網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

7

NOTITIA VENATICA.

BY R. T. VYNER, ESQ.

In offering these practical remarks on fox-hunting to the public, I hope the reader will be charitable enough to indulge what may be called the parental fondness of the writer, while humbly introducing this child of his authorship for their perusal, which is a kind of record of not only other men's actions, but also of some of the happiest moments of his life. That part of the contents of these pages have formerly appeared before the world in the shape of a book, is a truth well known to some of the sporting readers of the day; nevertheless, that book has become out of print from the great success with which the sale of the first edition was attended; moreover, it was what might be termed an expensive work, brought out at a vast deal of trouble, and elegantly illustrated; and consequently, from its high figure, not within the reach of all the rising generation of sportsmen, who might be induced to seek either amusement or information in searching through its pages. At the earnest request then of many and sincere friends, and with the greatest respect and gratitude to the public, for the kind way in which the work has been supported by its great sale, and by the cheering manner in which it has been spoken of by those reviewers who have condescended to notice it in their critiques on the subject, I am resolved, prompted as I am by the allurements of applause, to send it forth once more before the world. A subject so extensive and worthy of investigation, I could have wished to be taken in hand by some person better qualified than myself. For my own part, I have had but little experience in authorship; but, having been in the habit of keeping a pack of fox-hounds, I have enjoyed many favourable opportunities of making myself fully acquainted with a knowledge of the various branches of the science gained by such an occupation; and I have neglected no opportunity of deriving what information I could from those incidents which circumstances have thrown in my way: fully compensated shall I be if one single instance should occur, of either amusement or information being derived from a perusal of this my undertaking.

Among the numerous authors who have written upon those subjects under the unassuming title of Sporting, many have not only been well received, but have obtained a very exalted place in the scale of literature. Confining ourselves, however, to the subject in question --namely, fox-hunting-since the days of the immortal Beckford, none have treated it in that practical manner which so national an amusement deserves. The great Nimrod, now no more,* who has certainly been the most successful and entertaining amongst all authors on subjects connected with the sports of the field, either before his time or cotemporary with him, could only expatiate upon the chase in a general way; he never had the possession of a single hound in his life, and, consequently, could have had no experience in the craft except, ing what he picked up from the observations of others. Mr. Delmé Radcliffe, who produced a book some few years since, entitled “The Noble Science,” was also far too general in his way of treating the subject, observing that the minutiæ, or practical parts of the knowledge of managing a pack of hounds in kennel, were only fit topics for the servant's-hall or saddle-room. An admiral might just as well say that the intricate knowledge of the rigging of a “seventy-four," or expertness in reefing main-topsails in a gale of wind, were accomplishments only worthy to be known by men before the mast. Depend upon it, there is no employment nor amusement in the world which is worthy of being pursued by man, even ever so trivial, that will not amply repay strict examination either into the most hidden arcana or the most humble of its departments; whatever is worth doing, is worth doing well; knowledge is power, and where the scrutinizing eye of the master is familiar with the objects upon which it may rest, and is capable, through experience, of judging of the industry or negligence of his agents, the economy of every description of establishment will be carried out to a far greater extent, than under the superficial and casual observance of the votary of indolence and neglect. Where orders are given without skill, and when ignorance or inattention mark the master's character, it is a tolerably certain mode of marring that of the servant, who becomes idle in proportion as he perceives his master's commands to be absurd and frivolous.

The time was when the knowledge of the discipline of the kennel was acquired with quite as keen a zest as the more exhilarating accomplishments of the field.

Hound-breeding was at that period as scientifically pursued as sheep-breeding, and the successful perseverance of Mr. Meynel and the late Lord Yarborough will ever be deserving of the warmest gratitude from all true sportsmen, for lighting up as they did what might be justly termed the dawn of science in the chase. But money is not so plentiful as it was in the war times, or the science has reached the acme of its perfection, or perhaps more lucrative speculations on the turf or the gaming table are more attractive to the “ sporting characters" + of the present age; for such is the all-transforming power of cupidity, that even our national amusements, which were ever intended to be a relaxation from more important duties, are laboriously cultivated by thousands of our gentry as a soil for profitable speculation and golden fruit.

