The Compleat Angler is the most famous book ever published in the literature of sport. It is also a work whose unique celebration of the English countryside has attracted readers around the world since it first appeared in 1653. Izaak Walton issued the final version of his beloved book in 1676, accompanied by Charles Cotton's pioneering exploration of fly-fishing.
The Compleat Angler is both a manual of instruction and a vision of society in harmony with nature. It guides the novice fisherman on how to catch and cook a variety of fish, on how to select and prepare the best bait and make artificial flies, and on the habits of freshwater fish. It promotes angling as a communal activity in which the bonds of friendship are forged through shared experience of the natural world. Walton lived through turbulent times, and found in nature the best salve for national tragedy and personal sorrow.
The range of perspectives that Walton brings to bear on his rural descriptions embrace literature, poetry, anecdote, and a commitment to conservation. This new edition highlights The Compleat Angler's continuing relevance as an influential and provocative meditation on humanity's relationship to the environment.
Note on the Text
A Chronology of Izaak Walton and Charles Cotton
THE COMPLEAT ANGLER, PART I, by Izaak Walton
THE COMPLEAT ANGLER, Part II, by Charles Cotton
Glossary of Angling Terms
Izaak Walton (1593-1683) was born in Stafford. He was a biographer of the poet John Donne, and wrote lives of other notable Anglicans, including George Herbert and Richard Hooker. He was a Royalist, and during the Civil War participated in a royalist conspiracy after the battle of Worcester. In The Compleat Angler he expressed his political and religious allegiances while exploring humanity's relationship to the natural world. He is buried in Winchester Cathedral, where he is commemorated by a stained-glass window in the Fishermen's Chapel.
Charles Cotton (1630-87) was a country gentleman, poet, and translator, who built a fishing house for himself and Walton at his birthplace, Beresford Hall in Staffordshire. In 1676, at Walton's invitation, he wrote the second part to The Compleat Angler.
Marjorie Swann, editor, grew up fishing for perch and pike on St Joseph Island, Ontario. She subsequently earned degrees at Queen's University and Oxford. She is the author of Curiosities and Texts: The Culture of Collecting in Early Modern England (2001) and is writing a book about Walton's Angler and its post-seventeenth-century afterlives.
"a fascinating snapshot of 17th-century England [...] far more of a page turner than I ever dared hope"
– Trout Fisherman
– Land and Business
"Had I not been required to review it, The Compleat Angler woul have probably been a book I talked about without ever reading. It would have been my loss. [...] if schoolday encounters with Shakespeare left you wary of anything written pre-1800, take heart. Walton shows that English of the time is much more intelligible to modern readers than the Bard's plays suggest [...] The outcome is a fascinating snapshot of 17th century England, when conversation was savoured in the absence of television and the great outdoors was an intrinsic part of everyday life, rather than somthing you "do" at weekends. [...]"
– Jeff Pres, Financial Times, 02-04-2014
"The Compleat Angler has something in common with Lady Chatterley's Lover: while many know the title, few have actually read it. Yet it's the most frequently reprinted book in the English language after the Bible, so it obviously still has an audience. The question is: why bother? First published in 1653, its archaic language and discursive structure are a challenge for the modern reader, though the comprehensive explanatory notes in this attracti new edition, small enough to slip into a fishing-jacket pocket, guide us smoothly enough along the path. Yet its blend of charm and expert tuition more than repays the effort required. Walton loved his fishing – "God did never make a more calm, quiet, innocent recreation than angling" – and enjoyed teaching beginners how to lure fish on to their angles (hooks), and then how to prepare and cook them (no catch-and-release nonsense for him). For perch, "a bold biting fish", a "worm, minnow or little frog" as bait were recommended, while his recipe for pike includes stuffing it with pickled oysters, anchovies, oranges and garlic, then basting it with claret and butter. Walton regarded angling as ideally a communal endeavour, and many scenes are positively pastoral as he and his companions encounter singing milkmaids and welcoming hostelries as they wander the river-banks. But what raises The Compleat Angler far above a mere manual or series of jolly outings is Walton's profound understanding of natural history and the particular ecosystems fundamental to angling. In his awareness of the environment, he was centuries ahead of his time. One to dip into rather than devour at one sitting, this book is infused throughout with good fun and good sense. "No man is born an artist or an angler," wrote Walton, but he learnt to be both."
– Simon Redfern, Book of the Week, The Independent