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his genius, he would have altered many of his sentiments as well as have added much to them.
I am afraid that Marlow has still a very poor population. The houses about the meaner streets have a wretched poverty-stricken aspect, and there are more evident signs of vice forcing themselves on the attention than is at all common in countrytowns of the same size and class. And the complaints of the inhabitants accord fully with the general appearance.
Quitting Marlow, we pass by Mile End, where are large paper-mills, by which the weir makes a fine waterfall; we then reach Marlow Moor and race-ground. Looking down the river, the high Cookham downs and Quarry Woods present a beautifully diversified prospect, and the woods and high grounds of Buckinghamshire are little less beautiful. The Buckingham hills, however, gradually recede from the river, and the bank is flat; on the Berkshire side the hills accompany us someway farther, the river making a considerable curve round the foot of Cookham Hill. On the top of this hill, or Cookham Heath, we have a delightful breezy walk, and one pleasant enough to excite a wish to be on that side of the river.
There is no place to notice now for some distance along the banks. Westhope House and grounds are passed, and presently Little Marlow, which is noticeable as the place where was a Benedictine nunnery, and where is an ancient church; after which, till we reach Hedsor, we meet with neither village nor hamlet, and hardly with a house—only with a succession of sweet bits of river scenery. There is nothing here to describe, nor any stories to tell—for no battles have been fought, nor great men dwelt here. We will, therefore, as we have four or five miles to walk, have a little chat by the way about some of the things that are among the most observable in the upper and middle course of the river, but which have been passed without notice, or with only a word. We have nearly completed the first stage of our ramble, and another opportunity may not occur. They are only small matters, however, but they are small matters that belong to the Thames, and that ought to be noticed.
Of all the things that are seen on the Thames, or beside it, none add more to its beauty or are more characteristic of it than the aits, as the little islands, or rather islets, are called, with which it is studded through the greater part of its upper and middle course. These are extremely numerous, occurring everywhere, sometimes singly and far apart, and sometimes in clusters ; and they are almost as various and beautiful as they are numerous. Not many of them are of any great size, and only two or three have dwellings upon them; excepting such as are used for locks, when it is not uncommon for the lock-keeper's house to be built on the ait: but several have toy-houses—taking the form or name of temple, or grotto, or summer-house, according to the taste of the proprietor. Some of them are planted with groups of good-sized trees, such as ash and abeles, and others that will thrive in damp soils; but the alder and willow are the most common, and perhaps are most suitable for the situation. The smaller aits are generally planted with osiers. As these aits occur in the shallows, they are frequently surrounded by beds of rushes; while the willow-herb, and the tall loose-strife, and the similar flowers that love such places, grow in marvellous profusion about them, so that they are often encompassed by a belt of brilliant colours. Those that are used as pleasuregrounds by private possessors have their banks generally made-up, and set about with piles and wattles—greatly to the injury of their beauty. The natural boundaries are always pleasing in form, always take the easy pliant varying line that most harmonizes with the opposite banks of the river. It is always thus in nature. The smallest bit of broken bank that Nature is left to mould and dress, soon becomes an object that is graceful; that must be admired if a man will stoop to examine it:—its curves, its furrows, the flowers that, deck it, the flowing herbage, the rich-tinted mosses contrasting with the dark brown mould—look at them, and say whether they form not a dainty little picture of Nature's designing.
And one thing that renders these aits so pleasant to come upon, is, that you are almost certain to see some of the many graceful tribes of water-birds playing about them. If the birds are of. the shier kind, they take wing and away; and then their flight it is a pleasure to watch—hardly inferior to that of watching the gambols of the less timid. The common water-birds are mostly, I believe, met with here, and at the proper seasons some that are not so common; but the aits are especially the abode of the two that are eminently Thames birds—I mean the swan and the moor-hen. Of the upper part of the river the moor-hen or water-hen (the common gallinule of naturalists) is certainly the most attractive and characteristic bird. You meet with
the field-birds along its banks, as you do everywhere; king-fishers are not very rare, and are always a gladsome sight, but they are gone like a sudden flash of splendour, while the water-hen is so abundant, and so fearless, and with its nimble antics so diverting, that the most careless Thames rambler must form an acquaintance with it. It generally builds on the aits, and lives on the water, seldom rising even to the lower branches of the trees on the banks, though it will do so sometimes, and when driven from the ground by the sportsman's dog, will nestle on a bough, and remain there quite quietly till the danger is over. What the water-hen is to the upper, the swan is to the middle course of our river. This noble bird is familiar to every one who has ascended the Thames even to Richmond, and is seen in goodly flocks as low as Chelsea; but it is sailing on the clear water among the beautiful scenery between Windsor and Henley that it is seen to most advantage, and there it will be felt to be the very perfection of grace as it " floats double, swan and shadow." It is said to be decreasing in numbers, but it is still very plentiful. The Thames swans are property, the principal owners being the Queen, and the Dyers' and Vintners' Companies. The nests of the swans are built on the aits, or in the osier-beds beside the river. They are large compact structures, formed of twigs and osiers or reeds, and are built so as to be out of the reach of the water ; every pair of swans having its " walk "— or proper district within which others do not build.
A great deal of pains is taken to preserve the swans, and a waterman, or some person living near the swans' walk, generally has charge of each pair, and receives a small sum for every cygnet that is reared. It is his duty to see that the nests are not disturbed, and to prevent, as much as possible, the eggs or young birds from being stolen; he also, within the influence of the tide at least, builds the foundation of the nest. Mr. Yarrel has given a very full and interesting account of our Thames swan, and has recorded several anecdotes of its remarkable instinct and foresight. But Thames swans are not infallible. One that had her nest on an ait, where I could watch it daily, brought her young ones—five lively creatures—off the nest for the first time on a cold raw morning, as the tide was falling; in consequence of which the little creatures got in the mud at the base of the island, and the old birds could not by any means get them back to the nest, or even away from the mud. The old swan at length nestled over them and tried to keep them warm, but by the time the tide had again risen, three of them were dead. Mr. Yarrel mentions that the female is occasionally seen to carry her young ones on her back; in this instance she for a long time afterwards would scarcely ever trust them off hers when out of the nest. She used to raise her wings a little—not so much as they do when in full sail,—and the young ones seemed to have a remarkably snug berth. She was very proud of her progeny, and, when I whistled, would come swimming up with them on her back, and sail round and round with an expression of pride and pleasure that scarcely could be exceeded by a human mother with her first swanling. I do not know whether there might not have been traced here the effects of indulgence; for the little pair came to be so used to be carried, that at last they would not willingly swim, and the old one used to be obliged to dive, in order to shake them off. During incubation the birds are very fierce.