National Geographic : 1958 Jul
Author Robert Gibbings Feeds a Robin by Hand Looking like Father Thames himself, Mr. Gibbings sits with Mrs. Price before his 15th-century cottage at Long Wittenham. His book, Sweet Thames Run Softly, took its title from Spenser's line "Sweete Themmes! runne softly, till I end my Song." Gibbings's own song ended early this year, when he died at the age of 69. Willard Price labyrinthine that he could find her only by following a silken thread. But his jealous queen also found the thread, followed it to Rosamond, and contrived her death. At Godstow Lock I took a ducking. Step ping on the gunwale with the intention of leaving the boat, I left it, but not as planned. A line on the gunwale rolled under my foot, and I found myself with one leg hip deep in the lock. My other foot was still on the boat and my hands on shore, and the gap between was widening. In one hand was a Leica camera. After one loses a Contax in the Nile, a Leica at Nassau, and a Retina in Japan's Inland Sea, one acquires the habit of think ing of his camera before himself. When Her bert came running along the lockside to help me, I said, "Take the camera." He took the camera, and I dropped into the water. A lock is not a good place to go bathing. Water rushing out from under the lower gates creates a dangerous undertow. Already I felt as if an octopus were pulling at my legs. The boat's deck was too high to reach and the lock wall was higher. I swam through the churn ing waters to the upper gates, where the under tow was weaker, and was ignominiously hauled upattheendofaline. The wetting seemed unimportant when Her bert handed back the camera, dry and safe. After 30 miles without a town, the river was now, for the first time, smothered be tween grimy warehouses and factories. Here, white swans were the only beauty. They refused to be daunted by the black cliffs, belching steam, and growling machinery. Even the crowning horror, the gas works, failed to lessen their majesty and pride. Spires Rise Like Forest of Stone So this was Oxford, called by some the most beautiful city in England. All we could see were factory chimneys and coalyards. But when we disembarked at Folly Bridge and walked up St. Aldate's, the glory of Ox ford unfolded before us. Matthew Arnold was right after all about "that sweet City with her dreaming spires." They rose like a forest of fine architecture, each one different, but all beautiful. We turned into High Street and soon found why it is called "the noblest old street in England." The colleges of Oxford are mar vels in stone. One would be quite enough for a city. But Oxford University consists of 28 colleges. That does not mean 28 buildings. (Continued on page 69) For Centuries Magdalen's Bells Have Marked the Quiet Hours at Oxford The university city calls the river Isis, after an old notion that two streams-the Thame and the Isis-wed near downstream Dorchester to produce the Thamisis, or Thames. From the river the 450-year-old bell tower of Magdalen College shows as one of the skyline's many "dreaming spires." On May Day a choir sings a hymn in Latin from the parapet. Kodachrome by National Geographic Photographer Kathleen Revis © N.G.S.