Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
From ‘The Compleat Angler’
By Izaak Walton (1593–1683)
PISCATOR—O sir, doubt not that angling is an art: is it not an art to deceive a trout with an artificial fly? a trout that is more sharp-sighted than any hawk you have named, and more watchful and timorous than your high-mettled merlin is bold; and yet I doubt not to catch a brace or two to-morrow for a friend’s breakfast. Doubt not, therefore, sir, but that angling is an art, and an art worth your learning. The question is rather, whether you be capable of learning it? for angling is somewhat like poetry,—men are to be born so: I mean, with inclinations to it, though both may be heightened by discourse and practice; but he that hopes to be a good angler must not only bring an inquiring, searching, observing wit, but he must bring a large measure of hope and patience, and a love and propensity to the art itself; but having once got and practiced it, then doubt not but angling will prove to be so pleasant that it will prove to be like virtue, a reward to itself.  1
  Venator—Sir, I am now become so full of expectation, that I long much to have you proceed, and in the order you propose.  2
  Piscator—Then first, for the antiquity of angling, of which I shall not say much, but only this: some say it is as ancient as Deucalion’s flood; others, that Belus, who was the first inventor of godly and virtuous recreations, was the first inventor of angling; and some others say—for former times have had their disquisitions about the antiquity of it—that Seth, one of the sons of Adam, taught it to his sons, and that by them it was derived to posterity; others say that he left it engraven on those pillars which he erected, and trusted to preserve the knowledge of the mathematics, music, and the rest of that precious knowledge and those useful arts, which by God’s appointment or allowance and his noble industry were thereby preserved from perishing in Noah’s flood.  3
  These, sir, have been the opinions of several men that have possibly endeavored to make angling more ancient than is needful, or may well be warranted; but for my part, I shall content myself in telling you that angling is much more ancient than the Incarnation of our Savior: for in the prophet Amos, mention is made of fish-hooks; and in the book of Job, which was long before the days of Amos,—for that book is said to be writ by Moses,—mention is made also of fish-hooks, which must imply anglers in those times.  4
  But, my worthy friend, as I would rather prove myself a gentleman by being learned and humble, valiant and inoffensive, virtuous and communicable, than by any fond ostentation of riches; or, wanting those virtues myself, boast that these were in my ancestors (and yet I grant that where a noble and ancient descent and such merit meet in any man, it is a double dignification of that person);—so if this antiquity of angling, which for my part I have not forced, shall, like an ancient family, be either an honor or an ornament to this virtuous art which I profess to love and practice, I shall be the gladder that I made an accidental mention of the antiquity of it, of which I shall say no more, but proceed to that just commendation which I think it deserves.  5
  And for that, I shall tell you that in ancient times a debate hath arisen, and it remains yet unresolved: whether the happiness of man in this world doth consist more in contemplation or action?  6
  Concerning which, some have endeavored to maintain their opinion of the first, by saying that the nearer we mortals come to God by way of imitation, the more happy we are. And they say that God enjoys himself only by a contemplation of his own infiniteness, eternity, power, and goodness, and the like. And upon this ground, many cloisteral men of great learning and devotion prefer contemplation before action. And many of the fathers seem to approve this opinion, as may appear in their commentaries upon the words of our Savior to Martha (Luke x. 41, 42).  7
  And on the contrary, there want not men of equal authority and credit, that prefer action to be the more excellent: as namely, experiments in physic, and the application of it, both for the ease and prolongation of man’s life; by which each man is enabled to act and do good to others, either to serve his country or do good to particular persons. And they say also that action is doctrinal, and teaches both art and virtue, and is a maintainer of human society; and for these, and other like reasons, to be preferred before contemplation.  8
  Concerning which two opinions, I shall forbear to add a third by declaring my own; and rest myself contented in telling you, my very worthy friend, that both these meet together, and do most properly belong to the most honest, ingenious, quiet, and harmless art of angling.  9
