Izaac Walton

Born August 9th 1593, died Dec 15th 1683

alton is best known as author of The Compleat Angler (1653), one of the three most published books in English literature (the other two are the Bible and the Complete Works of Shakespeare). The Compleat Angler has run to more than 300 editions.

We know little of Walton's early life, but he born in a village near Stafford where his father was an innkeeper. Isaac's father died when he was only four and his mother remarried. Walton was apprenticed to a London ironmonger, and soon bought a small shop of his own. He married Rachel Floud in 1618, his wife being a descendent of Archbishop Cranmer. She had seven children, but none lived beyond infancy and she died in 1640. Seven years later, Walton married Anne Ken, half-sister of Thomas Ken, who subsequently became Bishop of Bath and Wells. Anne bore him three children and their marraige seems to have been a very happy one. Walton's surviving son grew up to become canon of Salisbury Cathedral and his daughter married Dr. William Hawkins, who became canon of Winchester Cathedral. Walton was successful in business and became a member of the Ironmongers' Company. He published a number of biographies, in addition to The Compleat Angler, and his writing gave him access to a wide circle of literary and society friends, including the vicar of St. Dunstan's Church, John Donne.

The Civil War was a trying time for Walton and in 1642 he left London for Staffordshire. He was a staunch royalist, and remained so despite Cromwell's victory. In 1651, while he was writing his great work, he briefly hid one of Charles II's rings for a friend, an episode which could have lost Walton his life. After the war finished, Walton decided not to go back to his business and devoted the rest of his life to literature, fishing and his friends. He moved to Norington Farm near Stockbridge in Hampshire, which would have given him a good opportunity to fish the chalk streams. His second wife died in 1662 and was buried in Worcester Cathedral. By now, Walton was great friends with Doctor George Morley (who subsequently became Bishop of Worcester) a friendship which is believed to date back to a period when Morley had to take refuge with Walton during the Civil War. Morley never forgot this favour and he offered Walton accomodation in the bishop's palace at Winchester, and Walton stayed there, or at the other epicopal residence at Farnham Castle, for the remainder of his days, making brief excursions to Norington Farm so that he could go fishing.

He became a close friend of Charles Cotton, and the two fished together for many years on a number of rivers including the Dove. Walton invited Cotton to write a chapter on fly fishing for the fifth edition of The Compleat Angler and Cotton completed the task in only ten days. At first glance the two seem to have been rather improbable companions; the deeply religious Walton and the Rabelaisian Cotton's characters having little point of contact other than their mutual interest in fishing, but don't forget that Cotton was a great raconteur, poet and a fabulous dinner companion, which would have suited the older man well, given his reputation for spending long evenings drinking and eating with a literary circle that included the great John Donne.

If you want to read The Compleat Angler, you needn't even bother stirring from your seat, just click here, go to Resources for Anglers and read the Walton on-line
(not longer availabe: note form hy)

Walton is buried in the Prior Silkstead Chapel at Winchester Cathedral. This is his epitaph:>

Here resteth the Body of
Who dyed the 15th day of December
Alas he's gone before
Gone to return no more!
Our panting Breasts aspire
After their aged Sire,
Whose well spent life did last,
Full ninety years and past
But now he hath begun
That which will ne're be done
Crown'd with eternall blysse:
We wish our souls with his.

Votis modestis sic flerunt liberi


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