European Romanticism, a key artistic movement in the 19th century, is characterised by its great interest in the picturesque and the exotic as motifs of creative inspiration. Thus, artists idealise and recreate an Orient that in reality they barely know, thereby adopting a series of stereotypes imposed by the colonialist vision set out by Edward Said in his work Orientalism. Some writers such as Chateaubriand, Lord Byron and Flaubert made a long desired journey through the Mediterranean and participated in a kind of “escapism”, a state of mind that seeks to see the world with hope, as a life’s yearning that was actually the start of the popularisation of tourism.
The heart has its reasons, of which reason knows nothing
For just under seventy years, over the course of four generations, important figures described as romantic today looked towards and sometimes travelled to the Mediterranean, opening the doors to a poetic return to the land of origins. At first, the flow of emotions that led Goethe to write his collection of poems West–östlicher Divan (West–Eastern Diwan) to resettle the Middle East according to the new aesthetics; at the end, the dégringolade of the middle class spirit that placed objects from Egypt in the Second Empire pieces of furniture. In the centre, major names of literary, musical and artistic creation, the Schlegel brothers, Novalis, Chateaubriand, Byron, Shelley, Lamartine, Irving, Hugo, Berlioz, Turner, Delacroix and tanti altri. At the heart, a cultural movement that between 1805 and 1870 became a zeitgeist: a German neologism referring to the “spirit of times” that spread among cultivated people, just like the French expressions romantique or libérale or the English expressions colonial, financial, representation and diplomacy (from Edmund Burke) or international (from Jeremy Bentham), and the American term cocktail. Throughout the West the revolutionary desire for perfectibility emerges as cause and motivation for a journey through the Mediterranean.
Shortly before the creation of this zeitgeist, the 167 savants who embarked in Toulon on 2 July 1798 as part of the Expedition to Egypt organised by the Directory under the command of General Bonaparte shared this desire for perfectibility. Many voices have narrated the vicissitudes of that famous journey but almost never the commander in chief himself, too lazy to write anything other than letters to his friends in the Parisian circles of power. Jean-Baptiste Fourier and later Vivant Denon stand out when depicting the mood of the wise men who finally saw a world that they knew only through descriptions in books of dubious rigour. But Denon, revenu de tout even before taking on the journey (in 1777 he had published his elegant Point de Lendemain), always firmly believed in one thing: the effect of that journey on future generations. This confidence entered the consciousness and heart of his contemporaries, although to a certain extent this meant accepting the praises of General Bonaparte who left those lands “après les avoir examinés attentivement tous” and gained power on 18 Brumaire 1799.
During the 1780s, the driving force was reason; but by 1800 it was feeling. It was the opportunity that the Breton Viscount François-René de Chateaubriand was waiting for
The aim was not for men or women (consider Madame de Staël, for example) to be less rational than they had been in the 1780s, because the practical sense that had emerged from scientific deduction enabled Napoleon to take power; the main purpose was to urge certain aspects of subjective behaviour. In short, during the 1780s, the driving force was reason; but by 1800 it was feeling. It was the opportunity that the Breton Viscount François-René de Chateaubriand was waiting for.
Like other major French aristocrats in the early 19th century, Chateaubriand was seeking a way out of what remained of his personal world other than more pages of his well-known virtuosity expressed in Le Génie du Christianisme. It was not yet time for the memoirs from beyond the grave but for action, although this again meant “speaking indefinitely of oneself,” which was, according to his own confession, the only thing that interested him. Napoleon was a solution, perhaps not the best or the most desirable, but also not the worst after the drift of the Revolution first to the bloody Terror and later to the confused Directory. He shared the concern of Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, who had become the master of ceremonies of the implacable Thermidorian reaction, but he disagreed with him about its effects, which could only be the fundamental nature of the irrational. Thus the voice emerged of a longing that had remained hidden for some time: the longing to understand life through intense feelings about the beautiful and the sublime.
The journey through the Mediterranean enabled him to discover all the features that characterise a life defined by the romantique, thereby creating a guide for the tourist (another neologism of the time). This journey was not the first but rather the most decisive of the many that occurred in those years to understand the world of the Mediterranean and, undoubtedly, the most persistent source of inspiration for the supporters of the transformation of subjectivity that expanded in Europe from the feverish 1805 to the desolate 1870.
