Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

and successful application to business, an unworldly simplicity of character, and an inextinguishable fondness for country scenes, pastimes, and recreations. He had also a power of natural description and lively dialogue that has rarely been surpassed. His Complete Angler' is a rich storehouse of rural pictures and pastoral poetry, of quaint but wise thoughts, of agreeable and humorous fancies, and of truly apostolic purity and benevolence. The slighit tincture of superstitious credulity and innocent eccentricity which pervades his works, gives them a finer zest, and original flavour, without detracting from their higher power to soothe, instruct, ard delight. Walton was born in the town of Stafford. Of bis education or his early years nothing is related ;' but according to Anthony à Wood, he acquired a moderate competency, by following in London the occupation of a sempster or linendraper. He had a shop in the Royal Burse in Cornhill, which was seven feet and a half long, and five wide. Lord Bacon has a puuving remark, that a small room helps a studious man to condense his thoughts, and certainly Izaak Walton was not destitute of this intellectual succedaneum. He had a more pleasant and spacious study, however, in the fields and rivers in the neighbourhood of London, ' in such days and times as he laid aside business, and went a-fishing with honest Nat. and R. Roe.' From the Royal Bur:e, Izaak-for so he always wrote his name-removed to Fleet Street, where he had one half of a shop, the other half being occupied by a hosier. About the year 1632, he was married to Anne, the daughter of Thomas Ken, of Furnival's Inn, and sister of Dr. Ken, Bishop of Bath and Wells. This respectable connection probably introduceel Walton to the acquaintance of the eminent men and dignitaries of the church, at whose louses he spent much of his time in his latter years, especially after the death of his wife, 'a woman of remarkable prudence, and of the primitive piety.”

Wallon retired from business in 1643, and lived forty years afterwards in uninterrupted leisure. His first work was a ‘Life of Dr. Donne' prefixed to a collection of the doctor's sermons, published in 1640 Sir Henry Wotton was to have written Donne's life, Walton merely collecting the materials; but Sir Henry dying before he had begun to execute the task, Izaak · reviewed his forsaken collections, and resolved that the world shoulsec the best plain picture of the author's life that his artless pencil, guided by the hand of truth, could present. The memoir is circumstantial and deeply interesting. He next wrote a 'Life of Sir Henry Wotton' (1651), and edited his literary remains. In 1652 lie publislied a small work, a translation by Sir John Skeffington, from the Spanish, “The Heroe of Lorenzo, to which he prefixed a short affectionale notice of his deceased friend, the translator, who had died the previous year. His principal production, The Complete Angler, or Contemplative Man's Recreation,' appeared in 1653 ; and four other editions of it were called for during his life-namely, in 1655, 1664, 1668, and 1676. Walton also wrote a 'Life of Richard Hooker' (1662), a Life of George Herbert' (1670), and a Life of Bishop Sariderson' (1678). They are all exquisitely simple, touching, and impressive. Though nó man seems to have possessed bis soul more patiently during ine trouvlous times in which he lived, the venerable Izaak was tempted, in 1680, to write and publishi anony. mously two letters on the ‘Distempers of the Times,' written from a quiet and conformable citizen of London to two busie and faciious shopkeepers in Cuventry.' In 1683, when in his ninetieth year, he published thc • Thealma and Clearchus' of Chalk bill, which we have previously noticed; and he died at Winchester on the 15th December of the same year, while residing with his son-in-law, Dr. Hawkins, prcbcndary of Winchester Cathedral.

The Complete Angler' of Walton is a production unique in our literature. In writing it, he says he made a recreation of a recreation,' and, by mingling innocent mirthi and pleasant scenes with the graver parts of his discourse, le designed it as a picture of his own disposition. The work is, indeed, essentially autobiographical iu spirit and execution. A hunter and falconer are introduced as parties in the dialogues, but they serve only as foils to the venerable and complacent Piscator, in whom the interest of the piece wholly centres. The opening scene lets us at once into the genial character of the work and its hero. The three interlocutors meet accidentally on Tottenham Hill, near London, on a 'fine fresh. May morning. They are open and cheerful as the day. Piscator is going towards Ware, Venator to meet a pack of other dogs upon Amwell Hill, and Auceps to Theobald's, to see a bawk that a friend there meus or moults for him. Piscator willingly joins with the lover of hounds in helping to destroy otters, for le 'hates them perfectly, because they love fish so weil and destroy so much. The sportsmen proceed onwards together, and they agree each to 'commend his recreation' or favourite pursuit. Piscator alludes to the virtue and contentedness of anglers, but gives the precedence to his companions in discoursing on their different crafts. The lover of hawking is eloquent on the virtues of air, the element that he trades in, and on its various winged inhabitants. He describes the falcon 'making her high way over the steepest mountains and deepest rivers, and, in her glorious career, looking with contempt upon those high steeples and magnificent palaces which we adore and wonder at.' The singing birds, those little nimble musicians of the air, that warble forth their curious ditties with which nature hath furnished them to the shame of art,' are descanted upon with pure poetical feeling and expression.