6

* DEATH OF NIMROD).—We regret to announce the death of C. J. Apperley, Esq., on Friday, at his residence in Pimlico, of inflammation in the bowels. He long wrote our sporting matters under the signature of “Nimrod.” He was about 64.-Bell's Life in London. May 21st, 1843.

+ I beg my readers to clearly understand, that the difference between gold and iron cannot be greater, than between a sportsman and what is termed a sporting character.The first is one who pursues as a gentleman, and is an adept at all or any of our acknowledged field-sports. The latter includes a vast and intricate mass of character, too numerous to be mentioned ; amongst them, however, we may rank the layer of thousands against the Derby favourite, the pigeon-shot, the maker of trotting-matches, the flash dog-fighter of Whitechapel, &c., &c., not forgetting the humble linnet-fancier or the ragged bird-catcher of the Seven Dials.

Who, I ask, is the most likely to be an ornament to the society of the aristocracy of this country—the man whose early life is passed away pent up in cities, and whose mind and taste have been weakened and vitiated by every kind of refined luxury and excitement; or his whose early days have tranquilly rolled on, soothed as it were by the various rural pursuits and acquirements which have so pre-eminently distinguished Englishmen upon all occasions of competition ?

The accomplishments of the country and the town, or even of this country and of any other, will, I affirm, bear not the slightest comparison. The greatest success may be commanded at the card table, the billiard room, or the dice-box, by a French valet, a waiter, or a groom ; in the more aristocratic recreations of hunting, shooting, and fishing, the English gentleman alone stands unrivalled. But as, of all these delightful amusements, fox-hunting will be the only topic affording matter for the following pages, I will at once introduce my readers to the subject, humbly assuring them that they will not meet with a long and elaborate account of the natural history of dogs used in the chase, nor a tedious and philosophical treatise on the different properties of medicines used in the kennel, but merely the straightforward and plain course pursued in a hunting establishment, with the most approved methods of breeding and rearing the fox-hound, and preparing that noble animal for the chase. No wild theories will be introduced, but such information as has been gleaned by the writer during his hunting career will be humbly offered for their perusal.

Mr. Beckford has designated the pursuit of hunting by the title of an art; and although I have classed it amongst the sciences, I hope the critic will excuse my enthusiasm, as Mr. Locke, in his celebrated essay, on speaking of the operations of the mind, compares its searching after truth to hunting and hawking, the pursuit of which he says constitutes the chief pleasure. That excellent divine, Dr. Paley, was a sportsman ; and although his practice was confined to the gentle craft” of fishing, he always spoke of sportsmen with respect; he felt the inward delight which emanated from the enjoyment of the contemplation of nature and her various pursuits—" he looked from nature up to nature's God;" but while he acknowledged the pleasure he derived from such recreations, he was at a loss to express, or even to discover why he was thus amused, and declared “he never yet met with any sportsman who could tell him in what the sport consisted, resolve it into its principle, and state that principle." I

It would not be according to the natural state of our sublunary joys, if there could not be found, amongst the great mass of our fellowcreatures, some who, from a blind and bigoted enthusiasm, or, what is far oftener the case, from an innate and invidious morosity, are cynical enough in their dispositions to damnify and cry down every

# Paley's Nat. Theol. p. 262.

thing in the shape of amusement and relaxation from our more serious employinents. The charge of cruelty, too, lias been brought, in these days of false sentimentality and refinement, against the followers of field sports; but against such malevolent attacks, and in support of the legality of fair sporting, we have the highest authority, from the very earliest ages of the world even up to modern times. And we have undoubtedly a full right to exercise a dominion even unto death, so long as we do not inflict wanton torture, upon all those animals which the Almighty has destincd for our use; whether we consider those ordained for daily food, or those which he has created to assist man in his labours, and contribute to those amusements which were, without doubt, kindly given to him to lighten the burthen of his toils which he is doomed to undergo in this life.

