|Stephen Graham (National Portrait Gallery) 1926|
What a relief to escape from being voter, tax-payer, authority on old brass, brother of man who is an authority on old brass, author of best seller, uncle of author of best seller, what a relief to cease being for a while a grade-three clerk, or grade-two clerk who has reached his limit, to cease to be identified by one’s salary or by one’s golf handicap.’
Having written my Prologue, Introduction and history of Asceticism (a probable genesis of tramping), I now want to explore some testimonies of 'modern' tramps through their own writings. Many of the tramp authors of the late 19th and early 20th centuries; writers such as Josiah Flynt, Bart Kennedy, Jack Everson, Morely Roberts, Jack London, Jim Phelan, Jim Tully, W.H. Davies, Leon Ray Livingston, and Stephen Graham (the subject of this post) were tramps of choice rather than necessity; some even having the security of independent financial means to fall back on. But that did not in any way lessen the hardships and deprivations they endured as tramps, often exceeding those of their non-literary associates. I will get around to other (occasional) tramp authors such as George Orwell and Jack Kerouac all in good time, as I will also, ‘the vagabond in literature’—to use the title of Arthur Rickett's comprehensive 1906 study of this genre.
But these first hand accounts of tramping well serve my purpose, for in the writings of these tramp authors—often well read in philosophy, literature and the classics—is to be found their own personal philosophies on life and tramping. Furthermore, as the tramp is by nature an individual, the personal reflections on tramp life contained in my next few posts, although highlighting some common experiences, also draw on very unique insights. And, as personal accounts, they often also reveal the authors' prejudices. Graham, for instance, was a confirmed Christian, even if he was an advocate of Jesus' original 'peasant gospel'; deriding, as did Nietzsche, Paul's corruption of Christianity. Also, like Ben Reitman, the hobo physician and sociologist referred to in my Introduction, Graham attempts to distinguish between different categories of tramp. And although Graham sometimes takes a moralising and patronising tone, this does not detract from his undoubted commitment to the poor and disposessed, not to mention his hugely informative insights into tramping and a remarkable prose style—even if he occasionally lapses (unconsciously perhaps) into the scornful homilies of his class and religion:
‘I suppose one should draw a distinction between professional tramping and just tramping, especially as this whole book is to be called THE GENTLE ART OF TRAMPING. I am not writing of the American hobo, nor of the British casual, nor of rail-roaders and beachcombers or other enemies of society—“won’t works” and parasites of the charitable. While among these there are many very strange and interesting exceptions, yet in general they are not highly estimable people, nor is their way of life beautiful or worth imitation. They learn little on their wanderings beyond how to cadge, how to steal, how to avoid dogs and the police. They are not pilgrims but outlaws, and many would be highway robbers had they the vitality and the pluck necessary to hold up wayfarers. Most of them are but poor walkers, so that the word tramp is often misapplied to them.’
But to be fair to Graham, he at least acknowledges his lapses of humanity when he admits of himself, ‘There is much to learn [in tramping], there are illusions to be overcome. There are prejudices and habits to be shaken off.’ And later also, Graham demonstrates even greater insight when he tells us:
‘Class is the most disgusting institution of civilisation, because it puts barriers between man and man. ... But in the tramp’s motley you can say what you like, ask what questions you like, free from the taint of class. It also puts you right with regard to yourself. You see yourself as others see you, and that is a refreshing grace wafted in upon an opinionated mind.’
But these paradoxes in his writing (a common feature of even the greatest philosophers) do not lessen the vital and important insights one takes from reading Graham about just how much we have lost and are daily missing from our modern lives.
