The Origins of Angling

The Origins of Angling

by John McDonald, Sherman Kuhn, Dwight Webster
What is thought to be the first published essay on sport fishing - The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle, first printed in 1496 - is also believed to have been written by a woman: Dame Juliana Berners, by legend a nun and a noblewoman. This important book attempts to solve the mystery of the sporting nun and her pioneering work, and to bring the treatise itself


What is thought to be the first published essay on sport fishing - The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle, first printed in 1496 - is also believed to have been written by a woman: Dame Juliana Berners, by legend a nun and a noblewoman. This important book attempts to solve the mystery of the sporting nun and her pioneering work, and to bring the treatise itself back for the modern reader in modern idiom.The book naturally evolves into two parts. First, modernized versions of the original manuscript and the first printed version, for the reader who has a general interest in fishing and hunting and a curiosity about the origins of the style and the state of mind of sport. Second, facsimiles and transcripts (on facing pages) of the Treatise; a description and history of the manuscript; and a comparison of manuscript and printed text, for addicts of fishing, old manuscripts, comparative texts, minutiae of various kinds, and early modern English.The Origins of Angling is an appreciation of the first known piece of writing in English on sport fishing - its history, and its influence on the sport as it is practiced today. (81/4 X 11, 296 pages, color photos, illustrations, manuscript reproductions)

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Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
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The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle in History

The Angler must entice, not command his reward....
Gervase Markham

The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle set forth the argument, new at thetime, that among the four good sports, hunting, hawking, fowling, andfishing, the best is fishing. The novelty of the treatise was not simplythat it gave fishing the highest rank among these outdoor sports—thoughmore than one noble hunter must have blinked at the contention—but thatin doing so it put fishing in the same class with hunting. Its doctrineis clear: the rule is rod, line, and hook—all other kinds of fishing areset aside—and the proper comparisons are with the hunting sports. Withthis definition the treatise began the first known codification of thepractices of the sport of fishing.

Praising one's favorite sport at the expense of others is an ancient practicein writing, but those who wrote on the varieties of hunting in the MiddleAges had not troubled to mention fishing even negatively. Sport fishingwas not recognized in writing until the fishing treatise suddenlyappeared, very like a hunting treatise, but gently mocking the heroicsports. The hunter's lips blister from the horn; after laboring andsweating he finds his hare to be a hedgehog; the author does not evendare to report the hunter's griefs in full for fear of giving offense.The hawk ignores the hawker's shouting and whistling and is often sickfrom the diseases of birds. The fowler returns from his snares cold, wet,and empty-handed. But fishing with an angle rodbrings good spirits and afair old age. In its most celebrated passage the treatise tells whatremains to the angler who catches no fish:

And yet, at the very least, he will have his wholesome and merry walk at his own ease, and also many a sweet breath of various plants and flowers that will make him right hungry and put his body in good condition. He will hear the melodies of the harmony of birds. He will also see the young swans or cygnets following their brood swans, the ducks, the coots, the herons, and many other birds with their broods, which seems to me better than all the noise of hounds and blasts of horns....

Sport fishing thus was introduced to a reading audience in the early fifteenthcentury on a cheerful, nonheroic note, which since then has beencharacteristic of the sport, except perhaps for big-game fishing. Thehumor of the treatise had a clear target. For medieval hunting andhawking were chivalric sports, held to be good pastimes for warriors andpracticed by noblemen and others who aimed to be like noblemen. Indeed,hunting ranked with love, combat, and religion as a kind of branch ofchivalry, and in the fifteenth century the language of hunting was stilla sign of that tradition. Knights, real and fictional, were usuallyhunters, employing terms supposedly invented by the legendary Tristram,ideal hunter, lover, and warrior. Hawks were bred by rank according tothe orders of society; first was an Emperor's hawk (gerfalcon) for anEmperor's wrist. King Arthur was often hunting while his knights engagedin more strenuous adventures. Such immortal tales as Chretien de Troyes'Eric and Enide, and the anonymous Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, wouldlose important elements in their plots and backgrounds without falconryand the chase. But chivalry had become decadent and nostalgic by the timethe fishing treatise was written. The special literature of hunting,essential to a noble education, had been refined to such an extent that ahunting treatise could be more a play on words than practicalinstruction. Other moods were rising in the fading Middle Ages, amongthem a feeling for individual, private serenities to be sought in nature.Angling meant retirement, in spirit far from the restless passion andtriumphs of medieval hunting.

From hunting, however, the angler obtained the art of the sportingtreatise. The medieval hunting treatise—derived, it appears, from theancients—was constructed essentially in two parts, first, the argumentand elevation of the subject, and then the instruction in technique.These two elements reflect respectively aspects of chivalry and learning,two forces of mind that have given a character to modern culture.Likewise the fishing treatise—out of hunting and so, indirectly, out ofchivalry—is a manual of ideals and deportment as well as of thetechnique of fishing. It teaches a style of life. The aristocratic idealwas knightly. In fishing, the formalism of late chivalry was transformedinto a code of good and quiet manners. The Treatise of Fishing is notaddressed to noblemen but to all who are "virtuous, gentle, andfreeborn." In a world then divided into conditions of serfdom, freedom,and nobility, the angler was something fairly new, a plain gentleman.

It is difficult to believe that the fishing treatise can be so novel as itappears. Cultural events do not usually happen suddenly. And as knowledgeof the past is subject to interpretation and to future discoveries, areservation is called for. The author of the treatise actually mentionsthe existence of "books of credence," a phrase which has suggested thepossibility of earlier, now lost writings on the sport. The possibilityis real but bare. Writers in the Middle Ages preferred to claim learningby books rather than by experience; and the treatise does not say itsauthorities were fishing books, let alone books on sport fishing. Whenthe medieval scholar Charles H. Haskins made a special search for writingon sport in the Latin language, he found no works on hunting or fishingby the Romans; if they read anything on sport they read it in Greek.Haskins found little record of any sport in the early Middle Ages, but inthe twelfth and thirteenth centuries Latin writing on sport appears inconsiderable body.

