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"I offer here a true rendition, into modern English, of Dame Juliana Berners' famous Treatise. She wrote in the London English of her day, where punctuation was a signal to stop for breath when reading aloud; this, and the fact that some of her phrases have vanished from the language, has forced me to choose, occasionally, between alternatives. The precise interpretation of her trout flies I have left for detailed discussion in Part III."—A.D.
Solomon in his parables says that a good spirit makes a flourishing age; that is, a fair age and a long one. And since that is so I ask this question: which are the means and the causes that induce in a man a merry spirit? Truly, to the best of my belief, it seems they are good sport and honest games, which bring joy to man without any repentance afterwards. From this it follows that good sport and honest games are a cause of man's fair age and long life. Therefore now I will choose, out of four good sports and honest games—that is to say, hunting, hawking, fishing, and wildfowling. The best in my simple opinion is the form of fishing called angling with a rod, line and hook. Of this I shall treat as fully as my simple intelligence will allow, both for the reason of Solomon given above and because medicine teaches as follows:
Si tibi deficiant medici, medici tibi fiant
That is to say: If a man lacks a leech and medicine he shall make these three things his leech and his medicine, and he shall need no other; the first is a merry thought, the second is work (but not too exhausting), the third is a reasonable diet. First, then, a man who would have merry thoughts and a glad spirit must avoid contrary company and places of debate where he might have occasions of melancholy. If he wants work, but not too exhausting, to please himself he must choose a pleasant occupation without study, pensiveness or travel which will rejoice his heart and delight his spirit. If he wishes to eat and drink in moderation he must avoid all rowdy places, which encourage overeating and sickness, and he must frequent places where fresh air whets the appetite, and he must eat nourishing, easily digested food.
Now I shall describe these sports and games to find the best of them as well as I can; although that right noble and full worthy prince the Duke of York, late called the master of game, has already described the pleasure of hunting as I think to describe it and the other sports as well.
Hunting is in my opinion too exhausting. For the hunter must ever follow his hounds, traveling and sweating full force. He blows his horn until his lips blister. What he thinks to be a hare turns Out to be a hedgehog, thus he is angry and confused. In the evening he comes home rain-beaten and scratched, his clothes torn, wet-shod and muddy, with some of his hounds lost, others overdriven. Such griefs come to the hunter, with others that I dare not report, for fear of angering lovers of the chase. So it seems to me that this is not the best sport of the four.
It seems to me that the sport of hawking is also exhausting and trying to the temper. For often the falconer loses his hawks, just as the hunter loses his hounds; then his sport and pleasure are gone. Often he shouts and whistles until he has a horrid thirst. His hawk sits on a branch and ignores his orders; when he wants her to fly she bathes; with misfeeding she may have fits, swelling of the head, hard chalklike dung or many other diseases that bring sudden death to hawks. This proves that hawking is not the best sport of the four.
The sport of wildfowling seems to me very dull. For in winter the fowler cannot do well except in the coldest and hardest weather; which is unpleasant, for when he wishes to visit his snares he cannot for the cold. He makes many traps and snares, but he does very poorly. At morning he must walk through the dew and get wet to the tail. I could raise many more objections, but fear of giving offense prevents me. So it seems to me that hunting and hawking and wild-fowling are all so exhausting and painful that not one of them will induce in a man a merry spirit; which according to the said parable of Solomon is the cause of a long life.
It follows then without doubt that the best sport must be fishing with an angle. For every other kind of fishing is also exhausting and painful, often making folk wet and cold, which has been seen frequently to bring serious illness. But the angler need suffer no cold nor disease nor annoyance, unless he brings it on himself. For he may not lose at the most but a line or a hook, of which he may have plenty of his own making, as this simple Treatise shall teach him. Even then his loss is not serious. He may have no other annoyance, unless a fish break away after taking the hook, or he catches nothing; which are not serious annoyances. If he does not catch one fish he will catch another, so long as he follows the teaching of this Treatise; unless indeed there is nothing in the water. Even then he has a wholesome walk and is happy at his ease in the fresh air, sweet with the scent of meadow flowers, which gives him an appetite. He hears the melodious harmony of birds; he sees the young swans, herons, ducks, coots, and many other birds with their broods. This seems to me better than all the noise of hounds, the blasts of horns, and the birdcalls, that hunters, falconers, and wildfowlers can make.
If the angler catches fish no one is happier in spirit than he. Also whoever wishes to go angling must rise early, which is good for man in this way: that is to say, good for his soul for it shall make him holy; and his body healthy by making him whole; also it shall increase his goods for it shall make him rich. As the old English proverb has it: "Who rises early shall be holy, healthy, and happy."