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Born 1593— Died 1683.


HE parentage and early life of good Izaak
"Walton, we know little or nothing oi;
From the register of St. Mary's Churcli,
St;i fiord, it appears that he was born on
the 9rh of August, and baptized on the 21st of
September, 1593; his parents being honest yeo-
men, or " gentlem.en in ore," as Fuller, who was
one of Vv^alton's friends, quaintly defines that
valuable class of English citizens. He did not,
however, long enjoy the blessing of a parent's
love and guidance, it being generally supposed
that at the early age of four years he became an
orphan. His early education, most probably re-
ceived at the grammar-school of his native place,
must have been imperfect ; since it is certain that
he was very soon taken from his studies, and
apprenticed to a relative in London, -nho was a
V " i "CiiS^ sempster or haberdasher at Whitechapel. The
^ first notice which we have of Walton is one which

C shews that a taste for literature must have been very early im-
; bibed by him ; otherwise it is scarcely probable that at the age
^ of twenty he would have been the subject of a poet's praise.
^ Such, however, is the fact; a small poem, entitled, " The Love of
) Amos and Laura," which was published in 161 i3, having been
dedicated by its author, S. P., "to his approved and much-
respected friend, Iz. Wa."
^ But his literary taste was not, as it never should be, prosecuted
to the neglect of, to him, the far more important, if less attrac-
^ tive, calling, for which his guardians had designed him. His first
^ settlement in London, it is said, was in the Royal Exchange in
I Cornhill, built by Sir Thomas Gresham. And as the shops over
t B


the Exchange were only seven feet and a half long, and five feeu
■wide, it is not unlikely that it was for the sake of more commo-
dious premises that he removed in 1624 to the north side of Fleet
Street, in a iiouse two doors west of Chancery Lane, and abutting
on a taverr known by the sign of the Harrow. Still it appears
that half a shop was here sufficient for Walton's business, smce
the premises in Chancery Lane were in the joint occupation of
himself aid one John Mason, a hosier. Till within a few years
before St John Hawkins, his first biographer, wrote Walton's
life, an old timber house at the south-west corner of Chancery
liane was known by the sign just mentioned ; so that there could
then be no doubt but that his residence was the next door.

While thus honestly pursuing his humble and limited trade,
he contracted a friendship with the celebrated Dr. Donne, who was
at this period \dcar of St. Dunstan's-in-the-West ; and as we may
easily suppose Walton to have been a man in whom a clergyman
would find a good parishioner, it is not surprising that they
should become mutually known and attached to each other.
Walton's reverence for the pastoral office, as being founded on
the express command of God, would naturally lead him to obey
those who had spiritual rule over him ; while, of course, the
pastor's vocation would often bring him into contact with Walton,
whom, as was said of Socrates, to know must have been to respect
and love. Accordingly, the vicarage was ever open to " honest
Izaak;" and as it was the haunt of all the eminent men of that
time, he had the opportunity of obtaining the friendship of most
of those with whom his name is now chiefly associated.

As a proof of the uninterrupted intercourse which existed
between Dr. Donne and himself, it may be mentioned, that a short
time before the death of the former (1631), he sent for Walton;
and, with many expressions of regard and affection, presented
him with a seal, engraven with a representation of the Saviour
extended on an anchor; and which, in reverent esteem for the
venerable donor, W^alton used from that time to the sealing of his
own will, which bears this impression. He also wrote an elegy on his
friend's death, but it did not escape the roughness of the poetry of
the times, and is certainly more creditable to the feelings than
taste of the author.

Among other valuable friends, he numbered Dr. King, the future
bishop of Chichester, through whom he became acquainted with
an honourable and worthy family, from which, after he had been
about ten years in business, he selected a wife. As nothing is
more important than the choice of a partner for life, for weal or
woe, we cannot but admire Walton's prudence on this occasion.
Instead of being influenced by the too common motives of selfish-
ness or mere passion, wherein pure love consists not, his object
was to obtaiu a "help meet" to him, that they might so live toge-


