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Ven. Well, now let's go to your sport of angling.
Pisc. Let's be going with all my heart. God keep you all, gentlemen; and send you meet, this day, with another bitch-otter, and kill her merrily, and all her young ones too.
Ven. Now, Piscator, where will you begin to fish?
Pisc. We are not yet come to a likely place; I must walk a mile further yet before I begin.
Ven. Well, then, I pray, as we walk, tell me freely, how do you like your lodging, and mine host and the company? Is not mine host a witty man?
Pisc. Sir, I will tell you, presently, what I think of your host: but, first, I will tell you, I am glad these otters were killed; and I am sorry there are no more otter-killers; for I know that the want of otter-killers, and the not keeping the fence-months for the preservation of fish, will, in time, prove the destruction of all rivers. And those very few that are left, that make conscience of the laws of the nation,' and of keeping days of abstinence, will be forced
1 This passage, which from "Is not mine Host a witty man," down to "I speak truly," on the next page, is not in the first edition, alludes to a statute, 5 Eliz., enacting, that any person who eats flesh on the usual
to eat flesh, or suffer more inconveniences than are yet foreseen.
Ven. Why, sir, what be those that you call the fencemonths?
Pisc. Sir, they be principally three, namely, March, April, and May; for these be the usual months that salmon come out of the sea, to spawn,' in most fresh rivers. And their fry would, about a certain time, return back to the saltwater, if they were not hindered by wires and unlawful gins,2 which the greedy fishermen set; and so destroy them by thousands, as they (the fry) would, being so taught by nature, change the fresh for salt water. He that shall view the wise statutes made in the 13th of Edward I., and the like in Richard II., may see several provisions made against the destruction of fish; and though I profess no knowledge of the law, yet I am sure the regulation of these defects might be easily mended. But I remember that a wise friend of mine did usually say, "That which is every body's business is no body's business: "—if it were otherwise, there could not be so many nets, and fish, that are under the statutesize, sold daily amongst us; and of which the conservators of the waters should be ashamed."
But, above all, the taking fish in spawning-time, may be said to be against nature; it is like taking the dam on the nest when she hatches her young-a sin so against nature, that Almighty God hath in the Levitical law made a law against it.
But the poor fish have enemies enough besides such unna
fish days, shall forfeit £3, or undergo three months' imprisonment. The object of the Act seems to have been more the encouragement of the fisheries than religious observance.-ED.
1 Salmon spawn principally in November and December, and rarely after March. The history of the Salmon is ably given in Yarrell's "British Fishes."-ED.
2 The Thames Preservation Society have done much good in preventing the unlawful practices Walton here complains of.-ED.
3 About the year 1770-upon the trial of an indictment, before me, at Hicks's Hall-a basket was produced in evidence, containing flounders that had been taken with unlawful nets in the river Thames, so small that scarce any one of them would cover a half-crown piece. The indictment was for an affray, and an assault on a person authorised to seize unstatutable nets; and the sentence of the offender was a year's imprisonment in Newgate.-H.
tural fishermen; as, namely, the otters that I spake of, the cormorant, the bittern, the osprey, the seagull, the hern, the king-fisher, the gorara, the puet, the swan, goose, duck, and the crabber, which some call the WATER-RAT: against all
which any honest man may make a just quarrel-but I will not; I will leave them to be quarrelled with and killed by others: for I am not of a cruel nature, I love to kill nothing but fish.
And, now, to your question concerning your host: To speak truly, he is not to me a good companion; for most of his conceits were either scripture jests-or, lascivious jestsfor which I count no man witty; for the devil will help a man that way inclined, to the first; and his own corrupt nature, which he always carries with him, to the latter. But a companion that feasts the company with wit and mirth, and leaves out the sin which is usually mixed with them, he is the man; and indeed such a companion should have his charges borne; and to such company I hope to bring you
1 Probably the peewit-gull.-Rennie.
2 It is not, perhaps, generally known that the water-rat is very destructive to fish, I have had proofs of this in Hampton-Court Gardens. -ED,
this night; for at Trout-hall, not far from this place, where I purpose to lodge to-night, there is usually an angler that proves good company. And, let me tell you, good company and good discourse are the very sinews of virtue. But for such discourse as we heard last night, it infects others; the very boys will learn to talk and swear, as they heard mine host, and another of the company that shall be nameless :I am sorry the other is a gentleman; for less religion will not save their souls than a beggar's: I think more will be required at the last great day. Well! you know what example is able to do; and I know what the poet says in like case-which is worthy to be noted by all parents and people of civility:
many a one
This is reason put into verse, and worthy the consideration of a wise man. But of this no more; for though I love civility, yet I hate severe censures. I'll to my own art; and I doubt not but at yonder tree I shall catch a chub: and then we'll turn to an honest cleanly hostess, that I know right well; rest ourselves there; and dress it for our dinner.
Ven. Oh, sir! a chub is the worst fish that swims; I hoped for a trout to my dinner.
Pisc. Trust me, sir, there is not a likely place for a trout hereabout: and we staid so long to take our leave of your huntsman this morning, that the sun is got so high, and shines so clear, that I will not undertake the catching of a trout till evening. And though a chub be, by you and many others, reckoned the worst of fish, yet you shall see I'll make it a good fish by dressing it.
Ven. Why, how will you dress him?
Pisc. I'll tell you by and by, when I have caught him. Look you here, sir, do you see? (but you must stand very close), there lie upon the top of the water, in this very hole, twenty chubs. I'll catch only one, and that shall be the biggest of them all: and that I will do so, I'll hold you twenty to one: and you shall see it done.
Ven. Ay, marry, sir, now you talk like an artist; and I'll say you are one, when I shall see you perform what you say you can do: but I yet doubt it.
Pisc. You shall not doubt it long; for you shall see me do it presently. Look! the biggest of these chubs has had some bruise upon his tail, by a pike, or some other accident; and that looks like a white spot. That very chub I mean to put into your hands presently; sit you but down in the shade; and stay but a little while; and, I'll warrant you, I'll bring him to you.
Ven. I'll sit down; and hope well, because you seem to be so confident.
Pisc. Look you, sir, there is a trial of my skill; there he
is; that very chub, that I showed you, with a white spot on his tail. And I'll be as certain, to make him a good dish of meat, as I was to catch him; I'll now lead you to an honest ale-house, where we shall find a cleanly room, lavender in the windows, and twenty ballads stuck against the wall. There my hostess-which, I may tell you, is both cleanly, and handsome, and civil-hath dressed many a one for me; and shall now dress it after my fashion; and I warrant it good meat.
Ven. Come, sir, with all my heart; for I begin to be hungry, and long to be at it, and indeed to rest myself too,-for though I have walked but four miles this morning,