frontispiece of first Tour: Dr. Syntax looking pensive

The Tours of Doctor Syntax
by William Combe
and Thomas Rowlandson

Most titles on this site can be traced back through a chain of associations: Book A praises Book B, which references Book C, which speaks highly of Book D, and so on. But in the case of Doctor Syntax I can point squarely to a source: Lucy Worsley’s documentary on the Regency period.

The first Tour, published in 1812, definitely qualifies as “Regency”; the second, from 1820, was on the cusp; the third, from 1821, just missed it.

The Tour of Doctor Syntax
in Search of the Picturesque

The Second Tour of Doctor Syntax
in Search of Consolation

The Third Tour of Doctor Syntax
in Search of a Wife

Words and Pictures

Is it The Tour of Doctor Syntax by William Combe, with illustrations by Thomas Rowlandson—or is it The Tour of Doctor Syntax by Thomas Rowlandson, with words by William Combe?

The Words

William Combe (1741–1823) got off to a good start: Eton, inheritance, travel, high living. But then things fell apart. By age 30 he was supporting himself as a writer.

The Pictures

In a pleasing reversal of ordinary practice, the Doctor Syntax books tend to have more illustrations towards the end. This may be because the pictures were done first. So instead of an artist getting tired of illustrating an author’s words, the writer got tired of making text to go with the artist’s pictures.

Thomas Rowlandson (1756–1827) is identified in Graves’s Royal Academy list as “Painter and Caricaturist”. He must have lost interest in serious painting fairly early, since his last exhibit was in 1787. The Encyclopædia Britannica says:

His series of drawings “The Schoolmaster’s Tour,” accompanied by verses of William Combe, was published in the new Poetical Magazine (1809–11)

This led to The Tour of Dr. Syntax—published in book form in 1812—and its sequels.

In the printed book, each picture includes the caption “Drawn & Etched by Rowlandson”. Since it is always the same, across all three volumes, I didn’t include it in the ebook:

artist’s signature


The Tours of Doctor Syntax—all three of them—have one wonderfully old-fashioned feature that I’ve tried to replicate, at least for larger devices: whenever a rhyme is shared by three lines instead of the usual couplet, they are marked with a vertical brace } along the end of the lines. You don’t often see this in books later than the mid-18th century.

Scansion and Rhyme: The word “real” is two syllables. Conversely, “Heaven” is generally pronounced “heav’n”, whether or not it is spelled that way; the author especially likes to rhyme it with “given”, which could similarly go either way. The word “join” seems to be pronounced “jine” more often than not, judging by the words it rhymes with. Sometimes “you” needs to be pronounced “ye”: for example, “before you” rhymes with “story”.

Typographic trivia: I can count on my fingers—possibly even on my thumbs—the books that have used Italic Small Capitals. In general, when the Small Caps come in, the Italics go out. This book is the rare exception.

For reasons best known to the author, citations from Horace’s Ars Poetica are consistently identified as “Horat. Ars. Poet.” with wholly spurious full stop in the middle.

And, finally: In Volume II, Consolation, the OCR had an annoying habit of rendering printed apostrophes as the elided letter they represent. Final ’d might be read as -ed, mem’ry as memory, e’en as even and so on. I’ve restored all that I caught, but probably missed a few. (Compare what is billed as the world’s oldest known riddle: “We carried away all that we did not catch, and all that we caught, we left behind”. The answer is lice, but it could just as well be applied to OCR errors.)


This ebook is based on the three-volume 1903 Methuen edition. A Note at the beginning of each volume identifies its source: First Tour, R. Ackerman 1817 (7th edition); Second Tour 1820; Third Tour 1821.

Illustrations have generally been moved to the nearest stanza break. Where a stanza was unusually long—especially in the later volumes—I’ve interrupted it with a picture at some convenient breaking point.

Typographical errors are marked with mouse-hover popups and are listed again at the end of each volume. The word “invisible” means that the letter or punctuation mark is missing, but there is an appropriately sized blank space.