Europe in Good Repair

— Did you find Europe old ? Then thank your good angel that led you blindfolded through a land sprinkled with guidebooks and vergers, overrun by tourists, and given over to the amenities of travel.

Cologne cathedral was my first recognized disappointment. We reached it by way of Antwerp and Aix la Chapelle. Rubens’s florid tomb and Charlemagne’s uncomfortable coronation chair had, it is true, made me vaguely uneasy. But it was not until I saw Cologne cathedral that I knew to a certainty that I was disappointed. There it stood in all its beauty, immaculate, spick-spau ; as if it had been built seven years ago instead of seven hundred. My companion gazed upon it, wrapped in admiration. She, fortunate soul, could bear corroborative witness to the guidebook’s testimony : “ It justly excites the admiration of every beholder.” She called my lagging attention to its rare beauty and finish. Finish—yes, “finished in 1880.” Beauty — What went we out for to see ? Fine buildings ? Nay, we had traveled thousands of miles that we might come in touch with the old, the historic, and here I stood before an advertised antiquity and feltno responsive thrill, — I, who at home worshiped the past, haunted old cemeteries and bought only old furniture ! Nor was the inside much better. We had happened in Cologne on a feast day. We stood and watched the procession of priests move slowly up the broad aisle. They were round of head, round of person, and solid of foot, — not a suggestion of the tonsured monk of the Middle Ages. If those early monks were of the earth, earthy, we to-day feel it not. They are long since dust and ashes, and by a sort of homœopathic process have become canonized in our imaginations. But these modern priests, they are yet in the body. Led by an assiduous attendant, we visited the choir chapel, climbed to the choir gallery, and even to the top of the tower. Not so much as a thrill to reward our tired legs. It was all shockingly new and surpassingly beautiful.

It may be that this first disappointment affected all my subsequent impressions of Europe. For I looked and hungered in vain for the glory of the past. There is no past in Europe. It is all distressingly up to date. The ruins are all in an excellent state of preservation, thanks to the constant and watchful care bestowed on them. I gazed upon the bullet holes that mark the place where William the Silent met his fate. I tried to be impressed by their age, by the tragedy they commemorated. All in vain. I could only look upon them as well-preserved bullet holes, hold my peace, and wonder what William the Silent would have thought. Even Heidelberg Castle, with its promenades and bands and guides, is a sort of historic beer garden.

It is the tourist that has spoiled Europe. First and foremost, he is everywhere, marring the picturesque market-place by his presence, robbing it of its local color, and having too little individuality to replace it by anything of his own. And secondly, his influence is constantly seen in the eager attempts made to satisfy his curiosity. Everywhere and in everything is manifest a pathetic, thrifty provision to catch his eye and his dollars. Ruins are labeled—nay, even restored — for his benefit. Guides are constantly at hand. All Europe is one continuous show.

If the enterprise stopped at ruins, one might endure it, harrowing though it is. But even nature is not safe from the rejuvenating hand. “ As old as the hills,” we say. Alas, not in Switzerland. Each peak and crevasse is ticketed and advertised, nor could I escape the impression, during my stay there, that the cheerful bugler, whose notes every morning woke the hotel in time for the advertised sunrise, had carefully dusted each shining peak before summoning us to the spectacle. A long-handled feather duster hovered dimly in my imagination. And I felt, when I dropped the customary coin into his customary palm at the hotel door, that I paid for both waking and dusting. Then I would take my misty way to the top of the kulm ; and lo, out of the shrouding mists, tables and booths would shape themselves to my sleepy vision, — tables laden with colored photographs and carved salad-forks and stick-pins. And I would turn my back upon them, and watch for the “ red eye ” of dawn to appear, just as the guidebook describes it, with a vague feeling that each individual salad-fork and stick-pin was imbedded in my spinal column.

No, it is only by chance and rare good fortune that one finds the old in Europe Some little out-of-the-way place has escaped the all-seeing Baedeker eye. You come upon it by accident, and suddenly you feel yourself in the presence of the old, the venerable. The town may not boast even one ruin, but it has the atmosphere of antiquity. It grins down at you from grotesque gargoyles ; it reaches out to you in curiously wrought door - handles ; it smiles from quaintly colored rural pictures upon some burgher’s house ; it clatters in sabots over the cobbled streets : and you yield yourself to it and breathe deep. It is genuine antiquity ; there is no mistaking -the flavor.

It is the same feeling that has swept over you hundreds of times in sleepy New England towns where Time has had his way. You are reminded, perhaps, of Old Hadley cemetery, where one long Indian-summer afternoon you drifted with the hours, and the peace of the past came upon you, and baffling mysteries, gliding from their soft haze, touched you familiarly and said, “ Lo, you too are one of us ; and we are of the Present and the Future and the Past.”