The Philosophy of Travel (selections) :: George Santayana

What is life but a form of motion and a journey through a foreign world? Moreover locomotion — the privilege of animals — is perhaps the key to intelligence.

. . . In animals the power of locomotion changes all this pale experience [i.e., that of vegetables] into a life of passion; and it is on passion, although we anaemic philosophers are apt to forget it, that intelligence is grafted. Intelligence is a venture inconceivably daring and wonderfully successful; it is an attempt, and a victorious attempt, to be in two places at once. . . . [I]t is the possibility of travel that lends a meaning to the images of the eye and the mind, which otherwise would be mere feelings and a dull state of oneself. By tempting the animal to move, these images become signs for something ulterior, something to be seized and enjoyed. They sharpen his attention and lead him to imagine other aspects which the same thing might afford; so that instead of saying that the possession of hands has given men his superiority, it would go much deeper to say that man, and all other animals, owe their intelligence to their feet.

… [T]he world is too much with us, and we are too much with ourselves. We need sometimes to escape into open solitudes, into aimlessness, into the moral holiday of running some pure haphazard, in order to sharpen the edge of life, to taste hardship, and to be compelled to work desperately for a moment at no matter what.

. . . The most prosaic objects, the most common people and incidents, seen as a panorama of ordered motions, of perpetual journeys by night and day, through a hundred storms, over a thousand bridges and tunnels, take on an epic grandeur, and the mechanism moves so nimbly that it seems to live. It has the fascination, to me at least inexhaustible, of prows cleaving the water, wheels turning, planets ascending and descending the skies: things not alive in themselves but friendly to life, promising us security in motion, power in art, novelty in necessity.

The lateste type of traveller, and the most notorious, is the tourist. Having often been one myself, I will throw no stones at him; from the tripper off on a holiday to the eager pilgrim thirsting for facts or for beauty, all tourists are dear to Hermes, the god of travel, who is patron also of amiable curiousity and freedom of mind. There is wisdom in turning as often as possible from the familiar to the unfamiliar: it keeps the mind nimble, it kills prejudice, and it fosters humor. I do not think that frivolity and dissipation of mind and aversion from one’s birthplace, or the aping of foreign manners and arts are serious diseases: they kill, but they do not kill anybody worth saving. There may be in them sometimes a sigh of regret for the impossible, a bit of pathetic homage to an ideal one is condemned to miss; but as a rule they spring not from too much familiarity with alien things but from too little: the last thing a man wishes who really tastes the savour of anything and understands its roots is to generalise or to transplant it; and the more arts and manners a good traveler has assimilated, the more depth and pleasantness he will see in the manners and arts of his own home. Ulysses remembered Ithaca. With a light heart and a clear mind he would have admitted that Troy was unrivalled in grandeur, Phaeacia in charm, and Calypso in enchantment: that could not make the sound of the waves breaking on his own shores less pleasant to his ears; it could only render more enlightened, more unhesitating, his choice of what was naturally his. The human heart is local and finite, it has roots: and if the intellect radiates from it, according to its strength, to greater and greater distances, the reports, if they are to be gathered up at all, must be gathered up at the centre. A man who knows the world cannot covet the world; and if he were not content with his lot in it (which after all has included that saving knowledge) he would be showing little respect for all those alien perfections which he professes to admire. They were all local, all finite, all cut off from being anything but what they happened to be; and if such limitation and such arbitrariness were beautiful there, he has but to dig down to the principle of his own life, and clear it of all confusion and indecision, in order to bring it to perfect expression after its kind: and then wise travellers will come also to his city, and praise its name.

4 thoughts on “The Philosophy of Travel (selections) :: George Santayana

  1. Pingback: 7 Days in Tibet « A Little South of the Clouds

  2. Pingback: The Philosophy of Travel (selections) :: George Santayana « Everything Else

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