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The several tracts contained in the above-mentioned two impressions of the same book, were compiled by dame Julyans (or Juliana) Berners, Bernes, or Barnes; prioress of the nunnery of Sopwell, near St. Alban's; a lady of noble family—and celebrated by Leland, Bale, Pits, and Tanner, for her learning and accomplishments.
And as to the treatise itself, it must be deemed a great typographical curiosity, as well for the wooden sculpture (copied from thence, and here exhibited), which in the original immediately follows the title, as for the orthography and type in which it is printed. And, with respect to the subject-matter thereof, it begins—with a comparison, of fishing with the diversions of
hunting, hawking, and fowling,-which the authoress shows, are attended with great inconveniences and disappointments; whereas in fishing, if his sport fail, him, the angler, says she, “atte the leest, hath his holsom walke, and mery at his ease, a swete ayre of the swete sauoure of the meede floures, that makyth him hungry; he hereth the melodyous armony of flowles; he seeth the yonge swannes, heerons, duckes, cotes, and many other fowles, wyth theyr brodes; whyche me semyth better than alle the noyse of houndys, the blastes of hornys and the scrye of foulis, that hunters, fawkeners, and foulers can make. And if the angler take fysshe: surely, thenne, is there noo man merier than he is in his spyryte.”
But to return to the work of our author, "The Complete Angler:" it came into the world attended with encomiastic verses by several writers of that day; and had in the title page, though Walton thought proper to omit it in the future editions, this apposite motto:
"Simon Peter said, I go a-fishing; and they said, we also will go with thee."-John xxi. 3.
And here occasion is given us to remark, that the circumstance of time, and the distracted state of the kingdom at the period when the book was written, reaching indeed to the publication of a third edition, are evidences of the author's temper and disposition; for who, but a man whose mind was the habitation of piety, prudence, humility, peace, and cheerfulness, could delineate such a character as that of the principal interlocutor in this dialogue; and make him reason, contemplate, instruct, converse, jest, sing, and recite verses, with the sober pleasantry, and unlicentious hilarity of "Piscator," and this, too, at a time when the whole kingdom was in arms; and confusion and desolation were carried to an extreme sufficient to have excited such a resentment against the authors of them, as might have soured the best temper, and rendered it, in no small degree, unfit for social intercourse.
Walton's stock of learning, properly so called, was not great; yet his attainments in literature were far beyond what could be expected from a man bred to trade, and not to a learned profession; for, let it be remembered, that, besides being well versed in the study of the Holy Scriptures, and the writings of the most eminent divines of his time, he appears to have been well acquainted with history, ecclesiastical, civil and natural, to have acquired a very correct judgment in poetry and by phrases of his own combination and invention, to have formed a style so natural, intelligible, and elegant, as to have had more admirers than successful imitators.
What reception the book met with, may be inferred from the
dates of the subsequent editions; the second was published in 1655, the third in 1664, the fourth in 1668, and the fifth, and last, in 1676. It is pleasing to trace the several variations which the author from time to time made in these subsequent editions, as well by adding new facts and discoveries, as by enlarging on the more entertaining parts of the dialogue. And so far did he indulge in this method of improvement, that in the second edition he has introduced a new interlocutor, namely, Auceps, a falconer, and thereby gives a new form to the dialogue, taking occasion to urge a variety of reasons in favour of his art, and to assert its preference, as well to hawking, as hunting. The third and fourth editions have several entire new chapters; and the fifth, the last published in his life-time, contains no less than eight chapters more than the first, and twenty pages more than the fourth.
Not having the advantage of a learned education, it may seem unaccountable that Walton so frequently cites authors who have written only in Latin, as Gesner, Cardan, Aldrovandus, Rondeletius, and even Albertus Magnus; but here it may be observed, that the voluminous history of animals, of which the first of these was author, is, in an abridged form, translated into English by Mr. Edward Topsel. The translation was published in 1658, and contains numberless particulars concerning frogs, serpents, caterpillars, and other animals, though not of fish, extracted from the writers above-named, with their names to the respective facts, and it furnished Walton with a great variety of intelligence, of which in the later editions of his book he has carefully availed himself. It was through the medium of this translation, that he was enabled to cite the authors mentioned above; vouching the authority of the original writers, in like manner as he else where does Sir Francis Bacon, whenever occasion occurs to mention his "Natural History," or any other of his works. Pliny was translated to his hand by Dr. Philemon Holland, as were also Janus Dubravius "De Piscinis et Piscium naturâ," and Lebault's "Maison Rustique," often referred to by him in the course of his work.
