Our first Darwin Featured Book!

We’re very excited to begin this new blog series. 

Our Darwin room sits just beside the café, and is filled with a variety of old, rare and unique books. The shelves are floor to ceiling and are bulging with plenty of interesting reads, and we felt it only fair that we begin to showcase these special tomes. 

So, with that said, we are going to be featuring a Darwin blog on our social media each week. One of our hardworking Darwin booksellers, Diane, will be selecting a book, delving into its pages and writing up her thoughts on its content and any other notable things she’d like to discuss. 

Diane, like all of our team here at Bookbarn, has experience with books of all different shapes and sizes, but it is important to note that none of us are experts in Antiquarian books, so she will be bringing us her thoughts purely on the enjoyment and experience of reading the book.

If you have any interesting knowledge on any of the books that we feature throughout the year, we welcome this – as it’s always wonderful to learn something new about something old!

Without further ado, let us begin this series with Diane’s first choice, The Compleat Angler, by Isaak Walton. 

-Written by Diane Newland, Bookseller

“The Compleat Angler” is an iconic book first published in 1653, by Isaak Walton, and is dedicated to his honoured friend, John Offley.

It is a rich mixture of archaic prose, verse and songs, and is a celebration of the art and joys of fishing, through a lively conversation between veteran angler Piscator and a student Viator, whom he met on his countryside travels.


Working at Bookbarn International, I am used to recommending books to customers, but the tables turned the other day when I was offered the unexpected loan of a book I thought I would never read.

“The Compleat Angler,” I was told, was the third most published book, after The Bible and Shakespeare, and I was given a failsafe challenge of a whole year in which to read it.

Despite never having any interest in fishing whatsoever, I do work in the Darwin room, surrounded by antique and rare old books, so I decided to take up the gauntlet, and immerse myself in its archaic language.

What first struck me was how “The Compleat Angler” draws parallels between fishing and faith; both requiring contemplation and quietness, and the description of angling is exactly the same for meditation so I was now hooked…(forgive the pun.)

It also contains some beautiful poems in awe of nature…

I count it higher pleasure to behold

The stately compass of the lofty Skie,

And in the midst thereof (like burning Gold)

The flaming Chariot of the world’s great eye,

The watery clouds, that in the airs up rold,

With sundry kinds of painted colours flye;

And fair Aurora lifting up her head,

Still blushing, rise from old Tithonius bed,“….

There is so much more in this book than I expected. Not only poems, but songs too, as well as detailed descriptions of the artistry of choosing and making flies from feathers and coloured silk threads.

The names and attributed ‘personalities’ of the various fishes are also entertainingly described;

The Pike, is also known as the ‘fresh-water wolf,’ and is ‘melancholic and bold.’ The Tench is the other fishes ‘physician’ as he has a ‘magic touch’, the Bleak is also called the ‘river swallow,’ the Sargus is ‘adulterous,’ the Mullet ‘most loyal,’ while the Pope…. well he is just a ‘greedy biter’ apparently.

Top fishing tip from Chapter Six; Did you know, if you infuse your worms with the oil of ivy berries your fishing success will increase?!


I actually finished The Compleat Angler in 10 days.

For days afterwards my head was full of fishes with quirky personalities, the preferred baits for them all, and my imagined images from the descriptions of the beautiful hand made flies.

Then unbelievably, whilst auditing old warehouse stock shortly afterwards, ” A Guide to Trout Flies and How to Tie Them.” was in the bottom of my audit crate. Perfect synchronicity! It had colour plates of hundreds of flies and there were even a few feathers tucked between the pages. I am now inspired to make some of these. How could I not be? They are so gorgeous and have brilliant names like; Colonel Bates, Black-Nose Dace, Mickey Finn, Green ghost, Skykomish Sunrise, Jock Scott, Cocky Variant, Fifty Degrees, Light Irresistible and Gyro Flight’s Fancy. What a find!

We have several copies of The Compleat Angler available online, and currently in The Darwin Room we have; a facsimile of the first edition, complete with slipcase, at £44.20, a 1966 Folio edition for £25.30, a charming little 1930’s copy from The Nelson Classics series for only £3.80 and a 1939 Penguin edition for £4.70, with wood engravings by Gertrude Hermes.
It just goes to show, you never know what you will find at Bookbarn, and the Darwin room holds even older treasure just waiting for you to unearth.    

We look forward to sharing a featured Darwin book with you each Wednesday. Keep an eye out for more, and in the meantime, make sure you sign up to our mailing list to receive all Bookbarn news, events and offers straight to your inbox.                                


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