Virginibus Puerisque
Robert Louis Stevenson

Part 3 out of 3

means he has a feeble body and should have some medicine; but
children may be pure spirits, if they will, and take their
enjoyment in a world of moon-shine. Sensation does not count
for so much in our first years as afterwards; something of the
swaddling numbness of infancy clings about us; we see and
touch and hear through a sort of golden mist. Children, for
instance, are able enough to see, but they have no great
faculty for looking; they do not use their eyes for the
pleasure of using them, but for by-ends of their own; and the
things I call to mind seeing most vividly, were not beautiful
in themselves, but merely interesting or enviable to me as I
thought they might be turned to practical account in play.
Nor is the sense of touch so clean and poignant in children as
it is in a man. If you will turn over your old memories, I
think the sensations of this sort you remember will be
somewhat vague, and come to not much more than a blunt,
general sense of heat on summer days, or a blunt, general
sense of wellbeing in bed. And here, of course, you will
understand pleasurable sensations; for overmastering pain -
the most deadly and tragical element in life, and the true
commander of man's soul and body - alas! pain has its own way
with all of us; it breaks in, a rude visitant, upon the fairy
garden where the child wanders in a dream, no less surely than
it rules upon the field of battle, or sends the immortal war-
god whimpering to his father; and innocence, no more than
philosophy, can protect us from this sting. As for taste,
when we bear in mind the excesses of unmitigated sugar which
delight a youthful palate, "it is surely no very cynical
asperity" to think taste a character of the maturer growth.
Smell and hearing are perhaps more developed; I remember many
scents, many voices, and a great deal of spring singing in the
woods. But hearing is capable of vast improvement as a means
of pleasure; and there is all the world between gaping
wonderment at the jargon of birds, and the emotion with which
a man listens to articulate music.

At the same time, and step by step with this increase in
the definition and intensity of what we feel which accompanies
our growing age, another change takes place in the sphere of
intellect, by which all things are transformed and seen
through theories and associations as through coloured windows.
We make to ourselves day by day, out of history, and gossip,
and economical speculations, and God knows what, a medium in
which we walk and through which we look abroad. We study shop
windows with other eyes than in our childhood, never to
wonder, not always to admire, but to make and modify our
little incongruous theories about life. It is no longer the
uniform of a soldier that arrests our attention; but perhaps
the flowing carriage of a woman, or perhaps a countenance that
has been vividly stamped with passion and carries an
adventurous story written in its lines. The pleasure of
surprise is passed away; sugar-loaves and water-carts seem
mighty tame to encounter; and we walk the streets to make
romances and to sociologise. Nor must we deny that a good
many of us walk them solely for the purposes of transit or in
the interest of a livelier digestion. These, indeed, may look
back with mingled thoughts upon their childhood, but the rest
are in a better case; they know more than when they were
children, they understand better, their desires and sympathies
answer more nimbly to the provocation of the senses, and their
minds are brimming with interest as they go about the world.

According to my contention, this is a flight to which
children cannot rise. They are wheeled in perambulators or
dragged about by nurses in a pleasing stupor. A vague, faint,
abiding, wonderment possesses them. Here and there some
specially remarkable circumstance, such as a water-cart or a
guardsman, fairly penetrates into the seat of thought and
calls them, for half a moment, out of themselves; and you may
see them, still towed forward sideways by the inexorable nurse
as by a sort of destiny, but still staring at the bright
object in their wake. It may be some minutes before another
such moving spectacle reawakens them to the world in which
they dwell. For other children, they almost invariably show
some intelligent sympathy. "There is a fine fellow making mud
pies," they seem to say; "that I can understand, there is some
sense in mud pies." But the doings of their elders, unless
where they are speakingly picturesque or recommend themselves
by the quality of being easily imitable, they let them go over
their heads (as we say) without the least regard. If it were
not for this perpetual imitation, we should be tempted to
fancy they despised us outright, or only considered us in the
light of creatures brutally strong and brutally silly; among
whom they condescended to dwell in obedience like a
philosopher at a barbarous court. At times, indeed, they
display an arrogance of disregard that is truly staggering.
Once, when I was groaning aloud with physical pain, a young
gentleman came into the room and nonchalantly inquired if I
had seen his bow and arrow. He made no account of my groans,
which he accepted, as he had to accept so much else, as a
piece of the inexplicable conduct of his elders; and like a
wise young gentleman, he would waste no wonder on the subject.
Those elders, who care so little for rational enjoyment, and
are even the enemies of rational enjoyment for others, he had
accepted without understanding and without complaint, as the
rest of us accept the scheme of the universe.

We grown people can tell ourselves a story, give and take
strokes until the bucklers ring, ride far and fast, marry,
fall, and die; all the while sitting quietly by the fire or
lying prone in bed. This is exactly what a child cannot do,
or does not do, at least, when he can find anything else. He
works all with lay figures and stage properties. When his
story comes to the fighting, he must rise, get something by
way of a sword and have a set-to with a piece of furniture,
until he is out of breath. When he comes to ride with the
king's pardon, he must bestride a chair, which he will so
hurry and belabour and on which he will so furiously demean
himself, that the messenger will arrive, if not bloody with
spurring, at least fiery red with haste. If his romance
involves an accident upon a cliff, he must clamber in person
about the chest of drawers and fall bodily upon the carpet,
before his imagination is satisfied. Lead soldiers, dolls,
all toys, in short, are in the same category and answer the
same end. Nothing can stagger a child's faith; he accepts the
clumsiest substitutes and can swallow the most staring
incongruities. The chair he has just been besieging as a
castle, or valiantly cutting to the ground as a dragon, is
taken away for the accommodation of a morning visitor, and he
is nothing abashed; he can skirmish by the hour with a
stationary coal-scuttle; in the midst of the enchanted
pleasance, he can see, without sensible shock, the gardener
soberly digging potatoes for the day's dinner. He can make
abstraction of whatever does not fit into his fable; and he
puts his eyes into his pocket, just as we hold our noses in an
unsavoury lane. And so it is, that although the ways of
children cross with those of their elders in a hundred places
daily, they never go in the same direction nor so much as lie
in the same element. So may the telegraph wires intersect the
line of the high-road, or so might a landscape painter and a
bagman visit the same country, and yet move in different