This medieval "Latin period," preceding the early French and Englishvernacular periods, brings in the renaissance of writing on sport; weshall later look at its prize piece of work—a treatise on falconry—forits bearing on the Treatise of Fishing. But Haskins found only one workin this period touching on fishing, a manual on country life by Petrus deCrescentiis (c. 1300) and that "hardly sporting." Medieval literaturebefore the Treatise of Fishing, though abounding in scenes and symbols ofhunting, ignores the fishing sport, so far as one can tell. The historianof fishing W. J. Turrell found no mention, except a few statutes, offishing of any kind in English literature between the tenth and fifteenthcenturies. Some notices of fishing that was not just utilitarian mayturn up in descriptions of rural life; but, as it is, to the testimony ofHaskins on Latin and Turrell on English must be added the silenttestimony of generations of medieval scholars who have reported nothingtangible on the sport from their reading of masses of medievalmanuscripts in French and English.

It would be absurd, of course, to suppose that people have not fished forpleasure since the hook was invented in prehistoric times. Fishing isinstinctive; you don't have to read to enjoy it. And so experienced isthe Treatise of Fishing in the delights of making a rod, coloring a line,dressing a trout fly, and taking a fish, that there can be no doubt ofthe existence of an old oral tradition of the sport. But as the Treatiseof Fishing has no known antecedent in fishing history and asserts for thefirst time distinctive sporting attitudes toward fishing, it serves asthe point of origin of modern angling. For most of two centuries after itwas written it was the sole authority on angling in England, along whosestreams the sport was developed. Thereafter it shaped the general outlineof the large body of writing about sport fishing which has come intoexistence.

Yet the Treatise of Fishing doubtless had literary antecedents of somekind, since writers learn from writers as well as from other experience.The basic tackle and technique of sport fishing clearly come down throughthe main line of professional fishing tradition, oral, pictorial, andwritten. The literature of professional fishing, however, which has anold and fairly continuous tradition to which Moby Dick and Hemingway'sThe Old Man and the Sea belong, has not only no connection with sport butan incompatibility with it. The Treatise of Fishing prescribes sportfishing for the avoidance of melancholy; for the ancient writersmelancholy was the dominant mood of professional fishing.

A funereal epigram of Sappho's (written about 600 B.C.) has long beenaccepted by fishing historians as the key to the old writing on fishing.The Greek epigram of this kind is a literary feat, telling a whole storyin a couplet, and so can hardly be translated with the virtuosity of theoriginal. Sappho says something like this: To the fisherman Pelagon, hisfather Meniscus has put upon the Altar [or on the wall or other place ina small, local Shrine] his son's wicker fish trap and single skulling oaras a memorial of a poor unhappy life.

This feeling appeared again in a famous sea idyl by Theocritus, AlexandrianGreek writer who is known as the first great pastoral poet. Turning fromshepherds to fishermen, he told a spooky story that has influenced theentire poetic history of fishing. Asphalion (the fisherman) wakes up inthe night in his lowly cabin and tells his friend a dream. Fishing from arock with a rod, he had hooked a big fish and when he landed it, after atremendous struggle, he found that its scales were made of gold. Fearingit might be the favorite of a sea god, he dragged it on shore and sworenever to go to the sea again but to stay on land with his treasure. Whenhe awoke, he was dismayed and immediately in terror for his rashness athaving sworn the oath. His friend advised him that dreams are lies andthat he should go back to work or he would starve.

The form of this poem, a conversation among professional fishermen calleda "piscatory eclogue"—an approximation to the pastoral, in whichfishermen rather than shepherds are the speakers—was used by poets fortwo thousand years. In the eighteenth century an English writer, MosesBrowne, wrote on angling in this manner and his work had a vogue for awhile, but the eclogue genre failed to convey the moods of the sportsmanas it had those of the shepherd and the fisherman with his terror, toil,and dreams.

One might wonder whether the water poets imposed their melancholytheme on the ancient fishermen—certainly Italian fishermen today singgaily with their families on Sunday boat picnics, and Maine fishermen areunable to speak without wit—but the old popular myth of the fishermanGlaucus suggests that the poets were in touch with a peculiar reality ofthe minds of men at sea. Readers of Ovid and other old storytellers willrecall how Glaucus upon seeing his catch of fish eat a magical herb onthe ground and return to the sea, tasted the herb himself and followedthem into the water, and became a sea god with eyebrows of bristle,seaweed hair on his chest, and a fish's tail; how he pursued the nymphScylla, who eluded him, and on appealing to a divinity, Circe, tointercede in his favor, saw her instead in jealousy change Scylla into asea monster, now, of course, the rock off the Italian coast. In Greekpoetry Glaucus was the principal fisher hero, ranking with the shepherdhero Daphnis who, being mortal, for his elusive nymph, died of a brokenheart.

There was, however, in Greek writing on fishing also a didactic branch,much of which is known to have been lost. The best surviving work of thiskind is Oppian's Halieutica (A.D. 169), a Greek hexameter poem in fivebooks, two describing many fishes of the sea, and three the art offishing with a wide variety of "arms" (hooks, several kinds of nets, atrident, and other tackle). Oppian begins by comparing hunting andfishing. The hunter sits comfortably in a cave during a storm while thefisherman is out in a leaky boat braving the elements. The sea, however,has its charm and there are pleasures in fishing, but—curious argumentfor fishing—the hunter has more pleasure than toil. Halieutica is partsea pastoral and part manual of instruction, and as one of its readershas said, it has "the right spirit of enthusiasm." Oppian's dolphins aredivine and his descriptions of the mysteries of the sea inviting, yet hisfishing seems to be regarded as work. There are in Halieutica alsoelements of the art of the sporting treatise; its argument againsthunting, for example, serves to provide an opposition between land andsea to the advantage of the latter. But since few medieval writers knewGreek literature before it was translated in quantity into Latin in theMiddle Ages, and since, as we have seen, there is nothing on the sport inearlier Latin, it is unlikely that Oppian had any influence on theorigins of modern writing on sport.

