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The Fisherman’s Bible

A centuries-old jewel still holds the power to lure new readers

The Complete Angler (aka “The Compleat Angler”) by Izaak Walton

The Complete Angler (aka “The Compleat Angler”) by Izaak Walton 

By Rebecca Rudell

“The Complete Angler” (aka “The Compleat Angler”) by Izaak Walton was originally published in 1653; with 460 editions printed over 350 years, it is said to be the second-most reprinted book, in English, after the King James Bible. Composed of poems, songs, advice, recipes and life lessons, the tome follows the main character, a fisherman, as he schools a companion on the art of fishing.

This copy of “Angler,” printed in 1808, is a fifth edition and includes several chapters written by Walton’s friend, a fly-fishing aficionado named Charles Cotton. Thomas B. Lockwood purchased the book in 1916; he had it re-bound in Morocco leather and embellished with lavishly gilt fishing motifs by Riviere & Son, a renowned London bookbinder, before donating it to UB in 1935. With its technical expertise, reverence for the natural world and delightful chapter titles like “More directions how to fish for, and how to make for the Trout an artificial minnow and flies; with some merriment,” it’s easy to see why the book is beloved by generations of fishermen and women the world over.

Cooking with Walton

“First, scale him; and then wash him clean; and then take out his guts. … Make clean his throat from the grass and weeds that are usually in it. … Put some sweet herbs into his belly; and then tie him with two or three splinters to a spit; and roast him, basted often with vinegar, or rather verjuice and butter, and with good store of salt mixed with it.”

A lovely surprise

The “fore-edge painting” on UB’s copy of “The Complete Angler.”

The “fore-edge painting” on UB’s copy of “The Complete Angler.” 

UB’s copy of “The Complete Angler,” now in the University Libraries’ Rare & Special Books Collection, holds a hidden treat: Fan its pages and a charming scene of fishermen angling among the reeds appears. Known as “fore-edge painting,” the effect is created when the artist fans the book’s pages, clamps them into place and paints. Once the work is dry, the clamp is removed and the edges gilt, adding beauty and protection to the delicate leaves.

Collector’s edition

Lockwood, a prominent Buffalo attorney, donated $500,000 to UB in 1929 to construct an E.B. Green-designed, Georgian-style library on the South Campus (now Abbot Hall). Lockwood also donated his extraordinary rare books collection, which includes Shakespeare’s First Folio, a first edition of Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and this fabulous treatise on fishing.