Indeed, while Napoleon experienced the sweet smell of success in Austerlitz, Chateaubriand was making the final preparations for the journey through the Mediterranean that he described in Itinéraire de Paris à Jérusalem. Firm in his resolve, he took care of the minute details, including his appearance. He liked to wear his collar open, his hair dishevelled, “shaken by the wind,” as Anne-Louis Girodet portrayed him in her famous portrait. He felt himself the centre of attention, and did not want to leave any petit fait vrai to chance. In that year of 1805, French society was submerged in elegant saloon balls that refined the Empire style and in tiresome quarrels to attain a place in the new political order. Legitimacy was a delicate word because of the desire to please Napoleon, already emperor, and some people such as Talleyrand doubted that he had this legitimacy. But behind the web of events to which the painter Girodet and his master David paid so much attention, there was the pressing need to know how thought and heart could act as a single force. The attention to the inner life explains the “romantic subjectivity” that drives the desire to travel to the Mediterranean.
Until then, the journey had formed part of the Grand Tour, used by the Enlightened to enjoy a geography where, as Friedrich Schlegel wrote, “memory and history appear with neat lines,” while, from 1805, they sought to find what is sublime in the impenetrable darkness of the beauty of a region of the world to which it was necessary to return. Travelling to the Mediterranean achieved the self in contact with the fluidity of water, the warmth of the sun and the indecipherable mystery of the land.
Chateaubriand embarked in Trieste on 18 July 1806. He first visited Greece, then the islands of the Dodecanese, Palestine and Egypt; he finally reached Istanbul, from where he sailed to Algeciras, a city he reached on 30 January 1807. However, the objective was Granada: there he was to meet with Nathalie de Laborde, Duchess of Noailles, who had miraculously fled the Terror, although by then she was aware that her husband was cheating on her, giving her the opportunity to indulge in her own amorous adventure. She did so with Chateaubriand while both were going to the Alhambra through the Cuesta de los Muertos from the Paseo de los Tristes; in that magical setting they talked about the sketches that she had made for her brother Alexandre de Laborde, which would later form a significant part of a luxurious book in six volumes.
Travelling to the Mediterranean achieved the self in contact with the fluidity of water, the warmth of the sun and the indecipherable mystery of the land
The romantic spirit appears here in the aesthetic category of the picturesque, which a few years before some English watercolour painters, the Cozens, William Pars or Samuel Prout, had turned into a figurative norm for the landscape captured on the journeys around the Mediterranean. The numerous road books and the no less abundant scenery correspond to a state of mind tending to recover the flagging objectives of the Grand Tour through the aesthetic sensibility promoted by Romanticism. The emotion provoked by the picturesque corresponds to a unique moment of the intimate contact with a world seen as exotic. When travelling we feel emotion because we feel close to the soul of a fascinating world about to vanish. The picturesque is indeed the expression of a Stimmung that makes the experience of a different civilisation possible.
Chateaubriand evokes the change of sensibility: the journey is a rite of passage. It even influences his political stance. Thus, having just arrived in Paris, in early summer 1807, he published a review in the Mercure de France, dated 7 July, reporting the publication of the first volume of Alexander de Laborde’s work, slipping in a critical note against the then master of the world who was no other than Napoleon, “when in the silence of wretchedness only the chain of the slave and the voice of the informer are heard, when everything trembles before the tyrant, and when it is as dangerous to win affection as to become deserving of punishment, then the historian appears, responsible for avenging the peoples. Nero prospers in vain because Tacitus had already been born in the Empire.”
Chateaubriand drew to this conclusion from more than a political need. By reviewing a book that explored the picturesque of the Mediterranean (specifically Spain) in depth, he invoked the romantic Stimmung that by itself expressed the unlimited, the uncontrollable, the enthusiasm far from the empire and its apparent social douceur. This state of mind was narrated by Chateaubriand himself in his prose poem Les aventures du dernier Abencérage. Here he recreates his stay in Granada through two fictional characters, Blanca and Aben Hamet, in whom we recognise an echo of Nathalie and himself. At a given moment, both characters enter a room in the Alhambra with a fountain in the centre in which “les eaux retombant en rosée.” He tells her that the red colour amidst the white marble of the fountain is the blood of the courageous Abencerraje knights who were beheaded by order of the sultan. The legend supports this and lends the place a high picturesque value. It matters little that history shows otherwise. Emilio García Gómez wrote that the interpretation of the blood stain “est l’un des plus brillants défis qu’ont ait jamais lancés de par le monde à l’exactitude historique.” 
