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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. 205.
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 ; t 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.”I 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 aversion from the frugal manners of our forefathers, may not be productive of similar 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 pene's me.
See the seal at the end of Matt. Paris Hist. Anglicana, edit. 1640.
higher up, on the left hand, than the former, and described by the occupation of a sempster, or milliner. The former of these might be his own proper trade; and the latter, as being a feminine occupation, might probably be carried on by his wife : she, it appears, was Anne, the
daughter of Thomas Ken, of Furnival's Inn, and sister of Thomas, afterwards Dr Ken, Bishop of Bath and Wells, one of the seven that were sent to the Tower, and who, at the Revolution, was deprived, and died in retirement. Walton seems to have been as happy in the married state, as the society and friendship of a prudent and pious woman of great endowments could make him ; and that Mrs Walton was such a one, we may conclude from what will be said of her hereafter.
About 1643 he left London, and, with a fortune very far short of what would now be called a competency, have retired altogether from business ; at which time, (to use the words of Wood,)“ finding it dangerous for honest men to be there, he left that city, and lived sometimes at Stafford,+ and elsewhere ; but mostly in the families of the eminent clergymen of England, of whom he was much beloved. I
While he continued in London, his favourite recreation was angling, in which he was the greatest proficient of his time; and indeed, so great were his skill and experience in that art, that there is scarce any writer on the subject since his time, who has not made the rules and practice of Walton his very foundation. It is, therefore, with the greatest propriety that Langbaine calls him “ the common father of all anglers.”S
The river that he seems mostly to have frequented for this purpose was the Lea, which has its source above Ware, in Hertfordshire, and falls into the Thames a little below Black Wall ; || unless we will suppose that the vicinity of the New River to the place of his habitation, might sometimes tempt him out with his friends, honest Nat. and R. Roe, whose loss he so pathetically mentions, ** to spend an afternoon there.
* See his Will, at the end of the Life.
of He lived upon a small estate near the town of Stafford, where, according to his own account, he suffered during the time of the Civil Wars; having by bis loyalty rendered himself obnoxious to the persons in power.
Athen. Oxon. vol. i. 305.
See chap xix. 1. That great work, the bringing water from Chadwell and Amwell, in Hertfordshire, to London, by means of the trench called the New River, was completed on Michaelmas day, 1613. Stow's Survey, fol. 1633, p. 12.
** Preface to Complete Angler.