Thursday, 16 February 2012

Dickens was a (competitive) walker

Never would I have imagined reading this article. For I have now learned that Charles Dickens had an obsession for walking incredible distances. Yes, in the 19th century walking has the same place in the public's heart as today's marathons. Though just like modern distance runners, the sedentary public looked at such activities with some suspicion. Dickens was relentless, apparently, routinely walking 17 miles a day and once 30 miles straight starting in the middle of the night. (Not so special now, are we Mr. Karnazes?) His strolls even took on a competitive edge:
As several of his walking companions described it, he had a distinctive "swinging" gait. And, like many a serious runner of today, he "made a practice of increasing his speed when ascending a hill

 I also found a second, earlier post in the Boston College magazine to the same effect:
Walking was essential, to bring his books into being, and to calm the effects of his intense engagement with his characters. Repeatedly his letters mention extended periods of walking as he worked toward a new project. The activity of walking allowed him to think his way into new fictional worlds, while allaying the increased restlessness that came upon him when he was still in a state of uncertainty. 
What really caught my interest was that second part, that Dickens took to walking as form of clearing his mind. His stories -serialized in newspapers- were paid by the letter. His books were long; he was a busy guy. Ebert once described Dickens as an author who made writing look easy; it was nice to know  he struggled just like everyone else (after writing my so-so thesis, the act of writing fascinates me more than ever). Still on the subject of walking, Ebert wrote about his own experiences touring the streets of London.

The article reminded me of another mind who liked to wander, Lise Meitner (the co-discoverer of fission). According to Rhode's The Making of the Atomic Bomb during the 1930s she averaged walks of 10 miles per day. She was a petite woman, and would have made an excellent marathoner in another world. But she was not unusual; I've read many physicists of the time were quite taken to sports. Neils Bohr was an avid ping pong player and hiker. Hawking, before the onset of ALS, rowed for Oxford. A certain chemistry prof in my department used to run the 100 dash. Physical activity is pretty damn good for the mind, so it seems. Out-of-shape intellects are, thankfully, the rarer breed.

No comments:

Post a Comment