I. ON BOOKS OF ADVENTURE
Books of sporting, travel, and adventure in countries little
known to the average reader naturally fall in two
classes-neither, with a very few exceptions, of great value. One
class is perhaps the logical result of the other.
Of the first type is the book that is written to make the most of
far travels, to extract from adventure the last thrill, to
impress the awestricken reader with a full sense of the danger
and hardship the writer has undergone. Thus, if the latter takes
out quite an ordinary routine permit to go into certain
districts, he makes the most of travelling in "closed territory,"
implying that he has obtained an especial privilege, and has
penetrated where few have gone before him. As a matter of fact,
the permit is issued merely that the authorities may keep track
of who is where. Anybody can get one. This class of writer tells
of shooting beasts at customary ranges of four and five hundred
yards. I remember one in especial who airily and as a matter of
fact killed all his antelope at such ranges. Most men have shot
occasional beasts at a quarter mile or so, but not airily nor as
a matter of fact: rather with thanksgiving and a certain amount
of surprise. The gentleman of whom I speak mentioned getting an
eland at seven hundred and fifty yards. By chance I happened to
mention this to a native Africander.
"Yes," said he, "I remember that; I was there."
This interested me-and I said so.
"He made a long shot," said I.
"A GOOD long shot," replied the Africander.
"Did you pace the distance?"
He laughed. "No," said he, "the old chap was immensely delighted.
'Eight hundred yards if it was an inch!' he cried."
"How far was it?"
"About three hundred and fifty. But it was a long shot, all
And it was! Three hundred and fifty yards is a very long shot. It
is over four city blocks-New York size. But if you talk often
enough and glibly enough of "four and five hundred yards," it
does not sound like much, does it?
The same class of writer always gets all the thrills. He speaks
of "blanched cheeks," of the "thrilling suspense," and so on down
the gamut of the shilling shocker. His stuff makes good reading;
there is no doubt of that. The spellbound public likes it, and to
that extent it has fulfilled its mission. Also, the reader
believes it to the letter-why should he not? Only there is this
curious result: he carries away in his mind the impression of
unreality, of a country impossible to be understood and gauged
and savoured by the ordinary human mental equipment. It is
interesting, just as are historical novels, or the copper-riveted
heroes of modern fiction, but it has no real relation with human
life. In the last analysis the inherent untruth of the thing
forces itself on him.