Light Travel

THERE was a time when the stately traveler made the grand tour in his chariot. One day the foot-traveler, with knapsack and stick, crossed his path. Then the chariot fell to pieces, or rather was transformed into the railway-coach ; and now the Cook’s tourist looks out of the window and sees the bicycle with its alert rider, or the tricycle with its club of two, go twinkling down some by-road. A philosophy of legs is needed to coördinate travel and the rise of democracy. With the decay of travel as a luxury for privileged classes has come the decadence also of the ponderous literature of travel, and with the rise of the light infantry has sprung up the jaunty literature which suggests a land where it is always Saturday afternoon.

Of course, when our Philosophy of Legs, with its abundant foot-notes, comes to be written, due attention will be given to the appliances of modern civilization. When half the world is busy trundling and paddling the other half, when the development of legs has been carried to a high power by the introduction of steam and cyclic contrivances, and the chief end of man is to go somewhere, there are endless opportunities for travelers’ tales; and as one always reads in his morning newspaper with greatest eagerness the report of the fire which burned his own house, so the people who have been anywhere are those who read the books which tell about it. Literature follows in the wake of this human activity of motion, and partakes of its character. People travel much more for entertainment than formerly, and they like their books of travel to be entertaining. Moreover, they know, or assume that they know, the commonplaces of the earth, and they wish to get these commonplaces individualized. The newspaper and the school geography have killed off the solid traveler by making his information no longer necessary. The frisky tourist and the leisurely saunterer who have succeeded him are at liberty to occupy themselves with more fleeting forms. Since all the world knows how high the spire of Cologne Cathedral is, and how defective the drainage of the town, the traveler is spared the necessity of setting such facts down, and is free to amuse himself with certain children whom he saw dancing down the street, their white heads wagging to the sound of music, as he stood idle at the door of the Victoria Hotel; or with a study of the delicate, almost transparent nose of the shopkeeper who dealt in the only genuine farina, and tested by a mere sigh of a sniff the traveler’s flask which had been brought to be refilled.

Mr. Warner had already shown himself a master in the new art of travelwriting when he essayed to look in at the watering-places where Americans amuse themselves during the summer months. We wonder if he has on his top shelf a copy of a book in which one of his Connecticut predecessors in literature set down his observations on successive tours through the States, early in the present century. President Dwight, setting out from New Haven in his chaise to study the morals and manners of New England and New York, and Mr. Warner leaving Hartford in a fast express on a similar errand, offer a capital opportunity for a comparative study, and we present the subject to some German scholar who wishes to invent a United States, past and present.

For our own part, since we wish only to be amused, Dwight may stay on the top shelf, but Warner must lie handy. The charm of his book 1 is suggested when we say that one is in no hurry to finish it, and has but slight difficulty in laying it down. This is not to say that the reader takes only a languid interest in the adventures of Mr. King, but that the leisurely character of that gentleman’s movements, even when he is uncertain whether he is still engaged or not, corresponds with the reader’s placidity of temper as he follows the gentle course of the book. There is nothing to ruffle one’s spirit, nothing to set him pondering, nothing to excite him, but a deal to tickle him, to make him smile, to entertain him honestly. Surely a book which can make one forget strikes and tie-ups without first throwing him into an artificial fever, is a blessing to much enduring educated humanity.

We suspect that Mr. Warner’s reputation suffers a little, and with it his own peace of mind, from the sudden popularity of his first book, My Summer in a Garden. It is difficult to persuade people who have read that book only that Mr. Warner is not an American humorist, whereas his later books, and notably this last, take him out of that crowd altogether, and show him as a true humorist, who does not need a house-top for his platform. It would be difficult to name a severer test of genuine humor than a roving commission among the watering-places of the United States, with instructions to sketch phases of vacation life. The temptations to caricature are on every hand, not only in the exaggerated types to be met, but in the fancied necessity of individualizing the separate resorts. Nor would one easily escape the perils of the satirist, since the opportunities are numberless for emphasizing the contrasts of idleness and work, and for stripping off the flimsy disguises of cheap aristocracy.

