Up@dawn 2.0

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Is the nectar in the journey?

John McDermott, a contemporary American philosopher, likes to say "the nectar is in the journey" - not in any particular destination. It's a statement about life and death, and I'd say its sound advice for any traveler. Would Henry agree with the statement?
McDermott’s saying is relevant in several journeys that Henry James described in English Hours. While Henry’s journey may not be classified in a physical life and death manner, he would agree that they describe an intellectual life and death experience where one’s mind is stimulated to grow through curiosity or allowed to die through boredom and inactivity. His description of his trip to Epsom for Derby day is an example that exemplifies this. “Everyone assured me that this was the great festival of the English people and that one didn’t really know them unless one had seen them at it…Had not the newspapers been filled for weeks with recurrent dissertations upon the animals concerned in the ceremony.” [1]
What were Henry’s expectations? What did he want to learn? What did he want to experience?  Clearly, the lead up to travelling the fifteen miles to experience this momentous event was like the fragrance of perfume from the nectar of a flower luring Henry like a bee into its bosom. “Nevertheless, as a man and a stranger, I was strongly recommended to take it (the trip), for the return from the Derby is still, with all its abatements, a classic show.”[2] To make the experience most attractive, he was promised a conveyance in style. “I mounted upon a four-horse coach, a charming coach with a yellow body and handsome, clean-flanked leaders; placing myself beside the coachman, as I had been told this was the point of vantage. The coach was one of the vehicles of the new fashion – the fashion of public conveyances driven, for the entertainment of themselves and of the public, by gentlemen of leisure.[3]
If the nectar is in the journey and not in the destination, what Henry was wanting to experience was not horses racing around the track at the Derby, but the characteristics of his companions and the other pilgrims and their reaction to the event. The landscape along the journey, “the verdant if cockneyfied common are ranged commodious houses of a sober red complexion, from under whose neo-classic pediments you expect to see a mild-faced lady emerge – a lady in a cottage-bonnet and mittens, distributing tracts from a green silk satchel.” [4]
The destination would be equivalent to the actual event which is somewhat anticlimactic as described by Henry, “A dozen furiously revolving arms – pink, green, orange, scarlet, white – whacking the flanks of as many straining steeds; a glimpse of this, and the spectacle is over. The spectacle, however, is of course an infinitesimally small part of the purpose of Epsom and the interest of the Derby… I turned my back to the running, for all the world … and sought entertainment in looking at the crowd.” [5]
In English Hours Henry described several locations he visited.  During each journey he viewed the people, landscape, and structures along the way and contemplated the history associated with the area and this appeared to be what was most attractive to him.

[1] Henry James, English Hours (New York, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1989), 121.
[2] Ibid., 122.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid., 123.
[5] Ibid., 125-126.


  1. "The spectacle, however, is of course an infinitesimally small part..."

    The spectacle, literally what can be seen by a spectator, is a small part of the larger field of multiply-spectatorial experiences had by multiple spectators. But beyond that, it's a small part of what can be made of it on reflection and recollection, by thought and feeling and memory in perpetuity. I always feel a bit of what I think Henry meant, whenever I've attended some ballgame or other and am asked "Who won?" That, I want to say, was never the point. Ask me if and how I enjoyed the game, what it was like to be there, what stands out as a highlight in memory, etc. etc. Maybe that's a clue to Henry's "genius": he just doesn't care who won or lost, he wants to keep score so he can later reflect and report on how the game was played (and enjoyed).

    1. The game we're talking about, of course, is life itself.

  2. To me the quote, "the nectar is in the journey" could mean many things. Journey could symbolize a flower representing something with roots that with time grows and progresses and blossoms into something beautiful. The nectar symbolizing the something inside the journey that we need to either to survive or for dessert.