Monday, April 22, 2019


Travel Narrows the Mind

Roger Scruton, "L'invitation au voyage," Untimely Tracts (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1987), pp. 260-262 (at 260):
People are becoming less and less able to understand foreigners. The reason, I believe, is the lamentable tendency to rely on first-hand experience. Rather than read Herodotus or Plutarch at home, we drag our uninstructed senses through foreign cities and acquire not the first understanding of the people who live in them. Few modern Englishmen know the language, fewer still the history and culture of the places to which they travel. Their experience of foreigners is therefore without concepts, a bundle of pure impressions, in which the characters are schematic, hazy and unreal. Only considerable culture and a haughty independence of mind can render travel intelligible. For most people, the disjointed experience of foreign parts sinks rapidly into the waste of consciousness, to lie there in disordered and unmeaning fragments, like shells collected on an empty holiday.

Travel narrows the mind, providing a surfeit of impressions and a dearth of interpretations. Sometimes, however, a meaning emerges, and sometimes this meaning is the aim. For instance, you might make a pilgrimage to some holy place — or a journey to those with whom your destiny is somehow mingled. Nevertheless, failing those laudable purposes it is better by far to remain at home, studying the language, the thought and the customs of strangers and dreaming of their habitats with the aid of a large cigar.

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