A friend of mine is just going off for his holiday. He is having a longer holiday than usual this time. Instead of his customary three weeks, he is having a year, and he is going to see the world. He begins with India. Probably some of our Territorials will wonder why he wants to see India particularly. They would gladly give him all of it. However, he is determined to go, and I cannot do less than wish him luck and a safe return.
There are several places to which I should be glad to accompany him, but India is not one of them. Kipling ruined India for me, as I suspect he did for many other of his readers. I picture India as full of intriguing, snobbish Anglo-Indians, who are always damning the Home Government for ruining the country. It is an odd thing that, although I have lived between thirty and forty years in England, nobody believes that I know how to govern England, and yet the stupidest Anglo-Indian, who claims to know all about the proper government of India because he has lived there ten or twenty years, is believed by quite a number of people to be speaking with authority. No doubt my friend will have the decisive word in future in all his arguments on Indian questions with less travelled acquaintances. But he shall not get round me.
From India he goes to China, and thither I would follow him with greater willingness, albeit more tremulously. I can never get it out of my head that the Chinese habitually torture the inquiring visitor. Probably I read the wrong sort of books when I was young. One of them, I remember, had illustrations. No doubt they were illustrations of mediaeval implements; no doubt I am as foolish as the Chinaman would be who had read about the Tower of London and feared to disembark at Folkstone; but it is hard to dispel these early impressions. “Yes, yes,” I should say rather hastily, as they pointed out the Great Wall to me, and I should lead the way unostentatiously but quite definitely towards Japan.
Before deciding how long to stay in Japan, one would have to ask oneself what one wants from a strange country. I think that the answer in my case is “Scenery.” The customs of Japan, or Thibet, or Utah are interesting, no doubt, but one can be equally interested in a description of them. The people of these countries are interesting, but then I have by no means exhausted my interest in the people of England, and five minutes or five months among an entirely new set of people is not going to help me very much. But a five-second view of (say) the Victoria Falls is worth acres of canvas or film on the subject, and as many gallons of ink as you please. So I shall go to Japan for what I can see, and (since it is so well worth seeing) remain there as long as I can.
I am not sure where we go next. New Zealand, if the holiday were mine; for I have always believed New Zealand to be the most beautiful country in the world. Also it is from all accounts a nice clean country. If I were to arrange a world-tour for myself, instead of following some other traveller about in imagination, my course would be settled, not, in the first place, by questions of climate or scenery or the larger inhabitants, but by consideration of those smaller natives–the Tarantula, the Scorpion, and the Centipede. If I were told that in such-and-such a country one often found a lion in one’s bath, I might be prepared to risk it. I should feel that there was always a chance that the lion might not object to me. But if I heard that one might find a tarantula in one’s hotel, then that country would be barred to me for ever. For I should be dead long before the beast had got to close quarters; dead of disgust.
This is why South America, which always looks so delightful on the map, will never see me. I have had to give up most of Africa, India (though, as I have said, this is a country which I can spare), the West Indies, and many other places whose names I have forgotten. In a world limited to inhabitants with not more than four legs I could travel with much greater freedom. At present the two great difficulties in my way are this insect trouble, and (much less serious, but still more important) the language trouble. You can understand, then, how it is that, since also it is a beautiful country, I look so kindly on New Zealand.
But I doubt if I could be happy even in a dozen New Zealands, each one more beautiful than the last, seeing that it would mean being away from London for a year. The number of things which might happen in the year while one was away! The new plays produced, the literary and political reputations made and lost, a complete cricket championship fought out; in one’s over-anxious mind there would never be such a year as the year which one was missing. My friend may retain his calm as he hears of our distant doings in Kiplingized India, but it would never do for me. Even to-day, after a fortnight in the country, I am beginning to get restless. Really, I think I ought to get back to-morrow.