The first English (Anglo-Saxon) text on fishing is the Colloquy on theOccupations, a late tenth-century book by Aelfric the Abbot, the greatwriter and teacher of his time. Aelfric mentions the use of nets,fishhooks, and bait by professional fishermen, the kind of fish caught,how they were sold, and the like. His fisherman speaks for himself as towhat he is about. A fragment goes as follows (P stands for Piscator; Mfor Magister):

M. What trade are you acquainted with?

P. I am a fisherman.

M. What do you get by your trade?

P. Food, clothing, and money.

No sport here. And after Aelfric's Colloquy follow the remarkablecenturies of near silence on fishing until at the beginning of thefifteenth century the Treatise of Fishing describes the ancientoccupation for the first time in history as a sport.

Compare hunting. The sport goes far back in antiquity, falconry as far as2000 B.C. in China. Among the ancient Greeks it was well regarded.Xenophon, historian, general, and sportsman, begins his treatise onhunting (c. 400 B.C.[?]) with the assertion that the art was invented bythe gods and was the care of Apollo and Diana. "I therefore exhort theyoung," he says, "not to despise hunting, or any part of liberaleducation; for by such means men become excellent in militaryqualifications, and in other accomplishments by which they arenecessarily led to think, act, and speak rightly." After developing thistheme at some length, he describes in the body of the treatise thequalifications of the hunter, his dogs, his equipment (nets, javelins,snares, and spears), and the technique of hunting hares, deer, boars,lions, leopards, and other animals; and then, in Chapter 12, restates themerits of the sport: "1. Concerning the modes of proceeding in the chaseI have now spoken. Those who are fond of the pursuit will receive manybenefits from it; for they will secure health for their bodies, greaterkeenness of sight and hearing, and a later old age. 2. It is also anexcellent preparation for the toils of war...." He shows in detail howthe rigors of the chase train a young man in real action and keep himfrom viciousness or excessive pleasure of the senses. In a vein he mayhave learned from Socrates, of whom he was a disciple, Xenophon thenmakes a characteristically intricate Greek observation. Men love virtue,he says, but attain it only by labor. They will not neglect it if theysee it bodily, "for everyone, when he is in sight of the object of hislove, conducts himself better than at other times, and neither does norsays anything unbecoming or wrong, lest it should be seen by thatobject." Thus hunting makes a good soldier and a good leader.

That Xenophon was read with interest for a long time is evident from ahunting treatise by the Greek writer Arrian, in the second century. Hewrote a supplement to Xenophon, on coursing, beginning with a summary of"the advantages that accrue to mankind from hunting," as related byXenophon.

When hunting literature reappeared in medieval Europe, it described whathad become one of the most prominent features of the life of thenobility, and a protected privilege. "The noble of every age," saidBalzac, "has done his best to invent a life which he and he only canlive." Hunting, in addition to its inherent pleasures, performed thatservice. Men of noble rank not only hunted, but they also wrote about it,and it is from the tradition of their writing, rather than from fishing'sown literary history, that the Treatise of Fishing emerged.

Because they were at the beginning of modern writing on sport and underthe influence of the ancients, early writers of hunting treatises tendedto be systematic and doctrinal; their observations on nature have beengiven a place in the history of science. On one level these writings wentno further than such matters as the diseases of hawks; one work of thiskind was written in England about 1200 by a mathematician and naturalscientist, Adelard of Bath. On a higher level they dealt with all theelements of sport, including its place in the general scheme of things.Earlier in this chapter we advanced the thesis that the sporting treatisebrought together the forces of chivalry and learning, chivalry in thehigh-minded argument for a sport, and learning in the manual ofinstruction. The aspect of chivalry needs explanation.

We often today think of chivalry as exaggerated courtly manners, ascompared with our own manners, or with those of ancient Greece where theywere incorporated less conspicuously in the way of life. The charactersin the romantic literature of the Middle Ages often seem like childrenbeside the Greeks. The writers of the Middle Ages—whose historic role issaid to have been to tame the ferocity of medieval knights—celebratedcourtesy, service, sacrifice, courage, honor, piety, heroism, compassion,fidelity, justice, love, and other qualities of mind and heart; andthough this hardly gave a true picture of life outside the books, thechronicles indicate that it displayed the ideals of life as well as thestate of mind of writers for several centuries. Chretien de Troyes, themost celebrated poet of the twelfth century and the most influential uponlater writers, whose manuscripts are the earliest extant in the Arthuriantradition, stated the case precisely in the little prologue to his storyCliges:

Our books have informed us that the pre-eminence in chivalry and learning once belonged to Greece. Then chivalry passed to Rome, together with that highest learning which has now come to France. God grant that it may be cherished here, and that it may be made so welcome here that the honour which has taken refuge with us may never depart from France: God had awarded it as another's share, but of Greeks and Romans no more is heard, their fame is passed, and their glowing ash is dead.

In this passage the medievalist R. W. Southern found the "secret revolution"of the eleventh and twelfth centuries: "all that we comprehend in theword `civilization.'"

It is not surprising that the same elements should crystallize at the sametime in the literature of the ideal life of sport. Writers have rarelyviewed sport as recreation without meaning. As the Greek Games were anexpression of religion and love, modern sport is an expression of asecular code of chivalry and learning. The idealism of modern sport isidentical with the ideals of chivalry, and chivalry is its apparentsource. In sport, unlike life outside of sport, the rules are bothunderstood without ambiguity and accepted without reservation; when oneis broken, either there is an established penalty (another rule), or thegame is over. Hence sports writers have always been moralists parexcellence. Three hunting treatises in the two centuries preceding thewriting of the Treatise of Fishing show the course of this tradition.