Stephen Graham (1884—1975) was a British journalist, essayist, novelist and professional tramp. His adventures and observations are documented in over 50 books and essays, many no longer in print. The Hathi Trust Digital Library has the most comprehensive collection of his extant works, and Michael Hughes’ excellent website on Graham provides comprehensive biographical information which need not be repeated here. Graham spoke fluent Russian and many of his books concern his experiences of that pre-revolutionary state; as did his work as a freelance correspondent for The Times, Harpers and the New Yorker. When reading Graham, one can only wonder at just what a different place Russia was 100 years ago. Yet Graham also tramped thousands of miles across America, including large stretches of the Canadian border where he tramped with American poet Vachel Lindsay (see Tramping With a Poet in the Rockies, 1922). As well as tramping the American wilderness, Graham also tramped the Streets of New York (New York Nights, 1927), Chicago and other cities. He of course also tramped Great Britain as well as large tracts of continental Europe; and published two accounts of his time as a soldier on the Western Front: A Private in the Guards (1919) and The Challenge of the Dead (1921).
For the purposes of this post, I am focussing on two of Graham's better known tramping texts. The first of these, A Tramp's Sketches (1913), is a travelogue and essays of Graham's pilgrimage on foot from London to Jerusalem; bizarrely over a 5,000 mile tramp via Northern Russia's White Sea port of Arkhangelsk!
‘If I had attempted such a journey I should probably have failed to reach the great Shrine, for it is only a certain sort of people travelling in a certain sort of way who find admittance easily. By the Russian peasant I was enabled to go. It is strange to think that even when I was journeying northward to Archangel I was winding my way Jerusalem-ward in the sacred labyrinth.’
The second, is The Gentle Art of Tramping (1926), in which Graham shares his tramping experiences in a kind of 'how to' manual of instruction: the dos and don'ts of tramping, with chapters about how to attend to one's boots, clothes, fire, cooking, sleeping arrangements, etc.; as well as philosophical reflections on subjects like companionship and idleness. It is with the theme of companionship that I will open here.
Before analysing Graham's work further, and by way of redressing the earlier criticism I made of his writing, I will now allow the reader to make up their own mind about Graham's skills as a storyteller by presenting the following extended section from A Tramp's Sketches, just part of a longer chapter titled 'The Wanderer's Story'. I make no apology for using more of Graham's words in this post than my own, the original is always more enjoyable and informative than secondary texts; and though not a disciple—the worst brand of exegesis—I freely admit to using and abusing Graham, and other writers, for my own ends.
‘When star passes star once in a thousand years, or perhaps once in the forever, and does not meet again, what a tale has each to tell! So with tramps and wanderers when two meet upon the road, what a tale of life is due from one to the other. Many tramps have I met in the world. Far from the West I have met those who came far from the East, and men have passed me coming from the South, and men from the North. And sometimes men have suddenly appeared on my way as if they had fallen from the sky, or as if they had started up out of the earth.
One morning when I was dwelling in a cave between a mountain and a river I met him who tells this story. Probably the reader has never lived in a cave and does not appreciate cave life—the crawling in at night, the long and gentle sleep on the soft grey sand, the crawling out again at morning, the washing in the river, the stick-collecting and kettle-boiling, the berry-gathering, the lazy hours of noon, the lying outstretched on the springy turf, sun-drinking, the wading in the river and the plashing [sic] of the rushing water over one's legs; sunny days, grey days, rainy days, the joyous delight in the beautiful world, the exploration of one's own heart, the sadness of self-absorption.
It was on a grey day when I met the strange tramp whose life-mystery is here told. I came upon him on a quiet forenoon, and was surprised by him. He came, as it were, out of thin air. I had been looking at the river with eyes that saw not—I was exploring my own heart and its memories—when suddenly I turned round and saw him, smiling, with a greeting on his countenance.
It was long since I had looked upon a man; for though quite near the highway, no one had found me out in my snug cave. I was like a bird that had built a nest within earshot of a road along which many schoolboys ran. And any one discovering my little house was like to say, "Fancy, so near to the road, so unsuspected!"
"Good-morning, friend," said I, "and greeting! You are the first who has found his way to this cave. You are a wanderer like myself, I perceive. Come, then, and share my noonday solitude, and in return give me what you have to share."
"Forgive me," said he, "I thought I heard a voice; that was why I came. I thought I heard a call, a cry."
I looked at him. He was a strange man, but with something peculiarly familiar in his figure. His dark hair spread over a brow whiter than mine, and veiled two deep and gentle eyes; and his sun-tanned face and dusty hat made him look like a face such as one sometimes sees in a dream.
