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Izaak Walton (1593–1683). The Lives of John Donne and George Herbert.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Introductory Note

IZAAK WALTON was born on August 9, 1593, in Staffordshire, England. He came to London where he served his apprenticeship as an ironmonger, and later seems to have been in business on his own account. He was a loyal member of the Church of England, and was on terms of friendship with a number of distinguished divines, notably Dr. John Donne, who when he was vicar of Saint Dunstan’s, was a near neighbor of Walton’s. In politics he sympathized warmly with the royalist party, and it has been supposed that it was the triumph of the Parliament in the Civil War that led him in 1644 to retire from business, and, for a time, from London. Most of his old age was spent with his friend, George Morley, Bishop of Winchester, and with his daughter Anne, the wife of William Hawkins, a prebendary of Winchester. In the house of the latter he died in December, 1683, and was buried in Winchester Cathedral. He was twice married.

Walton’s chief literary work, “The Compleat Angler, or the Contemplative Man’s Recreation,” was published when he was sixty, and he induced his friend, Charles Cotton, to supplement it with a treatise on fly-fishing, which was incorporated with Walton’s fifth edition in 1676. Whatever may be the value of this work as a practical guide, it remains the literary classic of the gentle art of angling, and is remarkable for its success in conveying in delightful prose the charm of English meadows and streams.

“The Life of Dr. Donne” was written by Walton in 1640 as an introduction to a collection of Donne’s sermons; and thirty years later was issued in a volume with lives of Sir Henry Wotton, Richard Hooker, and George Herbert. In 1678 he completed his biographical labors with a life of Robert Sanderson. These lives are in their way models of short biography. The charming personality of Walton himself, and the clarity and delicacy of a style of high artistic simplicity, set off a narrative in which facts are not allowed to obscure the outlines of a character drawn with loving admiration. Few bulky official lives succeed in giving the reader so vivid a picture of personality as these sketches from the hand of Izaak Walton.