People struck with these spectacles cry aloud about the
power of imagination in the young. Indeed there may be two
words to that. It is, in some ways, but a pedestrian fancy
that the child exhibits. It is the grown people who make the
nursery stories; all the children do, is jealously to preserve
the text. One out of a dozen reasons why ROBINSON CRUSOE
should be so popular with youth, is that it hits their level
in this matter to a nicety; Crusoe was always at makeshifts
and had, in so many words, to PLAY at a great variety of
professions; and then the book is all about tools, and there
is nothing that delights a child so much. Hammers and saws
belong to a province of life that positively calls for
imitation. The juvenile lyrical drama, surely of the most
ancient Thespian model, wherein the trades of mankind are
successively simulated to the running burthen "On a cold and
frosty morning," gives a good instance of the artistic taste
in children. And this need for overt action and lay figures
testifies to a defect in the child's imagination which
prevents him from carrying out his novels in the privacy of
his own heart. He does not yet know enough of the world and
men. His experience is incomplete. That stage-wardrobe and
scene-room that we call the memory is so ill provided, that he
can overtake few combinations and body out few stories, to his
own content, without some external aid. He is at the
experimental stage; he is not sure how one would feel in
certain circumstances; to make sure, he must come as near
trying it as his means permit. And so here is young heroism
with a wooden sword, and mothers practice their kind vocation
over a bit of jointed stick. It may be laughable enough just
now; but it is these same people and these same thoughts, that
not long hence, when they are on the theatre of life, will
make you weep and tremble. For children think very much the
same thoughts and dream the same dreams, as bearded men and
marriageable women. No one is more romantic. Fame and
honour, the love of young men and the love of mothers, the
business man's pleasure in method, all these and others they
anticipate and rehearse in their play hours. Upon us, who are
further advanced and fairly dealing with the threads of
destiny, they only glance from time to time to glean a hint
for their own mimetic reproduction. Two children playing at
soldiers are far more interesting to each other than one of
the scarlet beings whom both are busy imitating. This is
perhaps the greatest oddity of all. "Art for art" is their
motto; and the doings of grown folk are only interesting as
the raw material for play. Not Theophile Gautier, not
Flaubert, can look more callously upon life, or rate the
reproduction more highly over the reality; and they will
parody an execution, a deathbed, or the funeral of the young
man of Nain, with all the cheerfulness in the world.

The true parallel for play is not to be found, of course,
in conscious art, which, though it be derived from play, is
itself an abstract, impersonal thing, and depends largely upon
philosophical interests beyond the scope of childhood. It is
when we make castles in the air and personate the leading
character in our own romances, that we return to the spirit of
our first years. Only, there are several reasons why the
spirit is no longer so agreeable to indulge. Nowadays, when
we admit this personal element into our divagations we are apt
to stir up uncomfortable and sorrowful memories, and remind
ourselves sharply of old wounds. Our day-dreams can no longer
lie all in the air like a story in the ARABIAN NIGHTS; they
read to us rather like the history of a period in which we
ourselves had taken part, where we come across many
unfortunate passages and find our own conduct smartly
reprimanded. And then the child, mind you, acts his parts.
He does not merely repeat them to himself; he leaps, he runs,
and sets the blood agog over all his body. And so his play
breathes him; and he no sooner assumes a passion than he gives
it vent. Alas! when we betake ourselves to our intellectual
form of play, sitting quietly by the fire or lying prone in
bed, we rouse many hot feelings for which we can find no
outlet. Substitutes are not acceptable to the mature mind,
which desires the thing itself; and even to rehearse a
triumphant dialogue with one's enemy, although it is perhaps
the most satisfactory piece of play still left within our
reach, is not entirely satisfying, and is even apt to lead to
a visit and an interview which may be the reverse of
triumphant after all.

