It is surely a rare experience for an unclassified man, past middle age, to hear himself accurately and aptly described for the first time in his life by a perfect stranger! This thing happened to me at Bristol, some time ago, in the way I am about to relate. I slept at a Commercial Hotel, and early next morning was joined in the big empty coffee-room, smelling of stale tobacco, by an intensely respectable- looking old gentleman, whose hair was of silvery whiteness, and who wore gold-rimmed spectacles and a heavy gold watch-chain with many seals attached thereto; whose linen was of the finest, and whose outer garments, including the trousers, were of the newest and blackest broadcloth. A glossier and at the same time a more venerable-looking “commercial” I had never seen in the west country, nor anywhere in the three kingdoms. He could not have improved his appearance if he had been on his way to attend the funeral of a millionaire. But with all his superior look he was quite affable, and talked fluently and instructively on a variety of themes, including trade, politics, and religion. Perceiving that he had taken me for what I was not—one of the army in which he served, but of inferior rank—I listened respectfully as became me.
Finally he led the talk to the subject of agriculture, and the condition and prospects of farming in England. Here I perceived that he was on wholly unfamiliar ground, and in return for the valuable information he had given me on other and more important subjects, I proceeded to enlighten him. When I had finished stating my facts and views, he said: “I perceive that you know a great deal more about the matter than I do, and I will now tell you why you know more. You are a traveller in little things—in something very small—which takes you into the villages and hamlets, where you meet and converse with small farmers, innkeepers, labourers and their wives, with other persons who live on the land. In this way you get to hear a good deal about rent and cost of living, and what the people are able and not able to do. Now I am out of all that; I never go to a village nor see a farmer. I am a traveller in something very large. In the south and west I visit towns like Salisbury, Exeter, Bristol, Southampton; then I go to the big towns in the Midlands and the North, and to Glasgow and Edinburgh; and afterwards to Belfast and Dublin. It would simply be a waste of time for me to visit a town of less than fifty or sixty thousand inhabitants.”
He then gave me some particulars concerning the large thing he travelled in; and when I had expressed all the interest and admiration the subject called for, he condescendingly invited me to tell him something about my own small line. Now this was wrong of him; it was a distinct contravention of an unwritten law among “Commercials” that no person must be interrogated concerning the nature of his business. The big and the little man, once inside the hostel, which is their club as well, are on an equality. I did not remind my questioner of this—I merely smiled and said nothing, and he of course understood and respected my reticence. With a pleasant nod and a condescending let-us-say-no-more-about-it wave of the hand he passed on to other matters.
W. H. Hudson, A Traveller in Little Things (1921)
Some of you may be more familiar with Hudson’s classic travelogue ‘Afoot in England’ where his sensitive observations of nature, people and buildings are charmingly recorded. In comparison, A Traveller in Little Things may be a lesser known work of this author, who was also a naturalist and ornithologist who grew up studying the flora and fauna in Argentina. Hudson eventually gave in to the yearning he had always had for England when he settled down on English soil in 1874.
This collection of essays offers a delightful range of interesting titles such as A Story of a Walnut, A Wonderful Story of a Mackerel, Wild Flowers & Little Girls, and A Story of Three Poems, among others. You can take a closer look for yourself at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/7982 , if this sounds like your cup of tea.
And if you do find that these form of travel writing does indeed appeal to you, you might want to also check out another writer who is great at travelling in the little things, H.V. Morton. Morton’s style of writing and the wealth of stories he has to share of the people and places that he encounters, are sheer reading pleasure that is bound to appeal to the ‘traveller’ in each of us, little or large. 😉