If modern writing on sport had only one originating point—unlikely as thatassumption might be—a claim to it could be made on behalf of FrederickII's Art of Falconry, which he completed in Latin not long before he diedin 1250. It is in any case the high point of treatise-writing in theearly Middle Ages and the earliest complete model known in Europe. As theinvention of the sonnet and the beginning of Italian poetry areattributed to Frederick II's court at Palermo, Sicily, it is appropriatethat the beginning of the art of writing about sport in modern timesshould be found in that workshop. The Holy Roman Emperor, King of Sicily,King of Jerusalem, etc., who altered the history of Europe with thesecularization of the state (and literature), was a great hunter,obsessed with the ancient royal sport of falconry: he says in hisprologue that he prepared himself for thirty years to write the treatise.For his study of the art, he brought master falconers from "the fourcorners of the earth." The twelfth and thirteenth centuries were "thecenturies of Aristotle," and Frederick gave himself to this influence. Hecaused Aristotle's zoology and two Arabic works on the diseases of hawksto be translated. From Aristotle also it is apparent that he learned thesense of logical order that the ancient philosopher gave to the medievalmind. Frederick II's treatise of falconry, however, rests upon directobservation and experience and is good enough to be considered theearliest modern scientific work on ornithology.

As the ruler of a large kingdom and an extensive empire [Frederick writes] we were very often hampered by arduous and intricate governmental duties, but despite these handicaps we did not lay aside our self-imposed task and were successful in committing to writing at the proper time the elements of the art. Inter alia, we discovered by hard-won experience that the deductions of Aristotle, whom we followed when they appealed to our reason, were not entirely to be relied upon, more particularly in his description of the characters of certain birds.

To this comment on the limitations of logic, he adds the observation—as ifhe had expected more—that "the Prince of Philosophers ... was ignorant of thepractice of falconry." What inspired Frederick to lay down this model for theorganization of a sporting treatise is not known, but it appears to be inthe tradition of Xenophon.

Our main thesis, then [Frederick says], is The Art of Falconry; and this we have divided into two cardinal sections. The first contains the argument, by which we mean contemplative thought, or theory; the second illustrates practice, which portrays experimental action. In addition, a third subsection contains a part of the argument and includes certain data pertaining to both theory and practice. Our purpose is to present the facts as we find them. Up to the present time the subject of falconry has been devoid of both artistic and scientific treatment.

The medium we have chosen for this monograph is prose, with prologue and text.

This design for writing a sporting treatise, providing a place for themeaning of sport before dealing with the art and science of it, has neverbeen superseded. And each of these places Frederick filled with memorablecontent. He had a high degree of consciousness of the nature of sport:"Hunting itself," he says, "is nothing else but a form of bodily exerciseand practices employed to capture animals." And (in the Mazarine Libraryversion of his treatise) he takes one through a 589-page mental exercisein zoology, the breeding and care of falcons, lures, gerfalcons catchingcranes, and a discourse on herons and river birds. He justifies thisactivity with the argument that falconry is the most noble of the severalbranches of hunting. From it one learns the secrets of nature. Topractice it one needs to be skilled, for birds of prey are difficult totrain; and the interesting problem is the training of the bird ratherthan the hunt itself. It is more noble to employ animals than artificialinstruments in the hunt; and birds of prey are more noble thanfour-footed animals (presumably hounds employed in the chase). Inconclusion he turns to the medieval doctrine that noble qualities areassociated with a noble class:

Here it may again be claimed that, since many nobles and but few of the lower rank learn and carefully pursue this art, one may properly conclude that it is intrinsically an aristocratic sport; and one may once more add that it is nobler, more worthy than, and superior to other kinds of venery.

The early writers on sports, like Frederick, codifying their practices for thefirst time, thus were explicit about what they considered to be thesporting state of mind. Frederick's values—knowledge, skill, preferencefor the animate, belief in the myth and symbol of the hawk and insomething intrinsically aristocratic (these things learned perhaps fromhis Greek models and Arab contemporaries)—are devoid, however, ofromantic sentiments. He is disciplined about the nature of sport,raising it above mere exercise, but his emphasis falls chiefly on thevalues of skill and learning. His chivalry was part classical, partoriental, and part medieval European. His learning was scientific in themodern empirical sense.

The Art of Falconry was the most important and most influential treatiseon hunting in the early Middle Ages. It was circulated during the secondhalf of the thirteenth century and translated into French. Several oldbooks on falconry derived from it. We are not concerned here,however, with the direct relationships between manuscripts, but withtradition.

In this sense Frederick's argument was "answered" in another treatise, a didactic poem, LaChace dou Cerf, written about mid-thirteenth century by an unknownauthor. This is the oldest treatise on hunting in French. Following theform of argument and instruction laid down by Frederick, it sets forththe case for a different branch of hunting (the chase vs. falconry) andraises equally high but quite different values. It brings medievalchivalry into sport with the words honor, love, and faith. And while theauthor upholds the royal rank of hunting, he makes a bow also toequality. His prologue is brief:

There are some who attempt to rime and take much trouble about it; some do it to gain honour and others to gain money. Some concern themselves with love; many knights also go to tournaments to advance themselves; one draws (the sword), the other jousts with the lance. A loyal heart delights in many things; his faith guides him. There are such as love falcons, sparrow hawks, and merlin hawks, but some carry them on their wrist who in their hearts care little for them. He who meddles in a sport if he does not love it, whatever pains he takes can profit and avail little. If there is anyone who wishes to learn of a sport which surpasses others (whoever learns well is not easily wearied) I much wish to make you understand it. No man is the worse for learning well. The sport is so royal that there is neither king nor count nor [even] Gawain, if he were alive and loved it well, who would not be more honoured for that reason by all who understand it.

