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On Going A Journey Post by :LQTCO Category :Essays Author :Robert Cortes Holliday Date :October 2011 Read :3267

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On Going A Journey

One of the pleasantest things in the world is "going a journey"--but few know it now. It isn't every one that can go a journey. No doubt one that owns an automobile cannot go. The spirit of the age has got him fast. Begoggled and with awful squawks, feverish, exultant, ignorant, he is condemned to hoot over the earth. Thus the wealthy know nothing of journeys, for they must own motors. Vain people and envious people and proud people cannot go, because the wealthy do not. Silly people do not know enough to go. The lazy cannot, because of their laziness. The busy hang themselves with business. The halt nor the aged, alas! cannot go. In fine, only such as are whole anywise and pure in heart can go a journey, and they are the blessed.

"We arrive at places now, but we" (most of us) "travel no more." The way a journey is gone, to come to the point, is walking. Asking many folks' pardon, to tear through the air in an open car, deafened, hilariously muddled by the rush and roar of wind, is to drive observation from the mind: it is to be, in a manner, complacently, intellectually unconscious; is to drink an enjoyment akin to that of the shooters of the chute, or that got on the very latest of this sort of engine of human amusement called the "Hully-Gee-Whizz," a pleasure of the ignorant, metaphorically, a kind of innocents' rot-gut whiskey. The way a journey is gone, which is walking, is a wine, a mellow claret, stimulating to observation, to thought, to speculation, to the flow of talk, gradually, decently warming the blood. Rightly taken (which manner this paper attempts to set forth), walking is among the pleasures of the mind. It is a call-boy to wit, a hand-maiden to cultivation. Sufficiently indulged in, it will make a man educated, a wit, a poet, an ironist, a philosopher, a gentleman, a better Christian (not to dwell upon improving his digestion and prolonging his life). And, too, like true Shandyism "it opens the heart and the lungs." Whoso hath ears, let him hear! Once and for all, if the mad world did but know it, the best, the most exquisite automobile is a walking-stick; and one of the finest things in life is going a journey with it.

No one, though (this is the first article to be observed), should ever go a journey with any other than him with whom one walks arm in arm, in the evening, the twilight, and, talking (let us suppose) of men's given names, agrees that if either should have a son he shall be named after the other. Walking in the gathering dusk, two and two, since the world began, there have always been young men who have time to one another plighted their troth. If one is not still one of these, then, in the sense here used, journeys are over for him. What is left to him of life he may enjoy, but not journeys. Mention should be made in passing that some have been found so ignorant of the nature of journeys as to suppose that they might be taken in company with members, or a member, of the other sex. Now, one who writes of journeys would cheerfully be burned at the stake before he would knowingly underestimate women. But it must be confessed that it is another season in the life of man that they fill.

They are too personal for the high enjoyment of going a journey. They must be forever thinking about you or about themselves; with them everything in the world is somehow tangled up in these matters; and when you are with them (you cannot help it, or if you could they would not allow it), you must be forever thinking about them or yourself. Nothing on either side can be seen detached. They cannot rise to that philosophic plane of mind which is the very marrow of going a journey. One reason for this is that they can never escape from the idea of society. You are in their society, they are in yours; and the multitudinous personal ties which connect you all to that great order called society that you have for a period got away from physically are present. Like the business man who goes on a vacation from business and takes his business habits along with him, so on a journey they would bring society along, and all sort of etiquette.

He that goes a journey shakes off the trammels of the world; he has fled all impediments and inconveniences; he belongs, for the moment, to no time or place. He is neither rich nor poor, but in that which he thinks and sees. There is not such another Arcadia for this on earth as in going a journey. He that goes a journey escapes, for a breath of air, from all conventions; without which, though, of course, society would go to pot; and which are the very natural instinct of women.

The best time for going a journey (a connoisseur speaks it) is some morning when it has rained well the day or night before, and the soil of the road, where it is not evenly packed, is of about that substance of which the fingers can make fine "tees" for golfing. This is the precise composition of earth and dampness underfoot most sympathetic to the spine, the knee sockets, the muscles, tendons, ligaments of limb, back, neck, breast and abdomen, and the spirit of locomotion in the ancient exercise of walking. On this day the protruding stones have been washed bald in the road; the lines and marks of drainage are still clearly, freshly defined in the soil; in the gutters light-coloured sand has risen to the surface with the dark moist soil in a grained effect not unlike marbled chocolate cake; and clean, sweet gravel is laid bare here and there in the wagon ruts. This is the chosen time for the nerves and senses. On such a day the whole world greets one cleansed and having on a fresh bib-and-tucker. It is a conscious pleasure to have eyes. It is as if one long near-sighted without knowing it had suddenly been fitted with the proper spectacles. It is sweet to have olfactories. Whoso hath lungs, let him breathe. Man was made to rejoice!

How green, on such a day, are the greens; the distant purples how purple! The stone walls are cool. The great canvas of the sky has been but newly brushed in, as if by some modern landscape painter (the tube colours seem yet hardly dry); the technique, the brush-marks, show in the unutterably soft, warm-white clouds; or, like a puff of beaten-egg white, wells above that orchard hill. Higher up, thinly touched across the blue, a great sweep of downy, swan breast-breast feathers spreads. But not one canvas is this sky; ceaselessly it changes with the minutes. To observe is to walk through an endless gallery of countless pictures. It is alone a life-study. Now the wind has blown it clear as blue limpidness; now scattered flakes appear; now it is deep blue; now pale; now it tinges darkly; now it is a layer of cream. Again, it breaks into shapes--decorative shapes, odd shapes, lovely shapes, shapes always fresh. Its innovations are unflagging, inexhaustable. Always art, its genius is infinite.

