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LIFE AND WRITINGS OF IZAAK WALTON.
BY THOMAS ZOUCH, D.D., F.R.S.,
PREBENDARY OF DURHAM.
I PRESENT not to the reader the history of a wise statesman, an adventurous soldier, or a profound philosopher. Yet I trust, that he will experience no small degree of satisfaction from contemplating the virtues of a private citizen; who, though he arrogates not to himself the splendour of high descent, or the pride of superfluous wealth, deserves our approbation and regard. Isaac, or, as he usually wrote his name, IZAAK WALTON, adorned with a guileless simplicity of manners, claims from every good man the tribute of applause. It was his ambition (and surely a more honourable ambition cannot be excited in the human breast) to commend to the reverence of posterity the merits of those excel. lent persons, whose comprehensive learning and exalted piety will ever endear them to our memories.
The important end of historical knowledge is a prudent application of it to ourselves, with a view to regulate and amend our own conduct. As the examples of men strictly and faithfully discharging their professional duties, must obviously tend to invigorate our efforts to excel in moral worth, the virtuous char. acters, which are so happily delineated in the following pages, cannot fail, if considered with serious attention, of producing the most beneficial and lasting impressions on the mind.
The life of the author of this biographical collection was little diversified with events. He was born of a respectable family, on
the ninth day of August, 1593, in the parish of St. Mary's, in the town of Stafford. Of his father no particular tradition is extant. From his mother he derived an hereditary attachment to the Protestant religion, as professed in the church of England. She was the daughter of Edmund Cranmer, Archdeacon of Canter. bury, sister to Mr. George Cranmer, the pupil and friend of Mr. Richard Hooker, and niece to that first and brightest ornament of the Reformation, Dr. Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canter. bury. No vestiges of the place or manner of his education have been discovered ; nor have we any authentic information concerning his first engagements in a mercantile life. It has indeed been suggested, that he was one of those industrious young men, whom the munificence of Sir Thomas Gresham, the founder of the Royal Exchange, had placed in the shops which were erected in the upper buildings of his celebrated Burse. However this may be, he soon improved his fortune by his honesty, his frugali. ty, and his diligence. His occupation, according to the tradition still preserved in his family, was that of a wholesale linen-draper, or Hamburgh merchant.
The writers of the Life of Milton have, with the most scrupulous attention, regularly marked out the different houses successively inhabited by the poet," as if it was an injury to neglect any place, that he honoured by his presence.” The various parts of London, in which Izaak Walton resided, have been recorded with the same precision. It is sufficient to intimate, that he was for some years an inhabitant of St. Dunstan’s in the West. With Dr. John Donne, then vicar of that parish, of whose sermons he was a constant hearer, he contracted a friendship, which remained uninterrupted to their separation by death. This his parishioner attended him in his last sickness, and was present at the time that he consigned his sermons and numerous papers to the care of Dr. Henry King, who was promoted to the see of Chichester in 1641.
He married Anne, the daughter of Thomas Ken, Esq. of Furnival's Inn; a gentleman, whose family, of an ancient extraction, was united by alliance with several noble houses, and had possessed a very plentiful fortune for many generations, having been known by the name of the Kens of Ken-Place, in Somersetshire. She was the sister of Thomas Ken, afterward the deprived Bishop
of Bath and Wells. If there be a name to which I have been ac. customed from my earliest youth to look up with reverential awe, it is that of this amiable prelate. The primitive innocence of his life, the suavity of his disposition, his taste for poetry and music, his acquirements as a polite scholar, his eloquence in the pulpit (for he was pronounced by James the Second to be the first preacher among the Protestant divines), these endearing qualities ensure to him our esteem and affection. But what principally commands our veneration, is that invincible inflexibility of temper, which rendered him superior to every secular consideration. When from a strict adherence to the dictates of conscience he found himself reduced to a private station, he dignified that station by the magnanimity of his demeanour, by a humble and serene patience, by an ardent but unaffected piety.
