The Freshwater Fisherman

Part I

This pretty Berkshire of ours, renowned for its pastoral villages, and its picturesque interchange of common and woodland, and small enclosures divided by deep lanes, to which thick borders of hedgerow timber give a character of deep and forest-like richness, seldom seen in counties of more ambitious pretension;—this beautiful Berkshire is for nothing more distinguished than for the number and variety of its rivers. I do not mean, in this catalogue, to include the large proportion of bright, shallow, trouting streams, for the most part unchristened and unregistered even by a parish historian, or the compiler of a county map, and known only as “the brook” by the very people whose meadows they dance through. To confine myself to rivers of state and name, we have, first of all, the rapid, changeful, beautiful Loddon, a frisky, tricksy water-sprite, much addicted to wandering out of bounds, and as different from the timid, fearful, nymph Lodona, whom Pope, in a metamorphosing strain, was pleased to assign as the source of those clear waters, as anything well can be. Next we have the Kennet—“the Kennet swift, for silver eels renowned,” according to the same author, and which, in our part at least, has, generally speaking, a fine pastoral character, now sweeping along through broad valleys of meadow-land, rich and green, and finely dappled by trees, chiefly oak and elm, in park-like groups; now confined within a narrower channel, and spanned by some lofty bridge as it passes the quiet village or small country town, enlivening every scene which it approaches by the pleasant flow of its clear waters, cool and glittering as a moonbeam. Lastly and chiefly, we possess, for the whole length of the county, and for the most part forming its sinuous boundary, the deep majestic Thames, gliding in tranquil grandeur, with a motion so slow as to be almost imperceptible; reflecting as a mirror, in unbroken shadow, every tree and shrub that fringes its banks, and exhibiting, during all its meanders, a lake-like character of stillness and repose—a silent fullness—a calm and gentle dignity, which is, perhaps, in all things, from the human mind to the mighty river, the surest and highest symbol of power. It is singular, that even the small streamlet near Cirencester, where, under the almost equally celebrated name of Isis, the Thames takes its rise, is distinguished by the same unruffled serenity (the calmness of the infant Hercules) for which its subsequent course is so remarkable. And what a course it is! The classic domes of Oxford; the sunny plains of Berkshire; the Buckinghamshire beechwoods; Windsor, with its royal towers; Richmond, and its world of gardens; then London—mighty London; and then the sea—its only rival in riches and in fame. Half the bards of England have sung of their great river; but never, I think, has it been more finely praised than in two sonnets, which I will venture to transcribe from the manuscript which is open before me. They have a local propriety, since the writer, Mr. Sergeant Talfourd, of whose birthplace Berkshire may well be proud, passed his early youth in this neighbourhood, and it is in remembrance of those days that they are written.

To the Thames at Westminster, in Recollection of the same river below Caversham

With no cold admiration do I gaze
Upon thy pomp of waters, matchless stream!
For home-sick fancy kindles with the beam
That on thy lucid bosom coyly plays,
And glides delighted through thy crystal ways,
Till on her eye those wave-fed poplars gleam
Beneath whose shade her first and loveliest maze
She fashioned; where she traced in richest dream
Thy mirror’d course of wood-enshrined repose
Bespread with hordes of spirits fair and bright,
And widening on till at her vision’s close
Great London, only then a name of might,
To crown thy full-swoln majesty arose,
A rock-throned city clad in heavenly light.

To the same river

I may not emulate their lofty aim
Who, in divine imagination bold,
With mighty hills and streams communion hold
As living friends; and scarce I dare to claim
Acquaintance with thee in thy scenes of fame,
Wealthiest of rivers! though in days of old
I loved thee where thy waters sylvan roll’d
And still would fancy thee in part the same
As love perversely clings to some old mate
Estranged by fortune; in his very pride
Seems lifted; waxes in his greatness great;
And silent hails the lot it prophesied:
Content to think in manhood’s palmy state
Some ling’ring traces of the child abide.

Our business, however, is not with the mighty Thames—the “wealthiest of rivers”—but with the pleasant and pastoral Kennet.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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