In March of 1870 Jules Verne read a timetable published in the
that showed how a determined and tireless person could travel, on regularly scheduled ships and trains, around the world in eighty days. Yes, he thought, another detailed example of how technology is rapidly making the world a smaller and more familiar place. Another example of how we can—yes, even why we
—learn to understand and love all the peoples of the Earth. How to make a dramatic adventure out of it, so ordinary people could enjoy understanding? Where would the tireless determination, the need to make it within eighty days, come from? He had already imagined the eventual invention of airplanes, even interplanetary travel, but this was something here and now, something even the most skeptical could be made to see: change. How to do it?
The world of the late 1980s is a
different from the 1950s, and a
different from the early 1870s, when Jules Verne wrote the book you hold, not to mention the 1600s, when modern science began to hit its stride, or the eighth century B.C., when Homer composed his travel adventure epic,
. (The stretches of time in this list get longer as we go back because, so we think, change is much more rapid today.)
is it that is changing all that much, and faster and faster? Men of a hundred and three thousand years ago ate much the same food and drink as we, produced in basically the same way. Both understood and spoke with as richly textured a sense of human
motivation and emotion as we have today. Both had as complicated a sense of ethical and political responsibilities as we today. In brief, humans one hundred and three thousand years ago experienced the world like you and I
in most respects.
What has changed—what Jules Verne taught the world about—is technology and science, and all the changes that they have brought. Most obviously, we’ve had big changes in transportation. Homer had rough knowledge of a tiny portion of the surface of the earth and travelers’ stories of the Mediterranean and its shorelands. Shakespeare, though he couldn’t travel much faster than Homer, could hear similar stories and look at fanciful maps of much of Asia and the New World, with large unknown blanks. When Jules Verne read
most of Earth’s surface had been accurately mapped and measured, and you could, as Verne wanted to show the world, travel around the world, by regularly scheduled train and ship in eighty days. But how to show this?
The man with the tireless determination would have to be a wealthy eccentric—who else would and could undertake such a trip? (The Thomas Cook travel agency, which sponsored the first world tour two years later, took a leisurely 222 days; even in 1956, another travel agency calculated it would take fifty-eight days, using the same train and ship routes.) The English were famous throughout the world for wealthy eccentrics, gentlemen of few words and a rigid sense of honor, ready to risk all, at the gaming table or the battlefield, or for a distressed lady, with no more visible emotion than a man trying to decide whether to have another piece of toast at breakfast. Good, too, to make him English, since the British Empire covered much of the land route and maintained much of the shipping, so we won’t have to worry as much about dealing with other languages.
Phileas Fogg! That must be his name, suggesting humorous eccentricity. He will live, in his London house
and club, by a timetable even more rigid than the one for his impending trip. Since he is silent, shy, and outwardly unemotional, he’s got to have a contrasting companion, someone talkative, immature, volatile, gullible, and lovably silly. A young Frenchman! We will tell the story from his viewpoint. Through his eyes we will wonder at the eccentricity of Fogg, wonder about his hidden thoughts and emotions. Through his heart we will feel the wonder, excitement, and drama of seeing so many strange lands and peoples. Naturally, he will get into all sorts of trouble, requiring Fogg to reveal his hidden talents and emotions. Let us name him Passepartout! (Verne chose this name because in French it means, literally, “go everywhere,” while it is used idiomatically to mean passport or master key. Passepartout is the key that opens up Phileas Fogg—and the world of 1870.)
But what will give Phileas Fogg a reason for
to meet his rigid deadline, for maintaining it in the face of the desperate scrapes we’ll put him in, for dashing ever on through fascinatingly different peoples and places? Who will throw difficulties in his path? What unexpected and instructive scientific fact will raise him from final disaster to final triumph?
You are about to find out.
