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James Russell Lowell (1819-1891)

Lowell penned this poem to celebrate his friend John Bartlett (1820-1905), owner of a bookstore serving Harvard University and later a partner in a publishing firm. Bartlett was an avid angler and author of Catalogue of Books on Angling, including Ichthyology, Pisciculture, Etc. (1882), but is best known as the compiler of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. Despite the numerous allusions to the classical world, literary works, and fishing, it’s fairly straightforward, full of effusive praise for both the fish and his friend. I particularly like the line where he describes Bartlett’s end as “when Death hooks him”.

Fit for an Abbot of Theleme,
   For the whole Cardinals' College, or
The Pope himself to see in dream
Before his lenten vision gleam,
   He lies there, the sogdologer!
His precious flanks with stars besprent,
   Worthy to swim in Castaly!
The friend by whom such gifts are sent,
For him shall bumpers full be spent,
   His health! be Luck his fast ally!
I see him trace the wayward brook
   Amid the forest mysteries,
Where at their shades shy aspens look,
Or where, with many a gurgling crook,
   It croons its woodland histories.
I see leaf-shade and sun-fleck lend
   Their tremulous, sweet vicissitude
To smooth, dark pool, to crinkling bend,---
(Oh, stew him, Ann, as 't were your friend,
   With amorous solicitude!)
I see him step with caution due,
   Soft as if shod with moccasins,
Grave as in church, for who plies you,
Sweet craft, is safe as in a pew
   From all our common stock o' sins.
The unerring fly I see him cast,
   That as a rose-leaf falls as soft,
A flash! a whirl! he has him fast!
We tyros, how that struggle last
   Confuses and appalls us oft.
Unfluttered he: calm as the sky
   Looks on our tragi-comedies,
This way and that he lets him fly,
A sunbeam-shuttle, then to die
   Lands him, with cool aplomb, at ease.
The friend who gave our board such gust,
   Life's care may he o'erstep it half,
And, when Death hooks him, as he must,
He'll do it handsomely, I trust,
   And John H--- write his epitaph!
Oh, born beneath the Fishes' sign,
   Of constellations happiest,
May he somewhere with Walton dine,
May Horace send him Massic wine,
   And Burns Scotch drink, the nappiest!
And when they come his deeds to weigh,
    And how he used the talents his,
One trout-scale in the scales he'll lay
(If trout had scales), and 't will outsway
   The wrong side of the balances.

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