THE RIVER DUDDON
A SERIES OF SONNETS
It is with the little river Duddon as it is with most other
rivers, Ganges and Nile not excepted,--many springs might claim
the honour of being its head. In my own fancy I have fixed its
rise near the noted Shire-stones placed at the meeting-point of
the counties, Westmoreland, Cumberland, and Lancashire. They stand
by the wayside on the top of the Wrynose Pass, and it used to be
reckoned a proud thing to say that, by touching them at the same
time with feet and hands, one had been in the three counties at
once. At what point of its course the stream takes the name of
Duddon I do not know. I first became acquainted with the Duddon,
as I have good reason to remember, in early boyhood. Upon
the banks of the Derwent I had learnt to be very fond of angling.
Fish abound in that large river; not so in the small streams in
the neighbourhood of Hawkshead; and I fell into the common
delusion that the farther from home the better sport would be had.
Accordingly, one day I attached myself to a person living in the
neighbourhood of Hawkshead, who was going to try his fortune as an
angler near the source of the Duddon. We fished a great part of
the day with very sorry success, the rain pouring torrents, and
long before we got home I was worn out with fatigue; and, if the
good man had not carried me on his back, I must have lain down
under the best shelter I could find. Little did I think then it
would be my lot to celebrate, in a strain of love and admiration,
the stream which for many years I never thought of without
recollections of disappointment and distress.
During my college vacation, and two or three years afterwards,
before taking my Bachelor's degree, I was several times resident
in the house of a near relative who lived in the small town of
Broughton. I passed many delightful hours upon the banks of this
river, which becomes an estuary about a mile from that place. The
remembrances of that period are the subject of the 21st Sonnet.
The subject of the 27th is in fact taken from a tradition
belonging to Rydal Hall, which once stood, as is believed, upon a
rocky and woody hill on the right hand as you go from Rydal to
Ambleside, and was deserted from the superstitious fear here
described, and the present site fortunately chosen instead. The
present Hall was erected by Sir Michael le Fleming, and it may be
hoped that at some future time there will be an edifice more
worthy of so beautiful a position. With regard to the 30th Sonnet
it is odd enough that this imagination was realised in the year
, when I made a tour through that district with my wife and
daughter, Miss Fenwick and her niece, and Mr. and Miss Quillinan.
Before our return from Seathwaite chapel the party separated. Mrs.
Wordsworth, while most of us went further up the stream, chose an
opposite direction, having told us that we should overtake her on
our way to Ulpha. But she was tempted out of the main road to
ascend a rocky eminence near it, thinking it impossible we should
pass without seeing her. This, however, unfortunately happened,
and then ensued vexation and distress, especially to me, which I
should be ashamed to have recorded, for I lost my temper entirely.
Neither I nor those that were with me saw her again till we
reached the Inn at Broughton, seven miles. This may perhaps in
some degree excuse my irritability on the occasion, for I could
not but think she had been much to blame. It appeared, however, on
explanation, that she had remained on the rock, calling out and
waving her handkerchief as we were passing, in order that we also
might ascend and enjoy a prospect which had much charmed her. "But
on we went, her signals proving vain." How then could she reach
Broughton before us? When we found she had not gone on before to
Ulpha Kirk, Mr. Quillinan went back in one of the carriages in
search of her. He met her on the road, took her up, and by a
shorter way conveyed her to Broughton, where we were all reunited
and spent a happy evening.
I have many affecting remembrances connected with this stream.
Those I forbear to mention; especially things that occurred on its
banks during the later part of that visit to the seaside of which
the former part is detailed in my "Epistle to Sir George
The River Duddon rises upon Wrynose Fell, on the confines of
Westmoreland, Cumberland, and Lancashire; and, having served as a
boundary to the two last counties for the space of about twenty-
five miles, enters the Irish Sea, between the Isle of Walney and
the Lordship of Millum.
THE REV. DR. WORDSWORTH
(WITH THE SONNETS TO THE RIVER DUDDON, AND OTHER POEMS IN THIS
THE Minstrels played their Christmas tune
To-night beneath my cottage-eaves;
While, smitten by a lofty moon,
The encircling laurels, thick with leaves,
Gave back a rich and dazzling sheen,
That overpowered their natural green.
Through hill and valley every breeze
Had sunk to rest with folded wings:
Keen was the air, but could not freeze,
Nor check, the music of the strings;
So stout and hardy were the band
That scraped the chords with strenuous hand;
And who but listened?--till was paid
Respect to every Inmate's claim:
The greeting given, the music played,
In honour of each household name,
Duly pronounced with lusty call,
And "merry Christmas" wished to all!
