The Angler must intice, not command his reward...
For the angler all history is divided into two parts, before and after Berners. What she did in the garden and study of the nunnery to achieve this eminence was to create angling literature. For the first time in history she saw and defined the special qualities of fishing as a game and its profound relationship to life, and identified the character of the angler. For this purpose she created a new species of writing about fishing and a wholly new branch of sport. Surprisingly, she derived the angling convention not from the older fishing literature of Greece and Rome but from another, far-removed source, the hunting literature of barbarian Europe.
Now, fishing has two quite different literatures, one treating the subject as work and the other as play. Writing about fishing as work goes back to the beginning of writing itself and, until the modern novel appeared, was dominantly a literature of poetry. Writing about fishing as play, in the beginning class-angled, in the words of the Book of St. Albans, to show "how gentlemen shall be known from ungentlemen," is dominantly the didactic angling essay, which goes back to the Treatise.
Berners created this model in a simple form: 1) she defined and praised the art; 2) gave instructions in its pursuit; and 3) identified the angler and his experience. From this beginning, at once plain in substance and exalted in spirit, the angler with his rod, line and hook, and pursuit of pleasure and peace, was in time to become identified in thousands of books as philosopher, scholar and teacher, and his sport as gentle, solitary, contemplative, passionate, cheerful and innocent. And the solitary noblewoman of the 15th century, seeking solace in angling, was to become 30 million anglers in 1957. So she is of interest to us for her charm and for the effect her work has had upon angling and angling writers for nearly 500 years. What she may have sought solace for, and what the significance of that is for angling, I shall come to presently.
June 2, 1957
Angling is more or less a writer's word; in the U.S. one goes fishing, whether one is heading for the mountains with a rod or out to sea in a trawler. But angling is a useful word. Efforts to define it have been undertaken by some good minds from Plato to the American angling writer, Henry Van Dyke. These have been examined by William Radcliffe (Fishing from the Earliest Times), who concludes in favor of Van Dyke's "the art of fishing by hand with a hook and line, with or without a rod." That's not bad, but for the purpose here I define it in part subjectively, along the lines of Berners, as fishing by defined means and for its own sake.
It would be absurd to think that people did not angle for pleasure before Berners, but so far as we know they didn't write much about it. We know from Plutarch that Cleopatra was an angler. But as Shakespeare retold the story, she angled not for fish.
Give me mine angle, we'll to the river: there,
My music playing far off, I will betray
Tawny finn'd fishes; my bended hook shall pierce
Their shining jaws, and as I draw them up,
I'll think them every one an Antony,
And say, "Ah, ha! you're caught."
But Sappho, greatest of all women poets, and perhaps greatest of all poets, wrote in the characteristic classic manner in her famous doleful epigram:
Meniscus, mourning for his only son,
The toil-experienced fisher Pelagon,
Has placed upon his tomb a net and oar,
The badges of a painful life and poor.
Sappho, Cleopatra and Berners—but there is no line of descent. To place Berners by contrast in the context of fishing history, follow the trail of the scholars through the fishing literature of ancient Greece and Roman times: Fishing is treated by Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Ovid, Aelian, Oppian and others—all of whom, except possibly Aelian who described fly-fishing, deal with the subject as work.
For some it was imaginative work. In the classic myth, the fisherman Glaucus of Anthedon saw his catch of fish on the ground before him eat a magical herb and return to sea. He tasted the herb himself, followed the fish into the water and became a sea-god, with eyebrows of bristle, seaweed hair on his chest, and a fish's tail, in appearance not unlike the skin-diver pursuing things under water today. Glaucus pursued the nymph Scylla. She eluded him and he appealed to a divinity, Circe, to intercede and make her return his love; but Circe was jealous and changed Scylla into a sea monster. Glaucus still haunts the waves; Scylla is now the well-known rock off the Italian coast. This is not any old love story. In Greek poetry, Glaucus was the principal fisher hero; in his watery habitat he ranks with the shepherd hero Daphnis who, being mortal, for his elusive nymph died of a broken heart.
