Wednesday 18 March 2015

Richard Bridgens, the Grand Tour, and Expanding Understanding

It is my pleasure to welcome Caroline Warfield, author of Dangerous Secrets, today with a tale of Richard Bridgens, the Grand Tour, and expanding understanding. It is illustrated throughout with images by Bridgens.


Romantic fiction occasionally alludes to “The Grand Tour,” and somehow manages to imply an image of young men drinking and partying their way across Europe.   The Tour was actually intended to complete a classical education. Having received a solid grounding in Latin, Greek, and classical literature, young men with sufficient money (and therefore leisure) set out with their tutors on a predefined itinerary to absorb the art, architecture, language, and culture of Europe.  Not only English gentlemen, but also German, Dutch and even American elites attempted the Tour.

The practice began as early as the sixteenth century and flowered in the Georgian era.  Novels set in the late Georgian/Regency era, however, do not often mention the Tour. That is because young men were absorbed in defeating Napoleon and the continent was mostly closed to casual travelers between 1803 and 1815.  After Waterloo, however, the Tour began again with a vengeance.  It had a relatively set itinerary. English travelers flooded into Paris, a mandatory stop.  The Tour often included the Netherlands and Germany and occasionally Spain and even Turkey.  It always culminated in Italy: Venice, Florence and Rome.

Where the travelers went, creativity flourished. They didn’t just view art; some created it.  What they couldn’t create, they bought. The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Getty Museum have had exhibitions of Tour art.  Tour art includes masterpieces from Canaletto to Corot and Turner. It also includes dozens of print makers and etchings. 

One work, in particular deserves attention, Bridgens' Sketches Illustrative of the Manners and Costumes of France, Switzerland, and Italy.  The work is a sort of travelogue of hand-colored etchings. It would have served as both a souvenir for those who had been there, and an informative work for those who couldn’t make the Tour itself. Published in London (Baldwin, Cradock and Joy; Hatchard and sons) in 1821, it included text by John Polidori who is usually listed as the author. Amazon recently listed a copy for $1600.00.

Polidori is a notorious figure of the period, associate of Byron and Shelley, author of The Vampyre, the first of that genre. He killed himself in 1821, just before or after the production of the Sketches.  

If the text belonged to Polidori, the etchings belong to Richard Bridgens. They focus more on ordinary people than on great monuments.  They document clothing and manners of folk going about their business.  A few are more startling.  The Funeral Procession in Rome is probably the most famous of them.  The clothing, however, has proven to be of most interest to modern researchers. Individual pages from the book come up for sale frequently.

Richard Bridgens origins proved difficult to research. One reviewer noted, “. . . he lacked any talent for self promotion.”  Perhaps his work is his best biography.  He began his work in Liverpool and the Site “Mapping Birmingham” lists him as an architect and designer.  Early in his career he published Furniture with Candelabra and Interior Decoration, at treasure trove of Georgian interior furnishings. How he progressed from that, to Sketches, to his final work in Trinidad is unclear.

In so far as Bridgens is famous at all, it is his final work that shines. He is sometimes known as the Artist of Slavery. The same meticulous care he took with his interiors and later with the clothing and manners of Europe, he applied to the lives of slaves in Trinidad. He was a man of his time and his beliefs about abolition are unclear. In the end, however, he documented the lives of people and the cruelty of their lives, leaving us a stark record. At the time he published West India Scenery in 1836, the movement to outlaw slavery was in full flower in Europe. Some of his images must have helped the cause. The World Antislavery Convention took place in London in 1840 and the practice wasn’t outlawed in every part of the empire until 1843.

Richard Bridgens career taken as a whole is a treasure to those of us who seek to understand the vast complexity of the Georgian era.

For more information see

About the Author

Caroline Warfield has at various times been an army brat, a librarian, a poet, a raiser of children, a nun, a bird watcher, a network services manager, a conference speaker, a tech writer, a genealogist, and, of course, a romantic. She is ever a traveler, adventurer, and writer of historical romance, enamored of owls, books, history, and beautiful gardens (but not the act of gardening). She is married to a prince among men.

About the Book

When a little brown wren of an Englishwoman bursts into Jamie Heyworth’s private hell and asks for help he mistakes her for the black crow of death.  Why not? He fled to Rome and sits in despair with nothing left to sell and no reason to get up in the morning. Behind him lie disgrace, shame, and secrets he is desperate to keep.
Nora Haley comes to Rome at the bidding of her dying brother who has an unexpected legacy. Never in her sunniest dreams did Nora expect Robert to leave her a treasure, a tiny blue-eyed niece with curly hair and warm hugs. Nora will do anything to keep her, even hire a shabby, drunken major as an interpreter. 

Jamie can’t let Nora know the secrets he has hidden from everyone, even his closest friends. Nora can’t trust any man who drinks. She had enough of that in her marriage. Either one, however, will dare anything for the little imp that keeps them together, even enter a sham marriage to protect her. Will love—and the truth—bind them both together?
Buy the book here!

Written content of this post copyright © Caroline Warfield, 2015.


caroline Wrarfield said...

Thank you for hosting me, Madam Gilflurt. Bridgens deserves more attention than he gets.

Kat Sheridan said...

I always learn the most interesting things from you, Caroline! And the book looks absolutely yummy!

Catherine Curzon said...

My pleasure!

Catherine Curzon said...

Thank you for visiting!

Unknown said...

Hello Caroline , Have you ever thought about writing a book with a character inspired my Bridgens ?

caroline Wrarfield said...

He would be interesting, wouldn't he? His three known pieces of work are so different and the details between are sketchy.