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- Europe Revised - 1/47 -
Europe Revised by Irvin S. Cobb
To My Small Daughter
Who bade me shed a tear at the tomb of Napoleon, which I was very glad to do, because when I got there my feet certainly were hurting me.
The picture on page 81 purporting to show the undersigned leaping head first into a German feather-bed does the undersigned a cruel injustice. He has a prettier figure than that--oh, oh, much prettier!
The reader is earnestly entreated not to look at the picture on page 81. It is the only blot on the McCutcheon of this book.
We Are Going Away From Here
Foreword.--It has always seemed to me that the principal drawback about the average guidebook is that it is over-freighted with facts. Guidebooks heretofore have made a specialty of facts--have abounded in them; facts to be found on every page and in every paragraph. Reading such a work, you imagine that the besotted author said to himself, "I will just naturally fill this thing chock-full of facts"--and then went and did so to the extent of a prolonged debauch.
Now personally I would be the last one in the world to decry facts as such. In the abstract I have the highest opinion of them. But facts, as someone has said, are stubborn things; and stubborn things, like stubborn people, are frequently tiresome. So it occurred to me that possibly there might be room for a guidebook on foreign travel which would not have a single indubitable fact concealed anywhere about its person. I have even dared to hope there might be an actual demand on the part of the general public for such a guidebook. I shall endeavor to meet that desire--if it exists.
While we are on the subject I wish to say there is probably not a statement made by me here or hereafter which cannot readily be controverted. Communications from parties desiring to controvert this or that assertion will be considered in the order received. The line forms on the left and parties will kindly avoid crowding. Triflers and professional controverters save stamps.
With these few introductory remarks we now proceed to the first subject, which is The Sea: Its Habits and Peculiarities, and the Quaint Creatures Found upon Its Bosom.
From the very start of this expedition to Europe I labored under a misapprehension. Everybody told me that as soon as I had got my sea legs I would begin to love the sea with a vast and passionate love. As a matter of fact I experienced no trouble whatever in getting my sea legs. They were my regular legs, the same ones I use on land. It was my sea stomach that caused all the bother. First I was afraid I should not get it, and that worried me no little. Then I got it and was regretful. However, that detail will come up later in a more suitable place. I am concerned now with the departure.
Somewhere forward a bugle blares; somewhere rearward a bell jangles. On the deck overhead is a scurry of feet. In the mysterious bowels of the ship a mighty mechanism opens its metal mouth and speaks out briskly. Later it will talk on steadily, with a measured and a regular voice; but now it is heard frequently, yet intermittently, like the click of a blind man's cane. Beneath your feet the ship, which has seemed until this moment as solid as a rock, stirs the least little bit, as though it had waked up. And now a shiver runs all through it and you are reminded of that passage from Pygmalion and Galatea where Pygmalion says with such feeling:
She starts; she moves; she seems to feel the thrill of life along her keel.
You are under way. You are finally committed to the great adventure. The necessary good-bys have already been said. Those who in the goodness of their hearts came to see you off have departed for shore, leaving sundry suitable and unsuitable gifts behind. You have examined your stateroom, with its hot and cold decorations, its running stewardess, its all-night throb service, and its windows overlooking the Hudson--a stateroom that seemed so large and commodious until you put one small submissive steamer trunk and two scared valises in it. You are tired, and yon white bed, with the high mudguards on it, looks mighty good to you; but you feel that you must go on deck to wave a fond farewell to the land you love and the friends you are leaving behind.
You fight your way to the open through companionways full of frenzied persons who are apparently trying to travel in every direction at once. On the deck the illusion persists that it is the dock that is moving and the ship that is standing still. All about you your fellow passengers crowd the rails, waving and shouting messages to the people on the dock; the people on the dock wave back and shout answers. About every other person is begging somebody to tell auntie to be sure to write. You gather that auntie will be expected to write weekly, if not oftener.
