As often happens in this business, I have been a little distracted this afternoon. I sat down to list, online, a number of booklets published by the Hakluyt Society which champions research into exploration and discovery. The booklets were the annual lectures of the society printed, one per year, and one in particular caught my eye. The annual lecture of the Hakluyt Society 2010 was titled, "Invented and Apocryphal Narratives of Travel from Ancient Egypt to the Present Day" by Raymond Howgego.
Mr Howgego is quite a force of nature, as well as being one of the most widely travelled people whose words you are ever likely to read, he also has the distinction of being believed to be the author of the longest work of non-fiction in the English language authored by an single person, unassisted. This would the 3.8 million words of the Encyclopedia of Exploration. Published by Horden House, if you have a spare 1,000 USD its four volumes are still in print and form a standard reference: certainly they look very fine. Mr Howgego is about to add another half-million or so words to the title with a fifth volume which will, be the full-length version of this pamphlet I have been reading this afternoon, an entire volume dealing with apocryphal, invented, imaginary or plagiarised accounts of exploration and travel. It is to be published this year and I honestly think I may treat myself to it.
The 2010 lecture takes us through a number of different kinds of 'false' narratives. Clearly, there are those which are intended to deceived, fraudulent narratives which, for various motives, the unscrupulous look to foist upon an unsuspecting readership. Like, for example, the Voyages of Captain Robert Boyle, which was one of a trilogy of works in similar vein, so carefully constructed from other accounts that the only fact that couldn't be verified was the existence of the explorer themselves. An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa by George Pslamanaazaar is another of the fraudulent variety. Both are now available to read online at the Internet Archive (Robert Boyle) (Formosa).
Another sub-genre identified by Howgego is the fantastic traveller. For examples here we have the Relation d'Un Voyage du Pole Arctique au Pole Antarctique par le Centre du Monde, a perilous and quite obviously fictitious endeavour and also the rather wonderful Mr McDermot and his Trip to the Moon. Again both of which are available online, and the parts of the Moon book I've read this afternoon have been rather entertaining. (Pole to Pole) (Trip to the Moon)
Perhaps best just touched upon briefly is another element of the subject with a surprisingly large compliment of pornographic travel books, using the metaphor of the journey as a representation of the conquest of a woman's body. We offer here just The Voyage to Lethe by Capt. Samuel Cock, this time available as a free ebook from Google Play
Howgego estimates that before the turn of the twentieth century about a thousand books had been published of travels that never existed and during the early years of the 18th, the hey-day of this kind of literature, the imaginary travelogue numbered more than the genuine. It's been a fascinating afternoon in the company of Mr Howgego and his diverting tales... now, what was I supposed to be doing...