O Brother! I revere the choice
That took thee from thy native hills;
And it is given thee to rejoice:
Though public care full often tills
(Heaven only witness of the toil)
A barren and ungrateful soil.
Yet, would that Thou, with me and mine,
Hadst heard this never-failing rite;
And seen on other faces shine
A true revival of the light
Which Nature and these rustic Powers,
In simple childhood, spread through ours.
For pleasure hath not ceased to wait
On these expected annual rounds;
Whether the rich man's sumptuous gate
Call forth the unelaborate sounds,
Or they are offered at the door
That guards the lowliest of the poor.
How touching, when, at midnight, sweep
Snow-muffled winds, and all is dark,
To hear--and sink again to sleep!
Or, at an earlier call, to mark,
By blazing fire, the still suspense
Of self-complacent innocence;
The mutual nod,--the grave disguise
Of hearts with gladness brimming o'er;
And some unbidden tears that rise
For names once heard, and heard no more;
Tears brightened by the serenade
For infant in the cradle laid.
Ah! not for emerald fields alone,
With ambient streams more pure and bright
Than fabled Cytherea's zone
Glittering before the Thunderer's sight,
Is to my heart of hearts endeared
The ground where we were born and reared!
Hail, ancient Manners! sure defence,
Where they survive, of wholesome laws;
Remnants of love whose modest sense
Thus into narrow room withdraws;
Hail, Usages of pristine mould,
And ye that guard them, Mountains old!
Bear with me, Brother! quench the thought
That slights this passion, or condemns;
If thee fond Fancy ever brought
From the proud margin of the Thames,
And Lambeth's venerable towers,
To humbler streams, and greener bowers.
Yes, they can make, who fail to find,
Short leisure even in busiest days;
Moments, to cast a look behind,
And profit by those kindly rays
That through the clouds do sometimes steal,
And all the far-off past reveal.
Hence, while the imperial City's din
Beats frequent on thy satiate ear,
A pleased attention I may win
To agitations less severe,
That neither overwhelm nor cloy,
But fill the hollow vale with joy!
Title: 'The River Duddon.'
A Poet, whose works are not yet known as they deserve to be,
thus enters upon his description of the "Ruins of Rome:"
"The rising Sun
Flames on the ruins in the purer air
and ends thus--
"The setting Sun displays
His visible great round, between yon towers,
As through two shady cliffs."
Mr. Crowe, in his excellent loco-descriptive Poem, "Lewesdon
Hill," is still more expeditious, finishing the whole on a May-
morning, before breakfast.
"To-morrow for severer thought, but now
To breakfast, and keep festival to-day."
No one believes, or is desired to believe, that those Poems were
actually composed within such limits of time; nor was there any
reason why a prose statement should acquaint the reader with the
plain fact, to the disturbance of poetic credibility. But, in the
present case, I am compelled to mention, that the above series of
Sonnets was the growth of many years;--the one which stands the
14th was the first produced; and others were added upon occasional
visits to the Stream, or as recollections of the scenes upon its
banks awakened a wish to describe them. In this manner I had
proceeded insensibly, without perceiving that I was trespassing
upon ground pre-occupied, at least as far as intention went, by
Mr. Coleridge; who, more than twenty years ago, used to speak of
writing a rural Poem, to be entitled "The Brook," of which he has
given a sketch in a recent publication. But a particular subject
cannot, I think, much interfere with a general one; and I have
been further kept from encroaching upon any right Mr. C. may still
wish to exercise, by the restriction which the frame of the Sonnet
imposed upon me, narrowing unavoidably the range of thought, and
precluding, though not without its advantages, many graces to
which a freer movement of verse would naturally have led.
May I not venture, then, to hope, that, instead of being a
hindrance by anticipation of any part of the subject, these
Sonnets may remind Mr. Coleridge of his own more comprehensive
design, and induce him to fulfil it?----There is a sympathy in
streams,--"one calleth to another;" and I would gladly believe,
that "The Brook" will, ere long, murmur in concert with "The
Duddon." But, asking pardon for this fancy, I need not scruple to
say that those verses must indeed be ill-fated which can enter
upon such pleasant walks of nature without receiving and giving
inspiration. The power of waters over the minds of Poets has been
acknowledged from the earliest ages;--through the "Flumina amem
sylvasque inglorius" of Virgil, down to the sublime apostrophe to
the great rivers of the earth by Armstrong, and the simple
ejaculation of Burns (chosen, if I recollect right, by Mr.
Coleridge, as a motto for his embryo "Brook"),
"The Muse nae Poet ever fand her,
Till by himsel' he learned to wander,
Adown some trotting burn's meander,
AND NA' THINK LANG."