"You heard not me," I answered, "unless it was my thoughts that you heard."
He smiled. I felt we need not say more. I sat with my back to the sun and he lay stretched in front of me, and thus we conversed; thus two wanderers conversed, two like spirits whose paths had crossed.
"Now tell me," said I, "who you are, dear wanderer, stretched out at my feet like a shadow, and like a shadow of my own life. How long have you been upon the road, when did you set out, where is your home and why did you leave it?"
The tramp smiled.
"I am a wanderer and a seeker," he replied. "In one sense the whole world is my home, in that I know all its roads and am nowhere a stranger. In another sense I have no home, for I know not where I began or where I come from. I do not belong to this world."
"What!" said I, starting up suddenly and consequently disturbing my companion. "You are then an apparition, a dream-face, a shadow. You came out of thin air!"
I stood up, and he turned familiarly about me and whispered like an echo in my ear, "Out of thin air." And he laughed.
"And you?" he went on. "On what star did you begin? Can you tell me? Never yet have I found a man who could answer that question. But we do not know, because we cannot remember. My conscious life began one evening long ago when I stepped out of a coach on to a high road, this same road by which you have your cave. I had come from God-knows-where. I went backward, I came forward; I went all about and round about, and never found my kith and kin. I was absorbed into the world of men and shared its illusions, lived in cities, worked for causes, worshipped idols. But thanks to the bright wise sun I always escaped from those 'gloomy agreeable nooks.' It has now become my religion to avoid the town, the places where men make little homes which make us forget that in truth we have no homes. I have learned to do without the town, without the great machine that provides man with a living. I have sucked in a thousand rains, and absorbed a thousand suns, lain on many thousand banks of the earth. I have walked at the foot of mountains along long green valleys, I have climbed great ranges and peeped over them, I have lived in barren and in fertile places, and my road-companion has been Nature herself."
I smiled upon my visitor and said, "How like you are to me, my friend! Stay with me and let us talk awhile. Grey days come, and rain, and we shall live in this cave together and converse. In you I see a brother man. In you as in a clear mirror I see the picture of my own soul, a darling shadow. Your songs shall be the words of my happiness, your yearning shall be the expression of my own aching heart. I shall break bread with you and we shall bathe together in the river. I shall sleep with you and wake with you, and be content to see you where'er I turn."
That evening at sunset he crawled with me into the cave. And he slept so sweetly that I held him in my own heart. Next morning at sunrise we clambered out together, and together we gathered sticks, and together bent over the fire and blew into its struggling little flames. Life was rich. We hob-nobbed together. We doubled all our happinesses, and we promised to share all our griefs. Sitting on the rocks—there were many of them about, of all shape and size—we taught one another songs. I wrote songs; he sang them. I told him of places where I had been; he described them to me so that they lived again before me. I told him of beauteous women I had met; he had met them also and revealed to me their loving hearts. He could give the leaping love in my heart a precious name. I verily believe that when the sun was setting golden behind a great cliff, he could bid it stop and shine upon us an hour longer.
Timid and shy at first, he grew more daring afterwards and interpreted my wishes even before I was myself aware of them. He was constantly devising some new happiness. His bird's heart was a fast overflowing fountain.
Then when rainy days came we crouched together in the cave like night-birds sheltered from the day, and we whispered and recounted and planned. I scribbled in my diary in pencil, and he re-wrote my scribbling in bright-coloured chalks, and drew side pictures and wrote poems. Many are the pages we thus wrote together; some he wrote, some I wrote, and there are many from both of us in this volume.’
‘When I learned to love, I felt like a god—just as when the sun learned to warm, he knew that he was a sun. I became like a sun over a little world, and people who did not understand basked in my light and heat. But one day love was lost in a cloud, as the sun is lost in a mist which it itself has raised from the earth, and I thought: 'What a fool am I, content to dwell among such people, and be as a king over them. All that divides me from them is that I know that I know not, and they do not even know that. For they rank their earth knowledge as something more worthy than all their ignorance. I will go forth into the world, and seek for those who are like myself, irreconcilable in front of the inexplicable.’
