William Hazlitt (1778-1830) is a neglected walking philosopher and philosopher of walking, though they did an entire In Our Time on him without mention of his pedestrian proclivity. Odd, since Melvyn Bragg’s chatty post-production missives frequently recount his own traipses about London.
But all dedicated walkers know this Hazlitt reflection, only superficially misanthropic for its repudiation of human companionship during his walks:
Give me the clear blue sky over my head, and the green turf beneath my feet, a winding road before me, and a three hours’ march to dinner–and then to thinking! It is hard if I cannot start some game on these lone heaths. I laugh, I run, I leap, I sing for joy. From the point of yonder rolling cloud I plunge into my past being, and revel there… and I begin to feel, think, and be myself again. Instead of an awkward silence, broken by attempts at wit or dull common-places, mine is that undisturbed silence of the heart which alone is perfect eloquence.
The impulse here is to break free of artifice and pretense, and stride into full self-possession. There’s nothing hateful or reclusive about it. It foreshadows Thoreau. (What would either of them make of the automa-technology that produced this wooden – though still oddly charming – representation?)
Hazlitt said “travel’s greatest purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one.” That’ll be a good motto for our peripatetic Study Abroad course, which is again at the front of my drawing board.
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