John Chalkhill ranks as one of the more enigmatic writers in English literary history. Two lyrics in The Compleat Angler are ascribed to him, but not until the third edition in 1661. Izaak Walton supervised the publication, in 1683, of Thealma and Clearchus, a long poem credited on its title-page to Chalkhill, "Friend" of Edmund Spenser. Upon its 1820 republication, however, editor S. W. Singer noted that the poet may have been an invention of Walton. In 1958, P. J. Croft established that Chalkhill was born around 1595 (and thus could not have known Spenser), was buried in 1642, and was the author of poems and letters owned by a family in Derbyshire.
These works, acquired by The Pierpont Morgan Library in 1979, offer the most substantial testimony to Chalkhill's life and poetic vocation. They are published here as a collection, along with the Angler lyrics and Thealma, a poem of considerable sophistication. This volume demonstrates Chalkhill's versatility and wit, marking him as an accomplished writer during the period between the Metaphysicals and the mature Milton. It includes a detailed account of Chalkhill's life and literary production, edited texts of all his known works based on the most authoritative sources and with full commentary, and appendices providing additional biographical and textual data, as well as explanatory material about Thealma. The printed text is accompanied by twenty photographic plates, which reveal Chalkhill's habits as a writer and display two of his signatures. Presented to the Roxburghe Club, this is a limited edition of extraordinarily high quality.