A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Travelling: A Fool's Paradise?

I've been thinking about the American Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) ever since Cameron McNeish mentioned him in his podcast recently and I myself quoted from him in Thursday's post. I don't suppose many people apart from PhD students or biography writers read him from cover to cover these days. Indeed, it's a concentrated and time consuming task. My own second-hand edition of The Complete Prose Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, published by Ward Lock of London, runs to 656 pages of minutely typefaced, densely packed text. Yet how rewarding it is to dip into these wise and inspiring essays. Every time I do so I leave with rich rewards. We tend to think it's a given that travel must broaden the mind, that it's beneficial for its own sake. How refreshingly provoking it is to see Emerson giving an alternative view:

Travelling is a fool's paradise. We owe to our first journeys the discovery that place is nothing. 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, 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.

This comes from Emerson's great essay, Self-Reliance.

Surely Bob Dylan had read this essay before writing his song, Trust Yourself, for the 3rd paragraph begins: Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.

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