The Lyon Archive

Travel and the Open Air

The accepted solution for a mental disease was the same as for physical illnesses: open air. At the time of Lyon’s writings, there was a growing number of individuals who escaped the crowded streets of London for the sake of their health. In fact, this phenomenon was so popular that “the most common motive to travel” was argued to be for “the restoration or confirmation of health” (“Art. VII” 457).

Lyon clearly was one of these individuals. As he became increasingly busy and stressed about the future of his company, his health rapidly declined. However, he continued to travel, especially to locations that he believed would improve his health. Near the end of the diary, in between visits to various doctors, Lyon takes yet another trip to Scotland, and in his diary he explicitly references it in regards to his health (39).

The Bathing Place at Ramsgate

Ramsgate was a seaside community sick Londoners often visited to breathe in the fresh, ocean air.

Lyon and his friends also take various trips to Ramsgate and the countryside throughout the diary, almost always to improve their health. As this was common knowledge at the time, Lyon is seen traveling for his health well before he encounters Dr. Johnson, who quite literally wrote the book on the topic years earlier.

Lyon is constantly traveling, and much of this he justifies as being for business purposes. However, even then he seems to be traveling more than one would expect, especially given his limited means. However, in light of his commentary and the actual locations he visited, it seems evident that he was traveling not only in attempt to secure a more prosperous future, but also for his immediate well-being, and his health was an important factor in the frequency and location of his excursions.

While at first glance Lyon’s health concerns seem to be concentrated in the last few pages of his diary, a closer look at the text through the lens of contemporary medical beliefs reveals that his struggle with illness was an underlying factor for much of the diary. It appears to correlate with his business woes and impact where and when he decides to travel. Furthermore, understanding the medical atmosphere Lyon found himself in acts as a window into Lyon’s mentality and contextualizes the way he thought of himself and his anxiety. His diary paints the portrait of a man who struggled for years with poor mental health, which was only exacerbated by financial struggles. His ongoing battle with anxiety and his desperation for answers made him restless because the medical answer to feelings of discomfort was to move. He traveled far and wide searching for success, for health, and for happiness. He eventually found this on the island of Jamaica, but the anxiety in his youth was the driving force behind his search for something more.