The Pleasures of Life
By Sir John Lubbock

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    “I am a part of all that I have seen."–TENNYSON.

I am sometimes disposed to think that there are few things in which we of this generation enjoy greater advantages over our ancestors than in the increased facilities of travel; but I hesitate to say this, not because our advantages are not great, but because I have already made the same remark with reference to several other aspects of life.

The very word “travel” is suggestive. It is a form of “travail"–excessive labor; and, as Skeat observes, it forcibly recalls the toil of travel in olden days. How different things are now!

It is sometimes said that every one should travel on foot “like Thales, Plato, and Pythagoras"; we are told that in these days of railroads people rush through countries and see nothing. It may be so, but that is not the fault of the railways. They confer upon us the inestimable advantage of being able, so rapidly and with so little fatigue, to visit countries which were much less accessible to our ancestors. What a blessing it is that not our own islands only–our smiling fields and rich woods, the mountains that are full of peace and the rivers of joy, the lakes and heaths and hills, castles and cathedrals, and many a spot immortalized in the history of our country:–not these only, but the sun and scenery of the South, the Alps the palaces of Nature, the blue Mediterranean, and the cities of Europe, with all their memories and treasures, are now brought within a few hours of us.

Surely no one who has the opportunity should omit to travel. The world belongs to him who has seen it. “But he that would make his travels delightful must first make himself delightful.” [1]

According to the old proverb, “the fool wanders, the wise man travels." Bacon tells us that “the things to be seen and observed are the courts of princes, especially when they give audience to ambassadors; the courts of justice while they sit and hear causes; and so of consistories ecclesiastic; the churches and monasteries, with the monuments which are therein extant; the walls and fortifications of cities and towns; and so the havens and harbors, antiquities and ruins, libraries, colleges, disputations and lectures, when any are; shipping and navies; houses and gardens of state and pleasure near great cities; armories, arsenals, magazines, exchanges, burses, warehouses, exercises of horsemanship, fencing, training of soldiers, and the like; comedies, such whereunto the better sort of persons do resort; treasuries of jewels and robes; cabinets and rarities; and, to conclude, whatsoever is memorable in the places where they go.”

But this depends on the time at our disposal, and the object with which we travel. If we can stay long in any one place Bacon’s advice is no doubt excellent; but for the moment I am thinking rather of an annual holiday, taken for the sake of rest and health; for fresh air and exercise rather than for study. Yet even so, if we have eyes to see we cannot fail to lay in a stock of new ideas as well as a store of health.

We may have read the most vivid and accurate description, we may have pored over maps and plans and pictures, and yet the reality will burst on us like a revelation. This is true not only of mountains and glaciers, of palaces and cathedrals, but even of the simplest examples.

For instance, like every one else, I had read descriptions and seen photographs and pictures of the Pyramids. Their form is simplicity itself. I do not know that I could put into words any characteristic of the original for which I was not prepared. It was not that they were larger; it was not that they differed in form, in color, or situation. And yet, the moment I saw them, I felt that my previous impression had been but a faint shadow of the reality. The actual sight seemed to give life to the idea.

Every one who has been in the East will agree that a week of oriental travel brings out, with more than stereoscopic effect, the pictures of patriarchal life as given us in the Old Testament. And what is true of the Old Testament is true of history generally. To those who have been in Athens or Rome, the history of Greece or Italy becomes far more interesting; while, on the other hand, some knowledge of the history and literature enormously enhances the interest of the scenes themselves.

Good descriptions and pictures, however, help us to see much more than we should perhaps perceive for ourselves. It may even be doubted whether some persons do not derive a more correct impression from a good drawing or description, which brings out the salient points, than they would from actual, but unaided, inspection. The idea may gain in accuracy, in character, and even in detail, more than it misses in vividness. But, however this may be, for those who cannot travel, descriptions and pictures have an immense interest; while to those who have traveled, they will afford an inexhaustible delight in reviving the memories of beautiful scenes and interesting expeditions.

It is really astonishing how little most of us see of the beautiful world in which we live. Mr. Norman Lockyer tells me that while traveling on a scientific mission in the Rocky Mountains, he was astonished to meet an aged French Abbe, and could not help showing his surprise. The Abbe observed this, and in the course of conversation explained his presence in that distant region.

“You were,” he said, “I easily saw, surprised to find me here. The fact is, that some months ago I was very ill. My physicians gave me up: one morning I seemed to faint and thought that I was already in the arms of the Bon Dieu. I fancied one of the angels came and asked me, ’Well, M. l’Abbe how did you like the beautiful world you have just left?’ And then it occurred to me that I who had been all my life preaching about heaven, had seen almost nothing of the world in which I was living. I determined therefore, if it pleased Providence to spare me, to see something of this world; and so here I am.”

Few of us are free, however much we might wish it, to follow the example of the worthy Abbe. But although it may not be possible for us to reach the Rocky Mountains, there are other countries nearer home which most of us might find time to visit.