Nor did the reputation of the "Complete Angler" subsist, only in the opinions of those for whose use it was more peculiarly calculated; but even the learned, either from the known character of the author, or those internal evidences of judgment and veracity contained in it, considered it a work of merit, and referred to its authority: Dr. Thomas Fuller in his "Worthies," whenever he has occasion to speak of fish, uses his very words. Dr. Plot, in his "History of Staffordshire," has, on
the authority of our author, related two of the instances of the voracity of the pike, mentioned part L. chap 8; and confirmed them by two other signal ones.
Fuller as we all know, wrote a "Church History," which, soon after its publication Walton having read, applied to the author for some information touching Hooker, whose life he was then about to write. Upon this occason Fuller, knowing how intimate Walton was with several of the bishops and ancient clergy, asked his opinion of it, and what reception it met with among his friends? Walton answered, that "he thought it would be acceptable to all tempers, because there were shades in it for the warm, and sunshine for those of cold constitution: that with youthful readers, the facetious parts would be profitable to make the serious more palatable, while some reverend old readers might fancy themselves in his 'History of the Church' as in a flower garden, or one full of evergreens."-" And why not," said Fuller, “The Church History so decked, as well as the Church itself at a most holy season, or the tabernacle of old at the feast of boughs." "That was but for a season," said Walton; "in your feast of boughs, they may conceive we are so overshadowed throughout, that the parson is more seen than his congregation, and this, sometimes, invisible to its own acquaintance, who may wander in the search till they are lost in the labyrinth.”—“Oh,” said Fuller," the very children of our Israel may find their way out of this wilderness.""True," replied Walton, " as, indeed, they have here such a
Moses to conduct them."
About two years after the restoration, Walton wrote the “Life of Mr. Richard Hooker," author of the “Ecclesiastical Polity." He was enjoined to undertake this work by his friend Doctor Gilbert Sheldon, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury ; who, by the way, was an angler. Bishop King, in a letter to the author, says of this life; "I have often seen Mr. Hooker with my father, who was afterwards Bishop of London; from whom, and others at that time, I have heard most of the material passages which you relate in the history of his life.” Sir William Dugdale, speaking of the three posthumous books of the "Ecclesiastical Polity," refers the reader "to that seasonable historical discourse, lately compiled and published, with great judgment and integrity, by that much deserving person, Mr. Isaac Walton.”1 In this Life we are told, that Hooker while he was at college made a visit to the famous Doctor Jewel, then Bishop of Salisbury, his good friend and patron: an account of the Bishop's reception of him and behaviour at his departure-as it contains a lively
1 "Short View of the late Troubles in England." Fol. 1681, p. 39.
picture of his simplicity and goodness, and of the plain manners of those times-is given in the note. 1
The life of Mr. George Herbert, as it stands the fourth and last in the volume wherein that and the three former are collected, seems to have been written the next after Hooker's: it was first published in duodecimo, 1670. Walton professes himself to have been a stranger to the person of Herbert: and though he assures us his life of him was a free-will offering, it abounds with curious information, and is in no way inferior to any of the former.
Two of these lives, those of Hooker and Herbert, we are told, were written under the roof of Walton's friend and patron, Dr. George Morley, Bishop of Winchester which particular seems to confirm Wood's account, that "after his quitting London, he lived mostly in the families of the eminent clergy of that time." And who that considers the inoffensiveness of his manners, and the pains he took in celebrating the lives and actions of good men, can doubt his being much beloved by them?
In the year 1670, these "Lives" were collected and published
1 "As soon as he was perfectly recovered from this sickness, he took a journey from Oxford to Exeter, to satisfy and see his good mother; being accompanied with a countryman and companion of his own college, and both on foot; which was, then, either more in fashion-or want of money, or their humility made it so; but on foot they went, and took Salisbury in their way, purposely to see the good bishop, who made Mr. Hooker and his companion dine with him at his own table; which Mr. Hooker boasted of with much joy and gratitude, when he saw his mother and friends. And at the bishop's parting with him, the bishop gave him good counsel, and his benediction, but forgot to give him money, which, when the bishop had considered, he sent a servant in all haste, to call Richard back to him; and at Richard's return, the bishop said to him: 'Richard! I sent for you, back to lend you a horse, which hath carried me many a mile, and, I thank God, with much ease :' and presently delivered into his hands a walking staff, with which he professed he had travelled through many parts of Germany and he said, 'Richard! I do not give, but lend you my horse; be sure you be honest, and bring my horse back to me at your return this way to Oxford. And I do now give you ten groats, to bear your charges to Exeter; and here is ten groats more, which I charge you to deliver to your mother; and tell her I send her a bishop's benediction with it, and beg the continuance of her prayers for me. And if you bring my horse back to me, I will give you ten groats more to carry you on foot to the college; and so God bless you, good Richard!'"-Life of Hooker, in the "Collection of Lives," edit. 1670.-H.
2 After the Restoration, apartments were reserved for Walton and his daughters, both in the house of the above-named prelate, and in that of Dr. Seth Ward, Bishop of Salisbury.-Zouch.