Saturday, August 11, 2007


From Dan to Beersheba

Dear Mike:

Apropos ‘Here’ and prior posting 'Travel' commenting on Maverick Philosopher's reading of Emerson's Self-Reliance, here's my two cents’ worth. The paragraph beginning "Traveling is a fool's paradise" ends with the traveller's sadness, or sad self, personified:
‘Travelling is a fool's paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go’.
I wonder if a possible source or antecedent for this idea of angst as incubus, which travel is powerless to dispel, might not be Horace Sat. II, 7, 115:
                                                  'Adde, quod idem
non horam tecum esse potes, non otia recte
ponere teque ipsum vitas fugitivus et erro,
iam vino quaerens, iam somno fallere curam,
frustra: nam comes atra premit sequiturque fugacem.'

                                                  Add that you
Can’t bear an hour in your own company, or employ
Your leisure usefully, that you evade yourself
Like a fugitive, a vagabond, trying to cheat Care
With sleep or wine: vainly: that dark companion dogs
Your flight.’
Or Odes II, 1, 40 ' Et post equitem sedet atra Cura' [Behind the parting horseman squats black care].

A more immediate inspiration might have been this passage from Montaigne's 'On Solitude' (bk I, XXXVIII, trans. M. A. Screech):
“Ambition, covetousness, irresolution, fear and desires do not abandon us just because we have changed our landscape.
Et post equitem sedet atra cura.
They follow us into the very cloister and schools of philosophy. Neither deserts nor holes in cliffs nor hair-shirts nor fastings can disentangle us from them:
hæret lateri lethalis arundo. Virg. Aen. IV , 73

[in her side still clings that deadly shaft]
Socrates was told that some man had not been improved by travel. 'I am sure he was not.' he said. 'He went with himself!'
Quid terras alio calentes
Sole mutamus? patria quis exul
Se quoque fugit?
Hor. Odes II, 16, 18-20

[Why do we leave for lands warmed by a foreign sun? What fugitive from his own land can flee from himself?]
If you do not first lighten yourself and your soul of the weight of your burdens, moving about will only increase their pressure on you, as a ship's cargo is less troublesome when lashed in place. You do more harm than good to a patient by moving him about: you shake his illness down into the sack just as you drive stakes in by pulling and waggling them about.”

[L'ambition, l'avarice, l'irresolution, la peur et les concupiscences, ne nous abandonnent point pour changer de contrée:
Et post equitem sedet atra cura.
Elles nous suivent souvent jusques dans les cloistres, et dans les escoles de Philosophie. Ny les desers, ny les rochers creusez, ny la here, ny les jeusnes, ne nous en démeslent:
hæret lateri lethalis arundo.
On disoit à Socrates, que quelqu'un ne s'estoit aucunement amendé en son voyage: Je croy bien, dit-il, il s'estoit emporté avecques soy.
Quid terras alio calentes
Sole mutamus? patria quis exul
Se quoque fugit?
Si on ne se descharge premierement et son ame, du faix qui la presse, le remuement la fera fouler davantage; comme en un navire, les charges empeschent moins, quand elles sont rassises: Vous faictes plus de mal que de bien au malade de luy faire changer de place. Vous ensachez le mal en le remuant: comme les pals s'enfoncent plus avant, et s'affermissent en les branslant et secouant.]
Not that Montaigne wasn’t himself an enthusiastic traveller. He mounts a robust defence in ‘On Vanity’ (bk III, IX): ‘Cette humeur avide des choses nouvelles et incognues, ayde bien à nourrir en moy, le desir de voyager’.

Incidentally, in Emerson’s disappointed traveller in Rome there is also an echo of that arch malcontent, the learned Smellfungus
“[who] travelled from Boulogne to Paris – from Paris to Rome – and so on – but he set out with the spleen and jaundice, and every object he passed by was discoloured or distorted – He wrote an account of them, but ’twas nothing but the account of his miserable feelings.

I [The Reverend Mr. Yorick] met Smellfungus in the gran portico of the Pantheon – he was just coming out of it –’Tis nothing but a huge cockpit, said he…”.
L. Sterne A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy (1768), quoting from T. Smollet Travels through France and Italy (London 1766).

Personally speaking, like Yorick, “I pity the man who can travel from Dan to Beersheba, and cry ’Tis all barren”. Philistines!

Andrew MacGillivray

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?