Observations about the universe, life, Lausanne and me

Friday, March 27, 2009


Eothen: Traces of Travel in the East by Alexander William Kinglake.

It was his Nigeness that  mentioned it on his blog recently. Eothen is an excellent insight not only into the Ottoman empire of the Victorian age, but also into the mind of an English gentleman, braveing the rigours of  travel, observing with a keen and faintly condescending eye, the people and customs that he encounters.Yet, he seems to be aware of the absurdity of this self-assumed superiority, so his remarks are also laced with irony:

But presently there issued from the postern a group of human beings - beings with immortal souls, and possibly some reasoning faculties; but to me the grand point was this, that they had real, substantial, and incontrovertible turbans. 
 From time to time Kinglake can also brutally honest with himself. See what he has to say when his companion falls ill:

I have a notion that tenderness and pity are affections occasioned in some measure by living within doors; certainly, at the time I speak of, the open-air life which I have been leading, or the wayfaring hardships of the journey, had so strangely blunted me, that I felt intolerant of illness, and looked down upon my companion as if the poor fellow in falling ill had betrayed a want of spirit. I entertained too a most absurd idea — an idea that his illness was partly affected. You see that I have made a confession: this I hope — that I may always hereafter look charitably upon the hard, savage acts of peasants, and the cruelties of a “brutal” soldiery. God knows that I strived to melt myself into common charity, and to put on a gentleness which I could not feel, but this attempt did not cheat the keenness of the sufferer; he could not have felt the less deserted because that I was with him. 

Kingslake doesn't loose himself into tedious linear descriptions of his route, daily routine or details. He just gives you the highlights, the amusing or interesting events - which incidentally makes this an ideal book to read in short bursts during your commute or in the bathroom.

Read it online here or here or download it from project Gutenberg.

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