Incidentally, if you want to read this the way the world first did in 1872, you should read one chapter or so a day, for that was the way it was issued in the French newspaper
, with newspapermen telegraphing the entire episode each day to London and New York via newly laid Atlantic cables, so that English and American newspaper readers could keep pace with the French. That is why most chapters end with a cliffhanger, the next chapter beginning with a brief recaptiulation, just like some TV sitcoms and soaps. I doubt, however, that you will be able to restrict yourself to the chapter-a-day timetable.
The daily unfolding of the story in newspapers excited
such a wide and eager reading public that Verne was offered large sums of money by transportation companies to have Fogg travel by their train or ship, with the bidding reaching tens of thousands of dollars by the transatlantic lines for the final stage of the trip. Verne turned them down. He had little cause to regret this later, for the French book version sold 100,000 copies, with similar results in other languages, and the stage production particularly made him a millionaire.
MR. PHILEAS FOGG LIVED, IN 1872, AT No. 7, SAVILLE Row, Burlirigton Gardens, the house in which Sheridan died in 1814. He was one of the most noticeable members of the Reform Club, though he seemed always to avoid attracting attention; an enigmatical personage, about whom little was known, except that he was a polished man of the world. People said that he resembled Byron,—at least that his head was Byronic; but he was a bearded, tranquil Byron, who might live on a thousand years without growing old.
Certainly an Englishman it was more doubtful whether Phileas Fogg was a Londoner. He was never seen on ’Change, nor at the Bank, nor in the counting-rooms of the “City;” no ships ever came into London docks of which he was the owner; he had no public employment; he had never been entered at any of the Inns of Court, either at the Temple, or Lincoln’s Inn, or Gray’s Inn; nor had his voice ever resounded in the Court of Chancery, or in the Exchequer, or the Queen’s Bench, or the Ecclesiastical Courts. He certainly was not a manufacturer; nor was he a merchant or a gentleman farmer. His name was strange to the scientific and learned societies, and he never was known to take part in the sage deliberations of the Royal Institution or the London Institution, the Artisan’s Association or the Institution of Arts and Sciences. He belonged, in fact, to none of the numerous societies which swarm in the English capital, from the Harmonic to that of the Entomologists, founded mainly for the purpose of abolishing pernicious insects.
Phileas Fogg was a member of the Reform, and that was all.
The way in which he got admission to this exclusive club was simple enough.
He was recommended by the Barings, with whom he had an open credit. His checks were regularly paid at sight from his account current, which was always flush.
Was Phileas Fogg rich? Undoubtedly. But those who knew him best could not imagine how he had made his fortune, and Mr. Fogg was the last person to whom to apply for the information. He was not lavish, nor, on the contrary, avaricious; for whenever he knew that money was needed for a noble, useful, or benevolent purpose, he supplied it quickly, and sometimes anonymously. He was, in short, the least communicative of men. He talked very little, and seemed all the more mysterious for his taciturn manner. His daily habits were quite open to observation; but whatever he did was so exactly the same thing that he had always done before, that the wits of the curious were fairly puzzled.
Had he travelled? It was likely, for no one seemed to know the world more familiarly; there was no spot so secluded that he did not appear to have an intimate acquaintance with it. He often corrected, with a few clear words, the thousand conjectures advanced by members of the club as to lost and unheard-of travellers, pointing out the true probabilities, and seeming as if gifted with a sort of second sight, so often did events justify his predictions. He must have travelled everywhere, at least in the spirit.
It was at least certain that Phileas Fogg had not absented himself from London for many years. Those who were honoured by a better acquaintance with him than the rest, declared that nobody could pretend to have ever seen him anywhere else. His sole pastimes were reading the papers and playing whist. He often won at this game, which, as a silent one, harmonized with his nature; but
his winnings never went into his purse, being reserved as a fund for his charities. Mr. Fogg played, not to win, but for the sake of playing. The game was in his eyes a contest, a struggle with a difficulty, yet a motionless, unwearying struggle, congenial to his tastes.
