Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Walton, Izaak

733146Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 59 — Walton, Izaak1899no contributor recorded

WALTON, IZAAK (1593–1683), author of ‘The Compleat Angler,’ was born in the parish of St. Mary, Stafford, on 9 Aug. 1593, and baptised on 21 Sept. of that year. He came of a family of Staffordshire yeomen. His father was Jervis Walton (d. 1597) of Stafford, who is presumed to have been the second son of George Walton, sometime ‘bailie of Yoxhall,’ a neighbouring village. After a few years' schooling, probably at Stafford, Izaak was apprenticed in London to Thomas Grinsell, connected, if not identical, with the Thomas Grinsell of Paddington (d. 1645), a member of the Ironmongers' Company, who married Walton's sister Anne (cf. Nicholl, The Ironmongers' Company, 1866, pp. 548, 553). The tradition that Walton followed the trade of a sempster or haberdasher in Whitechapel is unsupported by recent research. He was made free of the Ironmongers' Company on 12 Nov. 1618 (ib. p. 185), and in 1626, in his marriage license, was styled an ironmonger. By 1614 a deed shows that Walton was in possession of ‘half a shop’ two doors west of Chancery Lane, in Fleet Street. This house was pulled down in 1799, but it had been drawn and engraved by J. T. Smith in 1794, and has been reproduced in most of the illustrated editions of Walton. The vicar of the neighbouring church of St. Dunstan's was Dr. John Donne [q. v.], and their proximity of residence was probably the cause of Donne's acquaintance with Walton. Shortly before his death Donne presented a bloodstone seal to Walton which the latter invariably used; with it he sealed his will in October 1683 (cf. Notes and Queries, 8th ser. ix. 41). Donne may have introduced him to Dr. Hales of Eton, Sir Henry Wotton, Dr. Henry King, and other eminent persons, especially divines, with whom he was intimate in early life. Walton speaks of Drayton as his honest old friend, and from a letter that he wrote to Aubrey in answer to a request for information in 1680 it appears that he was at one time very well acquainted with Ben Jonson (Aubrey, Brief Lives, 1898, ii. 15).

Walton was first noticed in print in 1619. In that year a poet, ‘S. P.’ (probably Samuel Page [q. v.], vicar of Deptford, whose verse is commended by Meres), dedicated in two stanzas to ‘Iz. Wa., his approved and much respected friend,’ the 1619 edition of his poem, ‘The Loue of Amos and Lavra’ (the first edition of ‘S. P.'s’ poem of 1613, which is imperfect in the only known copy, does not contain the dedication). It appears from ‘S. P.'s’ dedication that, by 1619, Walton had already practised verse. On the publication of Donne's poems (two years after his death) in 1633, Walton added ‘An Elegie.’ Early in 1639 we find Wotton writing to Walton about angling, and about a ‘life’ of Donne which Wotton had undertaken, but had made little progress with, though Walton had readily assisted him in collecting materials. Wotton died in the following December, and Walton, hearing that Donne's sermons were about to be published without a life of the author, determined to supply the deficiency. In 1640 he prefixed his ‘life’ of Donne to the first folio edition of Donne's ‘LXXX Sermons,’ and his memoir was approved by such critics as Charles I and the ‘ever memorable’ John Hales of Eton. In 1658 he issued separately an improved edition of his ‘Life of Donne,’ which he dedicated to Sir Robert Holt of Aston.

In August 1644 a vestryman for St. Dunstan's was chosen ‘in room of Izaak Walton lately departed out of this parish.’ The battle of Marston Moor had given a crushing blow to the royalists, and Walton as a known sympathiser with the defeated party may, in the general exasperation of feeling, have thought it wise to leave his old quarters and to retire upon the modest competence which he exalted above riches. Wood says he retired to Stafford, but, if so, he was back in London in time for Laud's execution early in 1645, and in the first months of 1650 we find him residing at Clerkenwell. In 1651 he published ‘Reliquiæ Wottonianæ,’ with his ‘Life of Sir Henry Wotton,’ of which further editions appeared in 1654, 1672, and 1685.

