The Parthenon By Way Of Papendrecht
by F. Hopkinson Smith
It was mine host of the Ferry Inn at Cook-ham who was calling, and
at the top of his voiceand a big-chested voice it wasthe sound
leaping into aescendo as the object of his search remained hidden. Then
he turned to me:
He's somewheres 'round the boat houseyou can't miss himthere's
too much of him!
Are ye wantin' me, sor? came another shout as I rounded the squat
building stuffed with boatsliterally sobottom, top, and sides.
Yesare you the boatman?
I am, sorand bloody sick of me job. Do ye see that wherry shovin'
offthe one with the lady in a sweater? Yesthat's rightjust
slipped under the bridge. Well, sor, what d'ye think the bloke did for
me? Look at it, sor! (Here he held out his hand, in which lay a
half-penny.) And me a-washin' out 'is boat, feedin' of 'is dog, and
keepin' an eye on 'is togs and 'is ladiesand then shoves off and
'ands me thisa 'a'penny, sora 'a'pennyfrom the likes o'
'im to the likes o' me! Damn 'im!and away went the coin into the
river. You'll excuse me, sor, but i couldn't choke it down. Is it a
punt ye're lookin' for?
The landlord was rightthere was a good deal of himsix feet and
an inch, I should think; straight as an oar, his bared arms swinging
free; waist, thighs, and back tough as a saw-log. To this was added two
big blue eyes set in a clean-shaven face bronzed by the sun, and a
double row of teeth that would have shamed an ear of corn. I caught,
too, the muscles of his chest rounding out his boating shirt, and
particularly the muscles of the neck supporting the round head crowned
with closely cropped hairevidently a young Englishman of that great
middle class which the nation depends upon in an emergency. My
inspection also settled any question I might have had as to why he was
William, and never Bill, to those about him.
The one thing lacking in his make-upand which only came into view
when he turned his headwas the upper part of one ear. This was
clipped as close as a terrier's.
Again he repeated the questionwith a deprecatory smile, as if he
already regretted his outburst.
Is it a punt ye're wantin', sor?
Yesand a man to pole it and look after me while I paint. I had
old Norris for the past few years, but I hear he's gone back to
gardening. Will you have time with your other work?
Time! I'll chuck my job if I don't.
No,you can do both,Norris did. You can pole me out to where I
want to work; bring me my lunch when you have yours, and come for me at
night. You weren't here two years agowere you?
NoI was with General French. Got this clip outside Kimberly
and he touched his ear. Been all my life on the riverMaidenhead and
Bourne's End mostlyand so when my time was up I come home and the
boss here put me on.
A soldier! I thought so. I see now why you got mad. Wonder you
didn't throw that chap into the river. I am a crank on the happiness
one gets from the giving of tipsand a half-penny man is the rock
bottom of meanness.
His face straightened.
Well, we can't do that, sorwe can't never talk back. Got to grin
and bear it or lose yer job. Learned that in the Hussahs. I didn't care
for his moneymaybe it was the way he did it that set me goin'as if
I wasWelllet it go! And it's a punt ye want?Yes, sorcome and
pick it out.
After that it was plain sailingor punting. The picture of that
London cad sprawling in the water, which my approval had created in his
mind, had done it. And it was early and late too (there were few
visitors that month); down by the Weir below the lock as far as
Cliveden; up the backwater to the MillWilliam stretched beside me
while I worked, or pulling back and forth when a cool bottlebeer, of
courseor a kettle and an alcohol lamp would add to my comfort.
Many years of tramping and boating up and down the Thames from
Reading to Maidenhead have taught me the ins and outs of the river. I
know it as I do my own pocket (and there is more in that statement than
you thinkespecially during regatta week).