In the child's world of dim sensation, play is all in
all. "Making believe" is the gist of his whole life, and he
cannot so much as take a walk except in character. I could
not learn my alphabet without some suitable MISE-EN-SCENE, and
had to act a business man in an office before I could sit down
to my book. Will you kindly question your memory, and find
out how much you did, work or pleasure, in good faith and
soberness, and for how much you had to cheat yourself with
some invention? I remember, as though it were yesterday, the
expansion of spirit, the dignity and self-reliance, that came
with a pair of mustachios in burnt cork, even when there was
none to see. Children are even content to forego what we call
the realities, and prefer the shadow to the substance. When
they might be speaking intelligibly together, they chatter
senseless gibberish by the hour, and are quite happy because
they are making believe to speak French. I have said already
how even the imperious appetite of hunger suffers itself to be
gulled and led by the nose with the fag end of an old song.
And it goes deeper than this: when children are together even
a meal is felt as an interruption in the business of life; and
they must find some imaginative sanction, and tell themselves
some sort of story, to account for, to colour, to render
entertaining, the simple processes of eating and drinking.
What wonderful fancies I have heard evolved out of the pattern
upon tea-cups! - from which there followed a code of rules and
a whole world of excitement, until tea-drinking began to take
rank as a game. When my cousin and I took our porridge of a
morning, we had a device to enliven the course of the meal.
He ate his with sugar, and explained it to be a country
continually buried under snow. I took mine with milk, and
explained it to be a country suffering gradual inundation.
You can imagine us exchanging bulletins; how here was an
island still unsubmerged, here a valley not yet covered with
snow; what inventions were made; how his population lived in
cabins on perches and travelled on stilts, and how mine was
always in boats; how the interest grew furious, as the last
corner of safe ground was cut off on all sides and grew
smaller every moment; and how in fine, the food was of
altogether secondary importance, and might even have been
nauseous, so long as we seasoned it with these dreams. But
perhaps the most exciting moments I ever had over a meal, were
in the case of calves' feet jelly. It was hardly possible not
to believe - and you may be sure, so far from trying, I did
all I could to favour the illusion - that some part of it was
hollow, and that sooner or later my spoon would lay open the
secret tabernacle of the golden rock. There, might some
miniature RED BEARD await his hour; there, might one find the
treasures of the FORTY THIEVES, and bewildered Cassim beating
about the walls. And so I quarried on slowly, with bated
breath, savouring the interest. Believe me, I had little
palate left for the jelly; and though I preferred the taste
when I took cream with it, I used often to go without, because
the cream dimmed the transparent fractures.

Even with games, this spirit is authoritative with right-
minded children. It is thus that hide-and-seek has so pre-
eminent a sovereignty, for it is the wellspring of romance,
and the actions and the excitement to which it gives rise lend
themselves to almost any sort of fable. And thus cricket,
which is a mere matter of dexterity, palpably about nothing
and for no end, often fails to satisfy infantile craving. It
is a game, if you like, but not a game of play. You cannot
tell yourself a story about cricket; and the activity it calls
forth can be justified on no rational theory. Even football,
although it admirably simulates the tug and the ebb and flow
of battle, has presented difficulties to the mind of young
sticklers after verisimilitude; and I knew at least one little
boy who was mightily exercised about the presence of the ball,
and had to spirit himself up, whenever he came to play, with
an elaborate story of enchantment, and take the missile as a
sort of talisman bandied about in conflict between two Arabian

To think of such a frame of mind, is to become disquieted
about the bringing up of children. Surely they dwell in a
mythological epoch, and are not the contemporaries of their
parents. What can they think of them? what can they make of
these bearded or petticoated giants who look down upon their
games? who move upon a cloudy Olympus, following unknown
designs apart from rational enjoyment? who profess the
tenderest solicitude for children, and yet every now and again
reach down out of their altitude and terribly vindicate the
prerogatives of age? Off goes the child, corporally smarting,
but morally rebellious. Were there ever such unthinkable
deities as parents? I would give a great deal to know what,
in nine cases out of ten, is the child's unvarnished feeling.
A sense of past cajolery; a sense of personal attraction, at
best very feeble; above all, I should imagine, a sense of
terror for the untried residue of mankind go to make up the
attraction that he feels. No wonder, poor little heart, with
such a weltering world in front of him, if he clings to the
hand he knows! The dread irrationality of the whole affair,
as it seems to children, is a thing we are all too ready to
forget. "O, why," I remember passionately wondering, "why can
we not all be happy and devote ourselves to play?" And when
children do philosophise, I believe it is usually to very much
the same purpose.

One thing, at least, comes very clearly out of these
considerations; that whatever we are to expect at the hands of
children, it should not be any peddling exactitude about
matters of fact. They walk in a vain show, and among mists
and rainbows; they are passionate after dreams and unconcerned
about realities; speech is a difficult art not wholly learned;
and there is nothing in their own tastes or purposes to teach
them what we mean by abstract truthfulness. When a bad writer
is inexact, even if he can look back on half a century of
years, we charge him with incompetence and not with
dishonesty. And why not extend the same allowance to
imperfect speakers? Let a stockbroker be dead stupid about
poetry, or a poet inexact in the details of business, and we
excuse them heartily from blame. But show us a miserable,
unbreeched, human entity, whose whole profession it is to take
a tub for a fortified town and a shaving-brush for the deadly
stiletto, and who passes three-fourths of his time in a dream
and the rest in open self-deception, and we expect him to be
as nice upon a matter of fact as a scientific expert bearing
evidence. Upon my heart, I think it less than decent. You do
not consider how little the child sees, or how swift he is to
weave what he has seen into bewildering fiction; and that he
cares no more for what you call truth, than you for a
gingerbread dragoon.

I am reminded, as I write, that the child is very
inquiring as to the precise truth of stories. But indeed this
is a very different matter, and one bound up with the subject
of play, and the precise amount of playfulness, or
playability, to be looked for in the world. Many such burning
questions must arise in the course of nursery education.
Among the fauna of this planet, which already embraces the
pretty soldier and the terrifying Irish beggarman, is, or is
not, the child to expect a Bluebeard or a Cormoran? Is he, or
is he not, to look out for magicians, kindly and potent? May
he, or may he not, reasonably hope to be cast away upon a
desert island, or turned to such diminutive proportions that
he can live on equal terms with his lead soldiery, and go a
cruise in his own toy schooner? Surely all these are
practical questions to a neophyte entering upon life with a
view to play. Precision upon such a point, the child can
understand. But if you merely ask him of his past behaviour,
as to who threw such a stone, for instance, or struck such and
such a match; or whether he had looked into a parcel or gone
by a forbidden path, - why, he can see no moment in the
inquiry, and it is ten to one, he has already half forgotten
and half bemused himself with subsequent imaginings.