Chateaubriand evokes the change of sensibility: the journey is a rite of passage. It even influences his political stance. Thus, having just arrived in Paris, he published a review slipping in a critical note against the then master of the world who was no other than Napoleon
Romanticism creates an explanation in keeping with the recreated setting, but does not deal with the significance of the historical events. What is the world but a projection of the sublime? The blood stain in the fountain is one of the many commonplaces created by literature: Victor Hugo in one of the poems in Les Orientales on Granada (1828), Martínez de la Rosa in Morayma (1829), Washington Irving in Tales of the Alhambra (1832), Théophile Gautier in Voyage en Espagne or Alexander Dumas fill the Alhambra with a romantic spirit and turn it into a picturesque landscape. Painting, literature and music merge, in free autonomy, to turn the sublime into the expression of an aesthetic enjoyment capable of linking, in Hegel’s words, “the deepest interests of man and the most comprehensive truths of the spirit.”
Compared with Chateubriand, Lord Byron is the other path of Romanticism, the other way of making a journey through the Mediterranean productive in the consciousness of a generation reticent about vulgarité, another neologism of the time, introduced by Madame de Staël in her influential book De l’Allemagne to define the uncultured in contrast to those endowed with literary knowledge. Byron heard it from the very lips of such a distinguished lady in the reception held in his honour in the residence of Lord Landsdowne in London and made it the pivot of his way of understanding action. He even forced a smile when in response to the Duke of Wellington mentioning that he hated discussing politics (at least according to Harriet Arbuthnot) she replied: “Et moi discuter sur la politique, c’est vivre!“If Byron smiled at that moment it was because in the 1810s it was unthinkable for a writer not to be committed to the change of his time and this meant participating in politics. But committed to what? Madame de Stäel made it very clear that afternoon at Lord Landsdowne’s house: “To freedom.”
Byron had no doubts about this. The fight against Napoleon was a patriotic war of liberation for the British, Russians, Spaniards, Italians, Austrians or Germans; moreover, the romantic urge sought to re-establish dignity and national independence. For this reason he resolved to guide his readers in the acceptance of that feeling while preparing for the invasion of Napoleon’s troops. He produced a model of conduct, Byronism, consisting of adopting a system of values ruled by defiance and the plaisir de vivre. Jane Austen transferred this model of conduct to Anne Elliot, the leading character of Persuasion. However, the work that made it part of history was the poem Childe Harold Pilgrimage published by Byron in 1812, the same year Napoleon began the Russian campaign.
In the 1810s it was unthinkable for a writer not to be committed to the change of his time and this meant participating in politics. But committed to what? Madame de Stäel made it very clear that afternoon at Lord Landsdowne’s house: “To freedom”
The London public, and those in the rest of Europe who could read in English, found verses in which he told of the journey of a boy (“childe” in old English means “a youth of noble birth”) through the Mediterranean. His evocation of sublime locations is linked to the adventures that could feed the readers’ emotions. Romanticism invents a way of living (given that in the kingdom of will, it must be possible to fabricate everything, even the reason of colour, as Novalis did). English society, with its aristocracy determined to confront Napoleon, manages for a moment to evade the suffocating atmosphere of blockade. Travelling to the Mediterranean through romantic zeal, as do Harold and Corinne, Madame de Staël’s heroin in the novel of the same name, means sharing a state of mind prone to escapism, that way of seeing the world “less scornful and more hopeful.” This is how Hector Berlioz understood it in the symphony Harold in Italy (1834), a vibrant invitation to get lost in the nature of a magical land, to germinate with it, to understand the tones of its monuments and the stubbornness of its people.
