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he angler. by washington
Irving, with etched illus-
trations BY LOUIS K. HARLOW.

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This day dame Nature seem'd in love,

The lusty sap began to move,

Fresh juice did stir th' embracing vines,

And birds had drawn their valentines.

The jealous trout that low did lie,

Rose at a well dissembled fly.

There stood my friend, with patient skill,

Attending of his trembling quill.

Sir H. Watton.

It is said that many an unlucky urchin is
induced to run away from his family, and
betake himself to seafaring life, from reading
the history of Robinson Crusoe ; and I sus-
pect that, in like manner, many of those
worthy gentlemen, who are given to haunt
the sides of pastoral streams with angle-rods

in hand, may trace the origin of their passion
to the seductive pages of honest Izaak Wal-
ton. I recollect studying his " Complete
Angler" several years since, in company with
a knot of friends in America, and, moreover,
that we were all completely bitten with the
angling mania. It was early in the year ; but
as soon as the weather was auspicious, and
that the spring began to melt into the verge
of summer, we took rod in hand, and sallied
into the country, as stark mad as was ever
Don Quixote from reading books of chivalry.

One of our party had equalled the Don in
the fulness of his equipments ; being attired
cap-a-pie for the enterprise. He wore a
broad-skirted fustian coat perplexed with half
a hundred pockets ; a pair of stout shoes, and
leathern gaiters ; a basket slung on one side
for fish ; a patent rod ; a landing net, and a
score of other inconveniences only to be found
in the true angler's armory. Thus harnessed
for the field, he was as great a matter of stare
and wonderment among the country folk, who
had never seen a regular angler, as was the
steel-clad hero of La Mancha among the
goatherds of the Sierra Morena.

Our first essay was along a mountain brook,,

among the highlands of the Hudson — a most
unfortunate place for the execution of those
piscatory tactics which had been invented
along the velvet margins of quiet English
rivulets. It was one of those wild streams
that lavish, among our romantic solitudes,
unheeded beauties, enough to fill the sketch-
book of a hunter of the picturesque. Some-
times it would leap down rocky shelves,
making small cascades, over which the trees
threw their broad balancing sprays ; and long
nameless weeds hung in fringes from the
impending banks, dripping with diamond
drops. Sometimes it would brawl and fret
along a ravine in the matted shade of a forest,
filling it with murmurs ; and after this terma-
gant career, would steal forth into open day
with the most placid demure face imaginable ;
as I have seen some pestilent shrew of a

housewife, after
filling her home with uproar
and ill-humor, come dimpling out of doors,
swimming, and curtseying and smiling upon
all the world.

How smoothly would this vagrant brook
glide, at such times, through some bosom of
green meadow land, among the mountains ;
where the quiet was only interrupted by the
occasional tinkling of a bell from the lazy
cattle among the clover, or the sound of
a wood-cutter's axe from the neighboring
forest !

For my part, I was always a bungler at all
kinds of sport that required either patience
or adroitness, and had not angled above half
an hour, before I had completely " satisfied
the sentiment," and convinced myself of the

truth of Izaak Walton's opinion, that angling
is something like poetry — a man must be
born to it. I hooked myself instead of the
fish ; tangled my line in every tree ; lost my
bait ; broke my rod ; until I gave up the
attempt in despair, and passed the day under
the trees, reading old Izaak ; satisfied that it
was his fascinating vein of honest simplicity
and rural feeling that had bewitched me, and
not the passion for angling. My companions,
however, were more persevering in their delu-
sion. I have them at this moment before my
eyes, stealing along the border of the brook,
where it lay open to the day, or was merely
fringed by shrubs and bushes. I see the
bittern rising with hollow scream, as they
break in upon his rarely- invaded haunt ; the
kingfisher watching them suspiciously from
his dry tree that overhangs the deep black
mill-pond, in the gorge of the hills ; the tor-
toise letting himself slip sideways from off the
stone or log on which he is sunning himself;
and the panic-struck frog plumping in head-
long as they approach, and spreading an
alarm throughout the watery world around.
I recollect, also, that, after toiling and
watching and creeping about for the greater

part of a day, with
scarcely any success, in

spite of all our admirable apparatus, a lub-
berly country urchin came down from the
hills, with a rod made from a branch of a
tree ; a few yards of twine ; and, as heaven
shall help me ! I believe a crooked pin for
a hook, baited with a vile earth-worm — and
in half an hour caught more fish than we had
nibbles throughout the day.

