What does the experience of a relatively obscure French nobleman and soldier have to do with our reaction to the Covid 19 crisis? As we all begin to feel the effects of lockdown and social distancing, the answer is more than you think.
In 1790, Xavier de Maistre (1763-1852), an exiled French aristocrat, was in the service of the Piedmontese army. Piedmont is now a region of northern Italy. Whilst stationed in Turin, he fought a duel with a fellow officer and, as punishment, was put under house arrest for forty-two days.
Apart from the duelling, does this situation seem familiar to anyone?
Like all of us today, de Maistre was faced with a decision about how to spend his time while in enforced lockdown. Apart from the coronavirus, we are in some ways more fortunate than he was. We have many choices for how to distract ourselves, but in the late eighteenth century, options for entertainment were much more limited.
De Maistre’s answer was to write a travel book, but one with a difference. Stuck inside, he chose to take a forty-two day trip around his lodgings and write in great detail about what he saw. The book is called Journey Round My Room.
Although it’s style is not particularly suited to modern tastes, Journey Round My Room is a fascinating book. De Maistre not only describes his room and its contents in great detail, he uses his voyage to reflect on his life and a wide variety of topics, including art, friendship and romance. His tone is slightly tongue in cheek and he treats his voyage as a joke, which he shares with us.
It’s a book that’s always been on my reading list, so I took the opportunity of the last few days to do just that. I suppose the main idea I got from it, was to make the most of what you have in front of you. Sometimes, looking at the familiar in different ways, can be as much of a revelation as travelling somewhere new and far away. It’s funny, but it’s made me look at things differently, which isn’t always a bad thing.
So far I’ve done a round trip of my rather messy desk, I’m almost embarrassed to post a picture of it.
If you’re interested in reading Journey Round My Room, it’s available as a fairly cheap paperback or you can get it for free from The Internet Archive
Good luck and stay healthy everyone. Next week I will be writing about the start of my family history odyssey.