"Good Sir, if all knew it, would it be less honoured than it is now?"

"Nay, rather it would be more honoured, fair gentle friend, know it well."

"Wherefore I pray you that you would say before all what it is."

"Certainly, fair sweet friend, it is the amusement that one has from runninghounds.

Little about actual incidents in the hunt, or stories of hunting, can belearned from treatises; but writing about hunting in the Middle Ages wasnot confined to a specialized literature. Hunting was a large andsignificant part of life—for many it was all of life that was notwar—and a literary subject. An incident in the famous English romanceSir Gawain and the Green Knight, a narrative poem written by an unknowncontemporary of Chaucer, gives some idea of what is meant by the loftycliche "mighty hunter." There are three hunts in the story on threesuccessive days, for the deer, the boar, and the fox, respectively, eachvividly described in minute detail and with a symbolism in the storywhich is not of concern here. After a hard chase, on the second day, theboar is wounded and at bay (the climax of a boar hunt); the professionalhuntsmen are afraid and stand back and we see how the ideal medievalhunter goes in for the kill:

But then came the lord himself, spurring his horse, and saw the boar standing at bay. He got down from his horse, and left it standing there, and drew his bright sword, and went forward with long strides, passing through the ford to where the grim beast was waiting for him. The boar watched him coming with his weapon in hand, and his bristles rose and he snorted so fiercely that many feared for the knight. The boar made straight at him and the man and beast fell locked together and the water swirled about them. But the beast had the worst of it, for the man watched his mark well at the first charge, and drove the sharp steel firmly into his throat, right up to the hilt, and pierced the heart. The boar snarled and gave up the fight and made away across the stream, but a hundred hounds fell on him, biting furiously, and the men drove him to open ground where the hounds finished him off.

Then there was a loud hollaing, and the blowing of the kill on the loud horns, and the hounds bayed over the boar as their masters bade, they who had been the chief huntsmen in that long chase. Then one who was wise in woodcraft unlaced [i.e., cut up] the boar. He cut off the head, and fed the hounds with some of the flesh. Then they slung the carcase on a stout pole, and set off for home. The head was borne before the lord himself, who had slain the beast in the ford by the skill and the strength of his hands.

About the time this was written—a little more than a hundred years after FrederickII died—there lived such a mighty hunter as this in France, who, as ithappens, wrote the most famous of all hunting treatises, Livre de Chasse.This man was Gaston de Foix, a feudal lord who from his court at Orthezruled over two principalities in the Pyrenees. His fame—and nickname,Gaston Phoebus (which also is given to his treatise)—was established bythe medieval chronicler Jean Froissart, of whom he was patron, thecelebrity of the two men, as a result, to some extent brushing off oneach other. Much lore has gathered around this point in history. SirKenneth Clark (Landscape into Art), for example, discovered that naturalobservation in landscape painting began in illustrated manuscripts onsport—Livre de Chasse one of them—a circumstance that led Clark toremark on the paradox that through the instinct to kill man achievedintimacy with nature. Gaston Phoebus has also been celebrated by hisEnglish biographer-editor W. A. and F. Baillie-Grohman, and by TheodoreRoosevelt. Roosevelt, the greatest of American hunters, whom we thank forthe vast forest and stream preserves in the West, wrote, under a WhiteHouse dateline in 1904, a remarkable essay on Gaston Phoebus and relatedmatters, lauding him as "a mighty lord and mighty hunter, as well asstatesman and warrior." Gaston Phoebus surely deserved superlatives,but an account of the chilling episodes of his life does not belong here.He died of apoplexy in 1391 after an all-day bear hunt.

Fourteen years later, Edward, Duke of York, grandson of Edward II,conspirator against two kings, and a famous hunter, was put in prison byHenry IV. There it is surmised he performed his work of translatingGaston's Livre de Chasse into English, with five new chapters, under thetitle Master of Game. Gaston's treatise thereby achieved the newdistinction of being the first hunting treatise in the Englishlanguage. In 1406 Edward was free and appointed to the office ofMaster of Game under Henry IV. He died, a hero, in the English victoryover the French at Agincourt in 1415; though, according to one account,he suffocated from the heat in his suit of armor. The author of theTreatise of Fishing acknowledged Master of Game, as follows:

I will now describe the said four sports or games to find out, as well as I can, which is the best of them; albeit, the right noble Duke of York, late called the Master of Game, has described the joys of hunting, just as I think to describe (of it and all the others) the griefs.

The treatise Master of Game, like its French original, follows the nowfamiliar form of argument and instruction. Hunting (i.e., the chase), theauthor says, is better than hawking. It is so noble as to be called the"Master of Sports." And he writes: "... I will prove by various argumentsin this little prologue that there is no man's life, of those that engagein noble games and sports, that is less displeasing to God than is thelife of a fully trained and skillful hunter, nor any such life that moregood comes from. The first argument is that the sport often causes a manto avoid the Seven Deadly Sins. Secondly, men are better horsemen, morejust and intelligent, more accomplished, more gracious, moreenterprising, and better acquainted with all districts and all routes,both short and long. All good habits and manners come from it, as well asthe health of a man and of his soul." The hunter, he says, will avoidsins because in hunting he will not be idle; for idleness leads to lustand pleasure, dreams and evil imaginings. The author will prove howhunters live more joyfully than anyone else. "For when the hunter risesin the morning, he sees the sweet and fair morning and the weather clearand bright, and he hears the song of the small birds, which sing sweetlywith great melody and full of love...." He will prove, he says, thathunters live longer than others. "... For as Hippocrates says, fullrepletions of food kill more men than any sword or knife. But hunters eatand drink less than any other men of this world.... And since hunters eatlittle and [sweat] often, they should always live long and be healthy."He does not overlook war. "For if he [a man who is not a hunter] were inneed or at war, he would not know what to do, for he would not be usednor accustomed to toil, and so another man would have to do what he oughtto do."

