The Delights of Doctor Syntax

by Brenda S. Cox

On a trip to London in 1814, Jane Austen commented, ““I have seen nobody in London yet with such a long chin as Dr Syntax.” (March 2-3) Who was Dr. Syntax??

Dr. Syntax, with his long chin. Frontispiece for The Tour of Dr. Syntax In Search of the Picturesque, 1812

He was a fictional character, a country curate who set off on a tour of England in search of the “picturesque.” The famous cartoonist Thomas Rowlandson drew a series of cartoons showing Syntax’s adventures. Then a publisher commissioned William Combe to write text for them and published a book: Dr. Syntax: In Search of the Picturesque.  Since the book appeared in 1812, Jane and Cassandra must have read it fairly soon. They enjoyed it so much that Jane could joke about it in a letter. It was a satire on contemporary travel books. Two sequels appeared in 1820 and 1821, after Jane’s death.

Dr. Syntax feels quite downtrodden by “Mother Church,” which pays him a pittance to do a clergyman’s work. He figures that if he can go to picturesque places, draw them, and write a book about them, he will make his fortune. 

Being a rather hapless gentleman, Syntax falls into a lake, gets chased by a bull, is robbed by highwaymen, offends people, and delights people. He does get his book published. More importantly, he makes a valuable connection with a squire who provides him with a good church living.

For an exploration of Dr. Syntax’s entertaining thoughts and escapades, please check out my post today on Jane Austen’s World. I hope you will enjoy it! Or you can go straight to the book, and read it for free online. It’s quite fun.


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