Walton was probably at Stafford on 3 Sept. 1651 anxiously awaiting news of the battle of Worcester. After ‘dark Worcester’ he was entrusted with the ‘lesser George’ jewel of Charles II, which was ultimately restored to his majesty, then in exile. He carried the jewel to London and delivered it to Colonel Blague (Ashmole, Hist. of the Order of the Garter).

Walton was sixty when in 1653 he published his immortal treatise, ‘The Compleat Angler, or the Contemplative Man's Recreation. Being a Discourse of Fish and Fishing, not unworthy the perusal of most Anglers . . . London, Printed by T. Maxey for Richard Marriot in S. Dunstans Churchyard, Fleet Street,’ 8vo. The treatise was dedicated to John Offley (d. 1658) of Madeley Manor in Staffordshire, his most honoured friend. The first edition differs materially from the second, which appeared under Walton's superintendence in 1655. The former is cast in the form of a dialogue between two persons, Piscator and Viator, while in the second edition three characters, Piscator, Venator, and Auceps, sustain the conversation. Totnam Hill, however, is still the scene, and a Mayday morning the time of meeting.

Nothing is heard of Walton between 1655 and 1658. When Fuller's ‘Church History’ appeared in the former year, we read of a pleasant interchange of compliments between Walton and the author (see Biogr. Brit. and Fuller). In 1658, too, while wandering in Westminster Abbey, Walton scratched his monogram with the date on Isaac Casaubon's tablet. He had a profound admiration for ‘that man of rare learning and ingenuity,’ and was intimate with his son Meric. Walton's inscription is the earliest and most pardonable of a countless number that have since defaced the tombs in the abbey (Stanley, Memorials of Westminster Abbey, p. 271).

The Restoration was marked by the preferment of a number of eminent divines of royalist sympathies, who esteemed Walton as a friend of the ‘captivity.’ Prominent among them was George Morley [q. v.], and towards the close of 1662, a few months after Morley's translation to the see of Winchester, Walton, who had recently been living at Clerkenwell, found a permanent asylum for his old age in the bishop's palace. In 1665 he gave to the world his ‘Life of Richard Hooker,’ a two years' labour dedicated to his host. Prefixed to the memoir was an affectionate letter to ‘honest Izaak’ from Henry King, bishop of Chichester. The second edition of the ‘Life’ was prefixed to Hooker's ‘Ecclesiastical Polity’ of 1666, and again in 1676 and 1682 (all folio). In April 1670 appeared Walton's ‘Life of George Herbert’ (London, 8vo), and in the same year the four lives were collected and printed in one volume, with a dedication to Morley. A reprint of 1675 is prefaced by a poem from Charles Cotton [q. v.] in honour of his ‘old and most worthy friend.’ This issue is styled the fourth edition, the separate issues of the lives of Donne, Wotton, and Hooker probably being included in the reckoning. Numerous editions have since appeared, the most noteworthy being those of Thomas Zouch in 1796, of Major in 1825, of Mr. A. H. Bullen in 1884 for Bohn's ‘Illustrated Library,’ and of Mr. Austin Dobson in 1898 for the ‘Temple Classics.’

Walton varied his stay with the bishop of Winchester by visits to Cotton's ‘little fishing house’ on the Dove, and he commissioned his disciple to write a treatise more especially upon fly fishing as a supplement to the ‘Compleat Angler.’ Cotton had to be reminded of his engagement early in 1676, and he wrote his dialogue between ‘Piscator’ and ‘Viator’ in the early part of March. It was published as a second part with the fifth edition of the ‘Compleat Angler,’ which appeared in the same year (1676). ‘The Experienced Angler,’ by Robert Venables [q. v.], was appended as a third part, and the three were issued with the collective title ‘The Universal Angler, made so by Three Books of Fishing.’ Some two years later Walton's daughter Anne was married to William Hawkins, a prebendary of Winchester, and Izaak henceforth spent part of his time in his daughter's home. In May 1678 appeared his ‘Life of Robert Sanderson,’ in which he acknowledged help from Bishop Barlow. In 1683 he edited a pastoral history, ‘Thealma and Clearchus,’ by his deceased friend John Chalkhill [q. v.]; verses were prefixed by Thomas Flatman.

