Space to William Hazlitt

Essayist William Hazlitt (1778-1830) observes in “On Going on a Journey” that “the world in our conceit of it is not much bigger than a nutshell…the mind can form no larger idea of space than the eye can take in at a single glance. The rest is a name written in a map, a calculation of arithmetic. For instance, what is the true signification of that immense mass of territory and population known by the name of China to us? An inch of pasteboard on a wooden globe…”

Hazlitt makes the case for several sorts of journeys; if you are headed for a long walk in your own country, go alone, because those who know you will spoil the change of scenery by bringing up the very topics of life you need to escape; when you wander into a new town and meet a stranger, that person is a nonjudgemental part of the scenery who comes to you without preconceptions. But headed to a foreign country, he advises us to take a close friend with whom we can find close relief from the pressures of immersion in everything strange. He closes saying that he wish to have a life of travel abroad, but also want another whole life to spend at home.

Hazlitt would have loved, I think, listening to This American Life’s episode about ex-pat American Kaiser Kuo and others who have lived in China for long periods. Hazlitt would probably begin by being amused at how much we can know about one another today, yet how little we thoroughly process how that information should inform how we view and interact with one another.

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Filed under Inkwells, Looking forward, Technology

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