Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest is credited with the idea (often quoted in various forms) that military victory depends on “getting there first, with the most.” It might be added that what matters most in life generally is getting there at all.
But in the 1950s, when trans-oceanic travel by sea was beginning to encounter serious competition from the airlines, the Cunard Line, which operated both the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth, also many other luxury liners, began using a slogan which became extremely popular: “GETTING THERE IS HALF THE FUN.” This was quite true for people who weren’t in too much of a hurry, who enjoyed the splendor and comfort which a crowded airplane could hardly provide. I’m glad that I was born early enough to have experienced a number of ocean crossings on those magnificent vessels, with their wonderful dining facilities, room service, and all kinds of shipboard entertainment.
But the Cunard slogan did inspire one of my own satirical epigrams:
“GETTING THERE IS ONLY HALF AS FAR
AS GETTING THERE AND BACK.”
And you might ask, “What about sea-sickness?” That was indeed an occasional hazard for some people on some rough voyages. But then, there was, and is, also air-sickness, about which every air passenger is still reminded by finding a special little paper bag in the back of the seat in front of him.
But long journeys, which were once necessarily much longer, have had various purposes through the ages – not just to “get there” or to “have fun.” One motivation has of course, as General Forrest had in mind, been military – to get control of the land occupied by somebody else. Religion has also provided a principal purpose for mobility. This was strikingly illustrated by the Crusades, a whole series of religiously inspired movements covering centuries, and primarily inspired by the desire of Western Christians to recover what they considered the Holy Land, from Muslims who had taken control of it. These endeavors had varying degrees of success, but always involved the mobility of large numbers of people, at a time when most people were more or less tied to the land on which they lived and worked – and to that land’s overlord, when it came to providing
Crusades tie in with the idea of Pilgrimages, which in various forms, persist to this day. The basic concept usually involves a journey to some place considered holy, to offer worship and pay respect. The object of the group traveling to Canterbury, in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (1400), was to pay homage at the shrine of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was murdered in the Cathedral there two centuries earlier, for the crime of asserting the rights of the Church over those of the King.
Even today, there are long organized journeys to supposedly sacred places, such as the City of Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain, which contains the alleged burial site of the Biblical Apostle St. James.
The voyage of the people called Pilgrims, who settled at what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620, was not really in the same category as those other pilgrimages. For one thing, these people had no intention of returning home after their journey had reached its destination. They were not seeking some known holy goal, but rather they sought to escape religious persecution in their home country.
Nevertheless, it truly was a religious impulse which inspired their migration. And one would need some such strong motivation to be that mobile in those days, because travel in general, and particularly trans-oceanic ventures, were known to be extremely hazardous.
Another incentive to mobility has been what we came to call Imperialism – the building of empires, starting with small colonies in possibly distant places. The purposes served might include exploration, trade, or missionary zeal. Most inhabited parts of the world today began as parts of somebody’s empire. This of course can be traced back through the empires of Rome and of Alexander the Great of Greece. Our Bible is full of stories of peoples conquered and occupied by others, even forcibly removed as in the Babylonian captivity, so sadly commemorated in the 137th Psalm, which begins:
“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down,
yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.”
I myself was born in the heart of the British Empire, on which people still said the sun never set. My own mobility took me far away, but I disclaim any responsibility for that sun finally setting.