How a Very English Englishman Became Smitten With America

“I have never managed to lose my old conviction,” wrote G.K. Chesterton in his 1922 book, What I Saw in America, “that travel narrows the mind.”

Thus the greatest British wit of the 20th century—his friend George Bernard Shaw not excepted—lets the reader know in the opening sentence that this is not going to be a conventional travel book.

“Travel ought to combine amusement with instruction; but most travelers are so much amused that they refuse to be instructed,” Chesterton writes. “I do not blame them for being amused; it is perfectly natural to be amused at a Dutchman for being Dutch or a Chinaman for being Chinese. Where they are wrong is that they take their own amusement seriously… It is said that the Englishman takes his pleasures sadly; and the pleasures of despising foreigners is one that he takes most sadly of all. Hence in international relations there is far too much laughing and far too much sneering. But I believe that there is a better way which largely consists of laughter; a former friendship between nations which is actually founded on differences to hint at some such better way is the only excuse of this book.”

Recommended Posts