The Secrets of Angling
The Secrets of Angling was a book written by John Dennys. It was the earliest English poetical treatise on fishing, first published in 1613 in London. A didactic pastoral poem in 3 books, in the style of Virgil's Georgics. It was published in 4 editions until 1652, examples of which are amongst the rarest books in existence.
Dennys's poem was published anonymously, 4 years posthumously, and for 198 years the poem was misattributed, its authorship remaining a mystery until 1811.
First published in 1613, Dennys's book was published after his death.[nb 1] The author was identified by the initials J.D., and had been attributed to up to 6 poets. In 1811 the authorship was determined from a "23mo Martii, 1612" (i.e., 1613) entry in the Stationers' Registers, which showed that Dennys authored the book. The Secrets of Angling was published in 4 editions, the last in 1652, and copies are amongst the rarest books in existence.[nb 2]
The Secrets of Angling was the earliest English poetical treatise on fishing.[nb 3] Morgan George Watkins stated that the "tone of the poem is religious. It is full of lofty sentiments and natural descriptions, a poetical atmosphere surrounding even the commonest tools of the angler's craft."
Structure of the Work
- The antiquity of Angling, with the art of Fishing and Fishing in general.
- The lawfulness, pleasure and profit thereof & with all objections answered against it.
- To know the season & times to provide the tools & how to chuse the best & the maner how to make them fit to take each severall fish.
- The Angler's experience, how to use his tools & his baits to make profit by his game.
- What fish is not taken with the Angle & what is & what is best for health.
- In what waters & rivers to find each fish.
- The 12 virtues & qualities which ought to be in every angler.
- What weather, seasons & time of the yeare is best & worst & what houres of the day is best for sport.
- To know each fishe's haunt and the times to take them. Also an obscure secret of an approved bait tending thereunto.
The following is the first verse of Book 1:
- Of angling and the art thereof I sing
- What kind of tools it doth behove to have
- And with what pleasing bayt a man may bring
- The fish to bite within the watry wave.
- A work of thanks to such as in a thing
- Of harmless pleasure have regard to save
- Their dearest soules from sinne and may intend
- Of pretious time some part thereon to spend.
Earliest reel described
The work contains what is thought to be the first printed description of a reel:
- Yet there remains of Fishing tooles to tell
- Some other sorts that you must have as well
- A little board the lightest you can find
- but not so thin that it will breake or bend
- Made smooth & plaine your lines thereon to winde
- With battlements at every other end
- Like to the bulwarke of some ancient towne
- As well-walled Sylchester now raz-ed down.
The woodcut in the 1613 edition title represents an angler with a fish on his hook, and the motto, "Well fayre the pleasure that brings such treasure," and a man treading on a serpent with a sphere at the end of his rod and line labelled, "Hold hooke and line, then all is mine." The second edition, conjectured to be about 1620, is "augmented with approved experiments" by Lauson, and has the same woodcut on the title. The third edition, which may be 1630, was "printed at London for John" [Jackson], has a slightly different woodcut, with a varied motto, "Well feare the Pleasure, That yeelds such Treasure." The woodcut in the 4th edition title of the other editions here figures as frontispiece, the angler being dressed in the costume of a later period, and the flowers, foliage, etc., a little modified.
Bibliotheca Piscatoria recorded Thomas Westwood's description of Dennys, whom he found to be among the foremost writers and poets about angling. Similarly, Osmuch Lambert offers praise: "Dennys was both poet and angler born; his verses are admired and bespeak a natural love of the art whose praises he so quaintly sings." James Wilson said that his work "is remarkable for its beauty," part of which has been quoted by Walton.
Biographer Morgan George Watkins wrote that: "The author has chosen a measure at once sweet and full of power, and its interlinked melodies lure the reader onwards with much the same kind of pleasure as the angler experiences, who follows the murmuring of a favourite trout stream."
Marie Loretto Lilly stated in her book The Georgic that The Secrets of Angling "is not a great poem, but it should hold an honoured place for sweetness of verse, for its beauty of description and for the lessons that the poet so gently and happily teaches."
Source of inspiration
Verses from the book have been quoted in other works, such as Izaak Walton in the first part of the first chapter of his 1653 edition of The Compleat Angler.[nb 5] Gervase Markham also produced a prose version of The Secrets of Angling in 1614 in "The English Husbandman".
- First edition: I.D. Esquire. (1613). The Secrets of Angling. London: Roger Jackson. 30 leaves.[nb 6]
- Second edition: I.D. Esquire. (ca. 1620) The Secrets of Angling. London: Roger Jackson. 35 leaves.[nb 7]
- Third edition: I.D. Esquire. (1630-1635) The Secrets of Angling. London: John Jackson.[nb 8]
- Fourth edition: J.D. Esquire. (1652) The Secrets of Angling. London: T.H. for John Har(ison). 36 leaves.[nb 9]
Reprints were made in 1809, 1811-1813, 1877, 1883, 1885.