  And first I shall tell you what some have observed, and I have found it to be a real truth,—that the very sitting by the river’s side is not only the quietest and fittest place for contemplation, but will invite an angler to it; and this seems to be maintained by the learned Peter Du Moulin, who in his discourse of the fulfilling of prophecies, observes that when God intended to reveal any future events or high notions to his prophets, he then carried them either to the deserts or the sea-shore, that having so separated them from amidst the press of people and business, and the cares of the world, he might settle their mind in a quiet repose, and there make them fit for revelation.  10
  And this seems also to be intimated by the Children of Israel (Psalm cxxxvii.), who having in a sad condition banished all mirth and music from their pensive hearts, and having hung up their then mute harps upon the willow-trees growing by the rivers of Babylon, sat down upon these banks, bemoaning the ruins of Sion, and contemplating their own sad condition.  11
  And an ingenious Spaniard says that “rivers and the inhabitants of the watery element were made for wise men to contemplate, and fools to pass by without consideration.” And though I will not rank myself in the number of the first, yet give me leave to free myself from the last, by offering to you a short contemplation, first of rivers and then of fish: concerning which I doubt not but to give you many observations that will appear very considerable; I am sure they have appeared so to me, and made many an hour to pass away more pleasantly, as I have sat quietly on a flowery bank by a calm river.  12
  PISCATOR—And now you shall see me try my skill to catch a trout; and at my next walking, either this evening or to-morrow morning, I will give you direction how you yourself shall fish for him.  13
  Venator—Trust me, master, I see now it is a harder matter to catch a trout than a chub; for I have put on patience and followed you these two hours, and not seen a fish stir, neither at your minnow nor your worm.  14
  Piscator—Well, scholar, you must endure worse luck some time, or you will never make a good angler. But what say you now? There is a trout now, and a good one too, if I can but hold him, and two or three turns more will tire him. Now you see he lies still, and the sleight is to land him. Reach me that landing-net;—so, sir, now he is mine own. What say you now? is not this worth all my labor and your patience?  15
  Venator—On my word, master, this is a gallant trout: what shall we do with him?  16
  Piscator—Marry, e’en eat him to supper: we’ll go to my hostess, from whence we came; she told me as I was going out of door, that my brother Peter, a good angler and a cheerful companion, had sent word that he would lodge there to-night, and bring a friend with him. My hostess has two beds, and I know you and I may have the best; we’ll rejoice with my brother Peter and his friend, tell tales or sing ballads, or make a catch, or find some harmless sport to content us and pass away a little time, without offense to God or man.  17
  Venator—A match, good master: let’s go to that house; for the linen looks white and smells of lavender, and I long to lie in a pair of sheets that smells so. Let’s be going, good master, for I am hungry again with fishing.  18
  Piscator—Nay, stay a little, good scholar. I caught my last trout with a worm; now I will put on a minnow, and try a quarter of an hour about yonder trees for another: and so walk towards our lodging. Look you, scholar, thereabout we shall have a bite presently or not at all. Have with you, sir! o’ my word I have hold of him. Oh! it is a great logger-headed chub; come hang him upon that willow twig, and let’s be going. But turn out of the way a little, good scholar, towards yonder high honeysuckle hedge; there we’ll sit and sing whilst this shower falls so gently upon the teeming earth, and gives yet a sweeter smell to the lovely flowers that adorn these verdant meadows.  19
  Look! under that broad beech-tree I sat down, when I was last this way a-fishing. And the birds in the adjoining grove seemed to have a friendly contention with an echo, whose dead voice seemed to live in a hollow tree, near to the brow of that primrose hill. There I sat viewing the silver streams glide silently towards their centre, the tempestuous sea; yet sometimes opposed by rugged roots and pebble-stones, which broke their waves and turned them into foam. And sometimes I beguiled time by viewing the harmless lambs; some leaping securely in the cool shade, whilst others sported themselves in the cheerful sun; and saw others craving comfort from the swollen udders of their bleating dams. As I thus sat, these and other sights had so fully possessed my soul with content, that I thought, as the poet hath happily expressed it,
  “I was for that time lifted above earth,
And possessed joys not promised in my birth.”
