When very young I had been frequently allowed to go in boats at the seaside, but this pleasure was somewhat marred by the fact that my brothers and I were never permitted to take a boat out by ourselves; it was a sine qua non that the man should accompany us. Boats, however, at the seaside are never the same thing at all as boats on a river; they are clumsy and heavy to pull, there is always a certain amount of uneasy motion, and the oars are awkward to manage; the great charm of river boating - the sense of smooth progression, which is mainly owing to the contiguity of the banks on either side, is entirely absent on the great wide sea.
These expeditions gained a good deal of surreptitious pleasure from the fact that they were carried on without the knowledge of our parents. I find in a diary kept by my brother at this time many entries as to those delightful days, such as the following: I can well remember the look of Tomlinson's boats; they were of a dull grey-green colour, with faded red stripes on them.
The sculls were never pairs, and had old worn leathers and buttons. The place was on a fine day most enjoyable; great straw-laden barges with tanned sails and brightly painted gear, and large vanes on their mast-heads, lay there side by side; the penny and halfpenny steamboats every now and then bustling up to their floating piers; the mysterious dark arches of the Adelphi, through which we sometimes passed from the steamboat wharf; and the delightful old Market, with its fruit, and gold fish, and large brown shrimps.
These things formed a perfect paradise to a boy like me, just out of school on a Saturday half-holiday. It was my first river bank. It has all now vanished away, and gone utterly for ever; railroads overhead and railroads underground, a huge Hotel and Station, and beautiful modern Embankment, with trees and gardens and "Coleoptrous Needle", as my little girl calls it, mark the spot.
In the mud banks where the District Railway now burrows, I recollect arrowheads actually flowering, and occasionally even swans floating about. Here it was I learnt to row and steer after a fashion, and emboldened by practice, Hogsflesh and myself would sometimes go alone.
One occasion I particularly remember, as I had the misfortune to break a scull against a great pile standing in the water, and after,, with great difficulty, getting back to the boat-letter with the remaining scull, had then to leave my Greek lexicon in pawn for five shillings damages which Mr. The man was bothered with the book when he looked into it, but as it was nicely bound and large he agreed to take it until I should pay up the five shillings.
The scull was a wretched old worn thing, and I firmly believe not worth a shilling, but it never occurred to me to doubt the man's valuation.
Pocket money was a thing unknown to me in my school-days, and it required a good deal of managing to collect the requisite sum. I had a little money given each day to pay my omnibus fare and dinner at a chop-house, a goodish bit could be saved by short commons and walking, and I rather think in this case one of my sisters to whom I confided helped me a little; anyhow, it was with a sense of profound relief that I carried home the Schrevelius safe in my bag about a week after the event.
They were very happy days generally, however, and I do not remember any other contretemps occurring. We took with us pottles of strawberries, bags of blackheart cherries, or papers of large shrimps. We got very bold, too, and sometimes rowed down towards London Bridge, steering out to get the swell from the steamers, and I cannot help wondering by what possible chance we escaped drowning.
My first experience of the superior charms of rowing on clear clean water, was on the occasion of a small water picnic, which my elder brother Robert, with my sisters and some other young ladies, got up; they hired a nice roomy boat at Chelsea, and rowed up with the tide to Teddington.
I was allowed to row sometimes, and the sight of my oar showing through the transparent water was a novel and delightful sensation; the water must have been a great deal clearer than it was when I lately went over it, for I well recollect, somewhere below Kew, dropping my brother Bob's silver christening mug overboard in the middle of the river, and seeing it sink flickering to the bottom; and though we could not recover it, I have a distinct recollection of the clearness of the water, and seeing trailing weeds and gravel on the bottom.
My sisters and I used to row him down to the Palace in the morning, and bring him back in the afternoon. We hired a nice boat for eight shillings a week of a Mrs. Snell, whom I saw a year or two ago at the old landing-place, looking very nearly as blooming and well as she did five-and-twenty years ago, the little spring gushing out of its iron pipe as merrily as ever, the horse-boat, the church, and the whole place very little altered.
Our visit to Hampton was so successful, that it was repeated for several years, and I became quite expert in the matter of rowing-boats, and recollect once trying my hand at punting, making of course a sad failure. Many and many were the excursions made by my sisters and me in those happy days, sometimes as far as Shepperton, or even Chertsey; my mother made us apple turnovers, and cakes; and these, with sandwiches, we ate with enjoyment not to be described, in our boat, tied up beneath the willows of an eyot.
Snell will pardon me, if I here allude to a little temporary difficulty we had with her about the hiring of our boat; the point in dispute being as to whether Sunday was to be included in our week's hiring.