As the slice of dark water between boat and dock widens, those who are left behind begin running toward the pierhead in such numbers that each wide, bright-lit door-opening in turn suggests a flittering section of a moving-picture film. The only perfectly calm person in sight is a gorgeous, gold-laced creature standing on the outermost gunwale of the dock, wearing the kind of uniform that a rear admiral of the Swiss navy would wear--if the Swiss had any navy--and holding a speaking trumpet in his hand. This person is not excited, for he sends thirty-odd-thousand-ton ships off to Europe at frequent intervals, and so he is impressively and importantly blase about it; but everybody else is excited. You find yourself rather that way. You wave at persons you know and then at persons you do not know.
You continue to wave until the man alongside you, who has spent years of his life learning to imitate a siren whistle with his face, suddenly twines his hands about his mouth and lets go a terrific blast right in your ear. Something seems to warn you that you are not going to care for this man.
The pier, ceasing to be a long, outstretched finger, seems to fold back into itself, knuckle-fashion, and presently is but a part of the oddly foreshortened shoreline, distinguishable only by the black dot of watchers clustered under a battery of lights, like a swarm of hiving bees. Out in midstream the tugs, which have been convoying the ship, let go of her and scuttle off, one in this direction and one in that, like a brace of teal ducks getting out of a walrus' way.
Almost imperceptibly her nose straightens down the river and soon on the starboard quarter--how quickly one picks up these nautical terms!--looming through the harbor mists, you behold the statue of Miss Liberty, in her popular specialty of enlightening the world. So you go below and turn in. Anyway, that is what I did; for certain of the larger ships of the Cunard line sail at midnight or even later, and this was such a ship.
For some hours I lay awake, while above me and below me and all about me the boat settled down to her ordained ship's job, and began drawing the long, soothing snores that for five days and nights she was to continue drawing without cessation. There were so many things to think over. I tried to remember all the authoritative and conflicting advice that hadbeen offered to me by traveled friends and well-wishers.
Let's see, now: On shipboard I was to wear only light clothes, because nobody ever caught cold at sea. I was to wear the heaviest clothes I had, because the landlubber always caught cold at sea. I was to tip only those who served me. I was to tip all hands in moderation, whether they served me or not. If I felt squeamish I was to do the following things: Eat something. Quit eating. Drink something. Quit drinking. Stay on deck. Go below and lie perfectly flat. Seek company. Avoid same. Give it up. Keep it down.
There was but one point on which all of them were agreed. On no account should I miss Naples; I must see Naples if I did not see another solitary thing in Europe. Well, I did both--I saw Naples; and now I should not miss Naples if I never saw it again, and I do not think I shall. As regards the other suggestions these friends of mine gave me, I learned in time that all of them were right and all of them were wrong.
For example, there was the matter of a correct traveling costume. Between seasons on the Atlantic one wears what best pleases one. One sees at the same time women in furs and summer boys in white ducks. Tweed-enshrouded Englishmen and linen-clad American girls promenade together, giving to the decks that pleasing air of variety and individuality of apparel only to be found in southern California during the winter, and in those orthodox pictures in the book of Robinson Crusoe, where Robinson is depicted as completely wrapped up in goatskins, while Man Friday is pirouetting round as nude as a raw oyster and both of them are perfectly comfortable. I used to wonder how Robinson and Friday did it. Since taking an ocean trip I understand perfectly. I could do it myself now.
There certainly were a lot of things to think over. I do not recall now exactly the moment when I ceased thinking them over. A blank that was measurable by hours ensued. I woke from a dream about a scrambled egg, in which I was the egg, to find that morning had arrived and the ship was behaving naughtily.
Here was a ship almost as long as Main Street is back home, and six stories high, with an English basement; with restaurants and elevators and retail stores in her; and she was as broad as a courthouse; and while lying at the dock she had appeared to be about the most solid and dependable thing in creation--and yet in
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