"Doubtless God Could Have Made A Better Berry, But Doubtless God Never Did"

Context: From the third century A.D. Roman rhetorician Claudius Aelianus who first mentioned fly fishing, and Dame Juliana Barnes who first treated the subject in English in her fifteenth century Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth an Angle to the present, thousands of fishermen have written of their craft, but few have produced a more enjoyable book than Izaak Walton's The Compleat Angler. The first edition appeared in 1653 in a small octavo volume that could be tucked into a fisherman's bulging pocket. It sold for eighteen pence. Previous to that, Walton had written biographies of the Reverend John Donne and Sir Henry Wotton, his friends. "I write not for money but for pleasure," Walton declared. He did not need money, for he had retired after a career in London as iron-monger or hardware merchant. He found in his birthplace of Stafford a refuge from the turmoil of civil war with Royalists and Parliamentarians killing each other. Now aloof from politics, a representative of the seventeenth century search for relief from the world's woes in Nature and the works of God, Walton became a champion for the Christian virtues of friendship and goodness, and for the country joys as opposed to the money-grubbing life of the city. At his age of sixty, when the book appeared, he confessed he was a gentle man wielding "a mild pen, not used to upbraid the world." He wove into its pages anecdotes, poetry, descriptions of nature, and an uncritical choice of quotations from even Pliny with his unnatural Natural History. The result may not be a completely trustworthy guide to fishing practices; indeed its author declared that it is hard "to make a man that was none to be an Angler by a book." But the book provides delightful reading for even non-fishermen. The first edition contained thirteen chapters that were later increased to twenty-one, and in the fifth edition of 1676, the last printed during his lifetime, a second part on fly-making and casting was added by his poet friend Charles Cotton (1630–1687). Walton himself preferred "bottom fishing" with worms, grasshoppers, or frogs, using a fifteen-foot pole, a "trembling quill," and a hook tied on by hair leaders. Not until Samuel Pepys (1633–1703) was there mention of the use of gut leaders. Chapter V of The Compleat Angler contains a conversation between Piscator (The Fisherman, representing Walton) and Venator (Hunter), who in the first edition, was the scholarly wayfarer, Viator. On their walk in the early dawn to a fishing spot along the river Piscator discourses on the relative merits for trout fishing of flies, worms, caterpillars, and real and artificial minnows; but as he proves by catching fish when his companion is unsuccessful, it is the skill of the fisherman and not the lure that fills the basket. As they walk and later fry their fish under a tree, they discuss Nature. Piscator recites several poems. He also quotes, in modern spelling, from "Dr. Boteler," Doctor William Butler (1535–1618), the Cambridge-trained court physician of King James I, among whose writings was an article on foods and diets.

. . . No life, my honest Scholar, no life so happy and so pleasant as the life of a well governed Angler; for when the Lawyer is swallowed up with business, and the Statesman is preventing or contriving plots, then we sit on Cowslip-banks, hear the birds sing, and possesse ourselves in as much quietnesse as these Silent silver streams, which we now see glide so quietly by us. Indeed my good Scholar, we may say of Angling, as Dr. Boteler said of Strawberries; Doubtlesse God could have made a better berry, but doubtlesse God never did: And so (if I might be Judge) God never did make a more calm, quiet, innocent recreation than Angling.