Remembering the Adventurer in Anthony Trollope’s “A Ride Across Palestine” (1861)
What was it like when real men had real adventures?
In today’s world of instagram influencer travel vloggers who hop between tourist destinations and take the same selfie thousands of others have taken before them... “travel” becomes a tired commodity for rich first world kids to brag about to eachother. Travel today is a vapid hobby in taking the same photo as everyone else. People no longer have real adventures, they “do Greece” wherein they stay at a tourist location, do the five tourist activities everyone does, post some cool photos to instagram and then go home. For the record, I have nothing against this and I too will partake in these activities because they are very fun.
However, these are not real adventures because everything is pre-planned and predictable. You are never really out of your comfort zone. Most Americans travelling just stay in their American culture bubble while in different locations around the world. The people who really travel are the ones who are exposed to a different culture and actually try to fit in there.
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When I read Anthony Trollope’s Ride Across Palestine, an 1861 travel story about this man’s journey to the Middle East, I was amazed at the richness of the storytelling and the uniqueness of experiencing the world before all the secrets were laid bare on the internet. I was taken aback and wondered at a world before globalization had turned every major city in the world into a franchise copy of New York.
Here are some of the best ideas from his amazing adventure:
What makes travel difficult today? You can get the same chain fast food almost anywhere. Travelling in economy class is difficult, but is it as difficult as getting blisters from sitting on a camel for ten hours?
“I hesitated, however, for a minute; for there are sundry things of which it behooves a traveller to think before he can join a companion for such a journey as that which I was about to make. Could the young man rise early, and remain in the saddle for ten hours together? Could he live upon hard-boiled eggs and Brady-and-water? Could he take his chance of a tent under which to sleep and make himself happy with the bare fact of being in the desert?” (Trollope)
Trollope really reminds us how cushy and comfortable modern travel is compared to the challenges that faced the travellers of the past. It certainly wasn’t a relaxing holiday. It was a journey that one had to set aside weeks if not months to do, and was taxxing on the body and not just the wallet. People must have had a really important reason to travel, if they did so, then, and not just to brag about it on social media. This is why religious pilgrimage was one of the main reasons to travel. I wonder if the vapid reasons for people travelling today diminish the value that it can bring to us.
In fact, Trollope writes about how special it is to see all the locations that one reads about in the Bible. For a religious man, seeing the river where Jesus was baptised, where he might have been born, and where he was killed, are all not merely “tourist locations”. He has an argument with his companion John Smith who argues that seeing these places in person diminishes their magic.
“And was it not better for you when you knew them only in Holy Writ?” He [John Smith] asked.
“No, by Jove,” said I. “The mountains stand where they ever stood. The same valleys are still green with the morning dew, and the water-courses are unchanged. The children of Mahomet may build their tawdry temple on the threshing-floor which David bought that there might stand the Lord’s house. Man may undo what man did, even though the doer was Solomon. But here we have God’s handiwork and His own evidences.”
“The Jordan was running beneath our feet--the Jordan in which the leprous king had washed, thoughthe bright rivers of his own Damascus were so much nearer to his hand. It was but a humble stream to which he was sent; but the spot probably was higher up, above the Sea of Galillee where the river is narrow. But another also had come down to this river, perhaps to this very spot on its shores, and submitted Himself to its water--as to whom, perhaps, it will be better that I should not speak much in this light story.”
Trollope reveals in this beautiful passage how moved he is to be standing in the same spot as an important historical/religious event. Being in the place where an important event took place makes him feel as though he is perhaps part of the story, as if he can absorb some of the energy of that story simply by standing in the same spot. While Trollope is struck by standing in the location where a historical religious event took place, in the modern day, people look for places where movies were shot or tv shows were filmed. This is because these modern day stories hold the place of religion for an atheistic culture. They visit the Middle East to see where Star Wars was shot, not where Jesus Christ might have been baptised. The priorities have shifted because the stories that influence people deeply have changed.
