Monday, October 27, 2008
In Search of Halloween: Myth and Reality
Halloween! It is still a time when ghosts and goblins walk. But once it was a rowdy time for letting loose, for marking the end of the fruitful year and the beginning of winter. A time to howl, to rage, to scream. To raise the dead and frighten the living long into the dark October night and beyond. A time for raising hackles and goose bumps. A time when the cemetery on the hill in every town or village became Mussorgsky's Bald Mountain.
Of all the holidays we observe today, none has a stranger history than Halloween. Yet its obscure past holds the meanings of its curious rites and customs. Called Halloween because it is the eve of All Hallows, or Hallowmass, this holiday marks the beginning of a solemn period in the religious calendar.
Halloween's roots are shrouded in the mists of history. Born in prehistoric new year observances in Ireland and Scotland, Halloween is about death and people's attempts to understand death and control it. Even today, during this holiday, we joke about death, mock it and fear it. In the Celtic calendar, the first day of the new year was celebrated around the first of November. The Celts called this holiday Samhain (pronounced "Sow-en"), meaning "summer's end."
Two chief characteristics of ancient Celtic Halloweens were the lighting of sacred bonfires and the belief that this was the one night in the year when ghosts wandered about. Interestingly, the festival finds parallels in the seasonal holidays of other cultures and religions, including the Jewish New Year and the autumn festival of Sukkoth. Halfway around the world in India, Hindus celebrate Divali, their five-day New Year holiday, at around the time of Halloween.
For rural dwellers, Samhain marked the beginning of the winter half of the year. Unharvested crops--corn, hay, potatoes, turnips, apples--had to be gathered and stored. Cattle and sheep had to be returned from distant pastures where they had been brought to fatten for the summer. Excess animals and those too weak to withstand the rigors of the hard days ahead were slaughtered.
As in many other early cultures, Celtic society was highly structured. In addition to the Druids (the religious intelligentsia), the hierarchy consisted of a warrior aristocracy, outcast Fianna warriors, bards, brehons (lawyers), historians and other specialists, and landholders. Laborers, whether freeborn or slave, were at the bottom of the ladder. To make such a stratification of society tolerable, it was useful to have a time when order and structure were erased, and people could let off steam however briefly. Samhain, which lasted from October 31 to November 2, was such a period.
A Time of No Time
The Druids had a lunar calendar of 13 months of 28 days each, and one day to make 365, from which comes our expression "a year and a day." The day before the extra day was the last day of the old year; the day after was the first day of the new year. Samhain, the day between the years, thus was a special day--literally a time when time stood still. People could act foolishly. Men and women cross-dressed. House gates were unhinged and suspended in trees. Owners found their livestock in neighbors' fields.
Such mischief had a deeper meaning. The Druids believed that during these three days the veil between this world and that of their ancestors became thin. It was a magical time when the dead could revisit the living, and the future could be foretold through divination and prophecy. Rather than being feared, the departed were regarded not as the dead but as living spirits of loved ones. Sources of guidance and inspiration to be honored and feasted, they were seen as repositories of the ancient wisdom of the clan. The new moon (the time when the moon is virtually invisible) determined the timing of Samhain. During the dark of the moon, people believed it was easier to see into the other world.
Fire played an important role in Celtic life. Samhain was one of the four great "fire festivals" of the Celts. On this night all hearth fires in Ireland were extinguished. A new sacred fire was rekindled at Tlachtga, near Athboy in County Meath, 12 miles from the seat of the Irish kings at Tara. Runners bearing torches carried this new flame and relit hearths all over Ireland, symbolizing a fresh start for the new year. In Ireland and Scotland, Samhain was a night for traditional divination games about love or marriage and employing nuts or apples. People also went from house to house during Samhain asking for food and drink. Failure to provide them would result in practical jokes being played on the householder. One popular divination game, "bobbing for apples," called for young unmarried persons to try to bite into an apple floating in a tub of water or hanging from a string. The first person to bite into the apple would be the next person to marry.
Fairies--the "Sidhe" (pronounced "shee"), rather than witches and goblins--dominate Irish folklore. Although invisible, fairies are always about. Not as malevolent as witches, they can play tricks on mortals, although they sometimes are generous and helpful. One never throws dishwater or kitchen slops out of a house without first warning the fairies who might be passing and would resent being drenched.
