“I have laid aside business, and gone a-fishing.” — Izaak Walton
Izaak Walton was a man who found his calling late in life. He was born on August 9, 1593, the son of an innkeeper and tavern landlord in Stafford, England. His father died when he was only three, and Izaak’s mother was married again, to another innkeeper, this one named Bourne.
As an adult, Walton worked as an ironmonger in London, and later had his own drapery shop on Fleet Street. He married twice, both times to women with relations in the clergy. His first wife, Rachel Floud, was a great-great-niece of Archbishop Cranmer, the same man who had helped King Henry VIII obtain his divorce from Catherine of Aragon. They had seven children, all of whom died young. When Rachel died, he married Anne Ken, who was the stepsister of Thomas Ken, who later became Bishop of Bath and Wells. He and Anne had at least one child, a daughter.
Walton’s working years were largely uneventful, although he did become fairly prosperous through his drapery business. Walton was a staunch Royalist, however, and after the Royalists were defeated at Marston Moor in 1644, he retired from his trade and left London. He bought a small farm at Shallowford, near his birthplace. And in the country, his true life began.
“We may say of angling as Dr. Boteler once 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.” — Izaak Walton
Izaak Walton lived to be 90, and the last 40 years of his life he spent in peaceful retirement. In 1653 he published The Compleat Angler, a book that has never been out of print and even today is considered one of the foremost books on fishing. It is more than just a textbook on how to fish however; it has been said that The Compleat Angler is a book that teaches us how to live.
The book opens with a discussion between three sportsmen: Piscator, a fisherman; Venator, a huntsman; and Auceps, a falconer. The three men each proclaim the benefits of their respective sport, then Piscator persuades Venator to come on a fishing trip with him. Over the next few days the two men explore the glory of fishing, interspersed with commentaries from Piscator on cooking, philosophy, the beauties of nature, and many other subjects.
Over the next 25 years, Walton continued to add to and refine his work. Sections on fly-fishing and the making of flies were contributed by friends — Walton considered himself to not be an expert fly-fisherman.
“You will find angling to be like the virtue of humility; which has a calmness of spirit and a world of other blessings attending upon it.” — Izaak Walton
After Walton’s second wife died in 1662, he moved in with his friend, George Morley, the Bishop of Winchester, at Farnham Castle in Surrey. He had many friends among the fishing set, in particular Charles Cotton, who contributed to the Angler, and Sir Henry Wotton. Wotton was writing a biography of John Donne, whom Walton had known in London when he was a member of Donne’s parish. When Wotton died, Walton completed the biography, and also wrote biographies of Wotton, the theologian Richard Hooker, poet and priest George Herbert, and Bishop Robert Sanderson. All these men, according to Walton, were possessed of gentle souls and cheerful dispositions. At least three of them were anglers.
Walton died at his daughter’s home in 1593, at the age of 90. He was buried in the cathedral at Winchester. He bequeathed his farm at Shallowford to the town of Stafford, with the stipulation that the rents should be used to help the poor. Today the restored building is a small museum, dedicated to the life of Izaak Walton and, of course, the art of angling.
“Let the blessing of St. Peter’s Master be…upon all that are lovers of virtue, and dare trust in his Providence, and be quiet and go a-angling.” — Izaak Walton
Sources: Chase’s Calendar of Events, 2011 Edition: The Ultimate Go-To Guide for Special Days, Weeks and Months, Editors of Chase’s Calendar of Events; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/August_9; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Izaak_Walton; http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Izaak_Walton; http://kirjasto.sci.fi/iwalton.htm; http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/683/pg683.html.