Thursday, March 19, 2020

When Travel is Curtailed

Mark Twain in a Fort Worth, TX Park
One of the books in Isaac Werner's library was The Innocents Abroad or The New Pilgrims' Progress, Being Some Account of the Steamship Quaker City's Pleasure Excursion to Europe and the Holy Land  by Mark Twain.  It purports to be an ordinary travel book, but with Mark Twain as the author, it is certainly not.  In fact, one of the examples from the book is Twain's contrasting of what he experiences from what travelogue authors had mislead him to expect.  He also pointed out the profiteering and the inaccurate presentation of history at locations they visit.

While it might be expected from reading The Innocents Abroad that Twain had little regard for foreign travel, that is not the case.  In fact, in his Autobiography of Mark Twain he wrote:  "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindness."

At this historic moment when the Coronavirus has resulted in travel bans around the world, it is a good time to reflect on Twain's words.  Does travel open our eyes and minds to people and places different from ourselves and the places from which we come?

Certainly travel is greatly changed from1869 when Mark Twain's book was published.  Isaac Werner was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and he traveled west to Illinois shortly before or just after Twain's book was published.  There, Isaac was a druggist, and later a partner in a milling operation.  In the later 1870s,  he was attracted by the offer of free land in Kansas to travel further west to claim a homestead and a timber claim.  Yet, his longing to see more of the world was apparent from the travel books he bought and the stereoscope image cards he purchased.  His journal makes clear, however, that he never travelled more than a days journey from his claims once he settled in Kansas.

Yet, Isaac traveled through the books in his library, protecting his mind from "prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindness" through reading, with books to learn foreign languages, books about art and history, and books authored by foreign writers.

As we are warned against travel and encouraged to remain at home as much as possible to avoid exposure to the Coronavirus, perhaps it is a good time to read some of those books we have put off reading!  If your book shelves offer nothing tempting, today we have the option of reading books online.  What would Isaac have thought of that! 


The Blog Fodder said...

Isaac must have felt somewhat trapped by circumstances but at least he could read.
Travel is not totally the answer. Holidaying in all-inclusive resorts, whether Spain, Turkey or Mexico doesn't give you much of a look at the country as it is. Like going to New York and thinking you have seen America. But if one has read up on where ever you go and then take tours to bring them to life, that is somewhat better. Working in a country really gives you an idea of how little you actually know of a place and people. Then when you read about it, it fills in some blanks. I learned a great deal about Ukrainian (and Russian) people from reading Gogol, Tolstoy, Turgenev, etc. Many cultural characteristics don't change much over the years, it seems.

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

Thank you for your thoughtful comments. That is also part of what Mark Twain observed, including how tour guides misrepresented what tourists saw. We have done both independent and guided tours, and I do try to read about where we are going before we go. I remember one tour guide who was obviously making everything up. I didn't interpret his nonsense as being calculated but rather just a kid who was too lazy to read the material he was intended to study before giving tours. Others on the tour were listening so closely, and the kid was inspired to great story telling. I wanted to shout, "This is nonsense" but I didn't.