“Stratford Mill” John Constable (1819-1820)

From the website of the National Gallery, London:

“Stratford Mill was the second of the six monumental paintings of the Stour landscape Constable (1776 – 1837) exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1819 and 1825, a group that includes The Hay Wain (National Gallery, London).

Stratford Mill was a water-powered paper mill (now demolished) on the River Stour near East Bergholt, Suffolk. Constable shows the mill in shadow, while shafts of sunlight play between the trees beside the meandering river. A dying willow leans over the glassy water and we glimpse a distant sunlit farmhouse. A girl watches a boy cast his fishing line into the water, and it looks as though the angler to their left has just got a bite.

After Constable’s death, the painting became known as ‘The Young Waltonians’, a reference to Izaak Walton’s book on fishing, The Compleat Angler, published in 1653.”

Verlyn Klinkenborg, Lecturer in English, Lecturer in Forestry and Environmental Studies (Yale University) wrote in The New York Times of May 24, 2003:

“Only a handful of the books first published in London in the sober year of 1653 are still read today, even by scholars. And only one of that year’s first editions has gone on, over the next three and a half centuries, to be reprinted again and again and to find new readers every year.

That book is Izaak Walton’s ”The Compleat Angler, or, The Contemplative Man’s Recreation: Being a Discourse of Fish and Fishing, Not Unworthy the Perusal of Most Anglers.”

There is hardly any assessing how different our world is from Walton’s. From 2003, 1653 looks like a vastly simpler time, if only because ”there were fewer lawyers,” as Walton puts it. But simplicity is always deceiving. ”The Compleat Angler” was published just five years after England had hung (sic) its king and brought civil war to an end under the Puritan rule of Oliver Cromwell.

Yet what Walton asks is simply this: ”Is it not an art to deceive a Trout with an artificial Fly?” He asks it not as a scholar of angling, sitting in a musty room filled with old books and tackle, but in the persona of Piscator, the fisherman, who teaches Venator, the hunter, how to fish during a beautiful outing in May. And what makes Walton interesting even now is that the art of being an angler was far more complex in his day than it is in ours.

Walton’s kind of fisherman had to be able to discourse on Pliny and to quote St. Augustine and to consider the analogies between his art and that of the fishers of men who were called Apostles.

His angler needed to be able to sing as well as bait a hook or tie a fly. He should revel in the pleasures of the countryside and the companionship of other anglers. Venator soon qualifies as a fisherman not just because he catches fish but also because he has a genuine delicacy of soul.

”Let’s go to that house,” Venator says at the end of the day, ”for the linen looks white, and smells of lavender, and I long to lie in a pair of sheets that smell so.” If, to us, Piscator sounds didactic and a little long-winded — praising water, for instance, because it allows the English to travel easily to Rome — Venator’s patience is only magnified as a result.

It is indeed an art to deceive a trout with an artificial fly, now as well as then. But by ”art” Walton means something much more inclusive than technique. As the two men walk along in the shade of a honeysuckle hedge, Piscator turns from the technical matter of painting a fly-rod to a question of much greater importance: thankfulness. Fishing may be a contemplative person’s recreation, but it’s even more fitting for a person who has also taught himself to be thankful. Piscator’s by-word, in a world full of suffering, is simply this: ”Every misery that I miss is a new mercy.”

To tie your own flies, gather your own bait, make your own tackle, to sing well, to quote learnedly, to know the seasons of the trout and which winds are preferable for fishing, to love the scent of lavender in an ale-house window, to fish thankfully –these are just the beginnings of the angler’s duties, in Walton’s eyes. He lived in a time when a fisherman might hate otters, still common then, for destroying trout. But even Walton knew that the love of his sport meant, first of all, a care for nature, which we believe too often, at our peril, can take care of itself. ”I remember,” he wrote, ”that a wise friend of mine did usually say, ‘That which is everybody’s business is nobody’s business.’ ” Our business, after all this time has passed, is still to learn from Walton.”

From Wikipedia:

“…Oliver Cromwell ruled over the Protectorate as Lord Protector (effectively a military dictator) until his death in 1658.

On Oliver Cromwell’s death, his son Richard became Lord Protector, but the Army had little confidence in him. After seven months the Army removed Richard, and in May 1659 it re-installed the Rump. However, military force shortly afterward dissolved this as well. After the second dissolution of the Rump, in October 1659, the prospect of a total descent into anarchy loomed as the Army’s pretense of unity finally dissolved into factions. Into this atmosphere General George Monck, Governor of Scotland under the Cromwells, marched south with his army from Scotland. On 4 April 1660, in the Declaration of Breda, Charles II made known the conditions of his acceptance of the Crown of England. Monck organised the Convention Parliament, which met for the first time on 25 April 1660. On 8 May 1660, it declared that Charles II had reigned as the lawful monarch since the execution of Charles I in January 1649. Charles returned from exile on 23 May 1660. On 29 May 1660, the populace in London acclaimed him as king. His coronation took place at Westminster Abbey on 23 April 1661. These events became known as the Restoration. (Oliver Cromwell was posthumously convicted of treason, and his body was disinterred from its tomb in Westminster Abbey and hanged from the gallows at Tyburn.)

Although the monarchy was restored, it was still only with the consent of Parliament. So the civil wars effectively set England and Scotland on course towards a parliamentary monarchy form of government.The outcome of this system was that the future Kingdom of Great Britain, formed in 1707 under the Acts of Union, managed to forestall the kind of revolution typical of European republican movements which generally resulted in total abolition of monarchy. Thus the United Kingdom was spared the wave of revolutions that occurred in Europe in the 1840s. Specifically, future monarchs became wary of pushing Parliament too hard, and Parliament effectively chose the line of royal succession in 1688 with the Glorious Revolution and in the 1701 Act of Settlement…”

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