Pope Boniface IV introduced All Saints Day in the seventh century to honor all the saints. First observed on May 13, it was moved to the first of November in the next century by Pope Gregory III in an effort to supplant Celtic pagan rites with the liturgy of the church. October 31 became All Hallows Eve; November 1, All Saints Day; November 2, All Souls Day, when prayers were to be said for souls in Purgatory. In spite of these formidable surrogates intended to displace the three-day period known as Samhain, the old pagan practices persisted.
Halloween's Traditions Merge
The early settlers of the American colonies had been largely British. Halloween was not among the traditions of the mother country. Instead, on November 5th, the colonists observed Guy Fawkes Day, an English holiday resembling Halloween. For his role in the failed 1605 "Gunpowder Plot" to blow up the House of Parliament, Fawkes was quickly tried and hanged. His plan had been to kill the first Stuart King, James I, son of Mary Queen of Scots. To mark the event, the date of his arrest was made a day of thanksgiving still celebrated in Britain.
For weeks before November 5th, British children prepare effigies of Fawkes (called "Guys"). These are set out on street corners, and passersby are asked to give "a penny for the Guy." The night of the 4th of November is known as Mischief Night. Children are free to play pranks on adults--and on each other. Finally, on the night of November 5, the effigies are burned in bonfires and fireworks are set off.
As celebrated today, Halloween is essentially a Gaelic holiday that found a place in the American calendar of holidays. When successive waves of rural Irish immigrants arrived on these shores, they brought with them their traditional Halloween customs. Young girls remained indoors and played parlor games foretelling the future. Bands of boys roamed outdoors, where their ritualized pranks were often attributed to spirits abroad in the night. And the New World's large pumpkins proved easier to carve into jack-o'-lanterns than the traditional turnips of the old country.
Two American Variations
Oddly, two rituals of America's Halloween later migrated to two November holidays: Election Day and Thanksgiving. To celebrate election victories, it was a custom to light towering bonfires. The practice eventually died out, probably because the chief fuel for such fires--discarded wooden barrels and boxes--was no longer widely available. In the New York City area, Thanksgiving Day was marked by public begging, a forerunner of trick-or-treating. Called "ragamuffins," children dressed in old clothes or costumes asked passersby on the street, "Anything for Thanksgiving?" This ritual, too, has vanished from the Thanksgiving holiday.
The Holiday Turns Ugly
For crowded urban dwellers, Halloween in the 20th century evolved into an outlet for letting off steam destructively. Mischief, once limited to such innocent rural pranks as overturning outhouses, removing gates, soaping windows, or switching shop signs, turned nasty. In the grinding poverty of the Depression, willful and malicious destruction of property was widespread. Even acts of cruelty to animals and people were reported. Neighborhood committees, community organizations and the Boy Scouts mobilized to organize safer Halloween observances and offer alternatives to vandalism. School posters of the 1930's advocated a "Sane Halloween."
To discourage destructiveness, children were urged to go from door to door and ask for treats from householders and shop owners. Surprisingly, the earliest use of the phrase "trick-or-treating" dates only from the early twentieth century. Immensely popular, these so-called "beggar nights" spread across the nation. The standard demand of "trick or treat" was soon incorporated into the vocabulary of Halloween, while the holiday became tame and commercialized. Not much steam is let off when tiny tots in dime-store costumes shuffle from door to door and mumble "trick or treat," especially when a treat is almost guaranteed. Window painting of Halloween motifs replaced the soaping or waxing of windows with candles. A giant step forward in artistic expression and creativeness perhaps, but not one calculated to relieve primal adolescent pressures.
Roots of Trick-or-Treating
Today's custom of trick-or-treating has a complex history. During the Middle Ages children wearing masks would go "souling" from door to door and ask for soul cakes. These were flat, oval shortbread cookies made with currants, and flavored with cinnamon and nutmeg. The more soul cakes each beggar received, the more prayers that would said for the donors' deceased relatives. Because participants wore masks, they were called "mummers" (from momeur, a word in Old French meaning "one who wears a mask").
