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Going A-Walking
by [?]

One of the most pestilent of all social nuisances is the athlete who must be eternally performing “feats,” and then talking about them. He goes to the Alps, and, instead of looking at the riot of sunset colour or the immortal calm of the slumbering peaks, he attempts performances which might be amusing in a circus of unlimited size, but which are not in the least interesting when brought off on the mighty declivities of the great hills. One of these gentlemen takes up a quarter of a volume in telling us how he first of all climbed up a terrible peak, then fell backwards and slid down a slope of eight hundred feet, cutting his head to the bone, and losing enough blood to make him feel faint The same gentleman had seen two of his companions fly into eternity down the grim sides of the same mountain; but he must needs climb to the top, not in order to serve any scientific purpose, or even to secure a striking view, but merely to say he had been there. After an hour on the summit of the enormous mass of stone, he came down; and I should have liked to ask him what he reckoned to be the net profit accruing to him for his little exploit. Wise men do not want to clamber up immense and dangerous Alps; there is a kind of heroic lunacy about the business, but it is not useful, and it certainly is not inviting. If a thoughtful man goes even in winter among the mountains, their vast repose sinks on his soul; his love of them never slackens, and he returns again and again to his haunts until time has stiffened his joints and dulled his eyes, and he prepares to go down into the dust of death. But the wise man has a salutary dislike of break-neck situations; he cannot let his sweet or melancholy fancies free while he is hanging on for dear life to some inhospitable crag, so he prefers a little moderate exercise of the muscles, and a good deal of placid gazing on scenes that ennoble his thoughts and make his imagination more lofty. One of the mountain-climbing enthusiasts could not contrive to break his neck in Europe, so, with a gallantry worthy of a better cause, he went to South America and scaled Chimborazo. He could not quite break his neck even in the Andes, but he no doubt turned many athletic friends yellow with envy. Yet another went to the Caucasus, and found so many charming and almost deadly perils there that he wants numbers of people to go out and share his raptures.

The same barren competitive spirit breaks out in other directions. Men will run across the North Sea in a five-ton boat, though there are scores of big and comfortable steamers to carry them: they are cramped in their tiny craft; they can get no exercise; their limbs are pained; they undergo a few days of cruel privation–and all in order that they may tell how they bore a drenching in a cockboat. On the roads in our own England we see the same disposition made manifest. The bicyclist tears along with his head low and his eyes fixed just ahead of the tyre of his front wheel; he does not enjoy the lovely panorama that flits past him, he has no definite thought, he only wants to cover so many miles before dark; save for the fresh air that will whistle past him, thrilling his blood, he might as well be rolling round on a cinder track in some running-ground. But the walker–the long-distance walker–is the most trying of all to the average leisurely and meditative citizen. He fits himself out with elaborate boots and ribbed stockings; he carries resin and other medicaments for use in case his feet should give way; his knapsack is unspeakably stylish, and he posts off like a spirited thoroughbred running a trial. His one thought is of distances; he gloats over a milestone which informs him that he is going well up to five and a half miles per hour, and he fills up his evening by giving spirited but somewhat trying accounts of the pace at which he did each stage of his pilgrimage. In the early morning he is astir, not because he likes to see the diamond dew on the lovely trees or hear the chant of the birds as they sing of love and thanksgiving–he wants to make a good start, so that he may devour even more of the way than he did the day before. In any one lane that he passes through there are scores of sights that offer a harvest to the quiet eye; but our insatiable athlete does not want to see anything in particular until the sight of his evening steak fills him with rapture. If the most patient and urbane of men were shut up with one of these tremendous fellows during a storm of rain, he would pray for deliverance before a couple of hours went by; for the competitive athlete’s intelligence seems to settle in his calves, and he refers to his legs for all topics which he kindly conceives to possess human interest. Of course the swift walker may become a useful citizen should we ever have war; he will display the same qualities that were shown by the sturdy Bavarians and Brandenburgers who bore those terrible marches in 1870 and swept MacMahon into a deadly trap by sheer endurance and speed of foot; but he is not the ideal companion.