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RAMBLES BY RIVERS.
Christopher North, in one of his pleasant papers, says of the chief of English lakes :—" Live by it fifty years, and by degrees you may have come to know something worth telling of Windermere!" If it be necessary to have lived as long by the chief of English rivers to know something worth telling of it, I must confess to insufficiency. My knowledge of the Thames is of some years' shorter duration. But if a familiarity amounting to friendship of a few years' less standing will entitle me to guide a rambler along it, I have some right to venture on the undertaking; and gratitude as well as friendship will prompt me, for with the poet I can say, that
"I have loved the rural walk through lanes
Of thorny boughs; have loved the rural walk
Cowper, Task, book i.
While, however, to enjoy a ramble on the banks of Thames actually is an easy matter, to describe it, or to enjoy it in a description, is not so easy. The general character of the scenery of the Thames is that of a calm and tranquil beauty, but with so much of sameness, that a continuous account of it would speedily become tedious: yet the endeavour to enliven it by digressions, however tempting, would protract a ramble beyond any reasonable length; while to enter, except in a cursory manner, into historical or antiquarian details, would little accord with a ramble at all. The space we are to pass over is so considerable, and the objects of interest in our way are so many, that we must of necessity keep close to the river and only slightly survey what catches our attention as we saunter along it. We must not pretend to notice every thing that deserves to be noticed, and we must confine ourselves to a general view. We shall thus, however, find sufficient to occupy us—I hope without wearying us—or at least with only occasional weariness: there are spots beside every stream so absolutely barren, that weariness must be felt even by the best tempered, and I cannot expect that my river will be found an exception.
To speak of the importance of the Thames— the most important of all rivers—would be almost an impertinence; and it will be best to let its peculiarities develope themselves as we accompany it. A few words respecting the name may not, however, be superfluous before starting on our journey.
Spenser's account of the origin of "the noble Thames" was only a poetic version of the opinion generally adopted in his day by sober geographers and antiquarians:—
"Him before there went, as best became,
Faerie Queen, 6. iv.
That the upper part of the river was properly called the Isis, and that the name Thames arose from its junction with the Thame at Dorchester, a few miles below Oxford, seemed to be admitted without question, not only in Spenser's time, but long afterwards, and is still commonly asserted. It is, however, a mistake. Isis is only a scholarly name given to it, probably, from the termination of its Latin form, Tamesis. In none of the ancient documents in which it is mentioned does the name Isis occur. The credit of having been the first to notice this is frequently assigned to Camden, but that excellent old antiquary appears not to have suspected the truth of the common notion. The Latin poem called the Marriage of Thame and Isis, in which the union of the streams is celebrated with all the pomp which a marriage producing such issue deserved, is even attributed to him by his biographer. It was Bishop Gibson, in his ' Additions to Camden,' who pointed out the error, and cited the various authorities in proof that it was an error, and the mistake of attributing it to Camden no doubt arose from the manner in which the Additions are mixed up with the original text. The following are his words :—
"Upon this first mention of the river Thames, it will not be improper to observe, that, though the current opinion is that it had that name from the conjunction of the Thame and the Isis, it plainly appears that the river was always called Thames, or Tems, before it came near the Thame. For instance, in an ancient charter granted to Abbot Aldhelm, there is particular mention made of certain lands upon the east part of the river, 'cujus vocabulum Temis, juxta vadum qui appellatur Summerford' (the name of which is Thames, near the ford called Somerford), and this ford is in "Wiltshire. The same thing appears from several other charters granted to the abbot of Malmsbury, as well as that of Evesham; and from old deeds relating to Cricklade. And, perhaps, it may with safety be affirmed, that in any charter or authentic history it does not ever occur under the name of Isis, which, indeed, is not so much as heard of but among scholars; the common people all along from the head of it to Oxford calling it by no other name but that of Thames. So also the Saxon Tamese (from whence our Tems immediately comes) is a plain evidence that that people never dreamt of any such conjunction. But further, all our historians who mention the incursions of JEthelwold into Wiltshire, A.d. 905, or of Canute, A.d. 1016, tell us that they passed over the Thames at Cricklade." (Gibson's Camden's ' Britannia,' i. 194, ed. 1772.)
We will now cast a hasty glance over the course of our river, and then abandon ourselves to its guidance.