- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Not that I take upon me to impart
It is not known who all the others-are by whom this knowledge has been told, but Anon is one of them. From him Dennys took the 13 gifts of the angler, though he took them more seriously and called them "The Qualities of an Angler." He gives 12 instead of 13; the odd one, alms, he combines with love.
But the formal aspects of Dennys' work are classical. He appears to be the first in didactic angling writing to owe a debt to the ancient pastoral and piscatory, which he acknowledges by paying farewell respects to Neptune and all his monsters on entering Arcadia and the gentle haunts of perch and trout.
To the second edition of Secrets of Angling, the editor, William Lawson, added this Bernersian gift of the trout to the angler: "The trout," he said, "makes the angler most gentlemanly, and readiest sport of all other fishes."
The year after the poem was first published a notorious literary pirate, Gervase Markham, set it back to prose (with a few additions from Berners' Treatise), in a work entitled The Pleasures of Princes. But he had some new and original ideas on the angler. The 12 "inward qualities of the mind" were not enough, he said. The angler must also be a general scholar, knowing of the liberal sciences, a grammarian, a writer "without affectation or rudeness," of sweet speech, "to persuade, and intice other[s] to delight in an exercise so much laudable"; he must have strong arguments "to defend, and maintain his profession against envy or slander"; he should know the sun, moon and stars, from which to guess the weather; countries, highways and paths to lakes and streams; he should know geometrical angles so as to describe the channels and windings of rivers, and the "art of numbering" so as to be able to take soundings; and music to dispose of melancholy.
Thus the angler emerging from the Elizabethan Age could, so far as inner qualities are concerned, be told from an "ungentleman." It is not far from here to the personification of this image in The Compleat Angler in 1653. Of this work, which is on everyone's shelf, I shall make only a few remarks.
Walton merged the basic structure of Berner's Treatise with the dialogue technique of Anon, and some of the qualities of the pastoral tradition. It was a happy mixture, for with it Walton's personality took over and breathed into the form the true substance of his idyllic mood. He drew upon everything he could find that had gone before in classical, biblical and medieval traditions and brought along his contemporary "band of musicians," that cluster of great poets who were his friends and neighbors, and, in his fifth edition, he got Charles Cotton to make the angler really complete with an immortal treatise on fly-fishing. The effect this greatest and most popular of English idylls had on angling writing was inspiring and, sometimes, disastrous.
Walton himself warned of the limits of making "an angler by a book" alone, but he was not heeded.
It is a perversity of the classical impulse that he, the least imitable of angling writers, should for so long a time have been closely imitated—those who imitated him wrote not idylls on angling but idylls upon an idyll. For 74 years after his fifth edition Walton was in eclipse; then, with the benediction of Sam Johnson, he was revived, and before the 19th century renaissance of angling he was canonized and made the model of the angler. One of the first to signal the danger of this was Sir Walter Scott, who said: "The palm of originality, and of an exquisite simplicity which cannot, perhaps, be imitated with entire success, must remain with our worthy patriarch, Izaak."
The best example I know of the precise difficulty of imitating Walton is Washington Irving's sentimental travesty The Angler, one of the sketches published in 1819. The story he tells is as follows. During one winter, with a group of friends he read Walton and determined to become an angler like him. As soon as the weather was good the group sallied up to the highlands of the Hudson, "as stark mad as was ever Don Quixote from reading books of chivalry." One of the party, fully harnessed for the field with all the angler's equipments, "was as great a matter of stare and wonderment among the country folk, who had never seen a regular angler, as was the steel-clad hero of La Mancha among the goatherds of the Sierra Morena." Irving, who for his part confesses he was always a bungler at sport, hooked himself instead of the fish, tangled his line in the trees, lost his bait, broke his rod and in a short while gave up angling and instead lay down under a tree and spent the day reading Izaak Walton, "satisfied that it was his fascinating vein of honest simplicity and rural feeling that had bewitched me, and not the passion for angling." But, Irving continued, once in real life he had met a true angler.