the rest we knew by books

“Nil ego praetulerim jucundo sanus amico.”

On the night of the 1st of August 1898, two cloaked horsemen might have been seen on the platform of the Parkeston Quay Station, speaking in commanding tones to the knaves and varlets who pressed obsequiously round them, and exhorting these rapscallions, under peril of their ears, to see the iron steeds safe on board the boat for Rotterdam. The taller of the two, who twists half a dozen links from the heavy gold chain round his neck, and casts them among the rabble — forgive me, dear reader ; this strain is above me : I took them out of my righthand pocket, and they were only coppers ; but the porters, if not slavishly deferential, were at least civil and handy, and our machines were soon on board. Let me introduce you now to my travelling companion and old college friend.

Henry Schultz has nothing German about him but his name (and on this occasion, I must add, his straw hat). An accomplished mathematician, he is also familiar with the noblest poets, orators, and historians of antiquity, and more especially with such portions of them as are commonly set for a Pass Degree at either university. French he will talk you classically, if not fluently ; but he never could bend his tongue to the rough Teutonic idiom, any more than Mrs Battle could condescend to the ignoble phraseology of cribbage. A cricketer of fame (was not I myself present some ten years ago, when a public-school boy at the Cologne table d’hôte asked him whether he was the Schultz, and quite forgot the rest of his ice pudding on receiving an affirmative answer !) ; a golfer of almost equal proficiency ; a painfully energetic cyclist, as in due time you shall see— these are but a few of his superficial accomplishments, for I make no attempt here to catalogue his genuine virtues. You will understand now why I chose this motto for my first chapter ; for you doubtless remember, dear reader, that it is with reference to his own little tour with Virgil and Maecenas that Horace tells us he knows nothing like an old friend — a sentiment which will be heartily echoed by all who have tried travelling in the same way—unconditionally by the single, and by the married with all proper marital reservations.

Our plan this time is ambitious—no less than to trace and retrace the whole course of the Rhine within the only eighteen clear days we have at our disposal. We knew it must needs be a great rush, but the idea had fascinated us ; we felt that even this dizzy succession of changing scenes would have a charm of its own, and that thus, in some ways, we should learn more of the characteristics and contrasts of land and people by a plan which enabled us to see it all, as it were, at one sweeping glance. Nearly all of the route we had already seen in detail at other times ; the rest we knew by books ; and in these eighteen days we hoped rapidly to skim the cream of it all. That in this we succeeded to our own complete satisfaction, is my best excuse for publishing an account of our tour as a guide for future tourists. We ourselves spent eighteen days of bliss, only so far alloyed as to give it the necessary human consistency. Yet, among one’s later memories of even the happiest holiday, few things stand out in brighter colours than those first moments of anticipation ; and few men ever started with more confident hopes of enjoyment than we, as the ship ploughed her way through the tranquil starlit sea ; and we sat recalling memories of former holidays until prudence warned us to go below and snatch that somewhat unquiet sleep, which is the most that mortals dare hope for, even on the most unruffled passage.

(George Gordon Coulton: Father Rhine, Chapter I, Edinburgh 1898)


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