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Stevenson Sketches


From: An Inland Voyage by Robert Louis Stevenson written in 1878.


The river wound among low hills, so that sometimes the sun was at our backs, and sometimes it stood right ahead, and the river before us was one sheet of intolerable glory.  On either hand, meadows and orchards bordered, with a margin of sedge and water flowers, upon the river.  The hedges were of great height, woven about the trunks of hedgerow elms; and the fields, as they were often very small, looked like a series of bowers along the stream.  There was never any prospect; sometimes a hill-top with its trees would look over the nearest hedgerow, just to make a middle distance for the sky; but that was all.  The heaven was bare of clouds.  The atmosphere, after the rain, was of enchanting purity.  The river doubled among the hillocks, a shining strip of mirror glass; and the dip of the paddles set the flowers shaking along the brink.

In the meadows wandered black and white cattle fantastically marked.  One beast, with a white head and the rest of the body glossy black, came to the edge to drink, and stood gravely twitching his ears at me as I went by, like some sort of preposterous clergyman in a play.  A moment after I heard a loud plunge, and, turning my head, saw the clergyman struggling to shore.  The bank had given way under his feet.




Besides the cattle, we saw no living things except a few birds and a great many fishermen.  These sat along the edges of the meadows, sometimes with one rod, sometimes with as many as half a score.  They seemed stupefied with contentment; and when we induced them to exchange a few words with us about the weather, their voices sounded quiet and far away.  There was a strange diversity of opinion among them as to the kind of fish for which they set their lures; although they were all agreed in this, that the river was abundantly supplied.  Where it was plain that no two of them had ever caught the same kind of fish, we could not help suspecting that perhaps not any one of them had ever caught a fish at all.  I hope, since the afternoon was so lovely, that they were one and all rewarded; and that a silver booty went home in every basket for the pot.  


Some of my friends would cry shame on me for this; but I prefer a man, were he only an angler, to the bravest pair of gills in all God’s waters.  I do not affect fishes unless when cooked in sauce; whereas an angler is an important piece of river scenery, and hence deserves some recognition among canoeists.  He can always tell you where you are after a mild fashion; and his quiet presence serves to accentuate the solitude and stillness, and remind you of the glittering citizens below your boat.

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