Also during the Middle Ages, parading, singing and dancing by costumed and masked mummers became popular in the British Isles at such holidays as Christmas and May Day. One familiar character in many celebrations was the Hobby Horse--the figure of a horse worn attached to the waist of a mummer. Mumming is an ancient custom still associated with various holidays. In Newfoundland, for example, it continues at Christmastime. Our house-to-house Christmas caroling may be a vestige of Christmas mumming. Mumming is a feature of the New Orleans Mardi Gras (French for "fat Tuesday"), the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. In Philadelphia, mumming is the centerpiece of an elaborate New Year's Day celebration in which elaborately costumed revelers dance and parade to the accompaniment of marching bands featuring stringed instruments.
Playfulness Gives Way to Destructiveness
Halloween still has its dark side. Beneath today's comparatively bland holiday festivities lurks a wild and wonderful night of letting go. But, as if responding to a dormant folk memory, an ugly tradition has surfaced again, largely in cities. A throwback to the dangerous urban Halloween celebrations that led to trick-or-treating, mean-spirited outrage and property destruction have again been substituted for Halloween's earlier playful, sometimes noisy pranks. In community after community, mayhem has supplanted mischievousness. Cemetery headstones are overturned or smashed. Indelible spray paint substitutes for easily removed shaving cream. Shooting of firearms replaces traditional noisemakers. Mailboxes are vandalized or destroyed. Windows are broken, and automobile tires punctured or slashed. So serious has the situation grown, some communities declare a Halloween curfew for those under 18 not accompanied by a parent or guardian.
The destructiveness takes especially virulent forms in big cities with decaying neighborhoods. During the 1980s and 1990s in large cities, notably Detroit and Camden, N.J., two cities with rates of poverty and crime, the night of October 30th was called "Devil's Night," a time when anything goes. Dozens of houses--not always empty or abandoned--were torched by roving bands of looters or arsonists. The ability of firefighters to keep up with such mindless acts were strained. Entire city blocks were vulnerable to destruction. Cities responded by razing empty buildings, towing abandoned cars, removing discarded tires and limiting sales of gasoline. Accelerated neighborhood awareness campaigns and watchful volunteer patrols on what is now called "Angel's Night" have reduced the number of incidents, but the fires of resentment still smolder.
This article was originally published October 27, 2006.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Books for Walkers
by Stephen Graham
You need a book, but you cannot carry Gibbon's Decline and Fall with you, even if you feel the need. The tramp's library is limited, for books are heavy. It is best to tramp with one book only. But it is a missed opportunity not to have one book. For you can gain an intimacy with a book and an author in that way, which it is difficult to obtain in a library or in the midst of the rush of the books of the season.
Each will have his choice though many will choose alike. The inexperienced may pop the latest yellow-back into the rucksack, not grasping that it will be read through in two lazy afternoons, and that then he will have no book to fall back upon. In the trenches in France a happy habit developed of leaving read books upon dry ledges in the dugouts. One often came upon a treasure trove of the kind. But when tramping, you cannot leave books for others with much hope of their being found. And rarely does one find any stray literature unless it be some tract on the futility of sin.
It is better, therefore, to take with one a whole-time book. It is good to have a book that is full of meat, one with broad margins for scribblings and extra pages for thoughts, poems, thumb-nail sketches. After a long tramp it is nice to see a book which has been clothed with pencilings. It records in a way the spiritual life of the adventure, and will recall it to you when in later years you turn over the page again.
It is well to take a book that you do not quite understand, one that you have already nibbled at but have found difficult. I do not mean an abstruse work, but one you are just on the verge of understanding and making your own.
At different stages of development you will have different books. A boy just beginning to think could do worse than take The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, or Thoreau's Walden; a little later comes Erewhon or Eöthen.
At eighteen Sartor Resartus or Carpenter's Towards Democracy, or Browning's "Paracelsus." A good deal depends on temperament as to whether a volume of Shelley or Keats will keep you company all the while. You read and reread a poem that you like until it begins to sing in your mind. It becomes your possession. There are marvelous passages lying hidden in a poem like "Paracelsus":
Ask the gier-eagle when she stoops at once
Into the vast and unexplored abyss,
What full-grown power informs her from the first,
Why she not marvels strenuously beating
The silent, boundless regions of the sky!
