Andrew Lang's Introduction to The Compleat Angler
Andrew Lang


To write on Walton is, indeed, to hold a candle to the sun.
The editor has been content to give a summary of the chief or
rather the only known, events in Walton's long life, adding a
notice of his character as displayed in his Biographies and in
The Compleat Angler, with comments on the ancient and modern
practice of fishing, illustrated by passages from Walton's
foregoers and contemporaries. Like all editors of Walton, he
owes much to his predecessors, Sir John Hawkins, Oldys, Major,
and, above all, to the learned Sir Harris Nicolas.


The few events in the long life of Izaak Walton have been
carefully investigated by Sir Harris Nicolas. All that can be
extricated from documents by the alchemy of research has been
selected, and I am unaware of any important acquisitions since
Sir Harris Nicolas's second edition of 1860. Izaak was of an
old family of Staffordshire yeomen, probably descendants of
George Walton of Yoxhall, who died in 1571. Izaak's father
was Jarvis Walton, who died in February 1595-6; of Izaak's
mother nothing is known. Izaak himself was born at Stafford,
on August 9, 1593, and was baptized on September 21. He died
on December 15, 1683, having lived in the reigns of Elizabeth,
James I., Charles I., under the Commonwealth, and under
Charles II. The anxious and changeful age through which he
passed is in contrast with his very pacific character and
tranquil pursuits.

Of Walton's education nothing is known, except on the evidence
of his writings. He may have read Latin, but most of the
books he cites had English translations. Did he learn his
religion from 'his mother or his nurse'? It will be seen that
the free speculation of his age left him untouched: perhaps
his piety was awakened, from childhood, under the instruction
of a pious mother. Had he been orphaned of both parents (as
has been suggested) he might have been less amenable to
authority, and a less notable example of the virtues which
Anglicanism so vainly opposed to Puritanismism. His literary
beginnings are obscure. There exists a copy of a work, The
Loves of Amos and Laura, written by S. P., published in 1613,
and again in 1619. The edition of 1619 is dedicated to 'Iz.

'Thou being cause IT IS AS NOW IT IS';

the Dedication does not occur in the one imperfect known copy
of 1613. Conceivably the words, 'as now it is' refer to the
edition of 1619, which might have been emended by Walton's
advice. But there are no emendations, hence it is more
probable that Walton revised the poem in 1613, when he was a
man of twenty, or that he merely advised the author to

'For, hadst thou held thy tongue, by silence might
These have been buried in oblivion's night.'

S. P. also remarks:-

'No ill thing can be clothed in thy verse';

hence Izaak was already a rhymer, and a harmless one, under
the Royal Prentice, gentle King Jamie.

By this time Walton was probably settled in London. A deed in
the possession of his biographer, Dr. Johnson's friend, Sir
John Hawkins, shows that, in 1614, Walton held half of a shop
on the north side of Fleet Street, two doors west of Chancery
Lane: the other occupant was a hosier. Mr. Nicholl has
discovered that Walton was made free of the Ironmongers'
Company on Nov. 12, 1618. He is styled an Ironmonger in his
marriage licence. The facts are given in Mr. Marston's Life
of Walton, prefixed to his edition of The Compleat Angler
(1888). It is odd that a prentice ironmonger should have been
a poet and a critic of poetry. Dr. Donne, before 1614, was
Vicar of St. Dunstan's in the West, and in Walton had a
parishioner, a disciple, and a friend. Izaak greatly loved
the society of the clergy: he connected himself with
Episcopal families, and had a natural taste for a Bishop.
Through Donne, perhaps, or it may be in converse across the
counter, he made acquaintance with Hales of Eton, Dr. King,
and Sir Henry Wotton, himself an angler, and one who, like
Donne and Izaak, loved a ghost story, and had several in his
family. Drayton, the river-poet, author of the Polyolbion, is
also spoken of by Walton as 'my old deceased friend.'

On Dec. 27, 1626, Walton married, at Canterbury, Rachel Floud,
a niece, on the maternal side, by several descents, of
Cranmer, the famous Archbishop of Canterbury. The Cranmers
were intimate with the family of the judicious Hooker, and
Walton was again connected with kinsfolk of that celebrated
divine. Donne died in 1631, leaving to Walton, and to other
friends, a bloodstone engraved with Christ crucified on an
anchor: the seal is impressed on Walton's will. When Donne's
poems were published in 1633, Walton added commendatory

'As all lament
(Or should) this general cause of discontent.'

The parenthetic 'or should' is much in Walton's manner.
'Witness my mild pen, not used to upbraid the world,' is also
a pleasant and accurate piece of self-criticism. 'I am his
convert,' Walton exclaims. In a citation from a manuscript
which cannot be found, and perhaps never existed, Walton is
spoken of as 'a very sweet poet in his youth, and more than
all in matters of love.' {1} Donne had been in the same case:
he, or Time, may have converted Walton from amorous ditties.
Walton, in an edition of Donne's poems of 1635, writes of

'This book (dry emblem) which begins
With love; but ends with tears and sighs for sins.'

The preacher and his convert had probably a similar history of
the heart: as we shall see, Walton, like the Cyclops, had
known love. Early in 1639, Wotton wrote to Walton about a
proposed Life of Donne, to be written by himself, and hoped
'to enjoy your own ever welcome company in the approaching
time of the Fly and the Cork.' Wotton was a fly-fisher; the
cork, or float, or 'trembling quill,' marks Izaak for the
bottom-fisher he was. Wotton died in December 1639; Walton
prefixed his own Life of Donne to that divine's sermons in
1640. He says, in the Dedication of the reprint of 1658, that
'it had the approbation of our late learned and eloquent
King,' the martyred Charles I. Living in, or at the corner of
Chancery Lane, Walton is known to have held parochial office:
he was even elected 'scavenger.' He had the misfortune to
lose seven children--of whom the last died in 1641--his wife,
and his mother-in-law. In 1644 he left Chancery Lane, and
probably retired from trade. He was, of course, a Royalist.
Speaking of the entry of the Scots, who came, as one of them
said, 'for the goods,--and chattels of the English,' he
remarks, 'I saw and suffered by it.' {2} He also mentions
that he 'saw' shops shut by their owners till Laud should be
put to death, in January 1645. In his Life of Sanderson,
Walton vouches for an anecdote of 'the knowing and
conscientious King,' Charles, who, he says, meant to do public
penance for Strafford's death, and for the abolishing of
Episcopacy in Scotland. But the condition, 'peaceable
possession of the Crown,' was not granted to Charles, nor
could have been granted to a prince who wished to reintroduce
Bishops in Scotland. Walton had his information from Dr.
Morley. On Nov. 25, 1645, Walton probably wrote, though John
Marriott signed, an Address to the Reader, printed, in 1646,
with Quarles's Shepherd's Eclogues. The piece is a little
idyll in prose, and 'angle, lines, and flies' are not omitted
in the description of 'the fruitful month of May,' while Pan
is implored to restore Arcadian peace to Britannia, 'and grant
that each honest shepherd may again sit under his own vine and
fig-tree, and feed his own flock,' when the King comes, no
doubt. 'About' 1646 Walton married Anne, half-sister of
Bishop Ken, a lady 'of much Christian meeknesse.' Sir Harris
Nicolas thinks that he only visited Stafford occasionally, in
these troubled years. He mentions fishing in 'Shawford
brook'; he was likely to fish wherever there was water, and
the brook flowed through land which, as Mr. Marston shows, he
acquired about 1656. In 1650 a child was born to Walton in
Clerkenwell; it died, but another, Isaac, was born in
September 1651. In 1651 he published the Reliquiae
Wottonianae, with a Memoir of Sir Henry Wotton. The knight
had valued Walton's company as a cure for 'those splenetic
vapours that are called hypochondriacal.'