The matter came to a deadlock one evening, but the next morning the following letter established the friendly footing once again.
The letter ran thus: Snell presents her thumble compliments to Miss Leslie, and mother hopes she will look over last night, as she were in a temper, and it is quite agiant her feelings to offend any parties. Miss Leslie may have the boat whenever they like.
The bee music is not altogether to please the bees, though it is mentioned as made for that purpose by Virgil. A small boy after watching him for some time, asked him, "If it was all a clean sheet of paper when he began it? They all came in at my invitation, and completely filled the small room.
I painted the portrait of Mrs. Snell's two little girls, and from the local success of this work obtained my first regular commission, which was to paint the portrait of the governess of a family which was staying at Hampton; for this picture I received two guineas, and it led to an order to paint a group of the four children of the family with whom the governess lived. Snell, and her sons John and Harry, were the first regular river-side boat proprietors with whom I became acquainted, and were capital specimens of a class for which I have ever had great respect and admiration.
They are always hard-working, cheerful, pleasant people, of obliging manners, and full of quaint humour and river-side stories. They all possess that indescribable charm which seems to me to belong to anyone who lives in the open air a great deal, and has anything to do with boats.
Snell's sons usually distinguished themselves in the Regattas we saw there, and were particularly good at walking the greasy pole, and letting a pig from a basket which hung from the end of the pole; this sport was termed a pig hunt, and generally concluded the evening's amusement on a Regatta day.
The unfortunate pig fell into the water, and was dived after by the whole of the competitors. Perhaps it was John Snell's early practice at this, which enabled him afterwards to distinguish himself by rivalling Blondin; for he not only walked across the Thames on a tight rope, but afterwards, at the Polytechnic Institution, he performed a number of feats on the rope, such as wheeling a barrow on it with his head in a sack.
I saw this performance of his, and Professor Pepper acted as expositor and lecturer on the occasion. Millais; he was engaged on his pictures of "Ophelia" and "The Huguenot", and lived at Surbiton in a small house close by the Roman Catholic church.
The boat he used to paint in, is, I have been told, still in existence, on a decoy pond, at a house near Taplow Railway Station. We frequently met him in the gardens of Hampton Court, on the days when the band played; he was usually accompanied by Charles Collins and Halliday, who were followers of the Pre-Raphaelite school of painting.
Millais was tall and slim, with beautiful fair curling hair, and dressed in a rather clerical style of coat.
I remember the little golden goose which he wore as a scarf pin. My father painted a small portrait of him about that time, which he used as a study for the head of Lord Petre, in the picture of "The Rape of the Lock". My father worked at this picture, the background of which was taken from one of the rooms in the Palace, sometimes on the public days, as well as on the one private day, and he was much amused by the remarks that were frequently made. A small boy after watching him for some time, asked him, "If it was all a clean sheet of paper when he began it?
I can most confidently recommend the attention of the disciples of the Queen Anne school of architecture to these finely contrived specimens of Wren's genius.
Just inside the outer gates of the Palace there used in those days to be a small confectioner's shop, kept by a Miss Marmot, where out and away the nicest cheese-cakes I ever tasted could be obtained, their peculiar charm being a sort of crispness on the surface, very unlike the usual clammy things sold as maids of honour.
My experiences at Hampton gave me such strong feelings of affection for the river, that I do not think I have passed a single year since then without spending one, two, and sometimes three months on its banks. Johnson's hotel, "The Angel", and had as a sitting-room the upper one with the quaint bow windows, from which a view was obtained of the bridge and the race-course. I never saw Henley Bridge without some one looking over it at the river below.
It is a most fascinating bridge to look over. All bridges are delightful to look over, but Henley is the best in this respect I ever knew. There are landing places for boats on either side, and always just enough going on to gently interest one.
The stone balustrade is exactly the right height to lean on, and there is a ledge below, which seems made on purpose to put one foot on; indeed it has been well used in this way, as between the base of each little pillar of the balustrade the stone is worn into round hollows. There is at one corner the thick foliage of a plane tree, under which one can pause during a shower, and the open balustrade lets the cool air play gently on your legs in hot weather.
I never walk over Henley Bridge without stopping, and indeed, believe no one else ever does. Williams a few years afterwards reopened it, and its glory now has considerably returned. Ladders are brought out, the passengers get down, like Mr. Squeers, to "stretch their legs", amidst the small admiring crowd of boys and men who, as Washington Irving said, seem to get their living by seeing coaches go off.
