Disasters, Place and Space

Xavier de Maistre, A Journey Round my Room, ch. IV

Saturday, 21st March 2020

From Xavier de Maistre (not to be confused with his brother Joseph, the philosopher and political theorist), “A Journey Round My Room” (1794), chapter IV, “Latitude and Topography”. For these times.

IV. Latitude and Topography.

My room is situated in latitude 48° east, according to the measurement of Father Beccaria. It lies east and west, and, if you keep very close to the wall, forms a parallelogram of thirty- six steps round. My journey will, however, be longer than this ; for I shall traverse my room up and down and across, without rule or plan. I shall even zig-zag about, following, if needs be, every possible geometrical line.

I am no admirer of people who are such masters of their every step and every idea that they can say: “To-morrow I shall make three calls, write four letters, and finish this or that work.” So open is my soul to all sorts of ideas, tastes, and feelings; so greedily does it absorb whatever comes first, that …. but why should it deny itself the delights that are scattered along life’s hard path? So few and far between are they, that it would indeed be senseless not to stop, and even turn aside, to gather such as are placed within our reach.

Of these joys, none, to my thinking, is more attractive than following the course of one’s fancies as a hunter follows his game, without pretending to keep to any set route. Hence, when I travel in my room, I seldom keep to a straight line. From my table I go towards a picture which is placed in a corner; thence I set out in an oblique direction for the door; and then, although on starting I had intended to return to my table, yet, if I chance to fall in with my arm-chair on the way, I at once, and most unceremoniously, take up my quarters therein.

By the by, what a capital article of furniture an armchair is, and, above all, how convenient to a thoughtful man. In long winter evenings it is ofttimes sweet, and always prudent, to stretch yourself therein, far from the bustle of crowded assemblies. A good fire, some books and pens ; what safeguards these against ennui ! And how pleasant, again, to forget books and pens in order to stir the fire, while giving one’s self up to some agreeable meditation, or stringing together a few rhymes for the amusement of friends, as the hours glide by and fall into eternity, without making their sad passage felt.

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