Mr. Warner set himself a different task. He chose to look at the American when resting, and resting in crowds ; he knew very well how thin was the formation of watering-places, how merely transient the life there, and so he gave himself little trouble about the philosophy of the thing, and simply essayed with a light touch to sketch the outside show, the picturesque variety. In this he has been undeniably successful. Our only criticism of his art is that he does not treat the successive scenes with quite enough attention to composition. That is to say, his sketches lack light and shade ; they are all light. There are no contrasts. We do not mean that he should have imported contrasts of poverty into his pictures of this well-to-do American idleness, but that he might have heightened the effect of his scenes by a greater variety of figures. The poor forlorn wretch who hovers on the verge of the comedy, forlorn not through poverty, but through ineptitude (who has not seen him at watering-places?), the studious fellow who has stumbled upon gayety almost unintentionally, the shy girl who peers at it all from a corner, — there are plenty of stray actors in the little comedy who serve as grotesque or melancholy foils.

Mr. Warner evidently felt that a mere series of episcopal visitations to watering-places would result in a somewhat disjointed book, and accordingly took up with the natural method of involving his explorer in a continuous adventure; and thus we have a mild love story as the thread upon which to string the several heads of description. The expedient is a simple one, and has this advantage, that it presents the different watering-places as they appeared to one or two persons. The very slight assumption of a third person for the first — an assumption which Mr. Reinhart has slyly done his best to demolish — enables the author to tell how everything struck him without obtruding himself, after all. Mr. King and Mr. Forbes see and sketch, and the reader good-naturedly accepts them, without calling on Mr. Warner and Mr. Reinhart to account for themselves.

The few people of the story, who skip back and forth over the land for no other purpose, apparently, than to be on hand when Mr. King arrives at any particular spot, are quickly introduced to the reader, and are just sufficiently individualized to answer the purposes of light conversation. If there had been more of a story, the object of the book might have been lost sight of. As it is, the mildness of the tale comports capitally with the superficial society that one is asked to look upon. There is something delightfully ingenuous in the manner in which the author manages his little drama. The play is always the same; the characters are the same; only the scenery is changed; but since the scenery is charmingly painted and has plenty of graphic detail, the spectator does not much mind what the players are saying or doing. He knows the two pairs will be married in the end. There is a sudden pause in one place : he perceives that something has gone wrong with two of the lovers, but discovers that it is only to give opportunity for the shifting of some scenes, and so he settles himself to a renewed enjoyment of the stage and its setting.

It is possible that Mr. Warner may have worried himself over a failure to produce a story; that he may have asked himself, in moments of depression, if there were any story at all, and wondered what would happen if he were to draw up an “ argument ” of the whole thing. We beg him to give himself no cencern. He is a most agreeable traveling companion. His lazy but not drawling humor, his frequent penetration, his lurking playfulness, render the book altogether delightful, and one is not at all disposed to regard it as an undeveloped novel. The few people with whom one becomes acquainted are only summer acquaintances ; but then the summer! — that is what remains in the mind. Added to this, Mr. Warner had a genuine double in Mr. Reinhart, whose interpretations of scenes and people are always happy, and often unobtrusively humorous. We especially rejoice over the fact that the wood-cuts in the book are really wood-cuts, and do not fail when a delicate touch is needed. The trouble with most process cuts is that they break down just when one needs a line instead of a dot.

