Although we all fished, I was the only member of the family who inherited my mother’s passion for it, and it only developed much later in me, for at this time I often preferred taking a book under the trees by the river-side, to throwing a line; but towards the middle of my life I became a fanatical fisherwoman, and was obliged to limit my waste of time to one day in the week, spent on the Lenox lakes, or I should infallibly have wandered thither and dreamed away my hours on their charming shores or smooth expanse daily.
I have often wondered that both my mother and myself (persons of exceptional impatience of disposition and irritable excitability of temperament) should have taken such delight in so still and monotonous an occupation, especially to the point of spending whole days in an unsuccessful pursuit of it. The fact is that the excitement of hope, keeping the attention constantly alive, is the secret of the charm of this strong fascination, infinitely more than even the exercise of successful skill. And this element of prolonged and at the same time intense expectation, combined with the peculiarly soothing nature of the external objects which surround the angler, forms at once a powerful stimulus and a sedative especially grateful in their double action upon excitable organizations.
I have said that we all more or less joined in my mother’s fishing mania at Weybridge; but my sister, then a girl of about eleven years, never had any liking for it, which she attributed to the fact that my mother often employed her to bait the hook for her. My sister’s “tender-hefted” nature was horribly disgusted and pained by this process, but my own belief is that had she inherited the propensity to catch fish, even that would not have destroyed it in her. I am not myself a cruel or hardhearted woman (though I have the hunter’s passion very strongly), and invariably baited my own hook, in spite of the disgust and horror I experienced at the wretched twining of the miserable worms round my fingers, and springing of the poor little live bait with its back pierced with a hook. But I have never allowed any one to do this office for me, because it seemed to me that to inflict such a task on any one, because it was revolting to me, was not fair or sportsmanlike; and so I went on torturing my own bait and myself, too eagerly devoted to the sport to refrain from it, in spite of the price I condemned myself to pay for it. Moreover, if I have ever had female companions on my fishing excursions, I have invariably done this service for them, thinking the process too horrid for them to endure; and have often thought that if I were a man, nothing could induce me to marry a woman whom I had seen bait her own hook with any thing more sensitive than paste.
I have said that I followed no systematic studies after I left school; but from that time began for me an epoch of indiscriminate, omnivorous reading, which lasted until I went upon the stage, when all my own occupations were necessarily given up for the exercise of my profession.