" A Really Good Day "—Why Such a Day is Rare— Design in Nature—Rival Philosophies—Tim's Game of Ball—What Does it Mean ?—Pleasure as an Aim in Life — The Preservation of Species—Nature's Method with the Trout—Its Harmony with Man's Interests—The Game Laws in Accord with the Design of Nature— Perplexing Phenomena of Human Society— Words Without Meaning — Dagonet Explains — "Dry Fly" — The D- C- on the Subject—Lord G-'s Book—Mr. L- V- H- and Mr. H- W- M- —Opposing Theories—A Test is Arranged— The Project Miscarries — Still, There were Results—The Dry-Fly Theory Examined.
When Old John said that in sixty years there had been only one really good day on Lochleven, he was not making a merely picturesque remark. He may have been conscious that there was humour in his words ; but perhaps he was conscious also that the humour lay in a truth which they contained. At any rate, he should have been. A day is "really good" when it bears comparison with the best; and what was that ? Was it not a day when from morning until the night trout rose at the flies so well that the basket was limited only by the frequent need to spend five or six minutes, sometimes more, in playing one, with now and then an interval for the setting right of a tangled cast ? There is, and always may be, such a day as that. Happily, it is not so infrequent on other lakes as Old John found it on Lochleven; and it must be known to most anglers whose good fortune has enabled them to give lake-fishing a fair trial. Why, having come once, does it not often repeat itself ?
The answer, I think, will be suggested if, in the chapters on Wind, Light, and Temperature, I have succeeded in the endeavour to show that the atmospherical conditions of sport are exceedingly complex, and only on very rare occasions arranged exactly in favour of the angler. The angler is not the sole creature whom Nature has to consider. If there were always wind to make a curl on the water, the flowers and the fruits of the fields would be robbed of some of the warmth which the sun offers to their needs ; if the clouds never settled and thickened until the whole earth seemed shrouded in a gray pall, depressing to trout and fisherman alike, there could be no rain, and vegetation would be impossible ; " snow-brew" floods are inevitable, because a mantle of snow is the means by which the winter frosts are prevented from penetrating too far into the soil. When one comes to think of them, all the phenomena of our sport are clearly in the woof of a system which seems to be of design. If it were not that the trout are put beyond our reach by falling aloof at the touch of natural conditions which are very common, one of two great misfortunes would come to pass. Either, being without what at present in relation to the fisherman is an accidental instinct of self-preservation, they would speedily be all caught, leaving the waters empty of their species ; or they would be so easily caught that we should cease to think them worth pursuing, and so lose one of the greatest pleasures in life, an outdoor sport.
This may seem a crude thought, a frail suggestion on which to recall the argument about design in nature ; and I know quite well what many thinkers who may read these lines will say of it. " What!" they will exclaim in impatience, "can you imagine for a single serious moment that the First Cause intended trout to be caught by the methods of sport, so that men might find pleasure in the capture of them ?"
I can imagine this, and purpose to explain why ; but in the meanwhile let us observe a most peculiar thing. In other times the dominant philosophy was what is called anthropomorphic. It attributed to the First Cause the character of man. Now the dominant philosophy is at the other extreme. It affirms that the utmost efforts of man, in his limited processes of cognition, leave the First Cause unknowable. Thus it would appear that our philosophy has undergone a complete revolution. Has it really ? I think that the appearance is deceitful. As far as philosophy is concerned, there is very little difference between the assumption that the First Cause is the prototype of man and the apprehension that the character of the First Cause is unknowable. In both cases we are presented with affirmations about the First Cause; both affirmations come from developments of the human understanding; both are crops of belief on the gray matter of similar brains, cultivated differently. Each, that is to say, is the human understanding egoistic, asserting itself, controversial; and arguing with the same means from precisely the same premisses, which are not knowledge gained from the arguers having actually witnessed the First Cause at the first action in the void, but inductions about the nature and purpose of that action derived from study of its results millions of centuries afterwards. Thus, though they differ in their conclusions, Anthropo-morphist and Agnostic Evolutionist are identical in their methods. The finite intellect of man is the basis of the belief of each. One believes that God made man in His own image ; the other believes that man is gradually developing into the image of God. The Agnostic Evolutionist is the Anthropomorphist inverted.
Between the two there is a still more striking resemblance. When thoroughly in earnest about their philosophies, both are inclined to be puritanical. Neither has any rational cause to be so ; but both of them are. Neither can ever completely divest himself of a feeling that the pursuit of pleasure should be suspect. Pleasures, both would say, are incidental to life, which is a serious business : they should not be regarded as an end in themselves : they are but eddies in the main stream, upon the tendencies of which the philosophers ponder gravely, awestruck. Neither of the philosophers, as a rule, has the artistic temperament, to which all the world is interesting and good simply because There it is, and wonderful! In both of them the sheer joy of living is curbed and subdued by thought. In their very effort after precision of detail and a synthesis, they lose sight of the subject they set out to study. Particulars, many of them most suggestive, are lost in generalisation.