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THE LIFE OF MR. ISAAC WALTON.
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, Izaac Walton, adorned with a guileless fimplicity 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 excellent persons, whose comprehenfive 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 characters, 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 B
a « September 1593. Baptiz. fuit Ifaac filius Jervis Walton, XX? die mensis et anni prae dia."-(Register of St. Mary's, in the town of Stafford.)
of England. She was the daughter of Edmund Cranmer, Archdeacon of Canterbury, 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, Archbichop of Canterbury. 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 frugality, 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 fcrupulous attention, regularly marked out the different houses successively inhabited by the poet,
if it was an injury to neglect any place, that he honoured by his presence.” The various parts of London, in which Isaac 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 fickness, and was present at the time that he consigned his fermons 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
“ Sir John Hawkins's Life of Walton,” p. xiii.-The æconomy observed in the conftruction of the shops over the Burse scarce allowed him to have elbow-room. They were but seven feet and a half long, and five wide. (See Ward's Life of Sir Thomas Gresham, p. 12.)
• According to Anthony Wood, he followed the trade of a fempster. (Ath. Ox. Vol. I. sol. 305. See alfo Sir John Hawkins's Life of Walton, p. xiii. xv.)
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 accustomed 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 fcholar, his eloquence in the pulpit, for he was pronounced by James II. 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 England, marching with the Covenant gloriously upon their pikes and in their hats, with this motto, NANT OF BOTH KINGDOMS.” “ This,” he adds, “I saw, and suffered by it. But when I look back upon the ruine 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 me from being of that party, which helped to bring in this Covenant, and those fad confusions that have followed it.” He persevered in the most inviolable attachment to the royal cause. In many 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 inteftine diffentions. The incident of his being instrumental in preserving the lesser George, which belonged
FOR THE CROWN AND COVE
to Charles II. 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 illustrious of his contemporaries, Plotius and Varus, Pollio and Fuscus, the Visci and the Messalæ. Nor was Isaac 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 Apoftolical 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
The account is also presevcd, by tradition, in the family. “ Col. Blague remained at Mr. Barlow's house at Blore-Pipe, in Staffordshire, where, with Mr. Barlow's privity and advice, he hid his Majesty's George under a heap of dust and chips, whence it was conveyed through the trusty hands of Mr. Robert Milward of Stafford, to Mr. Isaac Walton, who conveyed it to London, to Col. Blague, then in the Tower; whence escaping not long after, he carried it with him beyond seas, and restored it to his Majesty's own hands.” (Plet's Hift. of Staffordshire, Ch. VIII. SeEl. 77. See also Afhomole's History of the Order of the Garter, p. 228.)
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 gentleman of his age'. The singular circumspection which he observed in the choice of his acquaintance, has not escaped the notice 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."
f“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, whom 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 fate 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,
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 feaver, 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 furcrew of those splenetick vapours, that
are called Hypocondriacal; of which most say the cure is good company, and I desire no “better physician than yourfelf. I have in one of those fits endeavoured to make it more “ easie by composing a short hymn; 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 whose dear love I leave you, remaining
" Your poor friend to serve you,
“H. WOTTON." ( Reliquiæ Wottoniana, p. 361. 4th edit.See the Hymn mentioned in this Letter, in Walton's
Life of Dr. Donne, p. 187.)
Complete Angler, P. II. Ch. I.