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 1840, 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 Beaumont."
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 rising Sun Flames on the ruins in the purer air Towering aloft;"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.
"The Muse nae Poet ever fand her, Till by himsel' he learned to wander, Adown some trotting burn's meander, AND NA' THINK LANG."