The chief literary form of ancient fishing writing was a sea idyll in poetic dialogue, called the "piscatory eclogue." Its hero was the fisherman, as the hero of the pastoral was his neighbor the shepherd. H. M. Hall (Idylls of Fishermen) has shown how the sea or fisher idyll originated as a branch of pastoral and became a separate branch of literature. The father of the piscatory and the father of the pastoral are the same person, Theocritus, an urban, artful avant-garde Greek poet of the third century B.C.; poets acknowledged their debt to him for two milleniums. Of 30 idylls attributed to him, the 21st was a sea idyll (see box, page 70) and this little fish story has a claim to be the first formal fish story in history. It develops the theme, like Sappho's, of the Greek epigramists, in which the fisherman is a haunting figure, weighed down with age, toil, poverty, mournful-ness and superstition—the precursor possibly of Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea but not of the angler.
It was about 2,000 years later that the form of the "piscatory eclogue" of Theocritus was tried out in England as an angling medium. Its route was through the Italian poet, Jacopo Sannazaro, who wrote of singing sea fishermen in the 16th century, and from him through Giles and Phineas Fletcher, Edmund Spenser, and others in England. Then, in the 18th century, Moses Browne wrote a popular work, Angling Sports in Nine Piscatory Eclogues, in which he tried to convert The Compleat Angler into this convention. But the angler with his lyric and lecturing moods did not fit well into the form devised for the professional sea fisherman with his terror of transformations of the sea and sea maidens, his toil and dreams, and the piscatory died out.
The first English (Anglo-Saxon) work to treat of fishing is the Colloquy on the Occupations, a 10th century book by Aelfric the Abbot, the greatest writer and teacher of his time. His form, the prose dialogue or debate, was then a convention. I quote a fragment from Benjamin Thorpe's translation, which is printed in full in W. J. Turrell's Ancient Angling Authors. P. stands for Piscator; M. for Magister:
M. What trade are you acquainted with?
P. I am a fisherman.
M. What do you get by your trade?
P. Food, clothes, and money.
The discussion continues with the details of the trade and concludes with reasons why Piscator prefers to fish in rivers rather than go to sea and catch whales (it is safer). But obviously Aelfric's Piscator is no angler if sport be the rule. There are other mentions of fishing before the 15th century, but they alter nothing.
Angling as a sport arrives 500 years later with Berners: rod, line and hook, and not for money but for pleasure; and with her the literary form of the angling treatise. With discipline to the essentials she set the convention that would govern most subsequent writing on the sport.
She compares fishing with hunting and hawking and so differentiates the qualities of angling from the principal sports of the time. Her approach is to teach. Wittingly or unwittingly, her didactic form corresponds with the outstanding attribute of the angler. Always, in speech or writing he is a teacher. She, the first angling teacher, taught first the pleasure: a merry spirit and joy without repentance—two thoughts on angling that were to be the central themes of angling writers from Walton to Wordsworth to Lord Grey to Theodore Gordon. But she is objective; she does not investigate the interior of innocent pleasure and peace. She simply finds it and conveys it.
A characteristic of angling writing in prose or poetry is accuracy and meticulousness of observation. Nothing in the equipment and methods of the angler is too trivial to mention, nothing in the way of technicality could possibly be boring. From Berners to the present, the focus of angling writing is microscopic and interest rises in the angler inversely with the size of objects (except fish). Show an angler one more or one less whisk of tail on a No. 16 Blue Dun and he will be fascinated to the exclusion of man's arrival on the moon; only scientists equal this passion for the structure and motions of small objects and instruments for making contact with the mysteries of nature.