Here we have Graham at his poetic best, the tenderness of this piece could not contrast more with the earlier sample of Graham's work. And here also are barely disguised external influences on Graham's writing: the legend of the Wandering Jew (subject of a future post): appearing 'out of thin air', the 'whole world is my home'; and also Nietzsche, pitying the rest of the 'human herd' from his lone and lofty perch. Graham is ambivalent about companionship. He can crave it when alone: being ‘desolated by loneliness’ and acknowledging ‘the need of loving human friends’, but also resenting it when it impinges on his freedom to think and act autonomously. Yet it is also clear that Graham fully appreciates, and can be preoccupied by, the dangers of tramping alone:
‘perhaps some one watched him as he smoothed out his bracken bed; or if he went into a cave a robber saw him and will come later in the night, when he is fast asleep, murder him, and throw his body into the sea; or he may have made his bed in the path of the bear or in the haunt of snakes. Many, many are the shapes of terror that assail the mind of the wanderer.’
None-the-less, he also acknowledges that such feelings can be overcome, often inflamed as they are by non-tramping associates and dissipated as soon as he is on the road:
‘I half believed all the tales by which stay-at-home people tried to warn or frighten me. Though taking the road with every aspect of carelessness and boldness, I confessed to my heart that I was a coward. Then came my first week's tramping, and I emerged a different man. I felt bold.’
Graham's ability to overcome his fears is clearly also bolstered by his faith, even though, as already acknowledged, his is a personal compact between himself and his God free from the trappings of organised religion. Like the Cynics and early Christians described in my essay on Asceticism, Graham's faith is a philosophy of the proletariat: ‘His [Jesus'] is a peasant's gospel, it seems to me, such a gospel as the peasants of Russia would take to themselves to-day if Jesus came preaching to them ...’. Graham well recognised, as did Nietzsche, the corrupting influence of the New Testament, and leaves us in no doubt as to which version of Christianity sustains him in his tramping:
‘The cultured would disdain it, until a new St. Paul interpreted it for them in terms that they could understand, so giving it a "vogue". Both the peasants and the cultured would be Christians, but with this difference, that in one case the seed would be growing on the surface, and in the other from the depths. The peasant, of course, has no surface; he is the good black earth all ready for the seed.’
As with the Cynics also, Graham's personal philosophy is nurtured by contemplating and getting closer to the natural world beneath his feet, not staring heavenward for moral energy:
‘There is a way for the cultured: it is to discover the peasant down beneath their culture, the original elemental soil down under the artificial surface, and to allow the sweetness and richness of that soil to give expression on that surface. True culture is thus achieved; that which is not only on the surface but of the depths.’
Graham was also a pragmatic Christian, one for whom sinning was a relative concept; as he explains in a chapter from The Gentle Art titled 'Scrounging':
‘Who can resist robbing an orchard of a few apples? Oh, those Ohio apples! I’ve eaten many a one at dawn without paying for it, big as your fist, streaked with cheek-red, sweet as a kiss. I have lifted the strawberries, too, from the strawberry beds—the birds were not always to blame—and I have picked the watched pear which was growing daily with nectarine. One does not burn everlastingly for this in the hereafter. All I can say is, that if I settle on the land in my old age, some tramps may then rob me for my sins.’
But it is when he contrasts his spiritual God with the new, fast emerging, god of Capitalism, that Graham's unique philosophical fusion of Christianity and naturalism comes into it's own. Ruminating on the fact that, ‘it has become clear that the thirty pieces of silver not only sold the author of Christianity but Christianity itself’, Graham recalls the words of a Russian deacon he had befriended: ‘Money has come between us and made us work more and love less. We are gathered together, not for love but for mutual profit.’