Now, in the early fifteenth century, we come to the Treatise of Fishing,which has no model in fishing history. The famous woodcut accompanyingits first printed version (1496) showed the solitary, animated, andintent angler playing a fish with his rod held high in his left hand, hiscatch in a tub beside him on the bank of a stream. The town in thebackground suggests that he came out from there to the country forrecreation. Today he might be a bank president on the Beaverkill, or aButte, Montana, copper miner on the Big Hole. In those days he was likelyto have been a merchant; very likely not a noble and not a landowner,since fishing had none of the dignity, ceremony, and hierarchalassociations of medieval hunting. If he read the Treatise of Fishing itwould have been for practical instruction and not to learn the languageand manners of an aristocrat. Fishing was an inexpensive sport, and,though sophisticated in technique, it was not yet divided intospecializations. A man could do it all with his hands: a good part of theTreatise of Fishing is occupied with instruction on making your owntackle. But that is not all he would have learned from his reading.

The Treatise of Fishing is formed in three parts: (1) the argument, (2) theinstruction, and, in the complete 1496 version, (3) further argumentestablishing the concept of the angler through his moral qualities. Thetreatise begins, as we have seen, by defining the sport with the rule ofrod, line, and hook, and lauds it above other good and honorable huntingsports in which there is pleasure without repentance and which lead to afair and long age. The good life derives from merry thought, moderatework, and moderate diet, as opposed to contentious company, anuncongenial occupation, and places of debauchery. Rise early, as theangler does, and according to the adage you will be holy, healthy, andhappy. Therefore, learn your fishing tackle, how to fish (at each levelfrom the bottom to the top of the water), the kinds of fish, the weather,and baits, hooks, artificial flies, and rods and how to make them, as thetreatise shows. In conclusion, the author gives the order to anglers,possibly a take-off on official proclamations: "I charge and require youin the name of all noble men that you do not fish in any poor man'sprivate water ... without his permission and good will." Don't break aman's fish traps. Don't break a hedge. Shut the gate. Fish not formaterial gain but for solace and health of body and soul. This way youwill avoid the vice of idleness. Don't take too many fish, which you caneasily do if you fish according to the instructions. Conserve the fish inthe water. So enjoined you will have the blessing of God and St. Peter.From this beginning the angler with his rod and pursuit of pleasure wasin time to be identified in a vast number of writings as philosopher,scholar, and teacher, and his sport as gentle, solitary, contemplative,passionate, cheerful, and innocent.

Did the author learn the design of the treatise and some of these sentimentsfrom Master of Game? The great scholar of the second edition of the Bookof St. Albans, Joseph Haslewood, in his book in 1810, commented that thecommendation of hunting in Master of Game "awakened the jealousy of theauthor of the Treatise upon Angling." The historian of fly fishing J. W.Hills, upon seeing the relation of the two treatises in 1920, had thebrilliant insight "that all sport is one." Both the first hunting writerand the first fishing writer, in English, apply the measure of what isnoble. Both speak of skill and the avoidance of idleness, of livinglonger with good diet and exercise, of joy in the presence of nature, andother benefits to body and soul. The hunter is more just, intelligent,accomplished, gracious, enterprising, learned, and well mannered; and thefisherman more specifically respects his neighbor. In a word, both arechivalrous and learned. But they also differ. Hunting is worldly; it isgood training for the warrior. Fishing is solitary and reflective. Eventhe rod is designed to be used also as a walking stick that will keepsecret where you are going. And though if you fish according to theinstructions, you should catch fish, it does not matter if you do not.Thus though the two treatises are similar in sporting sentiment, theypart widely in the experiences peculiar to each sport. Whether theTreatise of Fishing drew upon Master of Game, as it seems, or uponanother source, does not matter. The simple facts are that the modernhistory of writing about hunting has its first classic in Frederick'streatise on falconry, and the modern history of writing about sportfishing has its first classic and its first known writing in the Treatiseof Fishing, and the two treatises have in common their aesthetics and thestate of mind called sport.

The Treatise of Fishing presumably appealed to an audience wider thanthat of privileged hunters. Language alone suggests different readers forMaster of Game and the fishing treatise. Master of Game, and other earlyhunting treatises in England, employed a hunting terminology that waslargely Norman French, the language of the court and the officiallanguage of England after 1066. The English of the Treatise of Fishing isthe language of ordinary people. It is simple native prose with few longwords: most are of one syllable, and most of the remainder are of twosyllables, not a language for discussing Aristotle but good enough forlove and war and hunting and fishing. The Treatise of Fishing is one ofthe best and most durable pieces of prose writing of its time. It is arare thing to be able to go that far back in sport and find words sofresh and up to date (only a few of its words are archaic; only some ofits "technology" is obsolete).

Courtly literature of sport was written for a knightly class which hadextraordinary leisure and aspired to make a way of life of it. Later on,unchanged in essence, the literature of sport was written for an everwidening audience until we come to the millions of sportsmen with theirnew leisure today. The Treatise of Fishing, while first in fishing, alsomarked a turning point in the general history of sports-writing both instyle and in its probable readers. The treatise was available inmanuscript during the fifteenth century, transcribed no one knows howmany times, and when it made its first appearance in print in the secondBook of St. Albans in 1496, it was in a hunting context. As hunting,hawking, and heraldry were interests of the nobility which could beacquired, the Book of St. Albans served as a handbook for gentlemen. Theauthor of the Treatise of Fishing, however, writing, as we have seen,near the beginning of the century for all who were "virtuous, gently, andfreeborn," cannot be held responsible for the less felicitousadvertisements introduced into the book by its first printer near the endof the century. Wynkyn de Worde made no bones about selling the socialmerits of sport. At the conclusion of the treatise of coat armor, he, orhis shop editor, entered the following notice:

Here we shall make an ende of the moost specyall thynges of the boke of the lygnage of cote armurys: and how gentylmen shall be knownen from ungentylmen. And consequently shall folowe a compendyous treatyse of fysshynge wyth an angle whiche is right necessary to be had in this present volume: by cause it shewyth afore the manere of hawkynge & huntynge wyth other dyvers maters right necessary to be knowen of noble men and also for it is one of the dysportes that gentylmen use. And also it is not soo labororyous ne soo dishonest to fysshe in this wyse as it is [w.sup.t] nettes & other engynes whyche crafty men done use for theyr dayly encrease of goods.

