The National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) is not only home to the first book published in America on organized foxhunting, the NSLM is also a proud steward of the first book published in America on fishing. The book (though through modern eyes it really is more of a pamphlet), is titled, “Business and Diversion Inoffensive to God, and Necessary for the Comfort and Support of Human Society: A Discourse Uttered in Part at Ammauskeeg Falls in the Fishing Season.” This book has been called, “… the keystone book in the great arch of hunting and fishing stories that America has produced” (Brown, Michigan Alumnus Review, 1950).
Authored by “Fluviatulis Piscator,” the book is a transcription of a sermon that was delivered by the author, Reverend Joseph Seccombe at Amoskeag Falls in 1739. The falls are located on the Merrimack River in Manchester, New Hampshire, 55 miles northwest of Boston, or 17 miles south of Concord, New Hampshire. While a mere hour drive by today’s standards, Amoskeag Falls in 1730 would have seemed a lifetime away from the hustle and bustle of colonial Boston.
The printed text prefaces Seccombe’s sermon with a line from scripture, John 21:3: “Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing.” Throughout the text, Seccombe argues that “…I think Diversion in proper Portions of Time, and other suitable Circumstances, are not hurtful, but very friendly to Religion.”
Seccombe notes that the disciples were fishermen themselves, in contrast to the “Popish Countries,” who made a distinction between “social affairs” and “duties of life.” He argues two points: 1) “In the general, that the common Enterprises of Life are not inconsistent with Piety towards God: But that infinite Holiness may be pleased with them.” And that, 2) “Fishing is innocent as Business or Diversion.”
Seccombe sees God not only as a creator of man, but as a “Founder of Society” and as such, activities and duties that support society, such as acquiring food, are in fact, supportive and in agreement with God and is part of humanity’s duty to God.
Another point is that because fishing is a means to feed and care for one’s family, the failure to provide for one’s family is worse than neglect: “…Man is not only unjust, but barbarous and cruel, who neglects them. He that provideth not for his own, especially for those of his own House, hath denied the Faith, and is worse than an Infidel.”
How is this so?
Seccombe argues that the goals of both business and diversion are the same, that:
The End of both are the refreshment and support of man in the service of God. If I may eat them for Refreshment, I may as well catch them, if this recreate and refresh me. It’s as lawful to delight the Eye, as the Palate. All Pleasure arises from the Suitableness and Agreeableness between the perceptive Faculties, and the Object; that affect them: And our bountiful Maker, as he has given the animal Life many perceptive Faculties, the Senses of Seeing, Hearing, Tasting, &c. so he has provided suitably Objects for all these Faculties, and does allow us to gratify ourselves therewith.
Translated into contemporary English, Seccombe is making the case that God gave us the abilities to taste things and to prefer certain tastes, and therefore, catching tasty fish is one way of carrying out God’s plan. In other words, God would not have made fish tasty, and would not have been made people appreciate the taste, if we were meant not to catch fish.
Nowadays we might associate fishing and leisure in general with secular values, but Seccombe’s example, shows us that fishing can also be regarded as service to God and even a sacred duty.