The Angler in Wales

Thomas Medwin - The Angler in Wales

Richard Bentley, London 1834

This is the most extraordinary book, printed in two volumes and not particularly expensive even in its first (and only edition) because there is more about Italy in it than there is about Wales and there is more about Shelley and Byron than there is about fishing, but nonetheless, it is a most engaging book if you are in the right frame of mind and fancy spending a few evenings wasting your time.

Medwin read law at Oxford, but left without his degree, having managed to get his father to purchase him a commission in the Light Dragoons. His regiment was sent to India, where he contracted what sounds like amoebic dysentery, which hard dire effects on his liver. Shortly after Medwin’s return to England, Shelley, who was his cousin, invited him to Italy, where Medwin spent much time in Shelley and Byron’s company; he would later write biographies of the two poets. In 1824 Medwin married the Countess of Starnford, but managed to squander her fortune in a scant five years before abandoning his wife and children to move back to Italy where he rather carelessly supported himself as a writer.

Why do I tell you all this? Because that is what you are going to read about if you buy this book, which is a thinly disguised and very disorganised biography. The story begins with Medwin asking the landlord of a Welsh hostelry for something to read; he is offered the choice of the Bible in Welsh, or a manuscript left by a visiting angler who died in the village. This manuscript forms the bulk of the 650 page book, about four chapters of which are actually about fishing, the rest of it being about Italy and India, Georgian metaphysics, poetry, depression and fratricide, with a bit of otter hunting thrown in (two dogs die). Surprisingly, there is nothing in it about abandoning wives, although there is plenty of stuff about idealised women who suffer nothing but grief in return for remaining true to their love. Off the wall isn’t a bad description. You will know if you are going to like it.