Published on November 8th, 2013 | by Dan Walsh0
My Giants Go With Me: Emerson on Travel
I have always gained much wisdom from travel.
The opportunity to get some distance from the day-to-day minutiae of normal life is liberating and has always provided me with much needed perspective. Seeing the customs and cultures of other countries makes me reassess what I define as “normal,” and economic disparities recalibrate my desires. I always return home with fresh eyes and a clarity about my life that seems to get lost if I spend too much continuous time in any one place. Part of this clarity is a new awareness of what really troubles me. The small annoyances fall away while traveling, but the big problems – the giants, as Emerson puts it – become acutely obvious. While I don’t agree with Emerson’s wholehearted condemnation of travel, I fully agree with his assessment that we are who we are no matter where we go. Read the fully essay, it really is a classic.
“It is for want of self-culture that the superstition of Travelling, whose idols are Italy, England, Egypt, retains its fascination for all educated Americans. They who made England, Italy, or Greece venerable in the imagination did so by sticking fast where they were, like an axis of the earth. In manly hours, we feel that duty is our place. The soul is no traveller; the wise man stays at home, and when his necessities, his duties, on any occasion call him from his house, or into foreign lands, he is at home still, and shall make men sensible by the expression of his countenance, that he goes the missionary of wisdom and virtue, and visits cities and men like a sovereign, and not like an interloper or a valet.
I have no churlish objection to the circumnavigation of the globe, for the purposes of art, of study, and benevolence, so that the man is first domesticated, or does not go abroad with the hope of finding somewhat greater than he knows. He who travels to be amused, or to get somewhat which he does not carry, travels away from himself, and grows old even in youth among old things. In Thebes, in Palmyra, his will and mind have become old and dilapidated as they. He carries ruins to ruins.
Travelling is a fool’s paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go. ”
– Emerson, Self-Reliance
Image by Tal Bright