- In the dedication, Roger Jackson mentioned that the book was published after the author's death.
- "Perhaps there does not exist in the circle of English Literature a rarer book than this".
- Dame Julia Berners had written a brief prose treaty in the 2nd edition of the Book of St. Albans, 1496, "Treatyse on Fysshynge with an Angle". Reportedly one copy of a book exists that was published in London in 1577 by William Samuel, "The Arte of Angling" that was a work in prose. It lists 13 Virtues almost identical to Dennys's and consists of a dialogue between Viator and Piscator, the characters in Walton's The Complete Angler. It is not clear if it is a forgery. 3 or 4 other prose treatises appeared before 1613.
- John Harborne (1582–1651) was a wealthy merchant from the Middle Temple who had just purchased the manor of Tackley the year before publication, in 1612. He is believed to have built elaborate geometric fish ponds, the remains of which were visible in 1983.
- Piscator to Venator: "Will you hear the wish of another angler, and the commendation of his happy life, which he also sings in verse; namely, Jo. Davors, Esq." (verses) "Sir, I am glad my memory has not lost these verses, because they are somewhat more pleasant and more suitable to May-day than my harsh discourse".
- English Short Title Catalogue lists 4 copies: British Library, Bodleian Library, Yale University Sterling Memorial (Beinecke) Library, and Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC.
- Westwood conjectured that the second edition was printed about 1620.English Short Title Catalogue lists 2 copies: British Library, Corpus Christi College Library, Oxford.
- English Short Title Catalogue lists 2 copies: British Library, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC.
- English Short Title Catalogue lists copies: British Library, Bodleian Library, Yale University (Beinecke) Library, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston.
- Charles Heath (1806). Monmouthshire. Historical and Descriptive Accounts of the Ancient and Present State of Tintern Abbey,: Including a Variety of Other Particulars, Deserving the Stranger's Notice, Relating to that Much-admired Ruin, and Its Neighborhood. : The Whole Never Before Published. : Collected from Original Papers and Unquestionable Authorities. Monmouth: Charles Heath (self-published). p. 17. Retrieved 10 July 2013.
- Rev. W. Beloe (1807). Anecdotes of Literature and Scarce Books 2. London. pp. 64–67.
- Morgan George Watkins (2013) . "John Dennys (DNB00)". Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 14 (online version at wikisource). Retrieved 10 July 2013.
- David Lambert (1881). Angling Literature in England. London: S. Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington. p. 43.
- Morgan George Watkins (2012) . "Juliana Berners (DNB00)". Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 04 (online version at wikisource).
- John McDonald (1963), The Origins of Angling, Garden City, NY
- James Wilson (1844). The Rod and the Gun. Edinburgh. p. 279.
- John Dennys (1883). The Secrets of Angling. W. Satchell & Company. p. 19. Retrieved 11 July 2013.
- Alan Crossley (editor), A P Baggs, Christina Colvin, H M Colvin, Janet Cooper, C J Day, Nesta Selwyn, A Tomkinson (1983). "A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 11: Wootton Hundred (northern part)". Victoria County History. pp. 194–208.
- Marie Loretto Lilly (1919). The georgic: a contribution to the study of the Vergilian type of didactic poetry. The Johns Hopkins Press. p. 144. Retrieved 11 July 2013.
- Raymond Stere (10 February 1986). "A Fly Fisherman is dazzled by the variety of today's reels". Sports Illustrated Magazine.
- Thomas Westwood, Thomas Satchell, Robert Bright Marston. Bibliotheca Piscatoria. London: W. Satchell. pp. 72–75.
- David Lambert (1881). Angling Literature in England. London: S. Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington. p. 46.
- James Wilson (1844). The Rod and the Gun. Edinburgh. p. 280.
- Marie Loretto Lilly (1919). The georgic: a contribution to the study of the Vergilian type of didactic poetry. The Johns Hopkins Press. p. 151. Retrieved 11 July 2013.
- Thomas Westwood, John Dennys (1883). "Introduction". The Secrets of Angling. London. p. 8.
- Izakk Walton (1676) . Complete Angler (5 ed.).
- Thomas Westwood, Thomas Satchell, Robert Bright Marston. Bibliotheca Piscatoria. London: W. Satchell. p. 146.
- "The Secrets of Angling (1613)". English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC). Retrieved 11 July 2013.
- "The Secrets of Angling (1620)". English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC). Retrieved 11 July 2013.
- "The Secrets of Angling (1635?)". English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC). Retrieved 11 July 2013.
- "The Secrets of Angling (1652)". English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC). Retrieved 11 July 2013.