Snippets 98. Richard Le Gallienne (1866-1947) was a poet and writer of books and essays on a wide variety of topics. In his 1900 work, Travels in England, he explains why he feels that travelling close to home, and at a measured pace, is such an important thing to do (he was born in Liverpool, resident in England at the time, although he would later move to the USA, and the “Le” in his name was an affectation). This might prove inspiring for those who also, like myself, derive just as much pleasure from exploring Great Britain as travelling abroad.
It is then in this spirit of ready wonder that I mount my wheel, and invite I know not what of new and dangerous in the ten miles between Hindhead and Selborne. Were I a great traveller, I should deem it necessary to seek strangeness and loneliness in some long and arduous journey to distant waste places of the earth. Such is one of the fallacies of the imagination created by quick travelling. We cover the miles so swiftly and in so many directions, that we forget how superficial a thing mere speed is, and, because we know the names of the stations that flash by, we grow to think that we know the world. We are so taken up with the thousands, that we forget that the real value is in the separate unit.
We smile at old topographers such as White of Selborne, to whom a few miles of pine-wood and scattered heath was a mysterious “forest” inhabited by strange beasts and birds, and to whom Frensham Pond was a “great lake at about six miles from hence.” Yet they were nearer the truth than we, and perhaps the reason is not that they knew less — for in many respects they knew more — but that they went slower. Nature has nicely adjusted her measures of revelation. She will not confide her secrets to the man in a hurry. Man was born a pedestrian, and it is only at a walking pace, an easy loitering pace too, with many pondering halts, that Nature can really be got to talk. She flies before the scorching cycle like a frightened bird — though, if you are content with an easy rippling speed, you may often, thanks to your pneumatic tires, steal upon her unawares. Yet it is only when you hide your cycle among the bracken, and unconcernedly pretend you are a pedestrian, to whom time and space are no objects, that you can really know even a few acres of this England which every one pretends he knows, as every one pretends he knows Shakespeare. Then, as one by one her silences steal back from their hiding places, and hop, and peck, and sigh, and whisper, and gloom and sparkle about you, you begin to realise how vast a single square mile can be, when it is covered with trees and underbrush, what vast rivers of sunshine it drinks in, for what depths and secrecies of shade it finds room; and particularly you will be surprised to realise how profound and primeval is the solitude in a single square mile. Then perhaps you arrive at some such definition of speed as this: Speed is a method by which we miss as much as possible between our starting point and our destination. Yes, the wells of Time and Space are deeper than we allow ourselves to understand, and as a year is a very long time, and five years, literally, one of our many life-times, so a square mile of space is quite sufficiently vast and significant to justify old White in describing the few square miles of Woolmer Forest much as an explorer nowadays speaks of the Central Asian Desert.
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