Though it is true that no descriptions can come near the reality, they may at least persuade us to give ourselves this great advantage. Let me then try to illustrate this by pictures in words, as realized by one of our most illustrious countrymen; I will select references to foreign countries only, not that we have not equal beauties here, but because everywhere in England one feels oneself at home.

The following passage from Tyndall’s Hours of Exercise in the Alps, is almost as good as an hour in the Alps themselves:

“I looked over this wondrous scene toward Mont Blanc, the Grand Combin, the Dent Blanche, the Weisshorn, the Dom, and the thousand lesser peaks which seem to join in the celebration of the risen day. I asked myself, as on previous occasions, How was this colossal work performed? Who chiselled these mighty and picturesque masses out of a mere protuberance of the earth? And the answer was at hand. Ever young, ever mighty-with the vigor of a thousand worlds still within him-the real sculptor was even then climbing up the eastern sky. It was he who raised aloft the waters which cut out these ravines; it was he who planted the glaciers on the mountain slopes, thus giving gravity a plough to open out the valleys; and it is he who, acting through the ages, will finally lay low these mighty monuments, rolling them gradually seaward, sowing the seeds of continents to be; so that the people of an older earth may see mould spread, and corn wave over the hidden rocks which at this moment bear the weight of the Jungfrau.” And the Alps lie within twenty-four hours of London!

Tyndall’s writings also contain many vivid descriptions of glaciers; those “silent and solemn causeways ... broad enough for the march of an army in line of battle and quiet as a street of tombs in a buried city.” [2] I do not, however, borrow from him or from any one else any description of glaciers, for they are so unlike anything else, that no one who has not seen, can possibly visualize them.

The history of European rivers yet remains to be written, and is most interesting. They did not always run in their present courses. The Rhone, for instance, appears to have been itself a great traveler. At least there seems reasons to believe that the upper waters of the Valais fell at first into the Danube, and so into the Black Sea; subsequently joined the Rhine and the Thames, and so ran far north over the plains which once connected the mountains of Scotland and of Norway–to the Arctic Ocean; and to have only comparatively of late years adopted their present course into the Mediterranean.

But, however this may be, the Rhine of Germany and the Rhine of Switzerland are very unlike. The catastrophe of Schaffhausen seems to alter the whole character of the river, and no wonder. “Stand for half an hour,” says Ruskin, “beside the Fall of Schaffhausen, on the north side where the rapids are long, and watch how the vault of water first bends, unbroken, in pure polished velocity, over the arching rocks at the brow of the cataract, covering them with a dome of crystal twenty feet thick, so swift that its motion is unseen except when a foam globe from above darts over it like a falling star;... and how ever and anon, startling you with its white flash, a jet of spray leaps hissing out of the fall, like a rocket, bursting in the wind and driven away in dust, filling the air with light; and how, through the curdling wreaths of the restless crushing abyss below, the blue of the water, paled by the foam in its body, shows purer than the sky through white rain-cloud; ... their dripping masses lifted at intervals, like sheaves of loaded corn, by some stronger gush from the cataract, and bowed again upon the mossy rocks as its roar dies away.”

But much as we may admire the majestic grandeur of a mighty river, either in its eager rush or its calmer moments, there is something which fascinates even more in the free life, the young energy, the sparkling transparence, and merry music of smaller streams.

“The upper Swiss valleys,” as the same great Seer says, “are sweet with perpetual streamlets, that seem always to have chosen the steepest places to come down, for the sake of the leaps, scattering their handfuls of crystal this way and that, as the winds take them, with all the grace, but with none of the formalism, of fountains ... until at last ... they find their way down to the turf, and lose themselves in that, silently; with quiet depth of clear water furrowing among the grass blades, and looking only like their shadow, but presently emerging again in little startled gushes and laughing hurries, as if they had remembered suddenly that the day was too short for them to get down the hill.”

How vividly does Symonds bring before us the sunny shores of the Mediterranean, which he loves so well, and the contrast between the scenery of the North and the South.

“In northern landscapes the eye travels through vistas of leafy boughs to still, secluded crofts and pastures, where slow-moving oxen graze. The mystery of dreams and the repose of meditation haunt our massive bowers. But in the South, the lattice-work of olive boughs and foliage scarcely veils the laughing sea and bright blue sky, while the hues of the landscape find their climax in the dazzling radiance of the sun upon the waves, and the pure light of the horizon. There is no concealment and no melancholy here. Nature seems to hold a never-ending festival and dance, in which the waves and sunbeams and shadows join. Again, in northern scenery, the rounded forms of full-foliaged trees suit the undulating country, with its gentle hills and brooding clouds; but in the South the spiky leaves and sharp branches of the olive carry out the defined outlines which are everywhere observable through the broader beauties of mountain and valley and sea-shore. Serenity and intelligence characterize this southern landscape, in which a race of splendid men and women lived beneath the pure light of Phoebus, their ancestral god. Pallas protected them, and golden Aphrodite favored them with beauty. Olives are not, however, by any means the only trees which play a part in idyllic scenery. The tall stone pine is even more important.... Near Massa, by Sorrento, there are two gigantic pines so placed that, lying on the grass beneath them, one looks on Capri rising from the sea, Baiae, and all the bay of Naples sweeping round to the base of Vesuvius. Tangled growths of olives, and rose-trees fill the garden-ground along the shore, while far away in the distance pale Inarime sleeps, with her exquisite Greek name, a virgin island on the deep.