The journey of the young Harold is the maximum poetic expression of a yearning that would become a reality with tourism. Two major figures of the time confirmed this, Stendhal with Mémoires d’un touriste (1838) and Dickens with Pictures from Italy (1846). However, the definitive step was the publication from 1846 of the Murray’s guides that filled their descriptions with quotations from Byron, Stendhal or Dickens, and other authors, thus making the journey to the Mediterranean an everyday act of the British and American middle class. This marked the end of the figure of the refined traveller, aristocratically solitary, with a solid cultural background. The appreciation of the sublime of the Mediterranean landscape was put within the reach of all readers of the tourist guides or those who bought their journey through agencies such as Thomas Cook, the creator of the modern package tour, who in a cruel irony for the 18th century aristocrats’ Grand Tour organised them through a company that he called Cook’s Tour. This kind of journey triumphed among the people, who always carried a guide with them regardless of the comments by Charles-Agustine de Sainte-Beuve, who in 1839 in Naples criticised the guides because “they were incomplete and false” and “did not say a word about the disappointments, disillusions or tribulations.”
The history of the romantic portrayal of the Mediterranean consists to a large extent of a call to the picturesque as a way of living removed from modern civilisation. Turner or Ruskin participate in the same ethical perception of the Mediterranean reality, full of coincidences without a rational explanation, of significant places that conceal the relics of a time where the power of the sacred reigned, of objects that maintain the poetic aura as a memory of another time. This ethical perception was famously qualified as Orientalism by Edward W. Said; that is, as a cultural expression of European colonial imperialism.
It is worth qualifying this definition a little, which to some extent affects the neologism zeitgeist, greatly used during the years after 1805. This leads me to further discussion of the effort by romantics to recover the poetic tone of a vanished model of civilisation. Because the spirit of those times was a powerful desire for liberation anticipated by Byron for Greece and later ratified by Shelley. The Italian carbonari and the Spanish liberals based their views on that way of understanding the world to promote change in their countries, although they found difficulties, because the legitimacy that had emerged in the Vienna Congress redefined the romantic as a recovery of the Middle Ages, which had the support of Chateaubriand, Novalis and Scott. Then a real war of cultures was fought around the sketches, paintings or descriptions that were interested in the texture of a wall, the cracks, the fissures, the graffiti or the colour nuances, which fixed “the extreme mysticism of nature and the extreme anti-naturalist aestheticism, as it is energy, strength, life, will, étalage du moi; and also self-annihilation, self-torture, suicide.”
The appreciation of the sublime of the Mediterranean landscape was put within the reach of all readers of the tourist guides or those who bought their journey through agencies such as Thomas Cook
John Ruskin’s The Stones of Venice is the book that best shows us, along with the moral implications of its author, that the romantic rêverie consists of enveloping the journey through the Mediterranean in the yearning to place lightness above weight, Perseus defeating the Gorgon: the protecting halo of a vision of history that should not be erased by the middle class hesitation towards the past. That aura, like the clouds of desert dust, enveloped Flaubert in his four-month journey, between 1849 and 1850 (at the age of 25), in the company of the photographer Maxime du Camp: a journey that he called “Travel to Orient” although in fact it is to the Mediterranean: Egypt, Rhodes, Palestine, Lebanon, Istanbul, Greece and Italy. He found its aesthetic meaning by reading Gautier’s Une Nuit de Cléopâtre, published in the Parisian newspaper La Presse in November and December 1838. In this strange Gothic fiction a powerful narrative emerges of the romantic aura that takes on the picturesque value of Cleopatra, queen of Egypt, and her world in which the obscure and the sentimental, that is the elements characteristic of the sublime, triumph. Flaubert, in his turn, wished to show with his journey the risk involved in considering bon ton the triumph of industrialisation over tradition. Thus he points out (with Salambó in mind) that the Orientalist is a “homme qui a beaucoup voyagé.”
The debate on how to read the Mediterranean continued throughout the 19th century, and did not even cease when realism and naturalism called for photographic accuracy in the descriptions of the social customs or gestures. The act of the flâneur feigning to turn his way of travelling into art is the victory of the romantic spirit over the ascending middle class, the definitive step that made it possible to explain the Mediterranean world without having to resort to the commonplace that it was the result of the underdeveloped world. It is worth pointing out here the times when Henry James analyses the extreme situation of seeing a society in which it is common to hear the creaking of the beams at night or the movement of the rodents without this inviting you to rashly judge that world full of admirable monuments.  It is the final effect of the value of the sublime on the quotidian, of the exotic on the middle class.