When the horses are put-to and the passengers seated again, with more horn-blowing away rattles the coach up Hart and bell Street, and along the fair mile to Nettlebed and Oxford. The small crowd of idlers return again to the never-failing delights of river-gazing from the bridge.
At the time of my first visit to Henley, there were at least six or seven gigantic poplars along the two-path; of these a few weird and picturesque stumps are all that now remain. They were perhaps the first Lombardy poplars ever planted in England; in the days of Horace Walpole these trees were first brought to this country, and it became all the fashion to plant them, and here General Conway planted these. They grow very quickly, but are unfortunately rather short-lived trees, a little more than a hundred years being their limit.
I am sorry to see that the young trees that have been planted to supply the places of the old ones are not of the Lombardy kind, but are the ordinary black poplars.
I think the tall straight lines of the old trees composed splendidly with the grand river view, and produced a much more striking effect than ever their young bushy successors are ever likely to do.
When I first rowed on the river here, I was puzzled to know which was up and which was down stream; the current is very gentle, partaking of the general sleepy character of the town itself, and the river runs here nearly due north, which seems to anyone accustomed to it at Hampton, as I was, entirely contradictory. We are in a position to calculate the value of "a year or two".
Since George says Eton won the Ladies Plate the possible dates are or A year or two must most likely therefore be in Morgan, the son of my father's and Dicken's old friend, Captain Morgan. A boat had been sent down to Henley from Searle's for us, and we had beds procured for us in the town, taking our breakfast at the "Angel", of mutton chops at which repast I have still a kindly recollection.
I have witnessed the Regatta nearly every year since, but the impression of that first one remains still in my memory as bright and exciting as ever. The Eton boys won the Ladies' Challenge, and as young Dickens was a rowing man, and member of the London Rowing Club, he met with a great number of friends, who entertained us with cups, and all sorts of hospitality.
The evening of the second day was passed in a variety of wild amusements, amongst other things a moonlight dance round an unfortunate organ grinder; we formed a ring with joined hands, and whirled furiously around, whilst he had to play for his life in the middle. Then a party surrounded the door of Mr. Towsey, the Clerk of the Course, and summoned him to come out and read the rules, about which there had been some dispute during the day; a speech was also made from the bed-room window over Mr.
Thackara's shop, by a member of the L. After this a member of the Berks Constabulary arrived, and with a little kind persuasion, peace and quiet at length prevailed. Boyce, the water-colour artist, who was lodging at Champ's picturesque little cottage, on the edge of the weir pool; the rooms were very old and small, and it pleased Mr.
Boyce's taste to hang among the humble cottage pictures one or two precious little works by D. He had brought with him also some of his favourite old blue tea-cups and plates. He painted two very fine works whilst I was at Whitchurch; one of Champ's cottage itself and the weir pool with a twilight effect, and the other of a large old barn half-way up the hill at Whitchurch; there were a lot of black Berkshire pigs snoozling in the straw in the foreground.
Field was an ardent lover of the river. One or more of his numerous artist friends were generally enjoying his hospitality at Cleve, he himself sketching from nature with the eager enthusiasm with which he pursued every occupation of his life.
I believe he was connected in some way by descent with Oliver Cromwell; he had an exceedingly fine head, and keen grey eyes, and in all manly sports no younger man could surpass him.
His memory should be cherished by all artists for the pains he took in mastering all the intricacies of the laws of artistic copyright, and if he had lived I have little doubt but the injustice and absurdities of the present law would have been righted long ago. His sad loss will long be felt by all who knew him.
His death was as noble as his life, for when his sailing boat upset in the reach above Cleve Mill, a friend of his was with him who could not swim, and it was in the endeavour to save his friend that Edwin Field perished. I had imagined the gardens of the old Colleges with lawns sloping down to the water's edge, and all sorts of picturesque bridges in places.
Then again the stone with which the Colleges are built annoyed me greatly by its dreadful smoky colour, and rotten appearance; and when I noticed many Tudor mouldings in better repair than work of the days of Queen Anne, of course doubts about their genuine age at once asserted themselves - indeed the whole place seemed to be perpetually having new patches put up all over it.
The only College that came up to my ideal was Magdalen [ WTSWG ], with its tower and bridge and the little Cherwell wandering by; the Quad, too, was mossy and grey, and evidently really old. But the poor Isis was very disappointing, looking so muddy and uninteresting; Folly Bridge to me was little better than some of the bridges on the Paddington Canal.
The river certainly gets pretty enough a very short distance from the town, but as for playing a part in the classic beauty of this world-famed city, I can say little for it.
The humble Cam at the sister university is highly ornamental, and there is nothing in Oxford comparable to the backs of the Colleges and the bridges at Cambridge.
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