As late as 26 May 1683 Walton wrote to Wood in answer to a query respecting Aylmer (Athenæ Oxon.) He was then at Morley's seat at Farnham Castle, but he soon after returned to Winchester, and on 9 Aug. completed his will, which he signed and sealed on 24 Oct. He died at his son-in-law's house in Winchester, during a severe frost, on 15 Dec. 1683. He was buried in Winchester Cathedral in Prior Silkstede's chapel in the north transept, where a black marble floor-slab bears an inscription by Ken. Among other bequests he left his holding at Shalford, which he acquired about 1654, for the benefit of the poor of Stafford. Many of Walton's books are now in the library of Salisbury Cathedral.

The famous portrait of Walton by Jacob Huysmans is in the National Gallery. It has been repeatedly engraved—by Scott in 1811, by Robinson in 1844, by Charles Rolls, Sherlock, Philip Audinet, and many others. A marble bust of Walton by Belt was erected in 1878 by public subscription in the church of St. Mary's, Stafford, where he was baptised, and a statue by Miss Mary Grant, subscribed by ‘The Fishermen of England,’ was placed in the great screen of Winchester Cathedral in 1888. A memorial to Walton has been erected in St. Dunstan's in the West.

Walton was twice married. On 27 Dec. 1626 he wedded Rachel Floud at St. Mildred's, Canterbury. She was daughter of William Floyd or Floud by Susannah, daughter of Thomas Cranmer, a great-nephew of the archbishop. She died on 22 Aug. 1640, and was buried three days later in St. Dunstan's Church. All Walton's seven children by her died in infancy. About 1646 he married, secondly, Anne, daughter of Thomas Ken, and half-sister of Bishop Ken. On 11 March 1647–8 his daughter Anne was born, two years later a son Izaak, who died within the year, and, on 7 Sept. 1651, a second son Isaac [see below]. Walton's second wife, Anne, died, aged 52, on 17 April 1662, and was buried three days later in the Lady-chapel in Worcester Cathedral, where Walton placed an inscription to her memory (cf. Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. v. 369).

Walton's career is seen to be that of a man born in humble position, but attracting by his charm of character and happy religion the friendship of learned divines and prelates. More than most authors he lives in his writings, which are the pure expression of a kind, humorous, and pious soul in love with nature, while the expression itself is unique for apparent simplicity which is really elaborately studied art. His character is no less apparent in his biographies than in his ‘Angler,’ where we find him as he was in his holiday mood, in company with ‘honest Nat. and R. Roe.’ His descriptions of flowers, fields, and streams are the prose of the poetry in Shakespeare's incidental rustic songs, or Marlowe's ‘Come live with me.’ His love of music is continually evident in the pages of his ‘Angler.’ Such qualities won for him, after his death, the admiration of Dr. Johnson (who must also have been drawn to him as a royalist and churchman), of Wordsworth, of Lamb, and of Landor.

This is not the place to discuss Walton's faults as a practical angler. What the contemporary puritan angler thought of the royalist fisherman may be gleaned from Richard Franck's ‘Northern Memoirs.’ Written in 1658 by Franck, a Cromwellian soldier, who fished for salmon from Esk to Naver, the ‘Northern Memoirs’ are not known to have been published till 1694. Franck, as a practical salmon-fisher, despised Walton's methods, disdained his natural history, and had a rather unpleasant personal discussion with him about the breeding of pike out of pickerel-weed. He was confessedly a bottom-fisher; his ‘jury of flies’ is traditional, going back to the ‘Book of St. Albans.’ Of salmon he practically knew nothing; and he regards a reel as a new-fangled engine difficult to describe. He has no idea of fishing up stream. But Walton is not read as an instructor; he is an idyllist, and as such is unmatched in English prose.

