She spoke of the duty of being ready to
welcome happiness as well as tender pain, and of the strength and endurance
wins by being grateful for small daily choice, like the evening light, and
the smell of roses, and the singing of birds. She spoke of the faith that
rests on the Unseen Wisdom and Love like a child on its mother’s breast, and
of the melting away of doubts and the warmth of an effort to do some good in
the world. And if that effort has conflict, an adventure, and confused
noise, and mistakes, and an even defeats mingled with it, in the stormy
years of youth, is not that to be expected? The burn roars and leaps in the
den; the stream chase and frets through the rapids of the glen; the river
does not grow calm and smooth until it nears the sea. Courage is a virtue
that the young cannot spare; to lose it is to grow old before the time; it
is better to make a thousand mistakes and suffer a thousand reverses them to
refuse the battle. Resignation is the final courage of old age; and it
arrives in its own season; and is a good day when it comes to us. Then there
are no more disappointments; for we have learned that it is even better to
desire the things that we have than to have the things that we desire. And
is not the best of all our hopes - the hope of immortality- always before
us? How can we be dull or heavy while we have a new experience to look
forward to? It will be the most joyful of all our travels and adventures.
It will bring us our best acquaintances and friendships. But there’s only
one way to get ready for mortality, and that is to love this life, and live
it as bravely and cheerfully and faithfully as we can.
And you will remember that love is not
getting, but giving; not a wild dream of pleasure, and a man is so desire-oh
no, but is not that-it is goodness, and honor, and peace, and pure
living-yes, love is that; and it is the best thing in the world, and the
thing that lives longest.
It is a noble stream, stately and swift and
strong. It rises among the dense forests in the northern part of New
Brunswick—and moist upland region, of never-filling springs and innumerous
lakes—and pours a flood of clear, cold water one hundred and fifth miles
northward and eastward through the hills into the head of the bay of
Chaleurs. There are no falls in its course, but rapids everywhere. It is
steadfast but not impetuous, quick but not turbulent, resolute and eager in
it’s desire to get to the sea, like the life of a man who has a purpose.
An angler, like an Arab, regards hospitality
as a religious duty. There seems to be something in the craft which
inclines the heart to kindness and good-fellowship. Few anglers have I seen
who were not pleasant to meet, and ready to do a good turn to a
fellow-fisherman with a gift of a killing fly or the loan of rod. Not their
own particular and well-proofed favorite, of course, for that is a treasure
which no decent man would borrow; but with that exception the best in their
store is at the service of a brother.
The wild desire to be forever racing against
old Father Time is one of the kill-joys of modern life. That ancient
traveler is sure to beat you in the long run, and as long as you are trying
to rival him, he will make your life of burden. But if you will only
acknowledge his superiority and profess that you do not approve of racing
after all, he will settle down quietly beside you and jog long like the most
companionable of creatures. That is a pleasant pilgrimage in which the
journey itself is part of the destination.
What a charm there is in watching a swift
stream! The eye never wearies of following its curls and eddies, the shadow
of the waves dancing over the stones, the strange, crinkly lines of sunlight
in the shallows. There is a sort of fascination in it, lulling and soothing
the mind into a quietude which is even pleasanter than sleep, and making it
almost impossible to do that of which we so often speak, but which we never
quite accomplish –“think about nothing.”
Indeed, it is not from the highest peaks,
according to my experience, that one gets the grandest prospects, but rather
from those of middle height, which are so isolated as to give a wide circle
of vision, and from which one can see both the valleys and summits. It is
possible, in this world, to climb too high for pleasure.
How pleasant it his to fish in such a place
and at such an hour! And the novelty of the scene, the grandeur of the
landscape, lend a strange charm to the sport. But the sport itself it is so
familiar that one feels at home—the motion of the rod, the feathery swish of
the line, the site of the rising fish—it all brings back one hundred
woodland memories, and thoughts of good fishing comrades, some far away
across the sea, and, perhaps, even now sitting around the forest camp-fire
in Maine or Canada, and some with whom we shall keep company no more until
we cross the greater If into the happy country whither they have preceded
“Nay, let me tell you, there be many that
have 40 times our estates, that would give the greatest part of it to be
healthful and cheerful like us; who, with the expense of a little money, had
ate, and drank, and laughed, and angled, and sung, and slept securely; and
rose next day, and cast away care, and sung, laughed, and angled again;
which are blessings rich men cannot purchase with all their money.” Izaak
Walton; The Complete Angler.
It is one of the charms of life in the woods
that it brings back the high spirits of boyhood and renews the youth of the
world. Plain fun, like plain food, taste good out-of-doors. Nectar is the
sweet of a maple-tree. Ambrosia is only another name for well-turned
flap-jacks. And all the immortals, sitting around the table of golden
cedar-slabs, make merry when the clumsy Hephaistos, playing the part of Hebe,
stumbles over a root and upsets the plate of cakes into the fire.
