Friday, April 11, 2008

The source of the Thames, or, invariably yours

Thomas Love Peacock to Edward Hookham

Oxford, June 6th, 1809.

My Dear Edward,

aving given you the space of twenty-four hours to contemplate me in an attitude of profound meditation over the source of the Thames, I resume the thread of my narration. Thames Head is a fiat spring, in a field about a mile from Tarlton, lying close to the bank of the Thames and Severn Canal. This spring in the summer months is totally dry. None of our picturesque-hunters appear to have asked themselves the question: How is it possible that a river which is perpetually flowing can rise from a source which is sometimes dry? The infant river at Kemble Meadows is never totally dry, and to this source, by which the stream there is constantly supplied, can alone belong the honour of giving birth to the Thames. But this spring, Thames Head, would never be totally dry, were it not for a monstrous piece of machinery erected near for the purpose of throwing up its water into the neighbouring canal. The Thames is almost as good a subject for a satire as a panegyric.

A satirist might exclaim: The rapacity of Commerce, not content with the immense advantages derived from this river in a course of nearly 300 miles, erects a ponderous engine over the very place of its nativity, to suck up its unborn waters from the bosom of the earth and pump them into a navigable canal! It were to be wished, after all, that the crime of water-sucking were the worst that could be laid to the charge of commercial navigation; but we have only to advert to the conduct of the Spanish Christians in South America, of the English Christians in the East Indies, and of the Christians of all nations on the coast of Africa, to discover the deeper dye of its bloodsucking atrocities.

A panegyrist, on the contrary, after expatiating on the benefits of commercial navigation, and of the great effort of human ingenuity, the Thames and Severn Canal, which ascends the hills, sinks into the valleys, and penetrates the bowels of the earth, to unite the two noblest rivers of this most wealthy, prosperous, happy, generous, loyal, patriotic, &c, &c, &c, kingdom of England, might say: "And yet this splendid undertaking would be incomplete, through the failure of water in the summer months, did not this noble river, this beautiful emblem and powerful instrument of the commercial greatness of Britain, contribute to that greatness, even at the instant of its birth, by supplying this magnificent charm of connection with the means of perpetual utility!"

I must again break off for the present, and will send you this letter, if possible, tomorrow. Invariably yours,

To: Mr. E. T. HOOKHAM,
15 Old Bond St., London.
[Bookseller, stationer, bookbinder, publisher and purveyor of a circulating library]

(For more on the Thames see this list of books (a select bibliography) and of course Peter Ackroyd's book is perhaps one of the most recent books about the river Thames.)

-from Thomas Love Peacock Letters to Edward Hookham and Percy B. Shelley with Fragments of Unpublished MSS edited by Richard Garnett (Boston: Bibliophile Society, MCMX)

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