Sunday, November 25, 2012

`Him Who Interests Himself in Everything'

“The greater part of Travellers tell nothing, because their method of Travelling supplies them with nothing to be told.” 

The nagging anxiety I’ve always felt when traveling – that I’m missing something essential, that I’m a dubious fraud and the experience is being wasted on me – has eased with the years. I read in advance about the places I’ll visit, pay attention while there, walk a lot, talk to people and keep a notebook. In Poland last spring I encouraged myself to enjoy my foreignness and the exotic familiarity of new people and landscapes. Also, for the first time, I used a digital camera, which pushed me to be even more attentive to my surroundings because I knew family members awaited my documentation.    

“Why should he record excursions by which nothing could be learned, or wish to make a show of knowledge which, without some power of intuition unknown to other mortals, he never could attain?” 

I understand that the anxiety I describe is self-fulfilling. If my head is full of worry, I’m certain to miss much of what I might otherwise enjoy. Think of travel, true travel, as a form of protracted meditation. Focus the mind on the present, empty it on occasion, pay attention and write about it. Experience, for this traveler, is incomplete until articulated. 

“He that would travel for the entertainment of others, should remember that the great object of remark is human life.” 

We’re thinking about a visit next year, my first, to England. Already I fret about what I might miss. England, for this American, is the imaginative and literary pole star. I navigate by Chaucer, Shakespeare, Jonson and Johnson, Sterne and Lamb. That’s not a glib metaphor. These English writers formed me. The quoted passages above are Dr. Johnson’s, from The Idler #97 (1760). Shall we make a side trip to Lichfield? Sterne writes in A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy (1768): 

“What a large volume of adventures may be grasped within this little span of life by him who interests himself in everything, and who, having eyes to see, what time and chance are perpetually holding out to him as he journeyeth on his way, misses nothing he can fairly lay his hands on…I pity the man who can travel from Dan to Beersheba, and cry, ’Tis all barren—and so it is; and so is all the world to him who will not cultivate the fruits it offers.”


mike zim said...

If it's not already, I'd suggest adding Johnson's Gough Square house to your London itinerary.

Roger Boylan said...

Rather than a side trip, Lichfield might become the goal of the whole journey....

Don said...

Don't be surprised at how familiar London will be to you.

Nige said...

You could even visit Coxwold in North Yorkshire, Patrick - see the church where Sterne preached (and was eventually buried) and Shandy Hall, where he lived - it's open to visitors in the summer months...

Anonymous said...

Lichfield has nice parts but also a hideous town centre with plastic shopping malls and 1 Pound shops and junkies and whores and chavs and diseased animals. Take a Johnsonian cudgel and/or expandable baton.

London is full of apple polishers and trash. It is, however, full of the past and has some nice areas. But take a gun.

You should also avoid: Bradford, Huddersfield, Leeds, Manchester, Middlesborough, Sunderland, Birmingham.

Most of England is a hellhole now. Chavs and filth, all diseased and given to sickening vice.

i would advise setting aside a couple of days for Cambridge, as the chavs don't go into the (quite sizeable) university area so it's like it was 100 years ago, to some degree. Oxford is also quite nice. Durham too, though it's small and the locals are all homicidal crackheads.

If you stay in a university town try to get college accommodation. It's spartan but cheap and there are usually rooms in the town centre. i stayed in a Cambridge college for 40 GBP/night 2 years ago, right in the town centre.

Take a weapon.

Roger Boylan said...

The Fens and the West Country are lovely and relatively chav-free. Likewise the Peak District, although it's populated with the weekend homes of gilded London exiles.

Nige said...

In the Peak District, you could visit the finest small bookshop in the land, The Bookshop in Wirksworth, and nip down the road to the much larger Scarthin Books in Cromford.