Compromises/The Tourist

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


THE TOURIST

See Thrale's grey widow with a satchel roam,
And bring in pomp laborious nothings home.

"Potter hates Potter, and Poet hates Poet,"—so runs the wisdom of the ancients,—but tourist hates tourist with a cordial Christian animosity that casts all Pagan prejudices in the shade. At home we tolerate—sometimes we even love—our fellow creatures. We can see large masses of them in church and theatre, we can be jostled by them in streets, and be kept waiting by them in shops, and be inconvenienced by them at almost every turn, without rancorous annoyance or ill will. But abroad it is our habit to regard all other travellers in the light of personal and unpardonable grievances. They are intruders into our chosen realms of pleasure, they jar upon our sensibilities, they lessen our meagre share of comforts, they are everywhere in our way, they are always an unnecessary feature in the landscape.

I love not man the less, but nature more,

wrote Byron, when sore beset; but the remark cannot be said to bear the stamp of truth. Nine tenths of the poet's love for nature was irritation at the boundless injustice and the sterling stupidity of man. He would never have expressed so much general benevolence had Europe in his time been the tourist-trodden platform it is to-day.

We might, were we disposed to be reasonable, bear in mind the humiliating fact that we too are aliens, out of harmony with our surroundings, and marring, as far as in us lies, the charm of ancient street or the still mountain side. Few of us, however, are so candid as Mr. Henry James, who, while detesting his fellow travellers, frankly admits his own inherent undesirability. "We complain," he says, "of a hackneyed and cockneyized Europe; but wherever, in desperate search of the untrodden, we carry our much-labelled luggage, our bad French, our demand for a sitz-bath and pale ale, we rub off the bloom of local colour, and establish a precedent for unlimited intrusion."

This is generous, and it is not a common point of view. "Americans do roam so," I heard an Englishwoman remark discontentedly in Cook's Paris office, where she was waiting with manifest impatience while the clerk made up tickets for a party of trans-Atlantic kindred. It never seemed to occur to her that she was not upon her own native heath. The habit of classifying our distastes proves how strong is our general sense of injury. We dislike English tourists more than French, or French more than English, or Americans more than either, or Germans most of all,—the last a common verdict. There is a power of universal mastery about the travelling Teuton which affronts our feebler souls. We cannot cope with him; we stand defeated at every turn by his resistless determination to secure the best. The windows of the railway carriages, the little sunny tables in the hotel dining-rooms, the back seats—commanding the view—of the Swiss funiculaires; all these strong positions he occupies at once with the strategical genius of a great military nation. No weak concern for other people's comfort mars the simple straightforwardness of his plans, nor interferes with their prompt and masterly execution. Amid the confusion and misery of French and Italian railway stations, he plays a conqueror's part, commanding the services of the porters, and marching off triumphantly with his innumerable pieces of hand luggage, while his fellow tourists clamour helplessly for aid. "The Germans are a rude, unmannered race, but active and expert where their personal advantages are concerned," wrote the observant Froissart many years ago. He could say neither more nor less were he travelling over the Continent to-day.

Granted that the scurrying crowds who infest Italy every spring, and Switzerland every summer, are seldom "children of light;" that their motives in coming are, for the most part, unintelligible, and their behaviour the reverse of urbane;—even then there seems to be no real cause for the demoralization that follows in their wake, for the sudden and bitter change that comes over a land when once the stranger claims it as his own. It is the cordial effort made to meet the tourist halfway, to minister to his supposed wants, and to profit by his supposed wealth, that desolates the loveliest cities in the world, that flouts the face of nature, and rasps our most tender sensibilities. Venice turned into a grand bazaar, Vaucluse packed with stalls for the sale of every object which ought never to be found there, the Falls of the Rhine lit up by electricity, like the transformation scene of a ballet;—is it our misfortune or our fault that these things may be directly traceable to us? Do we like to see a trolley-car bumping its way to Chillon, or to find the castle entrance stocked with silver spoons, and wooden bears, and miniature Swiss châlets? Shall I confess that I watched a youthful countrywoman of my own carrying delightedly away—as an appropriate souvenir of the spot—a group consisting of Mother bear sitting up languidly in bed, Nurse bear wrapping Infant bear in swaddling-cloths, and Doctor bear holding a labelled bottle of medicine? There seemed a certain incongruity about the purchase, and a certain lack of sensibility in the purchaser. Chillon is not without sombre associations, nor poetic life; and if Byron's "Prisoner" no longer wrings our hearts, still youth is youth,—or, at least, it used to be,—and the