Worcester fight was on September 3, 1651; the king was
defeated, and fled, escaping, thanks to a stand made by Wogan,
and to the loyalty of Mistress Jane Lane, and of many other
faithful adherents. A jewel of Charles's, the lesser George,
was preserved by Colonel Blague, who intrusted it to Mr.
Barlow of Blore Pipe House, in Staffordshire. Mr. Barlow gave
it to Mr. Milward, a Royalist prisoner in Stafford, and he, in
turn, intrusted it to Walton, who managed to convey it to
Colonel Blague in the Tower. The colonel escaped, and the
George was given back to the king. Ashmole, who tells the
story, mentions Walton as 'well beloved of all good men.'
This incident is, perhaps, the only known adventure in the
long life of old Izaak. The peaceful angler, with a royal
jewel in his pocket, must have encountered many dangers on the
highway. He was a man of sixty when he published his Compleat
Angler in 1653, and so secured immortality. The quiet
beauties of his manner in his various biographies would only
have made him known to a few students, who could never have
recognised Byron's 'quaint, old, cruel coxcomb' in their
author. 'The whole discourse is a kind of picture of my own
disposition, at least of my disposition in such days and times
as I allow myself when honest Nat. and R. R. and I go a-
fishing together.' Izaak speaks of the possibility that his
book may reach a second edition. There are now editions more
than a hundred! Waltonians should read Mr. Thomas Westwood's
Preface to his Chronicle of the Compleat Angler: it is
reprinted in Mr. Marston's edition. Mr. Westwood learned to
admire Walton at the feet of Charles Lamb:-

'No fisher,
But a well-wisher
To the game,'

as Scott describes himself. {3}

Lamb recommended Walton to Coleridge; 'it breathes the very
spirit of innocence, purity, and simplicity of heart; . . . it
would sweeten a man's temper at any time to read it; it would
Christianise every angry, discordant passion; pray make
yourself acquainted with it.' (Oct. 28, 1796.) According to
Mr. Westwood, Lamb had 'an early copy,' found in a repository
of marine stores, but not, even then, to be bought a bargain.
Mr. Westwood fears that Lamb's copy was only Hawkins's edition
of 1760. The original is extremely scarce. Mr. Locker had a
fine copy; there is another in the library of Dorchester
House: both are in their primitive livery of brown sheep, or
calf. The book is one which only the wealthy collector can
hope, with luck, to call his own. A small octavo, sold at
eighteen-pence, The Compleat Angler was certain to be thumbed
into nothingness, after enduring much from May showers, July
suns, and fishy companionship. It is almost a wonder that any
examples of Walton's and Bunyan's first editions have survived
into our day. The little volume was meant to find a place in
the bulging pockets of anglers, and was well adapted to that
end. The work should be reprinted in a similar format:
quarto editions are out of place.

The fortunes of the book, the fata libelli, have been traced
by Mr. Westwood. There are several misprints (later
corrected) in the earliest copies, as (p. 88) 'Fordig' for
'Fordidg,' (p. 152) 'Pudoch' for 'Pudock.' The appearance of
the work was advertised in The Perfect Diurnal (May 9-16), and
in No. 154 of The Mercurius Politicus (May 19-26), also in an
almanack for 1654. Izaak, or his publisher Marriott,
cunningly brought out the book at a season when men expect the
Mayfly. Just a month before, Oliver Cromwell had walked into
the House of Commons, in a plain suit of black clothes, with
grey stockings. His language, when he spoke, was reckoned
unparliamentary (as it undeniably was), and he dissolved the
Long Parliament. While Marriott was advertising Walton's
work, Cromwell was making a Parliament of Saints, 'faithful,
fearing God, and hating covetousness.' This is a good
description of Izaak, but he was not selected. In the midst
of revolutions came The Compleat Angler to the light, a
possession for ever. Its original purchasers are not likely
to have taken a hand in Royalist plots or saintly
conventicles. They were peaceful men. A certain Cromwellian
trooper, Richard Franck, was a better angler than Walton, and
he has left to us the only contemporary and contemptuous
criticism of his book: to this we shall return, but anglers,
as a rule, unlike Franck, must have been for the king, and on
Izaak's side in controversy.

Walton brought out a second edition in 1655. He rewrote the
book, adding more than a third, suppressing Viator, and
introducing Venator. New plates were added, and, after the
manner of the time, commendatory verses. A third edition
appeared in 1661, a fourth (published by Simon Gape, not by
Marriott) came out in 1664, a fifth in 1668 (counting Gape's
of 1664 as a new edition), and in 1676, the work, with
treatises by Venables and Charles Cotton, was given to the
world as The Universal Angler. Five editions in twelve years
is not bad evidence of Walton's popularity. But times now
altered. Walton is really an Elizabethan: he has the quaint
freshness, the apparently artless music of language of the
great age. He is a friend of 'country contents': no lover of
the town, no keen student of urban ways and mundane men. A
new taste, modelled on that of the wits of Louis XIV., had
come in: we are in the period of Dryden, and approaching that
of Pope.

There was no new edition of Walton till Moses Browne (by
Johnson's desire) published him, with 'improvements,' in 1750.
Then came Hawkins's edition in 1760. Johnson said of Hawkins,
'Why, ma'am, I believe him to be an honest man at the bottom;
but, to be sure, he is penurious, and he is mean, and it must
be owned he has a degree of brutality, and a tendency to
savageness, that cannot easily be defended.'

This was hardly the editor for Izaak! However, Hawkins,
probably by aid of Oldys the antiquary (as Mr. Marston shows),
laid a good foundation for a biography of Walton. Errors he
made, but Sir Harris Nicolas has corrected them. Johnson
himself reckoned Walton's Lives as 'one of his most favourite
books.' He preferred the life of Donne, and justly complained
that Walton's story of Donne's vision of his absent wife had
been left out of a modern edition. He explained Walton's
friendship with persons of higher rank by his being 'a great

The eighteenth century, we see, came back to Walton, as the
nineteenth has done. He was precisely the author to suit
Charles Lamb. He was reprinted again and again, and
illustrated by Stoddart and others. Among his best editors
are Major (1839), 'Ephemera' (1853), Nicolas (1836, 1860), and
Mr. Marston (1888).

