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in the upper buildings of his celebrated Burse. However this may be, he soon improved his fortune by his honesty, his frugality, and his diligence. His occupation, according to the tradition still preserved in his family, was that of a wholesale linen-draper, or Hamburgh merchant.
The writers of the Life of Milton have, with the most scrupulous attention, regularly marked out the different houses successively inhabited by the poet, as if it was an injury to neglect any place, that he honored by his presence.” The various parts of London, in which Izaak Walton resided, have been recorded with the same precision. It is sufficient to intimate, that he was for some years an inhabitant of St. Dunstan's in the West. With Dr. John Donne, then vicar of that parish, of whose sermons he was a constant hearer, he contracted a friendship, which remained uninterrupted to their separation by death. This his parishioner attended him in his last sickness, and was present at the time that he consigned his sermons and numerous papers to the care of Dr. Henry King, who was promoted to the see of Chichester in 1641.
He married Anne, the daughter of Thomas Ken, Esq. of Furnival's Inn; a gentleman, whose family, of an ancient extraction, was united by alliance with several noble houses, and had possessed a very plentiful fortune for many generations, having been known by the name of the Kens of Ken-Place, in Somersetshire. She was the sister of Thomas Ken, afterward the deprived Bishop of Bath and Wells. If there be a name to which I have been accus
tomed from my earliest youth to look up with reverential awe, it is that of this amiable prelate. The primitive innocence of his life, the suavity of his disposition, his taste for poetry and music, his acquirements as a polite scholar, his eloquence in the pulpit (for he was pronounced by James the Second to be the first preacher among the Protestant divines), these endearing qualities ensure to him our esteem and affection. But what principally commands our veneration, is that invincible inflexibility of temper, which rendered him superior to every secular consideration. When from a strict adherence to the dictates of conscience he found himself reduced to a private station, he dignified that station by the magnanimity of his demeanour, by a humble and serene patience, by an ardent but unaffected piety.
In 1643, Mr. Walton, having declined business, retired to a small estate in Staffordshire, not far from the town of Stafford. His loyalty made him obnoxious to the ruling powers; and we are assured by himself, that he was a sufferer during the time of the civil wars. In 1643 the Covenanters came back into England, marching with the Covenant gloriously upon their pikes and in their hats, with this motto, “ For the Crown and Covenant of both Kingdoms.” “ This,” he adds, “ I saw, and suffered by it. But when I look back upon the ruin of families, the bloodshed, the decay of common honesty, and how the former piety and plain dealing of this now sinful nation is turned into cruelty and cunning ; when I consider this, I praise God, that he prevented me from being of that party, which helped to bring in
this Covenant, and those sad confusions that have followed it.” He persevered in the most inviolable attachment to the royal cause. In many of his writings he pathetically laments the afflictions of his sovereign, and the wretched condition of his beloved country, involved in all the miseries of intestine dissentions. The incident of his being instrumental in preserving the lesser George, which belonged to Charles the Second, is related in “ Ashmole's History of the Order of the Garter."
We may now apply to him what has been said of Mr. Cowley: “Some few friends, a book, a cheerful heart, and innocent conscience, were his companions.” In this scene of rural privacy he was not unfrequently indulged with the company of learned and good men. Here, as in a safe and peaceful asylum, they met with the most cordial and grateful reception. And we are informed by the Oxford antiquary, that, whenever he went from home, he resorted principally to the houses of the eminent clergymen of the church of England, of whom he was much beloved. To a man desirous of dilating his intellectual improvements, no conversation could be more agreeable, than that of those divines, who were known to have distinguished him with their personal regard.
The Roman poet, of whom it has been remarked, that he made the happiest union of the courtier and the scholar, was of plebeian origin. Yet such was the attraction of his manners and deportment, that he classed among his friends the first and most illustrious of his contemporaries, Plotius and Varus,
Pollio and Fuscus, the Visci and the Messalæ. Nor was Izaak Walton less fortunate in his social connexions. The times in which he lived were times of gloomy suspicion, of danger and distress, when a severe scrutiny into the public and private behaviour of men established a rigid discrimination of character. He must therefore be allowed to have possessed a peculiar excellency of disposition, who conciliated to himself an habitual intimacy with Usher, the Apostolical Primate of Ireland, with Archbishop Sheldon, with Morton, Bishop of Durham, Pearson of Chester, and Sanderson of Lincoln, with the evermemorable Mr. John Hales of Eton, and the judicious Mr. Chillingworth ; in short, with those who were most celebraled for their piety and learning. Nor could he be deficient in urbanity of manners or elegance of taste, who was the companion of Sir Henry Wotton, the most accomplished gentleman of his age. The singular circumspection which he observed in the choice of his acquaintance, has not escaped the notice of Mr. Cotton. “My father Walton,” says he, “will be seen twice in no man's company he does not like ; and likes none but such as he believes to be very honest men; which is one of the best arguments, or at least of the best testimonies I have, that I either am, or that he thinks me one of those, seeing I have not yet found him weary of me."
Before his retirement into the country, he published the Life of Dr. Donne. It was originally appended to “LXXX Sermons, preached by that learned and reverend divine, John Donne, Doctor in
Divinity, late Dean of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul's, London, 1640.” He had been solicited by Sir Henry Wotton, to supply him with materials for writing that Life. Sir Henry dying in 1639, before he had made any progress in the work, Izaak Walton engaged in it. This, his first essay in biography, was by more accurate revisals corrected, and considerably enlarged in subsequent editions. Donne has been principally commended as a poet:
- Walton, who, as it has been already remarked, was a constant hearer of his sermons, makes him known to us as a preacher, eloquent, animated, affecting. His poems, like the sky bespangled with small stars, are occasionally interspersed with the ornaments of fine imagery. They must, however, be pronounced generally devoid of harmony of numbers, or beauty of versification. Involved in the language of metaphysical obscurity, they cannot be read but with fastidiousness. They abound in false thoughts, affected phrases, and unnatural conceits.
His sermons, though not without that pedantry which debases the writings of almost all the divines of those times, are often written with energy, elegance, and copiousness of style. Yet it must be confessed, that all the wit and eloquence of the author have been unable to secure them from neglect.
An instance of filial gratitute and affection occurs in a letter from Mr. John Donne, junior, to Mr. Izaak Walton, thanking him for writing his father the Dean's Life.