Issue 18: May 1985
Thomas Coryat of Odcombe was a most extraordinary genius, and, for his whimsies and absurdities, acquired himself a name, which seems likely enough to last till the end of extravagance. He was borne here in 1577, and became the commoner of Gloucester-hall in Oxford in 1596, where he attained to the knowledge of the Greek and Latin languages. Hence he returned to Odcombe, where he spent some time; but afterwards left it for the metropolis, and was there received into the family of Henry, Prince of Wales, which gave him an introduction to all the wits of those times, who, by way of diverting themselves, exposed him to ridicule.
In 1608, he rambled to France, Italy, Germany, &c. and at his return published his travels under the title of “Crudities hastily gobbled up in five months’ travels in France, Savoy, Italy, Rhetia, Helvetia, some parts of High-Germany, and the Netherlands.”
This book was printed in quarto in 1611, and reprinted in 3 vols. octavo, 1776. In 1612, after he had taken leave of his countrymen by oration spoken at the cross in Odcombe, he undertook a long journey, with an intention not to revisit his native country till he had spent ten years in travelling. The first place he visited was Constantinople, whence he took occasion to view the several parts of Greece, making his remarks on the two ancient castles of Sestos and Abydos, on Smyrna, Alexandria, and the pyramids near Cairo.
From thence he went to Jerusalem, and so on to the Dead Sea, to Aleppo in Syria, to Babylon in Chaldea, to the Kingdom of Persia, and to Uspahan the residence of the Persian King. Thence to Seras, anciently called Shushan; to Candahor, the first province northeast under subjection of the Great Mogul, and so to Lahore, the chief city but one belonging to that empire. From Lahore he went to Agra, where, being well received by the English factory, he made a halt, till he had acquired the knowledge of the Turkish and Arabian languages.
He likewise made himself master of the Persian and Indostan tongues, which were of great use to him in travelling up and down the Great Mogul’s dominions. In the Persian tongue he made an elaborate harangue to the Mogul, and in the Indostan he had so great a command, that he is said to have undertaken a laundry-woman of that country, who had such a liberty and freedom of speech, that she would sometimes scold, brawl, and rail from sun-rising to sun-set; and to have so silenced her by eight o’ clock in the morning, that she had not one word more to speak, to the great astonishment and diversion of the company.
After he had visited several places in that country, he went to Surat in East-India, where he fell ill of a flux, of which he died in 1617. What became of all his notes and diaries no one knows; but many of his observations, letters, and harangues, were transmitted to England, and published; among the rest was his oration, “Purus, Putus Coryatus; Quintessence of Coryate” spoken extempore, when Mr. Rugg dubbed him a knight on the ruins of Troy. His journies were mostly on foot, and he always lay in his clothes to save trouble and expense of shifting them. But notwithstanding all his oddities, he had certainly merit as a traveller, linguist, antiquarian, and historian.
From Collinson’s History of Somerset