Praise for the sport, instruction and the angler's identity; that was all. From her rules of angling conduct the identity of the angler can be inferred. There is a shade of Robin Hood in her advice not to poach on a poor man's water; but, as she implies, there is a bit of a poacher in every angler. The most exacting rules against poaching that I know are those governing the relations between members of the salmon clubs on the Restigouche where there are no poor men: what rod in what place to the surveyor's line at a time specified on a watch, and the whole printed in the language of a law firm. I once was granted permission to fish certain water there, and for reasons not to be explained here I poached (with a No. 12 Dusty Miller) a 17-pounder out of the Barn pool, the first pool in the Kedgwick, which is one of the two headwaters of the Restigouche, a pool which I understood belonged to the dean of the oilmen, Walter Teagle. I later confessed this to Teagle in New York and he forgave me with a benign raise of his hand. Armed with this forgiveness I told the story at a meeting of the Anglers' Club, whereupon an unforgiving voice rang out from the back of the room, "That's not Teagle's pool. That's my pool!" Now, Teagle is a noble angler, but I have asked myself who was the greater poacher, I who poached the fish or he who poached the forgiveness?
Berners says never take fish by foul means (a sport or game by definition is a set of rules). Don't break a hedge; shut the gate. Don't be greedy; conserve the fish. Solitude is for prayer. And if solace is needed, it may be found on the stream. So enjoined, you will have the blessing of God and St. Peter. Here was the angler born.
Berners' bow to St. Peter—understandable in a nun who would fish for sport—made plausible connection between angling and the patron of professional fishermen. With that reference, however, she started a religious theme in angling that was to last a long time and arouse some contention.
During the 157 years between the printed Treatise and The Compleat Angler, the few angling writers who appeared developed principally the character of the angler. The second known book, The Arte of Angling, published in 1577 by a now anonymous author and unknown in angling literature until a single copy was recently discovered and printed last year at Princeton, makes no mention of Berners. "Anon" uses the classic prose dialogue form and creates the characters Piscator and Viator (wayfarer), who were later adopted by Walton in his first edition of The Compleat Angler. Piscator (the pupil in Aelfric) is the teacher, Viator the student. The Arte is a fine little book, the best use of the prose dialogue form on the subject of angling, I think, outside of Walton's. Piscator is testy but hospitable. He treats of angling as an art and a science, and "as of that pleasure that I have always most recreated myself withal, and had most delight in, and is most meetest for a solitary man, and is also of light cost." He speaks of the fellowship, ruling out, however, "the sluggard sleepy sloven," the poor man, the angry man, the fearful man and the busybody, who can stay at home or, if they like, hunt or hawk.
Most curious are Anon's 13 "gifts," which appear to be a spoof on the virtues of the angler and a possible jest on Berners' glorifications; for her book was the angling bestseller of the 16th century. This ancestor of Ed Zern (To Hell with Fishing) wrote:
Vi[ator]. Why then, I pray you, what gifts must he have that shall be of your company?
Pi[scator]. 1. He must have faith, believing that there is fish where he cometh to angle. 2. He must have hope that they will bite. 3. Love to the owner of the game. 4. Also patience, if they will not bite, or any mishap come by losing of the fish, hook, or otherwise. 5. Humility to stoop, if need be to kneel or lie down on his belly, as you did today. 6. Fortitude, with manly courage, to deal with the biggest that cometh. 7. Knowledge adjoined to wisdom, to devise all manner of ways how to make them bite and to find the fault. 8. Liberality in feeding of them. 9. A content mind with a sufficient mess, yea, and though you go home without. 10. Also he must use prayer, knowing that it is God that doth bring both fowl to the net and fish to the bait. 11. Fasting he may not be offended withal, but acquaint himself with it, if it be from morning until night, to abide and seek for the bite. 12. Also he must do alms deeds; that is to say, if he meet a sickly poor body or doth know any such in the parish that would be glad of a few fishes to make a little broth withal (as often times is desired of sick persons), then he may not stick to send them some or altogether. And if he have none, yet with all diligence that may be [he] try with his angle to get some for the diseased person. 13. The last point of all the inward gifts that doth belong to an angler, is memory, that is, that he forget nothing at home when he setteth out, nor anything behind him at his return.
Thus for Anon the virtues of the angler—excepting alms giving—enhance not his nobility so much as the size of his catch.