It would be easy to leave them in their native cloudland,
where they figure so prettily - pretty like flowers and
innocent like dogs. They will come out of their gardens soon
enough, and have to go into offices and the witness-box.
Spare them yet a while, O conscientious parent! Let them doze
among their playthings yet a little! for who knows what a
rough, warfaring existence lies before them in the future?


IT must not be imagined that a walking tour, as some
would have us fancy, is merely a better or worse way of seeing
the country. There are many ways of seeing landscape quite as
good; and none more vivid, in spite of canting dilettantes,
than from a railway train. But landscape on a walking tour is
quite accessory. He who is indeed of the brotherhood does not
voyage in quest of the picturesque, but of certain jolly
humours - of the hope and spirit with which the march begins
at morning, and the peace and spiritual repletion of the
evening's rest. He cannot tell whether he puts his knapsack
on, or takes it off, with more delight. The excitement of the
departure puts him in key for that of the arrival. Whatever
he does is not only a reward in itself, but will be further
rewarded in the sequel; and so pleasure leads on to pleasure
in an endless chain. It is this that so few can understand;
they will either be always lounging or always at five miles an
hour; they do not play off the one against the other, prepare
all day for the evening, and all evening for the next day.
And, above all, it is here that your overwalker fails of
comprehension. His heart rises against those who drink their
curacoa in liqueur glasses, when he himself can swill it in a
brown john. He will not believe that the flavour is more
delicate in the smaller dose. He will not believe that to
walk this unconscionable distance is merely to stupefy and
brutalise himself, and come to his inn, at night, with a sort
of frost on his five wits, and a starless night of darkness in
his spirit. Not for him the mild luminous evening of the
temperate walker! He has nothing left of man but a physical
need for bedtime and a double nightcap; and even his pipe, if
he be a smoker, will be savourless and disenchanted. It is
the fate of such an one to take twice as much trouble as is
needed to obtain happiness, and miss the happiness in the end;
he is the man of the proverb, in short, who goes further and
fares worse.

Now, to be properly enjoyed, a walking tour should be
gone upon alone. If you go in a company, or even in pairs, it
is no longer a walking tour in anything but name; it is
something else and more in the nature of a picnic. A walking
tour should be gone upon alone, because freedom is of the
essence; because you should be able to stop and go on, and
follow this way or that, as the freak takes you; and because
you must have your own pace, and neither trot alongside a
champion walker, nor mince in time with a girl. And then you
must be open to all impressions and let your thoughts take
colour from what you see. You should be as a pipe for any
wind to play upon. "I cannot see the wit," says Hazlitt, "of
walking and talking at the same time. When I am in the
country I wish to vegetate like the country," - which is the
gist of all that can be said upon the matter. There should be
no cackle of voices at your elbow, to jar on the meditative
silence of the morning. And so long as a man is reasoning he
cannot surrender himself to that fine intoxication that comes
of much motion in the open air, that begins in a sort of
dazzle and sluggishness of the brain, and ends in a peace that
passes comprehension.

During the first day or so of any tour there are moments
of bitterness, when the traveller feels more than coldly
towards his knapsack, when he is half in a mind to throw it
bodily over the hedge and, like Christian on a similar
occasion, "give three leaps and go on singing." And yet it
soon acquires a property of easiness. It becomes magnetic;
the spirit of the journey enters into it. And no sooner have
you passed the straps over your shoulder than the lees of
sleep are cleared from you, you pull yourself together with a
shake, and fall at once into your stride. And surely, of all
possible moods, this, in which a man takes the road, is the
best. Of course, if he WILL keep thinking of his anxieties,
if he WILL open the merchant Abudah's chest and walk arm-in-
arm with the hag - why, wherever he is, and whether he walk
fast or slow, the chances are that he will not be happy. And
so much the more shame to himself! There are perhaps thirty
men setting forth at that same hour, and I would lay a large
wager there is not another dull face among the thirty. It
would be a fine thing to follow, in a coat of darkness, one
after another of these wayfarers, some summer morning, for the
first few miles upon the road. This one, who walks fast, with
a keen look in his eyes, is all concentrated in his own mind;
he is up at his loom, weaving and weaving, to set the
landscape to words. This one peers about, as he goes, among
the grasses; he waits by the canal to watch the dragon-flies;
he leans on the gate of the pasture, and cannot look enough
upon the complacent kine. And here comes another, talking,
laughing, and gesticulating to himself. His face changes from
time to time, as indignation flashes from his eyes or anger
clouds his forehead. He is composing articles, delivering
orations, and conducting the most impassioned interviews, by
the way. A little farther on, and it is as like as not he
will begin to sing. And well for him, supposing him to be no
great master in that art, if he stumble across no stolid
peasant at a corner; for on such an occasion, I scarcely know
which is the more troubled, or whether it is worse to suffer
the confusion of your troubadour, or the unfeigned alarm of
your clown. A sedentary population, accustomed, besides, to
the strange mechanical bearing of the common tramp, can in no
wise explain to itself the gaiety of these passers-by. I knew
one man who was arrested as a runaway lunatic, because,
although a full-grown person with a red beard, he skipped as
he went like a child. And you would be astonished if I were
to tell you all the grave and learned heads who have confessed
to me that, when on walking tours, they sang - and sang very
ill - and had a pair of red ears when, as described above, the
inauspicious peasant plumped into their arms from round a
corner. And here, lest you should think I am exaggerating, is
Hazlitt's own confession, from his essay ON GOING A JOURNEY,
which is so good that there should be a tax levied on all who
have not read it:-

"Give me the clear blue sky over my head," says he, "and
the green turf beneath my feet, a winding road before me, and
a three hours' march to dinner - and then to thinking! It is
hard if I cannot start some game on these lone heaths. I
laugh, I run, I leap, I sing for joy."

