With Silken Lines and Silver Hooks


With Silken Lines and Silver Hooks

It is many years ago now since I bought my tattered copy of The Compleat Angler by Izaac Walton at Mrs Phelans second-hand shop in Patrick Street.

Thursday, 21 February 2013
8:00 AM GMT

There is verse in the Gospel of Saint John which goes; Simon Peter said, I will go a fishing, and they said, We also will go with thee. For many people last week the day that mattered most was Saint Valentines Day, but for Brothers of the Angle, it was the following day, February 15th that was the real red letter day, the day on which the trout fishing season opened.

No man described the opening day of the season better than the great Isaac Walton in this poem; Come, live with me and be my love, and we will all the pleasures prove, the valleys, groves, or hills or field, Or woods and steepy mountains yields, and I will make thee beds of roses, and then a thousand fragrant posies, a cap of flowers, and a kirtle, embroidered all with leaves of myrtle.

Not a word there about casting a line, but a description of the country-side that would warm the heart, but then Walton’s prose was always beautiful and not just always about fishing. He seemed to spend a lot of time at river-side inns, in the best of company, eating roast beef, drinking fine English Ale and sleeping on down-filled pillows. When on the bank of the river he seemed to be forever meeting comely milk-maids, whose praises he would sing to the heavens.

It is many years ago now since I bought my tattered copy of The Compleat Angler by Izaac Walton at Mrs Phelans second-hand shop in Patrick Street. Very little is known about Walton’s early life, but he was born in a village near Stafford where his father kept an inn, he was apprenticed to an iron-monger, but his first love was for writing, this love opened the door for him to a wide circle of literary friends, among whom was the Vicar of Saint Dunstan’s Church, John Donne.

He was a staunch Royalist and remained so even after Cromwell’s victory, in 1651, he put his own life at risk by hiding one of Charles the Seconds rings, it was during this time that he became friends with Doctor George Morley who took refuge with him during the Civil War. By the time Walton had finished writing the Compleat Angler, he was almost 60 years of age, he had outlived two of his wives and seven of his eight children had died.

He became a very close friend of Charles Cotton, another great devotee of fly-fishing, and the pair spent many happy days together fishing on the river Dove. Walton invited Cotton to write a chapter on fly-fishing for the fifth edition of The Compleat Angler, and this Cotton completed in only ten days. Izaac Walton died on the 15th of December 1683 and lies buried in the Prior Silkstead Chapel at Winchester Cathedral, his memory lives on in his description of peaceful and happy days spent on the river-bank.

One of the most valuable things that I have learned from his books is; Study to be quiet. A few days in the middle of February were designated as Snowdrop Days, and what a lift to the heart these flowers of Spring give us when they emerge.

According to an old legend, Snowdrops became the symbol of hope when Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden, Eve was about to give up hope that the cold winter would never end when, she miraculously changed a snowflake into a snowdrop. Snowdrops are also known by the poetic name, Candlemas Bells, and there is an old rhyme which goes; The snowdrop in purest white array, First rears her head on Candlemas Day, the Latin name for the flower is Galanthus, which means milk flower.

The flower is described beautifully in a poem by Cicely M. Barker with the following words; Deep sleeps the Winter, cold, wet and grey, Surely all the world is dead, Spring is far away, Wait, the world shall waken, it is not dead, for lo, The Fair Maids of February stand in the snow.

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