In the year 1613 John Dennys showed how an angling treatise could be written in verse. His Secrets of Angling was the first and remains the most noted of angling poems. He begins with a play on the elevated opening line of Virgil's Aeneid (Arma virumque cano: Of arms and the man I sing), and with a mastery common to the age alternately blurs and jingles the conversational iambic pentameter.
Of Angling, and the Art thereof I sing,
What kind of tooles it doth behove to have;
And with what pleasing bait a man may bring
The fish to bite within the watery wave....
Not that I take upon me to impart
More then by others hath before been told;
Or that the hidden secrets of this art,
I would unto the vulgar sort unfold....
It is not known who all the others-are by whom this knowledge has been told, but Anon is one of them. From him Dennys took the 13 gifts of the angler, though he took them more seriously and called them "The Qualities of an Angler." He gives 12 instead of 13; the odd one, alms, he combines with love.
But the formal aspects of Dennys' work are classical. He appears to be the first in didactic angling writing to owe a debt to the ancient pastoral and piscatory, which he acknowledges by paying farewell respects to Neptune and all his monsters on entering Arcadia and the gentle haunts of perch and trout.
To the second edition of Secrets of Angling, the editor, William Lawson, added this Bernersian gift of the trout to the angler: "The trout," he said, "makes the angler most gentlemanly, and readiest sport of all other fishes."
The year after the poem was first published a notorious literary pirate, Gervase Markham, set it back to prose (with a few additions from Berners' Treatise), in a work entitled The Pleasures of Princes. But he had some new and original ideas on the angler. The 12 "inward qualities of the mind" were not enough, he said. The angler must also be a general scholar, knowing of the liberal sciences, a grammarian, a writer "without affectation or rudeness," of sweet speech, "to persuade, and intice other[s] to delight in an exercise so much laudable"; he must have strong arguments "to defend, and maintain his profession against envy or slander"; he should know the sun, moon and stars, from which to guess the weather; countries, highways and paths to lakes and streams; he should know geometrical angles so as to describe the channels and windings of rivers, and the "art of numbering" so as to be able to take soundings; and music to dispose of melancholy.
Thus the angler emerging from the Elizabethan Age could, so far as inner qualities are concerned, be told from an "ungentleman." It is not far from here to the personification of this image in The Compleat Angler in 1653. Of this work, which is on everyone's shelf, I shall make only a few remarks.
Walton merged the basic structure of Berner's Treatise with the dialogue technique of Anon, and some of the qualities of the pastoral tradition. It was a happy mixture, for with it Walton's personality took over and breathed into the form the true substance of his idyllic mood. He drew upon everything he could find that had gone before in classical, biblical and medieval traditions and brought along his contemporary "band of musicians," that cluster of great poets who were his friends and neighbors, and, in his fifth edition, he got Charles Cotton to make the angler really complete with an immortal treatise on fly-fishing. The effect this greatest and most popular of English idylls had on angling writing was inspiring and, sometimes, disastrous.
Walton himself warned of the limits of making "an angler by a book" alone, but he was not heeded.
It is a perversity of the classical impulse that he, the least imitable of angling writers, should for so long a time have been closely imitated—those who imitated him wrote not idylls on angling but idylls upon an idyll. For 74 years after his fifth edition Walton was in eclipse; then, with the benediction of Sam Johnson, he was revived, and before the 19th century renaissance of angling he was canonized and made the model of the angler. One of the first to signal the danger of this was Sir Walter Scott, who said: "The palm of originality, and of an exquisite simplicity which cannot, perhaps, be imitated with entire success, must remain with our worthy patriarch, Izaak."
