Some Things Fishy in Rare Books: Izaak Walton’s Compleat Angler and Other Fish Tales
The Compleat Angler; or, the Contemplative Man’s Recreation by Izaac Walton [1593 – 1683] was first published in 1653 and has been reprinted numerous times remaining the favorite fishing book of many to this day. Several editions were published during Walton’s lifetime and many more since. By 1936, The Compleat Angler had been reprinted with and without changes 283 times by bibliographer Peter Oliver’s count and, according to multiple sources, is the third most printed book, after the Bible, and the writings of Shakespeare.
What to some would seem an unlikely hot seller, The Complete Angler is a sentimental favorite for readers and printers alike. The text is a pastoral walk through the English countryside filled with practical and philosophical discourse between a hunter, a falconer, and an angler, each one promoting the merits of his chosen occupation. The angler Piscator teaches Venator the hunter how to fish and impresses upon him and reader alike that “angling is an art.” In the discourse, the angler passes along fishing tips and other bits of wisdom, including ways to prepare the fish one catches, poetry and songs about fishing. Somewhere between Piscator’s good humor, the convivial comradeship and the pleasantly comforting imagery of nature, angler or not, the reader develops a fondness for the characters, the countryside and the author who brings us this fine fish tale that has survived the test of time.
Along with many early and fine editions of Walton’s Compleat Angler, the exhibit “Some Things Fishy in Rare Books” reveals spectacular ichthyological illustrations spanning multiple decades. On display are fish illustrations from Conrad Gesner’s 16th century Historia Animalium to Mark Catesby’s 1750 Piscium Serpentum and, more recently, Zane Grey’s photo illustration in Tales of Fresh-Water Fishing from 1928.
Exhibit dates: February 7 – June 18, 2012