Diversity and Inclusivity Training
Under the spell of diversity and inclusivity training, modern culture has put a blanket of human resources finger wagging over all peoples and pretends there are no differences between them. We are expected to believe that the cultural fundaments of different places can be vastly different but the people are somehow untouched but these fundamental cultural differences. It is refreshing to read writing from the 1800s before this nonsense modern marxism of human anthropology, which today sounds like racism, but then was just social observations.
“It must be remembered that Eastern worshippers are not like the churchgoers of London or even Rome or Cologne...They savour strongly of Oriental life and of Oriental dirt. They are clad in skins or hairy cloaks with huge hoods. Their heads are shaved, and their faced covered with short, grisly, fierce beards. They are silent mostly, looking out of their eyes ferociously, as though murder were in their thoughts and rapine. But they never slouch, or cringe in their bodies or shuffle in their gait. Dirty, fierce-looking, uncouth, repellant as they are, there is always about them a something of personal dignity which is not compatible with an Englishman’s ordinary hat and pantaloons.”
Who would dare to write character profiles today of the different people one meets when he travels? It would send you straight to human resources for a slap on the wrist. But such character sketches are so entertaining and interesting because they are accurate, even if exagerrated and don’t exactly apply to everyone. Political correctness has ruined our ability to describe the real people as we travel, and the export of American propaganda has also melted most people in the same sticky canola oil pot of similitude to nondescript beige citizen.
“I doubt, after all, whether a ferocious eye and a strong smell and dirt are so efficacious in creating awe and obedience in others, as an open brow and traces of soap and water. I know this, at least--that a dirt Maronite would make very little progress, if he attempted to shove his way unfairly through a crowd of Engilshmen at the door of a London theatre.”
Trollope also describes what would happen to Eastern people in an English theatre. Trollope reminds us that a culture of good manners and etiquette once existed that did not permit uncouthness and shoving. I wonder what Trollope would think today if he saw how English culture has been overtaken by that “ferocious eye” and shoving from the cultures of the east. It was a time, I suppose, when England was still full of Englishmen.
Defence today is an interesting topic while travelling. TSA and any security would reprimand you for carrying so much as a nailcutter in your hand luggage. I wonder what they would say to a tool that would be far more effective against an attacker. Trollope lived in a more sane time, I believe, when a man had the right to protect himself.
“We shan’t have much fighting” said I, “but if there be any, the tool will come readiest to the hand of its master. But if you mean to remain here long I would advise you to get one. These Orientals are a people with whome appearances go a long way, and, as a rule, fear and respect mean the same thing with them. A pistol hanging over your loins is no great trouble to you, and looks as though you could bite. Many a dog goes through the world well by merely showing his teeth.”
Living in the Middle East and seeing the importance people put on appearances here: the facade of buildings, designer bags and watches, the fonts and designs of presentations and business cards are given a lot more preference than the substance. This makes sense for a culture that is constantly fighting against mirages, the “appearances” of the desert--appearances are powerful and they understand this. I think the modern west would do well to remember this idea.
What is more, this passage reminds us that in the past, people were better connected to the reality of violence and the world. Pacifists who vehemently oppose violence in every circumstance often are so removed from actual danger that they never consider that violence, in fact even just the threat of it, can also be used in self defence.
The Troubles of Youth
“No, you do not know what ails me,” he said at last, “and therefore, cannot judge.”
“Perhaps not, my dear fellow. But my experience tells me that early wounds are generally capable of cure; and therefore, I surmise that yours may be also. The heart at your time of life is not worn out, and has strength and soundness left wherewith to throw off its maladies. I hope it may be so with you.”
We live in a society where young people left and right complain about their “trauma” and “mental illness”. Trollope’s writing suggests that perhaps they have always been so melodramatic about these things. More importantly, he reminds us that the problems of young people only seem unbearable because they have nothing to compare their troubles to. Instead of “affirming” their trauma, he encourages the youth in his story that his problems are likely to pass and he is more resilient than he believes right now. More young people need to hear this little message than to be sent to “therapy”. They need to be told they are strong enough to handle the natural vicissitudes of life rather than encouraged to indulge their weakness.
On Loving Women
“Oh, women! A woman cries for everything and for nothing. It is the sharpest arrow she has in her quiver––the best card in her hand. When a woman cries, what can you do but give her all she asks for?”
