THE curious few who linger over dictionaries have been amused at finding travel one with travail, so far has the sting of the word been drawn by time. While the one road of men into the world has remained labor, the many roads over the world have been paved with ease. In armchairs and beds, by land or sea, we were there and we are here. There is no pain of passage. The old traveler settled his estate and asked for prayers in church; the new traveler takes his affairs abroad and traffics as he goes. When there is no interruption, when upon a thought I am elsewhere, remaining myself the same, what is left of travel ?
And while we have made travel ease, we have made it a superfluity. Will not the telephone serve my business ? Then let me step into my closet to talk a thousand miles. As for the old “grand tour,” most men can see Venice as well by limelight as by moonlight. Cathedrals lie on parlor tables; and Praxiteles is brought to a boarding-house. Shall the ring of tourists gaping about a guide in the Louvre see more in her of Melos than the student with his penny print ? For the elect few there may be with a picture its proper music of race, its language, its literature. One of the widest travelers of my acquaintance had seen France better, ay, and heard it, in his own house, than ever he could when at last he walked the soil. We that so well may travel may often as well stay at home.
For distance is but relative. The next county was as distant to our forefathers as now our antipodes. And there is more in this. At the age of four I thought the next village as far away as now I find Alaska. Was that earlier journey any the less travel ? Surely I saw as many marvels; I was opened as much to the unknown. Nor has travel ever been measured by distance. “I have travelled,” said Thoreau, “a good deal in Concord.” He also was a traveler who wrote that Journey about my Room. We shall have travel so long as we have travelers.
And so long shall we have travelers’ tales. The whole world is ventilated by the Associated Press. The daily report from Abyssinia is enhanced by Sunday’s photographs. But wherever Mandeville goes, or Marco Polo, whether to Persia or the pole, on elephant or automobile or on his two feet, there will be travelers’ tales, because there is a traveler. It is an Ancient Mariner that we cannot choose but hear. It is Daniel Defoe that will hold us, whether from London to Land’s End or from London to the well-charted isle of Juan Fernandez. It is that charming person who called himself Mandeville. There is a traveler’s tale wherever there is a man with the wit to travel.
Travel has never meant, nor can it mean now, anything less than escape from the commonplace. Routine of shop or of sleeping-car, that, alone is travel which ventures beyond this into parts unknown. And as breach of custom will always demand an effort of individuality, so travel must still have travail. Without courage to try the unknown, without weariness of the unpaved road, I could never have had the traveler’s joy of discovering what this new world hid for me. Listen. It is only ten miles from Quebec; but I discovered it. It is in a country store kept by a habitant; but of country stores you may after all know as little as of habitants. I who discovered it tell you that, crossing the road from the pink parsonage at twilight, I mounted four steps into a dark room. When I asked for supper and bed — But this is not a traveler’s tale ; it is an essay on travel. And its moral is that travel must still be had on the old terms.