The Commercial versus the 'Natural' World
Graham is not calling for an alternative society in which we all go off into the wilderness and live on nuts and berries. ‘The tramp does not want a world of tramps—that would never do.’ He well understands that the role of his tramp, as was the role of the ancient Cynics, is a muted protest; a personal challenge (simply by demonstration of his own lifestyle) to the corruption of humanity manifested as greed and hypocrisy, advocating a return to a more natural way of being in the world. But, as Graham points out, the tramp, like the Cynic, has no interest in changing the status quo, for such a change would negate their very need to exist. In this respect, both Cynicism and tramping are priviledged and lofty positions to take, for it is their raison d'être to hold up a ridiculing mirror to the rest of society without the need to offer an alternative. As Graham says, we can’t all be tramps—‘that would never do.’ Yet the impression of an ideological quest remains, if not a serious alternative model for society at large, certainly sound strategies from which individuals can learn to survive the increasing stress of living in today’s world of hyper-reality and uncertain futures:
‘tramps—better call them the rebels against modern life—are perhaps only the first searchers for new life. Let the townsman give the simple life its place. Every one will benefit by a little more simplicity, and a little more living in communion with Nature’
Unlike the Cynics though, whose role in challenging human stupidity was for the most part limited to their physical and verbal 'performances', Graham supplements his bodily protests with insightful philosophical writings, backed up by an erudite awareness of contemporary theorists—including, as though to underpin his own mission, the following words from Albert Einstein: ‘Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former.’ One can only speculate that the reason Graham's critiques on modern life at the start of the 20th century are not better known and respected today, is for same reason that Cynicism was not taken seriously in its own day: the easy target of their eccentric appearance and lifestyle brought them into ridicule from those whose orthodox interests they dared to challenge. And so to sum up his thoughts on capitalism, I will once again let Graham speak for himself. The following extract from A Tramp's Sketches on the sorry state of modern life, is as acutely relevant today, perhaps more so, as it was when Graham wrote it 100 years ago.
‘The great distress which the modern commercial life causes the individual soul is perhaps a blessing in disguise; it causes the individual to pause and think, causes him to rebel, to try and imagine a way to true salvation. For, despite Progress and the benefit our posterity is supposed to be going to derive from it, it is an undisguisable fact that life, the wonderful and strange gift given to the individual perhaps once in an eternity, is being used without profit, without pause, without wonder. We are like people who have lost their memories on the way to a feast, and our steps, in which is only dimly felt the remembrance of a purpose, take us nowhither. We loiter in musty waiting-rooms, are frustrated by mobs, and foiled by an eternal clamour. We have forgotten the feast and occupy ourselves in all manner of foolish and irrelevant ways. Only now and again, struck by the absurdity of our occupations, we grope after our lost consciousness and feel somehow that somewhere out beyond is our real destination, that somewhere out there a feast is proceeding, that a cover is laid for us and dishes served, that though we are absent the master calls a toast to us and sends messengers to find us.’
I am continually struck by the similarities between Graham's personal philosophy, even his prose style, and that of Nietzsche. One of these is an expressed nostalgia and romanticism for past times and cultures. In Nietzsche's case it was the celebration of life as represented by pre-Christian Greece and Rome, in the case of Graham, the perception of a kinder, gentler society represented by simple, peasant, country life, before the arrival of either Capitalism or Bolshevism. That both writers ignore the more brutal elements of the historical periods they romanticise, does not detract from the power of their polemics. And one aspect of the greed and selfishness of modern times that Graham does bemoan, is the loss of hospitality, even though his choice for a model of hospitality comes from one of the most tyrannical periods of history:
‘In the Middle Ages, when Christianity was still young, there was much more hospitality than to-day. The crusader and the palmer needed no introduction to obtain entertainment at a strange man's house. The doors of castle or cottage, of monastery or cell, were always on the latch to the wanderer, and not only to those performing sacred dues but to the vagabond, the minstrel, the messenger, the tradesman,’ [...] ‘It ought to be possible for man to wander where he will over this little world of ours and never fail to find free food and shelter and love. I know no greater shame in national development than the commercialisation of the meal and the night's lodging. It has been our great disinheritance.’