First comes Sonning with its rose gardens and quaint brick bridge;
and then Marlowe with that long stretch of silver bordered by nodding
trees and dominated by the robber Innfour shillings and six for a
sawdust sandwich! Then Maidenhead, swarming with boats and city folks
after dark (it is only a step from the landing to any number of
curtained sitting-rooms with shaded candlesand there be gay times at
Maidenhead, let me tell you!). And, between, best of all, lovely
Here the river, crazy with delight, seems to lose its head and goes
meandering about, poking its nose up backwaters, creeping across
meadows, flooding limpid shallows, mirroring oaks and willows upside
down, surging up as if to sweep away a velvet-shorn lawn, only to pour
itselfits united selfinto an open-mouthed lock, and so on to a
saner life in a level stretch beyond. If you want a map giving these
vagaries, spill a cup of tea and follow its big and little puddles with
their connecting rivulets: ten chances to one it will come out right.
All this William and I took in for three unbroken weeks, my usual
summer allotment on the Thames. Never was there such a breesy,
wholesome companion; stories of his life in the Veldt; of his hospital
experience over that same earThe only crack I got, sor, thank
God!except bein' 'alf starved for a week and down two months with the
fever neither of which seemed to have caused him a moment's
inconvenience; stories of the people living about him and those who
came from London with a 'am sandwidge in a noospaper, and precious
little more, rolled out of him by the hour.
And the poise of the man! When he lay stretched out beside me on the
grass while I workedan old bivouac attitudehe kept still; no
twitching of legs or stretching of armslay as a big hound does, whose
blood and breeding necessitate repose.
And we were never separated. First a plunge overboard, and then a
pull back for breakfast, and off again with the luncheon tucked under
the seatand so on until the sun dropped behind the hills.
The only days on which this routine of work and play had to be
changed were Sundays and holidays. Then my white umbrella would loom up
as large as a circus tent, the usual crowd surging about its doors. As
you cannot see London for the people, so you cannot see the river for
boats on these daysall sorts of boatswherries, tubs, launches,
racing crafts, shells, puntseverything that can be poled, pulled, or
wobbled, and in each one the invariable combinationa man, a girl, and
a doga dog, a girl, and a man. This has been going on for ages, and
will to the end of time.
On these mornings William and I have our bath earlyahead of the
crowd really, who generally arrive two hours after sunrise and keep up
the pace until the last train leaves for Paddington. This bath is at
the end of one of the teacup spillways, and is called the Weir. There
is a plateau, a plunge down some twenty feet into a deep pool, and the
usual surroundings of fresh morning air, gay tree-tops, and the splash
of cool water sparkling in the sunlight.
To-day as my boat grated on the gravel my eyes fell on a young
English lord who was holding the centre of the stage in the sunlight.
He was dressed from head to foot in a skin-tight suit of underwear
which had been cut for him by a Garden-of-Eden tailor. He was just out
of the watera straight, well-built, ruddy-skinned fellowevery inch
a man! What birth and station had done for him would become apparent
when his valet began to hand him his Bond Street outfit. The next
instant William stood beside him. Then there came a wriggle about the
shoulders, the slip of a buckle, and he was overboard and out again
before my lord had discarded his third towel.
I fell to thinking.
Naked they were equals. That was the way they came into the world
and that's the way they would go out. And yet within the hour my lord
would be back to his muffins and silver service, with two flunkies
behind his chair, and William would be swabbing out a boat or poling me
home through the pond lilies.
But why?I kept asking myself. A totally idiotic and illogical
question, of course. Both were of an age; both would be a joy to a
sculptor looking for modern gods with which to imitate the Greek ones.
Both were equal in the sight of their Maker. Both had served their
countrymy lord, I learned later, being one of the first to draw a
bead on Spion Kop close enough to be of any useand both were
honestat least William wasand the lord must have been.
There is no answernever can be. And yet the picture of the two as
they stood glistening in the sunlight continues to rise in my memory,
and with it always comes this same queryone which will never
downWhy should there be the difference?
