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THE excellent Lord Verulam has noted it as one of the great deficiencies of biographical history, that it is, for the most part, confined to the actions of kings, princes, and great personages, who are necessarily few; while the memory of less conspicuous, though good men, has been no better preserved than by vague reports and barren elogies.
It is not, therefore, to be wondered at, if little care has been taken to perpetuate the remembrance of the person who is the subject of the present inquiry; and, indeed, there are many circumstances that seem to account for such an omission; for neither was he distinguished by his rank, or eminent for his learning, or remarkable for the performance of any public service; but as he ever affected a retired life, so was he noted only for an ingenious, humble, good man.
However, to so eminent a degree did he possess the qualities above ascribed to him, as to afford a very justifiable reason for endeavouring to impress upon the minds of mankind, by a collection of many scattered passages concerning him, a due sense of their value and importance.
ISAAC, or, as he used to write it, IZAAK WALTON, was born at Stafford, in the month of August, 1593. The Oxford Antiquary, who has thus fixed the place and year of his nativity, has left us no memorials of his family, nor even hinted where or how he was educated; but has only told us, that before the year 1643, Walton was settled, and followed the trade of a sempster, in London.*
*Athen Oxon. vol. i. 305.
From his own writings, then, it must be that the circumstances attending his life must, in a great measure, come; and, as occasions offer, a proper use will be made of them: nevertheless, a due regard will be paid to some traditional memoirs, which (besides that they contain nothing improbable) the authority of those to whom we stand indebted for them, will not allow us to question.
His first settlement in London, as a shopkeeper, was in the Royal Burse in Cornhill, built by Sir Thomas Gresham, and finished in 1567.* In this situation he could scarcely be said to have elbow-room; for the shops over the Burse were but seven feet and a half long, and five wide; † yet here did he carry on his trade, till some time before the year 1624; when "he dwelt on the north side of Fleet Street, in a house two doors west of the end of Chancery Lane, and abutting on a messuage known by the sign of the Harrow." Now, the old timber house at the south-west corner of Chancery Lane in Fleet Street, till within these few years, was known by that sign: it is therefore beyond doubt that Walton lived at the very next door. And in this house he is, in the deed above referred to, which bears date 1624, said to have followed the trade of a linen-draper. It farther appears by that deed, that the house was in the joint occupation of Isaac Walton, and John Mason, hosier; whence we may conclude, that half a shop was sufficient for the business of Walton.
A citizen of this age would almost as much disdain to admit of a tenant for half his shop, as a knight would to ride double; though the brethren of one of the most ancient orders in the world were so little above this practice, that their common seal was the device of two riding on one horse. A more than gradual deviation from that parsimonious character, of which this is a ludicrous instance, hastened the grandeur and declension of that fraternity; and it is rather to be wished than hoped, that the vast increase of trade of this country, and an aver from the frugal manners of our forefathers, may not be productive lar consequences to this nation in general.
I conjecture, that about 1632 he married; for in that year I find him living in a house in Chancery Lane, a few doors
Ward's Life of Sir Thomas Gresham, p. 12.
Ex vet. charta penes me.
The Knights Templars. Ashmole's Inst. of the Order of the Garter,
EDITION PUBLISHED BY SIR JOHN HAWKINS, 1760.
THE Complete Angler having been written so long ago as 1653, although the last publication thereof in the lifetime of the Author was in 1676, contains many particulars of persons now but little known, and frequent allusions to facts, and even modes of living, the memory whereof is in a great measure obliterated: a new edition, therefore, seemed to require a retrospect to the time when the Authors lived, an explanation of such passages as an interval of more than a hundred years had necessarily rendered obscure, together with such improvements in the art itself as the accumulated experience of succeeding times has enabled us to furnish.
An Edition, undertaken with this view, is now attempted, and in a way, it is to be hoped, that may once again introduce the Authors to the acquaintance of persons of learning and judgment.
All that the Editor requests, in return for the pains he has taken, is, that the reader will do him the justice to believe that his only motives for the republication of this work were, a desire to perpetuate the memory of a meek, benevolent, pious man, and to contribute something to the improvement of an art of which he professes himself a lover.
Twickenham, April 10, 1760.
[The Notes to this edition by Professor Rennie, consisting chiefly of the correction of the errors of the original in Natural History, are marked by his initials, J. R.]