For Graham, no one is kinder and more hospitable that the poor. He tells a story of seeking shelter at a prosperous house at night, he calls out from the dark, and hearing only a cultured voice they invite him to enter; only to be turned away again when his appearance is revealed. He ends up being given food a shelter in a one room peasant shack, sharing what little the family have. But no one, according to Graham, is more hospitable that the tramp him or herself. He recalls how a Caucasian tramp couple come upon him one night and sit for a while by his camp fire:
‘The man took from his breast some green tobacco leaves, dried them by the fire, and put them in his pipe and smoked them. They spoke a language quite unintelligible to me and knew not a word of Russian. ... Very poor, even starving, and I gave them some bread and beef and some hot rice pudding from my pot. In return the man gave me five and a half walnuts! We seemed like children playing at being tramps, but I felt a very lively affection for these strange wanderers who had come so trustingly to my little home under the bridge.’
One further anecdote from Graham on hospitality that I could not resist including—because it is somewhat contradictory—concerns the author's observations on hitch-hiking; and Graham was not averse to taking a lift, particularly through a boring stretch of countryside: ‘the man in the car is much more hospitable in America than in any other part of the world’.
Motivation for Tramping and its Advantages
‘He who sleeps under the stars is bathed in the elemental forces which in houses only creep to us through keyholes. I may say from experience that he who has slept out of doors every day for a month, nay even for a week, is at the end of that time a new man. He has entered into new relationship with the world in which he lives, and has allowed the gentle creative hands of Nature to re-shape his soul.’
I now move on to (for me) the most important part of my post on Graham, the question I will ask of all my tramp writers, particularly as they did not turn to tramping of necessity. Exactly why was Graham drawn to tramping in the first place, and what kept him tramping into his advancing years? Maybe 'advancing years' is a good place to start, for it would seem from studying Graham's writing, that one of his motivations for tramping is to stay young, or rather, not to lose the innocence of childhood. As Nietzsche said, there is something that the child sees and hears that others do not, and that something is the most important thing of all. Graham puts it like this:
‘Old age, old age; I was an old, bearded, heavy-going, wrinkled tramp, leaning on a stout stick; my grey hairs blew about my old red ears in wisps. I stopped all passers-by upon the road, and chuckled over old jokes or detained them with garrulity. But no, not old; nor will the tramp ever be old, for he has in his bosom that by virtue of which, even in old age, he remains a boy. There is in him, like the spring buds among the withered leaves of autumn, one never-dying fountain of youth. He is the boy who never grows old.’
But the childlike innocence of which Graham speaks, also represents a resistance to the stupidity of adults, absorbed through a process of maturation; not acquiring wisdom, but rather losing it through false learning. Compare for example Diogenes’ response when asked why he was walking around in broad daylight with a lighted lamp; “I’m looking for an honest man,” with Nietzsche’s aphorism, ‘I looked for great human beings, but all I ever found were the apes of their ideals.’ Graham draws from these same maxims when he describes the 'irreconcilables', those who feel alien everywhere but claim everywhere as their home: the Cynic cosmopolite, the Wandering Jew, the tramp:
‘I sought them in towns and found them not, for the people, like foolish virgins forgetful of the bridegroom, slumbered and slept. [...] "We are many upon the world—we irreconcilables. We cry inconsolably like lost children [...] "For perhaps we are kidnapped persons. Perhaps thrones lie vacant on some stars because we are hidden away here upon the earth. [...] we irreconcilable ones; we stand upon many shores and strain our eyes to see into the unknown. We are upon a deserted island and have no boats to take us from star to star, not only upon a deserted island but upon a deserted universe, for even the stars are familiar; they are worlds not unlike our own. The whole universe is our world and it is all explained by the scientists, or is explicable. But beyond the universe, no scientist, not any of us, knows anything. On all shores of the universe washes the ocean of ignorance, the ocean of the inexplicable. We stand upon the confines of an explored world and gaze at many blank horizons. We yearn towards our natural home, the kingdom in which our spirits were begotten. We have rifled the world, and tumbled it upside-down, and run our fingers through all its treasures, yet have not come upon the charter of our birth.’