The only contemporary criticism known to me is that of Richard
Franck, who had served with Cromwell in Scotland, and, not
liking the aspect of changing times, returned to the north,
and fished from the Esk to Strathnaver. In 1658 he wrote his
Northern Memoirs, an itinerary of sport, heavily cumbered by
dull reflections and pedantic style. Franck, however, was a
practical angler, especially for salmon, a fish of which
Walton knew nothing: he also appreciated the character of the
great Montrose. He went to America, wrote a wild cosmogonic
work, and The Admirable and Indefatigable Adventures of the
Nine Pious Pilgrims (one pilgrim catches a trout!) (London,
1708). The Northern Memoirs of 1658 were not published till
1694. Sir Walter Scott edited a new issue, in 1821, and
defended Izaak from the strictures of the salmon-fisher.
Izaak, says Franck, 'lays the stress of his arguments upon
other men's observations, wherewith he stuffs his indigested
octavo; so brings himself under the angler's censure and the
common calamity of a plagiary, to be pitied (poor man) for his
loss of time, in scribbling and transcribing other men's
notions. . . . I remember in Stafford, I urged his own
argument upon him, that pickerel weed of itself breeds
pickerel (pike).' Franck proposed a rational theory, 'which
my Compleat Angler no sooner deliberated, but dropped his
argument, and leaves Gesner to defend it, so huffed away. . .
. ' 'So note, the true character of an industrious angler
more deservedly falls upon Merrill and Faulkner, or rather
Izaak Ouldham, a man that fished salmon with but three hairs
at hook, whose collections and experiments were lost with
himself,'--a matter much to be regretted. It will be
observed, of course, that hair was then used, and gut is first
mentioned for angling purposes by Mr. Pepys. Indeed, the
flies which Scott was hunting for when he found the lost Ms.
of the first part of Waverley are tied on horse-hairs. They
are in the possession of the descendants of Scott's friend,
Mr. William Laidlaw. The curious angler, consulting Franck,
will find that his salmon flies are much like our own, but
less variegated. Scott justly remarks that, while Walton was
habit and repute a bait-fisher, even Cotton knows nothing of
salmon. Scott wished that Walton had made the northern tour,
but Izaak would have been sadly to seek, running after a fish
down a gorge of the Shin or the Brora, and the discomforts of
the north would have finished his career. In Scotland he
would not have found fresh sheets smelling of lavender.

Walton was in London 'in the dangerous year 1655.' He speaks
of his meeting Bishop Sanderson there, 'in sad-coloured
clothes, and, God knows, far from being costly.' The friends
were driven by wind and rain into 'a cleanly house, where we
had bread, cheese, ale, and a fire, for our ready money. The
rain and wind were so obliging to me, as to force our stay
there for at least an hour, to my great content and advantage;
for in that time he made to me many useful observations of the
present times with much clearness and conscientious freedom.'
It was a year of Republican and Royalist conspiracies: the
clergy were persecuted and banished from London.

No more is known of Walton till the happy year 1660, when the
king came to his own again, and Walton's Episcopal friends to
their palaces. Izaak produced an 'Eglog,' on May 29:-

'The king! The king's returned! And now
Let's banish all sad thoughts, and sing:
We have our laws, and have our king.'

If Izaak was so eccentric as to go to bed sober on that
glorious twenty-ninth of May, I greatly misjudge him. But he
grew elderly. In 1661 he chronicles the deaths of 'honest
Nat. and R. Roe,--they are gone, and with them most of my
pleasant hours, even as a shadow that passeth away, and
returns not.' On April 17, 1662, Walton lost his second wife:
she died at Worcester, probably on a visit to Bishop Morley.
In the same year, the bishop was translated to Winchester,
where the palace became Izaak's home. The Itchen (where, no
doubt, he angled with worm) must have been his constant haunt.
He was busy with his Life of Richard Hooker (1665). The
peroration, as it were, was altered and expanded in 1670, and
this is but one example of Walton's care of his periods. One
beautiful passage he is known to have rewritten several times,
till his ear was satisfied with its cadences. In 1670 he
published his Life of George Herbert. 'I wish, if God shall
be so pleased, that I may be so happy as to die like him.' In
1673, in a Dedication of the third edition of Reliquiae
Wottonianae, Walton alludes to his friendship with a much
younger and gayer man than himself, Charles Cotton (born
1630), the friend of Colonel Richard Lovelace, and of Sir John
Suckling: the translator of Scarron's travesty of Virgil, and
of Montaigne's Essays. Cotton was a roisterer, a man at one
time deep in debt, but he was a Royalist, a scholar, and an
angler. The friendship between him and Walton is creditable
to the freshness of the old man and to the kindness of the
younger, who, to be sure, laughed at Izaak's heavily dubbed
London flies. 'In him,' says Cotton, 'I have the happiness to
know the worthiest man, and to enjoy the best and the truest
friend any man ever had.' We are reminded of Johnson with
Langton and Topham Beauclerk. Meanwhile Izaak the younger had
grown up, was educated under Dr. Fell at Christ Church, and
made the Grand Tour in 1675, visiting Rome and Venice. In
March 1676 he proceeded M.A. and took Holy Orders. In this
year Cotton wrote his treatise on fly-fishing, to be published
with Walton's new edition; and the famous fishing house on the
Dove, with the blended initials of the two friends, was built.
In 1678, Walton wrote his Life of Sanderson. . . . ''Tis now
too late to wish that my life may be like his, for I am in the
eighty-fifth year of my age, but I humbly beseech Almighty God
that my death may be; and do as earnestly beg of every reader
to say Amen!' He wrote, in 1678, a preface to Thealma and
Clearchus (1683). The poem is attributed to John Chalkhill, a
Fellow of Winchester College, who died, a man of eighty, in
1679. Two of his songs are in The Compleat Angler. Probably
the attribution is right: Chalkhill's tomb commemorates a man
after Walton's own heart, but some have assigned the volume to
Walton himself. Chalkhill is described, on the title-page, as
'an acquaintant and friend of Edmund Spencer,' which is
impossible. {4}

On August 9, 1683, Walton wrote his will, 'in the neintyeth
year of my age, and in perfect memory, for which praised be
God.' He professes the Anglican faith, despite 'a very long
and very trew friendship for some of the Roman Church.' His
worldly estate he has acquired 'neither by falsehood or
flattery or the extreme crewelty of the law of this nation.'
His property was in two houses in London, the lease of
Norington farm, a farm near Stafford, besides books, linen,
and a hanging cabinet inscribed with his name, now, it seems,
in the possession of Mr. Elkin Mathews. A bequest is made of
money for coals to the poor of Stafford, 'every last weike in
Janewary, or in every first weike in Febrewary; I say then,
because I take that time to be the hardest and most pinching
times with pore people.' To the Bishop of Winchester he
bequeathed a ring with the posy, 'A Mite for a Million.'
There are other bequests, including ten pounds to 'my old
friend, Mr. Richard Marriott,' Walton's bookseller. This good
man died in peace with his publisher, leaving him also a ring.
A ring was left to a lady of the Portsmouth family, 'Mrs.
Doro. Wallop.'

Walton died, at the house of his son-in-law, Dr. Hawkins, in
Winchester, on Dec. 15, 1683: he is buried in the south aisle
of the Cathedral. The Cathedral library possesses many of
Walton's books, with his name written in them. {5} His
Eusebius (1636) contains, on the flyleaf, repetitions, in
various forms, of one of his studied passages. Simple as he
seems, he is a careful artist in language.

Such are the scanty records, and scantier relics, of a very
long life. Circumstances and inclination combined to make
Walpole choose the fallentis semita vitae. Without ambition,
save to be in the society of good men, he passed through
turmoil, ever companioned by content. For him existence had
its trials: he saw all that he held most sacred overthrown;
laws broken up; his king publicly murdered; his friends
outcasts; his worship proscribed; he himself suffered in
property from the raid of the Kirk into England. He underwent
many bereavements: child after child he lost, but content he
did not lose, nor sweetness of heart, nor belief. His was one
of those happy characters which are never found disassociated
from unquestioning faith. Of old he might have been the
ancient religious Athenian in the opening of Plato's Republic,
or Virgil's aged gardener. The happiness of such natures
would be incomplete without religion, but only by such
tranquil and blessed souls can religion be accepted with no
doubt or scruple, no dread, and no misgiving. In his Preface
to Thealma and Clearchus Walton writes, and we may use his own
words about his own works: 'The Reader will here find such
various events and rewards of innocent Truth and undissembled
Honesty, as is like to leave in him (if he be a good-natured
reader) more sympathising and virtuous impressions, than ten
times so much time spent in impertinent, critical, and
needless disputes about religion.' Walton relied on
authority; on 'a plain, unperplexed catechism.' In an age of
the strangest and most dissident theological speculations, an
age of Quakers, Anabaptists, Antinomians, Fifth Monarchy Men,
Covenanters, Independents, Gibbites, Presbyterians, and what
not, Walton was true to the authority of the Church of
England, with no prejudice against the ancient Catholic faith.
As Gesner was his authority for pickerel weed begetting pike,
so the Anglican bishops were security for Walton's creed.