But above all, I recollect the " good, honest,
wholesome, hungry " repast, which we made
under a beech-tree just by a spring of pure
sweet water, that stole out of the side of a
hill ; and how, when it was over, one of the
party read old Izaak Wal-
ton's scene with the -
milk-maid, ... > v
while I r

lay on the grass and built

castles in a bright pile of clouds, until I fell
asleep. All this may appear like mere ego-
tism ; yet I cannot refrain from uttering these
recollections which are passing like a strain
of music over my mind, and have been called
up by an agreeable scene which I witnessed
not long since.

In a morning's stroll along the banks of
the Alun, a beautiful little stream which flows
down from the Welsh hills and throws itself
into the Dee, my attention was attracted to a
group seated on the margin. On approach-
ing, I found it to consist of a veteran angler
and two rustic disciples. The former was an
old fellow with a wooden leg, with clothes
very much, but very carefully patched, beto-
kening poverty, honestly come by, and de-
cently maintained. His face bore the marks
of former storms, but present fair weather ;
its furrows had been worn into an habitual
smile ; his iron-gray locks hung about his
ears, and he had altogether the good-humored
air of a constitutional philosopher, who was
disposed to take the world as it went. One
of his companions was a ragged wight, with
the skulking look of an arrant poacher, and
I'll warrant could find his way to any gentle-

man's fish-pond in the neighborhood in the
darkest night. The other was a tall, awkward,
country lad, with a lounging gait, and appar-
ently somewhat of a rustic beau. The old
man was busied examining the maw of a trout
which he had just killed, to discover by its
contents what insects were seasonable for
bait ; and was lecturing on the subject to his
companions, who appeared to listen with in-
finite deference. I have a kind feeling toward
all " brothers of the angle," ever since I read
Izaak Walton. They are men, he affirms, of
a " mild, sweet, and peaceable spirit ; " and
my esteem for them has been increased since
I met with an old " Tretyse of fishing with
the Angle," in which are set forth many of
the maxims of their inoffensive fraternity.
" Take goode hede," saith this honest little
tretyse, " that in going about your disportes
ye open no man's gates but that ye shet them
again. Also ye shall not use this foresaid crafti
disport for no covetousness to the increasing
and sparing of your money only, but princi-
pally for your solace and to cause the helth
of your body and specyally of your soule."*

* From this same treatise, it would appear that an-
gling is a more industrious and devout employment than

I thought that I could perceive in the vet-
eran angler before me an exemplification of
what I had read ; and there was a cheerful
contentedness in his looks, that quite drew
me towards him. I could not but remark the
gallant manner in which he stumped from one
part of the brook to another ; waving his rod
in the air, to keep the line from dragging on
the ground, or catching among the bushes ;
and the adroitness with which he would
throw his fly to any particular place ; some-
times skimming it lightly along a little rapid ;
sometimes casting it into one of those dark
holes made by a twisted root or overhanging
bank, in which the large trout are apt to lurk.
In the meanwhile, he was giving instructions
to his two disciples ; showing them the man-
ner in which they should handle their rods,
fix their flies, and play them along the surface
of the stream. The scene brought to my mind

it is generally considered. " For when ye purpose to go
on your dispones in fishynge, ye will not desyre greatlye
many persons with you, which might let you of your
game. And that ye may serve God devoutly in sayinge
effectually your customable prayers. And thus doying,
ye shall eschew and also avoyde many vices, as ydleness,
which is a principall cause to induce man to many other
vices, as it is right well known."

** "■•'•■^: >* /
the instructions of the sage Piscator to his

scholar. The country around was of that
pastoral kind which Walton is fond of de-
scribing. It was a part of the great plain
of Cheshire, close by the beautiful vale of
Gessford, and just where the inferior Welsh
hills begin to swell up from among fresh-smell-
ing meadows. The day, too, like that recorded
in his work, was mild and sunshiny ; with now
and then a soft dropping shower, that sowed
the whole earth with diamonds.