The best example I know of the precise difficulty of imitating Walton is Washington Irving's sentimental travesty The Angler, one of the sketches published in 1819. The story he tells is as follows. During one winter, with a group of friends he read Walton and determined to become an angler like him. As soon as the weather was good the group sallied up to the highlands of the Hudson, "as stark mad as was ever Don Quixote from reading books of chivalry." One of the party, fully harnessed for the field with all the angler's equipments, "was as great a matter of stare and wonderment among the country folk, who had never seen a regular angler, as was the steel-clad hero of La Mancha among the goatherds of the Sierra Morena." Irving, who for his part confesses he was always a bungler at sport, hooked himself instead of the fish, tangled his line in the trees, lost his bait, broke his rod and in a short while gave up angling and instead lay down under a tree and spent the day reading Izaak Walton, "satisfied that it was his fascinating vein of honest simplicity and rural feeling that had bewitched me, and not the passion for angling." But, Irving continued, once in real life he had met a true angler.
It happened along the Alun, which flows from the Welsh hills into the Dee, where in a pastoral setting out of Walton, on a day "like that recorded in his work...mild and sunshiny, with now and then a soft-dropping shower, that sowed the whole earth with diamonds," Irving came on an old angler with a wooden leg lecturing two rustic disciples in the art. "His face bore the marks of former storms, but present fair weather; its furrows had been worn into a habitual smile...he had altogether the good-humored air of a constitutional philosopher who was disposed to take the world as it went."
With a bow to Walton for his idyll and another to Berners for her maxims, Irving concluded that angling was suited neither to him nor to America, but only to England where there is "rule and system" and where "every roughness has been softened away from the landscape."
Irving was mistaken about the ability of Walton to inspire a love of angling and about his future in America. A revered scholar of angling, George Washington Bethune, was to introduce Walton into the U.S. with an edition of The Compleat Angler in 1847. It was probably the most influential book in the U.S. in the 19th century. Writers paid tribute to it, including the great Thad. Norris (The American Anglers' Book, 1864), who said, "The true angler is thoroughly imbued with the spirit of gentle old Izaak." To the end of the 19th century the classic of the 17th dominated the mood not only of much of English but of most of American angling writing. But Irving was right in feeling that Walton's influence was more in the idyll than the angling; and he anticipated Walton's decline in the present century.
Although Berners is an obscure figure by comparison with Walton, her influence on angling to this day is stronger than his. I am tempted to discuss her style, the economy and directness of which are more in the temper of our time than is Walton's, but she has not been much read in recent years (or in recent centuries) and her real influence lies in the way she molded the foundations of the literature.
Berners has two roles in angling history. Unlike Walton, she influenced neither its substance nor its moods, properties that belong to the inventions of each new generation. Her influence lay rather in form and theme, areas where "immutability"—defined as a long length of time—is common to literary history. Just as the pastoral and piscatory had their 2,000 years, thanks to Theocritus, so the angling Treatise has had its 500 still flourishing years, thanks to Berners.
The form of the Treatise—praise (appreciation), instruction and identity—remains the basic structure of modern angling writing. One important addition has been made to it, namely, proof by anecdote. That is, the writer tells you the means by which a fish may be caught and then he tells you a story of how in fact he caught a fish by this very means. Berners does not do this. She only generalizes. Anecdotal proof was introduced by Anon in 1577 along with the dialogue. Walton then brought both anecdote and dialogue to perfection. The dialogue form did not survive but the anecdote did. Furthermore, Walton surrounded the anecdote with the idyllic mood, which constitutes his original contribution to the art of angling writing. The idyllic anecdote—a little framed story—survives as the important addition to the Berners structure.
Readers will recognize it in almost every modern angling book and magazine article, whether it is G. E. M. Skues on the nuance of an old feather (followed by a cast and a marvelous rise), Theodore Gordon with his little fish story for almost every one of his innumerable instructions, George La-Branche with his repeated cast to the sacred inch, Edward R. Hewitt's unfailing nymphs, Jack Atherton's trout-enchanting spiders, Joe Brooks with his catches on every newly discovered stream, or Sparse Grey Hackle with his precise instructions on how not to catch a fish (stand in the water where they are). Trullinger, Moore, Hurley, Trueblood, Randolph, Wetzel, Jennings, McClane, Camp, Lewis, Leonard, Schwiebert—whoever your angling writer is, he will be teaching and proving his teaching with the rod; a nice spot to be in, for no one has ever disproved an angler's proof, and that is one reason why there will never be an end to the argument.