The Singing Birds. At first the lark, when she means to rejoice, to cheer herself and those that hear her, she then quits the earth, and sings as she ascends higher into the air ; and having ended ber heavenly employment, grows then mute and sad, to think she must descend to the dull earth, which she would not touch but for necessity.

How do the blackbird and throssel (sơng-thrush), with their melodious voices, bid welcome to the cheerfal spring, and in their fixed mouths warble forth such ditties as no art or instrument can reach to!

Nay, the smaller birds also do the like in their particular seasons, as, painely, the laverock (skylark), the titlark, the little linnet, and the honest robin, that loves inankind both alive and dead.

But the nightingale, another of my airy creatures, breathes such sweet loud music out of her little instrumental throat that it might make mankind to think miracles are not ceased. He that at midnight, when the very labourer sleeps securely, should hear, as I have very often, the clear airs, the sweet descants, the natural rising and falling, the doubling and redoubling of her voice, might well be lifted above earth, and say : Lord, what music hast thou provided for the saints in heaven, when thou affordest bad men such music on earth'

The lover of hunting next takes his turn, and comments, though with Jess force--for hero Walton himself must have been at fault--on the perfection of smell possessed by the hound, and the joyous music made by a pack of dogs in full chase. Piscator then unfolds his longtreasured and highly prized lore on the virtues of water--sca, river, and brook; and on the antiquity and excellence of fishing and angling. The latter, he says, is somewhat like poetry : men must be born 80.' He quotes Scripture, and numbers the prophets who allude to fishing. He also remembers with pride that four of the twelve apostles were fishermen, and that our Saviour never reproved them for their employment or calling, as he did the Scribes and moneychangers; for · He found that the hearts of such men, by nature, were fitted for contemplation and quietness; men of mild, and sweet, and peaceable spirits, as, indeed, most anglers are. The idea of angling seems to have unconsciously mixed itself with all Izaak Walton's speculations on goodness, loyalty, and veneration. Even worldly enjoyment be appears to have grudged to any less gifted mortals. Å finely dressed dish of fish, or a rich drink, he pronounces too good for any but anglers or very honest men; and his parting benediction is upon ‘all that are lovers of virtue, and dare trust in Providence, and be quiet, and go a-angling.'. The last condition would, in his ordinary mood, when not peculiarly solemn or earnest, be quite equivalent to any of the others. The rhetoric and knowledge of Piscator at length fairly overcome Venator, and make him a convert to the superiority of angling, as compared with his more savage pursuit of hunting. He agrees to accompany Piscator in his sport, adopts him as his master and guide, and in time be. comes initiated into the practice and mysteries of the gentle craft. The angling excursions of the pair give occasion to the practical lessons and descriptians in the book, and elicit what is its greatest charm, the minute and vivid painting of rural objects, the display of character, both in action and conversation, the flow of generous sentiment and feeling, and the associated recollections of picturesque poetry, natural piety, and examples and precepts of morality. Add to this the easy elegance of Walton's style, sprinkled, but not obscured, by the antiquated idiom and expression of his times, and clear and sparkling as one of his own favourite summer streams. Not an hour of the fishing day is wasted or unimproved. The master and scholar rise with the early dawn, and after four hours' fishing, breakfast at nine under a sycamore that shades them from the sun's heat. Old Piscator reads his admiring scholar a lesson on fly fishing, and they sit and discourse while a smoking shower' passes off, freshening all the meadow and the flowers.

