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Art & artists

Grand Tourist guide: the life of John Moore

— June 2015

Article read level: Academic

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Cover illustration of Dr John Moore, 1729–1802

Many European paintings in art galleries elsewhere were originally bought by ‘Grand Tourists’ – but who wrote their guide books?

Dr John Moore, 1729–1802: A Life in Medicine, Travel, and Revolution by Henry L. Fulton

Dr John Moore (1729–1802) enjoyed an amazingly full life, and it has taken a lengthy publication – and many years of research – to do full justice to it. His is not exactly a household name. But among those who have studied 18th-century British culture, especially travel writing connected with the Grand Tour, his name is very well known. Indeed, for many he is a familiar guide, whose work has been quoted and re-quoted continually from his own day to the present.

Moore was a typical product of the Scottish Enlightenment, an 18th-century professional man whose learning and interests were extraordinarily wide-ranging. Born in Stirling, the son of church minister, his years of study at grammar school and university in Glasgow followed a standard career path, as did his subsequent medical apprenticeship. But he was restless, and he started to travel young. By the age of 20 he had already seen battle abroad, serving as a surgeon’s mate in the Duke of Cumberland’s North British Fusiliers. Back in Britain, he studied in London, and then went to Paris as the surgeon of the household of the British ambassador.

In 1754 he married the daughter of a professor of divinity at Glasgow; they were to have 11 children, but this hardly put a brake on his travelling. He had already earned a reputation in medicine, and was recognized for his dependable, conscientious professionalism. He was thus offered the prestigious, if onerous, responsibility of becoming the guide and tutor to the young and headstrong Douglas, 8th Duke of Hamilton, on his Grand Tour of Europe.

This was the period when most young British aristocrats finished their education with a Grand Tour of Europe, a lengthy trip intended to impart cultural knowledge, manner and polish, though all too often one which involved a great deal of sowing of wild oats along the way. The Duke’s Tour was to take him away from Britain rather longer than usual, and so wayward was his character that it required a firm hand to rein him in. His party followed a well-trodden route in France, Switzerland, the German-speaking countries of northern Europe, and Italy – the main goal of all Grand Tours. They met everyone who was anyone, from enthroned royalty in the courts of northern Europe, to the Young Pretender, Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) in Italy. Rather unusually, John Moore was encouraged to take his son John, known as Jack, with him. Jack was a younger and much better behaved boy than the Duke, though this had little effect on the Duke’s own behaviour. He appears alongside his father and the Duke in portraits made en route.

Moore returned to Britain in 1777, and in 1779 he published A View of Society and Manners in France, Switzerland, and Germany. It enjoyed huge success, running to over 20 editions in his lifetime. Its sequel and companion, A View of Society and Manners in Italy, came out in 1781, and proved just as popular. Both became very useful, standard guidebooks, for they contained not only all the necessary facts and advice, but also personal views and anecdotal accounts, quotations from other writers, and helpful hints for cultured travellers.

Once back in Britain, Moore and his family lived in London, where they continued to prosper. He gave up practising medicine (except for family and friends) and spent his time on cultural interests. He mixed with the literati of London, corresponded with the greatest thinkers of the day, and he wrote novels, Zeluco being the most successful.

Much of Moore’s efforts in later life was aimed at developing his sons’ careers, sometimes with rather a heavy hand. Each of his five surviving sons became, as he so clearly wished, eminent in their fields, the most notable being General Sir John Moore, later known as ‘Moore of Corunna’. But it was partly because of their successful careers that (to quote Fulton) ‘their father, notable in his life, became lost in their shadows’. So it makes a change to see their father’s life and achievements in the round, rather than his usual appearance in modern biographies as an inspiring parent.

Rather surprisingly, this is the first real biography of Moore. Until now, the standard reference on his life and work has been Robert Anderson’s The works of John Moore, M.D., with memoirs of his life and writings (7 vols, Edinburgh 1820). A more concise reference is the entry on Moore in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, the most recent version of which was written by Henry Fulton, professor emeritus at Central Michigan University,the author of the book under discussion here. The book has, however, been worth the wait, and will stand as his definitive biography for many years to come, and a valuable source of reference on this period of cultural history as well.  

It is an encyclopaedic book, and many readers will value it as a work of reference rather than a narrative account, especially as it is a severely academic production (28 pages of bibliography, 35 pages of index, yet only 14 monochrome images). But this is not to denigrate a thorough work of research and scholarship, for the sheer volume of material has been skilfully woven together and the detailed account is very readable.

Dr. John Moore, 1729–1802: A Life in Medicine, Travel, and Revolution by Henry L. Fulton is published by University of Delaware Press, distributed in the UK by Rowman & Littlefield, Plymouth, UK (distributors elsewhere may vary), 2015. 788pp., 14 mono illus. ISBN: 978-1-61149-493-8


Patricia Andrew
Art historian

Editor's notes

Last year a modern academic edition of the collected Travel Writings of John Moore was published, edited with detailed notes by Ben P. Robertson (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2014). This has acted as kind of ‘prequel’ to the full biography, for it introduced a short account of Moore’s life, with acknowledgement to Fulton’s biography, then still unpublished.     

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