Proofs are often idylls. Two anglers following a stream discover a lost lake in a woods at the magic moment of the evening rise. One sits down on a rock to watch the other. A mystique of the ages unites them. What does Piscator say as he lays out a long line into the riffle in the twilight? He gives a little lecture on Pale Evening Duns. Likewise, Ray Bergman (Trout) will tell (if memory serves) a pretty story of how he crept up to the tail of an enchanting pool, laid a slack line across the outrunning water to get a momentary float on the edge of the tail, and lo! in that instant a 14-inch brown seized the fly and was on. This goes to show not that creeping up on pools is a divine pleasure (which it is, of course) but a practical maxim; don't overlook the extreme tails of pools. Some flower-picking critics conclude from this that anglers have no regard for the beauties of nature. Ask an angler and he will tell you that nature's moods escape capture; catch the trout and discuss the discussible. The old form of Berners, amended and refined by Anon and Walton, still serves this purpose.
As for the themes, Berners declares them: a merry spirit, joy without repentance, solace and peace. These have never changed. Implicitly and explicitly they have been recognized by every angler who ever taught his craft in speech or writing.
Walton developed the theme of innocence—his own angling innocence—with such an abounding sincerity as would nowadays be cause for suspicion. Long ago his sincerity was challenged in a discordant incident that distracted anglers from the true meaning of Berners.
This, the great debate on the innocence of the angler, took place between Lord Byron and Sir Walter Scott. Byron opened it with some insulting remarks in his Don Juan in the 1820s:
And angling, too, that solitary vice,
Whatever Izaak Walton sings or says;
The quaint, old, cruel coxcomb, in his gullet
Should have a hook, and a small trout to pull it.
And in his notes to Canto XIII, he declared, "No angler can be a good man."
The defense was first undertaken by the great scientist Sir Humphrey Davy in his Salmonia, the only angling book on the model of Walton's dialogue to come off with reasonable success. One of his characters sides with Byron because of the way Walton strung his live baits. The character who presumably represents Davy won't defend that; he fishes fly. But he exonerates Walton on his general character as a good man.
Then came Sir Walter Scott, who reviewed Davy's book in the Quarterly Review of October 1828 and made it the occasion of a long essay on angling. In it, dead serious, poet combatted poet. Scott:
Of the humanity of the pastime we have but little to say. Our author has entered into its defence against Lord Byron, who called it a 'solitary vice,' and condemned its advocate and apologist, Izaak Walton, as 'a quaint old cruel coxcomb,' who 'in his gullet/Should have a hook, and a small trout to pull it.' We will not inquire whether the noble poet has, in the present case, been one of those, who 'Compound for sins they are inclined to,/By damning those they have no mind to.' And we can easily conceive that scarce anything could "have been less suited to Byron's eager and active temper, and restless and rapid imagination, than a pastime in which proficiency is only to be acquired by long and solitary practice. But in this species of argument, whether used in jest or earnest, there is always something of cant. Man is much like other carnivorous creatures—to catch other animals and to devour them is his natural occupation.
After giving a number of twists to the tail of his opponent on the theme of hypocrisy, Scott concludes:
My lady, therefore, who gives the ma√Ætre d'h√¥tel orders, which render necessary sundry executions in the piggery, poultry-yard, and elsewhere, is an accomplice before the fact, and as guilty of occasioning a certain quantity of pain to certain unoffending animals, as her good lord, who is knocking down pheasants in the preserve, or catching fish in the brook.
Of Davy's exemption of himself from the charge of cruelty because of his use of artificial baits, Scott said dryly: "Under the favour of such high authority, this is a point which none can know but the fish himself."—an observation reminiscent of Red Smith's on the humanity of cock fighting: "It ain't chicken."
