returns to print the classic 1962 display of angling's, er, essay, "The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle." Pre-dating Izaak Walton's The Compleat Angler
by a couple of centuries, "Treatise" is a remarkable work on several levels, not the least of which is that its author was a woman, Dame Juliana Berners. Reportedly a nun of noble birth, she was the first to raise the leisurely pursuit of fishing to what was then the far more venerable rank of hunting. Fishing with a rod and a line, she suggested, brings to the angler good spirits and enhances life. Even if the intrepid angler catches nothing, Berners allows that "at the very least, he will have his wholesome and merry walk at his own ease, and also many a sweet breath of plants and flowers that will make him right hungry and put his body in good condition. He will hear the melodies of the harmonies of the birds...." To a large degree, this conceit--that angling is much more than catching fish--has been the bedrock of our best fishing literature ever since. Berners joyfully goes on with these pleasures, but she also dispenses plenty of theory and practice--indeed, her "Treatise" is the first codification of fishing as sport--from how to make a rod and tie a fly to what makes a good fishing hole. Remarkably, much of her thinking still holds.
The real fun of Origins is its presentation. McDonald, the author of several angling books, pens provocative essays on Berners's legend, her text's place at the tippet of fishing literature, and its contribution--with color illustrations--to the art of fly tying. Still, the centerpiece is the "Treatise" itself, which McDonald showcases in a trio of formats: an easily readable modernization, plus facsimiles of Dame Julia's original 1450 manuscript and its 1496 printing, complete with woodcuts. For booklovers with an angle, this is the biblio-equivalent of trophy trout. --Jeff Silverman
The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle
was written around 1420, according to tradition by a nun and noblewoman whose name, spelled with medieval insouciance in her own time, is here given as Juliana Berners. Mr. McDonald and his assistants (Sherman Kuhn, Dwight Webster, and the editors of Sports Illustrated
) have been unable to document the existence of Dame Juliana, but why should anyone doubt it? Who in the sixteenth century would have invented a sporting nun? And why? This handsome book contains a modern English translation of the treatise, a facsimile of the surviving manuscript with a printed version on the opposing pages, and illustrations of the flies mentioned in the treatise. There is also bibliographic and antiquarian detail for the pleasure of specialists. Modern anglers will find that despite unfamiliar terms and the English setting, Dame Juliana was sound on the essential requirements for success on pond and stream: good gear, proper weather, and water with fish in it. -- The Atlantic Monthly, Phoebe-Lou Adams