James Waller Hills, Angling Literature, and Britain’s Election

The Medlar Press, based in England, publishes very high quality fly fishing and other field sports related titles. Their authors–some new and some long famous–offer perspectives upon these activities that incorporate attitudes ranging from the spiritual to the practical.  On their Facebook page, Medlar considers the United Kingdom’s general election, taking place tomorrow, in light England’s political climate in 1906. “This was a time,” Medlar writes, “when politicians were fishermen and authors of fishing books.” One of those politicians was John Waller Hills (1867-1938). Medlar publishes one of Hills’ classics, A Summer on the Test (originally published in 1921). Read Medlar’s full post below (their pictures are included).

Tomorrow’s election is likely to be a significant one for Britain, and over 100 years ago, in 1906, there was another such election. This was a time when politicians were fishermen and authors of fishing books: John Waller Hills (author of what is widely regarded as one of the best fly fishing books of all time ‘A Summer on the Test’) stood as a Liberal Unionist for Durham (and became an MP) and Sir Edward Grey (author of another great fishing classic ‘Fly Fishing’), as a Liberal for Berwick-upon-Tweed. In 1906 the Liberal victory (with Henry Campbell-Bannerman at the helm), ended years of Conservative government during which the party had become divided and Chamberlain had advocated protectionism and an end to free trade (which many argued would lead to higher prices). Instead of ‘Brexit’ there was talk of the Tory ‘little loaf’ (i.e. because more expensive) and the Liberal ‘big loaf’. The Conservative leader, Balfour, had resigned in late 1905, thinking that the Liberals would argue amongst themselves and lose the election. He miscalculated – in a landslide win, the Liberals took 400 seats. The new progressive thinking of the Liberal Campbell-Bannermann government resulted in many reforms which we now consider part of the welfare state – minimum wages, old age pensions, national insurance etc.

Are there any fishermen or fishing authors standing for election tomorrow? Chances are, if there were, you’d vote for them, especially if they could write like this:

‘At last there was a movement under my bank: it might be a rat, but let us try my dark olive quill; its size was 0, and my gut 3x. The first cast was swept wide by the wind, but at the second there was a confident rise and a good fish careered downstream. The river was fairly clear of weed, the current ran full and strong, and after a merry fight I netted a fat fish, not two pounds in weight it is true, but well over the pound and a half limit. I walked up, and suddenly, without preparation, unexpected and wonderful as it always is, however often you see it, the real hatch started. Olives were coming down thick, in little bands of half a dozen or so, blown together by the wind, and trout were rising quietly and quickly and continuously, all up the river, three or four of them within reach, and good fish too. There is a quality of magic about these early spring rises. The river looks dead and lifeless, and this impression is heightened by the bare meadows and the leafless trees. The stream runs with a dull lead-like surface, which nothing disturbs and apparently nothing ever will disturb. You expect a rise and it does not come, and then suddenly, when you have given up expecting, trout start moving simultaneously as though the signal had been passed round. At one moment you see fly after fly sailing down untaken, and you think nothing will ever break the unbroken surface: at the next the river is alive with rings of rising fish. It has come to life, and the sturdy vital trout, which a moment ago were hidden so completely that you doubted their existence, have mysteriously reappeared. I crawled to the bank, knelt down and watched. There were five fish within reach, and I looked eagerly to see which was the best. This period of expectation, when fish are well on the feed, is one of unmixed happiness. When action begins, when you have to cast, you may put the trout down, or you may break, or make some other dreadful bungle: but in the stage of exciting anticipation, when you see that great trout are to be caught if you can catch them, any extravagant success is possible and your pleasure is unalloyed.’ – from ‘A Summer on the Test’ by John Waller Hills.


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