Bravo! After that adventure of my friend with the
policeman, you would not have cared, would you, to publish
that in the first person? But we have no bravery nowadays,
and, even in books, must all pretend to be as dull and foolish
as our neighbours. It was not so with Hazlitt. And notice
how learned he is (as, indeed, throughout the essay) in the
theory of walking tours. He is none of your athletic men in
purple stockings, who walk their fifty miles a day: three
hours' march is his ideal. And then he must have a winding
road, the epicure!

Yet there is one thing I object to in these words of his,
one thing in the great master's practice that seems to me not
wholly wise. I do not approve of that leaping and running.
Both of these hurry the respiration; they both shake up the
brain out of its glorious open-air confusion; and they both
break the pace. Uneven walking is not so agreeable to the
body, and it distracts and irritates the mind. Whereas, when
once you have fallen into an equable stride, it requires no
conscious thought from you to keep it up, and yet it prevents
you from thinking earnestly of anything else. Like knitting,
like the work of a copying clerk, it gradually neutralises and
sets to sleep the serious activity of the mind. We can think
of this or that, lightly and laughingly, as a child thinks, or
as we think in a morning dose; we can make puns or puzzle out
acrostics, and trifle in a thousand ways with words and
rhymes; but when it comes to honest work, when we come to
gather ourselves together for an effort, we may sound the
trumpet as loud and long as we please; the great barons of the
mind will not rally to the standard, but sit, each one, at
home, warming his hands over his own fire and brooding on his
own private thought!

In the course of a day's walk, you see, there is much
variance in the mood. From the exhilaration of the start, to
the happy phlegm of the arrival, the change is certainly
great. As the day goes on, the traveller moves from the one
extreme towards the other. He becomes more and more
incorporated with the material landscape, and the open-air
drunkenness grows upon him with great strides, until he posts
along the road, and sees everything about him, as in a
cheerful dream. The first is certainly brighter, but the
second stage is the more peaceful. A man does not make so
many articles towards the end, nor does he laugh aloud; but
the purely animal pleasures, the sense of physical wellbeing,
the delight of every inhalation, of every time the muscles
tighten down the thigh, console him for the absence of the
others, and bring him to his destination still content.

Nor must I forget to say a word on bivouacs. You come to
a milestone on a hill, or some place where deep ways meet
under trees; and off goes the knapsack, and down you sit to
smoke a pipe in the shade. You sink into yourself, and the
birds come round and look at you; and your smoke dissipates
upon the afternoon under the blue dome of heaven; and the sun
lies warm upon your feet, and the cool air visits your neck
and turns aside your open shirt. If you are not happy, you
must have an evil conscience. You may dally as long as you
like by the roadside. It is almost as if the millennium were
arrived, when we shall throw our clocks and watches over the
housetop, and remember time and seasons no more. Not to keep
hours for a lifetime is, I was going to say, to live for ever.
You have no idea, unless you have tried it, how endlessly long
is a summer's day, that you measure out only by hunger, and
bring to an end only when you are drowsy. I know a village
where there are hardly any clocks, where no one knows more of
the days of the week than by a sort of instinct for the fete
on Sundays, and where only one person can tell you the day of
the month, and she is generally wrong; and if people were
aware how slow Time journeyed in that village, and what
armfuls of spare hours he gives, over and above the bargain,
to its wise inhabitants, I believe there would be a stampede
out of London, Liverpool, Paris, and a variety of large towns,
where the clocks lose their heads, and shake the hours out
each one faster than the other, as though they were all in a
wager. And all these foolish pilgrims would each bring his
own misery along with him, in a watch-pocket! It is to be
noticed, there were no clocks and watches in the much-vaunted
days before the flood. It follows, of course, there were no
appointments, and punctuality was not yet thought upon.
"Though ye take from a covetous man all his treasure," says
Milton, "he has yet one jewel left; ye cannot deprive him of
his covetousness." And so I would say of a modern man of
business, you may do what you will for him, put him in Eden,
give him the elixir of life - he has still a flaw at heart, he
still has his business habits. Now, there is no time when
business habits are more mitigated than on a walking tour.
And so during these halts, as I say, you will feel almost

But it is at night, and after dinner, that the best hour
comes. There are no such pipes to be smoked as those that
follow a good day's march; the flavour of the tobacco is a
thing to be remembered, it is so dry and aromatic, so full and
so fine. If you wind up the evening with grog, you will own
there was never such grog; at every sip a jocund tranquillity
spreads about your limbs, and sits easily in your heart. If
you read a book - and you will never do so save by fits and
starts - you find the language strangely racy and harmonious;
words take a new meaning; single sentences possess the ear for
half an hour together; and the writer endears himself to you,
at every page, by the nicest coincidence of sentiment. It
seems as if it were a book you had written yourself in a
dream. To all we have read on such occasions we look back
with special favour. "It was on the 10th of April, 1798,"
says Hazlitt, with amorous precision, "that I sat down to a
volume of the new HELOISE, at the Inn at Llangollen, over a
bottle of sherry and a cold chicken." I should wish to quote
more, for though we are mighty fine fellows nowadays, we
cannot write like Hazlitt. And, talking of that, a volume of
Hazlitt's essays would be a capital pocket-book on such a
journey; so would a volume of Heine's songs; and for TRISTRAM
SHANDY I can pledge a fair experience.

