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On Traveling
by [?]

In old literature life was compared to a journey, and wise men rejoiced to question old men because, like travelers, they knew the sloughs and roughnesses of the long road. Men arose with the sun, and toddled forth as children on the day’s journey of their lives, and became strong to endure the heaviness of noonday. They strived forward during the hours of early afternoon while their sun’s ambition was hot, and then as the heat cooled they reached the crest of the last hill, and their road dipped gently to the valley where all roads end. And on into the quiet evening, until, at last, they lie down in that shadowed valley, and await the long night.

This figure has lost its meaning, for we now travel by rail, and life is expressed in terms of the railway time-table. As has been said, we leave and arrive at places, but we no longer travel. Consequently we cannot understand the hubbub that Marco Polo must have caused among his townsmen when he swaggered in. He and his crew were bronzed by the sun, were dressed as Tartars, and could speak their native Italian with difficulty. To convince the Venetians of their identity, Marco gave a magnificent entertainment, at which he and his officers received, clad in oriental dress of red satin. Three times during the banquet they changed their dress, distributing the discarded garments among their guests. At last, the rough Tartar clothing worn on their travels was displayed and then ripped open. Within was a profusion of jewels of the Orient, the gifts of Kublai Khan of Cathay. The proof was regarded as perfect, and from that time Marco was acknowledged by his countrymen, and loaded with distinction. When Drake returned from the Straits of Magellan and, powdered and beflunkied, told his lies at fashionable London dinners, no doubt he was believed. And his crew, let loose on the beer-shops, gathered each his circle of listeners, drank at his admirers’ expense, and yarned far into the night. It was worth one’s while to be a traveler in those times.

But traveling has fallen to the yellow leaf. The greatest traveler is now the brakeman. Next is he who sells colored cotton. A poor third pursues health and flees from restlessness. Wise men have ceased to question travelers, except to inquire of the arrival of trains and of the comfort of hotels.

To-day I am a thousand miles from home. From my window the world stretches massive, homewards. Even though I stood on the most distant range of mountains and looked west, still I would look on a world that contained no suggestion of home; and if I leaped to that horizon and the next, the result would be the same–so insignificant would be the relative distance accomplished. And here I am set down with no knowledge of how I came. There was a continuous jar and the noise of motion. We passed a barn or two, I believe, and on one hillside animals were frightened from their grazing as we passed. There were the cluttered streets of several cities and villages. There was a prodigious number of telegraph poles going in the opposite direction, hell-bent as fast as we, which poles considerately went at half speed through towns, for fear of hitting children. The United States was once an immense country, and extended quite to the sunset. For convenience we have reduced its size, and made it but a map of its former self. Any section of this map can be unrolled and inspected in a day’s time.

In the books for children is the story of the seven-league boots–wonderful boots, worth a cobbler’s fortune. If a prince is escaping from an ogre, if he is eloping with a princess, if he has an engagement at the realm’s frontier and the wires are down, he straps these boots to his feet and strides the mountains and spans the valleys. For with the clicking of the silver buckles he has destroyed the dimensions of space. Length, breadth and depth are measured for him but in wishes. One wish and perhaps a snap of the fingers, or an invocation to the devil of locomotion, and he stands on a mountain-top, the next range of hills blue in the distance; another wish and another snap and he has leaped the valley. Wonderful boots, these! Worth a king’s ransom. And this prince, too, as he travels thus dizzily may remember one or two barns, animals frightened from their grazing, and the cluttered streets nested in the valley. When he reaches his journey’s end he will be just as wise and just as ignorant as we who now travel by rail in magic, seven-league fashion. For here I am set down, and all save the last half-mile of my path is lost in the curve of the mountains. From my window I see the green-covered mountains, so different from city streets with their horizon of buildings.