Owing to the invention of the locomotive, the steamship and the aeroplane, there has been far more travelling in the last fifty years than in any previous period of the world’s history. Numbers of people who, if they had lived in the last century, would never have gone far beyond the limits of their native town, nowadays think nothing of visiting foreign countries. Frequent change of air and scene is coming to be regarded as essential to health. No doubt the benefit of such a change was to some extent recognised by past generations of doctors, but they never dreamt of the extended tours now prescribed to invalids. In cases in which an English doctor of the old school would have ordered his patients to Torquay or Ventnor, modern doctors send them to Madeira, Algiers, Egypt, or New Zealand, or perhaps recommend them to try the effect of a tour all round the world. Every year, crowds of travellers of all nations pour into Bombay intent on making the circle of the world. They are so numerous that a special term has had to be invented to describe them, and they are called in colloquial language, “globe-trotters.”
Their observations on the foreign countries they have visited are published to the world in a large number of books of travel that issue every year from the press and help us to determine whether the present age derives any benefit from the lavish satisfaction of its travelling propensities. As might be expected, it is evident from the books of travellers and from observation of their conduct on their travels that visiting foreign countries is not a charm that can transmute the fool into a wise man. A keen observer like Gilbert White of Selborne, or Atkinson of Danby, may find more interesting material for reflection in his native parish than an ordinary traveller can find in four continents.
The effect produced on the mind by travelling entirely depends on the mind of the traveller and on the way in which he conducts himself. The chief idea of one very common type of traveller is to see as many objects of interest as he possibly can. If he can only after his return home say that he has seen such and such a temple, castle, picture gallery, or museum, he is perfectly satisfied. Therefore, when he arrives at a famous city, he rushes through it, so that he may get over as quickly as possible the task of seeing its principal sights, enter them by name in his note-book as visited or, in his own phraseology, “done”, and then hurry on to another city which he treats in the same unceremonious way.
Another kind of traveller, in all he sees, finds entertainment for his foolish spirit of ridicule. The more hallowed any object is from historical and religious associations or artistic beauty, the more he delights to degrade it by applying to it familiar terms of vulgar slang that he mistakes for wit. Such a one brings disgrace upon his nation by the rude insolence with which he laughs at foreigners and their ways, and everything else that attracts the notice of his feeble understanding. At the end of his wanderings he returns to his home a living example, showing
How much the fool that hath been taught to roam
Excels the fool that hath been kept at home
Far different is the effect of travels upon those who leave their native country with minds prepared by culture to feel intelligent admiration for all the beauties of nature and art to be found in foreign lands. Their object is not to see much, but to see well. When they visit Paris or Athens or Rome, instead of hurrying from temple to museum, and from museum to picture gallery, they allow the spirit of the place to sink into their minds, and only visit such monuments as the time they have at their disposal allows them to contemplate without irreverent haste. They find it more profitable and delightful to settle down for a week or so at centres of great historical and artistic interest or of remarkable natural beauty than to pay short visits to all the principal cities that they pass by. In this way, they gain by their travels refreshment and rest for their minds, satisfaction to their intellectual curiosity or artistic tastes, and increased knowledge of the world and its inhabitants. Such people, who have travelled with their eyes open, return to their native land with a greater knowledge of its glories and defects than the stay-at-home can ever have. As Kipling says,
“What do they know of England
Who only England know?”