“Do you dislike women?”
“No, by Jove! I am never really happy unless one is near me, or more than one. A man, as a rule, has an amount of energy within him which he cannot turn to profit on himself alone. It is good for him to have a woman by him that he may work for her, and thus have exercise for his limbs and faculties. I am very fond of women. But I always like those best who are most helpless.”
The modern response to feminism among men is called “the red pill” movement. It is a movement that “exposes” womens’ nefarious natures to men so that they may defend themselves against it. However, it is comprised primarily of the type of men that women do not like because they have not mastered any form of charm or social skills. As a result, they detest women for the attention that they do not grant them.
These men ultimately end up hating women for their very natures. They say that women cry, they are emotional, they are not rational, they are too obsessed with their appearance etc etc. In sum, they hate women for being women. They are spiritually homosexuals.
Trollope offers the very loving chauvanism of the 19th century gentleman who is both aware of a woman’s often manipulative nature, but also loves her for it. He knows how to charm and lead a woman and enjoy her company, without asking her to be a man for him. This kind of man is in short supply today and the endearing humour with which Trollope writes reminds us of a different time when men and women loved eachother more easily.
The Lord’s Name
“Why was Moab the wash-pot and Edom thus cursed with indignity? Why had the right bank of the river been selected for such great purposes whereas the left was thus condemned? Was there, at that time, any special fertility in this land of promise which has since departed from it?”
Moab was the old name for the land which is now the country of Jordan and Edom was the southwestern part of it.
“The Jordan was running beneath our feet--the Jordan in which the leprous king had washed, though the bright rivers of his own Damascus were so much nearer to his hand.”
This refers to the King Naaman in 2 Kings 5.1-14 in the Bible, when he washed in the River Jordan and is healed of leprosy.
Trollope’s travels combine ancient history with present day as the two are laid on top of one another. The expectation of a place often direct the kind of experience we’ll have there. The Paris of stories and movies directs the kind of Paris we expect and our enjoyment depends on the degree to which it matches that expectation. But a religious story is a different kind of expectation. It is almost as if it is speaking of a mythical land that does not exist, and the story can therefore easily be taken to be another myth. Visiting the place, walking in the places where those characters walked perhaps makes these stories seem less like metaphors and more real. Perhaps it encourages one to consider that mythical sounding things may have actually come to pass.
“It was but a humble stream to which he wa sent; but the spot probably was higher up, above the Sea of Galilee, where the river is narrow. But another also had come to this river, perhaps to this very spot on its shores, and submitted Himself to its waters; as to whom, perhaps, it will be better that I should not speak much in this light story.”
In the modern world, it is so common to hear the name Jesus Christ spoken by common people in common conversations, at least online. Perhaps for those who are not Christian, it does not hold the same value as a name, but even many of those who are, specifically American Evangelicals, practically walk around wearing “I heart Jesus” t shirts, completely oblivious to the way their facetious behaviour disrespects whom they believe to be God. You would never find such behaviour from any other religion. It is especially cringeworthy when one finds “traditionalist” accounts on the internet that are carefree with their use of the name Jesus Christ as though it is an accessory to their brand. Those that claim to be the most religious, as it usually turns out, have the least respect for their religion.
It is refreshing therefore to see the restraint and respect that Christian writers from the past held for this name and these details. It is rare today to see a mention of details from Christianity that do not deride it or turn it into a caricature. Anthony Trollope is one of the old guard that knew the decorum and class that many today have forgotten.
Trollope takes us back to another time through his travel writing, and not merely to another place. He reminds us of the way that people used to think. Some of the ways people thought are very similar to today, and some are very different. Reading these kinds of older pieces of writing is helpful to contextualize today’s problems in the grand scheme of things and to understand the constants of human nature. And of course, it is also entertaining to read a piece of writing by someone who was not ideologically captured by politics today and walks on eggshells, or worse, focuses on the insanity of proving 2+2 does not equal 5 rather than on more important things.
I hope you have enjoyed my rambling thoughts on this old and obscure book! If you have others you would recommend to me, please comment below.
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