Sunday, 7 November 2010

The Compleat Angler , More than just a book?

I love old Angling books , I have several bookcases devoted to them with some wonderful titles by distinguished authors, but one title stands above them all though.  The compleat angler is a wonderful title its a book that is surely unique among angling titles in the style of its writing and the historical period in which it is placed

The Compleat Angler


There cant be many people , anglers and non anglers alike who haven’t heard of the title . It’s an incredible book a title that’s many 100s of years old and known about by millions, and yet I would suggest very few people have actually read the book fully. Also It’s a title that all non anglers assume every angler owns and has read. It has almost become a book symbolic to the sport and with over 500 separate editions its one that can not be considered rare.
When you read the book it becomes apparent that the author was a real angler the descriptions of the fish and their habits is accurate and in some ways differs little from the standard stuff regurgitated time and time again in modern magazines and books. You cant help thinking that if you brought old Izaac here he would soon be catching with the best of them.
I have several copies of the work, some fine and collectable some that were given as gifts and yet one alone draws me back to it time and time again. It’s a very average copy but what makes it stand out for me is the connection that exists within it to the owners in the past . This book was given as a gift back in the 1920s to a man of the cloth no less and over the following few years the owner appears to have collected contemporary newspaper cuttings and articles regarding Walton and the compleat angler.

Izaak Waltons Cottage
The book seems to have notes and marks on every page, numbers refer to lines and paragraphs almost as if the owner is cross referencing the complete works.  I have been unable to conclude what the numeric references were or their purpose but the owner has obviousley expended much effort on noting the references. I hope that one day I will understand the notes .


The inscription inside the cover demonstrates a few things to me , namely people 90 years ago wrote with a finer hand  than they can today and also that books were valued more highly then than now. 




Throughout the book there are countless notes and references and  dates on specific pages which would suggest that the book was also used as a reference by the owner to revisit the places that are described in the title. I read these notes and I feel that there is a connection not only between me the reader and the author but also with the previous owner. Now I wonder how many contemporary titles will have the same effect on those that own the book.  How many modern titles will inspire owners and readers to follow the owners footsteps after many hundred years?.

His love of the title was obviousley no secret as the card below appears to have been sent to him by a nephew , that is judging by the cards inscription.
As for Izaak himself I wonder what thought went through his head when he decided to write the book there was no format to be followed , few other titles to compare or mimic just a a wish to set down the knowledge that was there.  personally I love the style of the book, The journey that the author takes you on and the discussion between the two main characters .  Perhaps it is that journey that inspired the former owner to retrace some of his steps.


I feel that as the custodian of this title I should add to its history. So this year I shall be hunting out a couple of the places referred to and illustrated in the book and adding a new note to that effect. Sadly my writing will not be as good as the inscription and modern day newspaper cuttings in the Times regarding the state of Waltons cottage are rare now but I feel that as long as my additions are in the spirit of the previous owners the the additions will be worthwhile…