Thomas Coryat (also Coryate) (c. 1577 – 1617) was an English traveller and writer of the late Elizabethan and early Jacobean age. He is principally remembered for two volumes of writings he left regarding his travels, often on foot, through Europe and parts of Asia. He is often credited with introducing the table fork to England, with "Furcifer" (Latin: fork-bearer, rascal) becoming one of his nicknames. His description of how the Italians shielded themselves from the sun resulted in the word "umbrella" being introduced into English.
He was born in Crewkerne, Somerset, and lived most of his life in the Somerset village of Odcombe. He was educated at Winchester College and Gloucester Hall, Oxford, and later was employed by Prince Henry, eldest son of James I as a sort of "court jester". In 1608 he undertook a tour of Europe, somewhat less than half of which he walked, and published his memoirs of the events in a volume entitled Coryat's Crudities hastily gobbled up in Five Months Travels in France, Italy, &c' (1611). This volume gives a vivid picture of life in Europe during the time; it is particularly important to music historians for giving extraordinary details of the activities of the Venetian School, one of the most famous and progressive contemporary musical movements in Europe, including an elaborate description of the festivities at the church of San Rocco in Venice, with polychoral and instrumental music by Giovanni Gabrieli, Bartolomeo Barbarino, and others.
Later in 1611 he published a second volume of travel writings, this one entitled Coryats Crambe, or his Coleworte twice Sodden.
Ever restless, he set out once again in 1612, this time on a journey that would ultimately lead to Asia, visiting Greece, the eastern Mediterranean area, Persia, and eventually India. From Agra and elsewhere he sent letters describing his experiences; his Greetings from the Court of the Great Mogul was published in London in 1616, and a similar volume of his letters home appeared in 1618. Coryat died of dysentery while traveling in Surat in 1617. Though his planned account of the journey would never be, some of his unorganized travel notes have survived and found their way back to England. These were published in the 1625 edition of Samuel Purchas's Hakluytus Posthumus or Purchas his Pilgrimes, contayning a History of the World in Sea Voyages and Lande Travells, by Englishmen and others.
Coryat's writings were hugely popular at the time. His accounts of inscriptions, many of which are now lost, were valuable; and his accounts of Italian customs and manners—including the use of the table fork—were influential in England at a time when other aspects of Italian culture, such as the madrigal, had already been in vogue for more than twenty years.
Coryat is considered by many to have been the first Briton to do a Grand Tour of Europe; a practice which became a mainstay of the education of British upper class men in the 18th century.
British travel writer and humorist Tim Moore retraced the steps of Coryat's tour of Europe, as recounted in his book Continental Drifter (2000). In 2008 Daniel Allen published an account of his nine-month cycle trip following Coryate's journey to the East, entitled The Sky Above, The Kingdom Below.
Major events in Coryat's life.
- 1591–1596 – attended Winchester College
- 1596–1599 – attended Gloucester Hall, Oxford
- 1603–1607 – played unofficial 'court jester' for Henry, Prince of Wales, son of James I. Members of Henry's court included Ben Jonson, John Donne and Inigo Jones, among others
- May–Oct 1608 – travelled through France and Italy to Venice; returned via Switzerland, Germany and Netherlands
- 1611 – published Coryates Crudities.
- 1612–1614 – travelled to Constantinople and the Holy Lands
- 1615–1616 – walked through Turkey, Persia, and Moghul India to Emperor Jahangir's court in Ajmer, Gujarat
- Sept. 1617 – at invitation of Sir Thomas Roe, visited imperial court at Mandu, Malwa
- Nov. 1617 – leaves for Surat in Gujarat
- Dec. 1617 – died of dysentery in Surat
References and Further Reading
- Adams, Percy G. Travel Literature and the Evolution of the Novel. Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 1983. 215-22. ISBN 0-8240-8503-5.
- Moraes, Dom and Sarayu Srivatsa. The Long Strider : How Thomas Coryate Walked From England to India in the Year 1613. New Delhi: Penguin, 2003. ISBN 0-670-04975-1.
- Penrose, Boies. Urbane Travelers: 1591–1635. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1942. LCCN 42-019537.
- Pritchard, R.E. Odd Tom Coryate: The English Marco Polo. Thrupp, Stroud, Gloucestershire: Sutton, 2004. ISBN 0-7509-3416-6.
- Strachan, Michael. The Life and Adventures of Thomas Coryate. London: Oxford UP, 1962. LCCN 62-052512.
- Chaney, Edward, 'Thomas Coryate', The Grove-Macmillan Dictionary of Art.
- Chaney, Edward, The Evolution of the Grand Tour, 2nd ed, Routledge, London, 2000. ISBN 0-7146-4474-9
- Moore, Tim 'The Grand Tour', St. Martin's Press, New York, 2001. ISBN 0-312-28156-0
- Allen, Daniel The Sky Above, The Kingdom Below. London, Haus, 2008. ISBN 1-905791-30-5
- Whittaker, David (ed.) 'Most Glorious & Peerless Venice: Observations of Thomas Coryate (1608)'. Wavestone Press, Charlbury, 2013. 978-09545194-7-6 (Contains the Venice section of the 'Crudities', with photographs by the editor.)