One must go a journey to discover how vast the sky really is, and the world. To mount, bending forward, up by a long, tree-walled ascent from some valley, and come upon this spectacular sight--the fair globe that man inhabits lying away before one like a gigantic physical map, a map in relief, cunningly painted in the colours of nature, laid off by woods and orchards and roads and stone walls into many decorative shapes until it melts into purple, and fainter and fainter and still fainter purple Japanese hills. The sight is some of the noble quarry, the game; this is the anise-seed bag of him that goes a journey. Some glimmering of the nobility of the plan of which he is a fell, erring speck comes over one as he looks. This is the religious side of going a journey.

It is best to go a journey on a road that you do not know; on a road that lures you on to peep over the crest of yonder hill, that ever flees before you in a game of hide-and-seek, disappearing behind great, jutting rocks and turns and trees, to leap out again at your approach and laughingly, elusively, continually slip before you; a road that winds anon where some roaring brook pours near by; a road that may deceive you and trick you into miles out of your way.

A high breeze rushes through the trees and fans the traveller's opened pores. With a sudden, startling whir, mounting with their hearts, a bird flushes from the tangled growth at the roadside.

The worst roads for walking are such as are commonly called the best; that is, macadam. A macadam pavement is a piece of masonry, wholly without elasticity, built for vehicles to roll over. To go a journey without a walking-stick much would be lost; indeed it would be folly. A stick is the fly-wheel of the engine. Something is needed to whack things with, little stones, wormy apples, and so forth, in the road. It can be changed from one hand to the other, which is a great help. Then if one slips a trifle on a down-grade turn it is a lengthened arm thrown out to steady one. It is the pilgrim's staff. On the up-grades it assists climbing. It is a weapon of defence if such should ever be needed. It is a badge of dignity, a dress sword. It is the sceptre of walking.

Dipping the dales, riding the swells, the automobiles come, like gigantic bugs coming after the wicked. With a sucking rush of wind and dust and an odour of gasoline they are past. Stray pieces of paper at the roadside arise and fly after them, then, further on, sink impotent, exhausted.

"I have found that no exertion of the legs can bring two minds much nearer to one another!" One who goes much a-journeying cannot understand how Thoreau got it so completely turned around. But after the first effervescence of going a journey (of speech a time of times) has passed, and when, next, the fine novelty of open observation has begun to pale, there are still copious resources left; one retires on the way, metaphorically speaking, into one's closet for meditation, for miles of silent thought--when one's stride is mechanical, and is like an absent-minded drumming with the fingers; but that it is better, for it pumps the blood for freer thought than in lethargic sitting.

In this rhythmic moving one thinks as to a tune. To sit thus absolutely silent, absent in thought completely, even with that friend one wears in one's heart's core, will at length become dull for one or other; sitting thus one is tempted, too, to speech. Walking, it is not so. One may talk or one may not. If both wish to think, both feel as if something sociable is being done in just walking together. If one does not care to go wool-gathering, the other does not leave him without entertainment; walking alone is entertainment. It is assumed, of course, that one goes a journey in silence as in speech with the companion with whom one has been best seasoned. Silently walking, the movement of the mind keeps step in thought exactly with the movement of the man, so that the pace is a thermometer of the temperature at that moment of one's brain.

One who has written on going a journey as well perhaps as the world will ever see it done owned that he never had had a watch. Further, he intimated that the possession of one was an indication of poverty of mental resource. It was his own wont, he said, to pass hours, whole days, unconscious of the night of time. He described his father as taking out his watch to look at whenever he could think of nothing else to do. His father, our author says, was no metaphysician. It must be confessed that one now writing of journeys, sometimes, somewhat unmetaphysician-like, conscious of the flight of time, has communication with a watch; and, finding the day well advanced, decides, speaking very figuratively, to lay the cloth, beneath some twisted, low, gnarled apple tree.

"At the next shadow," he suggests.

"Let's wait until we get to the top of this hill, first."

"Here we are."

Sweet rest! when one throws one's members down upon the turf and there lets them lie, as if they were so many detached packages dropped. Then one feels the exquisite nerve luxury of having legs: while one rests them. One's back could lie thus prone forever. One feels, sucking all the rich pleasure of it, that one couldn't move one's arms, lift one's hand, if one had to. What are the world's rewards if this is not one!

At length in going a journey comes a time when one tiredly shrinks from the work of speech, when observation dozes, and thought lolls like a limp sail that only idly stirs at the passing zephyrs; the legs like piston-rods strike on; when the pleasure is like that almost of dull narcotics; one realises only dimly that one is moving. At such times as these, coming from one knows not whence, and one feels too weak to search back to discover, there flit across the mind strange fragments, relevant, as they seem, to nothing whatever present.

When a journey has been made one way, the trick has been done; the superfluous energy which inspired it has found escape; the way to return is not by walking. A friend to fatigue is this, that in walking back one is not on a voyage of discovery; one knows the way and very much what one will see on it; one knows the distance. In fact, the fruit has been plucked: the bloom is gone; to walk back would be like tedious marching with a regiment. One should return resting. On trains one returns from a journey.

Whoso hath life, one thinks as his journey draws to its close, let him live it! What does it profit a man, if he gain the whole world and never know his own soul?


(The end)
Robert Cortes Holliday's essay: On Going A Journey

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