If the evening be fine and warm, there is nothing better
in life than to lounge before the inn door in the sunset, or
lean over the parapet of the bridge, to watch the weeds and
the quick fishes. It is then, if ever, that you taste
Joviality to the full significance of that audacious word.
Your muscles are so agreeably slack, you feel so clean and so
strong and so idle, that whether you move or sit still,
whatever you do is done with pride and a kingly sort of
pleasure. You fall in talk with any one, wise or foolish,
drunk or sober. And it seems as if a hot walk purged you,
more than of anything else, of all narrowness and pride, and
left curiosity to play its part freely, as in a child or a man
of science. You lay aside all your own hobbies, to watch
provincial humours develop themselves before you, now as a
laughable farce, and now grave and beautiful like an old tale.

Or perhaps you are left to your own company for the
night, and surly weather imprisons you by the fire. You may
remember how Burns, numbering past pleasures, dwells upon the
hours when he has been "happy thinking." It is a phrase that
may well perplex a poor modern, girt about on every side by
clocks and chimes, and haunted, even at night, by flaming
dial-plates. For we are all so busy, and have so many far-off
projects to realise, and castles in the fire to turn into
solid habitable mansions on a gravel soil, that we can find no
time for pleasure trips into the Land of Thought and among the
Hills of Vanity. Changed times, indeed, when we must sit all
night, beside the fire, with folded hands; and a changed world
for most of us, when we find we can pass the hours without
discontent and be happy thinking. We are in such haste to be
doing, to be writing, to be gathering gear, to make our voice
audible a moment in the derisive silence of eternity, that we
forget that one thing, of which these are but the parts -
namely, to live. We fall in love, we drink hard, we run to
and fro upon the earth like frightened sheep. And now you are
to ask yourself if, when all is done, you would not have been
better to sit by the fire at home, and be happy thinking. To
sit still and contemplate, - to remember the faces of women
without desire, to be pleased by the great deeds of men
without envy, to be everything and everywhere in sympathy, and
yet content to remain where and what you are - is not this to
know both wisdom and virtue, and to dwell with happiness?
After all, it is not they who carry flags, but they who look
upon it from a private chamber, who have the fun of the
procession. And once you are at that, you are in the very
humour of all social heresy. It is no time for shuffling, or
for big, empty words. If you ask yourself what you mean by
fame, riches, or learning, the answer is far to seek; and you
go back into that kingdom of light imaginations, which seem so
vain in the eyes of Philistines perspiring after wealth, and
so momentous to those who are stricken with the disproportions
of the world, and, in the face of the gigantic stars, cannot
stop to split differences between two degrees of the
infinitesimally small, such as a tobacco pipe or the Roman
Empire, a million of money or a fiddlestick's end.

You lean from the window, your last pipe reeking whitely
into the darkness, your body full of delicious pains, your
mind enthroned in the seventh circle of content; when suddenly
the mood changes, the weather-cock goes about, and you ask
yourself one question more: whether, for the interval, you
have been the wisest philosopher or the most egregious of
donkeys? Human experience is not yet able to reply; but at
least you have had a fine moment, and looked down upon all the
kingdoms of the earth. And whether it was wise or foolish,
to-morrow's travel will carry you, body and mind, into some
different parish of the infinite.


THE world in which we live has been variously said and
sung by the most ingenious poets and philosophers: these
reducing it to formulae and chemical ingredients, those
striking the lyre in high-sounding measures for the handiwork
of God. What experience supplies is of a mingled tissue, and
the choosing mind has much to reject before it can get
together the materials of a theory. Dew and thunder,
destroying Atilla and the Spring lambkins, belong to an order
of contrasts which no repetition can assimilate. There is an
uncouth, outlandish strain throughout the web of the world, as
from a vexatious planet in the house of life. Things are not
congruous and wear strange disguises: the consummate flower is
fostered out of dung, and after nourishing itself awhile with
heaven's delicate distillations, decays again into
indistinguishable soil; and with Caesar's ashes, Hamlet tells
us, the urchins make dirt pies and filthily besmear their
countenance. Nay, the kindly shine of summer, when tracked
home with the scientific spyglass, is found to issue from the
most portentous nightmare of the universe - the great,
conflagrant sun: a world of hell's squibs, tumultuary, roaring
aloud, inimical to life. The sun itself is enough to disgust
a human being of the scene which he inhabits; and you would
not fancy there was a green or habitable spot in a universe
thus awfully lighted up. And yet it is by the blaze of such a
conflagration, to which the fire of Rome was but a spark, that
we do all our fiddling, and hold domestic tea-parties at the
arbour door.

The Greeks figured Pan, the god of Nature, now terribly
stamping his foot, so that armies were dispersed; now by the
woodside on a summer noon trolling on his pipe until he
charmed the hearts of upland ploughmen. And the Greeks, in so
figuring, uttered the last word of human experience. To
certain smoke-dried spirits matter and motion and elastic
aethers, and the hypothesis of this or that other spectacled
professor, tell a speaking story; but for youth and all
ductile and congenial minds, Pan is not dead, but of all the
classic hierarchy alone survives in triumph; goat-footed, with
a gleeful and an angry look, the type of the shaggy world: and
in every wood, if you go with a spirit properly prepared, you
shall hear the note of his pipe.