Here too then is Graham the postmodernist (before the term modernism came into being!—and so giving the lie to such 'conditions' as fixed points in history). If Graham was influenced by Nietzsche, another proto-postmodernist, he certainly could not have anticipated the new wave of philosophers such as Jean Baudrillard, who 80 years after Graham published 'Irreconcilables', provided us with just such a description of a world stripped of any real meaning by science’s attempt to understand, categorise and control it. But ignoring my PM digression, the point here is that the curiosity of the scientist is a very different curiosity to that of the tramp. The tramp is not interested in discovering why or how something is, such knowledge would destroy the magic and exoticness of the phenomena or experience—rendering it mundane. Childish curiosity, which goes hand-in-hand with childish innocence, is claimed by Graham as ‘THE principal motive of the wander-spirit’:
‘the desire to know what is beyond the next turning of the road, and to probe for oneself the mystery of the names of the places in maps. In a sub-conscious way the born wanderer is always expecting to come on something very wonderful—beyond the horizon’s rim. The joys of wandering are often balanced by the pains; but there is something which is neither joy nor pain which makes the desire to wander or explore almost incurable in many human beings. The child experiences his first wander-thrill when he is taken to places where he has never been before. I remember from the age of nine a barefoot walk with my mother along the Lincolnshire sands from Sutton to Skegness, and the romantic and strange sights on the way. What did we not build out of that adventure?’
Another attraction of tramping for Graham—one that provides a clue to his own unique cynical brand of Christianity—is the availability of heaven on earth. Graham derides those who sacrifice a life on earth in the hope of obtaining deferred happiness in heaven. In a dialogue between Graham and a fellow tramp, he proposes that: ‘Many live their lives of toil and gloom and ugliness in the belief that in another life after this they will be rewarded. They think that God wills them to live this life of work.’ His companion responds, ‘Then perhaps in the next life they will again live in toil and gloom, postponing their happiness once more. Or on the Day of Judgment they will line up before God and say with a melancholy countenance, “Oh Lord we want our wages for having lived!” ’
I will need to corroborate after reviewing the writings of other tramp authors, but a clear indication is emerging that—even for the tramp-come-Christian—a prime motive for tramping, as it was with the Cynics, is to maximise life here on earth, as free as possible from painful preoccupations, in the full knowledge that 'heaven' (in the supernatural sense) does not exist. The tramp knows that the most simple and fundamental pleasures in life can be obtained without the need of money. Furthermore, those who spend their lives chasing material wealth, risk sacrificing some of life's greatest pleasures; even if they avoid the outright misery that can result from avarice.
In the following passage, for example, Graham extols the virtues of the sun. And allowing that the targets of his diatribe are not the poorest in the world who suffer from the lack of rain, nor modern victims of melanomas, his argument is a potent one. Interestingly, a stance also expressed over 2,000 years ago by Diogenes when sunning himself in a Corinth park after being asked by Alexander what wish he ('the Great') could grant him. The Cynic responded, “Stand out of my sun!”
‘Have you not realised that we [tramps] have more than our share of the sun? The sun is fuller and more glorious than we could have expected. That is because millions of people have lived without taking their share. We feel in ourselves all their need of it, all their want of it. That is why we are ready to take to ourselves such immense quantities of it. We can rob no one, but, on the contrary, we can save a little to give to those who have none—when we meet them. You must pull down the very sun from heaven and put it in your writings. You must give samples of the sun to all those who live in towns. Perhaps some of those attracted by the samples will give up the smoke and grind of cities and live in this superfluity of sunshine.’
If one of the advantages of tramping for Graham was greater access to the free benefits of outdoor life, another was the ability to jettison the unhealthy trappings and preoccupations of civilisation. The example this time, one that requires no further explanation from me, is a diatribe from Graham ridiculing our obsession with time:
‘The tramp carries no wrist-watch. He has no zero hour—no zero plus forty-three at which he must take his section over the top. In his cave he has no presentation timepiece mounted on lions or mermaids. As he walks he does not raise his eyes to scan Big Ben through the gloom—for his life is not parcelled out in Parliamentary quantities. He has no dashed repeater in his pouch, no alarm clock at his ear. The death-watch does not sound in the wall of his forest house; he does not live and sleep beside that coffin on end called a grandfather, “his life-seconds numbering tick-tock-tick.” He listens for no morning hooter; he boils his eggs without a measure of sliding sand; he punches no time-clock when he begins his day’s tramp, and at the end the last trump shall catch him unawares—an irrelevancy. The most profound philosophers have been engaged for any number of years trying to explain time, and they are all agreed that it is an illusion.’
