Going out for a walk is an essay by Max Beerbohm, which was written in 1918 and published in 1920 in the essay collection ‘And Even Now’. It is a delicately written humorous essay on the ridiculous vanity of going out for a walk.
In the essay, Max rather contradicts the popular statement, ‘a sound mind in a sound body.’ He looks at walking in a rather different perspective. He details, in good humour, the reasons why he detests walking for leisure.
At the onset, Max states quite unapologetically, that never in his life has he ever ventured out for a stroll out of his own will. Recounting his early childhood days when a nurse used to take him out for a walk, he remembered talking ceaselessly with her, but even then he had not experienced any great excitement. He grew up and in due course, moved to London. The metropolis with its din and hustle – bustle was not quite an ideal place for carefree walkers. The author, hence, got some respite here as he didn’t and couldn’t go out for walk.
London is known for its hectic face, frenzied movements, high decibels and dust kicked by the speeding vehicles. It is not a walker’s paradise. So walking is not a fashionable pastime here. For these reasons, Max never went out for a walk, nor did anyone ask him to accompany. On the contrary, life in the countryside is laid back and easy paced. Unless it is raining, people set out for walk. Instinctively, they ask Max to accompany them, not realizing that he hardly likes the experience. These walking enthusiasts feel that walking is a noble hobby that triggers new ideas in brain and rekindles noble thoughts in the mind. Hence, such enthusiasts thought that asking someone to accompany them for a walk was a good thing. These walk enthusiasts especially consider it their right to impose their will on whomever they saw comfortably settled in an arm – chair, reading. Max obviously prefers to stay home. Max says that it’s easy to say a ‘no’ to the proposal put forth by an old friend. But, in case of an acquaintance, one has to come up with excuses, best of all being the excuse stating that he has letters to write. Though Max agrees to the fact that this particular formula of excuse has its own limitation and becomes unsatisfactory under three situations.
Continuing with the explanation of the three situations, Max says that in the first case, people generally tend not to believe it. Secondly, the excuse of writing letter makes you to actually rise from the armchair, proceed to the writing table and act as if one is really into writing some letter. Till the acquaintance leaves the entrance, one needs to remain seated near the table so as not to arouse any doubt. Lastly, the excuse becomes a complete failure if the day of proposal for walk happens to be a Sunday morning. The walk enthusiasts will clearly clinch the matter by suggesting that no post goes out till the evening. Hence, one is left with no choice but to quietly join them for the walk.
The admirers of walking hold it as a highly laudable and an exemplary thing. They like walking for walking’s sake. But Max objects to the notion saying that it rather stops the brain. The walk-mongers may claim that their brain works the best while walking, but for Max, the opposite experience has proved to be true. Even the most brilliant and witty walkers lose their power to instruct or amuse as soon as one starts walking. Max is convinced that when a person begins to walk, his creative mind sinks into inactivity. He can neither think, articulate nor even joke. While comfortably seated on a chair or even standing near the hearth, he is found to be mentally quite productive. Clearly, the mind becomes dumb and empty. The movement of the feet seems to tie down the brain. Instead of talking intelligently on substantive issues, he engages in frivolous empty comments which mean nothing. Max cites the example of one such walking companion, whom he cryptically names ‘A’. On one occasion as ‘A’ walked, he stopped thinking and began to read sign boards, milestones and any such trivia that his eyes fell on along the way.
Max then tells that when ‘A’ sat down for lunch, his mind regained its vitality. He started to have same conversations, amused others and appeared a normal man with a normal brain. Max thought that after the walk earlier in the day, ‘A’ would never go out on a walking expedition as he had gone numb in the brain. But, to his surprise, ‘A’ set out again for another walking expedition with a different companion. Max looks over at them till they are out of sight. He knows what ‘A’ would be telling his friend; that Max is a dull companion to walk with. Then, with the brain in stupor, ‘A’ would devote in reading the roadside signboards.
Max wonders why people who go walking for walking’s sake suffer a sudden and immediate deterioration in their mental faculty. He attributes it to a conflict between the soul and the brain. The soul is something that transcends reason and it issues the command ‘Quick march’ to the body. But the brain questions the soul’s intention and wants to know where actually he is sending the body. The walking enthusiast vainly assumes that walking imparts nobility and character to one’s personality. But in reality, the brain continues to be totally static and inactive, opposite to the state of body, till the body decides to get over with the walking. On the other hand, Max feels that it is advisable to sleep in spare time so that the body gets suitably charged.
If a person has to go for work to a certain place, he instinctively takes a vehicle to cover the distance. He does not have to work his brain for this decision. Unless walking, it’s the best thing to do. During the walk, brain stops doing any serious work other than minor routine ones. Walking is viable as long as the legs can take the strain. Max states that the idea for this essay was conceived when he had gone out for a walk. In an attempt to clear his stand, Max says that he is not someone who abhors walking and doesn’t go out of the way to avoid exercise. He does exercise moderately, walking is rather good for one, though physically. But he will never go out for a walk without reason and would rather take a vehicle whenever available. Max says that there are certain people who have some morbid fears about their health and they overdo physical activity with the hope that it’s a cure for all the illness. In moderation, walking is desirable. However, especially finding a reason to go on long walks, like going to a friend, is a foolish pretension.