From William Congreve's couch-beau to Ray Bradbury's robotic police there is heard the same - 'You *walked*?' From the introduction
This collection holds more delights than its workmanlike title might suggest, and it is hard to see what else they could reasonably have called it; Walking: a Celebration is not quite right. The patron saints of perambulation are Rousseau and Thoreau. By Robert Louis Stevenson's time in the 1870s, the editor tells us, 'the walking-essay is ubiquitous'. This is where the strain of sentimentality creeps in that can put one off, and by the twenties things get seriously bland. Only six names crop up more than four times; unfortunately they are the professional trampsters Graham, Sidgwick and Tatchell (one can just picture them besuited during the week) and Wordworth, Coleridge and the unspeakable Hazlitt ('Does not this daisy leap to my heart set in its coat of emerald?' or this 'There is an involuntary antipathy in the mind of an Englishman to foreign manners and notions' - you stuffy provincial, you pale shadow of Johnson!) but the anthology-venturer must needs 'walk at all risks' (EB Browning)
Skip the introduction, by the way, which will only bog you down (it did me for ten years!) and get your boots on. If you need a taster I can recommend Iain Bamforth's ten delectable pages in The Good European on The Future of the Walk, which I don't doubt Minshull would also enjoy - the very pages that drew me back to this collection. I'd have preferred a weightier tome with a larger typeface - and pictures! - that does due honour to the man's eclecticism (the volume's surely destined for armchair travelling, or if for knapsack then to remain unread) but at least now there's the Kindle. I'd just like to scotch the folk etymology of saunter's being derived from sainte terre; this canard was started by Thoreau and last surfaced in a New Statesman review of Robert Macfarlane's latest. That critter has legs
I can't resist closing with these words from said Macfarlane, on observing nature from without (sentimentalism) versus understanding it: 'Many of those who hurrah at the vernal spawning of the natterjack toad order Thai king prawns in restaurants. Many of those who diligently fill their bird-feeders drive to work in a 4x4.' Springwatch, he suggests, may gradually drift back to January, until 'finally spring is abolished altogether as an event'. And I'm using power writing this - and you reading it! Though wood-burning is 90% inefficient, 'up the chimney, pure waste, of life and clean air' (Rick Bass, Oil Notes), fossil fuels were but 'a brief interlude' (Timothy Mitchell, Carbon Democracy). The human race is too stupid, too short-termist to survive. What did we expect? We are, after all, animals. 'Man is human in the same way a chicken is able to fly: both need a good boot in the *rse to get them there' (Celine, Mea Culpa). Burn, baby, burn!