In 1643, Mr. Walton, having declined business, retired to a small estate in Staffordshire, not far from the town of Stafford. His loyalty made him obnoxious to the ruling powers; and we are assured by himself, that he was a sufferer during the time of the civil wars. In 1643 the Covenanters came back into Eng. land, marching with the Covenant gloriously upon their pikes and in their hats, with this motto, “For the Crown and Covenant of both Kingdoms.” “ This," he adds, " I saw, and suffered by it. But when I look back upon the ruin of families, the bloodshed, the decay of common honesty, and how the former piety and plain dealing of this now sinful nation is turned into cruelty and cunning; when I consider this, I praise God, that he prevented ine from being of that party, which helped to bring in this Covenant, and those sad confusions that have followed it.” He persevered in the most inviolable attuchment to the royal cause. In
of his writings he pathetically laments the afflictions of his sovereign, and the wretched condition of his beloved country, involved in all the miseries of intestine dissensions. The incident of his being instrumental in preserving the lesser George, which belonged to Charles the Second, is related in “ Ashmole’s History of the Order of the Garter." We
may now apply to him what has been said of Mr. Cowley: “ Some few friends, a book, a cheerful heart, and innocent conscience, were his companions.” In this scene of rural privacy
he was not unfrequently indulged with the company of learned and good men. Here, as in a safe and peaceful asylum, they met with the most cordial and grateful reception. And we are informed by the Oxford antiquary, that, whenever he went from home, he resorted principally to the houses of the eminent clergymen of the church of England, of whom he was much beloved. To a man desirous of dilating his intellectual improvements, no conversation could be more agreeable, than that of those divines, who were known to have distinguished him with their personal regard.
The Roman poet, of whom it has been remarked, that he made the happiest union of the courtier and the scholar, was of plebeian origin. Yet such was the attraction of his manners and deportment, that he classed among his friends the first and most illustri. ous of his contemporaries, Plotius and Varus, Pollio and Fus. cus, the Visci and the Messalæ. Nor was Isaak Walton less fortunate in his social connexions. The times in which he lived were times of gloomy suspicion, of danger and distress, when a severe scrutiny into the public and private behaviour of men established a rigid discrimination of character. He must therefore be allowed to have possessed a peculiar excellency of disposition, who conciliated to himself an habitual intimacy with Usher, the A postolical Primate of Ireland, with Archbishop Sheldon, with Morton, Bishop of Durham, Pearson of Chester, and Sanderson of Lincoln, with the ever-memorable Mr. John Hales of Eton, and the judicious Mr. Chillingworth ; in short, with those who were most celebrated for their piety and learning. Nor could he be deficient in urbanity of manners or elegance of taste, who was the companion of Sir Henry Wotton,* the most accomplished gen
*“ My next and last example shall be that undervaluer of money, the late Provost of Eton College, Sir Henry Wotton, a man with whom I have often fished and conversed; a man, whose foreign employments in the service of this nation, and whose experience, learning, wit, and cheerfulness, made his company to be esteemed one of the delights of mankind.”—(Complete Angler. P. I. Ch. I.)
In Sir Henry Wotton's verses, written by him as he sat fishing on the bank of a river, he probably alludes to Walton himself, who often accompanied him in his innocent amusement :
There stood my friend with patient skill,
tleman of his age. The singular circumspection which he ob. served in the choice of his acquaintance, has not escaped the no. tice of Mr. Cotton. My father Walton,” says he, “ will be seen twice in no man's company he does not like; and likes none but such as he believes to be very honest men; which is one of the best arguments, or at least of the best testimonies I have, that I either am, or that he thinks me one of those, seeing I have not yet found him weary of me.”
Before his retirement into the country, he published the Life of Dr. Donne. It was originally appended to “LXXX Sermons, preached by that learned and reverend divine, John Donne, Doc. tor in Divinity, late Dean of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul's, London, 1640.” He had been solicited by Sir Henry Wotton, to supply him with materials for writing that Life. Sir Henry dy. ing in 1639, before he had made any progress in the work, Izaak Walton engaged in it. This, his first essay in biography, was by more accurate revisals corrected, and considerably enlarged in subsequent editions. Donne has been principally commended as a poet :—Walton, who, as it has been already remarked, was a constant hearer of his sermons, makes him known to us as a preacher, eloquent, animated, affecting. His poems, like the sky bespangled with small stars, are occasionally interspersed with the ornaments of fine imagery. They must, however, be pro
That this amiable and excellent person set a high value on the conversation of his humble friend, appears from the following letter:
" MY WORTHY FRIEND, “Since I last saw you, I have been confined to my chamber by a quotidian fever, I thank God, of more contumacy than malignity. It had once left me, as I thought, but it was only to fetch more company, returning with a surcrew of those splenetic vapours, that are called hypocondrical; of which most say the cure is good company, and I desire no better physician than yourself. I have in one of those fits endeavoured to make it more easy by composing a short hynn; and since I have apparelled my best thoughts so lightly as in verse, I hope I shall be pardoned a second vanity, if I communicated it with such a friend as yourself; to whom I wish a cheerful spirit, and a thankful heart to value it, as one of the greatest blessings of our good God; in whosa dear love I leave you, remaining
“ Your poor friend to serve you,
“ H. WOTTON.” (Reliquiæ Wottoniana, p. 361. 4th edit.)