  As I left this place and entered into the next field, a second pleasure entertained me: ’twas a handsome milkmaid, that had not yet attained so much age and wisdom as to load her mind with any fears of many things that will never be, as too many men too often do; but she cast away all care, and sang like a nightingale: her voice was good, and the ditty fitted for it: it was that smooth song which was made by Kit Marlowe, now at least fifty years ago; and the milkmaid’s mother sang an answer to it, which was made by Sir Walter Raleigh in his younger days.  21
  They were old-fashioned poetry, but choicely good; I think much better than the strong lines that are now in fashion in this critical age. Look yonder! on my word, yonder they both be a-milking again. I will give her the chub, and persuade them to sing those two songs to us.  22
  God speed you, good woman! I have been a-fishing, and am going to Bleak Hall to my bed; and having caught more fish than will sup myself and friend, I will bestow this upon you and your daughter, for I use to sell none.  23
  Milk-Woman—Marry, God requite you, sir, and we’ll eat it cheerfully: and if you come this way a-fishing two months hence, a grace of God, I’ll give you a syllabub of new verjuice in a new-made haycock for it, and my Maudlin shall sing you one of her best ballads; for she and I both love all anglers, they be such honest, civil, quiet men: in the mean time will you drink a draught of red cow’s milk? you shall have it freely.  24
  Piscator—No, I thank you: but I pray, do us a courtesy that shall stand you and your daughter in nothing, and yet we will think ourselves still something in your debt; it is but to sing us a song that was sung by your daughter when I last passed over this meadow, about eight or nine days since.  25
  Milk-Woman—What song was it, I pray? Was it ‘Come, shepherds, deck your heads,’ or ‘As at noon Dulcina rested,’ or ‘Phillida flouts me,’ or ‘Chevy Chace,’ or ‘Johnny Armstrong,’ or ‘Troy Town’?  26
  Piscator—No, it is none of those; it is a song that your daughter sang the first part, and you sang the answer to it.  27
  Milk-Woman—Oh, I know it now. I learned the first part in my golden age, when I was about the age of my poor daughter; and the latter part, which indeed fits me best now, but two or three years ago, when the cares of the world began to take hold of me: but you shall, God willing, hear them both, and sung as well as we can, for we both love anglers.  28
  PISCATOR—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 even lay one of them catches.  29
  And 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 the 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 Melibœus did under their broad beech-tree. No life, my honest scholar, no life so happy and so pleasant as the life of a well-governed angler; 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 silent 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, “Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did;” and so, if I might be judge, “God never did make a more calm, quiet, innocent recreation than angling.”  30
  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.

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 dewdrops 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 leverock 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 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.
  When I had ended this composure, I left this place, and saw a brother of the angle sit under that honeysuckle hedge, one that will prove worth your acquaintance: I sat down by him, and presently we met with an accidental piece of merriment, which I will relate to you; for it rains still.  32
  On the other side of this very hedge sat a gang of gipsies, and near to them sat a gang of beggars. The gipsies were then to divide all the money that had been got that week, either by stealing linen or poultry, or by fortune-telling, or legerdemain, or indeed by any other sleights or secrets belonging to their mysterious government. And the sum that was got that week proved to be but twenty and some odd shillings. The odd money was agreed to be distributed amongst the poor of their own corporation; and for the remaining twenty shillings, that was to be divided unto four gentlemen gipsies, according to their several degrees in their commonwealth.  33
  And the first or chiefest gipsy was, by consent, to have a third part of the 20s., which all men know is 6s. 8d.  34
  The second was to have a fourth part of the 20s., which all men know to be 5s.  35
  The third was to have a fifth part of the 20s., which all men know to be 4s.  36
  The fourth and last gipsy was to have a sixth part of the 20s., which all men know to be 3s. 4d.  37
  As for example,—
          3 times 6s. 8d. is 20s.
And so is 4 times 5s.  .  20s.
And so is 5 times 4s.  .  20s.
And so is 6 times 3s. 4d.  .  20s.
  And yet he that divided the money was so very a gipsy, that though he gave to every one these said sums, yet he kept 1s. of it for himself.  39
  As for example,—
    s.  d.
  6  8
  5  0
  4  0
  3  4
make but19  0
  But now you shall know that when the four gipsies saw that he had got 1s. by dividing the money, though not one of them knew any reason to demand more, yet, like lords and courtiers, every gipsy envied him that was the gainer, and wrangled with him, and every one said the remaining shilling belonged to him: and so they fell to so high a contest about it, as none that knows the faithfulness of one gipsy to another will easily believe: only we that have lived these last twenty years are certain that money has been able to do much mischief. However, the gipsies were too wise to go to law, and did therefore choose their choice friends Rook and Shark, and our late English Gusman, to be their arbitrators and umpires; and so they left this honeysuckle hedge, and went to tell fortunes, and cheat, and get more money and lodging in the next village.  41
