Introduction to the Compleat Angler by Andrew Lang


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Page 1

'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.'

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Fri 10th Jul 2020, 13:43