I soon fell into conversation with the old
angler, and was so much entertained, that,
under pretext of receiving instructions in his
art, I kept company with him almost the
whole day ; wandering along the banks of
the stream, and listening to his talk. He was

very communicative, having all the easy gar-
rulity of cheerful old age ; and I fancy was a
little flattered by having an opportunity of
displaying his piscatory lore ; for who does
not like now and then to play the sage ?

He had been much of a rambler in his
day ; and had passed some years of his youth
in America, particularly in Savannah, where
he had entered into trade, and had been
ruined by the indiscretion of a partner. He
had afterwards experienced many ups and
downs in life, until he got into the navy,
where his leg was carried away by a cannon-
ball, at the battle of Camperdown. This was
the only stroke of real good fortune he had
ever experienced, for it got him a pension,
which, together with some small paternal
property, brought him in a revenue of nearly
forty pounds. On this he retired to his native
village, where he lived quietly and indepen-
dently, and devoted the remainder of his life
to the "noble art of angling."

I found that he had read Izaak Walton
attentively, and he seemed to have imbibed
all his simple frankness and prevalent good-
humor. Though he had been sorely buffeted
about the world, he was satisfied that the

world, in itself, was good and beautiful.
Though he had been as roughly used in dif-
ferent countries as a poor sheep that is fleeced
by every hedge and thicket, yet he spoke of
every nation with candor and kindness, ap-
pearing to look only on the good side of
things ; and above all, he was almost the
only man I had ever met with, who had been
an unfortunate adventurer in America, and
had honesty and magnanimity enough to take
the fault to his own door, and not to curse
the country.

The lad that was receiving his instructions
I learnt was the son and heir apparent of a
fat old widow, who kept the village inn, and
of course a youth of some expectation, and
much courted by the idle, gentleman-like
personages of the place. In taking him under
his care, therefore, the old man had probably
an eye to a privileged corner in the tap-room,
and an occasional cup of cheerful ale free of

There is certainly something in angling, if
we could forget, which anglers are apt to do,
the cruelties and tortures inflicted on worms
and insects, that tends to produce a gentle-
ness of spirit, and a pure serenity of mind.

As the English are methodical even in their
recreations, and are the most scientific of
sportsmen, it has been reduced among them
to perfect rule and system. Indeed, it is an
amusement peculiarly adapted to the mild
and cultivated scenery of England, where
every roughness has been softened away from
the landscape. It is delightful to saunter
along those limpid streams which wander,

like veins of silver, through the bosom of this
beautiful country; leading one through a
diversity of small home scenery ; sometimes
winding through ornamented grounds ; some-
times brimming along through rich pasturage,
where the fresh green is mingled with sweet-
smelling flowers ; sometimes venturing in sight
of villages and hamlets ; and then running
capriciously away into shady retirements.

The sweetness and serenity of nature, and
the quiet watchfulness of the sport, gradually
bring on pleasant fits of musing ; which are
now and then agreeably interrupted by the
song of a bird; the distant whistle of the
peasant ; or perhaps the vagary of some fish,
leaping out of the still water, and skimming
transiently about its glassy surface. " When
I would beget content," says Izaak Walton,
" and increase confidence in the power and
wisdom and providence of Almighty God, I
will walk the meadows by some gliding stream,
and there contemplate the lilies that take no
care, and those very many other little living
creatures that are not only created, but fed,
(man knows not how) by the goodness of the
God of nature, and therefore trust in him."

I cannot forbear to give another quotation
from one of those ancient champions of an-
gling which breathes the same innocent and
happy spirit :

Let me live harmlessly, and near the brink

Of Trent or Avon have a dwelling-place ;
Where I may see my quill, or cork down sink,

With eager bite of Pike, or Bleak, or Dace,
And on the world and my creator think :

While some men strive ill-gotten goods t* embrace ;
And others spend their time in base excess

Of wine, or worse, in war or wantonness.