Until the new modes of locomotion become familiar, there is always danger that a traveler, in describing his experience, will dwell heavily upon how he got to a place rather than give his attention to what was worth seeing on the way. To the wayfarer, incredulous of the great advantage of bicycles and tricycles, the riders of these vehicles, however expert, are mainly occupied with the guidance of their steeds. The rigid grasp of the bicycler, especially, with his stony stare and absorption in the great business of keeping on, preclude much leisure for the enjoyments of nature; and even the tricyclers, whose wits may be supposed to be more disengaged, do not seem yet to have become centaurs, with minds on their bows and arrows rather than upon their equine legs. Something of this defect is apparent in the unassuming little work of the Pennells,2 descriptive of their jaunt from Florence to Rome on a “ companion ” tricycle. Mr. Pennell is known as a draughtsman of singular delicacy and refinement of touch ; his pictures in this book even have some of the qualities of his etchings, though reproduced with a rude frankness and wise economy of line. Mrs. Pennell has won good repute as a thoughtful student and writer, and it is she, presumably, who has indited the book. But the pair, with all their prerequisite faculty, prove to be ridden by their steed. Even if it were intended to demonstrate the delights of a tricycle journey, we fear the main impression left upon the mind of the reader is that the tricycle was always breaking down; that it was very toilsome business working it up hill ; that the road was usually hot, dusty, and uninteresting; and that the journey might, after all, have been made more agreeably on foot, certainly much more agreeably in a cart. One has a right to expect that a journey taken upon an unusual vehicle, and by by-roads, would afford a cross-section of the country traveled over; but the only uncommon diversion appears to have been the rest at Monte Oliveto Maggiore, where the tricycle for the nonce is dismissed, and we get a very pretty traveler’s tale. Not that there are not other bits which are readable, as the description of the theatre at Siena, and the adventure with the enthusiastic bicyclist, but the book is, after all, rather a disappointing one ; the tricycle pervades it, and instead of making the travel-sketch more unique, it seems to get in the way clumsily. A balky horse may add liveliness to a tale of adventure, but a broken tricycle awakens no sympathy. Who cares for three wheels and a body ? the mechanism has not even apparent instinct.

It is a somewhat opposite fault that we find in Mr. Champlin’s Chronicle of the Coach.3 Mr. Champlin, and we suppose Mr. Chichester, were members of a coaching party, headed by Mr. Andrew Carnegie, and containing among others Mr. Black and Mr. Matthew Arnold, as the very slight disguises enable us to say without rebuke. The coach started from Charing Cross, and traveled due west to the Somersetshire coast. The way led through one of the most picturesque stretches of English country, and took in Winchester, Hursley, Salisbury, Exeter, and Bideford, besides places of lesser note, but with charms of their own. The party included persons of distinction and of marked individuality. Mr. Champlin, the chronicler of the excursion, had no objection, apparently, to giving a somewhat minute and personal account of adventures and conversation. Here surely was an opportunity for a delightful book. The mode of conveyance was a distinct aid to good-fellowship and to new views of nature and life, and it is to be doubted if a company so organized gave itself up to very serious study of history and archæology.

Alas for the hopes which the book raised! Its bright cover and liberal sprinkling of sketchy illustrations, and its occasional glimpse of conversation, suggest something very different from the ordinary book of travel. In point of fact most of the work could have been written in any well-appointed library, and the portion which depends upon the personal experiences of the coaching party might have been invented by a clever romancer, and probably would have been livelier than it is. We do not wish to insinuate that the party was dull, but we must take refuge in the conclusion that Mr. Champlin did not make the most of his opportunities. For a single slight indication of this, it appears that Mr. Champlin never before heard of William Barnes, the Dorsetshire poet; and when one of the company gives an “ interesting account ” of him, he merely reproduces a few faint characteristics of external appearance. A good many people in America would have bought Mr. Champlin’s book cheerfully, if they had thought they would get a dozen pages of first-hand information about Mr. Barnes. Our clever romancer again, with Mr. Thomas Hardy’s newspaper sketch before him, could have invented Major Bouden’s “ interesting account,” and made it more telling.

