Just visiting: Classical Education and Travel

By George Grant

The world is a book, and those who do not travel, read only a page.St. Augustine (354-430)

According to the Latin proverb, “Travelers may change their climate but never their souls.” While it may be admitted that such a truism is essentially true, there also can be little doubt that travelers may at least change their thinking. By virtue of seeing the world-the different sights, sounds, textures, hues, and passions of cultures different than their own-affords them with a unique perspective that militates against prejudice, parochialism, and pettiness. As Mark Twain said, travel somehow “broadens the mind and softens the heart.” More often than not, travel serves to sunder our uninformed native preconceptions and to establish more mature perspectives.

For that reason, travel has always been a component part of a well-rounded education. The banal prejudice and narrow presumption that inevitably accompany an unexposed, inexperienced, and undiscerning existence can often be ameliorated only by the disclosure of the habits, lifestyles, rituals, celebrations, and aspirations of the peoples beyond the confines of our limited parochialism. The great Dutch patriot Groen van Prinsterer aptly commented to his students, “See the world and you’ll see it altogether differently.”

As a result, in times past, travel was seen as far more significant than just fun and games. It was for more than mere rest and relaxation. It was intended to be more than simply a vacation or a getaway. Instead, it was a vital aspect of the refined instruction in art, music, literature, architecture, politics, business, science, and divinity. It was, according to Benjamin Franklin, “the laboratory where theory meets practice, where notion encounters application.”

Travel has thus enlightened lives and perspectives throughout history. Some of the most famous books, some of the most influential perspectives, and some of the most remarkable social transformations have had their genesis in some great quest or expedition or journey or voyage-from Agamemnon in Troy and Casar in Gaul to Marco Polo in China and Richard the Lionhearted in Outremer, from Christopher Columbus in the Caribbean and Cotton Mather in Massachusetts Bay to Charles Lindbergh in the Spirit of St. Louis and John Glenn in the Shuttle Enterprise. Just visiting has left an indelible mark upon the human experience.

From the end of the fifteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth, it was expected that all the members of high-born families, aspiring artists, poets and historians, prospective members of the diplomatic corps, and young bon vivants would undertake an extended pilgrimage to the great cities of the Western world. It was considered an essential part of a well-rounded education. Indeed, in many elite circles it was believed to be the capstone of a true classical curriculum. Many of the most eminent people in history thus set out on what became known as the Grand Tour just before they entered into public life. Traveling to the great centers of culture, history, and influence, they sought to take in as much of the art, music, literature, architectural sites, historical monuments, social revelries, and culinary delights as they possibly could. Taking anywhere from just a few weeks to several months, the Grand Tour was intended to help the next generation of leaders to learn the languages, customs, and mores of far-flung lands and societies. They desired to broaden their horizons, test the practicality of their book learning, and to deepen their social and academic awareness. It was to enable them to eventually do all they were called to do and be all they were called to be.

The long and varied history of the Grand Tour- which invariably began in London and ended in Rome with visits to Edinburgh, Paris, Venice, Florence, Vienna, Jerusalem, and innumerable other great cities along the way-includes amazing stories of such travelers as Queen Victoria, John Milton, John Ruskin, Percy Shelly, Anna Jameson, Lord Byron, Adam Smith, Thomas Hobbes, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Joseph Addison, Charles Dickens, William Wordsworth, Emma Hamilton, William Thackery, and Edward Lear. And the Grand Tour was not merely an English phenomenon. Americans such as Washington Irving, Julia Ward Howe, Mark Twain, Henry Adams, Stephen Crane, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henry Cabot Lodge, and Teddy Roosevelt also traveled abroad as youngsters. It was assumed that if they were to be classically educated, they would have to be classically traveled as well.

It is not surprising then that, the modern recovery of classical education in the classroom has inevitably led to the simultaneous recovery of classical education on the road. After all, as the contemporary poet Tristan Gylberd has asserted, “If you always go where you have always gone and always do what you have always done, you will always be what you have always been.”

George Grant is the president of the Covenant Classical School Association, the Director of King’s Meadow Study Center, and editor of the Arx Axiom and Stirling Bridge newsletters (available at http://www.Kings Meadow.com) among many other interests and pursuits. He maintains an active writing and speaking schedule in this country and around the world. This article is an excerpt from the book Just Visiting by George and Karen Grant (Nashville, Cumberland House Publishing, 1999). Reproduced by permission of George Grant for the


ISSUE # 21 (August 2001)

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