But significantly, Graham also observes from his invective on time, that if an initial motivation for tramping is a rejection of, and a protest against, the forces of civilisation; once on the road and free of such preoccupations, a different mindset takes over: ‘You will discern that going tramping is at first an act of rebellion; only afterwards do you get free from rebelliousness as Nature sweetens your mind. Town makes men contentious; the country smoothes out their souls.’
And yet for all Graham's warnings about city life and endorsement of living close to nature, as with the Cynic and for that matter the hobo too, he is continually drawn back to urban surroundings. He is both fascinated and repelled by cities. Yes, he admits to getting bored with nature at times, but then he seems to get bored by any condition that cannot sustain his desire for the extraterrestrial: ‘It is true the wanderer often feels bored, even in beautiful places. I am bored some days every year, no matter where I spend them, and I shall always be. I get tired of this world and want another. That is a common feeling, if not often analysed.’ And so in spite of Graham's yearnings for the country, he is well aware that metropolitan conurbations are not short on novelty and other-worldliness; and what's more, Graham knows just how to profit from what cities have to offer. I could have provided countless examples of advice from Graham on how to get the most out of tramping, but the suggestion that most sticks in my mind, and one I am resolved to try out, is his 'zig-zag walking'; an entirely novel method of exploring both familiar and unfamiliar city streets:
‘There is a type of tramping which belongs more to the future; a new type, and an even more fascinating one, and that is the taking of cross-sections of the world, the cutting across all roads and tracks, the predispositions of humdrum pedestrians, and making a sort of virginal way across the world. This can be tried first of all as a haphazard tramp—a setting out to walk without the name of any place you want to get to. Hence the zigzag walk ... Keep taking the first turning on the left and the next on the right, and see where it leads you. In towns this gives you a most alluring adventure. You get into all manner of obscure courts and alleys you would never have noticed in the ordinary way.’
This cannot, of course, be a conclusion on tramping. Graham's is only the first of many tramp testimonials I intend to explore before putting together what may be considered a philosophy of tramping. But, and acknowledging that there are also many disadvantages to being a tramp, I will draw together what I believe to be some of the profits of tramping as seen by Graham:
- getting closer to nature to provide a rhythm both with yourself and the world that is right for you
- the satisfaction of partaking of the pleasures (and frustrations) of nature for free
- liberation from unnatural preoccupations with everyday life—such as worrying about time
- the ability to live in the present: taking pleasure now, not deferring it (whether for a pension or the promise of heaven)—something that eludes most other mortals
- not being defined by one's position or role in society—however exposing this may be
- sovereignty of the spirit and citizenship of the world, in contrast to narrow provincialism.
- the ability to enjoy relationships without being bound by them
- maintaining youthful innocence, at the same time acquiring wisdom
At the beginning of this post I discuss how Graham and others have attempted to categorise various classes of tramp. It is curious then to note, that when Charles Dickens undertook just such an exercise in his satire 'Tramps', published in the The Uncommercial Traveller in 1860, he singled out the 'educated tramp' as the most undesirable of the species. It would be interesting to know just how Graham and the other tramp writers would have responded to the following lines from Dickens:
‘THE "EDUCATED" TRAMP ... the most vicious by far, of all idle tramps ... is more selfish and insolent than even the savage tramp. He would sponge on the poorest boy for a farthing, and spurn him when he had got it; he would interpose (if he could get anything by it) between the baby and the mother's breast. ... this pitiless rascal blights the summer road as he maunders on between luxuriant hedges; where to my thinking, even the wild convolvulus and rose and sweetbriar, are the worse for his going by, and need time to recover from the taint of him in the air.’