  When these were gone, we heard a high contention amongst the beggars, whether it was easiest to rip a cloak or to unrip a cloak. One beggar affirmed it was all one. But that was denied by asking her if doing and undoing were all one. Then another said ’twas easiest to unrip a cloak, for that was to let it alone. But she was answered by asking her how she unripped it if she let it alone; and she confessed herself mistaken. These and twenty such-like questions were proposed, and answered with as much beggarly logic and earnestness as was ever heard to proceed from the mouth of the most pertinacious schismatic; and sometimes all the beggars, whose number was neither more nor less than the poet’s nine Muses, talked together about this ripping and unripping, and so loud that not one heard what the other said: but at last one beggar craved audience, and told them that old Father Clause, whom Ben Jonson, in his ‘Beggar’s Bush,’ created king of their corporation, was to lodge at an alehouse called “Catch-her-by-the-way,” not far from Waltham Cross, and in the high-road towards London: and he therefore desired them to spend no more time about that and such-like questions, but refer all to Father Clause at night, for he was an upright judge; and in the meantime draw cuts, what song should be next sung and who should sing it. They all agreed to the motion; and the lot fell to her that was the youngest and veriest virgin of the company. And she sang Frank Davison’s song, which he made forty years ago; and all the others of the company joined to sing the burthen with her.  42
  PISCATOR—Well, scholar, having now taught you to paint your rod, and we having still a mile to Tottenham High Cross, I will, as we walk towards it, in the cool shade of this sweet honeysuckle hedge, mention to you some of the thoughts and joys that have possessed my soul since we two met together. And these thoughts shall be told you, that you also may join with me in thankfulness to the Giver of every good and perfect gift, for our happiness. And that our present happiness may appear to be the greater, and we the more thankful for it, I will beg you to consider with me how many do, even at this very time, lie under the torment of the stone, the gout, and toothache; and this we are free from. And every misery that I miss is a new mercy, and therefore let us be thankful. There have been, since we met, others that have met disasters of broken limbs; some have been blasted, others thunderstrucken: and we have been freed from these, and all those many other miseries that threaten human nature; let us therefore rejoice and be thankful. Nay, which is a far greater mercy, we are free from the unsupportable burthen of an accusing tormenting conscience, a misery that none can bear; and therefore let us praise Him for his preventing grace, and say, Every misery that I miss is a new mercy. Nay, let me tell you there be many that have forty times our estates, that would give the greatest part of it to be healthful and cheerful like us: who, with the expense of a little money, have eat and drank, and laught, and angled, and sung, and slept securely; and rose next day, and cast away care, and sung, and laught, and angled again: which are blessings rich men cannot purchase with all their money. Let me tell you, scholar, I have a rich neighbor that is always so busy that he has no leisure to laugh; the whole business of his life is to get money, and more money, that he may still get more and more money: he is still drudging on, and says that Solomon says, “The diligent hand maketh rich;” and it is true indeed: but he considers not that it is not in the power of riches to make a man happy; for it was wisely said by a man of great observation, that “There be as many miseries beyond riches as on this side them:” and yet God deliver us from pinching poverty; and grant that having a competency, we may be content and thankful. Let not us repine, or so much as think the gifts of God unequally dealt, if we see another abound with riches; when, as God knows, the cares that are the keys that keep those riches hang often so heavily at the rich man’s girdle, that they clog him with weary days and restless nights, even when others sleep quietly. We see but the outside of the rich man’s happiness: few consider him to be like the silkworm, that when she seems to play, is at the very same time spinning her own bowels, and consuming herself; and this many rich men do, loading themselves with corroding cares to keep what they have probably unconscionably got. Let us therefore be thankful for health and a competence, and above all, for a quiet conscience.  43
  Let me tell you, scholar, that Diogenes walked on a day, with his friend, to see a country fair; where he saw ribbons and looking-glasses, and nut-crackers, and fiddles, and hobby-horses, and many other gimcracks: and having observed them, and all the other finnimbruns that make a complete country fair, he said to his friend, “Lord, how many things are there in this world of which Diogenes hath no need!” And truly it is so, or might be so, with very many who vex and toil themselves to get what they have no need of. Can any man charge God that he hath not given him enough to make his life happy? No, doubtless; for nature is content with a little. And yet you shall hardly meet with a man that complains not of some want: though he indeed wants nothing but his will; it may be, nothing but his will of his poor neighbor, for not worshiping or not flattering him: and thus when we might be happy and quiet, we create trouble to ourselves. I have heard of a man that was angry with himself because he was no taller; and of a woman that broke her looking-glass because it would not show her face to be as young and handsome as her next neighbor’s was. And I knew another to whom God had given health and plenty, but a wife that nature had made peevish, and her husband’s riches had made purse-proud: and must, because she was rich, and for no other virtue, sit in the highest pew in the church; which being denied her, she engaged her husband into a contention for it, and at last into a lawsuit with a dogged neighbor, who was as rich as he, and had a wife as peevish and purse-proud as the other; and this lawsuit begot higher oppositions, and actionable words, and more vexations and lawsuits: for you must remember that both were rich, and must therefore have their will. Well, this willful, purse-proud lawsuit lasted during the life of the first husband; after which his wife vext and chid, and chid and vext till she also chid and vext