For it is a shaggy world, and yet studded with gardens;
where the salt and tumbling sea receives clear rivers running
from among reeds and lilies; fruitful and austere; a rustic
world; sunshiny, lewd, and cruel. What is it the birds sing
among the trees in pairing-time? What means the sound of the
rain falling far and wide upon the leafy forest? To what tune
does the fisherman whistle, as he hauls in his net at morning,
and the bright fish are heaped inside the boat? These are all
airs upon Pan's pipe; he it was who gave them breath in the
exultation of his heart, and gleefully modulated their outflow
with his lips and fingers. The coarse mirth of herdsmen,
shaking the dells with laughter and striking out high echoes
from the rock; the tune of moving feet in the lamplit city, or
on the smooth ballroom floor; the hooves of many horses,
beating the wide pastures in alarm; the song of hurrying
rivers; the colour of clear skies; and smiles and the live
touch of hands; and the voice of things, and their significant
look, and the renovating influence they breathe forth - these
are his joyful measures, to which the whole earth treads in
choral harmony. To this music the young lambs bound as to a
tabor, and the London shop-girl skips rudely in the dance.
For it puts a spirit of gladness in all hearts; and to look on
the happy side of nature is common, in their hours, to all
created things. Some are vocal under a good influence, are
pleasing whenever they are pleased, and hand on their
happiness to others, as a child who, looking upon lovely
things, looks lovely. Some leap to the strains with unapt
foot, and make a halting figure in the universal dance. And
some, like sour spectators at the play, receive the music into
their hearts with an unmoved countenance, and walk like
strangers through the general rejoicing. But let him feign
never so carefully, there is not a man but has his pulses
shaken when Pan trolls out a stave of ecstasy and sets the
world a-singing.

Alas if that were all! But oftentimes the air is
changed; and in the screech of the night wind, chasing navies,
subverting the tall ships and the rooted cedar of the hills;
in the random deadly levin or the fury of headlong floods, we
recognise the "dread foundation" of life and the anger in
Pan's heart. Earth wages open war against her children, and
under her softest touch hides treacherous claws. The cool
waters invite us in to drown; the domestic hearth burns up in
the hour of sleep, and makes an end of all. Everything is
good or bad, helpful or deadly, not in itself, but by its
circumstances. For a few bright days in England the hurricane
must break forth and the North Sea pay a toll of populous
ships. And when the universal music has led lovers into the
paths of dalliance, confident of Nature's sympathy, suddenly
the air shifts into a minor, and death makes a clutch from his
ambuscade below the bed of marriage. For death is given in a
kiss; the dearest kindnesses are fatal; and into this life,
where one thing preys upon another, the child too often makes
its entrance from the mother's corpse. It is no wonder, with
so traitorous a scheme of things, if the wise people who
created for us the idea of Pan thought that of all fears the
fear of him was the most terrible, since it embraces all. And
still we preserve the phrase: a panic terror. To reckon
dangers too curiously, to hearken too intently for the threat
that runs through all the winning music of the world, to hold
back the hand from the rose because of the thorn, and from
life because of death: this it is to be afraid of Pan. Highly
respectable citizens who flee life's pleasures and
responsibilities and keep, with upright hat, upon the midway
of custom, avoiding the right hand and the left, the ecstasies
and the agonies, how surprised they would be if they could
hear their attitude mythologically expressed, and knew
themselves as tooth-chattering ones, who flee from Nature
because they fear the hand of Nature's God! Shrilly sound
Pan's pipes; and behold the banker instantly concealed in the
bank parlour! For to distrust one's impulses is to be
recreant to Pan.

There are moments when the mind refuses to be satisfied
with evolution, and demands a ruddier presentation of the sum
of man's experience. Sometimes the mood is brought about by
laughter at the humorous side of life, as when, abstracting
ourselves from earth, we imagine people plodding on foot, or
seated in ships and speedy trains, with the planet all the
while whirling in the opposite direction, so that, for all
their hurry, they travel back-foremost through the universe of
space. Sometimes it comes by the spirit of delight, and
sometimes by the spirit of terror. At least, there will
always be hours when we refuse to be put off by the feint of
explanation, nicknamed science; and demand instead some
palpitating image of our estate, that shall represent the
troubled and uncertain element in which we dwell, and satisfy
reason by the means of art. Science writes of the world as if
with the cold finger of a starfish; it is all true; but what
is it when compared to the reality of which it discourses?
where hearts beat high in April, and death strikes, and hills
totter in the earthquake, and there is a glamour over all the
objects of sight, and a thrill in all noises for the ear, and
Romance herself has made her dwelling among men? So we come
back to the old myth, and hear the goat-footed piper making
the music which is itself the charm and terror of things; and
when a glen invites our visiting footsteps, fancy that Pan
leads us thither with a gracious tremolo; or when our hearts
quail at the thunder of the cataract, tell ourselves that he
has stamped his hoof in the nigh thicket.


CITIES given, the problem was to light them. How to
conduct individual citizens about the burgess-warren, when
once heaven had withdrawn its leading luminary? or - since we
live in a scientific age - when once our spinning planet has
turned its back upon the sun? The moon, from time to time,
was doubtless very helpful; the stars had a cheery look among
the chimney-pots; and a cresset here and there, on church or
citadel, produced a fine pictorial effect, and, in places
where the ground lay unevenly, held out the right hand of
conduct to the benighted. But sun, moon, and stars abstracted
or concealed, the night-faring inhabitant had to fall back -
we speak on the authority of old prints - upon stable
lanthorns two stories in height. Many holes, drilled in the
conical turret-roof of this vagabond Pharos, let up spouts of
dazzlement into the bearer's eyes; and as he paced forth in
the ghostly darkness, carrying his own sun by a ring about his
finger, day and night swung to and fro and up and down about
his footsteps. Blackness haunted his path; he was beleaguered
by goblins as he went; and, curfew being struck, he found no
light but that he travelled in throughout the township.