To him, if we may say so, it was easy to be saved, while
Bunyan, a greater humorist, could be saved only in following a
path that skirted madness, and 'as by fire.' To Bunyan,
Walton would have seemed a figure like his own Ignorance; a
pilgrim who never stuck in the Slough of Despond, nor met
Apollyon in the Valley of the Shadow, nor was captive in
Doubting Castle, nor stoned in Vanity Fair. And of Bunyan,
Walton would have said that he was among those Nonconformists
who 'might be sincere, well-meaning men, whose indiscreet zeal
might be so like charity, as thereby to cover a multitude of
errors.' To Walton there seemed spiritual solace in
remembering 'that we have comforted and been helpful to a
dejected or distressed family.' Bunyan would have regarded
this belief as a heresy, and (theoretically) charitable deeds
'as filthy rags.' Differently constituted, these excellent
men accepted religion in different ways. Christian bows
beneath a burden of sin; Piscator beneath a basket of trout.
Let us be grateful for the diversities of human nature, and
the dissimilar paths which lead Piscator and Christian alike
to the City not built with hands. Both were seekers for a
City which to have sought through life, in patience, honesty,
loyalty, and love, is to have found it. Of Walton's book we
may say:-

'Laudis amore tumes? Sunt certa piacula quae te
Ter pure lecto poterunt recreare libello.'


It was probably by his Lives, rather than, in the first
instance, by his Angler, that Walton won the liking of Dr.
Johnson, whence came his literary resurrection. It is true
that Moses Browne and Hawkins, both friends of Johnson's,
edited The Compleat Angler before 1775-1776, when we find Dr.
Home of Magdalene, Oxford, contemplating a 'benoted' edition
of the Lives, by Johnson's advice. But the Walton of the
Lives is, rather than the Walton of the Angler, the man after
Johnson's own heart. The Angler is 'a picture of my own
disposition' on holidays. The Lives display the same
disposition in serious moods, and in face of the eternal
problems of man's life in society. Johnson, we know, was very
fond of biography, had thought much on the subject, and, as
Boswell notes, 'varied from himself in talk,' when he
discussed the measure of truth permitted to biographers. 'If
a man is to write a Panegyrick, he may keep vices out of
sight; but if he professes to write a Life, he must represent
it as it really was.' Peculiarities were not to be concealed,
he said, and his own were not veiled by Boswell. 'Nobody can
write the life of a man but those who have eat and drunk and
lived in social intercourse with him.' 'They only who live
with a man can write his life with any genuine exactness and
discrimination; and few people who have lived with a man know
what to remark about him.' Walton had lived much in the
society of his subjects, Donne and Wotton; with Sanderson he
had a slighter acquaintance; George Herbert he had only met;
Hooker, of course, he had never seen in the flesh. It is
obvious to every reader that his biographies of Donne and
Wotton are his best. In Donne's Life he feels that he is
writing of an English St. Austin,--'for I think none was so
like him before his conversion; none so like St. Ambrose after
it: and if his youth had the infirmities of the one, his age
had the excellencies of the other; the learning and holiness
of both.'

St. Augustine made free confession of his own infirmities of
youth. With great delicacy Walton lets Donne also confess
himself, printing a letter in which he declines to take Holy
Orders, because his course of life when very young had been
too notorious. Delicacy and tact are as notable in Walton's
account of Donne's poverty, melancholy, and conversion through
the blessed means of gentle King Jamie. Walton had an awful
loyalty, a sincere reverence for the office of a king. But
wherever he introduces King James, either in his Donne or his
Wotton, you see a subdued version of the King James of The
Fortunes of Nigel. The pedantry, the good nature, the
touchiness, the humour, the nervousness, are all here. It
only needs a touch of the king's broad accent to set before
us, as vividly as in Scott, the interviews with Donne, and
that singular scene when Wotton, disguised as Octavio Baldi,
deposits his long rapier at the door of his majesty's chamber.
Wotton, in Florence, was warned of a plot to murder James VI.
The duke gave him 'such Italian antidotes against poison as
the Scots till then had been strangers to': indeed, there is
no antidote for a dirk, and the Scots were not poisoners.
Introduced by Lindsay as 'Octavio Baldi,' Wotton found his
nervous majesty accompanied by four Scottish nobles. He spoke
in Italian; then, drawing near, hastily whispered that he was
an Englishman, and prayed for a private interview. This, by
some art, he obtained, delivered his antidotes, and, when
James succeeded Elizabeth, rose to high favour. Izaak's
suppressed humour makes it plain that Wotton had acted the
scene for him, from the moment of leaving the long rapier at
the door. Again, telling how Wotton, in his peaceful hours as
Provost of Eton, intended to write a Life of Luther, he says
that King Charles diverted him from his purpose to attempting
a History of England 'by a persuasive loving violence (to
which may be added a promise of 500 pounds a year).' He likes
these parenthetic touches, as in his description of Donne,
'always preaching to himself, like an angel from a cloud,--BUT
IN NONE.' Again, of a commendation of one of his heroes he
says, 'it is a known truth,--though it be in verse.'

A memory of the days when Izaak was an amorist, and shone in
love ditties, appears thus. He is speaking of Donne:-

'Love is a flattering mischief . . . a passion that carries us
to commit errors with as much ease as whirlwinds remove

'The tears of lovers, or beauty dressed in sadness, are
observed to have in them a charming sadness, and to become
very often too strong to be resisted.'

These are examples of Walton's sympathy: his power of
portrait-drawing is especially attested by his study of Donne,
as the young gallant and poet, the unhappy lover, the man of
state out of place and neglected; the heavily burdened father,
the conscientious scholar, the charming yet ascetic preacher
and divine, the saint who, dying, makes himself in his own
shroud, an emblem of mortality.

As an example of Walton's style, take the famous vision of Dr.
Donne in Paris. He had left his wife expecting her

'Two days after their arrival there, Mr. Donne was left alone
in that room in which Sir Robert and he, and some other
friends, had dined together. To this place Sir Robert
returned within half an hour, and as he left, so he found Mr.
Donne alone, but in such an ecstacy, and so altered as to his
looks, as amazed Sir Robert to behold him; insomuch that he
earnestly desired Mr. Donne to declare what had befallen him
in the short time of his absence. To which Mr. Donne was not
able to make a present answer: but, after a long and
perplexed pause, did at last say, "I have seen a dreadful
vision since I saw you: I have seen my dear wife pass twice
by me through this room, with her hair hanging about her
shoulders, and a dead child in her arms; this I have seen
since I saw you." To which Sir Robert replied, "Sure, sir,
you have slept since I saw you; and this is the result of some
melancholy dream, which I desire you to forget, for you are
now awake." To which Mr. Donne's reply was, "I cannot be
surer that I now live than that I have not slept since I saw
you: and I am as sure that at her second appearing she
stopped, and looked me in the face, and vanished . . . " And
upon examination, the abortion proved to be the same day, and
about the very hour, that Mr. Donne affirmed he saw her pass
by him in his chamber.

