Anna Trench, Study to be quiet - Ken Haigh on Izaak Walton, The Compleat Angler

‘Study to be quiet’

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I came to Winchester Cathedral to pay homage to one of my favourite authors. Not Jane Austen, though. I enjoy her work, but she doesn’t need my support. When I arrive, a bevy of young admirers is already crouching over her foot-worn monument, striking poses and taking selfies with their smartphones. No, I have come to find the final resting place of Izaak Walton, author of The Compleat Angler.

I am directed to a tiny side chapel in the south transept – called Prior Silkstede’s Chapel – where I find the writer pressed beneath a thick slab of black marble before the altar. Walton died on 15 December 1683, aged 90, and there is a pious, rather conventional poem carved on the stone, ending with the Latin tag: Votis modestis sic flerunt liberi, which I translate as ‘This modest prayer his weeping children lament’, revealing, perhaps, my lack of a classical education.

I have the chapel to myself this morning and settle on a rustic pew to admire the manner in which the rising sun sprays harlequinned light across the author’s monument from the window above the altar. The stained glass is relatively new, installed in 1914, and erected in Walton’s memory by admiring fishermen from Britain and America. My eye is drawn to the bottom right-hand corner of the window, where I spy Walton, dressed in a broad-brimmed hat, lace collar and high boots, quietly reading on the bank of the River Itchen with St Catherine’s Hill rising in the background. He sits beneath the shade of a small tree, his rod, net and creel resting by his side. The scene is captioned with his favourite quotation, taken from St Paul’s first epistle to the Thessalonians, ‘Study to be quiet’, which is also the last line of his famous treatise on angling. Walton seems perfectly composed, and I wonder what he is reading. I clear my throat.
‘Any luck?’ I enquire, indicating the creel.
He looks up from his book and regards me with a gentle smile. ‘No, not ye

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About the contributor

Ken Haigh is the author of Under the Holy Lake: A Memoir of Eastern Bhutan. He lives on the banks of the Beaver River in Ontario, Canada, where you might find him casting a fly during the trout season.

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