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Fisherman's Luck Henry van Dyke

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Angling is the only sport that boasts the honour of having given a classic to literature.

Izaak Walton's success with THE COMPLEAT ANGLER was a fine illustration of fisherman's luck. He set out, with some aid from an adept in fly-fishing and cookery, named Thomas Barker, to produce a little "discourse of fish and fishing" which should serve as a useful manual for quiet persons inclined to follow the contemplative man's recreation. He came home with a book which has made his name beloved by ten generations of gentle readers, and given him a secure place in the Pantheon of letters,--not a haughty eminence, but a modest niche, all his own, and ever adorned with grateful offerings of fresh flowers.

This was great luck. But it was well-deserved, and therefore it has not been grudged or envied.

Walton was a man so peaceful and contented, so friendly in his disposition, and so innocent in allOne was that sour-complexioned Cromwellian trooper, Richard Franck, who wrote in 1658 an envious book entitled NORTHERN MEMOIRS, CALCULATED FOR THE MERIDIAN OF SCOTLAND, ETC., TO WHICH IS ADDED THE CONTEMPLATIVE AND PRACTICAL ANGLER. In this book the furious Franck first pays Walton the flattery of imitation, and then further adorns him with abuse, calling THE COMPLEAT ANGLER "an indigested octavo, stuffed with morals from Dubravius and others," and more than hinting that the father of anglers knew little or nothing of "his uncultivated art." Walton was a Churchman and a Loyalist, you see, while Franck was a Commonwealth man and an Independent.

The second detractor of Walton was Lord Byron, who wrote

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    "The quaint, old, cruel coxcomb in his gullet
    Should have a hook, and a small trout to pull it."

But Byron is certainly a poor authority on the quality of mercy. His contempt need not cause an honest man overwhelming distress. I should call it a complimentary dislike.

The third author who expressed unpleasant sentiments in regard to Walton was Leigh Hunt. Here, again, I fancy that partizan prejudice had something to do with the dislike. Hunt was a radical in politics and religion. Moreover there was a feline strain in his character, which made it necessary for him to scratch somebody now and then, as a relief to his feelings.

Walton was a great quoter. His book is not "stuffed," as Franck jealously alleged, but it is certainly well sauced with piquant references to other writers, as early as the author of the Book of Job, and as late as John Dennys, who betrayed to the world THE SECRETS OF ANGLING in 1613. Walton further seasoned his book with fragments of information about fish and fishing, more or less apocryphal, gathered from Aelian, Pliny, Plutarch, Sir Francis Bacon, Dubravius, Gesner, Rondeletius, the learned Aldrovandus, the venerable Bede, the divine Du Bartas, and many others. He borrowed freely for the adornment of his discourse, and did not scorn to make use of what may he called LIVE QUOTATIONS,--that is to say, the unpublished remarks of his near contemporaries, caught in friendly conversation, or handed down by oral tradition.

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Fisherman's Luck
Henry van Dyke

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