It is a poem of a man seeking life, seeking a way. It ought to move most young men who are on the threshold of life, unless they are dull or have been infected by cynicism. For my part, I look back loyally to the time when I was Paracelsus and could say his lines as from my own heart: "'Tis time new hopes should animate the world," I whispered as I walked, and the new hopes were my hopes.
Much of "Paracelsus" should go into the true Tramp's Anthology, and with it, not contradicting it, Omar Khayyam and also O'Shaughnessy's
We are the music-makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams
Wandering by lone sea-breakers
And sitting by desolate streams.
and then certain delicious lines, untraced in origin, which Algernon Blackwood is fond of quoting:
Change is his mistress. Chance his counsellor.
Love cannot hold him. Duty forge no chain.
The wide seas and the mountains call him
And grey dawns know his campfire in the rain.
An ideal book to carry on a tramping expedition is undoubtedly an anthology of your own compiling, a notebook filled with your favorite verses.
Other books which I think of as the tramp grows in goodness and in grace are Ibsen's Peer Gynt or Brand, preferably Peer Gynt, there is much more in it. Peer Gynt is a very remarkable book; you can read it ten times and still fail to exhaust its poetry, its thought. It is a great book about life. It is moreover a true tramping book. Peer is a vagabond wandering about in the world, and it is never the world which is in question, but the state of his soul. Brand is not so much of a poem as the other, and is not so memorable. But it raises some of the eternal questions in a powerful way. If you are "sick of towns and men," Brand will rather indulge your mood, for it speaks Ibsen's impatience with the petty ways and lives of average men and women.
Socrates' Dialogues go well in the inner pocket, and so do Horace's Odes, if you are of a Horatian turn of mind and can read them. There are many, especially in Scotland, who like to take a Homer, and fancy themselves on the hills of Greece. For a classical scholar there are many books of profound and lasting interest; a Plotinus will last you a long while. For you have not merely to read it, but to resurrect a being who lived centuries ago in a different civilization. The human heart was the same, but almost everything else had a difference.
If the mind is just attracted to ancient philosophy, I know few books to compare with Pater's Plato and Platonism, for inner worth. I do not, however, think his Marius a good tramping book. Nature rebels against its cold chaste beauty. It needs, I think, a more artificial setting for its enjoyment.
Few novels are good tramping books. One gets through the story so quickly, and if there is no more than story there, the book is finished with. Still, there are a few knapsack companions worth having, such as The Cloister and the Hearth, John Inglesant, Wilhelm Meister, Dostoieffsky's The Brothers Karamazoff. All rather bulky, I am afraid, for ideas, though they keep other books thin, do swell the volume of a novel. A few ideas stated in conversation and baited with picturesque descriptions take three times the space they need in the essay. It is sometimes easier to understand them, but the expression is diffuse.
Plays, however, come near to being ideal. They take up little space. The dramatist has to censor his own work vigorously with a view to cutting down the excess of verbiage which his ideas naturally claim. He is forced into paradox and epigram. His work is full of hints and suggestions which are undeveloped. It is for you to develop them. As Ibsen said, "I ask the questions; it is for you to answer them.'
A Shakespeare play is a delightful library. I nearly always take one. A drama like Richard Ill or Othello can be read over and over again. As You Like It and A Midsummer Night's Dream are the great open-air plays. You learn more about them with the birds and the stars to teach you than with the aid of the most genial producer or inspired professor. You make your camp in a natural theater among the trees, or in an arena among the rocks. There is an audience not altogether invisible. It waits, it has its programs, you have the book of the words and the brain full of moving figures. Sun and moon are working the limelight from the wings. Your campfire is the footlights. Enter Man. Enter Hamlet. Enter Julius Caesar, the gods, the ghosts. The tramp becomes an ancient type, a magician, a mystagogue--with a Shakespeare in his hand, in the midst of the worlds.
If modern drama rouses the fancy, you can take a Pirandello or a Shaw, and thresh it out--get a real opinion about it. It is worthwhile when you have to orientate your mind to certain writers of repute to make yourself intimate with at least one of their works.
I suppose some may prefer to read a book on the country through which they are tramping, and in that case a librarian's aid may be sought. There are now scores of volumes on almost every country in the world. It is as well to look over several of them before making a choice- many prove to be slaplash, ill-informed compositions.
