To discover the truth amidst our own prejudices and those of the authors is too hard a task. I have been reading books of travels all my life, but I never found two that gave me the same idea of the same nation. On comparing my own scanty observations with what I have read, I have decided to abandon the travellers and I regret the time wasted in trying to learn from their books; for I am quite convinced that for that sort of study, seeing not reading is required. That would be true enough if every traveller were honest, if he only said what he saw and believed, and if truth were not tinged with false colours from his own eyes. What must it be when we have to disentangle the truth from the web of lies and ill-faith?
Let us leave the boasted resources of books to those who are content to use them. Like the art of Raymond Lully they are able to set people chattering about things they do not know. They are able to set fifteen-year-old Platos discussing philosophy in the clubs, and teaching people the customs of Egypt and the Indies on the word of Paul Lucas or Tavernier.
I maintain that it is beyond dispute that any one who has only seen one nation does not know men; he only knows those men among whom he has lived. Hence there is another way of stating the question about travel: “Is it enough for a well-educated man to know his fellow-countrymen, or ought he to know mankind in general?” Then there is no place for argument or uncertainty. See how greatly the solution of a difficult problem may depend on the way in which it is stated.
But is it necessary to travel the whole globe to study mankind? Need we go to Japan to study Europeans? Need we know every individual before we know the species? No, there are men so much alike that it is not worth while to study them individually. When you have seen a dozen Frenchmen you have seen them all. Though one cannot say as much of the English and other nations, it is, however, certain that every nation has its own specific character, which is derived by induction from the study, not of one, but many of its members. He who has compared a dozen nations knows men, just he who has compared a dozen Frenchmen knows the French.
To acquire knowledge it is not enough to travel hastily through a country. Observation demands eyes, and the power of directing them towards the object we desire to know. There are plenty of people who learn no more from their travels than from their books, because they do not know how to think; because in reading their mind is at least under the guidance of the author, and in their travels they do not know how to see for themselves. Others learn nothing, because they have no desire to learn. Their object is so entirely different, that this never occurs to them; it is very unlikely that you will see clearly what you take no trouble to look for. The French travel more than any other nation, but they are so taken up with their own customs, that everything else