But the summer is moving on apace. There is another Inn and another
Williamor rather, there was one several hundred years ago before he
went off crusading. It is an old resort of mine. Seven years now has
old Leah filled my breakfast cup with a coffee that deserves a hymn of
praise in its honor. I like it hotboiling, blistering hot, and the
old woman brings it on the run, her white sabots clattering across the
flower-smothered courtyard. During all these years I have followed with
reverent fingers not only the slopes of its roof but the loops of
swinging clematis that crowd its balconies and gabies as well. I say
my because I have known this Inn of William the Conqueror long enough
to include it in the list of the many good ones I frequent over
Europethe Bellevue, for instance, at Dordrecht, over against
Papendrecht (I shall be there in another month). And the Britannia in
Venice, and I hope still a third in unknown Athensunknown to memy
objective point this year.
This particular Inn with the roof and the clematis, is at Dives,
twenty miles from Trouville on the coast. You never saw anything like
it, and you never will again. I hold no brief for my old friend Le
Remois, the proprietor, but the coffee is not the only thing over which
grateful men chant hymns. There is a kitchen, resplendent in polished
brass, with three French chefs in attendance, and a two-century-old
spit for roasting. There is the wine-cellar, in which cobwebs and not
labels record the age and the vintage; there is a dining-roomthree of
themwith baronial fireplaces, sixteenth-century furniture, and linen
and glass to matchto say nothing of tapestries, Spanish leathers,
shrines, carved saints, ivories, and pewterthe whole a sight to turn
bric-a-brac fiends into burglarsnot a difficult thing by the wayand
then, of coursethere is the bill!
Where have you been, M. Le Rémois? asked a charming woman.
To church, Madame.
Did you say your prayers?
Yes, Madame, answered this good boni-face, with a twinkle.
What did you pray for?
I said'Oh, Lord!do not make me rich, but place me next
to the rich'and he kept on his way rubbing his hands and chuckling.
And yet I must say it is worth the price.
I have no need of a William here-nor of anybody else. The water
for my cups is within my reach; convenient umbrellas on movable
pedestals can be shoved into place; a sheltered back porch hives for
the night all my paraphernalia and unfinished sketches, and a step or
two brings me to a table where a broiled lobster fresh from the sea and
a peculiar peach ablaze in a peculiar saucethe whole washed down by a
pint of(Noyou can't have the brandthere were only seven bottles
left when I paid my bill)and besides I am going backhelp to ease
the cares that beset a painter's life.
But even this oasis of a garden, hemmed about as if by the froth of
Trouville and the suds of Cabourg; through which floats the gay life of
Paris resplendent in toilets never excelled or exceeded
anywherecannot keep me from Holland very long. And it is a pity too,
for of late years I have been looked upon as a harmless fixture at the
Innso much so that men and women pass and repass my easel, or look
over my shoulder while I work without a break in their
confidencesquite as if I was a deaf, dumb, and blind waiter, or
twin-brother to old Coco the cockatoo, who has surveyed the same scene
from his perch near the roof for the past thirty years.
None of these unconscious ear-droppings am I going to
betraydelightful, startlingimproper, if you must have itas
some of them were. Not the most interesting, at all events, for I
promised her I wouldn'tbut there is no question as to the diversion
obtained by keeping the latch-string of your ears on the outside.
None of all this ever drips into my auricles in Holland. A country
so small that they build dikes to keep the inhabitants from being spilt
off the edge, is hardly the place for a scandalcertainly not in
stolid Dordrecht or in that fly-speck of a Papendrecht, whose dormer
windows peer over the edge of the dike as if in mortal fear of another
inundation. And yet, small as it is, it is still big enough for me to
approach itthe fly-speck, of courseby half a dozen different
routes. I can come by boat from Rotterdam. Fop Smit owns and runs
it(no kin of mine, more's the pity)or by train from Amsterdam; or
by carriage from any number of 'dams, 'drechts, and 'bergs. Or I can
tramp it on foot, or be wheeled in on a dog-wagon. I have tried them
all, and know. Being now a staid old painter and past such foolishness,
I take the train.
