Monday Quote Frenzy - John Masefield on Marco Polo
John Masefield wrote a foreword for a 1908 edition of The Travels of Marco Polo. He seems to have liked voyagers, as he also did the foreword for an edition of Dampier's travels. Henry Miller picked it up and referred to it in his story 'My Dream of Mobile', which is included in the collection The Air-Conditioned Nightmare. I think it relates not only to the physical traveler, but also to the intellectual, wandering among books.
It is accounted a romantic thing to wander among strangers and to eat their bread by the camp-fires of the other half of the world. There is romance in doing this, though the romance has been over-estimated by those whose sedentary lives have created in them a false taste for action. Marco Polo wandered among strangers; but it is open to any one (with courage and the power of motion) to do the same. Wandering in itself is merely a form of self-indulgence. If it adds not to the stock of human knowledge, or if it gives not to others the imaginative possession of some part of the world, it is a pernicious habit. The acquisition of knowledge, the accumulation of fact, is noble only in those few who have that alchemy which transmutes such clay to heavenly eternal gold…. It is only the wonderful traveler who sees a wonder, and only five travelers in the world’s history have seen wonders. The others have seen birds and beasts, rivers and wastes, the earth and the (local) fullness thereof. The five travelers are Herodotus, Gaspar, Melchior, Balthazar and Marco Polo himself. The wonder of Marco Polo is this – that he created Asia for the European mind….