Phileas Fogg was not known to have either wife or children, which may happen to the most honest people; either relatives or near friends, which is certainly more unusual. He lived alone in his house in Saville Row, whither none penetrated. A single domestic sufficed to serve him. He breakfasted and dined at the club, at hours mathematically fixed, in the same room, at the same table, never taking his meals with other members, much less bringing a guest with him; and went home at exactly midnight, only to retire at once to bed. He never used the cosy chambers which the Reform provides for its favoured members. He passed ten hours out of the twenty-four in Saville Row, either in sleeping or making his toilet. When he chose to take a walk, it was with a regular step in the entrance hall with its mosaic flooring, or in the circular gallery with its dome supported by twenty red porphyry Ionic columns, and illumined by blue painted windows. When he breakfasted or dined, all the resources of the club—its kitchens and pantries, its buttery and dairy—aided to crowd his table with their most succulent stores; he was served by the gravest waiters, in dress coats, and shoes with swan-skin soles, who proffered the viands in special porcelain, and on the finest linen; club decanters, of a lost mould, contained his sherry, his port, and his cinnamon-spiced claret; while his beverages were refreshingly cooled with ice, brought at great cost from the American lakes.
If to live in this style is to be eccentric, it must be confessed that there is something good in eccentricity!
The mansion in Saville Row, though not sumptuous, was exceedingly comfortable. The habits of its occupant were such as to demand but little from the sole domestic;
but Phileas Fogg required him to be almost superhumanly prompt and regular. On this very 2nd of October he had dismissed James Forster, because that luckless youth had brought him shaving-water at eighty-four degrees Fahrenheit instead of eighty-six; and he was awaiting his successor, who was due at the house between eleven and half-past.
Phileas Fogg was seated squarely in his arm-chair, his feet close together like those of a grenadier on parade, his hands resting on his knees, his body straight, his head erect; he was steadily watching a complicated clock which indicated the hours, the minutes, the seconds, the days, the months, and the years. At exactly half-past eleven Mr. Fogg would, according to his daily habit, quit Saville Row, and repair to the Reform.
A rap at this moment sounded on the door of the cosy apartment where Phileas Fogg was seated, and James Forster, the dismissed servant, appeared.
“The new servant,” said he.
A young man of thirty advanced and bowed.
“You are a Frenchman, I believe,” asked Phileas Fogg, “and your name is John?”
“Jean, if monsieur pleases,” replied the new-comer, “Jean Passepartout, a surname which has clung to me because I have a natural aptness for going out of one business into another. I believe I’m honest, monsieur, but, to be outspoken, I’ve had several trades. I’ve been an itinerant singer, a circus-rider, when I used to vault like Leotard, and dance on a rope like Blondin. Then I got to be a professor of gymnastics, so as to make better use of my talents; and then I was a sergeant fireman at Paris, and assisted at many a big fire. But I quitted France five years ago, and, wishing to taste the sweets of domestic life, took service as a valet here in England. Finding myself out of place, and hearing that Monsieur Phileas Fogg was the most exact and settled gentleman in the United Kingdom, I have come to monsieur in hope of
living with him a tranquil life, and forgetting even the name of Passepartout.”
“Passepartout suits me,” responded Mr. Fogg. “You are well recommended to me; I hear a good report of you. You know my conditions?”
“Good. What time is it?”
“Twenty-two minutes after eleven,” returned Passepartout, drawing an enormous silver watch from the depths of his pocket.
“You are too slow,” said Mr. Fogg.
“Pardon me, monsieur, it is impossible—”
“You are four minutes too slow. No matter; it’s enough to mention the error. Now from this moment, twenty-nine minutes after eleven, a.m., this Wednesday, October 2nd, you are in my service.”
Phileas Fogg got up, took his hat in his left hand, put it on his head with an automatic motion, and went off without a word.
Passepartout heard the street door shut once; it was his new master going out. He heard it shut again; it was his predecessor, James Forster, departing in his turn. Passepartout remained alone in the house in Saville Row.