Thursday, June 27, 2013


Fishing on Sunday

T.D. Robb, "Arthur Johnston in his Poems," Scottish Historical Review 10 (1913) 287-298 (at 293-295):
A Fisher's Apology is a complaint against those who would interfere with his angling on Sundays, and it is one of his most spirited compositions. Besides a reasoned defence of Sunday fishing, it contains an enthusiastic description of the art he practised. In some passages it sings of the angler's delights in a strain that would have warmed old Izaak Walton's heart. The lover of the lore of fishing might art, it also contains much interesting information about the devices of the Scottish sportsman in the seventeenth century. Here is the first part of the poem:
                A FISHER'S APOLOGY.

Why vex your soul, sir Parson? Wherefore fret
To see me on a Sunday cast my net?
I am no Jew, but Japhet's offspring free:
The fourth command was never meant for me.
I know God's law is just, but cannot find
He looks on mortals with a crabbed mind.
The Seventh day is sacred; but does this
Mean to the active world paralysis?
That foolish thought Christ flouted when He healed
The withered hand, or in the ripened field
Heartened the hungry Twelve to pluck the corn.
The Pharisee still lives, and thinks no scorn
To be no wiser for the Master's voice.
The Christian day I honour, and rejoice
To see the tired ox and tired hind
Neglect the plough and harrow; for I find
Monday still serves for them. But woe to him,
That fisher who, when waters are in trim,
Lets slip the occasion; for not fleeter flies
The orient blast than from our heedless eyes
Rare opportunity. Here, by this pool,
Must I then play the Puritanic fool,
Neglecting net and rod because 'tis Sunday?
The fish are here, it may be but for one day.
There leaps a lusty salmon, twenty pound!
To-morrow, if I let the clock go round,
He'll haunt the higher stream. Come, where's my rod?
It cannot be that I was meant by God
To pasture flocks for others to devour.
This thought too weighs with me: by some strange power
The fish seem Presbyterian, and betray
Fearless presumption on the sacred day;
Then, Presbyterian Gadie, let me seek
Thy waters this best day of all the week!
Men are but mocked, if nets must idle lie
While all this gleaming wealth fleets safely by.

To net a pool is not a toil profane.
Consult the classics: in that largest reign
Of mind, no thought lies clearer: o'er & o'er
The ancients call it sport and nothing more.
The huntsman toils, I grant, the fowler, too,
The while they thrid their way the forest through:
My easy art no Scripture may attaint,
But bless it as refreshment for a saint.
Here ends the first counterblast to the decree of Presbytery. To the austere Puritan it must have read as desperate flippancy. To flout the fourth 'command' and bid him consult his classics, as if those godless pagans were to be regarded as doctors of the Christian law! And truly nothing is quainter at times than the eclecticism of the humanists, when they entered into disputation with men whose doctrines were almost entirely drawn from the Old Testament.
Id., p. 296:
This suggests that in Johnston we have the Scottish Izaak Walton; or rather—since the Compleat Angler did not appear till 1653—that in Walton we have the English Arthur Johnston....The lines that follow this Waltonian excursus are rather surprising, coming as they do from the poet who earned a pietistic reputation with posterity by his Latin version of the Psalms. Even if there is any fault in Sunday fishing—so he is pleased to say, resuming his argument—his family amply atone for it, the whole crowd of them (turba). Like many a paterfamilias of later times, the poet thinks he does his Sunday duty by sending his family to Kirk.
Templa frequentantes pro me cum conjuge nati
  Tura propinarunt plurima, plura dabunt.
Here is the beginning of Johnston's Apologia Piscatoris in the original Latin, as found in Musa Latina Aberdonensis. Arthur Johnston, Vol. I: The Parerga of 1637, ed. William Duguid Geddes (Aberdeen: Printed for the New Spalding Club, 1892), pp. 149-150:
Mysta, meis bellum toties cur retibus infers?
  Piscari sacra cur ego luce vetor?
Quo premor, edictum solos obstringit Apellas:
  Nos genus Iapeti libera turba sumus.
Iusta Dei lex est, agnosco, sed invida nulli
  Creditur, hac caeli curia labe vacat.
Septima lux festa est, sed iners et inutile terris
  Quis, nisi mentis inops, tempus id esse putet?
Hac Deus ipse manum curavit sidere tactam,
  Nec comites spicis abstinuisse vides.
Luce sacra scelus est vel rastro frangere glebas,
  Cogere vel fessos sub iuga panda boves.
His exerceri pluviae securus et aurae,
  Et sine iactura luce sequente potes.
Hei mihi, quam nobis brevis est occasio lucri!
  Avolat haec pennis ocior, Eure, tuis.
Salmo meis hodie salit et lascivit in undis,
  Cras fugiens supero figet in amne larem.
Cur mihi subduci patiar mea, mentis egenus?
  Cur, ego quas pavi, glutiat alter oves?
Sponte sua veniunt, et quaerunt retia pisces;
  Quis furor oblatas tangere nolle dapes?
Hoc quoque pondus habet, festis quod saepe diebus
  Piscibus uberius luxuriantur aquae.
Lux sacra cur offert praedam, si retia pandi
  Non sinit? hac homines ludificantur ope.
Sed nec opus piscator obit, cum retia laxat;
  Hoc apud antiquos nil nisi ludus erat.
Orbe pererrato silvas venator et auceps
  Dum peragrant, nimius vexat utrumque labor.
Ars mea nil praeter delectamenta ministrat,
  Quemque vetant leges, cura labore caret.
Hat tip: Karl Maurer.

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