A Proposal to Girdle the Earth
What gave me the idea? It is sometimes difficult to tell exactly what gives birth to an idea. Ideas are the chief stock in trade of newspaper writers and generally they are the scarcest stock in market, but they do come occasionally, This idea came to me one Sunday. I had spent a greater part of the day and half the night vainly trying to fasten on some idea for a newspaper article. It was my custom to think up ideas on Sunday and lay them before my editor for his approval or disapproval on Monday. But ideas did not come that day and three o’clock in the morning found me weary and with an aching head tossing about in my bed. At last tired and provoked at my slowness in finding a subject, something for the week’s work, I thought fretfully: “I wish I was at the other end of the earth!” “And why not?” the thought came: “I need a vacation; why not take a trip around the world?” It is easy to see how one thought followed another. The idea of a trip around the world pleased me and I added: “If I could do it as quickly as Phileas Fogg did, I should go.” Then I wondered if it were possible to do the trip eighty days and afterwards I went easily off to sleep with the determination to know before I saw my bed again if Phileas Fogg’s record could be broken. I went to a steamship company’s office that day and made a selection of time tables. Anxiously I sat down and went over them and if I had found the elixir of life I should not have felt better than I did when I conceived a hope that a tour of the world might be made in even less than eighty days. I approached my editor rather timidly on the subject. I was afraid that he would think the idea too wild and visionary. “Have you any ideas?” he asked, as I sat down by his desk. “One,” I answered quietly. He sat toying with his pens, waiting for me to continue, so I blurted out: “I want to go around the world!” “Well?” he said, inquiringly looking up with a faint smile in his kind eyes. “I want to go around in eighty days or less. I think I can beat Phileas Fogg’s record. May I try it?” To my dismay he told me that in the office they had thought of this same idea before and the intention was to send a man. However he offered me the consolation that he would favor my going, and then we went to talk with the business manager about it. “It is impossible for you to do it,” was the terrible verdict. “In the first place you are a woman and would need a protector, and even if it were possible for you to travel alone you would need to carry so much baggage that it would detain you in making rapid changes. Besides you speak nothing but English, so there is no use talking about it; no one but a man can do this.” “Very well,” I said angrily, “Start the man, and I’ll start the same day for some other newspaper and beat him.” “I believe you would,” he said slowly. I would not say that this had any influence on their decision, but I do know that before we parted I was made happy by the promise that if any one was commissioned to make the trip, I should be that one. After I had made my arrangements to go, other important projects for gathering news came up, and this rather visionary idea was put aside for a while. One cold, wet evening, a year after this discussion, I received a little note asking me to come to the office at once. A summons, late in the afternoon, was such an unusual thing to me that I was to be excused if I spent all my time on the way to the office wondering what I was to be scolded for. I went in and sat down beside the editor waiting for him to speak. He looked up from the paper on which he was writing and asked quietly: “Can you start around the world day after tomorrow?” “I can start this minute,” I answered, quickly trying to stop the rapid beating of my heart. “We did think of starting you on the City of Paris tomorrow morning, so as to give you ample time to catch the mail train out of London. There is a chance if the Augusta Victoria, which sails the morning afterwards, has rough weather of your failing to connect with the mail train.” “I will take my chances on the Augusta Victoria, and save one extra day,” I said. The next morning I went to Ghormley, the fashionable dressmaker, to order a dress. It was after eleven o’clock when I got there and it took but very few moments to tell him what I wanted. I always have a comfortable feeling that nothing is impossible if one applies a certain amount of energy in the right direction. When I want things done, which is always at the last moment, and I am met with such an answer: “It’s too late. I hardly think it can be done;” I simply say: “Nonsense! If you want to do it, you can do it. The question is, do you want to do it?” I have never met the man or woman yet who was not aroused by that answer into doing their very best. If we want good work from others or wish to accomplish anything ourselves, it will never do to harbor a doubt as to the result of an enterprise. So, when I went to Ghormley’s, I said to him: “I want a dress by this evening.” “Very well,” he answered as unconcernedly as if it were an everyday thing for a young woman to order a gown on a few hours’ notice. “I want a dress that will stand constant wear for three months,” I added, and then let the responsibility rest on him. Bringing out several different materials he threw them in artistic folds over a small table, studying the effect in a pier glass before which he stood. He did not become nervous or hurried. All the time that he was trying the different effects of the materials, he kept up a lively and half humorous conversation. In a few moments he had selected a plain blue broadcloth and a quiet plaid camel’s-hair as the most durable and suitable combination for a traveling gown. Before I left, probably one o’clock, I had my first fitting. When I returned at five o’clock for a second fitting, the dress was finished. I considered this promptness and speed a good omen and quite in keeping with the project. After leaving Ghormley’s I went to a shop and ordered an ulster. Then going to another dressmaker’s, I ordered a lighter dress to carry with me to be worn in the land where I would find summer. I bought one hand-bag with the determination to confine my baggage to its limit. That night there was nothing to do but write to my few friends a line of farewell and to pack the hand-bag. Packing that bag was the most difficult undertaking of my life; there was so much to go into such little space. I got everything in at last except the extra dress. Then the question resolved itself into this: I must either add a parcel to my baggage or go around the world in and with one dress. I always hated parcels so I sacrificed the dress, but I brought out a last