A Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth an Angle Being a facsimile reproduction of the first book on the subject of fishing printed in England by Wynkyn de Worde at Westminster in 1496
Transcriber's Note is here.
A Treatyse of Fysshynge wythan Angle,
by Dame Juliana Berners
THE BOOK OF SAINT ALBANS,
BYDAME JULIANA BERNERS.
TREATISES ON HAWKING, HUNTING, ANDHERALDRY.
This facsimile is faithfullyreproduced by photography; it is being printed on rough hand-madepaper similar to that of the original, and will be bound in handsomecontemporary binding. The interest and value of this reproductionwill be greatly enhanced by Mr.BLADES’Preface, which treats at length, in separate chapters, of theAUTHORSHIP,TYPOGRAPHY,BIBLIOGRAPHY,SUBJECT-MATTER, andPHILOLOGY of the Work.
AsTHEBOOKOFSAINTALBANS is the Work in whichTHETREATYSEOFFYSSHYNGEWYTH ANANGLE was incorporated on itsfirst publication, its possession by the Subscribers to the latter shouldbe secured, in order to complete the set of “dyuerse bokys concernyngeto gentyll and noble men.”
A full Prospectus concerning the publication of “The Book of SaintAlbans” will be sent on application to
DAME JULIANA BERNERS:
BEING A FACSIMILE REPRODUCTION OF THE FIRST BOOK ON THESUBJECT OF FISHING PRINTED IN ENGLAND BY
WYNKYN DE WORDE
AT WESTMINSTER IN 1496.
PrefacetoDame Juliana Berners’Treatyse on Fysshynge wythan Angle.
HEscholarly angler is here presented with anexact facsimile of the first English treatise onfishing. The book is of extreme interest forseveral reasons, not the least curious beingthat it has served as a literary quarry to somany succeeding writers on fishing, who have not disdainedto adapt the authoress’s sentiments to their own use, andeven to borrow them word for word without acknowledgment.Walton himself was evidently familiar with it, and hasclearly taken his “jury of flies” from its “xij flyes wythwhyche ye shall angle to ye trought & grayllyng;” whileBurton, that universal plunderer, has extracted her eloquenteulogy on the secondary pleasures of angling for incorporationwith the patchwork structure of his “Anatomy ofMelancholy.” Besides giving the earliest account of the artof fishing, the estimate which the authoress forms of themoral value of the craft is not only very high, but has servedto strike the keynote for all subsequent followers of the artboth in their praises and their practice of it.To this littletreatise more than to any other belongs the credit of havingassigned in popular estimation to the angler his meditativeand gentle nature. Many pure and noble intellects havekindled into lasting devotion to angling on reading hereloquent commendation of it. Such men as Donne, Wotton,and Herbert, Paley, Bell, and Davy, together with manyanother excellent and simple disposition, have caught enthusiasmfrom her lofty sentiments, and found that not theirbodily health only, but also their morals, were improved byangling. It became a school of virtues, a quiet pastime inwhich, while looking into their own hearts, they learnt lessonsof the highest wisdom, reverence, resignation, and love—loveof their fellow-men, of the lower creatures, and of theirCreator.
Nothing definite is known of the reputed authoress, DameJuliana Barnes or Berners. She is said to have been adaughter of Sir James Berners of Roding Berners in thecounty of Essex, a favourite of King Richard the Second, whowas beheaded in 1388 as an evil counsellor to the king andan enemy to the public weal. She was celebrated for herextreme beauty and great learning, and is reported to haveheld the office of prioress of the Benedictine Nunnery ofSopwell in Hertfordshire, a cell to the Abbey of St. Alban,but of this no documentary evidence exists. The first editionof her “Book of St. Alban’s,” printed by the schoolmaster-printerof St. Alban’s in 1486, treats of hawking, hunting,and coat-armour. In the next edition, “Enprynted atWestmestre by Wynkyn the Worde the yere of thyncarnacōnof our lorde. M . CCCC . lxxxxvi,”among the other “treatyfesperteynynge to hawkynge & huntynge with other dyuersplaysaunt materes belongynge vnto noblesse,” appeared thepresent treatise on angling. The aristocraticinstincts of theauthoress prompted this mode of publication, as she herselfexplains in the concluding paragraph—“by cause that thispresent treatyse sholde not come to the hondys of eche ydlepersone whyche wolde desire it yf it were enprynted alloneby itself & put in a lytyll plaunflet, therfore I haue compylydit in a greter volume of dyuerse bokys concernyngeto gentyll & noble men to the entent that the forsayd ydlepersones whyche sholde haue but lytyll mesure in the sayddysporte of fysshyng sholde not by this meane vtterly dystroyeit.” The present publication is the “little pamphlet” whichwas enclosed in this “greater volume.” An edition of it asa distinct treatise appears to have been issued by Wynkyn deWorde soon after that of 1496, with the title, “Here begynnytha treatyse of fysshynge wyth an Angle” over thecurious woodcut of the man fishing which is on the first pageof the present facsimile, but only one copy of it is knownto be in existence. At least ten more editions appearedbefore the year 1600. This shows the great popularity ofthe book at the time of its publication, and considering howhuman nature remains the same, and the charms of anglingare equally grateful to every fresh generation of anglers,affords a sufficient reason for the strong antiquarian delightwhich all literary anglers of the present century have feltin the book. It is worth while briefly to trace the bibliographyof angling onwards until the appearance in 1653of Walton’s Compleat Angler, when the reader will be onfamiliar ground. In the interval of more than a hundred andfifty years between these two names of Berners and Walton,so deeply reverenced by every true scholar of the craft,there occur but four books on angling, though each one ofthese possesses a fame peculiar to itself. First came LeonardMascall’s Booke of Fishing with Hooke andLine, published in1590. Taverner’s Certaine Experiments concerning Fishand Fruite followed in 1600. Then came in 1613 the Secretsof Angling of the celebrated angling poet, J. D. [JohnDennys], whose verses have perhaps never yet been surpassed;and finally, in 1651, appeared Barker’s Art of Angling.With this fisherman and “ambassador’s cook,” as he callshimself, Walton must often have conversed.
