« PreviousContinue »
THE AMERICAN EDITOR,
SOME NOTICES OF FISHING, AND BOOKS ON FISHING, BEFORE WALTON.
EVERY lover of books knows that he finds his best refreshment from closer study, in books themselves; and how likely he is to get a love for some one author, so as to read him again and again, liking him the better for his very faults, and thinking everything worth remark that throws light on his history, manner of life, means of knowledge, and standing among those who knew him in his own time. Such a love have I for dear old Iz. WA., which fondness is not a little heightened by an inborn fondness for, perhaps some skill in his gentle, contemplative art. The stream side is ever dear to me, and I love to think of the times when I have trudged merrily along it, finding again in the fresh air and moderate exercise and devout looks upon nature, the strength of nerve, the buoyancy of heart and health of mind, which I had lost in my pent library and town duties; now I need but to open the pages of The Complete Angler, and the stream flows by my side, the birds sing for me, the "daisies, culverkeys, and ladysmocks" bloom, the bright trout leap, the finny spoils are
won, and a quiet chat enjoyed with the Master and his Scholar under a wide tree shedding off the rain; or by the fire of the wayside Inn, while the hostess, "clean, handsome, and civil," is taking out "sheets smelling of lavender," for our beds, in a room that has "more than twenty ballads stuck against the wall;" or within the little shrine, Sacrum Piscatoribus, built by Cotton for his father, and “all true men who love quiet and go an angling." I trust that I have drunk enough of the old angler's spirit not to let such pastime break in upon better things; but, on the other hand, I have worked the harder from thankfulness to HIM who taught the brook to wind with musical gurglings, as it rolls on to the Great Sea.
It has been my wont at such times, to note down what I happened to find, giving greater zest to father Walton's quaint homilies, not in any hope that others would think it worth while to share my gatherings, but rather for my better memory and coming delight. The good publishers of this darling book, hearing of my little store, have asked me to put it at their disposal for your use, kind reader; and, as I count (with honest Shirley in his Angler's Magazine) "that a person has a mean soul, that could die without disclosing anything he knows, that he might benefit or please his fellow-creatures," I have done as they wished. The whole work has been gone over; the several editions collated, some notes chosen from the various editors, and, as you will see, more added by myself. Of how much worth these last are, you shall judge; but you can never know what happy hours I have spent in preparing them, or how truly I wish they may be to your liking. A good and pious friend of mine (how good and pious I dare not say, for he will surely read what I write, and I would spare him a blush even at his own true praise) has told me that it was reading this book, which awakened the love of God in his heart; nor may we wonder, that such meek-hearted, cheerful strains of godly contentment should have been
blessed to such an end; and I pray that a like blessing may go with your reading.
My first task shall be to give you some knowledge of books upon Angling, or rather fishing, before Walton. I say, rather books on fishing; for an angler, kind reader, is not a fisherman, who plies his calling for a livelihood, careless in what way he gets his scaly rewards. The name comes from angle or hook, for the true angler touches no net, but that with which he lands the heavy struggler hung on his tiny hair. He scorns to entrap by weir, or fyke, or wicker-pot, the finny people, when not bent on harm; but as they watch murderously for the pretty fly, the helpless minnow, or the half-drowned worm, he comes like a chivalrous knight to wreak upon them the wrong they would do, and slay them as they think to slay. For every one he kills a hundred less lives are saved, and the small fry shoot fearlessly along, where once they dared not be seen, when he has drawn the tyrant of the brook from his long kept lair. As Franklin said to the cod in whose belly some small cod were found, so says the angler to his prey, "If you eat your kind, I will eat you." If skilful as he ought to be, the angler need fix no quivering life on his hook, but with feather and silk and downy dubbing, he makes a bait far more winning, that drops upon the curling water, or plays among the whirlpools, as though it were born for the frolic. When a trout chooses to prey upon what he thinks is weaker than himself, the angler ought not to be blamed for it. Neither does he love the sea for his pastime, nor to sit in a boat, or on a rock, or a quay, watching his cork for a nibble (forgive us, shades of Jo. Dennys and Iz. Walton, but, surely, we pigmies on your giant shoulders may see further than you!). His choice is the swift river, the rock-broken stream; and he walks hopefully on from one jutting cliff to another, making his fly fall lightly as a drop of snow on each turn of the wave, or under the out-eaten turf, or over the deep, dark pool. You have taken from him half his
life, "if his free breathing be denied" among the meadows, the glens, and the uplands. Nevertheless, we shall speak of fishing in any of the ways followed by those, who lived so much in the dark ages as to know nothing of the fly; yet enjoyed what the learned author of "L'Art de la Pêche aux lignes volantes et flottantes, aux filets et autres instrumens," calls by a rare melange of languages, "Pisciceptologie."
Fisher, editor of the Angler's Souvenir, from a praiseworthy pride in his nominal ancestors, says the Saxon race were called Anglo, because of their skill with the angle; and truly they have earned such an honorable epithet, for the art is well carried out only among their descendants; though Kresz (ainé) has written on artificial flies with rare cleverness for a Frenchman;* and it is worthy of remark, that Masaniello, vulgarly called The Fisherman of Naples, was an angler, who used "to catch small fish with a rod and hook."+ We must, however, go further back than the ultima Thule of our Saxon lineage, for the first fisherman.
Gervase Markham, in his book of "Country Contentments" (A.D. 1611), speaking of angling, says: "For the antiquity thereof (for al pleasures, like Gentry, are held to be most excellent, which is most ancient), it is by some Writers sayd to be found out by Deucalion and Pyrrha his Wife after the general flood; others write that it was the invention of Saturne, after the peace concluded between him and his brother Tytan; and others that it came from Belus the sonne of Nimrod, who invented all holy and vertuous Recreations; and al these, though they savour of fiction, yet they differ not from truth, for it is most certaine that both Deucalion, Saturne, and Belus, are taken for figures of Noah and his Family, and the invention of the art of
*There is a translation of this treatise in the Sporting Magazine, London, xxiii., xxiv., 1829.
† La professione di lui era di pescare pesciolini con la canna e con l'hamo. Le Revoluzioni di Napoli dal Signor Alessandro Giraffi.
angling, is truly sayd to come from the sonnes of Seth, of whom Noah was most principall. Thus you see it is good as having no coherence with evil, worthy of use; inasmuch as it is mixt with a delightful profit; and most ancient, as being the Recreation of the first Patriarkes."
Walton himself, speaking of the antiquity of angling (p. 32), quotes the opinion of Jo. Da.* (as he calls the author of "The Secrets of Angling ") thus: "Some say it is as ancient as Deucalion's Flood;" for in the poem (under the head of "The Author of Angling, Poetical Fictions"), the writer says, that urged by a lack of food for his starving family,
"Then did Deucalion first this art invent Of angling, and his people taught the same.
And thus with ready practice and inventive wit,
But "others," adds our venerable father, "which I like better" (meaning Gervase Markham, see B. 1, first edition), say that Belus (who was the inventor of godly and vertuous Recreations) was the inventor of it; and some others say (for former times have had their disquisitions about it), that Seth, one of the sons of Adam, taught it to his sons, and that by them it was handed down to posterity. Others say, that he left it engraved on those Pillars which hee erected to preserve the knowledge of the mathematicks, musick, and the rest of those precious arts, which by God's appointment and allowance and his noble industry were thereby preserved from perishing in Noah's Flood." These were the same with the tables of stone engraved with sacred characters by the first Mercury, and translated, according
* The name is noted only in the first edition.