1823 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Chalkhill

John Mitford?, "John Chalkhill and Isaac Walton" Gentleman's Magazine 93 (December 1823) 493.



Fleet-street, Dec. 2.

Mr. URBAN,

I lose no time in stating my conviction that your Correspondent N. p. 419, has furnished the sine qua non in this question, by producing that notice of Chalkhill, which had escaped the researches of Mr. Singer, and upon a consideration of which, I have little doubt, that gentleman will admit, his original hypothesis must fall to the ground.

Still, however, I must contend that the suggestion was highly creditable both to his taste and feelings; and I cannot think that any apology is due from those who have followed in the same train of thinking.

For my own part, I was particularly cautious not to adopt the supposition, until I had duly weighed the question whether the slightest charge of duplicity must of necessity follow the admission that Isaac Walton was the real author of "Thealma and Clearchus." — The result was, that I thought myself fully prepared to vindicate him most handsomely, in case such a charge should be brought.

Isaac Walton was, doubtless, one of the most honest-hearted creatures that ever drew breath; yet was he the very man of all others to blend the wisdom of the serpent with the harmlessness of the dove; and a very slight knowledge of his writings will serve to convince any person of his habitual wariness, that his avowed love of simplicity should not be abused by an artful and designing world.

Even the very name of Chalkhill has something about it that looks like innocent stratagem; and though I readily admit that the production, for the first time, of an historical personage bearing such name, will probably set the matter at rest, and render further argument needless; yet it must ever be considered as a most singular circumstance, that such personage should have been indebted to Walton alone for his poetical existence; and to casual Antiquarian discussion for a "local habitation" to accompany his "name!"

Still there is one circumstance which must continue to perplex us (unless we infer at once that Chalkhill looked up to Walton as his decided superior, and dared not publish any thing without his revision); for, with respect to one of the songs in the "Angler," signed "Jo. Chalkhill," Walton decidedly lays claim to a "part" of it, in that peculiarly modest and ingenuous way, which might easily lead to the belief that it was entirely of his own composition.

The passage occurs in Chap. 16 of the "Angler,"—

VENATOR.

Gentlemen, my master left me alone for an hour this day, and I verily believe he retired himself from talking with me that he might be so perfect in this song; was it not so, Master?

PISCATOR.

Yes, indeed, for it is many years since I learned it, and having forgotten a part of it, I was forced to patch it up by the help of mine own invention, who am not excellent at poetry, as my part of the song may testify: but of that I will say no more, lest you should think I mean, by discommending it, to beg your commendations of it.

Now, arguing from the strict integrity of Walton, this were indeed taking too much to himself, unless the chief merit of the composition rested with him; and I will merely beg, in conclusion, to submit, whether the like might not have been exactly the case with respect to the larger work of "Thealma and Clearchus?

I. M.