Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
On the Uses of Travel
By Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778)
From ‘Émile’: Translation of William H. Payne

THE ABUSE of books kills science. Thinking they know what they have read, men think that they can dispense with learning it. Too much reading serves only to make presumptuous ignoramuses. Of all the centuries of literature, there is not one in which there has been so much reading as in this, and not one in which men have been less wise; of all the countries of Europe, there is not one where so many histories and travels have been printed as in France, and not one where less is known of the genius and customs of other countries. So many books make us neglect the book of the world; or if we still read in it, each one confines himself to his leaf.  1
  A Parisian fancies he knows men, while he knows only Frenchmen. In his city, always full of strangers, he regards each foreigner as an extraordinary phenomenon, which has no fellow in the rest of the universe. We must have had a near view of the citizens of that great city, we must have lived with them, in order to believe that with so much spirit they can also be so stupid. The queer thing about it is that each of them has read, perhaps ten times, the description of the country one of whose inhabitants has filled him with so much wonder.  2
  It is too much to have to wade through at the same time the prejudices of authors and our own in order to arrive at the truth. I have spent my life in reading books of travel, and I have never found two of them which gave me the same idea of the same people. On comparing the little which I was able to observe with what I had read, I have ended by abandoning travelers, and by regretting the time which I had spent in order to instruct myself in their reading; thoroughly convinced that in respect of observations of all sorts we must not read but see. This would be true if all travelers were sincere; if they related only what they have seen or what they believe, and if they disguised the truth only by the false colors which it takes in their eyes. What must it be when, in addition, we have to discern the truth through their falsehoods and their bad faith?  3
  Let us, then, abandon to those made to be contented with them the expedient of books commended to us. Like the art of Raymond Lully, they are useful for teaching us to prate about what we do not know. They are useful for preparing Platos of fifteen for philosophizing in clubs, and for instructing a company on the customs of Egypt and India, on the faith of Paul Lucas or of Tavernier.  4
  I hold it for an incontestable maxim, that whoever has seen but one people, instead of knowing men, knows only those with whom he has lived. Here then is still another way of stating the same question of travels. Is it sufficient for a well-educated man to know only his own countrymen, or is it important for him to know men in general? There no longer remains dispute or doubt on this point. Observe how the solution of a difficult question sometimes depends on the manner of stating it.  5
  But in order to study men, must we make the tour of the whole earth? Must we go to Japan to observe Europeans? In order to know the species, must we know all the individuals? No: there are men who resemble one another so closely that it is not worth the trouble to study them separately. He who has seen ten Frenchmen has seen them all. Although we cannot say the same of the English and of some other peoples, it is nevertheless certain that each nation has its peculiar and specific character, which is inferred by induction, not from the observation of a single one of its members, but of several. He who has compared ten peoples knows mankind, just as he who has seen ten Frenchmen knows the French.  6
  For purposes of instruction it is not sufficient to stroll through countries, but we must know how to travel. In order to observe, we must have eyes, and must turn them toward the object which we wish to examine. There are many people whom travel instructs still less than books, because they are ignorant of the art of thinking; whereas in reading, their mind is at least guided by the author, while in their travels they do not know how to see anything for themselves. Others are not instructed because they do not wish to be instructed. Their object is so different that this hardly affects them. It is very doubtful whether we can see with exactness what we are not anxious to observe. Of all the people in the world, the Frenchman is he who travels the most; but, full of his own ways, he slights indiscriminately everything which does not resemble them. There are Frenchmen in every corner of the world. There is no country where we can find more people who have traveled than we find in France. But notwithstanding all this, of all the people of Europe, the one that sees the most of them knows the least. The English also travel, but in a different way; and it seems that these two nations must be different in everything. The English nobility travel, the French nobility do not travel; the French people travel, the English people do not travel. This difference seems to me honorable to the latter. The French have almost always some personal interest in their travels; but the English do not go to seek their fortune abroad, unless it is through commerce, and with full pockets. When they travel it is to spend their money abroad, and not to live there on the fruits of their industry; they are too proud to go prowling about away from home. This also causes them to learn more from foreigners than the French do, who have a totally different object in view. The English, however, have their national prejudices also, and even more of them than any one else; but these prejudices are due less to ignorance than to passion. The Englishman has the prejudices of pride, and the Frenchman those of vanity.  7
  There is a great difference between traveling to see the country and traveling to see the people. The first object is always that of the curious, while the other is only incidental for them. It ought to be the very opposite for one who wishes to philosophize. The child observes things, and waits until he can observe men. The man ought to begin by observing his fellows; and then he can observe things if he has the time.  8
  It is bad reasoning to conclude that travels are useless because we travel in the wrong way. But admitting the utility of travels, does it follow that they are best for everybody? Far from it; on the contrary, they are good for only a very few people: they are good only for men who have sufficient self-control to listen to the lessons of error without allowing themselves to go astray, and to see the example of vice without permitting themselves to be drawn into it. Travel develops the natural bent of character, and finally makes a man good or bad. Whoever returns from a tour of the world is, on his return, what he will be for the rest of his life. Of those who return, more are bad than good, because more of those who start out are inclined to evil rather than good. Badly educated and badly trained young men contract during their travels all the vices of the peoples whom they visit, but not one of the virtues with which these vices are mingled; but those who are happily born, those whose good nature has been well cultivated, and who travel with the real purpose of becoming instructed, all return better and wiser than when they started out. It is thus that my Émile shall travel.  9
  Whatever is done through reason ought to have its rules: travels, considered as a part of education, ought to have theirs. To travel for the sake of traveling is to be a wanderer, a vagabond; to travel for the sake of instruction is still too vague an object; for instruction which has no determined end amounts to nothing.  10

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.