1807 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Chalkhill

William Beloe, in Anecdotes of Literature 1 (1807) 69-74.



This [Thealma and Clearchus] is a book of extreme rarity. It is rendered remarkable by having been published by Izaac Walton, who highly commends the author. Chalkhill is said to have been a friend of Spenser.

Izaac Walton has inserted two Ballads, written by his friend John Chalkhill, in his Complete Angler. One is called Corydon's Song; the subject of it is The Pleasure of the Country, and begins thus: "Oh the sweet contentment the countryman doth find!" See Hawkin's edition, p. 83.

The other Ballad is on the Fisher's Life. See p. 227 of the same edition: it begins, "Oh the gallant Fisher's Life!" Both these have much merit in their way.

In a small History of Winchester, in two volumes 12mo. printed in 1773, and written by Thomas Warton, though published without a name, is the following Epitaph on Chalkhill, by which it appears that he was a Fellow of Winchester College. It is represented to be in the South Cloister, on a black marble, against the wall.

H.S.E.

Joan. Chalkhill, A.M. hujus Collii annos 46. Socius, Vir quod vixit solitudine et silentio, Temperantia et Castitate, Orationibus et Eleemosynis, Contemplatione et sanctimonia ascetis vel primitivis par: qui cum a parvulo in regnum Coelorum viam fecit, Octagenarius tandem rapuit 20 die Maii, 1679.

Tom. I. p. 140.

It is true, however, that Walton, in his preface to Thealma and Clearchus, which I have subjoined, speaks of Chalkhill as then dead. This preface is dated May 7, 1678. But the poem itself was not published till 1683, when Walton himself was ninety years old; it is not improbable, therefore, that there is an error in the date, or else in the copy of epitaph. Either of these things are more probable than that there should be another John Chalkhill just at that period, of a character so much correspondence to the interesting description of Walton.

What Mrs. Cooper, in her Muses Library, says of this poem, is as follows: "He (Chalkhill) died before he could perfect even the fable of his Poem, and by many passages in it, I half believe he had not given the last hand to what he has left behind him. However, to do both him and his editor justice, if my opinion can be of any weight, tis great pity so beautiful a relique should be lost; and the quotations I have extracted from it will sufficiently evidence a fine vein of imagination, a taste, far from indelicate; and both language and numbers uncommonly harmonious and polite." Muses Library, p. 315.

A stanza in the latter of Chalkhill's Songs, introduced by Walton in his Complete Angler, see Hawkins's edition, p. 229, has been elegantly translated into Latin, by Dr. Johnson. I give the two stanzas, that the reader may have the whole before him.

If the sun's excessive heat
Make our bodies swelter,
To an ozier hedge we get
For a friendly shelter;
Where in a dike,
Perch or Pike,
Roach or Dace
We do chase,
Bleak or Gudgeon
Without grudging,
We are still contented.

Or we sometimes pass an hour
Under a green willow
That defends us from a shower,
Making earth our pillow;
Where we may
Think and pray
Before death
Stops our breath;
O the joys
Are but toys,
And to be lamented.

E. Waltoni Piscatore Perfecto Excerptum.
Nunc per gramina fusi
Densa fronde salicti
Dum defenditur imber
Molles ducimus horas
Hic dum debita morti
Paulam via moratur
Nunc rescire priora
Nunc instare futuris
Nunc summi prece sancta
Patris numen adire est
Quicquid quaeritur ultra
Caeco ducit amore
Vel spe ludit inani
Luctus mox periturum.

The following preface to Thealma and Clearchus by Izaac Walton, must necessarily be admired by all lovers of simplicity in writing.

"The reader will find in this book what the title declares, A PASTORAL HISTORY IN SMOOTH AND EASIE VERSE; and will in it find, many hopes and fears finely painted, and feelingly expressed. And he will find the first so often disappointed, when fullest of desire and expectation; and the latter so often, so strongly, and so unexpectedly relieved by an unforeseen Providence, as may beget in him wonder and amazement.

"And the reader will here also meet with passions heightened by easy and fit descriptions of joy and sorrow, and find also such various events of innocent truth, and undissembled honesty as it is like to leave in him (if he be a good-natured reader) more sympathizing and virtuous expressions than ten times so much time spent in impertinent, critical, and needless disputes about religion; and I heartily wish it may do so.

"And I have also this truth to say of the author, that he was, in his time, a man generally known, as well as beloved, for he was humble and obliging in his behaviour, a gentleman, a scholar, very innocent and prudent, and indeed his whole life was useful, quiet, and virtuous. God send the story may meet with and make all readers like him.

May 7, 1678.

I. W."

As Walton was ninety years of age when this book was published, the above preface was not improbably the last thing this excellent man wrote for publication.

There is no copy of this rare book in the British Museum, and I am indebted to a friend for being able to present the reader with the above account.