ther in this life, as in tlie world to come to have lie everlasting.
In a temporal point of view, his selection was als\ a good one
his wife's family being the means of introducing hiVi to persons,
not only of considerable eminence, but of congenial taste and
temper to his own. Family connexion is a much more important
element in connubial happiness than is generallA supposed.
Nothing, indeed, is more important than that it should be such as,
in the Irequent intercourse which must necessarily exi^ between
the parties concerned, may conduce to that sympathy of Viind and
feeling without which society becomes an intolerable burden, and
the prolific source of contention to the married person^ them-
selves, each of whom is laudably sensitive of any neglect of family
or kindred. It is all very weU, and essential to happiness, that a
husband and wife should have similar tastes and tempers ; but it
is not less necessary to the even tenour of married life, that their
immediate relatives should in these respects be somewhat like
themselves. Such was happily the case here. It is to this con-
nexion, also, that we owe his life of Hooker : his wife's aunt
having married Dr. Spencer, who was Hooker's *' bosom friend
and com-pupil ;" and her uncle having been educated by Hooker

We must now consider Walton in the character in which he is
most familiar to us, that of a biographer. Sir Henry Wotton,
from a letter addressed to Walton in 1638, appears to have been
collecting materials for writing a life of their common friend
Donne ; but, dying soon after, he never carried his intention into
effect. His sermons, however, being about to be published with-
out a life of the author, Walton determined to supply the defi-
ciency himself. " When I heard," said he, " that sad news
(Wotton's death), and heard also that these sermons were to be
printed, and want the author's Hfe, which I thought to be very
remarkable, indignation or grief — indeed I know not which —
transported me so far, that I reviewed my forsaken collections,
and resolved the world should see the best plain picture of the
author's life that my artless pencil, guided by the hand of truth,
could present to it.".

Hence the origin of the exquisite biography of a name honoured
in his own and every succeeding generation. It was pubhshed
along with the first volume of his sermons in 1640, and obtained
universal approbation. King Charles I., whose troubles at this
unhappy period may have been alleviated by its perusal, bestowed
his marked praise ; and the famous John Hales of Eton told
Dr. King, " that he had not seen a life -^n-itten with more advan-
tage to the subject, or more reputation to the writer, than that of
Dr. Donne." Our great critic and moralist. Dr. Johnson, also
pronounces this to be the best of Walton's biographical pro-

Amid all this deserved popularity, he still industriously pursued


his business, .md appears to have removed to a larger estabhsh-
ment in Cbarcery Lane. Walton was, indeed, far too honest to
let his literai'y pursuits, however congenial to his taste, interfere
with the more immediate duties of the tradesman or citizen ; and,
from the parish-registers, we find that he served several parochial
offices, such as sidesman, overseer of the poor, vestry-man, &c.
It will be a happy day for England w^hen these important offices
are again filled by such citizens. How unlike the noisy, ignorant,
idle, factious men who so often turn our vestries into bear-
gardens! where all that is holy and venerable in Church and
State is opposed and derided by men who, to borrow Tertullian's
description of Hermogenes, " mistake brawling for eloquence, im-
pudence for firmness, and think it a duty to abuse every one but

But his consistency of conduct affbrded Walton no exemption
from those earthly ills, which, in this probationary state inci-
dent alike to all, are neither awed by greatness nor eluded by
obscurity. While living in Chancery Lane, sorrows came, not
single ones, but in battalions ; and the " insatiate archer," Death,
shot forth his arrows in rapid and melancholy succession. He lost,
besides his mother-in-law, — Avho resided with her " loving son," as
in her will she designates Walton, — no fewer than seven children,
together with his wife (1640), after a happy union of fourteen years.
To any man the loss of the wife of his youth is no ordinary afflic-
tion ; but to one of Walton's aifectionate nature it must have been
severe indeed.

Although nothing certain is known concerning Walton for
several years after this period, it is not improbable that he retired
about this time from the turbulent scenes of the metropolis, in
which, according to Wood, the famous antiquary, it was danger-
ous for honest men to remain, — to a quiet spot near his native town
of Stafford, whose welfare he never forgot, and there passed several
resigned and peaceful years in study and angling, a recreation of
which it is well known that he was passionately fond.

