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Izaak Walton: Father of a Dream

In his book, The Compleat Angler, Izaak Walton, who died three hundred years ago this month, provided generations of anglers with a technique manual, a pastoral idyll - and an elegant apologia for their pastime. An Article by John Lowerson.

Izaak Walton died on December 15th, 1683, at the age of ninety. His book, The Compleat Angler , is held to be the most influential work ever written on sport fishing; certainly it is by far the most frequently reprinted. His contemporary importance was much greater than that of the author of an idyll and his subsequent rediscovery has placed him as the father-figure, if by no means the actual progenitor, of the largest single participant outdoor recreation in the industrial world. Because of this role his life has been moderately well-plotted by scholars; many of the facts are clear yet there remain questions about his personal experiences which have rarely been treated by historians of seventeenth-century England.

Walton was born in Stafford on August 9th, 1593, the son of a local tradesman. After a brief education at the local grammar school suitable to his station he joined the well-trodden path of migration to a London apprenticeship at the age of sixteen. It was commonly held, until late Victorian scholarship proved otherwise, that he became a haberdasher in the City. In fact he was an ironmonger who eventually moved through apprenticeship and journeyman stages to owning his own business in Cornhill, moving subsequently to Fleet Street and Chancery Lane; none of his premises seem to have been very large. A judicious first marriage into a Kentish family brought him useful social connections and some wealth, the latter increased by his trading acumen – he was able to retire from business by the time he was fifty. Unlike many in a similar position he did not then leave the City to buy his way into county society, although he did acquire some valuable farm leases, but he remained for a considerable time in London circles.

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