' . . . And though it is most certain that two lutes, being
both strung and tuned to an equal pitch, and then one played
upon, the other, that is not touched, being laid upon a table
at a fit distance, will (like an echo to a trumpet) warble a
faint audible harmony in answer to the same tune; yet many
will not believe there is any such thing as a sympathy of
souls, and I am well pleased that every reader do enjoy his
own opinion . . . '

He then appeals to authority, as of Brutus, St. Monica, Saul,
St. Peter:-

'More observations of this nature, and inferences from them,
might be made to gain the relation a firmer belief; but I
forbear: lest I, that intended to be but a relator, may be
thought to be an engaged person for the proving what was
related to me, . . . by one who had it from Dr. Donne.'

Walpole was no Boswell; worthy Boswell would have cross-
examined Dr. Donne himself.

Of dreams he writes:-

'Common dreams are but a senseless paraphrase on our waking
thoughts, or of the business of the day past, or are the
result of our over engaged affections when we betake ourselves
to rest.' . . . Yet 'Almighty God (though the causes of dreams
be often unknown) hath even in these latter times also, by a
certain illumination of the soul in sleep, discovered many
things that human wisdom could not foresee.'

Walton is often charged with superstition, and the enlightened
editor of the eighteenth century excised all the scene of Mrs.
Donne's wraith as too absurd. But Walton is a very fair
witness. Donne, a man of imagination, was, he tells us, in a
perturbed anxiety about Mrs. Donne. The event was after
dinner. The story is, by Walton's admission, at second hand.
Thus, in the language of the learned in such matters, the tale
is 'not evidential.' Walton explains it, if true, as a result
of 'sympathy of souls'--what is now called telepathy. But he
is content that every man should have his own opinion. In the
same way he writes of the seers in the Wotton family: 'God
did seem to speak to many of this family' (the Wottons) 'in
dreams,' and Thomas Wotton's dreams 'did usually prove true,
both in foretelling things to come, and discovering things
past.' Thus he dreamed that five townsmen and poor scholars
were robbing the University chest at Oxford. He mentioned
this in a letter to his son at Oxford, and the letter,
arriving just after the robbery, led to the discovery of the
culprits. Yet Walton states the causes and nature of dreams
in general with perfect sobriety and clearness. His tales of
this sort were much to Johnson's mind, as to Southey's. But
Walton cannot fairly be called 'superstitious,' granting the
age in which he lived. Visions like Dr. Donne's still excite
curious comment.

To that cruel superstition of his age, witchcraft, I think
there is no allusion in Walton. Almost as uncanny, however,
is his account of Donne's preparation for death

'Several charcoal fires being first made in his large study,
he brought with him into that place his winding-sheet in his
hand, and having put off all his clothes, had this sheet put
on him, and so tied with knots at his head and feet, and his
hands so placed as dead bodies are usually fitted, to be
shrouded and put into their coffin or grave. Upon this urn he
thus stood, with his eyes shut, and with so much of the sheet
turned aside as might show his lean, pale, and death-like
face, which was purposely turned towards the east, from which
he expected the second coming of his and our Saviour Jesus.
In this posture he was drawn at his just height, and, when the
picture was fully finished, he caused it to be set by his
bedside, where it continued, and became his hourly object till

Thus Donne made ready to meet the common fate:-

'That body, which once was a temple of the Holy Ghost, is now
become a small quantity of Christian ashes. But I shall see
it reanimated.'

This is the very voice of Faith. Walton was, indeed, an
assured believer, and to his mind, the world offered no
insoluble problem. But we may say of him, in the words of a
poet whom he quotes:-

'Many a one
Owes to his country his religion;
And in another would as strongly grow
Had but his nurse or mother taught him so.'

In his account of Donne's early theological studies of the
differences between Rome and Anglicanism, it is manifest that
Izaak thinks these differences matters of no great moment.
They are not for simple men to solve: Donne has taken that
trouble for him; besides, he is an Englishman, and

'Owes to his country his religion.'

He will be no Covenanter, and writes with disgust of an
intruded Scots minister, whose first action was to cut down
the ancient yews in the churchyard. Izaak's religion, and all
his life, were rooted in the past, like the yew-tree. He is
what he calls 'the passive peaceable Protestant.' 'The common
people in this nation,' he writes, 'think they are not wise
unless they be busy about what they understand not, and
especially about religion'; as Bunyan was busy at that very
moment. In Walton's opinion, the plain facts of religion, and
of consequent morality, are visible as the sun at noonday.
The vexed questions are for the learned, and are solved
variously by them. A man must follow authority, as he finds
it established in his own country, unless he has the learning
and genius of a Donne. To these, or equivalents for these in
a special privy inspiration, 'the common people' of his day,
and ever since Elizabeth's day, were pretending. This was the
inevitable result of the translation of the Bible into
English. Walton quotes with approval a remark of a witty
Italian on a populace which was universally occupied with
Free-will and Predestination. The fruits Walton saw, in
preaching Corporals, Antinomian Trusty Tompkinses, Quakers who
ran about naked, barking, Presbyterians who cut down old yew-
trees, and a Parliament of Saints. Walton took no kind of joy
in the general emancipation of the human spirit. The clergy,
he confessed, were not what he wished them to be, but they
were better than Quakers, naked and ululant. To love God and
his neighbour, and to honour the king, was Walton's
unperplexed religion. Happily he was saved from the view of
the errors and the fall of James II., a king whom it was not
easy to honour. His social philosophy was one of established
rank, tempered by equity and Christian charity. If anything
moves his tranquil spirit, it is the remorseless greed of him
who takes his fellow-servant by the throat and exacts the
uttermost penny. How Sanderson saved a poor farmer from the
greed of an extortionate landlord, Walton tells in his Life of
the prelate, adding this reflection:-

'It may be noted that in this age there are a sort of people
so unlike the God of mercy, so void of the bowels of pity,
that they love only themselves and their children; love them
so as not to be concerned whether the rest of mankind waste
their days in sorrow or shame; people that are cursed with
riches, and a mistake that nothing but riches can make them
and theirs happy.'

Thus Walton appears, this is 'the picture of his own
disposition,' in the Lives. He is a kind of antithesis to
John Knox. Men like Walton are not to be approached for new
'ideas.' They will never make a new world at a blow: they
will never enable us to understand, but they can teach us to
endure, and even to enjoy, the world. Their example is

'Even the ashes of the just
Smell sweet, and blossom in the dust.'


Franck, as we saw, called Walton 'a plagiary.' He was a
plagiary in the same sense as Virgil and Lord Tennyson and
Robert Burns, and, indeed, Homer, and all poets. The Compleat
Angler, the father of so many books, is the child of a few.
Walton not only adopts the opinions and advice of the authors
whom he cites, but also follows the manner, to a certain
extent, of authors whom he does not quote. His very exordium,
his key-note, echoes (as Sir Harris Nicolas observes) the
opening of A Treatise of the Nature of God (London, 1599).
The Treatise starts with a conversation between a gentleman
and a scholar: it commences:-

Gent. Well overtaken, sir!
Scholar. You are welcome, gentleman.

