1852 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Doubleday

Mary Russell Mitford, in "Fishing Songs. Mr. Doubleday — Miss Corbet" Recollections of a Literary Life; or Books, Places, and People (1852) 262-67.



All the world, that is to say, the reading world, whether male or female, has yielded to the magic of one Fisherman's book "The English Angler," of Isaac Walton; and such is the charm of the subject, that the modern works which, so far as the science of angling is concerned, may be said to have superseded the instructions of the old master, the works of Sir Humphry Davy, of Mr. Hofland, of Mr. Henry Phillips, all men eminent for other triumphs than those of the fishing-rod, have, in their several ways, inherited much of the fascination that belongs to the venerable father of the piscatory art.

Even the dissertations on salmon-fishing, as practiced in the wilder parts of Ireland and in Norway, which, when measured with the humble sport of angling for trout in a southern stream, may be likened to the difference between a grand lion hunt in Africa and the simple pheasant shooting of a Norfolk squire-even the history of landing a salmon partakes of the Waltonian charm. We take up the book, and we forget to lay it down again; the greatest compliment that reader can pay to author.

The poetical brothers of the angle, however — I mean such as have actually written in verse — are not only fewer in number, but have generally belonged to the northern portion of our island. I am not sure that the pleasure with which I read "The Fisher's Welcome," may not partly be referred to that cause. At least, I do not like Mr. Doubleday's genial song the less for the reminiscences of canny Northumberland with which every stanza teems.

Years, many and changeful, have gone by since I trod those northern braes; they at whose side I stood lie under the green sod; yet still, as I read of the Tyne or of the Wansbeck, the bright rivers sparkle before me, as if I had walked beside them but yesterday. I still seem to stand with my dear father under the gray walls of that grand old abbey church at Hexham, gazing upon the broad river, as it sweeps in a majestic semicircle before us, amid, perhaps, the very fairest scenery of that fair valley of the Tyne, so renowned for varied beauty, while he points to the haunts of his boyhood, especially the distant weeds of Dilstone Hall, the forfeited estate of Lord Derwentwater. I still seem to listen, as he tells how, in the desolate orchard, he had often gathered fruit almost returned to the wildness of the forest; and how, among the simple peasantry, the recollection of the unhappy Earl, so beloved and so lamented, had lingered for half a century; and tales were yet told how, after his execution, his mangled remains were brought secretly by night to be interred in the vault of his ancestors, halting mysteriously in private houses by day, and resuming their melancholy journey during the dark hours; the secret known to so many, and yet kept so faithfully and so loyally, handed down from father to son, and spoken in low-whispered words as a solemn confidence to be religiously held sacred a duty to the ruined and the dead! Thirty or forty years more had passed, yet I myself heard the country people speaking with tender pity of that cherished lord.

Or the Wansbeck, more familiar still! How plainly do I see that wild, daring stream? — now almost girdling, as a moat, the massive ruins of Mitford Castle, — in the time of the Conqueror, it is to be presumed, the common ancestral home of our race and name, so widely scattered since; now brawling through the deep glen behind the old tower of Little-Harle; — new almost invisible, creeping under the single arch that spans the richly-fringed burn by the pretty rectory of Hartburn; — now reflecting the autumn woods of Bothal, and the gray walls of the Lady's Chapel!

Proteus of streams! Here a foaming torrent between rocks no wider than a deer may leap at a bound! — there a spreading lakelet, too shallow for a bridge, crossed by huge stepping-stones, on which my southern feet tottered and stumbled, and all but fell!

How well I remember my girlish terror when called upon to pass from one stepping-stone to another, and the girlish bravado with which, wanting courage to turn back, and laughing, half to cover my trepidation, and half from genuine fright, I confronted the danger and performed the exploit! Ah! I am not the first who has done a bold thing in fear and trembling, as (if such truths were ever told) many a soldier on his first field could bear witness. At last, encouraged by the applause of friends and relatives, I even came to like the stepping-stones, the excitement, and the praise; just as, cheered by similar bribery, the soldier learns to love a great battle-day.

