Alfredo Keil (1850-1907)
Paisagem. Entardecer nos Vales, 1898
© IMC/DDF aqui
These interesting travels of mine shall be a masterpiece, erudite, sparkling with new ideas, something worthy of our century. I need to inform the reader of this, so that he may be forewarned and not think that they are just another batch of these fashionable scribblings entitled Travel Notes or something similar, which weary the printing presses of Europe without the slightest benefit for science or for the advancement of the species.
First of all my book is a symbol ... a myth, a Greek word, and a Germanic fashion, that is put into everything nowadays and used to explain everything that... can't be explained.
It is a myth because... because... Without further ado I shall lift the veil and state openly to my benevolent reader the profound idea that is concealed beneath this frivolous appearance of a brief trip seemingly taken in play, while all the time it is a serious, sober, thoughtful business like a new tome from the Leipzig fair, not one of your penny dreadfuls from the boulevards of Paris.
Some years ago there was a deep, abstruse philosopher from over the Rhine who wrote a work on the march of civilization, of the intellect - what we might call, to be better understood, Progress. He discovered that there are two principles in the world: spiritualism, which marches on heedless of the material, earthy side of this life, eyes fixed on its great, abstract theories, a stiff, spare, hard, inflexible belief which can be suitably embodied, symbolized by the famous myth of the Knight of La Mancha, Don Quixote; and materialism, which, taking not the slightest heed of these theories, in which it does not believe and whose impossible applications it declares to be Utopias each and every one, can be properly represented by the rotund and well-fed person of our old friend Sancho Panza.
But, as in witty Cervantes's story, these two completely opposed and contradictory principles nevertheless are always together, the one some way behind, the other going on ahead, often getting in each other's way, rarely helping one another, but always progressing.
And this is what is possible for human progress.
And here is the chronicle of the past, the history of the present, the programme for the future.
Our present-day world is a vast Barataria governed by King Sancho.
Don Quixote's turn will be next.
Common sense shall come with the millennium: the kingdom of the children of God! It is guaranteed in the divine promises... like the constitution promised by the King of Prussia; and he has not failed yet, because - because the contract has no fixed date: he promised, but he did not say for when.
Now this journey of mine up the Tagus symbolizes the march of our social progress: I hope the reader has understood this by now. I shall be careful to remind him from time to time, for I very much fear he will forget.
in Travels in My Homeland (II) p.27-28
Translated from the Portuguese by John M. Parker
© Peter Owen Publishers/UNESCO collection of Representative Works