A more important source is The Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth an
Angle, commonly attributed to Dame Juliana Barnes (printed at
Westminster, 1496). A manuscript, probably of 1430-1450, has
been published by Mr. Satchell (London, 1883). This book may
be a translation of an unknown French original. It opens:-

'Soloman in hys paraboles seith that a glad spirit maket a
flowryng age. That ys to sey, a feyre age and a longe' (like
Walton's own), 'and sith hyt ys so I aske this question, wyche
bynne the menys and cause to reduce a man to a mery spryte.'
The angler 'schall have hys holsom walke and mery at hys owne
ease, and also many a sweyt eayr of divers erbis and flowres
that schall make hym ryght hongre and well disposed in hys
body. He schall heyr the melodies melodious of the ermony of
byrde: he schall se also the yong swannes and signetes
folowing ther eyrours, duckes, cootes, herons, and many other
fowlys with ther brodys, wyche me semyt better then all the
noyse of houndes, and blastes of hornes and other gamys that
fawkners or hunters can make, and yf the angler take the
fyssche, hardly then ys ther no man meryer then he in his

This is the very 'sprite' of Walton; this has that vernal and
matutinal air of opening European literature, full of birds'
music, and redolent of dawn. This is the note to which the
age following Walton would not listen.

In matter of fact, again, Izaak follows the ancient Treatise.
We know his jury of twelve flies: the Treatise says:-

'These ben the xij flyes wyth whyche ye shall angle to the
trought and graylling, and dubbe like as ye shall now here me

'Marche. The donne fly, the body of the donne woll, and the
wyngis of the pertryche. Another donne flye, the body of
blacke woll, the wyngis of the blackyst drake; and the lay
under the wynge and under the tayle.'

Walton has:-

'The first is the dun fly in March: the body is made of dun
wool, the wings of the partridge's feathers. The second is
another dun fly: the body of black wool; and the wings made
of the black drake's feathers, and of the feathers under his

Again, the Treatise has:-

Auguste. The drake fly. The body of black wull and lappyd
abowte wyth blacke sylke: winges of the mayle of the blacke
drake wyth a blacke heed.'

Walton has:-

'The twelfth is the dark drake-fly, good in August: the body
made with black wool, lapt about with black silk, his wings
are made with the mail of the black drake, with a black head.'

This is word for word a transcript of the fifteenth century
Treatise. But Izaak cites, not the ancient Treatise, but Mr.
Thomas Barker. {6} Barker, in fact, gives many more, and more
variegated flies than Izaak offers in the jury of twelve which
he rendered, from the old Treatise, into modern English. Sir
Harris Nicolas says that the jury is from Leonard Mascall's
Booke of Fishing with Hooke and Line (London, 1609), but
Mascall merely stole from the fifteenth-century book. In
Cotton's practice, and that of The Angler's Vade Mecum (1681),
flies were as numerous as among ourselves, and had, in many
cases, the same names. Walton absurdly bids us 'let no part
of the line touch the water, but the fly only.' Barker says,
'Let the fly light first into the water.' Both men insist on
fishing down stream, which is, of course, the opposite of the
true art, for fish lie with their heads up stream, and trout
are best approached from behind. Cotton admits of fishing
both up and down, as the wind and stream may serve: and, of
course, in heavy water, in Scotland, this is all very well.
But none of the old anglers, to my knowledge, was a dry-fly
fisher, and Izaak was no fly-fisher at all. He took what he
said from Mascall, who took it from the old Treatise, in
which, it is probable, Walton read, and followed the pleasant
and to him congenial spirit of the mediaeval angler. All
these writers tooled with huge rods, fifteen or eighteen feet
in length, and Izaak had apparently never used a reel. For
salmon, he says, 'some use a wheel about the middle of their
rods or near their hand, which is to be observed better by
seeing one of them, than by a large demonstration of words.'

Mr. Westwood has made a catalogue of books cited by Walton in
his Compleat Angler. There is AElian (who makes the first
known reference to fly-fishing); Aldrovandus, De Piscibus
(1638); Dubravius, De Piscibus (1559); and the English
translation (1599) Gerard's Herball (1633); Gesner, De
Piscibus (s.a.) and Historia Naturalis (1558); Phil. Holland's
Pliny (1601); Rondelet, De Piscibus Marines (1554); Silvianus
Aquatilium Historiae (1554): these nearly exhaust Walton's
supply of authorities in natural history. He was devoted, as
we saw, to authority, and had a childlike faith in the
fantastic theories which date from Pliny. 'Pliny hath an
opinion that many flies have their birth, or being, from a dew
that in the spring falls upon the leaves of trees.' It is a
pious opinion! Izaak is hardly so superstitious as the author
of The Angler's Vade Mecum. I cannot imagine him taking
'Man's fat and cat's fat, of each half an ounce, mummy finely
powdered, three drains,' and a number of other abominations,
to 'make an Oyntment according to Art, and when you Angle,
anoint 8 inches of the line next the Hook therewith.' Or,
'Take the Bones and Scull of a Dead-man, at the opening of a
Grave, and beat the same into Pouder, and put of this Pouder
in the Moss wherein you keep your Worms,--BUT OTHERS LIKE
GRAVE EARTH AS WELL.' No doubt grave earth is quite as

These remarks show how Izaak was equipped in books and in
practical information: it follows that his book is to be
read, not for instruction, but for human pleasure.

So much for what Walton owed to others. For all the rest, for
what has made him the favourite of schoolboys and sages, of
poets and philosophers, he is indebted to none but his Maker
and his genius. That he was a lover of Montaigne we know;
and, had Montaigne been a fisher, he might have written
somewhat like Izaak, but without the piety, the perfume, and
the charm. There are authors whose living voices, if we know
them in the flesh, we seem to hear in our ears as we peruse
their works. Of such was Mr. Jowett, sometime Master of
Balliol College, a good man, now with God. It has ever seemed
to me that friends of Walton must thus have heard his voice as
they read him, and that it reaches us too, though faintly.
Indeed, we have here 'a kind of picture of his own
disposition,' as he tells us Piscator is the Walton whom
honest Nat. and R. Roe and Sir Henry Wotton knew on fishing-
days. The book is a set of confessions, without their
commonly morbid turn. 'I write not for money, but for
pleasure,' he says; methinks he drove no hard bargain with
good Richard Marriott, nor was careful and troubled about
royalties on his eighteenpenny book. He regards scoffers as
'an abomination to mankind,' for indeed even Dr. Johnson, who,
a century later, set Moses Browne on reprinting The Compleat
Angler, broke his jest on our suffering tribe. 'Many grave,
serious men pity anglers,' says Auceps, and Venator styles
them 'patient men,' as surely they have great need to be. For
our toil, like that of the husbandman, hangs on the weather
that Heaven sends, and on the flies that have their birth or
being from a kind of dew, and on the inscrutable caprice of
fish; also, in England, on the miller, who giveth or
withholdeth at his pleasure the very water that is our
element. The inquiring rustic who shambles up erect when we
are lying low among the reeds, even he disposes of our
fortunes, with whom, as with all men, we must be patient,
dwelling ever -

'With close-lipped Patience for our only friend,
Sad Patience, too near neighbour of Despair.'

O the tangles, more than Gordian, of gut on a windy day! O
bitter east wind that bloweth down stream! O the young ducks
that, swimming between us and the trout, contend with him for
the blue duns in their season! O the hay grass behind us that
entangles the hook! O the rocky wall that breaks it, the
boughs that catch it; the drought that leaves the salmon-
stream dry, the floods that fill it with turbid, impossible
waters! Alas for the knot that breaks, and for the iron that
bends; for the lost landing-net, and the gillie with the gaff
that scrapes the fish! Izaak believed that fish could hear;
if they can, their vocabulary must be full of strange oaths,
for all anglers are not patient men. A malison on the trout
that 'bulge' and 'tail,' on the salmon that 'jiggers,' or
sulks, or lightly gambols over and under the line. These
things, and many more, we anglers endure meekly, being patient
men, and a light world fleers at us for our very virtue.