Toot! Toot!and I am out on the platform, through the door of the
station and aboard the one-horse tram that wiggles and swings over the
cobble-scoured streets of Dordrecht, and so on to the Bellevue.
Why I stop at the Bellevue (apart from it being one of my Inns) is
that from its windows I cannot only watch the life of the
tawny-colored, boat-crowded Maas, but see every curl of smoke that
mounts from the chimneys of Papendrecht strung along its opposite bank.
My dear friend, Herr Boudier, of years gone by, has retired from its
ownership, but his successor, Herr Teitsma, is as hearty in his
welcome. Peter, my old boatman, too, pulled his last oar some two years
back, and one Bop takes his place. There is another p and an e
tacked on to Bop, but I have eliminated the unnecessary and call him
Bob for short. They made Bob out of what was left of Peter, but they
left out all trace of William.
This wooden-shod curiosity is anywhere from seventy to one hundred
and fifty years old, gray, knock-kneed, bent in the back, and goes to
sleep standing upand stays asleep. He is the exact duplicate
of the tramp in the comic opera of Miss Hook of Hollandexcept that
the actor-sleeper occasionally topples over and has to be braced up.
Bob is past-master of the art and goes it alone, without propping of
any kind. He is the only man in Dordrecht, or Papendrecht, or the
country round about, who can pull a boat and speak English. He says so,
and I am forced not only to believe him, but to hire him. He wants it
in advance, toohaving had some experience with painter-man, he
explains to Herr Teitsma.
I shall, of course, miss my delightful William, but I am accustomed
to that. And, then, again, while Bob asleep is an interesting
physiological study, Bob awake adds to the gayety of nations, samples
of which crowd about my easel, Holland being one of the main highways
of the earth.
I have known Dort and the little 'drecht across the way for some
fifteen years, five of which have slipped by since I last opened my
umbrella along its quaint quays. To my great joy nothing has changed.
The old potato boat still lies close to the quay, under the overhanging
elms. The same dear old man and his equally dear old wife still make
their home beneath its hipped roof. I know, for it is here I lunch, the
cargo forming the chief dish, followed by a saucer of stewed currants,
a cup of coffee(more hymns here)and a loaf of bread from the
baker's. The old Groote Kirk still towers aloftthe highest building
in Holland, they say; the lazy, red-sailed luggers drift up and down,
their decks gay with potted plants; swiss curtains at the cabin
windows, the wife holding the tiller while the man trims the sail. The
boys still clatter over the polished cobblesan aggressive mob when
school lets outand a larger crop, I think, than in the years gone by,
and with more noisemy umbrella being the target. Often a spoilt fish
or half a last week's cabbage comes my way, whereupon Bob awakes to
instant action with a consequent scattering, the bravest and most agile
making faces from behind wharf spiles and corners. Peter used to build
a fence of oars around me to keep them off, but Bob takes it out in
Only once did he silence them. They were full grown, this squad, and
had crowded the old man against a tree under which I had backed as
shelter from a passing shower. There came a blow straight from the
shoulder, a sprawling boy, and Bob was in the midst of them, his right
sleeve rolled up, showing a full-rigged ship tattooed in India ink.
What poured from him I learned afterward was an account of his many
voyages to the Arctic and around the Horn, as the label on his arm
provedan experience which, he shouted, would be utilized in pounding
them up into fish bait if they did not take to their heels. After that
he always went to sleep with one eye open, the boys keeping awake with
twoand out of my waya result which interested me the more.
If my Luigi was not growing restless in my beloved Venice (it is
wonderful how large a portion of the earth I own) I would love to pass
the rest of my summer along these gray canals, especially since Bob's
development brings a daily surprise. Only to-day I caught sight of him
half hidden in an angle of a wall, surrounded by a group of little tots
who were begging him for paper pin-wheels which a vender had stopped to
sell, an infinitesimal small coin the size of a cuff button purchasing
a dozen or more. When I again looked up from a canvas each tot had a
pin-wheel, and later on Bob, that much poorer in pocket, sneaked back
and promptly went to sleep.