seven columns, massy and grey,

were at one time part of its inheritance. Is it better, I wonder, to begin life with a few illusions, a little glow, a pardonable capacity for enthusiasm, or to be so healthily free from every breath of sentiment as to be capable—at eighteen—of buying comic bears within the melancholy portals of Chillon.

Travelling, like novel-writing, is but a modern form of activity; and tourists, like novelists, are increasing at so fearful a rate of speed that foreign countries and library shelves bid fair to be equally overrun. There was a time when good men looked askance both upon the page of fable, and upon those far countries where reality was stranger than romance. "I was once in Italy myself," confesses the pious Roger Ascham; "but I thank God my abode there was but nine days." Nine days seem a scant allowance for Italy. Even the business-like traveller who now scampers "more Americano" over Europe is wont to deal more generously with this, its fairest land. But in Roger Ascham's time nine days would hardly have permitted a glimpse at the wonders from which he so swiftly and fearfully withdrew.

Now and then, as years went by, men with a genuine love of roving and adventure wandered far afield, unbaffled by difficulties, and unscandalized by foreign creeds and customs. James Howell, that most delightful of gossips and chroniclers, has so much to say in praise of "the sweetness and advantage of travel," that even now his letters—nearly three hundred years old—stir in our hearts the wayfarer's restless longing. After being "toss'd from shore to shore for thirty-odd months," he can still write stoutly: "And tho' these frequent removes and tumblings under climes of differing temper were not without some danger, yet the delight which accompany'd them was far greater; and it is impossible for any man to conceive the true pleasure of peregrination, but he who actually enjoys and puts it into practice." Moreover, he is well assured that travel is "a profitable school, a running academy, and nothing conduceth more to the building up and perfecting of a man. They that traverse the world up and down have the clearest understanding; being faithful eye-witnesses of those things which others receive but in trust, whereunto they must yield an intuitive consent, and a kind of implicit faith."

In one respect, however, Howell was a true son of his day, of the day when Prelacy and Puritanism alternately afflicted England. For foreign cities and foreign citizens he had a keen and intelligent appreciation; nothing daunted his purpose, nor escaped his observation; but he drew the line consistently at the charms of nature. The "high and hideous Alps" were as abhorrent to his soul as they were, a century later, to Horace Walpole's. It was the gradual—I had almost said the regrettable—discovery of beauty in these "uncouth, huge, monstrous excrescences" which gave a new and powerful impetus to travel. Here at least were innocent objects of pilgrimage, wonders uncontaminated by the evils which were vaguely supposed to lurk in the hearts of Paris and of Rome. It was many, many years after Roger Ascham's praiseworthy flight from Italy that we find Patty More, sister to the ever-virtuous Hannah, writing apprehensively to a friend:—

"What is to become of us? All the world, as it seems, flying off to France, that land of deep corruption and wickedness, made hotter in sin by this long and dreadful Revolution. The very curates in our neighbourhood have been. I fear a deterioration in the English character is taking place. The Ambassador's lady in Paris could not introduce the English ladies till they had covered up their bodies."

This sounds rather as though England were corrupting France. Perhaps, notwithstanding the truly reprehensible conduct of the curates,—for whom no excuse can be made,—the exodus was not so universal as the agitated Mrs. Patty seemed to think. There were still plenty of stay-at-homes, lapped in rural virtues, and safe from contamination;—like the squire who told Jane Austen's father that he and his wife had been quarrelling the night before as to whether Paris were in France, or France in Paris. The "Roman Priest Conversion Branch Tract Society" gave to bucolic Britain all the Continental details it required.

