October 10, 2012

“Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but…”


The Izaak Walton League is one of America's oldest conservation groups. It was founded in 1922 by sport fishermen who wanted to preserve fish and wildlife habitat for future generations.

The League took its name from the avid English angler Izaak Walton (1593-1683).

By profession, Walton was an “ironmonger” (a dealer in iron and hardware). During his time off, he loved to fish. He also enjoyed writing.

Walton’s best known work is The Compleat Angler, one of the earliest and most celebrated books ever written about recreational fishing.

It was first published on October 10, 1653 and has been in print ever since.

There’s a famous quotation The Compleat Angler that’s included in many books of quotations.

But it’s not about fishing. And, it wasn’t coined by Walton himself.

It’s an observation about strawberries and God that Walton credited to “Dr. Boteler,” who is generally believed to be the English physician, Dr. William Butler. (Variant spellings of names and words were common back then.)

The famed quote is in this passage comparing the pleasures of angling to those ruby fruits:

“No life, my honest scholar, no life so happy and so pleasant as the life of a well-governed angler; for when the lawyer is swallowed up with business, and the statesman is preventing or contriving plots, then we sit on cowslip-banks, hear the birds sing, and possess ourselves in as much quietness as these silent silver streams, which we now see glide so quietly by us. Indeed, my good scholar, we may say of angling, as Dr. Boteler said of strawberries, ‘Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did’; and so, if I might be judge, God never did make a more calm, quiet, innocent recreation than angling.”

The strawberries referred to in The Compleat Angler were not the big ones modern consumers are familiar with.

Those weren’t developed until the early 1800s.

In Walton’s time, the strawberries eaten in Europe were either wild strawberries or cultivated varieties of wild strawberries that were smaller than today’s varieties.

The large strawberries we buy today were “made” by humans through the process of selective breeding.

Of course, if you’ve ever eaten wild strawberries when they are perfectly ripe, you know that man still hasn’t made a better berry.

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