Here is a summary, analysis, and review of ‘Going out for a Walk’ by Max Beerbohm, a charming little essay that amuses the readers with its easy personal tone and newness of observation.
Max Beerbohm’s ‘Going out for a Walk’ is a delicately humorous essay on the ridiculous vanity of going out for a walk. Beerbohm challenges the very notion that walking for its own sake is a noble and productive exercise.
Beerbohm begins by stating that he is an inveterate opponent of the habit of walking. Even when he was a toddler, he used to regret the good old days when he was an infant. He didn’t have to walk then, since he had a perambulator. He wasn’t a pram and so nobody would ever forcefully take him out for a walk.
But any grown up man will have to suffer the plight of a perambulator at least once in his life. The squalor and noise of the city saves you from being taken out for a walk. But in the country, some foolish walk monger may turn up at any moment and ask you to come out for a walk. And excuses may not always save you from leaving the comfort of reading in an armchair.
Admirers of walking hold it as a highly laudable and exemplary thing. But Beerbohm’s objection to it is that it stops the brain. The walk monger may claim that his brain never works so well as when he is walking, but experience has proved the opposite to be true. Even the most brilliant and witty walker loses his power to instruct or amuse as soon as he starts walking. Whatever he can think of now won’t even need the brain of a mouse, and the talk usually ends with dull gossip and reading notice boards.
Beerbohm attributes this sudden deterioration in those who go walking for walking’s sake to a conflict between the soul and the brain. The soul is something that transcends reason and it issues the command ‘Quick march’ to the body. But the brain questions the soul’s intention and wants to know where actually he is sending the body. The soul can only answer, ‘to no destination at all.’ Now the brain refuses to be mixed up in this tomfoolery, and goes to sleep till it is over.
Beerbohm concludes his essay by making his stand clear once again. He doesn’t go out of his way to avoid exercise. He knows that taken moderately, it is rather good for one, physically. But he will never go out for a walk without reason, and would rather take a vehicle whenever it is available.
Analysis of the essay: ‘Going out for a Walk’ is written in the lighter vein and Beerbohm’s characteristic self-mockery is evident in his tongue-in-cheek comment that the essay was composed in the course of a walk, when the brain wouldn’t actually do any serious thinking.
The essay is written in a mock-serious tone and the reader is impressed by the understated accuracy of observations. Beerbohm presents himself as a diehard opponent of walking from childhood itself. There are delicate touches of humour – from the point when he compares being taken out for a walk to the plight of a pram, to the walk ending up in reading inscriptions. The high point of humour is the dialogue between the brain and the soul. In the brain’s retort, “Very well, Vagula, have your own wayula!” Beerbohm has created a deliberate coincidence with Emperor Hadrian’s farewell to life ‘Animula, vagula, blandula …’ which is also addressed to the soul. The soul is personified here as ‘Vagula’ which means ‘wanderer’. True to the spirit of Hadrian’s verse which defied translation, Beerbohm too has his hatch in ‘wayula’, which is only a rhyming adaptation of ‘way’.
Very well, wanderer, have your own way with reading now!