It is characteristic of Walton's kindly nature that he was a frequent contributor of complimentary addresses, in verse and prose, to works written by his friends. In 1638 he prefixed a copy of verses to Lewis Roberts's ‘Merchants Mappe of Commerce.’ To Francis Quarles's ‘Shepheards Oracles,’ in 1646, he contributed a prose ‘Address to the Reader.’ Among the poetical tributes to the memory of William Cartwright prefixed to the collection of his plays and poems are some verses by Walton (1651). Sir John Skeffington's ‘Heroe of Lorenzo’ (1652) contains a preface by Walton, who in the same year prefixed a copy of complimentary verses to Edward Sparke's ‘Scintillula Altaris.’ In 1660 Walton wrote a charming eclogue, ‘Daman and Dorus,’ by way of preface to Alexander Brome's ‘Songs and other Poems,’ and in 1661 he contributed some complimentary verses to the fourth edition of Harvey's ‘Synagogue.’ All these pieces, together with a few other fragments, such as the epitaph to his second wife in Worcester Cathedral and his letters to Aubrey and others, are collected in Richard Herne Shepherd's ‘Waltoniana’ (Pickering, 1878).

Five editions of ‘The Compleat Angler’ appeared during Walton's lifetime, viz. in 1653, 1655, 1661, 1668, and 1676. The third edition was also reissued in 1664 with a new title-page. Copies of the first edition have attained very great value. At the sale of Mr. Arthur Young's library by Messrs. Sotheby & Co. in December 1896 a copy in the original binding was sold for 415l., while at the sale of Mr. L. D. Alexander's library at New York in March 1895 a rebound copy cost 276l. 1s. Among the notable editions that appeared after Walton's death may be mentioned:

  1. ‘The Compleat Angler,’ edited by Moses Browne [q. v.], London, 1750, 12mo; this edition, the first after Walton's death, was reissued in 1759 and 1772; in this last edition the songs were ‘now for the first time set to music.’
  2. ‘The Complete Angler … with Notes Historical, Critical, and Explanatory,’ London, 1760, 8vo, edited by Sir John Hawkins (1719–1789) [q. v.], the first biographer of Walton, whose labours were due to the suggestion of Dr. Johnson. This held the field down to 1836, going through numerous editions. The best is that of 1808, of which a copy, with boards made from the wood of Cotton's fishing-house, was sold at Higgs's sale for 63l. In Bagster's second edition of 1815 Hawkins's notes were revised by (Sir) Henry Ellis.
  3. ‘The Complete Angler of Izaak Walton and Charles Cotton … extensively embellished with Engravings [by Cook and Pye] after first-rate Artists,’ London, 1823, 8vo. This edition was greatly admired for the quality of its engravings, and it was competently edited by Richard Thomson (1794–1865) [q. v.]
  4. ‘The Complete Angler … with original Memoirs and Notes by Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas’ [q. v.], London, 1836, 2 vols. 8vo. The most learned of all the editions of Walton, it was furnished with biographies and notes the results of seven years' labour. It was illustrated by Stothard and Inskipp, and reissued in 1860 and 1875.
  5. ‘The Complete Angler … with copious Notes … by the American Editor’ (George W. Bethune), New York, 1847, 8vo. It contains an excellent bibliographical preface giving an account of treatises of fishing of an earlier date than Walton's; reissued in 1848, 1852, 1859, 1866, 1880, and 1891.
  6. ‘The Complete Angler. … Being a facsimile reprint of the first Edition,’ London, 1876, 8vo and 4to. It is known as Stock's facsimile, and was reissued in 1877, in 1880, and in 1896 with a preface by Mr. Richard Le Gallienne.
  7. ‘The Compleat Angler. … Edited and arranged by R. B. Marston,’ London 1888, 2 vols. 4to. This may be considered the standard edition for the antiquary and bibliographer. It contains lives of Walton and Cotton, besides elaborate notes and numerous photographic illustrations.
  8. An ornate edition, with introduction by J. R. Lowell, Boston, Mass. 1889.
  9. ‘The Complete Angler … Edited with Notes … by J. E. Harting. With … Etchings … by P. Thomas’ (tercentenary edition), London, 1893, 8vo. 10. ‘The Compleat Angler,’ ed. Andrew Lang, London, 1896, 8vo.

A German translation was published at Hamburg in 1859 with the title ‘Der Vollkommene Angler von Isaac Walton und Charles Cotton, herausgegeben von Ephemera, übersetzt von J. Schumacher.’ Some portions of the dialogue have been unfaithfully rendered into French by Charles de Massas in ‘Le Pêcheur à la Mouche Artificielle.’