The ideals, the attachments—yes, even the
dreams of youth are worth saving. For the artificial tastes with which age
tries to make good their loss grow very slowly and cast but a slender shade.
[ With respect to the fish that got away] The
spectacles of regret always magnify.
Who can explain the secret pathos of
Nature’s loveliness? It a touch of melancholy inherited from our mother Eve.
It is the unconscious memory of the lost paradise. It is the sense that
even if we should find another Eden, would not be fit to enjoy it perfectly,
nor stay in it forever.
The honest fisherman reflects that this world
is only a place of pilgrimage, but after all there is a good deal of cheer
on the journey, if it is made with a contented heart. He wonders who the
dwellers in the scattered houses may be, and weaves romances other shadows
on the curtain windows. The lamps burning in the wayside shrines tell him
stories of human love and patience and hope, and of divine forgiveness.
Dream-pictures of life float before him, tender and luminous, filled with
the vague, soft atmosphere in which the simplest outlines gain a strange
Men may say what they will in praise of their
houses, and grow eloquent upon the merits of various styles of architecture,
but, for our part, we are agreed that there is nothing to be compared with a
tent. Is the most venerable and aristocratic form of human habitation.
Abraham and Sarah lived in it, and shared its hospitality with the angels.
It is exempt from the base tyranny of the plumber, the paper-hanger, and the
gas-man. It is not immovably bound to one spot of earth by the chain’s of
the celler and a system of water-pipes. It has a noble freedom of
locomotion. It follows the wishes of its inhabitants, and goes with them,
the traveling home, as a spirit moves them to explore the wilderness. At
their pleasure, new beds of wildflowers surround it, new plantations of
trees overshadow it, and new avenues of shining water lead to its ever-
door. What the tent lacks in luxury it makes up in liberty: or rather let
us say that liberty itself is the greatest luxury. Another thing is worth
remembering—a family which lives in a tent never can have a skeleton in the
Sometimes we caught plenty and sometimes few,
but we never came back without a good catch of happiness.
After all, the glow of life comes from
friction with its difficulties. If we cannot find them at home, we sally
abroad and create them, just to warm up our mettle.
When tulips bloom in Union Square,
And timid breaths of vernal air
Are wandering down the dusty town,
Like children lost in Vanity Fair;
When every long, unlovely row
Of westward houses stands aglow
And leads the eyes toward sunset skies,
Beyond the hills where green trees grow;
Then weary is the street
And weary books, and weary trade:
I'm only wishing to go a-fishing;
For this the month of May was made.
I guess the pussy-willows now
Are creeping out on every bough
Along the brook; and robins look
For early worms behind the plough.
The thistle-birds have
changed their dun
For yellow coats to match the sun;
And in the same array of flame
The Dandelion Show's begun.
The flocks of young anemones
Are dancing round the budding trees:
Who can help wishing to go a-fishing
In days as full of joy as these?
I think the meadow-lark's
Leaks upward slowly from the ground,
While on the wing the bluebirds ring
Their wedding-bells to woods around:
The flirting chewink calls
Behind the bush; and very near,
Where water flows, where green grass grows,
Song-sparrows gently sing, "Good cheer:"
And, best of all, through
The hermit-thrush repeats his psalm:
How much I'm wishing to go a-fishing
In days so sweet with music's balm!
'Tis not a proud desire of
I ask for nothing superfine;
No heavy weight, no salmon great,
To break the record, or my line:
Only an idle little stream,
Whose amber waters softly gleam,
Where I may wade, through woodland shade,
And cast the fly, and loaf, and dream:
Only a trout or two, to dart
From foaming pools, and try my art:
No more I'm wishing--old-fashioned fishing,
And just a day on Nature's heart.
A river is the most human and
companionable of all inanimate things. It has a life, a character, a voice
of its own, and is as full of good fellowship as a sugar-maple is of sap. It
can talk in various tones, loud or low, and of many subjects, grave and gay.
Under favourable circumstances it will even make a shift to sing, not in a
fashion that can be reduced to notes and set down in black and white on a
sheet of paper, but in a vague, refreshing manner, and to a wandering air
"Over the hills and far
For real company and
friendship, there is nothing outside of the animal kingdom that is
comparable to a river.
