Sunday, 2 January 2011

Commonplace books
and a quote from Huish Edye

In recent blog postings Stephen Bodio has labeled a number of entries Commonplace Book.  Bodio tells us that in England, a commonplace book is an journal in which one records quotes of interest.

Reading Bodio's blog had me thinking of a longtime favorite quote of mine.  It comes from Huish Edye's (only) book The Angler and the Trout. The book was  published in 1941 by the great British publishing house A.& C. Black,  they published a rather large collection of important fishing titles including G. E. M. Skues early work on nymph fishing.  In his own book, describing the intensity of his fishing interests, Edye writes:
I would rather kill a brace of fish weighing three pounds in a day on the Otter (my favourite stream) than a brace of warrantable tigers in a day among the Himalayan foothills.  The former ambition I have not yet achieved; the latter I have achieved more than once.
A rather amazing statement.  The idea of killing a brace of tigers in the Himalayan foothills in the 1920's or 30's sounds, to me anyway, far more interesting sport than killing a brace of trout, of any size anywhere.  But that is his point, isn't it?  To an angler, the sport of catching trout that are exceptionally large for the stream is as challenging (or more so) than hunting dangerous game in India. The language itself is compelling. There is a certain tortured formal structure to these sentences that I love. Much of the book reads this way.

From what I can discover about Edye (there is surprisingly little information about him online) Ernest Henry Huish Edye was born at Leigham Manor, Plympton, Devonshire in 1884.  He served as a District Officer in the Indian Civil Service under British rule from 1908 until 1938 .  He is listed as Superintendent of Census Operations for the census of India, United Provinces of Agra and Oudh in 1921. Under the pseudonym Distoffer, he frequently wrote for the British sporting magazines The Field and Game and Gun: A Bi-monthly Journal of Home and Overseas Field SportIt seems obvious to me now that "Distoffer" is an a contraction of an abbreviation of District Officer, his title in the Civil Service.  Unfortunately, I can not find online access to indexes for The Field or Game and Gun.

I first ran across Edye's writing in Leonard Wright's collection A Flyfishing Reader  (Simon and Schuster,1990.)  The article included there, entitled The Mannerisms of Big Trout,  is a chapter excerpted from Edye's book.  In that chapter, he starts by developing a classification of trout based on their size relative to the size of an average mature fish in that water; a rather environmental  point of view.   He classifies a trout as good if it is "considerably bigger than a merely adult trout" (for that water) and a master fish as a "very exceptionally heavy trout."  He then discusses the mannerisms of master fish, whatever river they may live in. The premise being that, while the size of the master fish  may vary significantly from river to river, their behavior does not.  This idea levels the playing field, a master fish is a master fish and the absolute size of a fish has little to do with the skill required to catch it.  A three pound trout on the Laramie is master fish, a three pound trout at Gray Reef on the North Platte is rather ordinary.

The quoted passage occurs on page eight of Edye's book and falls squarely in the tradition of introducing  fishing as a more interesting sporting pastime than any other, this  before diving in to the main body of the work.  This tradition in the fishing literature  goes back to the earliest known books.  Both A Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth an Angle, by Juliana Berners and Izaak Walton's The Compleat Angler start by considering other sports and explaining why they are inferior to angling.  The former book was first printed in 1486, the latter in 1653. 

The idea that Edye offers up, that catching a master trout (even on not particularly famous water)  is better sport than the exotic and decidedly more dangerous game of tiger hunting is a kind of a hook.  We had better sit up and pay attention when such a claim is made by an experienced and thoughtful man.

My own interest in fly fishing was sparked from a similar quarter.  Years before I took up fishing, I was on a climbing trip with friends in the Bugaboo Range in British Columbia.   Two rather scrubby and extraordinarily accomplished climbers came into the hut while we were there.  Before arriving in the Bugs they had most recently completed a rather desperate climb of the Emperor Ridge on Mount Robsen and before that had been climbing in Alaska.  In the evening, after they'd dashed up the Becky/Chouinard route on South Howser Tower in record time, we sat and talked.  One of them talked about the fishing they'd done in Alaska for rainbow trout.  I scoffed. At that the climber sat forward and looked me square in the eye and rather intensely said "Ah, but you don't understand."  And, of course I didn't.  But that remark from a clearly remarkable person has stayed with me to this day and was the genesis of my adult interest in fishing.