Charles Dickens uses the name Izaak Walton in A Tale of Two Cities to develop an extended metaphor comparing Jerry Cruncher’s night-time “occupation” of grave robbing to fishing. Walton is mentioned by Thomas Hardy in his 1891 A Group of Noble Dames where his relation to fish is compared to the relation of the Petrick family towards the aristocracy. It is Helene Hanff who makes me bite the bullet and search out for Izaak Walton’s Lives.
Izaak Walton (1593–1683) is remembered as the author of The Compleat Angler, the second-most reprinted book in English after the King James Bible. He was also a pioneer of modern biography, celebrated by Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, writing most notably the Lives of John Donne and George Herbert.
In 1624, Donne became vicar of St Dunstan-in-the-West, where Walton was living, and the two became friends. After Donne’s death in 1631, Walton wrote his Life as a preface to the printing of Donne’s Sermons in 1640. Walton was a layman writing a cleric’s biography. He went on to write other Lives, including that of Sir Henry Wotton, the diplomat and author, who died before he could complete a discourse on the art of angling.