In an epilogue to the fishing treatise, de Worde explained why he included itwith the other treatises in the book:

And for by cause that this present treatyse sholde not come to the hondys of eche ydle persone whyche wolde desire it yf it were empryntyd allone by itself & put in a lytyll plaunflet therfore I haue compylyd it in a greter volume of dyuerse bokys concernynge to gentyll & noble men. to the entent that the forsayd ydle persones whyche sholde have but lytyll mesure in the sayd dysporte of fysshying sholde not by this meane vtterly dystroye it.

It has been inferred from these expressions of the printer that literacy in thefifteenth century extended to classes regarded by de Worde as lower thanthat embraced by the term "gentlemen" (though he did later, in 1532,yield on exclusiveness by publishing a separate edition of the fishingtreatise). More to the point here, however, is the implication that atthe end of the fifteenth century hunting and fishing were an acceptablecombination within the same covers, needing only a mild apology for theirconnection. In the following century the hunting and fishing treatises ofthe Book of St. Albans were often published together, from which one mayconclude that fishing had become a fashionable sport. Yet the Treatise ofFishing, though a best-seller, attracted no known literary competitionfor most of the two centuries.

During the 157 years between the first printing of the Treatise of Fishingand the first edition of The Compleat Angler, the few angling writers whoappeared went on to develop the concept of the angler. Only five anglingbooks worthy of note—exclusive of the sixteen or more reprints of theTreatise of Fishing—are known to have been published in this period inthe English language. The second book on angling, The Arte of Angling,first published in 1577 by an anonymous author, and certainly known toearly fishing writers, including Walton, who borrowed from it but nevermentioned it, was lost to angling history until a single surviving copywas recently discovered in an attic in England and brought to the UnitedStates by the collector Carl Otto von Kienbusch, and printed at Princetonin 1956. The Arte, the first writing on the sport in prose dialogue, hastwo characters, Piscator and Viator (Wayfarer). Piscator (the pupilin Aelfric) is the teacher, Viator the student. The Arte is a finelittle book, the best use of dialogue on the subject of angling outsideof Walton's. Piscator is testy but hospitable. He treats of angling as anart and a science, and "as of that pleasure that I have always mostrecreated myself withal, and had most delight in, and is most meetest fora solitary man, and is also of light cost." He speaks of the fellowship,ruling out, however, "the sluggard sleepy sloven," the poor man, theangry man, the fearful man, and the busybody, who can stay at home or, ifthey like, hunt or hawk. The character of the angler is described inthirteen "gifts":

Vi[ator]. Why then, I pray you, what gifts must he have that shall be of your company?

Pi[scator]. 1. He must have faith, believing that there is fish where he cometh to angle. 2. He must have hope that they will bite. 3. Love to the owner of the game. 4. Also patience, if they will not bite, or any mishap come by losing of the fish, hook, or otherwise. 5. Humility to stoop, if need be to kneel or lie down on his belly, as you did today. 6. Fortitude, with manly courage, to deal with the biggest that cometh. 7. Knowledge adjoined to wisdom, to devise all manner of ways how to make them bite and to find the fault. 8. Liberality in feeding of them. 9. A content mind with a sufficient mess, yea, and though you go home without. 10. Also he must use prayer, knowing that it is God that doth bring both fowl to the net and fish to the bait. 11. Fasting he may not be offended withal, but acquaint himself with it, if it be from morning until night, to abide and seek for the bite. 12. Also he must do alms deeds; that is to say, if he meet a sickly poor body or doth know any such in the parish that would be glad of a few fishes to make a little broth withal (as often times is desired of sick persons), then he may not stick to send them some or altogether. And if he have none, yet with all diligence that may be [he] try with his angle to get some for the diseased person. 13. The last point of all the inward gifts that doth belong to an angler, is memory, that is, that he forget nothing at home when he setteth out, nor anything behind him at his return.

The third book on angling is Leonard Mascall's A Booke of Fishing withHooke and Line (1590), which has some distinction in the field of fishconservation but is otherwise little more than an edited version of theTreatise of Fishing.

The fourth is John Dennys' treatise in verse, Secrets of Angling (1613), thefirst angling poem. He begins with a play on the elevated opening line ofVergil's Aeneid (Arma virumque cano: Of arms and the man I sing):

Of Angling, and the Art thereof I sing, What kind of tooles it doth behove to have; And with what pleasing bait a man may bring The fish to bite within the water wave....

Dennys confesses:

Not that I take upon me to impart More than by others hath before been told; Or that the hidden secrets of this art, I would unto the vulgar sort unfold....

It is not known who all the others are by whom this knowledge has beentold, but the author of the Arte is one of them. From him Dennys appearsto have taken the thirteen gifts of the angler, calling them "TheQualities of an Angler." He gives twelve instead of thirteen; the oddone, alms, he combines with love. Dennys appears to be the first indidactic angling-writing to draw upon the ancient pastoral andpiscatory, which he acknowledges by paying farewell respects to Neptuneand all his monsters on entering Arcadia and the gentle haunts of perchand trout. To the second edition of Secrets of Angling, the editor,William Lawson, added this now established gift of the trout to theangler: "The trout," he said, "makes the angler most gentlemanly, andreadiest sport of all other fishes."