“On the wilder hills you find patches of ilex and arbutus glowing with crimson berries and white waxen bells, sweet myrtle rods and shafts of bay, frail tamarisk and tall tree-heaths that wave their frosted boughs above your head. Nearer the shore the lentisk grows, a savory shrub, with cytisus and aromatic rosemary. Clematis and polished garlands of tough sarsaparilla wed the shrubs with clinging, climbing arms; and here and there in sheltered nooks the vine shoots forth luxuriant tendrils bowed with grapes, stretching from branch to branch of mulberry or elm, flinging festoons on which young loves might sit and swing, or weaving a lattice-work of leaves across the open shed. Nor must the sounds of this landscape be forgotten,–sounds of bleating flocks, and murmuring bees, and nightingales, and doves that moan, and running streams, and shrill cicadas, and hoarse frogs, and whispering pines. There is not a single detail which a patient student may not verify from Theocritus.

“Then too it is a landscape in which sea and country are never sundered. The higher we climb upon the mountain-side the more marvellous is the beauty of the sea, which seems to rise as we ascend, and stretch into the sky. Sometimes a little flake of blue is framed by olive boughs, sometimes a turning in the road reveals the whole broad azure calm below. Or, after toiling up a steep ascent we fall upon the undergrowth of juniper, and lo! a double sea, this way and that, divided by the sharp spine of the jutting hill, jewelled with villages along its shore, and smiling with fair islands and silver sails.”

To many of us the mere warmth of the South is a blessing and a delight. The very thought of it is delicious. I have read over again and again Wallace’s graphic description of a tropical sunrise–of the “sun of the early morning that turneth all into gold.” [3]

“Up to about a quarter past five o’clock,” he says, “the darkness is complete; but about that time a few cries of birds begin to break the silence of night, perhaps indicating that signs of dawn are perceptible in the eastern horizon. A little later the melancholy voices of the goatsuckers are heard, varied croakings of frogs, the plaintive whistle of mountain thrushes, and strange cries of birds or mammals peculiar to each locality. About half-past five the first glimmer of light becomes perceptible; it slowly becomes lighter, and then increases so rapidly that at about a quarter to six it seems full daylight. For the next quarter of an hour this changes very little in character; when, suddenly, the sun’s rim appears above the horizon, decking the dew-laden foliage with glittering gems sending gleams of golden light far into the woods, and waking up all nature to life and activity. Birds chirp and flutter about, parrots scream, monkeys chatter, bees hum among the flowers, and gorgeous butterflies flutter lazily along or sit with full expanded wings exposed to the warm and invigorating rays. The first hour of morning in the equatorial regions possesses a charm and a beauty that can never be forgotten. All nature seems refreshed and strengthened by the coolness and moisture of the past night, new leaves and buds unfold almost before the eye, and fresh shoots may often be observed to have grown many inches since the preceding day. The temperature is the most delicious conceivable. The slight chill of early dawn, which was itself agreeable, is succeeded by an invigorating warmth; and the intense sunshine lights up the glorious vegetation of the tropics, and realizes all that the magic art of the painter or the glowing words of the poet have pictured as their ideals of terrestrial beauty.”

Or take Dean Stanley’s description of the colossal statues of Amenophis III., the Memnon of the Greeks, at Thebes–"The sun was setting, the African range glowed red behind them; the green plain was dyed with a deeper green beneath them, and the shades of evening veiled the vast rents and fissures in their aged frames. As I looked back at them in the sunset, and they rose up in front of the background of the mountain, they seemed, indeed, as if they were part of it,–as if they belonged to some natural creation.”

But I must not indulge myself in more quotations, though it is difficult to stop. Such extracts recall the memory of many glorious days: for the advantages of travel last through life; and often, as we sit at home, “some bright and perfect view of Venice, of Genoa, or of Monte Rosa comes back on you, as full of repose as a day wisely spent in travel.” [4]

So far is a thorough love and enjoyment of travel from interfering with the love of home, that perhaps no one can thoroughly enjoy his home who does not sometimes wander away. They are like exertion and rest, each the complement of the other; so that, though it may seem paradoxical, one of the greatest pleasures of travel is the return; and no one who has not roamed abroad, can realize the devotion which the wanderer feels for Domiduca–the sweet and gentle goddess who watches over our coming home.

[1] Seneca.

[2] Ruskin.

[3] Morris.

[4] Helps.



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