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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/57

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53
THE RULE OF THE ROAD

Thus not only right-handedness in the vast majority of people, but with it right-eyedness, etc., firmly fixed and differentiated, comes down to the beginnings of civilization. But this is far from implying that in meeting, either two or thousands of people invariably passed each other to the right. This is proved by the classical instance given by Dante in the eighteenth Canto of the Inferno in these words—translation of Longfellow:

Even as the Romans, for the mighty host,
The year of Jubilee, upon the bridge,
Have chosen a mode to pass the people over;
For all upon one side upon the Castle
Their faces have, and go unto St. Peter's;
On the other side they go unto the mountain.

Not only was the Papal order necessary to make the crowd keep to the right in coming and going, but a barrier was erected along the middle of the bridge so that the crowd could not interfere with one another. Further particulars are given in Longfellow's note to the passage, and by other commentators of Dante. In our own times the custom of foot-passengers is more firmly established, "As was well illustrated recently in the Paris Exhibition in the case of the two large wooden bridges erected opposite the Trocadero to convey foot-passengers over the roadway. Here, although for what reason was not apparent, the authorities commanded the people to pass over the bridges to the left, instead of, as in the case of other bridges in the same exhibition, to the right. After crossing the bridges the majority of the crowd would be seen bearing to the right, causing endless pushing in crowded days." But that many, especially women and children, are to-day reckless of the rule, is illustrated in the crowded side-walks of American cities.

Whenever, and that was generally, the custom and rule of orderly government was established by military usage, the ancient and persistent habit of passing to the right arose naturally from the necessity of keeping the enemy on the left side. This was the shielded side and gave combatants greater safety, as well as insured greater freedom and efficiency for the aggressive right arm and hand.

The crux of the difficulty in explaining divergent usage is encountered by the strange seeming anomaly of English practise. Wherever English usage obtains, the carriages and horsemen pass to the left, although foot-passengers pass to the right. That the foot-passengers keep to the right is natural, because it was derived from ages of military precedent. But another and overlooked fact doubtless contributed to prevent the English walkers from adopting the wagoner's rule of passing to the left. This was the growth of town and of city life. All urban life was conditioned by narrow streets, so narrow