It is a further testimony to the attractions which anglinghas always possessed for contemplative natures that the artappears here systematised, so to speak, as early as the middleof the fifteenth century in England, where it has been practisedever since with more enthusiasm and skill than in othercountries. There is a sad gap in angling literature from thedays of Ausonius, at the commencement of the fourth century,to those of Dame Juliana Berners. Fly-fishing, indeed, is notnamed between the time of Ælian and that of the Treatyse.It is clearly described by the former writer, who alone amongthe ancients mentions it, but in the present book it is spokenof under the term “angling with a dubbe,” as if it were well-knownand practised. Not only so, but it is clear that thewriter had books of angling lore before her, perhapsmonkish manuscripts, as Hawkins suggests, which would beof inestimable interest could they now be recovered. Thus inspeaking of the carp, the reader will find she writes—“as touchyngehis baytes I haue but lytyll knowlege of it. And mewere loth to wryte more than I knowe & haue prouyd. Butwell I wote that the redde worme & the menow ben goodbaytys for hym at all tymes as I haue herde saye of personescredyble & also founde wryten in bokes of credence.” Nobetter rules can be given for fly-fishing at present than thetwo which she prescribes for angling—“for the fyrste andpryncypall poynt in anglynge : kepe ye euer frothe water frothe sighte of the fysshe,” and “also loke that ye shadow notthe water as moche as ye may.” The “troughte” is to beangled for “wyth a dubbe” [artificial fly] “in lepynge time;”but as for the salmon, “ye may take hym : but it is seldomseen with a dubbe at suche tyme as whan he lepith in lykefourme & manere as ye doo take a troughte or a gryalynge.”With the imperfect tackle and clumsy rod of those days, itis no wonder that the capture of salmon with a fly, which isstill the crowning achievement of the craft, could seldom beeffected.
After the eloquent pleading for angling with which thetreatise opens, the lady at once proceeds to teach the makingof the “harnays” of it. The rod she orders to be constructedsomewhat resembles, save in its larger size, the modernwalking-stick rod. A hazel wand, or failing it, one of willowor mountain ash, is to be procured, as thick as the arm andnine feet in length. This is to form the butt, and is to behollowed out by means of divers red-hot irons into a taperinghole, which is to receive the “croppe,” or top, as we nowcall it, when not in use. This “croppe” is to be made ofa yard of hazel, joined to a length of blackthorn, crab,medlar, or “jenypre.” All these are to be cut betweenMichaelmas and Candlemas, the lady giving very particulardirections as to their drying and the like. When the twoportions of the “crop” are “fretted together,” the wholerod is to be shaved into a shapely taper form; the staffencircled with long hoops of iron or latten at both ends,and finished with a “pyke in the nether ende fastnyd wytha rennynge vyce : to take in & oute youre croppe.” The lineis then to be wound round the crop and tied fast with a bowat the top. The reader will note that there is no mentionof a reel; it was only used, seeminglyuntil the beginningof this century, for large salmon and pike. An angler whohooked a fish when armed with this ponderous rod (which mustfrom its description have been nearly eighteen feet long, aslarge as a modern salmon rod), would act as Izaak Waltonwould have done in the like predicament,—throw the rod in tothe fish and recover it when he could. But the lady is wonderfullypleased with this mighty rod, and thus concludes—“Thusshall ye make you a rodde soo preuy that ye mayewalke therwyth : and there shall noo man wyte where abowteye goo. It woll be lyghte & full nymbyll to fysshe wyth atyour luste. And for the more redynesse loo here a fygure,”and she adds the curious woodcut which the reader may seereproduced at page 5.
Then follow directions how to dye and make lines andhooks. There were evidently no manufacturers of hooksin the fifteenth century: each angler made his own. Thecasting of plummets and forming of floats succeed. Thesix methods of angling and the mode of playing a fishare next treated, and the latter alone shows that DameJuliana must herself have been a proficient in the craft. Noone but a thoroughly good fisher could have summed upthe art of playing a fish in the words—“kepe hym euervnder the rodde, and euermore holde hym streyghte : soothat your lyne may susteyne and beere his lepys and hisplungys wyth the helpe of your croppe & of your honde.”The place, the time of day, and the weather in which to fish,are next particularly described after the exactitude peculiarto fishing manuals of the olden time. These paragraphs arewell worth the consideration of a modern angler, especiallythe charge, “yf the wynde be in the Eest, that is worsteFor comynly neyther wynter nor somer ye fysshe woll notbyte thenne.”
The following part of the treatise, with what baits andhow to angle for each kind of fish, together with a briefdescription of each, certainly furnished Walton with a modelfor some of his chapters.