Under the favor of such high authority as Byron and Scott, the issue they joined is beside the point. Anglers do not escape repentance for lack of remorse at killing animals. They simply don't identify with fish. The true cause of angling innocence is the absence of maidens (except maidens with rod in hand) in the angling idyll. There are no Scyllas, mermaids, Ondines or nymphs in angling literature. Indeed, in several hundred angling books I have read, I have found no maidens of any kind, real or imaginary; from which I conclude that maids qua maids are excluded by convention.
Exceptions there are of course. There is the milkmaid in The Compleat Angler who sings Marlowe's song, Come live with me and be my love. And there is John Donne's parody of Marlowe's song angled to his love in which he said:
For thee, thou need'st no such deceit,
For thou thyself art thine own bait;
That fish that is not catcht thereby,
Is wiser far, alas, than I.
Also, there is one who is mentioned negatively by William Gill Thompson in a Fisher's Garland, The Tyne Fisher's Farewell, made in 1824:
No more the sweet enamour'd maid
Trips lightly o'er the well-known plain,
To meet, beneath the woodbine's shade,
Upon thy banks, her faithful swain.
Why this striking omission in angling literature? One might say, why should maids be there? Well, they were prevalent in both the sea and the land pastorals. It is a very deep subject of which early angling writers were conscious. There is a clue to the mystery in Charles Cotton's lines to his love in his poem entitled The Retirement.
Oh my beloved nymph! fair Dove;
Princess of rivers, how I love
Upon thy flowery banks to lie;
And view thy silver stream,
When gilded by a summer's beam,
And in it all thy wanton fry,
Playing at liberty,
And with my angle upon them
The all of treachery
I ever learnt, industriously to try.
The subject is at least as discussible as nature's moods, but I'll let it go with Cotton. With Berners the central theme, I believe, is not the whimsy of innocence but the knowledge of meaning of peace. Could it be that she sought in angling the peace of solace? Her manuscript says so. What of her life?
We can learn little about her, as Alfred Duggan pointed out in Part I of this series, except by guesswork. The name Berners itself, which in her time meant "huntsman," or "keeper of the hounds," suggests a pseudonym. But she was someone, and we might as well stay with the nun of the Berners family.
Consider then a speculation on a curious coincidence. How did it happen that the first treatise on fishing in the English language came to be written shortly after the writing of the first treatise on hunting in the English language? And how did it happen that this first fishing treatise was derived from the first treatise on hunting? For it was.
The first known book on hunting in English was Master of Game by Edward, Duke of York, who was Master of Game, as was his father, Edmund of Langley, before him. Like the Treatise this book remains, in its field, a masterpiece unsurpassed. It is a translation, with the addition of five new chapters, of an older French work, the greatest of all hunting books, Gaston de Foix's Livre de Chasse.
Master of Game was written sometime between 1402 and 1413, possibly while Edward was for a time in prison. We know the dates because he became the second Duke of York upon the death of his father in 1402. He became Master of Game to Henry IV in 1406. His book is dedicated to the king's eldest son, Prince Henry, who became Henry V in 1413. It was read only in manuscript until it was printed in 1904 with a remarkable introduction by Theodore Roosevelt. To the author of the original French work, and Edward, its translator, Roosevelt paid this tribute:
Both were mighty men with their hands, terrible in battle, of imposing presence and turbulent spirit. Both were the patrons of art and letters, and both were cultivated in the learning of the day. For each of them the chase stood as a hardy and vigorous pastime of the kind which makes a people great.... Game abounded, and not only the chase but the killing of the quarry was a matter of intense excitement and an exacting test of personal prowess, for the boar, or the bear, or hart at bay was slain at close quarters with a spear or long knife.
Shakespeare has a somewhat different story to tell of the Duke of York in his Richard II, and the records of history, including Edward's confession in his will, tell us he was a great rogue who lived one of the most turbulent lives in English history. There is no space to tell it here. But consider his book as the model of Berners' Treatise.
The structure of Master of Game is: 1) praise of hunting as the "most disportful of all games,"—it is better than hawking; 2) moralizing on the character of the hunter; 3) instruction in the sport, the animals and the technique of the hunter. The language and themes, too, are like those in the Treatise. Idleness is bad; hunters are not idle. Hunters are the most joyous of men. Their sport is good for the health of man and of his soul.