Izaak, of course, justifies us by the example of the primitive
Christians, and, in the manner of the age, drowns opposition
in a flood of erudition, out of place, but never pedantic;
futile, yet diverting; erroneous, but not dull.

'God is said to have spoken to a fish, but never to a beast.'
There is a modern Greek phrase, 'By the first word of God, and
the second of the fish.' As for angling, 'it is somewhat like
poetry: men are to be born so'; and many are born to be both
rhymers and anglers. But, unlike many poets, the angler
resembles 'the Adonis, or Darling of the Sea, so called
because it is a loving and innocent fish,' and a peaceful;
'and truly, I think most anglers are so disposed to most of

Our Saviour's peculiar affection for fishermen is, of course,
a powerful argument. And it is certain that Peter, James, and
John made converts among the twelve, for 'the greater number
of them were found together, fishing, by Jesus after His
Resurrection.' That Amos was 'a good-natured, plain
fisherman,' only Walton had faith enough to believe. He fixes
gladly on mentions of hooks in the Bible, omitting Homer, and
that excellent Theocritean dialogue of the two old anglers and
the fish of gold, which would have delighted Izaak, had he
known it; but he was no great scholar. 'And let me tell you
that in the Scripture, angling is always taken in the best
sense,' though Izaak does not dwell on Tobias's enormous
capture. So he ends with commendations of angling by Wotton,
and Davors (Dennys, more probably) author of The Secrets of
Angling (1613). To these we may add Wordsworth, Thomson,
Scott, Hogg, Stoddart, and many minor poets who loved the
music of the reel.

Izaak next illustrates his idea of becoming mirth, which
excludes 'Scripture jests and lascivious jests,' both of them
highly distasteful to anglers. Then he comes to practice,
beginning with chub, for which I have never angled, but have
taken them by misadventure, with a salmon fly. Thence we
proceed to trout, and to the charming scene of the milkmaid
and her songs by Raleigh and Marlowe, 'I think much better
than the strong lines that are now in fashion in this critical
age,' for Walton, we have said, was the last of the
Elizabethans and the new times were all for Waller and Dryden.
'Chevy Chace' and 'Johnny Armstrong' were dear to Walton as to
Scott, but through a century these old favourites were to be
neglected, save by Mr. Pepys and Addison. Indeed, there is no
more curious proof of the great unhappy change then coming to
make poetry a mechanic art, than the circumstance that Walton
is much nearer to us, in his likings, than to the men between
1670 and 1770. Gay was to sing of angling, but in 'the strong
lines that are now in fashion.' All this while Piscator has
been angling with worm and minnow to no purpose, though he
picks up 'a trout will fill six reasonable bellies' in the
evening. So we leave them, after their ale, in fresh sheets
that smell of lavender.' Izaak's practical advice is not of
much worth; we read him rather for sentences like this: 'I'll
tell you, scholar: when I sat last on this primrose bank, and
looked down these meadows, I thought of them as Charles the
Emperor did of the city of Florence, "that they were too
pleasant to be looked upon, but only on holy-days."' He did
not say, like Fox, when Burke spoke of 'a seat under a tree,
with a friend, a bottle, and a book,' 'Why a book?' Izaak
took his book with him--a practice in which, at least, I am
fain to imitate this excellent old man.

As to salmon, Walton scarcely speaks a true word about their
habits, except by accident. Concerning pike, he quotes the
theory that they are bred by pickerel weed, only as what 'some
think.' In describing the use of frogs as bait, he makes the
famous, or infamous, remark, 'Use him as though you loved him
. . . that he may live the longer.' A bait-fisher MAY be a
good man, as Izaak was, but it is easier for a camel to pass
through the eye of a needle. As coarse fish are usually
caught only with bait, I shall not follow Izaak on to this
unholy and unfamiliar ground, wherein, none the less, grow
flowers of Walton's fancy, and the songs of the old poets are
heard. The Practical Angler, indeed, is a book to be marked
with flowers, marsh marigolds and fritillaries, and petals of
the yellow iris, for the whole provokes us to content, and
whispers that word of the apostle, 'Study to be quiet.'


Since Maui, the Maori hero, invented barbs for hooks, angling
has been essentially one and the same thing. South Sea
islanders spin for fish with a mother-of-pearl lure which is
also a hook, and answers to our spoon. We have hooks of
stone, and hooks of bone; and a bronze hook, found in Ireland,
has the familiar Limerick bend. What Homer meant by making
anglers throw 'the horn of an ox of the stall' into the sea,
we can only guess; perhaps a horn minnow is meant, or a little
sheath of horn to protect the line. Dead bait, live bait, and
imitations of bait have all been employed, and AElian mentions
artificial Mayflies used, with a very short line, by the

But, while the same in essence, angling has been improved by
human ingenuity. The Waltonian angler, and still more his
English predecessors, dealt much in the home-made. The
Treatise of the fifteenth century bids you make your 'Rodde'
of a fair staff even of a six foot long or more, as ye list,
of hazel, willow, or 'aspe' (ash?), and 'beke hym in an ovyn
when ye bake, and let him cool and dry a four weeks or more.'
The pith is taken out of him with a hot iron, and a yard of
white hazel is similarly treated, also a fair shoot of
blackthorn or crabtree for a top. The butt is bound with
hoops of iron, the top is accommodated with a noose, a hair
line is looped in the noose, and the angler is equipped.
Splicing is not used, but the joints have holes to receive
each other, and with this instrument 'ye may walk, and there
is no man shall wit whereabout ye go.' Recipes are given for
colouring and plaiting hair lines, and directions for forging
hooks. 'The smallest quarell needles' are used for the
tiniest hooks.

Barker (1651) makes the rod 'of a hasel of one piece, or of
two pieces set together in the most convenient manner, light
and gentle.' He recommends the use of a single hair next the
fly,--'you shall have more rises,' which is true, 'and kill
more fish,' which is not so likely. The most delicate
striking is required with fine gut, and with a single hair
there must be many breakages. For salmon, Barker uses a rod
ten feet in the butt, 'that will carry a top of six foot
pretty stiffe and strong.' The 'winder,' or reel, Barker
illustrates with a totally unintelligible design. His salmon
fly 'carries six wings'; perhaps he only means wings composed
of six kinds of feathers, but here Franck is a better
authority, his flies being sensible and sober in colour. Not
many old salmon flies are in existence, nor have I seen more
ancient specimens than a few, chiefly of peacocks' feathers,
in the fly-leaf of a book at Abbotsford; they were used in
Ireland by Sir Walter Scott's eldest son. The controversy as
to whether fish can distinguish colours was unknown to our
ancestors. I am inclined to believe that, for salmon, size,
and perhaps shade, light or dark, with more or less of tinsel,
are the only important points. Izaak stumbled on the idea of
Mr. Stewart (author of The Practical Angler) saying, 'for the
generality, three or four flies, neat, and rightly made, and
not too big, serve for a trout in most rivers, all the
summer.' Our ancestors, though they did not fish with the dry
fly, were intent on imitating the insect on the water. As far
as my own experience goes, if trout are feeding on duns, one
dun will take them as well as another, if it be properly
presented. But my friend Mr. Charles Longman tells me that,
after failing with two trout, he examined the fly on the
water, an olive dun, and found in his book a fly which exactly
matched the natural insect in colour. With this he captured
his brace.

