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CHAP. IX-Perches and Plants.
MONG other distinguished literary anglers we must not forget the poet Pope, who writes about Lord Cobham's house, (Stowe) that he spent every hour there but dinner and night "fishing, no politics, no cards, nor much reading." What a golden recipe for that asthmatic venomous great man! If he had spent as many weeks there as he tarried days he need not have died at fifty-six of the asthma. But he angled too late, both for his disease and his severities, to obtain much relief. The Dunciad, in its last recension was being typed. It was the year 1743, the poet's last year of life, for he died in May, 1744, arguing to the last for the immortality of his great crippled soul. Did he catch little pond carp or what? Did he soon weary of the sport? The rod must have tired his delicate, white little hands, so apt and tireless with rods of another kind. A lake, a river, (with an ornamental bridge) were to be found among clipped yews, rec
tangular lines, Corinthian and Ionic columns, parterres, flower-gardens, an orangery, fountains and statues. What chance could there be for angling in these artificial surroundings? They are almost its antithesis. And what distracting pictures to lure one back to the microbes of indoor life! Rembrandts, Cuyps, Salvator Rosas, a Domenichino, portraits of Cromwell, Charles II, Nell Gwynne in yellow and blue, John Locke, Shakespeare, with Charles Edward's sash and Princess Mary's hair, which Henry VIII had pulled, Louis XII played with, and Charles Brandon had worshipped. Grecian valleys, pebble alcoves, cascades, artificial ruins, urns, hermitages without hermits, fanes of pastoral poetry and the like, we may laugh at it all, and indeed, it is almost inconsistent with the high strenuousness of sport: but yet that straitened, formal, ceremonious, stately life, has much to say for itself. It was well-knit and well-braced, and neither soppy nor floppy. Loungers may sneer at Pope, but his polished shafts pierce through the defences which their casual stones cannot even reach. A generation which forgets Pope, or dismisses him as a vapid ceremonialist in letters, may chance to meet him redivivus in
some ruinous day, when an unexpected attack will declare irrefutably the power of discipline over mere laxity, and he will again tattoo moral maxims upon our disdainful hides. Pope must not be forgotten, nor the scorner too easily scorned,
"Sooner let earth, air, sea, to chaos fall,
Men, monkeys, lap-dogs, parrots, perish all!"
and that includes, mark you, the whole nonangling community. Pope's first poetic angling venture is Windsor forest, 1713. Until further evidence be forthcoming, we conclude not only that the great Alexander Pope was, up to his lights, an angler, but that he caught perch, because of the times of year and of day in which he angled, and also because there are abundance of these fishes about Stowe. But chiefly because there is something gorgeous, pseudo-classic and trenchant about both Pope and perches. They dwell in the same department of the mind most harmoniously.
The Master of Stowe-how hard it is to quit the place!—was Temple, Lord Cobham, one of Marlborough's generals, and still more remarkable for begetting Pope's phrase, your ruling passion strong in death." He
did not die calling upon Heaven to save his country, as the poet prophesied. On the contrary, his last act was to fling a glass of jelly in his niece's face, but possibly she had railed against angling, in which he took much delight. If so, it is to be hoped that he did not miss his last mark, albeit, one could have wished him a finer end.
But to return to perches. If you have ever stood outside Cannon Street Station or on London Bridge, between eight o'clock and ten, on a week-day morning, you will have seen a school of perch incarnate. A set of well-dressed men, all of one livery, pour out from the stations, their faces all set one way. They sweep along, glancing from side to side as they go, with that nervous predatory glance, which only fears to miss something pounce-worthy. If you could but trail a piece of scrip, say across their line of march, how they would circle round, wheel and follow it! If they did not notice it, or if they felt no interest in the thing, knowing either too much or too little about it, the golden hour would soon pass and they would all be away in their offices-their weed beds and your chance would be gone until the evening, when the same school,
perhaps less spry and swift of foot, recrosses the same bridge or street, pours into its engulfing arches, and is seen no more till next day gives forth the old serious intent crowd, and so, da capo, three hundred days in the year. There come and go the same faces slowly getting greyer, the same feet beat the same flags as this day and hour last year. Perhaps they fall a shade more heavily upon them, until they fall out. The man has made his pile, or else gone down to stay somewhere near Woking. His place is filled immediately and after a week no one mentions him again. Regret? Far from it. There is one large mouth the less to be fed, and a living is too hard to make for any sentiment towards our competitors, other than a hard cut-and-thrust jostling sentiment. Let not the lounger sneer at this crowd. They are not any of them fools and by no means all of them knaves. Indeed they are creatures of immense power and simplicity of habit. If you know a bait which takes one, you can get a dozen or a gross with the same. They are not scared by the loss of their familiars. They are bold biters and burly Britishers, fond of society, but capable of doing without it. Capable, that is pre