Walking and Talking: Late-Romantic Voices



Thus Hazlitt asserts at the beginning of one of the greatest short pieces of walking literature, his essay ‘On Going a Journey’, from Table Talk (1821). Barring some inimitable digressions, the opposition of solitary and accompanied walking is the running theme of the whole essay. To begin with, the choice of whether ‘to talk or be silent, to walk or sit still, to be sociable or solitary’ 1 is emphatically one-sided: for Hazlitt, ‘The soul of a [pedestrian] journey is liberty, perfect liberty’ — not just the bodily, navigational freedom celebrated by many early pedestrian tourists, but the corollary liberty ‘to think, feel, do just as one pleases’ (p. 136); and this can be embraced only, it seems, when one is alone. Because it is so subjectively and privatively conceived, such liberty distrusts the interpersonal character of language praxis, disdains the ‘awkward silence, broken by attempts at wit or dull commonplaces’ (p. 137) that marks language reduced to the merely phatic. Indeed, that realm of automated verbal behaviour, which threatens to ‘speak’ the subject, is precisely what one is escaping from: in motion, ‘We are no more those hackneyed common-places that we appear in the world’ (p. 142), but instead, presumably, to extend the metaphor, nonce-words, or figurative deviations from our literal selves.


Romantic Period Foreign Travel Walking Tour Tour Literature Mental Privacy 
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Copyright information

© Robin Jarvis 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Head of Literary StudiesUniversity of the West of EnglandBristolUK

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