound in negative reviews, such as the criticism of costs and wastefulness associated with maintaining the royal mansions. There are also assessments of the inner court life as well as descriptions and criticism of the ruler. In comparison to the French court, Warsaw had an totally different image. The diaries contain mostly modest descriptions of the Royal Castle, the Castle Square, neglected gardens, or the residence in Łazienki, which were not very impressive. Accounts and memories of the last king were somewhat more detailed and more frequent. The image of the monarch is positive, and new institutions and introduced reforms are regarded as exemplary and worth following.

Struck also focuses on several significant events described by travelers. In the case of France, these are the beginnings of the French Revolution - especially 1791. The issues related to power and its legitimacy played the main role in these evidently political descriptions. Constitution, political and social rights, as well as public opinion and freedom of the press did not go unnoticed in the analyzed reports. Struck points out that current events and their whereabouts were the major issue in travel descriptions. The situation in Poland also brought an increase in publications about the country, which shows that the reforms were noticed and assessed, sometimes critically, though mostly positively, by the travellers.

At the very end, the author analyses the issue of national characteristics. He wonders how the image of the nation was understood and described in the reports, i.e. by whom, for whom, and about what. He says that travel literature shows changes in the cultural perception of the country. Despite the lack of a clear geographical and territorial division, particular nations were associated with certain attributes which were referred to as ‘national character’ or ‘people's character’ in travel literature. Struck begins by analyzing the most negative stereotype of Poland coined in Germany, i.e. polnische Wirtschaft.

Then he proceeds to analysing individual travel descriptions. Poland is depicted as a dirty and unsanitary country, in which laziness and idleness prevails, and alcoholism seems to be the order of the day. After the announcement of the Constitution of May 3, the Kościuszko Uprising and finally the November, definitely positive descriptions of the Polish national character began to appear in the travel literature, which presented somewhat exaggerated and idealized image of a noble, brave and freedom-loving Pole. National pride and readiness to shed blood in the name of freedom were praised.

France was not so different from Poland. Lack of hygiene was regarded as an standard feature of the French character. The travellers complained about dirty cities, inns and manor houses. Servility, too much attachment to Catholicism, shallowness and recklessness were criticized as well. However, the French were perceived as hardworking and there is no information about excessive alcohol consumption in the descriptions. After the French Revolution, the French were seen as cheerful, polite and kind. Their negative traits did not seem to be prevalent.

Autor próbuje w perspektywie porównawczej podróżowania do Francji i Polski zbadać na tle ówczesnego postrzegania i wypowiadania się o obu regionach narodowe obrazy obcych, historiograficzne kategorie Europy Zachodniej i Wschodniej i ich normatywne konotacje, jak centrum i peryferie lub postęp i zacofanie. Centralnym punktem badania jest postrzeganie i opisywanie Francji i Polski w niemieckojęzycznych relacjach z podróży, które zostały opublikowane w omawianym okresie. Praca stawia pytanie o porównywalność obrazów tych dwóch społeczeństw.

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