Like a Retired Ulysses

Leslie Stephen, Sketches from Cambridge:

“The infection of mountaineering is not even caught, as a rule, till late in life, and the disease, like the measles, is more severe in proportion to the age of the victim. Fathers of families have been heard to discuss for hours the comparative merits of the St. Gervais and Grands Mulets routes to the summit of Mont Blanc, long after advancing years should have confined their ambition to Primrose Hill. But the rowing man after three or four years of mental aberration generally recovers his perfect sanity. He can’t ‘get forward’ as he used. A certain protuberance of figure, strongly suggestive of Mr. Banting, impedes the freedom of his action. The modern style seems short and snatchy; it has not the long majestic sweep of former days.

A crew of enthusiastic dons, known familiarly as the ‘Ancient Mariners,’ sometimes revisit the scene of their youthful sports. As we swing gracefully round a corner, I hear some irreverent youngster inquire with a half-suppressed chuckle, ‘Who’s the fat duffer rowing four?’ and I fancy that my form must have lost some of its earlier grace. When the crew of Ulysses obeyed his invitation to step in, ‘and sitting well in order, smite the sounding furrows,’ they probably did not excite the admiration of the youth of Ithaca. Ulysses’ own sentiment, that they were not then what in old times they had been, doubtless met with hearty concurrence from the bank. They must have caught a good many crabs before reaching the Happy Isles. We recover from the fever of our youth, but its vehemence is proved by enduring traces left behind.”

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