And now, scholar, I think it will be time to repair to our angle rods, which we left in the water to fish for themselves; and you shall choose which shall be yours; and it is an eveu lay, one of them catches.

nd. let me tell you, this kind of fishing with a dead rod, and laying night hooks, are like putting money to use ; for they both work for their owners when they do nothing but sleep, or eat, or rejoice, as you know we have done this last hour, and sat as quietly and as free from cares under this sycamore, as Virgil's Tityrus and his Melibæus did under their broad beech-tree. No life, iny honest scholar, no life so happy and so pleasant as the life of a well-governed avgler; for when the lawyer is swallowed up with business, and the statesman is preventing or contriving plots, then we sit on cowslip banks, hear the birds sing, and possess ourselves in as much quietness as these silept silver streams which we now see glide so quietly by us. Indeed, my good scholar, we may say of angling as Dr. Boteler said of strawberries, • Dorbtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did:' and so if I might be judge, ‘God never did make a mor calm, quiet, innocent recreation than angling.'

I'll tell you, scholar, when I sat last on this primrose bank, and looked down these meadows, I thought of them as Charles the Emperor did of the city of Florence, that they were too pleasant to be looked on but only on holidays.' As I then sat on this very grass, I turned my present thoughts into verse: 'twas a wish which I'll repeat to you:

The Angler's Wish
I in these flowery meads would be;
These crystal streams should solace me;
To whose harmonious bubbling noise,
I with my angle would rejoice;

Sit here, and see the turtle-dove

Court his chaste mate to acts of love;
Or on that bank feel the west wind
Breathe health and plenty: please my mind,
To see sweet dew-drops kiss these flowers,
And then washed off by April showers ;

Here, hear my Kenna sing a song;

There see a blackbird feed her young,
Or a laverock build her nest:
Here give my weary spirits rest,
And raise my low-pitched thoughts above
Earth, or what poor mortals love:

Thus, free from lawsuits and the noise

Of Princes' courts, I would rejoice.
Or with my Bryan (1) and a book,
Loiter long days near Shawford brook;
There sit by him and eat my meat,
There see the sun both rise and set,
There bid good-morning to next day,
There meditate my time away,
And angle on; and beg to have
A quiet passage to a welcome grave.

1 Supposed to be the name of his dog.

The master and scholar, at another time, sit under a honeysucklehedge while a shower falls, and encounter a handsome milkmaid and her mother, who sing to them that smooth song wliich was made by Kit Marlow.'

Come live with me, and be my love; and the answer to it,' which was made by Sir Walter Raleigh in his younger days' (see ante). At niglit, when sport and instruction are over, they repair to the little alehouse, well known to Piscator, where they find a cleanly room, lavender in the windows, and twenty ballads stuck about the wall The hostess is cleanly, handsome, and civil, and knows how to dress the fish after Piscator's own fashion--he is learned in cookery—and having made a supper of their gallant trout, they drink their ale, tell tales, sing ballads, or join with å brother-angler who drops in, in a merry catch, till sleep overpowers them, and they retire to the hostess' two beds, 'the linen of which looks white and smells of lavender.' All this humble but happy painting is fresh as nature herself, and instinct with moral feeling and beauty. The only speck upon the brightness of old Piscator's benevolence is cne arising from his entire devotion to his art. He will allow no creature to take fish but the angler, and concludes that any honest man may make a just quarrel with swan, geese, ducks, the sea-gull, leron, &c. His directions for making live-bait have subjected bim to the charge of cruelty, * and are certainly curious enough. Painted flies seem not to have occurred to him, and the use of snails, worms, &c. induced no compunctious visitings. For taking pike he recommends a perch, as the longest lived fish on a hook, aud the poor frog is treated with elaborate and extravagant inhumanity :

Aud thus use your frog, that he may continue long alive: put yonr hook into his mouth, which you may easily do from the middle of April till August ; and then the frog's inouth grows up, and he continues so for at least six months without eating, but is sustained none but He whose name is Wonderful knows how. I say, put your hook, I mean the arining wire, through his mouth and out at his gills; and with a fine needle and silk sew the upper part of his leg, with only one stitch, to the arming wire of your hook; or tie the frog's leg above the upper joint to the armed wire; and, in so doing, use him as though you loved him, that is, harm him as little as you may possible, that he may live the longer.

Modern taste and feeling would recoil from such experiments as these, and we may oppose to the aberrations of the venerable Walton the philosophical maxim of Wordsworth:

Never to blend our pleasure or our pride
With sorrow of the meanest thing that feels.

* And angling, too, that solitary vice,

Whatever Izaak Walton sings or says:
The quaint, old, cruel coxcomb. in his gullet
Should have a hook, and a small trout to pull it.

Don Juan, Canto xiil.

« ПредишнаНапред »