Does one take accounts of travel in lands other than that one is tramping in? I imagine not. Unknown Arabia is out of place in a tramp through California. But a tramp's account of his own life is interesting reading anywhere, and one naturally thinks of W. H. Davies' autobiography in this connection. There are few tramp writers. But probably the best short story of Maxim Gorky's tells of his tramping life, and is called "The Fellow Traveller." Jack London's Valley of the Moon contains some tramping episodes. Jack London, Rudyard Kipling, Cunninghame Graham, Belloc, Chesterton, Carl Sandburg, Vachel Lindsay, are all delightful writers in the tramping mood and ask a place in the knapsack. Then there are Harry Franck's untiring pedestrian tours in Patagonia, China, and elsewhere, perhaps in too ponderous a form as yet for field use.
I once met a tramping publisher, rara avis, a very black swan; he began his life as a colporteur of the British and Foreign Bible Society and spent twenty years on the road, going from Bibles to leaflets, which he printed himself, and thence to booklets, thence to books and an office and a vast organization. He had a simple way of business. I handed him a manuscript; he opened a drawer and handed out a wad of notes, and the transaction was concluded without a word in writing. But I suppose that was unusual even in his business. There was a savor of tramp meeting tramp in the affair.
The Bible colporteur ought, at least, to know one book the better for his calling. When all is said, there is one book more worth taking then all the rest; poetry, philosophy, history,' fantasy, treatise, novel and drama, you have all 'in one in the Bible, the inexhaustible book of books. You need not take it all, take the prophecies, the Psalms, the Gospels. It means much to tramp with one Gospel in the inner pocket of the coat.
--from The Gentle Art of Tramping. Copyright (c) 1926 by D. Appleton and Co.
Labels: Walking Classics
Thursday, October 23, 2008
A Spring Walk
by John Kieran
Simple honesty compels the warning that reading these words may possibly do you good and, therefore, you had better give some thought to the matter of dropping it right here. From this point you continue reading only at your own risk and peril.
Henry Thoreau, the American essayist and philosopher, once said: "If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life." Quite right, too, but don't start running immediately because I herewith disclaim any conscious design of doing anybody any good.
I am merely setting down some reflections on a habit I have formed of walking at least two miles, if possible, every day. However, walking has been highly spoken of as a healthful exercise. In fact, many sedentary physicians prescribe it for patients, alleging that "a walk will do you good." Now, I view the matter in an entirely different light. I walk because I like to walk. I enjoy the exercise and I am entertained by what I see and hear along the way. It may be that the doctors are right in saying that "walking is good for you," but the only opinion I have to offer from a medical standpoint is that I have been taking daily walks for some thirty years and I conclude that, though habit-forming, the practice is not quickly fatal. If amiable mention of some of the enjoyments of walking stirs a reader to going for a walk which, as the weight of medical opinion has it, "will do him good," the blame lies on his own head and I wash my hands of it.
One thing about walking is that it costs practically nothing, which is an important item these days. It is also a highly respectable diversion--especially in the springtime--and often looked upon with admiration if the walker wears tweeds and carries a blackthorn stick, though that isn't the way I take to the road myself. Old clothes and a pair of field glasses with which to spy on birds are my equipment.
Walking is time-honored, hallowed by footprints famous in history. Plato expounded his philosophy while walking up and down an olive grove in an Athens park some 2,300 years ago. Peter the Hermit went on a walking tour of France and Germany in A.D.1095 and stirred up the First Crusade, which eventually led to the others and a vast amount of long-distance walking.
There is no reason for boasting of walking as though it were a special talent or virtue possessed by an endowed few. Everybody who isn't bedridden walks to some extent every day. But to set out deliberately for a walk is another matter, and any discussion of it must include mention of relevant matters such as time, place, distance and weather conditions. Edward Payson Weston walked all the way across the United States. Dr. Livingstone walked across Africa. Admiral Peary finally reached the North Pole on foot, and Roald Amundsen arrived at the South Pole in similar plodding fashion which, I think, was going to extremes. I merely hope to get in my modest two miles or more a day, preferably over open and friendly country.
Often it takes me some hours because I so frequently stand around watching birds through my field glasses or stop to peer through a pocket magnifying glass at buds, leaves, flowers, seed pods, insects or other interesting items encountered en route. If it is good country, I never tire of going over the same ground and heartily concur in the opinion of the naturalist John Burroughs: "To learn something new, take the path today that you took yesterday."
