Walton took a wide view of the pleasures of angling; he was of too sensitive a nature to neglect what was to be seen and heard around him, and the object of Piscator is at least as much to teach his scholar to enjoy the spirit of places, times and seasons, as to catch fish. None the less is Walton careful of instructions in the art of angling, in writing which he had at any rate the advantage of believing that what he had to teach was new, and he enters into details of baits and tackles and methods, with a zest and confident interest which are hardly possible now. There is an impression of freshness and leisure which never leaves us as we read. The delight of days spent by the river is described as if Walton felt himself to be the teller of good tidings, in which whosoever wished might share. There is a detachment of mind about him, a sense of freedom and length of days, to which it is less easy to attain in these times of trains, letters, telegrams and incessant news. There were years in Walton's life of civil war, of great disturbance, public misfortune and excitement, but it was at any rate more possible in that age to have long intervals undisturbed and to feel remote. With the exception of Gilbert White's " Selborne," I know no book in which it is so easy for a tired mind to find refuge and repose as in the " Complete Angler".
As a contrast to Walton it is interesting to consider Charles Kingsley. He, too, has written delightfully about fishing; there is an onset of enthusiasm in such a piece as "Chalk Stream Studies," which must stimulate the keenness of any angler, and Kingsley has a good store of knowledge of plants, insects, birds and all the life about a river. Who would not have kindled at the thought of a day's fishing with Kingsley ? Who would not have been the better for it ? but any of us might have been somewhat exhausted at the end of it. Kingsley was nobly keen, and he never for one moment leaves us in doubt of the strength and sincerity of his affection for all that was interesting and beautiful out of doors. Every one should know more and fish better after reading him, but he was a strong mind in earnest, and he wrote so strenuously that in reading him I tremble a little, for fear he may strike too hard, if a big fish should rise. The time, too, in which Kingsley wrote, was so different to Walton's; so much more was known that knowledge seemed to have a sort of completeness. It is never really so. New discoveries are being made as frequently as ever, but for all that, the edges of our knowledge seem now more clearly defined. Walton has much to tell us; but close round all his knowledge is a border land of mystery, of things left uncertain and still to be revealed. His Fordidge trout belongs to another world than that in which we move: we feel as if, were we in his place, we should long to set out upon our travels to find it. It is not even certain whether a winch should be used, and if so whether it should be placed upon the butt or the middle of the rod. Walton feels that all he has to tell us is visibly leading to some new discovery, which any man with a good will may hope to make in his lifetime. In Kingsley's time, and still more now, this delicious sense of impending discovery has gone. Fish and flies are classified and indexed. We may still argue some points, such as the number of different species of salmonidae, or whether fish have a keen perception of colour; but we know enough to be dogmatic and to make even things which are still uncertain appear not to be open questions. As to rods, tackle and landing-nets, we are almost weary of the number of inventions, and hardly wish for anything new.
I have taken Walton and Kingsley as two types of appreciative writers about angling : Walton of course, because he is the best of all; and Kingsley, partly for the sake of contrast in time and temperament, and partly because his vigour as a writer makes it interesting to see how he treats the subject which he loved. Of those who preceded Walton, or were his contemporaries, an interesting and excellent account is to be found in " Walton, and the Earlier Fishing Writers," by Mr. Marston. Of writers in the earlier part of this century there are names to which many of us are grateful, while in later years one instructive book has followed another, showing more and more tendency to deal separately with each special branch of angling. Many men are good all-round anglers, but these are the days of experts and scientific study, and we write not of all that we know, but of that which we know best.
I do not profess to have acquired enough scientific knowledge to enable me to give complete instruction, but even if I could do this there would be no need for me to attempt it now. There are so many splendid manuals of instruction, that any angler, who wishes to get technical knowledge, can learn the very best and latest that is known from more than one recent book about each special branch of angling. It is not therefore my object to teach the art of angling. But if I am ambitious to be an expert at all, it is with regard to the pleasure of angling. I am ready now to yield the palm for skill to whoever chooses to claim it, but I do cherish a belief that I am entitled to rank high amongst those whose reputation as anglers is measured, not by skill, but by their devotion to angling, and by the delight which they have in it. A chief object of this little book will be to express some of this pleasure, to explain some of its qualities and virtues, and to say how it is that we who are anglers congratulate ourselves upon having one of the best and most wonderful recreations that have ever been known to man.
There may be some natures whose work is pleasure, and who have therefore neither care nor need for any things but work and rest. It is possible at any rate to imagine that the pleasure and the work of a poet or an artist may be so interdependent that one cannot exist without giving a direct impulse to the other, that the feelings for instance of a poet, when heightened by pleasure, lead so continually to efforts to express them, that they themselves seem to be but a motive or preparation for the work of life rather than a thing apart from it. The same may be true of some men of science : there have been men who have seemed to value leisure and energy solely for the sake of observation and research, who have asked for nothing in life except that they should not be interrupted in the pursuit of knowledge. But few people are made entirely like these, and most of us do some work, not from choice, but being either compelled by necessity, or else urged to it by circumstances or some stern inner motive. If work be worthy or noble the greatest satisfaction of life is to be found in doing it well; the exercise of his highest powers or qualities is the glory of man's being, and the discovery or development of them by use transcends all pleasure. But not all work is of this kind, and in most if not in all of it, there is much drudgery, so that we are tormented from time to time by a strong desire to get away from it; we seem to be doing it, not because we have any genius or gifts for it, but because we are not better suited for anything else. Men whose task is imposed by necessity may well feel that the struggle for something which is not work, for opportunities of recreation, is not only legitimate and just, but imperative. On the other hand, if complete idleness be possible, we are again tormented by the sense of waste or of power unused, by the thought that everything leads to nothing, by the "weight of chance desires" increasing till it produces intolerable restlessness, and the curse of the wandering Jew seems to be working in our nature. Therefore it is that most of us endeavour to divide our lives into three parts, work, rest, and recreation; and it is with the management of the third part, and the place of angling with regard to it, that this book is concerned.