Holding History: 1744 Printing of The Complete Collection of Voyages and Travels

“Feels pretty complete,” I said as I held the ten-pound, nine-hundred-page beast of a book. Published in 1744 as the definitive collection of world travels, The Complete Collection of Voyages and Travels Consisting of Above Six Hundred of the Most Authentic Writers…(the title goes on forever)…by John Harris, is a fascinating read. While the theme of The Principal Voyages and Discoveries is pure capitalistic domination, this tome leans more towards “knowledge is power.”

On the push to the north pole and northwest passage:

“…experience has taught us that the knowledge of the dark and dreary regions is very far from being useless and unprofitable, and still farther from being dry or unentertaining.”

I’m a sucker for foldout maps.

I’m a sucker for foldout maps.

Notice the “sea unicorn” is a narwhal whale and “the Morse” is a walrus (strangely crude compared to the whale renderings) .

Notice the “sea unicorn” is a narwhal whale and “the Morse” is a walrus (strangely crude compared to the whale renderings).

While the drawings and descriptions of wildlife and distant lands are detailed and entertaining, I was most taken by Oxford academic Henry Maundrell’s account of Jerusalem in the late 17th century.

When we came to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, we found it crowded with a numerous Mob, who began their disorders by running round the Holy Sepulchre with all their Might, crying out Huia, i.e. This is he or this is it; by which they express the Truth of the Christian Religion. After, they began to act many antic tricks, like mad-men; sometimes they dragged one another round the Sepulchre, sometimes they set one man upon another’s shoulders, and so marched round; and sometimes they tumbled round the Sepulchre like tumblers on a stage, and acting the rudest things on this occasion.”

“You, sir, are acting the rudest!” I love it.


I am far from a scholar, so I read these old travel accounts with naïveté. But I do know tourism, and when I found Maundrell’s description of ancient entry fees at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, I simply nodded along.

“We found the church doors guarded by Sanizaries (soldiers) who suffer none to go in until they have paid their Caphar, which for Franks is commonly fourteen dollars per head, unless they be ecclesiastics, and then it is but half as much. This being once paid, you may go in and out gratis as oft as you please during the whole feast at the ordinary times when the door is open.”

This could be a fancy guy’s TripAdvisor review, yet his journey took place 322 years ago!

Also as of 322 years ago: The Great Wall when it was only “famous.”


And Florida when it was only a little nub.


There is so much to love about this book’s content and the book itself—a masterwork of publishing. Just remember, lift with the legs.

Made possible by my membership to The Athenaeum of Philadelphia.