The act of the flâneur feigning to turn his way of travelling into art is the victory of the romantic spirit over the ascending middle class, the definitive step that made it possible to explain the Mediterranean world without having to resort to the commonplace that it was the result of the underdeveloped world
In short, there is a kind of continuity of the romantic visions in early 20th century modernist culture that explains Hugo von Hofmmansthal’s comment on the need to “decipher like hieroglyphics of inexhaustible and secret wisdom the fables, the mythical accounts left to us by the Anciens and for which the painters and sculptors feel an infinite and thoughtless liking.” To which should be added the poets; just think of how Rilke encouraged people to do the same as Hofmannsthal when in a letter dated 13 November 1925 he wrote: “The animated, lived things, the things that know us, decline and cannot be replaced. We are the last to have known such things. We bear the responsibility of keeping the memory alive.”
Behler, E., German Romantic Literary Theory, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1993, pp. 5-6. Hartog, F., Mémoire d’Ulysse, Paris, Gallimard, 1966.
Bewhler, E., Unendliche Perfektibilität. Europäische Romantik und Französische Revolution. Paderborn, Schöningh, 1989.
 Fourier, J.-B., Description de l’Égypte ou recueil des observations et des recherches qui ont été faites pendant l’expédition de l’armée française, Paris, 1809-
1822. Denon, V., Voyage dans le Basse et la Haute Égypte, Paris, 1802.
 Denon, V., op.cit., p. 220.
 Bohrer, K.H., Der romantische Brief. Die Entstehung ästhetischer Subjetivität, Munich, Hanser, 1987.
 Berlin, I., Las raíces del Romanticismo, Madrid, Taurus, 2000, p. 38.
 Schlegel, F., Ansichten und Ideen von der christlichen Kunst, Munich, 1959, Vol. I, p. 159.
 Duchemin, M., “Un roman d’amour en 1807. Chateaubriuand à Grenade”, Revue des Deux Mondes, 1833, pp. 158-178. Stinglhamber, L., “Chateaubriand à Grenade”, Bulletin Guillaume Budé, 1952, pp. 93-114.
 De Laborde, A., Itinéraire descriptif de l’Espagne et tableau élémentaire des différentes branches de l’administration et de l’industrie de ce royaume, Paris, Nicolle, 1808.
 Gilpin, W., Three Essays on the Picturesque, London, 1808. Price, U., Essay on the Picturesque, London, 1815.
 See Dilthey, W., Das Erlebnis und die Dichtung, Leipzig, Teubner, 1910, pp. 330 ff. on a comment on Novalis.
 Mercure de France, July 1807, commented by Berchet, J.-Cl., “Et in Arcadia ego“, Romanticism, 51, 1986, pp. 90 ff.
 Chateaubriand, J.-Cl., Les aventures du dernier Abencérage, edited by P. Hazar and M. Durry, Paris, Champion, 1926. The work was written in 1814 although it was not published until 1826.
 García Gómez, E., Une Française à l’Alhambra. Grenade romantique, Paris, 1953, p. 102.
 Chaplyn, M.A., Le roman mauresque en France de Zayde au Dernier Abencérage, Nemours, 1928.
 Fernández Almagro, M., Granada en la literatura romántica española, Madrid, Rueda, 1995, pp. 48 ff.
 Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Ästhetik, edited by W. Glockner, I, p. 26.
 The Journal of Mrs. Arbuthnot 1820-1832, edited by Francis Bamford and the Duke of Wellington, London, Macmillan and Co. 1950, p. 135.
 Yi-Fu Tuan, Escapismo. Formas de evasión en el mundo actual, Barcelona, Península/Atalaya, 1998, p. 17.
 Sainte-Beuve, Ch.-A., Voyage en Italie (1839), Paris, Georges Crès, 1922, p. 18.
 Said, E.W., Orientalism, London, Penguin, 1977.
 Berlin, I., Las raíces del Romanticismo, op. cit.,p. 38.
 Flaubert, G., Dictionaire des idées reçues, Paris, Éditions du Boucher, 2012, p. 70.
 James, H., Italian Hours, Boston, 1909, pp. 298 ff.
 Rilke, R.M., Briefe, edited by Rilke-Archiv, Wiesbaden, 1950, Vol. II, p. 483.og, Mémoire d’Ulysse, París, Gallimard, 1966.