But even Bob's future beatification cannot hold me. I yearn for the
white, blinding light and breathless lagoons, and all that makes Venice
the Queen City of the World.
Luigi meets me inside the station. It takes a soldo to
get in, and Luigi has but few of them, but he is always there. His
gondola is moored to the landing steps outsidea black swan of a boat,
all morocco cushions and silk fringes; the product of a thousand years
of tinkering by the most fastidious and luxurious people of ancient or
modern times, and still to-day the most comfortable conveyance known to
Hurry up, you who have never known a gondola or a Luigi! A
vile-smelling, chuggity-chug is forcing its way up every crooked canal,
no matter how narrow. Two Venetian shipyards are hammering away on
their hulls or polishing their motors. Soon the cost of production will
drop to that of a gondola. Then look out! There are eight thousand
machinists in the Arsenal earning but five francs a day, any one of
whom can learn to run a motor boat in a week, thus doubling their
wages. Worse yetthe world is getting keener every hour for speedy
things. I may be wrongI hope and pray I ambut it seems to me that
the handwriting is already on the wall. This way to the Museo Civico,
it readsif you want to find a gondola of twenty-five years ago. As
for the Luigis and the Esperosthey will then have given up the
The only hope rests with the Venetians themselves. They have
restored the scarred Library, and are rebuilding the Campanile, with a
reverence for the things which made their past glorious that commands
the respect of the artistic world. The gondola is as much a part of
Venice as its sunsets, pigeons, and palaces. Let them by special
license keep the Tragfaetti intact, with their shuttles of gondolas
crossing bade and forththen, perhaps, the catastrophe may be deferred
for a few decades.
As it was in Dort and Papendrecht so it is in Venice. Except these
beastly, vile-smelling boats there is nothing new, thank God.
Everything else is faded, weather-worn, and old, everything filled with
sensuous beautysky, earth, lagoon, garden wall, murmuring
ripplesthe same wonderful Venice that thrills its lovers the world
And the old painters are still hereWalter Brown, Bunce, Bompard,
Faulkner, and the restsuccessors of Ziem and Ricomen who have loved
her all their lives. And with them a new band of devoteesMonet and
Louis Aston Knight among them. For a few days, they said in
explanation, but it was weeks before they leftonly to return, I
predict, as Jong as they can hold a brush.
As for Luigi and mewe keep on our accustomed way, leading our
accustomed lives. Seventeen years now since he bent to his oar behind
my cushionstwenty-six in all since I began to idle about her canals.
It is either the little canal next the Public Garden, or up the
Giudecca, or under the bronze horses of San Marco; or it may be we are
camped out in the Piazzetta before the Porta della Carta; or perhaps up
the narrow canal of San Rocco, or in the Fruit Market near the Rialto
while the boats unload their cargoes.
All old subjects and yet ever new; each has been painted a thousand
times, and in as many different lights and perspectives. And yet each
canvas differs from its fellows as do two ripples or two morning skies.
For weeks we drift about. One day Carlotta, the fishwife up the
Fondamenta della Pallada, makes us our coffee; the next Luigi buys it
of some smart café on the Piazza. This with a roll, a bit of
Gorgonzola, and a bunch of grapes, or half a dozen figs, is our
luncheon, to which is added two curls of blue smoke, one from Luigi's
pipe and the other from my cigarette. Then we fall to work again.
But this will never do! While I have been loafing with Luigi not
only has the summer slipped away, but the cool winds of October have
crept down from the Alps. There are fresh subjects to tacklesome I
have never seen. Athens beckons to me. The columns of the Parthenon
If there are half a dozen ways of getting into Papendrechtthere is
only one of reaching Athensthat is, if you start from Venice. Trieste
first, either by rail or boat, and then aboard one of the Austrian
Lloyds, and so on down the Adriatic to Patras.
