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College Playing-fields. Beautiful are they in themselves, and beautiful in their associations. Over the broad smooth meadows numerous ancient elms stand apart in solitary grandeur or ranged in formal groves and avenues. The "spires and antique towers " of the College, more or less concealed by the thick foliage, crown the westward prospect. Alongside the fields wanders the " hoary Thames his silver-winding way;" and beyond, in all its matchless majesty, rise the stately turrets of Windsor Castle. The fine manly "boys" recall the memory of those old Etonians who have figured prominently on the wider playing-fields of the world; and make one think of Gray's poetry. -—perhaps also of Charles Lamb's good saying: in either case we shall not fail to regard "the little victims" with interest—if it had been possible not to feel interest for them on their own account.
The field-path to Datchet will afford some pretty glimpses across the river, with Windsor Castle rising from among the noble trees of the Home Park; it will also yield to the bookish pedestrian some recollections. Falstaff's misadventure in the buck-basket at Datchet Mead does not, however, as the name might suggest, belong to this side of the river. "The muddy ditch at Datchet Mead, close by the Thames' side," into which the Fat Knight, who has contributed so largely to the world's stock of enjoyment, was so unceremoniously thrown while "glowing hot, like a horse-shoe hissing hot," and where " he had been drowned but that the shore was shelvy and shallow"—that notable spot was on the opposite bank, near the end of Datchet Lane.
The recollections connected with this part of the river are chiefly piscatorial. Within the whole extent of angling memory, or the reach of tradition, has the Thames about Datchet been a favourite haunt of Thames fishermen. Here it was that honest Izaak was wont to fish for " a little trout called a samlet or skegger-trout, that would bite as fast and freely as minnows, and catch twenty or forty of them at a standing."* He used to fish here along with his famous friend, "that undervaluer of money, the late Provost of Eton College, Sir Henry Wotton ; a man," continues the inimitable and kind-hearted old gossip, " with whom I have often fished and conversed; a man, whose foreign employments in the service of this nation, and whose experience, learning, wit, and cheerfulness, made his company to be esteemed one of the delights of mankind: this man, whose very approbation of angling were sufficient to convince the modest censurer of it, this man was also a most dear lover, and a frequent practiser of the art of angling."')' It was on one of the occasions, when they were thus fishing here together, that " Sir Henry, when he was beyond seventy years of age, marie that description of a part of the present pleasure that possessed him, as he sat quietly in a summer's evening on a bank a-fishing—
"While stood his friend with patient skill
which that friend repeats as a proof of" the peace, and patience, and calm content, that did cohabit in the cheerful heart of Sir Henry Wotton;" and which he calls " a description of the spring, which
* Complete Angler, chap. iv. t lb. chap. i.
glided as soft and sweetly from his pen, as the river does at this time, by which it was then made."
The place where Walton and his friend used to fish, is just that spot, gentle rambler (and if a gentle rambler, also, I am sure, a dear lover, if not a frequent practiser, of the gentle craft), where you have been so long stayed—I hope not unwillingly—listening to this gossip. Wotton used to say, as his friend relates, that "angling was an employment for his idle time, which was then not idly spent; and that it was, after tedious study, a rest to his mind, a cheerer of his spirits, a diverter of sadness, a calmer of unquiet thoughts, a moderator of passions, a procurer of contentedness; and that it begat habits of peace and patience in those that professed and practised it." Wherefore, that he might enjoy these benefits undisturbed, he built for himself a fishing-box here, by a lovely bend of the river, a short mile below his College residence, and somewhat farther from Datchet; and there it was that Walton annually spent some days with him in the fishing season. Every vestige of Wotton's house has long disappeared. The egregious Verrio—the proper Titian of Charles the Second's Court—built himself a summer-house on the site of Wotton's ; but that too has long been destroyed. Afterwards the place, which belongs to Eton College, was let to successive tenants, who rented the fishing along here, and grew osiers on the bank and the adjoining ait, and a mean hut marked the site of the Provost's box; but it has now for many years been again occupied by a fishing-house, and something ,pf its old fame is restored. Black Pots and its master are both well known to Thames anglers.
But Datchet was the resort of a more important fisherman than either "Walton or the Provost; the "Merry Monarch" himself used sometimes to angle here, as is told in some rather uncomplimentary verses, which have been attributed to the Earl of Rochester. Their paternity has been questioned, but they are about equal to those he generally wrote—and " Lory " was not accustomed to be over smooth of speech towards his royal master. Here are the lines :—
"Methinks I see our mighty monarch stand,
Did Charles come to angle at Datchet in hope of enjoying that "calmness of spirit, and a world of other blessings attending upon it," which Wotton expected and found? It could hardly have been as "a rest to his mind after tedious study" that he came hither; though it may perchance have been to divert unquiet thoughts." Charles, the initiated will have perceived, was a fly-fisher; he is not to be classed with the honourable and patient fraternity of. quill-bobbers.
Datchet itself is one of those ordinary semi-rural villages you may find in the vicinity of every large town. Till lately it was one of the quietest, not to say dullest of its class. Now that the western terminus of the Windsor railway is here, it wears a somewhat more active appearance; but when the line is carried on to Windsor, Datchet will doubtless relapse into its ancient somnolescent state, to be disturbed only for the moment by the shrill whistle of a locomotive flying through it, or the irruption of a noisy holiday party. But though Datchet contains nothing to attract or requite the curiosity of a casual visitor, it is a pleasant genteel place to reside in; and the old church, though not remarkably handsome, has some few points about it, and some monuments in it which will interest those who take delight in the examination of our old village churches.
Below Datchet the Thames makes some bold curvatures, pursuing its course in capricious windings, as streams, like ladies, are often wont to do. But all its deviations need not be followed. The broad towing-path, which lies along the right bank, will shorten the way a good deal. Yet, after all, the pleasantest course is seldom the straightest; and it will be well still to keep on the Datchet side, where foot-paths may be found nearly to Wraysbury, and the river itself, instead of a straight navigation cut, can be thus accompanied. Not that there is much to be seen along this part of the Thames. The banks are flat and tame, and little beauty is added to them by the extensive osier-beds which skirt them, and cover the aits which occasionally diversify the stream. Yet is the scenery not to be despised. After the first half mile or so, you come upon delicious little quiet closed-in bits of river scenery, that it is quite