A compleat load of politics

Fishing Lines

The veneration paid to Izaak Walton's The Compleat Angler has always puzzled me. As far as I'm concerned, about the only thing you can say for the work is that it has been published a lot (more editions than any book except the Bible and the works of Shakespeare), though goodness knows why.

I've tried to plough through it in three editions, but it never gets any better. The dreary ramblings of Venator, Piscator, Coridon and all those other unlikely characters are about as interesting as collecting grey socks. The book's only other virtue is that it's a surefire cure for insomnia. Ten pages and your eyes are blinking. I still haven't managed 20 pages at one go.

Yet to hear some people talk, you would think Walton's work was the definitive tome on angling (though why anyone should write a book on fishing just because an apple fell on his head is beyond me). The Golden Scale Club, a collection of fruitcakes if there ever was one, carry their crackpot reverence to extremes by visiting his tomb. What makes this doubly daft is that the club's members include the admirable Chris Yates, whose writing makes Walton's drivel look like your first school essay on How I Spent My Holidays.

Recently I discovered that I was not alone in being a Waltonphobe. The American writer Ed Zern claimed he suffered habitual feelings of spiritual inferiority whenever his friends boasted how many times they had read the book, or when they quoted chunks at him.

Zern, though, did something about it. In A Fine Kettle of Fish Stories, he reveals the result of his research. Walton lovers, beware. You won't like what you're about to read one bit. Walton was, in fact, a monarchist whose real name was Matthew Hornaday, and he never fished a day in his life, Zern says. "He was in fact scornful of all outdoor sports and games, though records indicate that he occasionally bowled at St James Green in London until caught cheating in a minor tournament."

Hornaday, Zern says, was an admirer of Richard Hooker, whose biography he wrote. Hooker's equally dull Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity dealt exhaustively with the role of the established church and its relation to royalty and the civil government. Hornaday chose the angling allegory, Zern says, "as an obfuscatory reference to the theologian because a fisherman is, of course, a hooker of fishes".

The book has nothing to do with angling, Zern reveals. "It is, in every detail, a tedious political allegory, intended not for the amusement or instruction of anglers, but simply for the advancement of the Caroline cause and the confusion of the forces of Cromwell. The gist of his thesis is the fundamental illegality of the Cromwellian regime, in the furtherance of which viewpoint he assumed the pseudonym Walton, which is "not law" spelt backwards."

When you look at it in this light, it is apparent that the book abounds in veiled references to ecclesiastical and political figures of 17th-century Britain. Walton's famous reference to frogs as bait ("and use him as though you loved him") is in fact a clumsily obscured incitement to anti-Cromwellian insurrection, Zern says. There is more in the same mould, but you get the idea. Looking at Walton in this light, you can now admit that it's a boring load of tosh and you can't see how anybody except an English graduate could possibly read it on its superficial level as an angling book.

Then again, Zern, a superb raconteur whose writings were once described by Playboy as "wise and witty insights", could have been making it all up.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £32,000+

£18000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Front End Web Developer - Magento

£28000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Front End Web Developer is re...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Greater London - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Ric...

SThree: IT Recruitment Consultant

£22500 - £30000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Sthree are looking for experie...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat