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Freya Stark

  • To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasant sensations in the world. You are surrounded by adventure. You have no idea what is in store for you, but you will, if you are wise and know the art of travel, let yourself go on the stream of the unknown and accept whatever comes in the spirit in which the gods may offer it.

  • The tourist travels in his own atmosphere like a snail in his shell and stands, as it were, on his own perambulating doorstep to look at the continents of the world. But if you discard all this, and sally forth with a leisurely and blank mind, there is no knowing what may not happen to you.

  • It is not badness, it is the absence of goodness, which, in Art as in Life, is so depressing.

  • This is one of the charms of the desert, that removing as it does nearly all the accessories of life, we see the thin thread of necessities on which our human existence is suspended ...

  • Like a human being, the mountain is a composite creature, only to be known after many a view from many a different point, and repaying this loving study, if it is anything of a mountain at all, by a gradual revelation of personality, an increase of significance ...

  • Love, like broken porcelain, should be wept over and buried, for nothing but a miracle will resuscitate it: but who in this world has not for some wild moments thought to recall the irrecoverable with words?

  • The great and almost only comfort about being a woman is that one can always pretend to be more stupid than one is and no one is surprised.

  • The Persian's mind, like his illuminated manuscripts, does not deal in perspective: two thousand years, if he happens to know anything about them, are as exciting as the day before yesterday ...

  • Good days are to be gathered like sunshine in grapes, to be trodden and bottled into wine and kept for age to sip at ease beside his fire. If the traveller has vintaged well, he need trouble to wander no longer; the ruby moments glow in his glass at will.

  • The camel carries on his dreary circular task with his usual slow and pompous step and head poised superciliously, as if it were a ritual affair above the comprehension of the vulgar; and no doubt he comforts himself for the dullness of life by a sense of virtue, like many other formalists beside him.

  • Your real progressives are never fair: they are never sufficiently neutral.

    • Freya Stark,
    • "Ideas and the Mandate," in Time and Tide ()
  • There are, I sometimes think, only two sorts of people in this world — the settled and the nomad — and there is a natural antipathy between them, whatever the land to which they may belong.

  • The camel is an ugly animal, seen from above. Its shoulders slope formless like a sack, its silly little ears and fluff of bleached curls behind them have a respectable, boarding-house look, like some faded neatness that dresses for propriety but never dressed for love.

  • The perpetual charm of Arabia is that the traveler finds his level there simply as a human being; the people's directness, deadly to the sentimental or pedantic, likes the less complicated virtues ...

  • I do think we should be provided with a new body about the age of thirty or so when we have learnt to attend to it with consideration.

  • Eight of them [camels] came padding past our door at dusk as we came up the steps; rolling along like waves in the half light. They have a very soft footfall, as if they were treading on dust.

  • ... freshness trembles beneath the surface of Everyday, a joy perpetual to all who catch its opal lights beneath the dust of habit.

  • I do dislike people with Moral Aims. Everyone asks me why I learn Arabic, and when I say I just like it, they looked shocked and incredulous.

  • The language of salesmanship was no doubt born with the first fashions in fig leaves in the garden of Eden. A strange concept has grown around it: if something is to be sold, inaccuracy is not immoral. Hence the art of advertisement — untruthfulness combined with repetition.

  • Manners indeed are like the cypher in arithmetic — they may not be much in themselves, but they are capable of adding a great deal to the value of everything else.

  • Tyre, on her headland, listens to the waves. Her columns are lost or carried away or lie in the sea where they fell broken, and the water, clearer than glass, lisps over them or under, singing an old song learned in the mornings of Time ... There is nothing left in Tyre except this forgetfulness, a life of little things quieter than silence, an essence of oblivion woven with the sun and sea.

  • Who dares to be intellectual in the presence of death?

  • Accuracy is the basis of style. Words dress our thoughts and should fit; and should fit not only in their utterances, but in their implications, their sequences, and their silences, just as in architecture the empty spaces are as important as those that are filled.

  • ... an absolute condition of all successful living, whether for an individual or a nation, is the acceptance of death.

  • ... monotony is not to be worshipped as a virtue; nor the marriage bed treated as a coffin for security rather than a couch from which to rise refreshed.

  • Tolerance cannot afford to have anything to do with the fallacy that evil may convert itself to good.

  • The artist's business is to take sorrow when it comes. The depth and capacity of his reception is the measure of his art; and when he turns his back on his own suffering, he denies the very laws of his being and closes the door on everything that can ever make him great.

  • Constancy, far from being a virtue, seems often to be the besetting sin of the human race, daughter of laziness and self-sufficiency, sister of sleep, the cause of most wars and practically all persecutions.

  • All greatness in style begins, I imagine, with such respect, deep and passionate enough to produce a humility which will not assert itself at the expense even of inanimate things: out of which submissiveness a desire to serve is born, in disinterested accuracy toward the object, whatever it may be.

  • Tidiness ... makes life easier and more agreeable, does harm to no one and actually saves time and trouble to the person who practices it: there must be an ominous flaw to explain why millions of generations continue to reject it.

    • Freya Stark,
    • "Tidiness," in Time and Tide ()
  • The greatest of mythologies divided its gods into creators, preservers and destroyers. Tidiness obviously belongs to the second category, which mitigates the terrific impact of the other two.

    • Freya Stark,
    • "Tidiness," in Time and Tide ()
  • Nearly all trouble comes from mis-timing ...

  • ... the thwarting of the instinct to love is the root of all sorrow and not sex only but divinity itself is insulted when it is repressed.

  • All the feeling which my father could not put into words was in his hand — any dog, child or horse would recognize the kindness of it.

  • She had a genius for forgetting her own mistakes as well as other people's, which is in its way a form of generosity.

  • I first noticed how the sound of water is like the talk of human voices, and would sometimes wake in the night and listen, thinking that a crowd of people were coming through the woods.

  • For every victory of man over man has in itself a taste of defeat, a flavor of death; there is no essential difference between the various human groups, creatures whose bones and brains and members are the same; and every damage we do there is a form of mutilation, as if the fingers of the left hand were to be cut off by the right; there is no pleasure in it, nor any deep sense of achievement or of peace.

    • Freya Stark,
    • "Travel for Solitude," in The Spectator ()
  • Conventions are like coins, an easy way of dealing with the commerce of relations.

  • ... it is a lean employment of time to brood on what might have happened along some other turning.

  • I suspect anyone self-satisfied enough to refuse lawful pleasures: we are not sufficiently rich in our separate resources to reject the graces of the universe when offered ...

  • I dislike being an anvil for the hammering out of other people's virtues.

  • All our acts have sacramental possibilities ...

    • Freya Stark,
    • "Greed," in Time and Tide ()
  • Absence is one of the most useful ingredients of family life, and to dose it rightly is an art like any other.

  • One is apt to think of people's affection as a fixed quantity, instead of a sort of moving sea with tide always going out or coming in but still fundamentally there.

  • From love one can only escape at the price of life itself; and no lessening of sorrow is worth exile from that stream of all things human and divine.

  • It seems to me that the only thing for a pacifist to do is to find a substitute for war: mountains and seafaring are the only ones I know. But it must be something sufficiently serious not to be a game and sufficiently dangerous to exercise those virtues which otherwise get no chance.

  • ... not wholly consciously, but not quite unconsciously, as far as I can remember, I determined to fashion my future as a sculptor his marble, and there was in it the same mixture of foresight and the unknown. The thing in the mind of the artist takes its way and imposes its form as it wakens under his hand. And so with life.

  • ... Christmas, in fact, is not an external event at all, but a piece of one's home that one carries in one's heart: like a nursery story, its validity rests on exact repetition, so that it comes around every time as the evocation of one's whole life and particularly of the most distant bits of it in childhood.

    • Freya Stark,
    • "The Wise Men," in Time and Tide ()
  • Once divested of missionary virus, the cult of our gods gives no offence. It would be a peaceful age if this were recognized, and religion, Christian, communist or any other, were to rely on practice and not on conversion for her growth.

  • ... every frontier is doomed to produce an opposition beyond it. Nothing short of the universal can build the unfenced peace.

  • ... words are but drops pressed out of the lives of those who lived them.

  • The world has become too full of many things, an overfurnished room.

  • It is better to be passionate than to be tolerant at the expense of one's soul.

  • A pen and a notebook and a reasonable amount of discrimination will change a journey from a mere annual into a perennial, its pleasures and pains renewable at will.

    • Freya Stark,
    • "On Traveling With a Notebook," in The Cornhill Magazine ()
  • ... except in the eyes of a few fanatics (untrustworthy as all lovers) an unmitigated expanse of water is dull even when blue: not in a small boat, where you are part of the winds and currents and tides and are allowed to hold the tiller now and then; but from those decks which the shipping companies with subconscious insight try to make as suburban as possible so that the impact of the monster outside may be lessened, and where the unrecognized boredom is so deep that a wispy smear of smoke on the horizon will queue up a crowd as if for a Valkyrie passing.

    • Freya Stark,
    • "My Worst Journey: 1943," in The Geographical Magazine ()
  • The past is our treasure. Its works, whether we know them or not, flourish in our lives with whatever strength they had. From it we draw provision for our journey, the collected wisdom whose harvests are all ours to reap and carry with us, though we may never live again in the fields that grew them.

  • There can be no happiness if the things we believe in are different from the things we do.

  • Generalizations, one is told, are dangerous. So is life, for that matter, and it is built up on generalization — from the earliest effort of the adventurer who dared to eat a second berry because the first had not killed him.

  • We were not for underestimating magic — a life-conductor like the sap between the tree-stem and the bark. We know that it keeps dullness out of religion and poetry. It is probable that without it we might die.

  • Few — very few — of our attainments are so profound that they are valid for always; even if they are so, they need adjustment, a straightening here, a loosening there, like an old garment to be fitted to the body ...

  • Things good in themselves ... perfectly valid in the integrity of their origins, become fetters if they cannot alter.

  • ... the middle class produces civilization because it is the only class constantly trained to come to a conclusion, poised as it is between the depth and height. It is not rich enough to have everything, nor poor enough to have nothing — and has to choose: to choose between a succulent table and a fine library, between travel and a flat in town, between a car and a new baby, or a fur coat and a ball dress ... its life therefore is one long training of the judgment and the will. This by itself need not manufacture greatness; but it is the soil in which it is possible to make it grow. And for this reason, when the rich become too rich and the poor too poor, and fewer and fewer people live under the constant discipline of their decisions, the age of greatness withers. To produce the lifelong stimulus of choice both in thought and action should be the aim of all education ...

  • The monstrosity of bureaucracy, I thought: always the pint-pot judging the gallon, the scribe's, the door-keeper's world. Always the stupidity of people who feel certain about things they never try to find out. A world that educates people to be ignorant — that is what this world of ours is ...

  • In one form or another, conscious or unconscious, we have all become propagandists; integrity alone can keep us truthful.

  • The most ominous of fallacies — the belief that things can be kept static by inaction.

  • Life, to be happy at all, must be in its way a sacrament, and it is a failure in religion to divorce it from the holy acts of everyday, of ordinary human existence.

  • I feel like a divorced wife once my book is published and has left me, and hate to be brought back into intimate contact!

  • ... every word calls up far more of a picture than its actual meaning is supposed to do, and the writer has to deal with all these silent associations as well as with the uttered significance.

    • Freya Stark,
    • "Saying What One Means," in The Cornhill Magazine ()
  • The essence of travel is diffuse. It is never there on the spot as it were, but always beyond: its symbol is the horizon, and its interest always lies over that edge in the unseen.

    • Freya Stark,
    • "The Travel Essay," in The Cornhill Magazine ()
  • A part of all art is to make silence speak. The things left out in painting, the note withheld in music, the void in architecture — all are as necessary and as active as the utterance itself.

    • Freya Stark,
    • "On Silence," in The Cornhill Magazine ()
  • Whatever the advantages of the machine may be — and they are many — the very ease of its use is bound to make away with intimacy — the intercourse of human beings, of animals, or of that which we still think of as the natural world.