From the folio v/ing statement, taken from the list of benefactors
in St. Mary's Church, Stafford, it is plain that Walton was not,
during his residence there, indifferent to the wants of his poorer
neighbours. " The gift of Mr. Izaak Walton, borne in the bur-
rough of Stafford, a worthy and generous benefactor to this
burrough, as followeth : first, the said Mr. Walton in his life tyrne
gave a garden of eight shillings a yeare, in the possession of wid-
dow Tildesley, to buy coales for the poore yearely about Christmas.
Also the said Mr. Walton in his life tyme gave twenty-two pounds
to build a stone wall about St. Chad's church-yard in this burrough;
and also set forth nine boys apprentices, and gave to each five
pounds." What a blessing would it prove to the towns and
villages of England, if each of ns, according to his ability, would
follow good Izaak Walton's example herein! it was to sucli


generous benefactors of other days, wlien men,\ according to
our notions, ^vere comparatively poor, that we ara indebted for
most of OLir noblest churches, our endowed schopls, and our
hospitals. <

The next incident connected with him occurred aboVit six years
afterwards, when he again married (1646). The oVject of his
choice, equally happy and desii'able as the former, Was Anne,
daughter of Thomas Ken, an attorney, the father of BiVhop Ken,
whose name requires no commendation. He had thus aice more
the privilege of obtaining with his wife the best and richest dowry,
— a family connexion of kindred tastes and principles, witV whom
he ever lived in happy and constant intercourse.

Having now retired from business, Wa]ton was at liberty to
indulge his literary taste. Accordingly, in 1651, he edited the
remains of his friend Sir Henry Wotton, with a life of the author,
under the title of ReliquicB Wottoniancs; a book which, though
quaint in its style, is not without amusement and instruction.


Walton's taste for the diversion of angling has been before
alluded to, and is well known. This diversion has ever been a
favourite in England, and long may it continue to be so, as it is
an amusement not less instructive than healthfid. and innocent.
"The angler," — to quote from Sir Humphrey Davy's Salmonia a
passage applicable to angling of every kind, and the extreme
beauty of which will excuse its length, — " employs not only
machinery to assist his physical powers, but applies sagacity to
conquer difficulties ; and the pleasure derived from ingenious re-
sources and devices, as well as from active pursuit, belongs to
this amusement. Then, as to its philosophical tendency, it is a
pursuit of moral discipline, requiring patience, forbearance, and
command of temper. As connected vath moral science, it may be
vaunted as demanding a knowledge of the habits of a considerable
tribe of created beings— fishes, and the anunals that they prey upon ;
and an acquaintance with the signs and tokens of the weather and
its changes, the nature of waters, and of the atmosphere. As to its
poetical relations, it carries us into the most wild and beautiful
scenery of nature ; amongst the mountain lakes, and the clear and
lovely streams that gush from the higher ranges of elevated hills,
or that make their way through the ca\ities of calcareous strata.
How delightful, in the early spring, after a dull and tedious winter,
when the frosts disappear, and the sunshine warms the earth and
waters, to wander forth by some clear stream to see the leaf
bursting from the purple bud, to scent the odours of the bank



perfumed by tlie violet, and enamelled, as it Tvere, by the primrose
and the daisy; to Vtander upon the fresh turf lielon- the shade of
trees -whose bright blossoms are filled v^ith the music of the bee;
and on the surface of the waters to view the gaudy flies sparkling
like animated gems in the sunbeams, whilst the bright and beautiful
trout is watching them from below; to hear the twittering of the
"water birds, who, alarmed at your approach, rapidly hide them-
selves beneath the flowers and leaves of the water-lily; and as the
season advances, to find all these objects changed for others of
the same kind, but better and brighter, till the swallow and the
trout contend, as it were, for the gaudy May-fly, and till pursuing
your amusement in the calm and balmy evening, you are serenaded
by the songs of the cheerfud thrush and melodious nightingale,
performing the offices of paternal love, in thickets ornamented
with the rose and woodbine."*

For a long period the rules — for every art has its rules — of the
art thus exquisitely described seem to have been conveyed by word
of mouth from one gentle brother to another, till Juliana Berners,
or Barnes, the noble prioress of Sopewell, near St. Albans, wrote
her Treatise of Fijshynge until an Aiigle, which forms part of the
Br>ke of St. Allans, first printed at that place in 1486, containing
treatises on hawking, hunting, and coat-armour, and afterwards
reprinted in 1496 along with a Treatise of Fysshynge, by Wynkyn
de Worde at Westminster.