There is a neighborhood swamp that I have been visiting since boyhood, and it still keeps turning up something new for me. There the skunk cabbages, brazenly poking their noses up through the snow and frozen ground in January, start the spring push. There the early birds from the South arrive in late February and the spring "peepers" sound off in March. It's in the swamp that the fresh greenery of the young year first catches the eye. Here is the home of the wood duck and the bittern, the spicebush and the marsh marigold, the speckled alder and the red maple.
Since I walk at all seasons. I encounter all sorts of weather, some of which I do not approve. I like walking in the spring rain when I am properly dressed for the occasion hut I never met a man woman or beast who ready enjoyed walking in a drenching downpour. Personally, I'm against high winds, too, by land or sea, especially at low temperatures when they cut like a knife. Tennyson moodily mentions "blasts that blow the poplar white" and such strong winds that "rooks are blown about the skies." Picturesque and poetical, to be sure, but Aeolus can put those winds back in the bag so far as I am concerned. Rain needn't bother a walker unless it is overdone, in which case it makes hard going. A curious thing that soon becomes apparent to one who is not easily balked of a daily walk is that, whether it is raining or blowing, the weather is never as bad outside as it looks through a living-room window.
I have good friends who share my liking for cross-country work and they double the enjoyment of a fine walk. But even if I start out alone, I meet many friends along the way. Eyebrows may be raised, or there may be some significant tapping of the forehead, when I mention some of these friends. One is a red-tailed hawk that I have come to know because it has several primary feathers permanently missing from its right wing.
Other friends are an assortment of painted turtles that sun themselves on a half-submerged log in my favorite swamp. Before we became well acquainted they would slide off into the water at my approach, but now that we know one another they acknowledge the friendship by remaining undisturbed as I go by. On several occasions, indeed, one or two have winked at me. Other firm friends are three tall tulip trees that stand on a roadside above a river, their great trunks looming up like Greek columns. Every time I meet these trees I feel the better for it.
Comfortable footwear is at the bottom of every enjoyable step along the road. If the shoe doesn't fit, no sensible walker would think of wearing it. Woolen socks are best. Dress optional, depending upon the weather. When in doubt, play it safe.
Take to the woods on windy days. It’s quieter there. Keep your ears open. You can always hear more birds than you can see. Keep your eyes open. There are flowers in bloom through most months of the year, and trees are as interesting even in early spring as they are in summer. These are not sinister suggestions to stir up nonwalkers but merely my own rules of conduct. I have a few more. Take the sun over your shoulder for the best views. Avoid slippery footing as you would the plague, and don't sit on damp ground. Keep walking.
Copyright (c) 1953 by the author
Labels: Walking Classics
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Companions for the Trail: Walking Classics
We take pleasure in sharing with readers selections from literary classics on subjects of interest that have given us enjoyment over the years.
The Great Outdoors--and they are indeed great in every sense of the word--are remarkable in that they can be enjoyed as much in solitude as in the company of good companions. On the one hand, you have the opportunity to be alone with your thoughts, to gain new insights into old wisdom, and to partake of the bountifulness of nature as you choose. In the company of others, however, you are able to discover the mysterious alchemy that makes an amalgam of disparate individuals in the catalyzing world of nature.
Here and now we are concerned with recording some of the priceless wisdom of the world's greatest thinkers and writers who were also walkers, hikers and campers. How and where you approach these selections in Postscripts will determine just how much you will be able to extract from them. No matter whether you stroll in the city, roam in the country, saunter, climb, hike, backpack or camp--here is a compact anthology selected from the works of some of the best companions you'll ever have along the trail.
In creating this modest anthology, we have made our own rules: Nothing would be included that is already too familiar or too accessible. Nothing that is merely inspirational; nothing sentimental; above all, nothing cynical; finally, nothing that would not be worth re-reading. We think we have succeeded, but the proof of the pudding is always in the eating. The conventional anthology usually starts with the earliest works and comes forward in time. We have made ours a journey backwards through the years to demonstrate that nothing has really changed in our enjoyment of the outdoors. As the French proverb has it, the more things change, the more they remain the same.