A few passages from the prologue of Master of Game will suggest its style and spirit:
When a man is idle and reckless without work, and be not occupied in doing some thing, he abides in his bed or in his chamber, a thing which draweth men to imaginations of fleshly lust and pleasure....
Now shall I prove how hunters live in this world more joyfully than any other men. For when the hunter riseth in the morning, and he sees a sweet and fair morn and clear weather and bright, and he heareth the song of the small birds, the which sing so sweetly with great melody and full of love, each in his own language in the best wise that he can according that he learneth of his own kind. And when the sun is arisen, he shall see fresh dew upon small twigs and grasses, and the sun by his virtue shall make them shine. And that is great joy and liking to the hunter's heart.
And since hunters eat little and sweat always, they should live long and in health. Men desire in this world to live long in health and in joy, and after death the health of the soul. And hunters have all these things.... For as saith in his book Phoebus the Earl of Foix that noble hunter, he saw never a good man that had not pleasure in some of these things, were he ever so great and rich. For if he had need to go to war he would not know what war is, for he would not be accustomed to travail, and so another man would have to do that which he should.
Now Juliana was at the court of Henry IV at the same time as Edward, in the period when he hunted and wrote this book. She was born, we suppose, in 1385, daughter of Sir James Berners and Anne Berew. Her father was executed in 1388 for conspiracy against Richard II, son of the Black Prince and grandson of Edward III. A few years later her mother married Sir Roger Clarendon, bastard son of the Black Prince and so half brother of the king who executed her father. In 1399, Henry IV deposed his cousin Richard II and seized the throne. Three years later Henry IV executed Juliana's stepfather, Sir Roger, as a possible pretender to the throne. Since her natural father had lost his head for Henry IV and her stepfather's head had been removed by Henry IV, it could be presumed that the headless family was in favor at court. Edward, Duke of York, cousin of Henry IV and an archconspirator against both kings, managed to keep his head and almost wore the crown on it; he had a blood claim to the throne and at one time his cousin Richard II considered abdicating in his favor. As it was, he held some of the highest offices in England. Where did Juliana learn to hunt and fish but from him, the Master of Game? For reasons unknown she did not marry. Was it for lack of a dowry? Or the exigencies of the court? Edward died in battle at Agincourt in the year 1415, at the age of 42, the hero of old England's most glorious victory.
In the same year, Juliana, at the age of 30, entered the convent, ten years late by the conventions of the time. About five years later, she wrote her Treatise on fishing, and in it acknowledged the Duke of York, late Master of Game. She wrote austerely of the solace of fishing.
Well, it's a fishing story. We know as a fact that the Treatise on fishing is a rib taken from the first English treatise on hunting, which its mighty author himself associates with war. We know, too, from Juliana's "lytell plaunflet" that she found peace in the art of angling.
END OF A SEARCH
Theodore Gordon, America's greatest fly-fisherman, died a recluse on May 1, 1915. He lived his last years in lonely grandeur of spirit in a cabin at Bradley on the Neversink. His monument is the American trout fly; the only remaining collection of them, long lost, was rediscovered in 1954 (SI, Oct. 18, 1954). No one knew where he was buried—all such records seemed to have vanished. This year SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S Virginia Kraft took up the search again. In lower Manhattan's almost forgotten New York Marble Cemetery, only a flycast away from the Angler's Club, she at last found the place where Gordon was buried. She is shown above at the site with Sparse Grey Hackle, another of Theodore Gordon's devoted admirers.
In the two years of research that led to this series, many persons gave unstinting aid. The author wishes to thank the Yale University Library, in particular Marjorie Wynne and Nancy Kwok, for making available its great collection of angling books; Jim Deren and Lionel Trilling for comment on a manuscript; John Fleming for the loan of a rare copy of Master of Game; and Virginia Kraft and Mary Jane Hodges of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED for interest and assistance beyond call of duly.