[When I invite my friend] to
share my orisons, or wander alone to indulge the luxury of grateful,
unlaborious thought, my feet … turn to the bank ofa river, for there the
musings of solitude find a friendly accompaniment, and human intercourse is
purified and sweetened by the flowing, murmuring water. It is by a river
that I would choose to make love, and to revive old friendships, and to play
with the children, and to confess my faults, and to escape from vain,
selfish desires, and to cleanse my mind from all the false and foolish
things that mar the joy and peace of living. Like David's hart, I pant for
the water-brooks. There is wisdom in the advice of Seneca, who says, "Where
a spring rises, or a river flows, there should we build altars and offer
[See] the song-sparrow,
perched on his favourite limb of a young maple, dose beside the water, and
singing happily, through sunshine and through rain. This is the true bird of
the brook, after all: the winged spirit of cheerfulness and contentment, the
patron saint of little rivers, the fisherman's friend. He seems to enter
into your sport with his good wishes, and for an hour at a time, while you
are trying every fly in your book, from a black gnat to a white miller, to
entice the crafty old trout at the foot of the meadow-pool, the
song-sparrow, close above you, will be chanting patience and encouragement.
And when at last success crowns your endeavour, and the parti-coloured prize
is glittering in your net, the bird on the bough breaks out in an ecstasy of
congratulation: "catch 'im, catch 'im, catch 'im; oh, what a pretty fellow!
In Professor John Wilson's
Essays Critical and Imaginative, there is a brilliant description of a
bishop fishing, which I am sure is drawn from the life: "Thus a bishop, sans
wig and petticoat, in a hairy cap, black jacket, corduroy breeches and
leathern leggins, creel on back and rod in hand, sallying from his palace,
impatient to reach a famous salmon-cast ere the sun leave his cloud, . . .
appears not only a pillar of his church, but of his kind, and in such a
costume is manifestly on the high road to Canterbury and the Kingdom-Come."
I have had the good luck to see quite a number of bishops, parochial and
diocesan, in that style, and the vision has always dissolved my doubts in
regard to the validity of their claim to the true apostolic succession.
There is such a thing as
taking ourselves and the world too seriously, or at any rate too anxiously.
Half of the secular unrest and dismal, profane sadness of modern society
comes from the vain idea that every man is bound to be a critic of life, and
to let no day pass without finding some fault with the general order of
things, or projecting some plan for its improvement. And the other half
comes from the greedy notion that a man's life does consist, after all, in
the abundance of the things that he possesses, and that it is somehow or
other more respectable and pious to be always at work making a larger
living, than it is to lie on your back in the green pastures and beside the
still waters, and thank God that you are alive.
The rod was a reward, yet not
exactly of merit. It was an instrument of education in the hand of a father
less indiscriminate than Solomon, who chose to interpret the text in a new
way, and preferred to educate his child by encouraging him in pursuits which
were harmless and wholesome, rather than by chastising him for practices
which would likely enough never have been thought of, if they had not been
forbidden. The boy enjoyed this kind of father at the time, and later he
came to understand, with a grateful heart, that there is no richer
inheritance in all the treasury of unearned blessings. For, after all, the
love, the patience, the kindly wisdom of a grown man who can enter into the
perplexities and turbulent impulses of a boy's heart, and give him cheerful
companionship, and lead him on by free and joyful ways to know and choose
the things that are pure and lovely and of good report, make as fair an
image as we can find of that loving, patient Wisdom which must be above us
all if any good is to come out of our childish race.
But when vacation came, with
its annual exodus from the city, there was only one sign in the zodiac, and
that was Pisces.
No country seemed to him
tolerable without trout, and no landscape beautiful unless enlivened by a
scenes as these the boy pursued his education, learning many things that are
not taught in colleges; learning to take the weather as it comes, wet or
dry, and fortune as it falls, good or bad; learning that a meal which is
scanty fare for one becomes a banquet for two--provided the other is the
right person; learning that there is some skill in everything, even in
digging bait, and that what is called luck consists chiefly in having your
tackle in good order; learning that a man can be just as happy in a log
shanty as in a brownstone mansion, and that the very best pleasures are
those that do not leave a bad taste in the mouth.
be more delightful than to spend an hour or two, in the early morning or
evening of a hot day, in wading this rushing stream, and casting the fly on
its clear waters? The wind blows softly down the narrow valley, and the
trees nod from the rocks above you. The noise of the falls makes constant
music in your ears. The river hurries past you, and yet it is never gone.
word, master," says the appreciative Venator, in Walton's Angler, "this is a
gallant trout; what shall we do with him?" And honest Piscator, replies:
"Marry! e'en eat him to supper; we'll go to my hostess from whence we came;
she told me, as I was going out of door, that my brother Peter, [and who is
this but Romeyn of Keeseville?] a good angler and a cheerful companion, had
sent word he would lodge there tonight, and bring a friend with him. My
hostess has two beds, and I know you and I have the best; we'll rejoice with
my brother Peter and his friend, tell tales, or sing ballads, or make a
catch, or find some harmless sport to content us, and pass away a little
time without offence to God or man."