I cannot describe a thing that is before me at the moment, or that has been before me only a very little while before; I must allow my recollections to get thoroughly strained free from all chaff till nothing be except the pure gold; allow my memory to choose out what is truly memorable by a process of natural selection; and I piously believe that in this way I ensure the Survival of the Fittest.
If I make notes for future use, or if I am obliged to write letters during the course of my little excursion, I so interfere with the process that I can never again find out what is worthy of being preserved, or what should be given in full length, what in torso, or what merely in profile.
Wandering in this aimless humour, I turned up a lane and found myself following the course of the bright little river.
I passed first one and then another, then a third, several couples out love-making in the spring evening; and a consequent feeling of loneliness was beginning to grow upon me, when I came to a dam across the river, and a mill — a great, gaunt promontory of building, — half on dry ground and half arched over the stream.
Everybody who came to Cockermouth for pleasure, it appeared, went on to Keswick.
It was in vain that I put up a little plea for the liberty of the subject; it was in vain that I said I should prefer to go to Whitehaven.I was told that there was ‘nothing to see there’ — that weary, hackneyed, old falsehood; and at last, as the handmaiden began to look really concerned, I gave way, as men always do in such circumstances, and agreed that I was to leave for Keswick by a train in the early evening.Cockermouth itself, on the same authority, was a Place with ‘nothing to see’; nevertheless I saw a good deal, and retain a pleasant, vague picture of the town and all its surroundings.Then he told me that he had a little raft afloat on the river above the dam which he was going to lend me, in order that I might be able to look back, in after years, upon having done so, and get great pleasure from the recollection.Now, I have a friend of my own who will forgo present enjoyments and suffer much present inconvenience for the sake of manufacturing ‘a reminiscence’ for himself; but there was something singularly refined in this pleasure that the hatmaker found in making reminiscences for others; surely no more simple or unselfish luxury can be imagined.When I did so, it flashed upon me that I was in England; the evening sunlight lit up English houses, English faces, an English conformation of street, — as it were, an English atmosphere blew against my face.There is nothing perhaps more puzzling (if one thing in sociology can ever really be more unaccountable than another) than the great gulf that is set between England and Scotland — a gulf so easy in appearance, in reality so difficult to traverse.This process of incubation may be unreasonably prolonged; and I am somewhat afraid that I have made this mistake with the present journey.Like a bad daguerreotype, great part of it has been entirely lost; I can tell you nothing about the beginning and nothing about the end; but the doings of some fifty or sixty hours about the middle remain quite distinct and definite, like a little patch of sunshine on a long, shadowy plain, or the one spot on an old picture that has been restored by the dexterous hand of the cleaner.The water was dappled with slanting sunshine, and dusted all over with a little mist of flying insects.There were some amorous ducks, also, whose lovemaking reminded me of what I had seen a little farther down.