Saturday, 8 August 2009
Bibliotherapy: What to read when you don’t want to go for a walk
I am writing this in the certain knowledge that I must go for a walk; my dog is looking at me quizzically, and we both know that it will be good for us to stretch our legs, despite the fact that it is a drizzly Sunday, and the park will be filled with disconsolate walkers who would rather be somewhere else instead. It is at times such as these that I am tempted to stay at home and read; in particular, Max Beerbohm’s ‘Going Out for a Walk’ (from ‘And Even Now’, a collection of his essays published in 1920).
‘It is a fact that not once in all my life have I gone out for a walk,’ observes Beerbohm at the outset. ‘I have been taken out for walks; but that is another matter. Even while I trotted prattling by my nurse’s side I regretted the good old days when I had, and wasn’t, a perambulator.’ His reputation as an aesthete and a dandy at Oxford, and a member of Oscar Wilde’s literary circle thereafter, did not protect him from the exhortations of heartier acquaintances to accompany them on walks. These outings were uncomfortable for all concerned, the conversation diminishing with every step. Here, for example, is his account of an enforced Sunday morning walk with a fellow-guest at a country house weekend: ‘We pass an inn. He reads vapidly aloud to me: “The King’s Arms. Licensed to sell Ales and Spirits.” I forsee that during the rest of the walk he will read aloud any inscription that occurs… I see far ahead, on the other side of the hedge bordering the high road, a small notice-board. He sees it too. He keeps his eye on it. And in due course “Trepassers,” he says, “Will Be Prosecuted.” Poor man! – mentally a wreck.’
Lauded by his peers – Virginia Woolf described him as ‘the prince of his profession’; Evelyn Waugh as ‘a genius of the purest kind’ – Beerbohm’s fame has faded, but his prose still glitters with wit. You may not have time today to read his sweetly satiric novel, ‘Zuleika Dobson’ – though it’s well worth it – but do find a few moments for his essay, before you go quietly for that walk…