This great typographical curiosity begins with a comparison
between the diversions of hunting, hawking, and fishing ; and pro-
ceeds to give directions how the angler is to make " his harnays
or tackle." The peculiarities of various fish are then described,
together with the baits suited to each, and the best mode of using
them. The book concludes with some general cautions, of which
the following shews that angling has long been considered
auxiliary to contemplation : —

" Also ye shall not use this forsayd crafty dysporte for no
couetysenes, to the encreasynge and sparynge of your money
oonly; but pryncypally for your solace, and to cause the helthe
of your body, and specyally of your soule: for whanne ye pur-
poos to goo on your dysportes in fysshynge, ye woll not desyre
gretly many persons wyth you, whyche myghte lette you of your
game. And thenne ye may serue God deuowtly, in sayenge
aflfectuously youre custumable prayer; and, thus doynge, ye shall
eschewe and voyde many vices."

About a century later another treatise appeared on the same
subject, entitled A Booke of Fishing tvith hooke and line, and of all
other instrianenls thereunto belonging, h\ O'ae Leonard Mascall, an
author who wrote on planting and cattle; In 1600 appeared
Approved Experiments touching Fish and Fruit, to he regarded by the
~ Salnioriia, pp, 8-10.


Lovers of Angling, by ]Mr. John Taverner. Nor T\-ete the instruc-
tions of this cleUghtful art confined to mere prose; The Secrets
of Angling, a poem in three books, having been published in 1613,
by J. D. Danvers, Esq. Some thirty years afterwards, a treatise
much better known than any of the former was given to the
world, under the designation" of The Art of Angling, wherein are
discovered many rare secrets, very necessary to be 'knoivn by all that
delight in that recreation; ivritlen by Thomas BarJcer, an ancient prac-
titioner in the said art. Published by Oliver Fletcher, " neer the
Seven Stars at the end of St. Paul's!" This seems to have taken
with the patient brotherhood, since it went through several
editions, the last of which was called Barkers Delight, or the Art of
Angling. The following extract, the conclusion of his " epistle
dedicatory," will shew the style and design of this author. " If
any noble or gentle reader, of Avhat degi-ee soever he be, have a
mind to discourse of any of these wayes and experiments, I live
in Henry the Seventh's gifts, the next doore to the gatehouse in
Westm. jMy name is Barker; where I shall be ready, as Ions; as
pleases God, to satisfie them, and maintain my art, during life,
which is not like to be long; that the younger frv may have my
experiments at a smaller charge than I had them;7or it would be
too long for every one that loveth that exercise to be at that
charge as I was at first in my youth, and loss of my time, with
great expences. Therefore I "took in consideration, and thought
fit to let it be understood, and to take pains to set forth the true
grounds and wayes that I have foimd bv experience, both for
fitting of the rods and tackles, both for ground-baits and flyes,
with directions for the making thereof, "with observation for
times and seasons, for the ground-baits and flyes, both for day
and night, with the dressing, wherein I take as much delight as in
the taking of them; and to^shew how I can perform it, to furnish
any lord's table, onely with trouts, as it is furnished with flesh,
for sixteen or twenty dishes. And I have a desire to preserve
their health (with help of God), to go dry in their boots and shooes
m angling, for age taketh the pleasure from me."

Such was the state of literature as to the art of fishing when Izaak
Walton (1G53), not altogether imindebted to their labours, by the
publication of The Compleat Angler, or the Contemplative Man s Recre-
ation, being a Discourse of Fish aiid Fishing, not umvnrthy the perusal
of most Anglers, far eclipsed his predecessors, and has become the
acknowledged " master " of all succeeding writers on the subject.
The universal praise bestowed upon this delightful book renders
all eulogium superfluous. Should any of my readers not have
read a treatise, second to none in beauty of lan2:uage, puritv of
sentiment, and fascinatmg description of natural scenery, he has a
pleasure yet in store, which, if wise, he will not be slow to