It is October, rememberwhen every spear of grass from a six
months' droughtthe customary dry spellis burnt to a crisp. It will
rain to-morrow, or next week, they will tell youbut it doesn'tnever
has in Octoberand never will. Strange to say, you never miss
itneither in the color of the mountains flanking the Adriatic or in
any of the ports on the way down, or in Patras itself. The green note
to which I have been accustomedwhich I have labored over all my
lifeis lacking, and a new palette takes its placeof mauve, violet,
indescribable blues, and evanescent soap-bubble reds. The slopes of the
hills are mother-of-pearl, their tops melting into cloud shadows so
delicate in tone that you cannot distinguish where one leaves off and
the other begins.
And it is so in Patras, except for a riotous, defiant pinegreen as
a spring cabbage or a newly painted shutterthat sucks its moisture
from nobody knows wherehasn't any, perhaps, and glories in its shame.
All along the railroad from the harbor of Patras to the outskirts of
Athens it is the samebare fields, bare hills, streets and roads
choked with dust. And so, too, when you arrive at the station and take
the omnibus for the Grand Bretagne.
By this time you are accustomed to itin fact you rather enjoy it.
If you have a doubt of it, step out on the balcony at the front of the
hotel and look up!
Hanging in the skyin an air of pure ether, set in films of silver
grays in which shimmer millions of tones, delicate as the shadings of a
pearl, towers the Acropolis, its crest fringed by the ruins of the
greatest temples the world possesses.
I rang a bell.
Get me a carriage and send me up a guideanybody who can speak
English and who is big enough to carry a sketch trap.
He must have been outside, so quickly did he answer the call. He was
two-thirds the size of William, one-half the length of Luigi, and
one-third the age of Bob.
What is your name?
Then we'll drop the last half. Put those traps in the carriageand
take me to the Parthenon.
I never left it for fourteen consecutive daysnor did I see a
square inch of Athens other than the streets I drove through up and
back on my way to work. Nor have I in all my experience ever had a more
competent, obliging, and companionable guidealways excepting my
beloved Luigi, who is not only my guide, but my protector and friend as
It was then that I blessed the dust. Green things, wet things, soggy
thingssuch as mud and dull skieshave no place in the scheme of the
Parthenon and its contiguous temples and ruins. That wonderful tea-rose
marble, with its stains of burnt sienna marking the flutings of endless
broken columns, needs no varnishing of moisture to enhance its beauty.
That will do for the façade of Burlington House with its grimy gray
statues, or the moss-encrusted tower of the Groote Kirk, but never
here. It was this fear, perhaps, that kept me at work, haunted as I was
by the bogy of Rain to-morrow. It always comes, and keeps on for a
month when it starts in. Blessed be the weather clerk! It never
started innot until I reached Brindisi on my way back to Paris; then,
if I remember, there was some falling weatherat the rate of two
inches an hour.
And yet I might as well confess that my fourteen days of consecutive
study of the Acropolis, beginning at the recently uncovered entrance
gate and ending in the Museum behind the Parthenon, added nothing to my
previous historical or other knowledgemeagre as it had been.
Where the Venetians wrought the greatest havoc, how many and what
columns were thrown down; how high and thick and massive they were;
what parts of the marvellous ruin that High Robber Chief Lord Elgin
stole and carted off to London, and still keeps the British Museum
acting as fence; how wide and long and spacious was the superb
chamber that held the statue the gods lovednone of these things
interested medo not now. What I saw was an epoch in stone; a
chronicle telling the story of civilization; a glove thrown down to
posterity, challenging the competition of the world.
And with this came a feeling of reverence so profound, so
awe-inspiring, so humbling, that I caught myself speaking to Panis in
whispersas one does in a temple when the service is in progress.
This, as the sun sped its course and the purple shadows of the coming
night began to creep up the steps and columns of the marvellous pile,
its pediment bathed in the rose-glow of the fading day, was followed by
a silence that neither of us cared to break. For then the wondrous
temple took on the semblance of some old sage, the sunlight on his
forehead, the shadow of the future about his knees.