On Going out for a Walk by Max Beerbohm
About the author .. A humorist par excellence, Beerbohm excelled in parody and caricature. Through his writing writings and innocent satire, he brought reading pleasure to countless readers. Sir Henry Maximilian (Max, in short) Beerbohm (1872-1956) espouses his non-conventional views against the practice of aim-less wa ndering about, but is careful enough not to castigate those who cherish this hobby. He wrote only one novel, Zuleika Dobson. However, he was a prolific cartoonist. Even George Bernard Shaw praised him for his talent for humour.
The essay .. The author is undoubtedly a non-conformist. He is an Englishman, but loathes to saunter — a habit most Englishmen practise as a matter of instinct. In this essay, he rails against this pastime. He details, good-humouredly the reasons why he detests walking for leisure.
First para .. At the outset, the author states, quite unapologetically, that he has never in his life ventured out for a stroll out of his own volition. The author recounts his early childhood days when a nurse used to take him out for a walk. He used to talk ceaselessly with her, but even then, he had not experienced any great excitement. He grew up, and in due course, moved to London. This metropolis with its din and bustle was not quite an ideal place for carefree promenade. The walk-shy author got some respite here as he didn’t and couldn’t go out for walk.
Second Para … London is known for its hectic pace, frenzied movements, high decibels, and dust kicked by the speeding vehicles. It is not a walkers’ paradise. So, walking is not a fashionable pastime here. Because of these reasons, the walker never went out for a walk, nor did anyone ask him to accompany him. On the contrary, life in the countryside is laidback and easy-paced. Unless it is raining, people set out for strolls. Instinctively, they ask the author to accompany them, not realizing that the latter hardly likes the experience. These walking enthusiasts feel that walking is a noble hobby that triggers new ideas in brain, and rekindles noble thoughts in the mind. With such entrenched ideas, people think asking someone to accompany them is a good thing to do. The author obviously wants to stay home. He excuses himself stating that he has letters to write, and so, can’t go for the stroll. But, such an alibi has its limitations.
Third Para … First lacuna .. Generally, people tend not to believe it. Second, it makes you to rise from your seat, proceed to the writing table, and act as f you are really writing one. Till the friend leaves the entrance, you have to remain seated near the table, so as not to arouse any doubt.
Fourth Para .. For those who have made waking their abit, it can be a pleasant pastime. However, the author thinks that instead of heightening the brain’s working, it numbs it. Many of the author’s friends have experienced such slowing down of the brain during walking. But, those of the author’s friends who succeeded in pulling him out on Sundays can not claim that their brains became active when they went for walks. The author is convinced that when a person begins to walk, his creative mind sinks into inactivity. He can neither think, articulate, nor even joke. While comfortably seated on a chair, or even standing near the hearth, he is found to be mentally quite productive. Clearly, the mind becomes dumb and empty. The movement of the feet seems to tie down the brain. Instead of talking intelligently on substantive issues, he engages in frivolous empty comments which mean nothing. The author cites the example of one such walking companion, whom he cryptically names ‘A’. On one occasion, as A walked, he stopped thinking, and began to read sign boards, milestones and any such trivia that his eyes fell on along the way.
Fifth Para .. When ‘A’ sat down for lunch, his mind regained its vitality. He began to talk, amuse others and appeared a normal man with a normal brain. The author felt that ‘A’ would never go out on a walking expedition again after the benumbing of his brain that happened during the walk earlier in the day. However, much to the surprise of the author, ‘A’ set out again for another walking expedition with a different companion. The author looks at ‘A’ and his mate till they go out of sight. He knows what ‘A’ would be telling his friend. Nothing much except the remark that the author is a dull companion to walk with. Then, with the brain in stupor, ‘A’ would begin to read the roadside signs.
Sixth Para .. The author wonders why people suffer such deactivation of brain when they begin to walk. He assumes that knowing this danger, the mind’s power to reason and analyse would make a man engage in walking. With no clue for such irrational penchant to go walking, the author assumes that perhaps the soul of a person prods him to go on walk. The walking enthusiast vainly assumes that walking imparts nobility and character to one’s personality. The unconvinced author pooh poohs the fascination for walking, and decides to spend the time on the bed instead — deep in slumber. The body and the brain continue to be totally static and inactive, till the former decides to get up again. In other words, the author feels that it is advisable to sleep in spare time, so that the body gets suitably recharged.
Seventh Para .. If a person has to go to a certain place on work, he instinctively takes a vehicle to cover the distance. He does not have to work his brain for this decision. Unless you are bent upon walking, this is the right thing to do. During the walk, the brain will stop doing any serious function, other than small routine ones. Walking is a viable proposition so long as the legs can take the strain.
The author states that the ideas for this essay were conceived when he had gone out for a walk. The author says that he is not the one who abhors walking, and chooses a vehicle even for traversing very short distances. He says he does not shun physical exercise. He does exercise normally and when he feels like doing it. There are some people who have some morbid fears about their health, and they overdo physical activity with the hope that it is a cure-all for illness. In moderation, walking is desirable. However, discovering a reason to go on long walks such as going to see a friend is a foolish pretension.
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