herself into the grave: and so the wealth of these poor rich people was curst into a punishment, because they wanted meek and thankful hearts; for those only can make us happy. I knew a man that had health and riches, and several houses all beautiful and ready furnished, and would often trouble himself and family to be removing from one house to another; and being asked by a friend why he removed so often from one house to another, replied, “It was to find content in some one of them.” But his friend, knowing his temper, told him, if he would find content in any of his houses, he must leave himself behind him; for content will never dwell but in a meek and quiet soul. And this may appear, if we read and consider what our Savior says in St. Matthew’s Gospel; for he there says: “Blessed be the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed be the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed be the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And “Blessed be the meek, for they shall possess the earth.” Not that the meek shall not also obtain mercy, and see God, and be comforted, and at last come to the kingdom of heaven; but in the mean time he, and he only, possesses the earth as he goes towards that kingdom of heaven, by being humble and cheerful, and content with what his good God has allotted him. He has no turbulent, repining, vexatious thoughts that he deserves better; nor is vext when he sees others possest of more honor or more riches than his wise God has allotted for his share: but he possesses what he has with a meek and contented quietness,—such a quietness as makes his very dreams pleasing, both to God and himself.  44
  My honest scholar, all this is told to incline you to thankfulness; and to incline you the more, let me tell you that though the prophet David was guilty of murder and adultery, and many other of the most deadly sins, yet he was said to be a man after God’s own heart, because he abounded more with thankfulness than any other that is mentioned in holy Scripture, as may appear in his book of Psalms; where there is such a commixture of his confessing of his sins and unworthiness, and such thankfulness for God’s pardon and mercies, as did make him to be accounted, even by God himself, to be a man after his own heart. And let us, in that, labor to be as like him as we can: let not the blessings we receive daily from God make us not to value or not praise him because they be common; let us not forget to praise him for the innocent mirth and pleasure we have met with since we met together. What would a blind man give to see the pleasant rivers, and meadows, and flowers, and fountains, that we have met with since we met together? I have been told that if a man that was born blind could obtain to have his sight for but only one hour during his whole life, and should at the first opening of his eyes, fix his sight upon the sun when it was in its full glory, either at the rising or setting of it, he would be so transported and amazed, and so admire the glory of it, that he would not willingly turn his eyes from that first ravishing object, to behold all the other various beauties this world could present to him. And this, and many other like blessings, we enjoy daily. And for most of them, because they be so common, most men forget to pay their praises; but let not us, because it is a sacrifice so pleasing to Him that made that sun and us, and still protects us, and gives us flowers and showers, and stomachs and meat, and content, and leisure to go a-fishing.  45
  Well, scholar, I have almost tired myself, and I fear more than almost tired you: but I now see Tottenham High Cross, and our short walk thither shall put a period to my too long discourse, in which my meaning was and is, to plant that in your mind, with which I labor to possess my own soul; that is, a meek and thankful heart. And to that end, I have showed you that riches, without them, do not make any man happy. But let me tell you that riches with them remove many fears and cares: and therefore my advice is that you endeavor to be honestly rich or contentedly poor; but be sure that your riches be justly got, or you spoil all. For it is well said by Caussin, “He that loses his conscience has nothing left that is worth keeping.” Therefore be sure you look to that. And in the next place, look to your health: and if you have it, praise God, and value it next to a good conscience; for health is the second blessing that we mortals are capable of,—a blessing that money cannot buy,—and therefore value it, and be thankful for it. As for money, which may be said to be the third blessing, neglect it not: but note that there is no necessity of being rich; for I told you there be as many miseries beyond riches as on this side them: and if you have a competence, enjoy it with a meek, cheerful, thankful heart. I will tell you, scholar, I have heard a grave divine say that God has two dwellings,—one in heaven, and the other in a meek and thankful heart. Which Almighty God grant to me and to my honest scholar. And so you are welcome to Tottenham High Cross.  46
  Venator—Well, master, I thank you for all your good directions; but for none more than this last, of thankfulness, which I hope I shall never forget. And pray let’s now rest ourselves in this sweet shady arbor, which Nature herself has woven with her own fine finger; ’tis such a contexture of woodbines, sweetbriar, jessamine, and myrtle, and so interwoven, as will secure us both from the sun’s violent heat and from the approaching shower. And being sat down, I will requite a part of your courtesies with a bottle of sack, milk, oranges, and sugar, which, all put together, make a drink like nectar; indeed, too good for any but us anglers. And so, master, here is a full glass to you of that liquor: and when you have pledged me, I will repeat the verses which I promised you; it is a copy printed among some of Sir Henry Wotton’s, and doubtless made either by him or by a lover of angling. Come, master, now drink a glass to me, and then I will pledge you, and fall to my repetition: it is a description of such country recreations as I have enjoyed since I had the happiness to fall into your company.  47

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