But when the "hideous Alps" became the "matchless heights," the "palaces of Nature," when poets had sung their praises lustily, and it had dawned upon the minds of unpoetic men that they were not merely obstacles to be crossed, but objects to be looked at and admired;—then were gathered slowly the advance guards of that mighty army of sight-seers which sweeps over Europe to-day. "Switzerland," writes Mr. James gloomily, "has become a show country. I think so more and more every time I come here. Its use in the world is to reassure persons of a benevolent imagination who wish the majority of mankind had only a little more elevating amusement. Here is amusement for a thousand years, and as elevating certainly as mountains five miles high can make it. I expect to live to see the summit of Mount Rosa heated by steam-tubes, and adorned with a hotel setting three dinners a day."

The last words carry a world of weight. They are the key-note of the situation. Tourists in these years of grace need a vast deal of food and drink to keep their enthusiasm warm. James Howell lived contentedly upon bread and grapes for three long months in Spain. Byron wrote mockingly from Lisbon: "Comfort must not be expected by folks that go a-pleasuring;" and no one ever bore manifold discomforts with more endurance and gayety than he did. But now that the "grand tour"—once the experience of a lifetime—has become a succession of little tours, undertaken every year or two, things are made easy for slackened sinews and impaired digestions. The average traveller concentrates his attention sternly upon the slowness of the Italian trains, the shortness of the Swiss beds, the surliness of the German officials, the dirt of the French inns, the debatableness of the Spanish butter, the universal and world-embracing badness of the tea. These things form the staple topics of discussion among men and women who exchange confidences at the table d'hôte, and they lend a somewhat depressing tone to the conversation, which is not greatly enlivened by a few side remarks connecting the drinking water with the germs of typhoid fever. It is possible that the talkers have enjoyed some exhilarating experiences, some agreeable sensations, which they hesitate—mistakenly—to reveal; but they wax eloquent on the subject of cost. "The continual attention to pecuniary disbursements detracts terribly from the pleasure of all travelling schemes," wrote Shelley in a moment of dejection; and the sentiment, couched in less Johnsonian English, is monotonously familiar to-day. Paying for things is a great trouble and a great expense; and the tourist's uneasy apprehension that he is being overcharged turns this ordinary process—which is not wholly unknown at home—into a bitter grievance. To hear him expatiate upon the subject, one might imagine that his fellow creatures had heretofore supplied all his wants for love.

Great Britain had sent her restless children out to see the world for many years before faraway America joined in the sport, while the overwhelming increase of German travellers dates only from the Franco-Prussian War. Now the three armies of occupation march and countermarch over the Continent, very much in one another's way, and deeply resentful of one another's intrusion. "The English"—again I venture to quote Froissart—"are affable to no other nation than their own." The Americans—so other Americans piteously lament—are noisy, self-assertive, and contemptuous. The fault of the Germans, as Canning said of the Dutch,—

Is giving too little and asking too much.

All these unlovely characteristics are stimulated and kept well to the fore by travel. It is only in our fellow tourists that we can recognize their enormity. When Mr. Arnold said that Shakespeare and Virgil would have found the Pilgrim Fathers "intolerable company," he was probably thinking of poets and pietists shut up together in fair weather and in foul, while the little Mayflower pitched its slow way across the "estranging sea."

It requires a good deal of courage to quote Lord Chesterfield seriously in these years of grace. His reasonableness is out of favour with moralists, and sentimentalists, and earnest thinkers generally. But we might find it helpful now and then, were we not too wrapped in self-esteem to be so easily helped. "Good breeding," he says thoughtfully, "is a combination of much sense, some good nature, and a little self-denial for the sake of others, with a view to obtain the same indulgence from them." Here is a "Tourist's Guide,"—the briefest ever penned. We cannot learn to love other tourists,—the laws of nature forbid it,—but, meditating soberly on the impossibility of their loving us, we may reach some common platform of tolerance, some common exchange of recognition and amenity.