English Literature, Considered as an Interpreter of English History eBook

Henry Coppée
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 540 pages of information about English Literature, Considered as an Interpreter of English History.

Izaak Walton was born at Stafford, on the 9th of August, 1593.  In his earlier life he was a linen-draper, but he had made enough for his frugal wants by his shop to enable him to retire from business in 1643, and then he quietly assumed a position as pontifex piscatorum.  His fishing-rod was a sceptre which he swayed unrivalled for forty years.  He gathered about him in his house and on the borders of fishing streams an admiring and congenial circle, principally of the clergy, who felt it a privilege to honor the retired linen-draper.  There must have been a peculiar charm, a personal magnetism about him, which has also imbued his works.  His first wife was Rachel Floud, a descendant of the ill-fated Cranmer; and his second was Anne Ken, the half-sister of the saintly Bishop Ken.  Whatever may have been his deficiencies of early education, he was so constant and varied a reader that he made amends for these.

THE COMPLETE ANGLER.—­His first and most popular work was The Complete Angler, or, The Contemplative Man’s Recreation.  It has been the delight of all sorts of people since, and has gone through more than forty respectable editions in England, besides many in America.  Many of these editions are splendidly illustrated and sumptuous.  The dialogues are pleasant and natural, and his enthusiasm for the art of angling is quite contagious.

HIS LIVES.—­Nor is Walton less esteemed by a smaller but more appreciative circle for his beautiful and finished biographies or Lives of Dr. Donne, Wotton, Richard Hooker, George Herbert, and Bishop Robert Sanderson.

Here Walton has bestowed and received fame:  the simple but exquisite portraitures of these holy and worthy men have made them familiar to posterity; and they, in turn, by the virtues which Walton’s pen has made manifest, have given distinction to the hand which portrayed them.  Walton’s good life was lengthened out to fourscore and ten.  He died at the residence of his son-in-law, the Reverend William Hawkins, prebendary of Winchester Cathedral, in 1683.  Bishop Jebb has judiciously said of his Lives:  “They not only do ample justice to individual piety and learning, but throw a mild and cheerful light upon the manners of an interesting age, as well as upon the venerable features of our mother Church.”  Less, however, than any of his contemporaries can Walton be appreciated by a sketch of the man:  his works must be read, and their spirit imbibed, in order to know his worth.

OTHER WRITERS OF THE AGE.

George Wither, born in Hampshire, June 11, 1588, died May 2, 1667:  he was a voluminous and versatile writer.  His chief work is The Shepherd’s Hunting, which, with beautiful descriptions of rural life, abounds in those strained efforts at wit and curious conceits, which were acceptable to the age, but which have lost their charm in a more sensible and philosophic age.  Wither was a Parliament man, and was imprisoned and ill-treated after the Restoration.  He, and most of those who follow, were classed by Dr. Johnson as metaphysical poets.

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