“Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.” –Winston Churchill
Tact might not be the best description of Henry Wansey’s writing, but despite lacking both adroitness and sensitivity, I would certainly look forward to the trip to hell so long as he was narrating it. In “A Commercial Traveler’s Journals,” Wansey narrates his trip through several cities and towns in England. This narration is characterized by a quintessentially English distaste for nearly everything he encounters. However, his constant displeasure and complaints are what create his unique and engaging charm.
Written in 1816, the journals in this collection give an interesting and colorful view of early 19th century England. This collection is not physically attributed to Henry Wansey, but given details and evidence found within the text, it can be concluded that he likely authored these delightful pieces. He described towns known for their charm and character in such an engaging yet miserable manner that the reader can find him or herself oddly wanting to have the same experiences.
In his description of the road between Risborough and Oxford, Wansey could not be more negative or evidently displeased, yet his writing and accompanying sketches leave the reader with a desire to experience this same delightfully unpleasant journey.
“I was preparing to leave the palace in great disgust, and to my great alarm, was informed that the road I had to go was considerably worse than the one from Wycombe. To attempt a description of this is quite impossible, therefore I must beg a reference to the sketches opposite.” – Volume 1
The illustrations on the left show Wansey’s travel experience in a horse drawn carriage on the poorly maintained roads between Risborough and Oxford. This is one of the many examples of how these journals help give a view of how different the world was in his time. It is easy to find pleasure in his discomfort as it is nothing more than a novelty and unlike like the modern reality.
Because Wansey was a real man having real experiences in places that still exist today, the reader is given an incredible trip back in time. Several of the travelers’ inns that he mentions having stayed in are in operation today, and the towns, churches, and details that he notes and describes still stand as well. Reading these journals is an experience similar to reading historical fiction in that they have the ability to transport the reader to another world. The truly incredible part of the transportation is that the other world actually exists, and can be experienced today.
In conclusion, I now intend to take a tour of England using Henry Wansey as my guide.