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Transcribed from the 1896 J. M. Dent edition by David Price, email
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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. Wa.': -

'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 publish: -

'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 verses: -

'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

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 panegyrist.'

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 fly-leaf,
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

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Online LibraryAndrew LangIntroduction to the Compleat Angler → online text (page 1 of 3)