1593-1683 - Izaak Walton

The author of The Compleat Angler bought this Staffordshire cottage around 1654. Its date of construction is not known, but it is one of the earliest houses that can be specifically linked with a literary figure, and certainly one of the oldest that can still be visited. It is believed originally to have been two cottages. In 1939 the roof was tiled following fire damage caused by a spark from the chimney of a passing steam train, but has been recently restored to thatch. The interior depicts living and working arrangements in such a cottage as they might have been in Walton's day. How far should we go in restoring historic houses to an approximation of their original condition?

Until the 18th century there were few (if any) professional authors supported solely by the pen. Most literary figures had other concerns - Geoffrey Chaucer, as a case in point, was a civil servant. There is little reason to suppose Izaak Walton would have become a writer but for his connection, as a London businessman, with the great and the good of his day. Men of his acquaintance included the poet and mystic John Donne and the essayist, philosopher and statesman Sir Francis Bacon, a figure described by the Pope as the 'wisest, brightest and meanest of mankind'. In such glittering company Walton more than held his own, though he had little formal education and scant knowledge of the Latin so essential to classical learning. His spelling was erratic and frequently phonetic, but he wrote in a beautiful and scholarly hand and was also an artist of considerable ability. Following the death of his friend and fishing companion, Sir Henry Wotton, Walton took on two literary projects to which this former Provost of Eton College had committed himself. One was a biography of Walton's mentor, Donne, the second was a treatise on angling. Walton was possibly the only other man in the country qualified to write either. His life of Donne appeared in 1640 and a biography of Wotton was completed in 1651; these are among the earliest serious works of biography and Walton occupied his retirement years by writing three more, rated by Dr Johnson as among 'his most favourite books'. The work for which he is best known, The Compleat Angler, was first published in 1653 and is still in print today. It is partly an anthology of articles on fishing themes by other hands (in an age when 'literary piracy' was rife, they are all correctly identified and acknowledged) and partly his own writing in verse and prose. Though he owned larger properties, he very soon afterwards acquired this cottage in his native Staffordshire, with the River Meece conveniently close to hand.


Introduction

1775-1817 - Jane Austen