    • Freya Stark,
    • "Passing Fashions," in Homes and Gardens ()
  • ... revolution is man's normal activity, and if he is wise he will grade it slowly so that it may be almost imperceptible — otherwise it will jerk in fits and starts and cause discomfort ...

    • Freya Stark,
    • "Time," The Arch of the Zodiac ()
  • ... the main necessity on both sides of a revolution is kindness, which makes possible the most surprising things. To treat one's neighbor as oneself is the fundamental maxim for revolution.

    • Freya Stark,
    • "Time," The Arch of the Zodiac ()
  • This is excellence — the following of anything for its own sake and with its own integrity ...

    • Freya Stark,
    • "Decadence, or the Bed of Procrustes," The Arch of the Zodiac ()
  • ... words are the only arteries of thought our poor human body possesses ...

    • Freya Stark,
    • "Decadence, or the Bed of Procrustes," The Arch of the Zodiac ()
  • Style is something peculiar to one person; it expresses one personality and one only; it cannot be shared.

    • Freya Stark,
    • "A Note on Style," The Arch of the Zodiac ()
  • Fair and unfair are among the most influential words in English and must be delicately used.

  • ... the true fruit of travel is perhaps the feeling of being nearly everywhere at home ...

  • ... youth looks at its world and age looks through it; youth must get busy on problems whose outlines stand single and strenuous before it, while age can, with luck, achieve a cosmic private harmony unsuited for action as a rule.

  • ... I cannot think a civilization worth having that does not encourage and enable its subjects to spend something, not extorted by governments but freely given to keep wretchedness at least from the streets they walk through day by day.

  • ... there are few things that can reconcile us fully to our parting with a world of which the longest life can see so little and whose beauties have so extraordinary a variety.

  • ... I think that the worst unpleasantness of age is not its final fact ... but the tediousness of preparation, the accumulating number of defeats.

  • I have long come to believe that, more than any other destruction, our word-recklessness is endangering the future of us all.

  • ... advertisement ... has brought our disregard for truth into the open without even a figleaf to cover it.

  • What I find trying in a country which you do not understand and where you cannot speak, is that you can never be yourself.

    • Freya Stark,
    • 1928, in Caroline Moorehead, ed., Over the Rim of the World: Freya Stark Selected Letters ()
  • Curiosity is the one thing invincible in Nature.

    • Freya Stark,
    • 1940, in Caroline Moorehead, ed., Over the Rim of the World: Freya Stark Selected Letters ()
  • I can't get over the exciting beauty of New York — the pencil buildings so high and far that the blueness of the sky floats about them; the feeling that one's taxis, and shopping, all go on in the deep canyon-beds of natural erosions rather than in the excrescences of human builders.

    • Freya Stark,
    • 1943, in Caroline Moorehead, ed., Over the Rim of the World: Freya Stark Selected Letters ()
  • This is a monstrous country. ... Everything in life or death is provided for you, as long as you are contented to have it exactly like everybody else. ... One ought not to make sweeping statements about countries one doesn't know — but a people that prides itself on monotony deserves it.

    • Freya Stark,
    • 1944, in Caroline Moorehead, ed., Over the Rim of the World: Freya Stark Selected Letters ()
  • ... I want to be one of those people who are always to be found at home, nice restful people whom everybody likes because they give a feeling of permanence to this rushing world.

    • Freya Stark,
    • 1945, in Caroline Moorehead, ed., Over the Rim of the World: Freya Stark Selected Letters ()
  • ... it is a matter of civilizing everyone or not being civilized at all: the decay has always come from a partial civilization.

    • Freya Stark,
    • 1945, in Caroline Moorehead, ed., Over the Rim of the World: Freya Stark Selected Letters ()
  • It was not my sins that I regretted at that time; but rather the many things undone — even those indiscretions which one might have committed and had not.

Freya Stark, French-born English travel writer, photographer

(1893 - 1993)

Full name: Dame Freya Madeline Stark.