Thomas Frederic Salter was a London hatmaker. He fished as a child with his father and remained a devoted angler as an adult. Apparently, his health prevented him from fishing regularly in his later years. He therefore turned his attention toward writing several books having to do with fishing, each of which went through several editions. The first was The Angler’s Guide, or Complete London Angler in the Thames, Lea, and other Waters twenty miles round London, which was published in 1814. Interestingly, he dedicated it to “Her Royal Highness the Duchess of York,” whom, he says, “occasionally enjoys the amusement of Angling” (vii). At the time, the duchess was the beloved Princess Frederica Charlotte of Prussia. An independent woman, she lived separately from her husband, apparently preferring the company of her many pets and other animals.
In his guide, Salter speaks highly of fly fishing, describing it as “gentlemanly and pleasant,” if also “difficult to learn” (82-83). In all, he dedicates five chapters of the book to the practice. Had I been Salter’s editor, I might have pointed it out that the sport must also be “ladylike” (or something to that effect), since the Duchess, so highly praised in Salter’s, dedication, was an angler.
Interestingly, Salter also includes a poem by a “Mr. Cracknell,” entitled “The Female Angler” (103). Two stanzas follow.
From town I walk’d to take the air,
Shun smoke and noise of coaches;
I saw a lovely damsel fair,
Angling for Dace and Roaches.
Close by a brook, with line and hook,
Which curiously was baited,
Attentively the maid did look,
While for a bite she waited.
Looking back as readers, and not editors, we should commend Salter for acknowledging so clearly that field sports are not only or best practiced by men. While many authors of Salter’s time and before paid homage to the legendary Juliana Berners, O.S.B., supposed author of the 15th century Treatyse of fysshynge wyth an Angle , few of them seemed to consider that there may have been many other figures like her. Admittedly, there seems to be a hint of romance in the poem Slater includes in his book; there is an implication that the “female angler” shares in the simple purity of nature or the rural area free from “smoke and noise.”
Yet, Salter tells us that “The Female Angler” was inspired by a very real friend of Cracknell’s. Also, as its subtitle indicates, Salter’s book focuses upon fishing in urban and suburban London (in later editions, the subtitle changes). Thus, he does not see to see the divide between nature and culture as being so bold as many others did and do. This makes him a rare figure in his time — one worth reading. While the Guide is mostly a technical manual and guidebook to certain fishing locations, there is, as I have indicated here, some material that truly stands out.
I leave you with a stanza from another poem, “The Angler’s Morning Walk,” apparently written by Salter himself (x).
From sweet repose I early rose
To fish, and take the air;
I look’d around, saw good abound,
Then why should Man despair.