The Complete Angler Or the Contemplative Man’s Recreation


Izaak Walton and Charles Cotton.

“The most influential work ever written on sport fishing”



Izaak Walton and Charles Cotton, The Complete Angler: Or the Contemplative Man’s Recreation (London: Privately printed for the Navarre Society, 1925), edited by John Major, eight original etchings by Damman on Japon Vellum and 74 wood engravings with tissue guards, frontispiece portrait of Izaak Walton, and portrait of Charles Cotton with tissue guard facing Part II title page; printed upon paper specially made for this edition and strictly limited. Octavo, 23.2 x 15.7 cm, xv, 445 pp., title page printed in red and black; green cloth, gilt lettering and embellishments on front cover and spine; top edge gilt, others with deckled edges. List of Etchings and List of Embellishments, Introductory Essay, text of Parts I and II (the latter with “Instructions how to Angle for a Trout or Grayling in a Clear Stream”), Linnean Arrangement of the Fish, Original and Selected Notes, General Index. Article on Isaak Walton from History Today, December 1983, by James Lowerson, illustrated in colour and b/w, loosely inserted inside back cover.

Condition: Very good, well-bound and binding tight. A little shelf wear, mainly to top and bottom of spine, a few small cover marks, endpapers and pastedowns browned.

Izaak Walton (1593-1683) rose, through business acumen and financially advantageous marriages, from being a London ironmonger to a Royalist city gentleman whose wealth allowed him to retire at the age of 50.

As a sidesman and churchwarden at St Dunstan’s, Fleet Street, he was close to the vicar (the poet John Donne, who had the benefice from 1624-1631 as well as being Dean of St Paul’s) and many other Anglican luminaries, including the Bishop of Winchester, who gave him lodgings “in whichever of the Bishop’s palaces he found most convenient”. Walton was noted for his calmness, which assisted him in avoiding conflict with Cromwellians during the Civil War. In 1653 Walton first published The Compleat Angler, a celebration of the art and spirit of fishing in prose and verse, and continued to add to it for decades as it went through many editions. In John Lowerson’s view, Walton was “probably the first writer to provide a sport with a sustained and elegant apologia”. In the book’s 1676 edition, Walton’s friend Charles Cotton added a second Part with instruction in fly fishing and the making of flies.

The Compleat Angler, Lowerson wrote, is a “combination of travelogue, natural history, instruction manual and rural idyll. …The Angler’s stature in nineteenth-century England related directly to the rediscovery of the rural world as a play-space, valued less for its agricultural output than for its place as an antidote to the unbearable tensions of city living. …The number of licensed game anglers in England and Wales rose from ten thousand in 1880 to over seventy thousand by 1914. …The Dean and Chapter of Winchester [inserted] a statue of Walton amongst the saints in the Cathedral’s great high altar reredos. In 1914 they added a stained glass window to him, not far from his tomb. …[Walton had] achieved fame as one of the first major contributors to the English pastoral tradition and it is as such that subsequent scholarship has regarded him, rather than as an authority on angling technique”. Walton also wrote biographies of the poet and Divine George Herbert, Richard Hooker, a leading 17th century Church of England theologian, and several others.