summer’s silk bodice and after considerable squeezing managed to crush it into the hand-bag. I think that I went away one of the most superstitious of girls. My editor had told me the day before the trip had been decided upon of an inauspicious dream he had had. It seemed that I came to him and told him I was going to run a race. Doubting my ability as a runner, he thought he turned his back so that he should not witness the race. He heard the band play, as it does on such occasions, and heard the applause that greeted the finish. Then I came to him with my eyes filled with tears and said: “I have lost the race.” “I can translate that dream,” I said, when he finished; “I will start to secure some news and some one else will beat me.” When I was told the next day that I was to go around the world I felt a prophetic awe steal over me. I feared that Time would win the race and that I should not make the tour in eighty days or less. Nor was my health good when I was told to go around the world in the shortest time possible at that season of the year. For almost a year I had been a daily sufferer from headache, and only the week previous I had consulted a number of eminent physicians fearing that my health was becoming impaired by too constant application to work. I had been doing newspaper work for almost three years, during which time I had not enjoyed one day’s vacation. It is not surprising then that I looked on this trip as a most delightful and much needed rest. The evening before I started I went to the office and was given £200 in English gold and Bank of England notes. The gold I carried in my pocket. The Bank of England notes were placed in a chamois-skin bag which I tied around my neck. Besides this I took some American gold and paper money to use at different ports as a test to see if American money was known outside of America. Down in the bottom of my hand-bag was a special passport, number 247, signed by James G. Blaine, Secretary of State. Someone suggested that a revolver would be a good companion piece for the passport, but I had such a strong belief in the world’s greeting me as I greeted it, that I refused to arm myself. I knew if my conduct was proper I should always find men ready to protect me, let them be Americans, English, French, German or anything else. It is quite possible to buy tickets in New York for the entire trip, but I thought that I might be compelled to change my route at almost any point, so the only transportation I had provided on leaving New York was my ticket to London. When I went to the office to say good-bye, I found that no itinerary had been made of my contemplated trip and there was some doubt as to whether the mail train which I expected to take to Brindisi, left London every Friday night. Nor did we know whether the week of my expected arrival in London was the one in which it connected with the ship for India or the ship for China. In fact when I arrived at Brindisi and found the ship was bound for Australia, I was the most surprised girl in the world. I followed a man who had been sent to a steamship company’s office to try to make out a schedule and help them arrange one as best they could on this side of the water. How near it came to being correct can be seen later on. I have been asked very often since my return how many changes of clothing I took in my solitary hand-bag. Some have thought I took but one; others think I carried silk which occupies but little space, and others have asked if I did not buy what I needed at the different ports. One never knows the capacity of an ordinary hand-satchel until dire necessity compels the exercise of all one’s ingenuity to reduce every thing to the smallest possible compass. In mine I was able to pack two traveling caps, three veils, a pair of slippers, a complete outfit of toilet articles, ink-stand, pens, pencils, and copy-paper, pins, needles and thread, a dressing gown, a tennis blazer, a small flask and a drinking cup, several complete changes of underwear, a liberal supply of handkerchiefs and fresh ruchings and most bulky and uncompromising of all, a jar of cold cream to keep my face from chapping in the varied climates I should encounter. That jar of cold cream was the bane of my existence. It seemed to take up more room than everything else in the bag and was always getting into just the place that would keep me from closing the satchel. Over my arm I carried a silk waterproof, the only provision I made against rainy weather. After-experience showed me that I had taken too much rather than too little baggage. At every port where I stopped at I could have bought anything from a ready-made dress down, except possibly at Aden, and as I did not visit the shops there I cannot speak from knowledge. The possibilities of having any laundry work done during my rapid progress was one which had troubled me a good deal before starting. I had equipped myself on the theory that only once or twice in my journey would I be able to secure the services of a laundress. I knew that on the railways it would be impossible, but the longest railroad travel was the two days spent between London and Brindisi, and the four days between San Francisco and New York. On the Atlantic steamers they do no washing. On the Peninsular and Oriental steamers—which everyone calls the P.&O. boats—between Brindisi and China, the quartermaster turns out each day a wash that would astonish the largest laundry in America. Even if no laundry work was done on the ships, there are at all of the ports where they stop plenty of experts waiting to show what Orientals can do in the washing line. Six hours is ample time for them to perform their labors and when they make a promise to have work done in a certain time, they are prompt to the minute. Probably it is because they have no use for clothes themselves, but appreciate at its full value the money they are to receive for their labor. Their charges, compared with laundry prices in New York, are wonderfully low. So much for my preparations. It will be seen that if one is traveling simply for the sake of traveling and not for the purpose of impressing one’s fellow passengers, the problem of baggage becomes a very simple one. On one occasion—in Hong Kong, where I was asked to an official dinner—I regretted not having an evening dress with me, but the loss of that dinner was a very small matter when compared with the responsibilities and worries I escaped by not having a lot of trunks and boxes to look after.
Bly, Nellie. “A Proposal to Girdle the Earth .” 1908. Quotidiana. Ed. Patrick Madden. 6 Jul 2015. 28 Mar 2017 <http://essays.quotidiana.org/bly/a_proposal_to_girdle_the_earth/>.
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