Those of you who’ve read Conceit will know that Pegge, when she’s a teenager, is infatuated with Izaak Walton, best known to us as the fisherman who wrote The Compleat Angler, which I dipped into frequently when writing the novel. Pegge’s attempt to seduce Walton by finding a new stream, and their trip to fish along the River Darent, is fictional, though. When Walton points out “dry patches of riverbed and the obstructions, built by ignorant men, that slowed the trout on their journey upstream,” he is observing disastrous changes that will eventually dry up the river.
After John Donne’s death, his friend Henry Wotton was preparing to write a biography, but died in 1639 before he could do so. Walton took on the task, pulling together “The Life and Death of John Donne ” in time to be printed in Donne’s LXXX Sermons in 1640. This first biography of Donne was full of intriguing half-truths and editorializing that suggest that, although Walton attended some of Donne’s sermons, he didn’t know Donne or his family very well. For a novelist, this was a boon, since his mythologizing started me off on my own journey into the intimate life of the Donne family.