Thursday, September 27, 2007

Review: The Autobiography of Dr. James Henshall

Many of you are familiar with Dr. James Alexander Henshall, the father of modern bass fishing. After all, 400,000 reprint copies of Book of the Black Bass have sold through Bass Anglers Sportsman's Society (B.A.S.S.) alone. But what do you know of the life and times of one of the most important people in the history of fishing? Likely very little.

One of the reasons I founded The Whitefish Press was for books just like this one. It was serialized in Forest & Stream from 1919-1921, but Dr. Henshall died before it could be released in book form. Since Forest & Stream by that time had switched to a monthly format, and had seen its circulation dip well below 100,000 (1/10th that of its competitors like Field & Stream and Outdoor Life), very few people got a chance to read the fascinating story of Henshall's life.

Clyde E. Drury, noted bass fishing historian and Henshall scholar, thought this was a shame. He worked extremely hard to put together a rough photocopy of the autobiography (which was still missing one part), and kindly distributed this to hundreds of historians and collectors alike over the years. A few years ago he was lucky enough to purchase a complete set of originals off eBay, and now had the images to go with the text.

The first book on fishing history I ever owned was a reprint of Henshall's Book of the Black Bass given to me for my 10th birthday, so I was always interested in Henshall's background. Like Clyde, I put together a complete photocopy set of Henshall's autobiography with the intent of one day making it widely available. Bill Sonnett put Clyde and myself together, and since Clyde had spent great amounts of time digitizing his copy, I proofed his work from my copy and we got a definitive corrected edition as a result.

The book is the story of American fishing written against the backdrop of the panaroma of history. Henshall's early memories include "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too," (one of the most important presidential elections in history in 1844) the Mexican-American War, the Great Comet of 1843, fishing in the pre-Civil War era, and much more. Later, he would be directly involved in other great events, and of particular interest is his work as a physician during the Civil War in Kentucky, where he had direct contact with Morgan's Raiders, was friends with David Snyder (Kentucky reel pioneer George Snyder's son), and first learned the joys of bass fishing. His post-Civil War life is the history of sport fishing in America.

This is a big book--over 100,000 words--and I just don't think you can be truly knowledgable on the history of fishing or fishing tackle and not read this book. Details are available from The Whitefish Press. Its eminently readable today, comes with an introductory biography by Clyde Drury, 60+ original black-and-white images, and 57 detailed explanatory end notes to help make sense of some of the more obscure references.

-- Dr. Todd

No comments: