The Compleat Angler by Izaak Walton is a unique celebration of the English countryside and the most famous book on angling ever published.
The book is both a manual of instruction and a vision of society in harmony with nature. It guides the novice fisherman on how to catch and cook a variety of fish, on how to select and prepare the best bait and make artificial flies, and on the habits of freshwater fish. It also promotes angling as a communal activity in which the bonds of friendship are forged through shared experience of the natural world.
Reviewed by Ken Haigh in Slightly Foxed Issue 54.
‘Study to be quiet’
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 . . .
'Study to be quiet'
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...Read more