The book commences ^^Hh. a conference betwixt an angler, a
falconer, and a hunter, who accidentally meeting together one fine
fresh May morning, as they are going up Tottenham Hill towards ,
Ware, agree to proceed together, knowing that good company in I
a journey makes the way to seem shorter. During their walk, 1
they inquire the object of each other's journey; and when it is
found that one of them is a brother of the angle, the other two
begin to depreciate his art. To this Piscator rephes, that it is an
easy thmg to scoif at any recreation or art : " a little wit, mixed
with ill-nature, confidence, and malice, will do it." It is agreed,
therefore, that each shall defend his own sport. The falconer
begins, and endeavours to shew that the element which he uses,
air, is of more worth than weight, and excels both earth and water,
inasmuch as every creature that hath life stands in need of this
element. He further observes, how useful and pleasant the birds
of the air are to man ; and gives a brief but beautiful description
of " those little nimble musicians of the air, that warble forth their
curious ditties, with which nature hath furnished them to the shame
of art. As first the lark, when she means to rejoice, to cheer her-
self and those that hear her ; she then quits the earth, and sings
as she ascends higher into the air; and having ended her heavenly
employment, grows then mute and sad, to think she must descend ,
to the dull earth, which she would not touch but for necessity.
How do the blackbird and thrassel, with their melodious voices,
bid welcome to the cheerftd spring, and in their fixed months
warble forth such ditties as no art or instrument can reach to!
Nay, the smaller birds also do the like in their particular seasons;
as namely, the laverock, the titlark, the little linnet, and the
honest robin that loves mankind both alive and dead. But the
nightingale, another of my airy creatures, breathes such sweet
loud music out of her instrumental throat, that it might make
mankind to think that miracles are not ceased. He that at mid-
night, when the very labourer sleeps securely, should hear, as I have
very often, the clear airs, the sweet descants, the natural rising
and falling, the doubling and redoubling of her voice, might well
be lifted above earth, and say, ' Lord, what music hast Thou pro-
vided for the saints in heaven, when thou affordest bad men such
music on earth!'"

The hunter then commences an eulogy upon his " pleasant,
hungry, wholesome trade ; a game for princes and noble persons,
and calculated to preserve health, and increase strength and acti-
vity." Afterwards Piscator dilates upon his " calm and quiet recrea-
tion," " Anglers," he says, "seldom take the nam.e of God in their
mouths but it is either to praise Him or to pray to Him ; if others
use it vainly m the midst of their recreation — so vainly as if they
meant to conjure — it is neither our fault nor our custom ; we pro-
test against it." After this pious prologue, he begins to describe


the excellence of the element of -water, by shewmg how necessary-
it is to the earth's fruitfulness ; how advantageous it is to our
daily traffic, without -which we could not subsist, nor could we
visit any famous places ; for without water the inhabitants of this
poor island must remain ignorant that such places ever were, or
that any of them have yet a being.

At this period of the conference they arrive at '' Theobald's
House," when the falconer leaving his companions, the angler
and hunter walk on together; and the former pursues his dis-
course, till they arrive at the Thatched House, a rustic hostelry
of the olden time, about five miles off; and while proving his art
to be so ancient as to have been mentioned by the sacred penmen
of the Old Testament, to have been practised by the apostles, and
many most learned and holy fathers of the primitive and English
Church, it must be confessed, that, -what with the simple beauty
of his style, interspersed with unobtrusive learning, quiet humour,
and sound morality ; and what with the exquisite pencilling of the
scenery, so thoroughly associating the reader with every object
described, — Vv'alton has thrown a charm over the gentle craft,
which the sarcasm of Dr. Johnson,* great and good man as he
was, will never be able to dispel.

On arri-ving at the Thatched House, they turn in and refresh
themselves ; and the angler agrees to meet the hunter at Amwell
Hill early next morning, to enjoy- a day's otter-hunting; after
which Venator is pledged to give the next two days to fishing
with the angler. Accordmgly, on the third day the instructions
in fishing commence; and the scholar is practically initiated
into the mysteries of the art by his amiable master. Not that

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Online LibraryJames BurnsLives of Englishmen in past days → online text (page 1 of 16)