Sunday, 24 July 2011

Xavier De Maistre - Lost In Space

 My room is situated on the forty-fifth degree of stretches from east to west; it forms a long rectangle, thirty-six paces in circumference if you hug the wall. My journey will, however, measure much more than this, as I will be crossing it frequently lengthwise, or else diagonally, without any rule or method. I will even follow a zigzag path, and I will trace out every possible geometrical trajectory if need be. 

Xavier De Maistre, A Journey Round My Room.

 In the spring of 1790 Xavier De Maistre was placed under house arrest for forty two days after taking part in an illegal duel. Whilst confined to his quarters the Count decided to write a travel log about his adventures there in. The following passages are taken from ‘A Journey Round My Room’ published in 1794.

I. My Great Discovery

In the immense family of men that swarm on the surface of the earth, there is no-one, not one (I am speaking , of course, of those who have rooms to live in) who can, after reading this book refuse his approbation to the new way of travelling which I have invented. It cost nothing, that is the great thing! Thus it is certain of being adopted by the very rich people. Thousands of people who have never thought of travelling will now resolve to follow my example.

II. My Armchair And My Bed

After my armchair, in walking towards the north I discover my bed, which is placed at the end of my room, and there forms a most agreeable perspective. So happily is it arranged that the earliest rays of sunlight come and play on the curtains. I can see them, on fine summer mornings, advancing along the white wall with the rising sun; some elms, growing before my window, divide them in a thousand ways, and make them dance on my bed, which, by reflection, spread all around the room the tint of it’s own charming white and rose pattern. I hear the twittering of the swallows that nest in the roof, and other birds in the elms; a stream of charming thoughts flows into my mind, and in the whole world nobody has an awakening as pleasant and peaceful as mine.

III. The Beast.

Only metaphysicians must read this chapter. It throws a great light on the nature of man. I cannot explain how and why I burnt my fingers at the first step I made in setting out on my journey around my room, until I expose my system of the soul and the beast. In the course of diverse observations I have found out that man is composed of a soul and a beast.

I had laid my tongs on the charcoal to toast my bread, and some time after, while my soul was on her travels, a flaming stump rolled onto the grate; my poor beast went to take up the tongs, and I burnt my fingers.

IV. A Great Picture.

My forty two days are coming to an end, and an equal space of time would not suffice to describe the rich country in which I am now travelling, for I have at last reached my bookshelf. It contains nothing but novels-yes, I shall be candid-nothing but novels and a few choice poets. As though I had not enough troubles of my own, I willingly share in those of a thousand imaginary persons, and I feel them as keenly as if they were mine. What tears have I shed over the unhappiness of Clarissa!

V. In Prison Again.

O charming land of imagination which has been given to men to console them for the realities of life, it is time for me to leave thee. This is the day when certain persons pretend to give me back my freedom, as though they had deprived me of it! As though it were in their power to take it away from me for a single instant, and to hinder me from scouring as I please the vast space always open before me! They have prevented me from going out into a single town-Turin, a mere point on the earth-but they have left to me the entire universe; immensity and eternity have been at my service.

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