A man may cross England on the top of a millionaire’s coach, and write only a moderately interesting book. Another may tramp with a knapsack all over Europe, at fifty cents a day, and make a book 4 equally disappointing in another way, but also more unique. Mr. Meriwether, whose enterprising countenance looks out from the frontispiece of his book, is a Western journalist, who desired to see something of low life in Europe, and so donned the blouse and hobnailed shoes of a workman, and spent a year in tramping from Gibraltar to the Bosphorus. At first blush the author seems to have followed the example of Bayard Taylor, and to have merited an equal renown, missing it only because he was number two instead of number one. There is a certain likeness between the two travelers. They were both ingenuous young men, and were not afraid of roughing it; but Taylor was a poet, and though he described his personal adventures, he also was open to impression from the highest sources. Mr. Meriwether is a shrewd, quick-sighted statistician, who has no nonsense about him. He has one gift which the reader will quickly recognize, — he speaks briefly and to the point. He has also an entertaining drollery, and indulges in more humor, we suspect, than he intends. He closes his chapters on Italy with some sententious passages, reinforcing his opinions with a couple of verses of what might have passed for tramp poetry, it he had not handsomely referred them by asterisk to Will H. Kernan. We can only say that Mr. Kernan ought to have made the trip with Mr. Meriwether. What might not this poet have done at fifty cents a day, when he could stay at home and write, —

“ From cradle to coffin we struggle and seek,
Till the fugitive years of our lives are past;
But whether our lots be “blessed or bleak,
We are tossed like dogs to the worms at last.
“ What is the use of it, then, I say ?
Why are we brought from the blank unknown,
To weep and dance through a little day
That drifts us under a burial stone ? ”

Another of Mr. Meriwether’s foot-notes defines Baedeker as " a guide-book,” and one is only surprised that he does not hurl some epithet after it, for the tourist’s red book sadly inflames him.

“ One of the delights of Capri,” he says in this passage, “ is its comparative freedom from tourists and beggars. Of the two, it is hard to say which are the greater pests. The beggars you can get rid of, but the tourist is always there, opera-glass strapped over his shoulder, and red-covered Baedeker in hand. In my laborer’s garb I was more than once mistaken for an Italian by the operaglass, red-book people. One day, on the Via Roma, in Naples, a man with a guide-book in his hand stopped me, and addressed me in a peculiar kind of Italian that he had doubtless himself invented. He said, ‘ Sono io sulla via alla stazione ? ’

“ I saw at once that he was English, that he did not understand ten words of Italian.

“ ‘ Una, due, tre, quattro ’ (one, two, three, four), I began, rapidly counting in Italian.

“ ‘ The d—l! ’ exclaimed the tourist, ‘what is this thick-headed fellow talking about? Stazione, signore, stazione. I want to go to the stazione.’

“ ‘Cinque, sei, sette, otto ’ (five, six, Seven, eight), I continued ; and the Englishman, thinking I was complying with his request to direct him to the railway station, got out a dictionary, and asked me to speak more slowly. I said, ‘ Would n’t it be better to talk English ? ’

“ The man with the Baedeker and opera-glass wilted.”

Mr. Meriwether traveled in full possession of all his faculties, and showed an alertness and a readiness for getting out of small scrapes which will entertain the reader. This and his parentheses and foot-notes, together with his frequent tables of expenses and his occasional clever sketches of phases of life not ordinarily seen by the tourist, make his book a little out of the ordinary run of books of travel, and justify us in including it among those which entertain rather than instruct. For real insight into the life of the workingman one must look elsewhere. Unfortunately for the author’s purpose, something more than an outside blouse and a stout stick is needed to qualify one for this delicate task.

  1. Their Pilgrimage. By CHARLES DUDLEY WARNER. Illustrated by C. S. REINHART. New York : Harper & Brothers. 1887.
  2. Two Pilgrims’ Progress from Fair Florence to the Eternal City of Rome ; delivered under the similitude of a Ride, wherein is discovered the manner of their setting out, their dangerous journey, and safe arrival at the desired city. By JOSEPH and ELIZABETH ROBINS PENNELL. Boston : Roberts Brothers. 1886.
  3. Chronicle of the Coach. Charing Cross to Ilfracombe. By JOHN DENISON CHAMPLIN, Jr. Illustrated by EDWARD L. CHICHESTER. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1886.
  4. A Tramp Trip. How to see Europe on Fifty Cents a Day. By LEE MERIWETHER. New York : Harper & Brothers. 1887.