Max Beerbohm’s ‘Going Out for a Walk’ is a delicately humorous essay on the ridiculous vanity of Going Out For a Walk. Max challenges the very notion that walking for its own sake is a noble and productive exercise.
Beerbohm begins by stating that he is an obvious opponent of the habit of walking, since the times when he was a toddler. He shared his experience of walking when he moved to London as a grown up and the experience when he lived in the countryside. London, he said was a noisy place with a lot of hustle and bustle, so there, he wouldn’t and couldn’t go out on walks. Whereas in the countryside, the walk mongers would turn up anytime and ask you to go for a walk. Max said that at times he was lucky to have had escaped the walk with the help of putting up the excuse of writing a letter. But a few times, he wouldn’t be so lucky and was made to accompany his friends on a walk.
Max says that due to walking, the mental agility of the person tends to deteriorate. Even the most brilliant and witty walker loses his power to instruct or amuse as soon as he starts walking. During the walks the brain seems to become inactive and the talk usually ends with dull gossip and reading notice boards. Beerbohm attributes this sudden deterioration in those who go walking for walking’s sake to a conflict between the soul and the brain. The soul transcends reason and issues the command to the body to ‘Quick march.’ But the brain questions the soul’s intention and wants to know where actually it is sending the body. The soul can only answer ‘to no destination at all’, at which the brain refuses to be involved in the tomfoolery and goes off to sleep till the walk is over.
Beerbohm concludes by making his stand clear once again. He knows that if done moderately, walking is good but only physically. Hence, he will never prefer to go for a walk without a reason.
‘Going Out for a Walk’ is an essay written in the lighter vein and Beerbohm’s characteristic self – mockery is evident in his tongue-in-check comment that the essay was composed in the course of walk, when the brain wouldn’t do any serious thinking. The essay is written in a complex and thought provoking style. Max has made use of artistic words and are often humorous. Though the theme is simple, it is presented in an ambiguous manner.
The essay is written in a mock-serious tone and the reader is impressed by the understated accuracy of observations. Beerbohm presents himself as a strict opponent of walking from childhood itself. There are delicate touches of humour – from the point when he compares being taken out for a walk to the flight of a pram, to the walk ending up in reading inscriptions. The high point of humour is the dialogue between the brain and the soul.
On the brain’s retort, “Very well, Vagula, have your own wayule!”, Beerbohm has created a deliberate coincidence with Emperor Hadrian’s farwell to life, ‘Animula, vagula, blandula ….. which is also addressed to the soul. The soul is personified here as ‘vagula’ which means ‘wanderer’. True to the spirit of Hadrian’s verse which defied translation, Beerbohm too has his catch in ‘wayula’ which is only a rhyming adaptation of ‘way’. Another example where in the soul is given a human characteristic is, when the writer suggests, “Yes, it must be the soul that raps out the “Quick march!” to the body.” Beerbohm, here, expresses that the soul is the master of the rest of the body. This help us bring into perspective the contrasting acts of soul and body. To further justify his stand, Beerbohm asks a rhetorical question without an obvious answer. He does not understand why people want to go for walks when he finds them unproductive to the brain.
Hence, through this essay, Max fights the motion that taking a walk is a matter of the brain needing release and more so conflicted when there is a talkative companion. The essay concludes that he does not believe that physical exercise is bad, if taken moderately. He though condemns going for a walk without reason and prefers taking a vehicle instead.