Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian
John Todhunter (1839-1916) is best known as a poet and literary critic, but was also a doctor of medicine, painter, composer and traveller.
The University of Reading’s Special Collections Archive contains a fascinating Todhunter collection consisting of roughly 350 items including: personal and literary correspondence, (such as letters from John Butler Yeats, John Trivett Nettleship and William Michael Rossetti); typescripts and manuscripts of various literary works, and three travel journals.
One of these journals, titled ‘Journal of a Tour in Italy with D.L.T. 1880.’ details Todhunter’s travels in Italy with his new wife Dora Louisa. In December 1879 the newlyweds had been recalled from an earlier trip in Florence as Todhunter’s father, Thomas, was taken ill. After a rather “dismal winter” the couple were keen to escape back to Italy in the spring and their journey continued from March 1880 into the early autumn. As might be expected, Todhunter’s journal contains notes on a plethora of typical tourist activities, such as his morning spent at Capitoline Hill in Rome,
Sat on steps, looked at wolves and Marcus Aurelius and then went into gallery.
He lists his favourite pieces from the gallery as including the Capitoline Venus and a “very beautiful Penelope and Telemachus.” There are moreover, several interesting pieces of travel ephemera, including tickets for visits to archaeological sites of interest, such as this entrance pass for a tour of the catacombs of Rome and the Appian Way:
Another such example is a small collection of pressed plants. One of these specimens was pressed between pages which mention a serendipitous walk through a garden in Rome. Perhaps Todhunter kept the flower as a souvenir and reminder of the day:
We went through a pleasant little garden full of flowers from which we had a splendid view of the Palatine, the best we had yet seen. A very sweet place.
The travelogue also contains a number of fun anecdotes such as this note from Friday April 2nd:
We had found the caffe latte so bad that we resolved to take a foreign breakfast, and so had wine and an omelet. Then to the Piazza del Durmo.
The entry for Wednesday May 12th is more celebratory as Todhunter notes it is his and Dora’s six month anniversary, an occassion they celebrated by going to a horse race ‘corsa dei cavalla’ in Rome.
Despite all of the interesting sights, pleasent gardens and new foods to experience, it is good to know that Todhunter did not forget his friends while travelling, on Monday April 26th he notes that he spent the morning “writing letters to Rossetti.”