Walton's only surviving son, Isaac Walton (1651–1719), was born at Clerkenwell on 7 Sept. 1651. He was educated by his maternal uncle, Thomas Ken, then a canon of Winchester, and matriculated from Christ Church, Oxford, on 12 July 1668, graduating B.A. in 1672 and M.A. on 13 March 1675–6. In 1675, the year of the papal jubilee, he visited Rome, Venice, and other parts of Italy in company with Ken. He was appointed domestic chaplain to Seth Ward [q. v.], bishop of Salisbury, and in 1679 was instituted rector of Boscombe in Wiltshire, which he exchanged in 1680 for Poulshot in the same county. Poulshot he retained till his death. On 26 July 1678 he was installed in the prebend of Yatesbury in the diocese of Salisbury, which he exchanged on 11 Jan. 1678–9 for that of Bishopstone, and on 24 Jan. 1680–1 for that of Netheravon. He obtained the confidence and friendship of Gilbert Burnet [q. v.], Seth Ward's successor in the see of Salisbury. He died, unmarried, in London on 29 Dec. 1719, while acting as proctor in convocation for the diocese of Salisbury. He was buried in Salisbury Cathedral at the feet of his patron, Seth Ward. While John Walker (1674–1747) [q. v.] was engaged on his ‘History of the Sufferings of the Clergy,’ Walton assisted him by furnishing him with materials for his work. His sister, Anne Hawkins, died on 18 Aug. 1715, and was buried with her husband in Winchester Cathedral. She left male issue.

[Walton's prayer-book, containing manuscript autobiographical notes, is in the British Museum. The earliest life of Walton is that by Sir John Hawkins (1760), prefixed to The Compleat Angler, and probably compiled in great part from materials collected for him by William Oldys, the biographer of Charles Cotton. The Life of Izaak Walton by Thomas Zouch is of little value. It was prefixed to Walton's Lives, 1796, and was separately printed in 1823. The life of Walton by Nicolas, prefixed to his edition of The Compleat Angler (1836), is the result of unwearied industry, and on the material amassed therein all future biographies must be founded. Mr. R. B. Marston's Life (1888) is based on that of Nicolas, although it includes the fruit of subsequent researches. Other works that may be consulted are Wood's Athenæ Oxon., ed. Bliss; Bowles's Life of Ken, 1830; Alexander's Journey to Beresford Hall, 1841; Gent. Mag. 1803 ii. 1016, 1823 ii. 418, 493; Notes and Queries, passim; Jesse's Scenes and Occupations of a Country Life, 1853; Howitt's Rural Life of England, 1838, pt. ii. ch. vi.; Tweddell's Izaak Walton and the Earlier English Writers on Angling, 1854; Fraser's Mag. May 1876. For Walton's bibliography see Westwood's Chronicle of the Compleat Angler, which was first published in 1864, and was subsequently, with the entries brought down to 1883, appended to Marston's edition, 1888; Westwood and Satchell's Bibliotheca Piscatoria, 1883; A Bibliographical Catalogue of the Waltonian Library belonging to … Robert W. Coleman, New York, 1866; Blakey's Lit. of Angling, 1856; Allibone's Dictionary of Engl. Lit., and Simms's Bibliotheca Staffordiensis. An Index to the original and inserted illustrations derived from the best editions, with 1,026 cuts, was privately printed at New York, 1866, 4to. Among the many appreciations of Walton's character and literary labours, reference may be made to Washington Irving's Sketchbook; Bowles's Life of Pope, i. 135; Lamb's Works, 1867, p. 13; Boswell's Johnson, ed. Croker, 1848, pp. 415, 452; Miss Mitford's Lit. Recoll. ch. xv.; Hallam's Lit. Hist. of Europe, 1854, iii. 360; C. Wordsworth's Memoirs of William Wordsworth; Landor's Imaginary Conversations. This article is based on notes supplied by Mr. Andrew Lang.]

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.275
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
275 i 38 Walton, Izaak: for Winchester Cathedral read Salisbury Cathedral
12 f.e. after 1888. insert A memorial to Walton has been placed outside the church of St. Dunstan's in the West, Fleet Street.