IT would be delightful to write about pleasures, if by doing so one could impart them to others. Many of us, if we had this gift, would no doubt take the world by storm to-morrow, with an account of the delights of living in the country.
Unfortunately, nothing is more difficult than to convey any strong impression of pleasure which has been felt within us, and probably it is only some unconscious egotism which ever prompts us to suppose that it might be easy. The insuperable difficulty lies in the nature of people and things. We do not all care for the same pleasures, and do not want to hear about those of other people. There are even men and women who do not care to play golf, and prefer to avoid the subject; and all of us, in talking about a hobby, run the risk that our words may fall upon unwilling ears. Sympathy will not flow unless interest is felt, and this latter is a slow growth. The interest that springs up on the spur of the moment is not intelligent; to be satisfactory either to listener or speaker, it must have a firm root in remembered feelings and associations. Nor must it be taken for granted that an interest felt by people in the same subject necessarily implies a common pleasure. One man may care for flowers because he likes to live amongst them and loves the effects of landscape gardening: another because he studies the life and growth of a plant, and takes infinite pains to bring individual plants to perfection and produce a perfect bloom: a third may care less to grow the flower than to examine it scientifically; and so the pleasure may vary through all degrees, from the highest and driest botany to the most unlearned sensuous appreciation of colour, scent and form.
As a rule, we find our pleasures in our own way for ourselves, and do not take or learn them from others. What we really care for we have at first hand, the beginning of the feeling being within us or not at all, though what we read or hear from others helps and stimulates it. It is indeed almost impossible to justify a particular pursuit to some one else who has not got the sense of it. One man has a hobby and may talk about it to another easily, or even with eloquence and power; but if that other has not shared the hobby, he will not understand the language, and the speaker has no right to expect that he should. On the other hand, to any one who does share it, even a little imperfectly told becomes interesting, and weak words begin to stir kindred memories. When a man has a hobby it is to be hoped that he will learn reticence; that he will never go into the world at large without a resolve not to talk about what he cares for most; that in society and places where they talk, he will carry his delight within him like a well guarded treasure, not to be unlocked and disclosed in all its fulness on any slight or trivial inquiry. Rather let him not use his own key for himself, being sure that the test of any really kindred spirit will be the possession of a master key which will open this special door of his mind for him. It is seldom enough that this happens. Most of us live wherever circumstances decide that we should, and live the life that our work requires. We think of our pleasures in night watches, in passing from one place to another, upon the pavement, in trains and cabs; but the prospect on any given occasion of meeting such a really kindred spirit seems almost too good to be true. If, then, books are written about a pursuit like fishing, it should be not to preach, or to convert, or to dogmatise. Books about sport and country life should be written and read, partly perhaps for the sake of hints, information and instruction, but much more in the hope that the sense of refreshing pleasure, which has been felt by the writer, may slide into a sympathetic mind.
There remains yet another difficulty, that of expressing pleasure at all. It may be that language lends itself more easily to forms of argument and thought than of feeling. An argument is something which can be caught and held down and strapped into sentences, but after reading an account of a day's fishing, it is continually borne in upon one that, when all has been said, the half has not been told; it is not because there is really nothing to tell, as some cynical and unsympathetic mind may suppose; rather, I think it is because of the nature of joy. Feelings of delight come unsought and without effort—when they are present they are everywhere about and in us like an atmosphere; when they are past it is almost as impossible to give an account of them as it is of " last year's clouds," and the attempt to analyse and reconstruct the sense of joy that has been and may be again, seems to result in rows of dead words.
It is worth while to consider some of the different ways in which authors of repute have written about angling. Walton, of course, stands first; his book has become a classic, and has been read and remembered now long enough for us to be sure that it will remain so. This, no doubt, is due to his literary skill, and to that distinguished something called style, which Walton had, and without which no book lives long. There is no definition of style which is satisfactory, or which tells how it may be acquired, for when a man has it, what he has is his own and no other's: without him that particular style would never have been, and no one else can produce the same effect by imitating it. It must therefore in some way be the result of the man's personality; and the charm of Walton's " Complete Angler" is at any rate partly due to the simplicity and purity of nature, which find expression in his book. There is a quiet and benign light in his writing, which draws us to it, and makes us choose to linger over it. It must not, however, be forgotten that Walton wrote other books not about angling: these, too, are of literary excellence, and we still have to account for the fact, that it is by the "Complete Angler" that Walton is best remembered. It may be that the others would not have been forgotten; but unless he had written the "Complete Angler," Walton would never have been as well known as he is. It is his best book, and I like to think that it is so, because the happiness of the subject was specially suited to his kind and quiet spirit.