It is no less extraordinary than true, that although the votaries of the chaste Diana are much increased in numbers, as each hunting season returns with the “cloudy sky" of November; still the knowledge of hunting is most truly considered to be on the decline. The “ noble science” is not cultivated as in the days of a Meynel, a Corbet, or a Warde; and although some wealthy and staunch supporters of the “good old cause” are still left in the persons of some of our first 110bility, the rising representatives of our great aristocracy have, I fear, far different allurements to the field than the cultivation of that noblest of amusements. It has been often and justly remarked, that a man cannot hunt from a bad motive, and that I must allow is good in the main; and whether it be the desire to enjoy the most exhilarating of exercises, the innate fondness of “coffee-housing," the harmless recreation of exhibiting one’s-self in a new scarlet coat and leather breeches, or the real “ amor venandi,in the literal sense of the word, which brings so large a congregation of neighbours together as may be witnessed grouped by the side of a fox-cover on a hunting morning, it matters but litile, so long as it tends to the increase of good and cordial feelings in a neighbourhood, and offers so strong an inducement to gentlemen of fortune to l'eside on their property in the country. One of the greatest advantages held out in advertisements, for letting a house, is its vicinity to any celebrated hunt, or its being situated in the centre of various packs of hounds; without which many houses, in retired parts of the country, would never find tenants. The great Lord Bacon says, in his essay on building, that a house is situated “ upon an ill seat” if there is in its neighbourhood " want of places at some near distance for sports of hunting, hawking, and races." The style of shooting suited to the taste of the present day has degenerated into the absurd display of the annual battue; and even some of the largest and best of the English preserves,

and

many of the most extensive of the shootings in Scotland, are in the sweeping and avaricions hands of the London poulterers. Well, then, may we exclaim with Mr. D. Radcliffe —" that fox-hunting is the very last link of amusement which has bound country gentlemen to their homes.”

The average number of sportsmen who are seen at a “ favourite fixture” in one of our crack hunting countries is about a hundred and fifty; and occasionally as many as three hundred men in

At a

scarlet may be counted, and which I have myself witnessed, in “Squire Osbaldeston's" palmy days at Misterton. And when the royal stag-hounds were taken into the New Forest in 1836, the number of sportsmen who daily attended them might be computed at about three thousand, of all ranks and denominations. “ woodland meet” in one of the “provincials,” the number is usually about thirty or forty; and although, in the motley crowd, numbers of men of rank and fortune may be found to give two or three hundred guineas for a horse (an extra fifty being demanded if qualified for a steeple-chase or hunters' sweepstakes), yet it would be next to an impossibility to discover one single person who could be prevailed upon to take the management of a pack of fox-hounds, or to contribute more than the price of a cover-hack towards the support of them. The present system of living two-thirds of the year in London, or in a foreign land, that most insinuating and undermining vice of gaming, and the ineretricious luxuries of the continent, have far greater charms to the young man of fortune than the quiet and peaceful retreat of an old family mansion-house in the country. The love of the chase vanishes at the approach of the swallow; and no more is thought of the hound or the horse, until, by the hard rains of autumn, the ground is rendered sufficiently saturated for hard riding—an accomplishment which is now considered the only requisite knowledge in hunting for the modern sportsman. These causes-together with the high pitch to which political feeling is now carried in England --render it next to an impossibility for any one person to have sufficient influence to prevail upon his pheasant-feeding neighbours to allow the foxes to be preserved.

In speaking of riding to hounds being the only desideratum amongst the fox-hunters of the present day, a “Senior Sportsman" has justly observed—“That at a time when such numbers of men are mad about fox-hunting, I am surprised that so few gentlemen have learnt to enjoy it rationally. The fashion of the present day is hard riding; and at night, over the convivial board, their only pleasure seems to be in relating the exploits or disasters of their own or their friends' horses. Not a word about the best or the worst hound in the pack, or any idea ever started to ascertain whether by system or by accident they had contrived to carry a scent for twenty miles over a country to kill a fox; and how so great an event has been achieved, few modern sportsmen can, with any degree of accu

Many years ago, I recollect a gentleman, who kept ten horses in Leicestershire, and who had been riding near me very often in a remarkably fine run, in which two of the most beautiful and interesting things happened that I ever remember to have seen, and to whom I I remarked them when the run was over. “Good God, sir,” said he, “I saw nothing of it!" This was a hard rider, who, from his own account, saw nothing, while riding his horse as fast as he could go, and as near the tail of the hounds as he could possibly get. And how should he? For a man behind the hounds cannot be a judge of what is going on in front, and is the first person (by pressing on ihem) to bring them to a check. A good sportsman will, as often as possi

racy, relate.

« 上一頁繼續 »