Let them that will, these pastimes still pursue,
And on such pleasing fancies feed their fill,

So I the fields and meadows green may view,
And daily by fresh rivers walk at will

Among the daisies and the violets blue,
Red hyacinth and yellow daffodil *

On parting with the old angler, I inquired
after his place of abode, and happening to be
in the neighborhood of the village a few even-
ings afterwards, I had the curiosity to seek
him out. I found him living in a small cot-
tage, containing only one room, but a perfect
curiosity in its method and arrangement. It
was on the skirts of the village, on a green
bank, a little back from the road, with a small
garden in front, stocked with kitchen-herbs,
and adorned with a few flowers. The whole
front of the cottage was overrun with a honey-
suckle. On the top was a ship for a weather-

*J. Davors.


cock. The interior was fitted up in a truly
nautical style, his ideas of comfort and con-
venience having been acquired on the berth-
deck of a man-of-war. A hammock was
slung from the ceiling, which in the day-time
was lashed up so as to take but little room.
From the centre of the chamber hung a model
of a ship, of his own workmanship. Two or
three chairs, a table, and a large sea-chest,
formed the principal movables. About the
wall were stuck up naval ballads, such as
Admiral Hosier's Ghost, All in the Downs,
and Tom Bowling, intermingled with pictures
of sea-fights, among which the battle of Cam-
perdown held a distinguished place. The

mantelpiece was decorated with seashells ;
over which hung a quadrant, flanked by two
wood-cuts of most bitter-looking naval com-
manders. His implements for angling were
carefully disposed on nails and hooks about
the room. On a shelf was arranged his library,
containing a work on angling, much worn ; a
bible covered with canvas ; an odd volume
or two of voyages ; a nautical almanac ; and
a book of songs.

His family consisted of a large black cat
with one eye, and a parrot which he had
caught and tamed, and educated himself, in
the course of one of his voyages ; and which
uttered a variety of sea phrases, with the
hoarse rattling tone of a veteran boatswain.
The establishment reminded me of that of
the renowned Robinson Crusoe ; it was kept
in neat order, everything being " stowed
away" with the regularity of a ship of war;
and he informed me that he " scoured the
deck every morning, and swept it between

I found him seated on a bench before the

door, smoking his pipe in the soft evening

sunshine. His cat was purring soberly on

the threshold, and his parrot describing some


strange evolutions in an iron ring, that swung
in the centre of his cage. He had been an-
gling all day, and gave me a history of his
sport with as much minuteness as a general
would talk over a campaign ; being particu-
larly animated in regulating the manner in
which he had taken a large trout, which had
completely tasked all his skill and wariness,
and which he had sent as a trophy to mine
hostess of the inn.

How comforting it is to see a cheerful and
contented old age ; and to behold a poor
fellow, like this, after being tempest-tost
through life, safely moored in a snug and
quiet harbor in the evening of his days ! His
happiness, however, sprung from within him-
self, and was independent of external cir-
cumstances ; for he had that inexhaustible
good-nature, which is the most precious gift
of Heaven ; spreading itself like oil over the
troubled sea of thought, and keeping the
mind smooth and equable in the roughest

On inquiring farther about him, I learnt

that he was a universal favorite in the village,

and the oracle of the tap-room ; where he

delighted the rustics with his songs, and, like


Sinbad, astonished them with his stories of
strange lands, and shipwrecks, and sea-fights.
He was much noticed too by gentlemen
sportsmen of the neighborhood ; had taught
several of them the art of angling ; and was
a privileged visitor to their kitchens. The
whole tenor of his life was quiet and inoffen-
sive, being principally passed about the neigh-
boring streams, when the weather and season
were favorable ; and at other times he em-
ployed himself at home, preparing his fishing
tackle for the next campaign, or manufactur-
ing rods, nets and flies, for his patrons and
pupils among the gentry.


He was a regular attendant at church on
Sundays, though he generally fell asleep during
the sermon. He had made it his particular
request that when he died he should be buried
in a green spot, which he could see from his
seat in church, and which he had marked
out ever since he was a boy, and had thought
of when far from home on the raging sea, in
danger of being food for the fishes — it was
the spot where his father and mother had
been buried.


I have done, for I fear that my reader is
growing weary ; but I could not refrain from
drawing the picture of this worthy " brother
of the angle ; " who has made me more than
ever in love with the theory, though I fear I
shall never be adroit in the practice of his
art ; and I will conclude this rambling sketch
in the words of honest Izaak Walton, by crav-
ing the blessing of St. Peter's master upon my
reader, " and upon all that are true lovers of
virtue ; and dare trust in his providence ; and
be quiet ; and go a angling."



Online LibraryWashington IrvingThe angler → online text (page 1 of 1)