Such incidents look as if trout were particular to a shade,
but we can never be certain that the angler did not make an
especially artful and delicate cast when he succeeded. Sir
Herbert Maxwell intends to make the experiment of using duns
of impossible and unnatural colours; if he succeeds with
these, on several occasions, as well as with orthodox flies,
perhaps we may decide that trout do not distinguish hues. On
a Sutherland loch, an angler found that trout would take flies
of any colour, except that of a light-green leaf of a tree.
This rejection decidedly looked as if even Sutherland loch
trout exercised some discrimination. Often, on a loch, out of
three flies they will favour one, and that, perhaps, not the
trail fly. The best rule is: when you find a favourite fly
on a salmon river, use it: its special favouritism may be a
superstition, but, at all events, salmon do take it. We
cannot afford to be always making experiments, but Mr. Herbert
Spencer, busking his flies the reverse way, used certainly to
be at least as successful with sea trout as his less
speculative neighbours in Argyllshire.

In making rods, Walton is most concerned with painting them;
'I think a good top is worth preserving, or I had not taken
care to keep a top above twenty years.' Cotton prefers rods
'made in Yorkshire,' having advanced from the home-made stage.
His were spliced, and kept up all through the season, as he
had his water at his own door, while Walton trudged to the Lee
and other streams near London, when he was not fishing the
Itchen, or Shawford Brook. The Angler's Vade Mecum recommends
eighteen-feet rods: preferring a fir butt, fashioned by the
arrow-maker, a hazel top, and a tip of whalebone. This
authority, even more than Walton, deals in mysterious
'Oyntments' of gum ivy, horse-leek, asafoetida, man's fat,
cat's fat, powdered skulls, and grave earth. A ghoulish body
is the angler of the Vade Mecum. He recommends up-stream
fishing, with worm, in a clear water, and so is a predecessor
of Mr. Stewart. 'When you have hooked a good fish, have an
especial care to keep the rod bent, lest he run to the end of
the line' (he means, as does Walton, lest he pull the rod
horizontal) 'and break either hook or hold.' An old owner of
my copy adds, in manuscript, 'And hale him not to near ye top
of the water, lest in flaskering he break ye line.'

This is a favourite device of sea trout, which are very apt to
'flasker' on the top of the water. The Vade Mecum, in advance
of Walton on this point, recommends a swivel in minnow-
fishing: but has no idea of an artificial minnow of silk. I
have known an ingenious lady who, when the bodies of her
phantom minnows gave out, in Norway, supplied their place
successfully with bed-quilting artfully sewn. In fact,
anything bright and spinning will allure fish, though in the
upper Ettrick, where large trout exist, they will take the
natural, but perhaps never the phantom or angel minnow. I
once tried a spinning Alexandra fly over some large pond
trout. They followed it eagerly, but never took hold, on the
first day; afterwards they would not look at it at all. The
Vade Mecum man, like Dr. Hamilton, recommends a light fly for
a light day, a dark fly for a dark day and dark weather;
others hold the converse opinion. Every one agrees that the
smallness of the flies should be in proportion to the lowness
of the water and the advance of summer. {7}

Our ancestors, apparently, used only one fly at a time; in
rapid rivers, with wet fly, two, three, or, in lochs like Loch
Leven, even four are employed. To my mind more than two only
cause entanglements of the tackle. The old English anglers
knew, of course, little or nothing of loch fishing, using bait
in lakes. The great length of their rods made reels less
necessary, and they do not seem to have waded much. A modern
angler, casting upwards, from the middle of the stream, with a
nine-foot rod, would have astonished Walton. They dealt with
trout less educated than ours, and tooled with much coarser
and heavier implements. They had no fine scruples about bait
of every kind, any more than the Scots have, and Barker loved
a lob-worm, fished on the surface, in a dark night. He was a
pot-fisher, and had been a cook. He could catch a huge basket
of trout, and dress them in many different ways,--broyled,
calvored hot with antchovaes sauce, boyled, soused, stewed,
fried, battered with eggs, roasted, baked, calvored cold, and
marilled, or potted, also marrionated. Barker instructs my
Lord Montague to fish with salmon roe, a thing prohibited and
very popular in Scotland. 'If I had known it but twenty years
agoe, I would have gained a hundred pounds onely with that
bait. I am bound in duty to divulge it to your Honour, and
not to carry it to my grave with me. I do desire that men of
quality should have it that delight in that pleasure: the
greedy angler will murmur at me, but for that I care not.'
Barker calls salmon roe 'an experience I have found of late:
the best bait for a trout that I have seen in all my time,'
and it is the most deadly, in the eddy of a turbid water.
Perhaps trout would take caviare, which is not forbidden by
the law of the land. Any unscrupulous person may make the
experiment, and argue the matter out with the water-bailie.
But, in my country, it is more usual to duck that official,
and go on netting, sniggling, salmon-roeing, and destroying
sport in the sacred name of Liberty.

Scots wha fish wi' salmon roe,
Scots wha sniggle as ye go,
Wull ye stand the Bailie? No!
Let the limmer die!

Now's the day and now's the time,
Poison a' the burns wi' lime,
Fishing fair's a dastard crime,
We're for fishing FREE!

'Ydle persones sholde have but lyttyl mesure in the sayd
disporte of fysshyng,' says our old Treatise, but in southern
Scotland they have left few fish to dysporte with, and the
trout is like to become an extinct animal. Izaak would
especially have disliked Fishing Competitions, which, by dint
of the multitude of anglers, turn the contemplative man's
recreation into a crowded skirmish; and we would repeat his
remark, 'the rabble herd themselves together' (a dozen in one
pool, often), 'and endeavour to govern and act in spite of

For my part, had I a river, I would gladly let all honest
anglers that use the fly cast line in it, but, where there is
no protection, then nets, poison, dynamite, slaughter of
fingerlings, and unholy baits devastate the fish, so that
'Free Fishing' spells no fishing at all. This presses most
hardly on the artisan who fishes fair, a member of a large
class with whose pastime only a churl would wish to interfere.
We are now compelled, if we would catch fish, to seek Tarpon
in Florida, Mahseer in India: it does not suffice to 'stretch
our legs up Tottenham Hill.'


{1} The MS. was noticed in The Freebooter, Oct. 18, 1823, but
Sir Harris Nicolas could not find it, where it was said to be,
among the Lansdowne MSS.

{2} The quip about 'goods and chattels' was revived later, in
the case of a royal mistress.

{3} Sir Walter was fond of trout-fishing, and in his
Quarterly review of Davy's Salmonia, describes his pleasure in
wading Tweed, in 'Tom Fool's light' at the end of a hot summer
day. In salmon-fishing he was no expert, and said to Lockhart
that he must have Tom Purdie to aid him in his review of
Salmonia. The picturesqueness of salmon-spearing by
torchlight seduced Scott from the legitimate sport.

{4} There is an edition by Singer, with a frontispiece by
Wainewright, the poisoner. London, 1820.

{5} Nicolas, I. clv.

{6} Barker's Delight; or, The Art of Angling. 1651, 1657,
1659, London.

{7} I have examined all the Angling works of the period known
to me. Gilbert's Angler's Delight (1676) is a mere pamphlet;
William Gilbert, gent., pilfers from Walton, without naming
him, and has literally nothing original or meritorious. The
book is very scarce. My own copy is 'uncut,' but incomplete,
lacking the directions for fishing 'in Hackney River.'
Gervase Markham, prior to Walton, is a compiler rather than an
original authority on angling.


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