Closely following on this epoch of migratory lanthorns in
a world of extinction, came the era of oil-lights, hard to
kindle, easy to extinguish, pale and wavering in the hour of
their endurance. Rudely puffed the winds of heaven; roguishly
clomb up the all-destructive urchin; and, lo! in a moment
night re-established her void empire, and the cit groped along
the wall, suppered but bedless, occult from guidance, and
sorrily wading in the kennels. As if gamesome winds and
gamesome youths were not sufficient, it was the habit to sling
these feeble luminaries from house to house above the fairway.
There, on invisible cordage, let them swing! And suppose some
crane-necked general to go speeding by on a tall charger,
spurring the destiny of nations, red-hot in expedition, there
would indubitably be some effusion of military blood, and
oaths, and a certain crash of glass; and while the chieftain
rode forward with a purple coxcomb, the street would be left
to original darkness, unpiloted, unvoyageable, a province of
the desert night.

The conservative, looking before and after, draws from
each contemplation the matter for content. Out of the age of
gas lamps he glances back slightingly at the mirk and glimmer
in which his ancestors wandered; his heart waxes jocund at the
contrast; nor do his lips refrain from a stave, in the highest
style of poetry, lauding progress and the golden mean. When
gas first spread along a city, mapping it forth about evenfall
for the eye of observant birds, a new age had begun for
sociality and corporate pleasure-seeking, and begun with
proper circumstance, becoming its own birthright. The work of
Prometheus had advanced by another stride. Mankind and its
supper parties were no longer at the mercy of a few miles of
sea-fog; sundown no longer emptied the promenade; and the day
was lengthened out to every man's fancy. The city-folk had
stars of their own; biddable, domesticated stars.

It is true that these were not so steady, nor yet so
clear, as their originals; nor indeed was their lustre so
elegant as that of the best wax candles. But then the gas
stars, being nearer at hand, were more practically efficacious
than Jupiter himself. It is true, again, that they did not
unfold their rays with the appropriate spontaneity of the
planets, coming out along the firmament one after another, as
the need arises. But the lamplighters took to their heels
every evening, and ran with a good heart. It was pretty to see
man thus emulating the punctuality of heaven's orbs; and
though perfection was not absolutely reached, and now and then
an individual may have been knocked on the head by the ladder
of the flying functionary, yet people commended his zeal in a
proverb, and taught their children to say, "God bless the
lamplighter!" And since his passage was a piece of the day's
programme, the children were well pleased to repeat the
benediction, not, of course, in so many words, which would
have been improper, but in some chaste circumlocution,
suitable for infant lips.

God bless him, indeed! For the term of his twilight
diligence is near at hand; and for not much longer shall we
watch him speeding up the street and, at measured intervals,
knocking another luminous hole into the dusk. The Greeks
would have made a noble myth of such an one; how he
distributed starlight, and, as soon as the need was over, re-
collected it; and the little bull's-eye, which was his
instrument, and held enough fire to kindle a whole parish,
would have been fitly commemorated in the legend. Now, like
all heroic tasks, his labours draw towards apotheosis, and in
the light of victory himself shall disappear. For another
advance has been effected. Our tame stars are to come out in
future, not one by one, but all in a body and at once. A
sedate electrician somewhere in a back office touches a spring
- and behold! from one end to another of the city, from east
to west, from the Alexandra to the Crystal Palace, there is
light! FIAT LUX, says the sedate electrician. What a
spectacle, on some clear, dark nightfall, from the edge of
Hampstead Hill, when in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,
the design of the monstrous city flashes into vision - a
glittering hieroglyph many square miles in extent; and when,
to borrow and debase an image, all the evening street-lamps
burst together into song! Such is the spectacle of the
future, preluded the other day by the experiment in Pall Mall.
Star-rise by electricity, the most romantic flight of
civilisation; the compensatory benefit for an innumerable
array of factories and bankers' clerks. To the artistic
spirit exercised about Thirlmere, here is a crumb of
consolation; consolatory, at least, to such of them as look
out upon the world through seeing eyes, and contentedly accept
beauty where it comes.

But the conservative, while lauding progress, is ever
timid of innovation; his is the hand upheld to counsel pause;
his is the signal advising slow advance. The word ELECTRICITY
now sounds the note of danger. In Paris, at the mouth of the
Passage des Princes, in the place before the Opera portico,
and in the Rue Drouot at the FIGARO office, a new sort of
urban star now shines out nightly, horrible, unearthly,
obnoxious to the human eye; a lamp for a nightmare! Such a
light as this should shine only on murders and public crime,
or along the corridors of lunatic asylums, a horror to
heighten horror. To look at it only once is to fall in love
with gas, which gives a warm domestic radiance fit to eat by.
Mankind, you would have thought, might have remained content
with what Prometheus stole for them and not gone fishing the
profound heaven with kites to catch and domesticate the
wildfire of the storm. Yet here we have the levin brand at
our doors, and it is proposed that we should henceforward take
our walks abroad in the glare of permanent lightning. A man
need not be very superstitious if he scruple to follow his
pleasures by the light of the Terror that Flieth, nor very
epicurean if he prefer to see the face of beauty more
becomingly displayed. That ugly blinding glare may not
improperly advertise the home of slanderous FIGARO, which is a
backshop to the infernal regions; but where soft joys prevail,
where people are convoked to pleasure and the philosopher
looks on smiling and silent, where love and laughter and
deifying wine abound, there, at least, let the old mild lustre
shine upon the ways of man.


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