Our journey begins with John Kieran's "A Spring Walk." A polymath, he was widely known and respected for his daily sports column (the first signed column to appear in The New York Times), which began in 1927 and ran for many years. In 1938 he became an instant celebrity on "Information Please," a weekly radio quiz program. The range of Kieran's knowledge invariably amazed listeners; he seemed to know everything there was to know about anything and everything.
Books are perhaps the only companions possible for the solitary hiker. The selection titled "Books" began life as a chapter in Stephen Graham's delightful volume The Gentle Art of Tramping, long out of print. Graham knew whereof he spoke, for he had tramped in the Caucasus Mountains, in the Crimea, in the Urals, and once he even made a pilgrimage all the way to Jerusalem.
On the death in 1905 of Mr. William Sharp, a Scottish gentleman, biographer, novelist and poet, the world learned that it was he who had written about nature under the feminine nom de plume of Fiona Macleod. His "Where the Forest Murmurs" is a sensitive example of "her" work.
John Muir was born in Scotland and was brought to Wisconsin at an early age. By dint of great effort he managed to attend the state university at Madison, and an interest in nature he acquired there led to ambitious walking tours through neighboring states. He once walked from Indiana to the Gulf of Mexico; later in life he became a prime mover in the campaign to create Yosemite Park. In our excerpt he recounts his meeting there with the great essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, "as serene as a sequoia."
Poet, essayist, novelist-and physician--that was Oliver Wendell Holmes. Exerting a strong influence over the practice of medicine in his time, literature was never more than an avocation for this energetic doctor. Holmes's major literary achievement lay in the essays he wrote for The Atlantic Monthly, a magazine he helped to name. The first of these were collected in a memorable volume entitled The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, whence our selection comes.
Robert Louis Stevenson's background was prosperous middle class. Regrettably, he is regarded by many as "a children's writer," and his ability to create character, to write clean prose and to handle difficult material has been largely overlooked. His delightful Travels with a Donkey is a veritable gem of a book, blue-white and perfect. Our selection is from his informal essay, "Virginibus Puerisque."
As Mark Twain, Samuel L. Clemens achieved writing fame with his 1869 account of his travels in Europe and the Holy Land, The Innocents Abroad, which sold 40,000 copies in its first year. In the preface to it Clemens said he intended to describe for the reader "how he would be likely to see Europe and the East if he looked at them with his own eyes instead of the eyes of those who traveled in those countries before him." In our excerpt, "The Ascent of the Rigi-Kulm," taken from his 1880 sequel, A Tramp Abroad, he casts himself as an unaffected traveler from the Show-Me state of Missouri who intends to do things his way, even if it means taking three days to climb a modest-sized mountain.
Intended for a career in medicine, Francis Richard Stockton chose to become a wood engraver. Abandoning art for journalism, he is remembered primarily for a single short story, "The Lady or the Tiger," written in 1884. Our selection is from Rudder Grange, a burlesque account of an expedition in a houseboat.
Henry David Thoreau's writing can be likened to a New England crazy quilt pieced together with brilliant passages of variegated prose. His still-read classic, Walden, showed him at the top of his form; no one before or since has used such eloquence to plead for the simple life and to indict the twin evils of "busy-ness" and materialism. We reproduce an excerpt from his book Excursions, published posthumously in 1863, a year after Thoreau's death. (Only two of Thoreau's books were published during his lifetime, A Week on the Concord and Merrimac Rivers in 1849 and Walden in 1854. Neither was a commercial success.)
Bringing up the rear is our last walker, William Hazlitt. Because he found it difficult to express himself literarily, at 21he turned to another form of expression, portrait painting. Only after he had painted a now-famous portrait of the writer Charles Lamb did his interest in writing revive. Hazlitt suffered a nervous breakdown when his idol, Napoleon Bonaparte, was defeated at Waterloo (although he later wrote an impressive four-volume biography of his hero). When he died at the age of 52 in 1830, his last words were, "Well, I've had a happy life."
If one quality is evident inour gallery of walkers, it is that our group of ten has included a large number of unconventional types, yet ideal companions along the trail. Our wish is that you will enjoy the pleasure of their company. Their like may not pass this way again.
Editor's note: Each of the ten above-described classic selections will be published at intervals.
Labels: Walking Classics