Those stepping-stones at Mitford! I can see them now. I had heard of them before I saw them, and of their perils. A lady's-maid of my acquaintance, London-born and London-bred — one of those dainty waiting gentlewomen for whose behoof Congreve, in the most graceful as well as the wittiest of his comedies, invented the name of Mrs. Mincing — had been seduced into venturing across them, handed and supported by a French valet. She had fallen, of course, and had dragged her unlucky escort after her; and her description of her previous alarm, the agonies she underwent before her dip, and the terrors of the catastrophe; how she lost a kid slipper and spoiled a silk skirt, and was laughed at by the north-country savages into the bargain; was enough to frighten all the silk skirts and kid slippers within fifty miles, to say nothing of the Mrs. Mincings, or of me.

Bright river Wansbeck! How many pleasant memories I owe to thy mere name! It were but common courtesy to wish a brimming basket and a smiling home to the kindly songster who casts his line across thy waters.

THE FISHER'S WELCOME.
We twa ha' fished the Kale sae clear,
And streams o' mossy Reed;
We've tried the Wansbeck and the Wear,
The Teviot and the Tweed;
An' we will try them ance again,
When summer suns are fine;
An' we'll throw the files thegither yet,
For the days o' lang syne.

'Tis mony years sin' first we sat
On Coquet's bonny braes,
An' mony a brither fisher's gane,
An' clad in his last claiths;
An' we maun follow wi' the lave,
Grim Death he heucks us a';
But we'll hae anither fishing bout
Afore we're ta'en awa'.

For we are hale and hearty baith,
Tho' frosty are our pows,
We still can guide our fishing graith,
And climb the dykes and knowes;
We'll mount our creels and grip our gads,
An' throw a sweeping line,
An' we'll hae a splash amang the lads,
For the days o' lang syne.

Tho' Cheviot's top be frosty still,
He's green below the knee,
Sae don your plaid, and tak' your gad,
An' gae awa' wi' me.
Come husk your flies, my auld compeer,
We're fidgen a' fu' fain,
We've fished the Coquet mony a year,
An' we'll fish her ance again.

An' hameward when we toddle back,
An' nicht begins to fa,
Au' ilka chiel maun hae his crack,
We'll crack aboon them a'.
When jugs are toomed and coggens wet,
I'll lay my loof in thine;
We've shown we're gude at water yet,
An' we're little warse at wine.

We'll crack how mony a creel we've filled,
How mony a line we've flung,
How mony a ged and saumon killed,
In days when we were young.
We'll gar the callants a' look blue,
An' sing anither tune;
They're bleezing aye o' what they'll do,
We'll tell them what we've dune.

The next song is of the sea—

Weel may the boatie row,
An' better may she speed;
An' weel may the boatie row,
That wins the bairnie's bread!
The boatie rows, the boatie rows,
The boatie rows indeed;
An' happy be the lot of a',
That wishes her to speed!

I cuist my line in Largo Bay,
An' fishes I caught nine;
There's three to boil, and three to fry,
An' three to bait the line.
The boatie rows, the boatie rows,
The boatie rows indeed;
An' happy be the lot of a'
That wishes her to speed!

O weel may the boatie row
That fills a heavy creel,
An' cleads us a' frae head to feet,
An' buys our parritch meal.
The boatie rows, the boatie rows,
The boatie rows indeed;
An' happy be the lot of a'
That wishes her to speed!

When Jamie vowed he wad be mine
An' won frae me my heart,
Oh muckle lighter grew my creel,
He swore we'd never part.
The boatie rows, the boatie rows,
The boatie rows fu' weel;
An' muckle lighter is the lade,
When luve bears up the creel.

My curch I pit upon my heid,
And dressed mysel fu' braw;
I trow my heart was dowf an' wae
When Jamie gaed awa'.
But weel may the boatie row,
An' lucky be her part,
An' lightsome be the lassie's care
That yields an honest heart.

When Sawney, Jock, and Jeanetie
Are up and gotten lear,
They'll help to gar the boatie row,
An' lighten a' our care.
The boatie rows, the boatie rows,
The boatie rows fu' weel!
An' lightsome be her heart that bears
The murlain and the creel.

An' when wi' age we are worn down,
An' hirpling round the door,
They'll row to keep us hale and warm,
As we did them before.
Then weel may the boatie row
That wins the bairnie's bread
An' happy be the lot of a'
That wish the boat to speed!