The year after the poem was first published, Gervase Markham set it backto prose (with a few additions from the Treatise of Fishing), in a workentitled The Pleasures of Princes, the fifth known book in the history ofangling. He had also some new and original ideas on the angler. Thetwelve "inward qualities of the mind" were not enough, he said. Theangler must also be a general scholar, knowing of the liberal sciences, agrammarian, a writer "without affectation or rudeness," of sweet speech,"to persuade, and intice other[s] to delight in an exercise so muchlaudable"; he must have strong arguments "to defend, and maintain hisprofession against envy or slander"; he should know the sun, moon, andstars, from which to guess the weather; countries, highways, and paths tolakes and streams; he should know geometrical angles so as to describethe channels and windings of rivers, and the "art of numbering" so as tobe able to take soundings; and music to dispose of melancholy.

Thus the angler emerging from the Elizabethan Age could be told from an"ungentleman." It is not far from here to the personification of thisimage in The Compleat Angler in 1653. One writer, however, intervenedwith the sixth book on the sport. He was Thomas Barker, a cook byprofession, who wrote a rare little treatise which he called The Art ofAngling (1651). So well established had the literary image of the anglerbecome in his time that Barker felt constrained to apologize: "I do cravepardon," he said, "for not writing scholar like." But Barker was an ablefishing writer, the first to proceed directly to the kill, to speak of areel, and to invent new trout flies. By Turrell's conferment he is the"father of poachers." Walton acknowledged Barker alone among the anglingwriters before himself.

Walton merged the basic outline of the Treatise of Fishing with thedialogue technique, the characters, and some of the content of The Arteof Angling (1577), and with elements of the pastoral. Along witheverything he could find in classical, Biblical, and medieval traditionshe brought along his contemporary "band of musicians," the great poetswho were his friends and neighbors, and, in his fifth edition, gotCharles Cotton to make the angler actually complete with a treatise onfly-fishing, the first specialized treatment of that subject, and stillone of the best. Into the pleasant ensemble Walton breathed hispersonality and idyllic mood. The effect of this most popular of Englishidyls upon writing on the sport of fishing was inspiring and disastrous.

For seventy-four years after his fifth edition, Walton was in eclipse;then, with the benediction of Sam Johnson, he was revived and, evenbefore the nineteenth-century renaissance of angling, was canonized andmade the model of the angler. Although he had warned of the limits ofmaking "an angler by a book" alone, Walton, the least imitable of anglingwriters, for a long time thereafter was closely imitated with idyls uponan idyl. One of the first to see the danger was Sir Walter Scott, whosaid: "The palm of originality, and of an exquisite simplicity whichcannot, perhaps, be imitated with entire success, must remain with ourworthy patriarch, Izaak." (Scott also defended Walton against Byron, whocondemned Walton for his posture of innocence in a blood sport.)

Up to this time there were fewer than a hundred titles in anglingliterature; they were soon to begin multiplying into the thousands oftitles today, by far the largest library in sport. Most of the classicswere from the seventeenth century; the eighteenth produced little. On theeve of the great developments of the nineteenth century, two coursespresented themselves to the angling writer, one the Waltonian tradition,the other a direct, empiric approach to the sport. Each course was takenby large numbers of writers. In England, Walton ruled, at leastformally—ninety editions of his book were reported by Westwood andSatchell in their angling bibliography in 1883—though the best writerswent their own way.

The difficulty of imitating Walton in America was described byWashington Irving in his sentimental travesty "The Angler," one of thesketches published in 1819. He and a group of friends read Walton onewinter and determined to become anglers like him. As soon as the weatherwas good they went up to the highlands of the Hudson, "as stark mad aswas ever Don Quixote from reading books of chivalry." One of the party,fully harnessed for the field with all the angler's equipments, "was asgreat a matter of stare and wonderment among the country folk, who hadnever seen a regular angler, as was the steel-clad hero of La Manchaamong the goat-herds of the Sierra Monera." Irving hooked himself insteadof the fish, tangled his line in the trees, lost his bait, broke his rod,and in a short while gave up fishing, lay down under a tree, and spentthe rest of the day reading Izaak Walton, "satisfied that it was hisfascinating vein of honest simplicity and rural feeling that hadbewitched me, and not the passion for angling." With a bow to Walton forhis idyl and another to the Treatise of Fishing for its maxims, Irvingconcluded that angling was suited neither to him nor to America, but onlyto England, where there is "rule and system" and where "every roughnesshas been softened away from the landscape." Walton had misled him.

The American continent, as it happened, was explored in detail in thecentury that was dominated both here and abroad by a romantic view ofnature. Most writing on fishing in England in the nineteenth century wasimmersed in that romanticism. In the United States sport fishing did notbecome prominent until the middle of the century. George WashingtonBethune, a reformed Dutch clergyman and scholar, in 1847 introducedWalton (keeping himself anonymous for fear of censure) with one of themost notable editions of The Compleat Angler, and the influence of Waltongrew until the turn of the new century when it declined. Bethune alsodiscussed and quoted from the Treatise of Fishing; an edition of it wasnot published in the United States until George W. Van Siclen's in1875. A new spirit, however, came early into American fishing. Onthe frontier men had hunted and fished not as a recreation but to live.The act of going to the wilderness was itself a sought-out adventure withits own romanticism, and as sport began to flourish, hunting and fishingabsorbed this new sense of frontier excitement, which in the UnitedStates has never left them, especially in the West. So we have twoliteratures of fishing, one of retirement to old meadows, the other ofgoing out to new waters. The Treatise of Fishing produced no cult, asWalton did, and by its nature could not. What the treatise did was toestablish the elements of sport in rule, courtesy, and learning, and findin fishing a tolerable state of mind.

The Life and Legends of Jean Harlow


Abbeville Press

Copyright © 1991 Eve Golden.All rights reserved.

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