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NOTES OF THE CHASE.
“Jamne igitur laudas, quod de sapientibus alter
Ridebat, quoties a limine moverat unum
Man is a social animal, a reasoning animal, a contemplating animal, and a whole chapter may be expended in epithets; but there is one strikingly applicable, forasmuch he is a grumbling animal. When the necessities and luxuries of human life were exorbitant and costly, men grumbled at the expense ; now that many articles necessary to their existence are comparatively low in price, they still grumble, declaring they cannot find money withal to purchase. Horse provender was never anything like so cheap in the memory of man as it has been during the last twelve months ; whether it will continue at the same rate is a question; if it does, what is to become of the producer, eventually what will become of the landowner, and then what is to become of fox-hunting? I am never one to take the dark side of a question, or to indulge in foreboding unfavourable prospects, being convinced that the encouragement of such ideas is calculated to reduce the amount of human enjoyment to no good purpose ; at the same time it would be inconsistent with ordinary consideration for the future prosperity of England's noblest pastime, not to regard the present position of the chase in its veritable condition. Railways and free-trade have worked strange events in the affairs of woodcraft, which have now developed themselves unequivocally. The only alternative is to meet these changes in conformity with the exigencies of the times, for which purpose it may be necessary to take a cursory glance of the customs which have taken place within the last century, touching the means and appliances by which fox-hunting has been supplied.
About the conclusion of the past and the commencement of the present century, fox-hunting establishments were maintained solely at the expense of some wealthy nobleman or country squire, or by some three or four joining together. The fields in those early days were invariably select, composed principally of the respective masters of the hounds and their immediate friends, perhaps a few of their tenantry joining them. As fox-hunting increased in popularity and in the estimation of all classes residing in rural districts, the fields became considerably augmented in numbers, and all those who regularly joined in the chase considered themselves bound by courtesy and honour to contribute towards the expenses in those cases where the country was hunted by subscription. Such has been the prevailing custom to nearly the present period, when railways, free trade, and other causes, have worked a marvellous change. Numbers of country gentlemen, particularly those whose estates are small, reside either in London, Leamington, Cheltenham, or Bath. Men
enjoying the blessings of families to inherit their patrimony find their account, or imagine they do, in the society of large towns and watering places. Bachelors have other motives for congregating at such localities. Within the last five-and-twenty years, and they are daily on the increase, numbers connected with commercial pursuits have become constant votaries to Diana ; they usually affect the metropolis or populous towns. To account for the falling off in the amount of subscriptions is by no means a task of difficulty. Scarcely any of the above-mentioned consider it incumbent on them to contribute one farthing. In the first place they do not identify themselves with any particular hunt. Railways enable them to add the enchantments of variety to the pleasures of the chase. Those who reside in London may travel by rail one day to meet the Pytchley at Crick, on the next day Lord Southampton at Castle Thorpe, Mr. Selby Lowndes at Beachampton Grove, or, varying the line and country, with Mr. Wheble (late Sir John Cope's) at Farnborough, besides the H. H., the Hambledon, the Vine, and the Craven. Then Essex, Kent, and Surrey afford similar opportunities, although perhaps not equivalent attractions. Those gentlemen sportsmen who thus amuse themselves appropriate their surplus cash to their travelling expenses, and not to the exigences of the foxhounds. Their money is invested in more profitable ventures than land, and they are remarkably careful that none of it shall find its way to the “ dirty acres," I think I am quite safe in asserting that there are not half a dozen masters of foxhounds in England ---and there are nearly one hundred-who do not derive the principal amount of their incomes from landed estates. Masters of hounds may be divided into two classes : those who keep their hounds upon their own resources, and those who keep them by subscription. In the ranks of the first mentioned there are none who derive any amount of income from any source save that of land. In the way of subscription, how much arises from any source except that of land ? Most unquestionably not 10 per cent. In those hunts which are so numerously attended, if the fact were to be inquired into from what sources three-fourths of the persons composing those fields derived their incomes, it would be decidedly proclaimed not from land. Thus the great proportion of fundholders, merchants, and men otherwise engaged in business, get their hunting free of cost, except the keep of their horses, which free trade has reduced to less than one-half of what it was wont to be. These are the class of men who take upon themselves to criticize and find vast fault with masters of hounds, huntsmen, hounds, foxes, and everything else appertaining to rural affairs, that does not happen to please their fancies or ideas of sport, pleasure, and convenience, and who inundate the columns of sporting journals with cases of " disappointment" too contemptible to carry any weight. Agricultural distress is a boon to them -a temporary one perchance. They will show discretion by not attempting to ride roughshod over the occupiers of land as they do over their acres. Country gentlemen may be deprived of their estates; they may change hands ; “ cotton lords" and others may succeed them: but will they cherish field sports as those sports have been wont to be cherished ? Will they be upon the same terms with the yeomanry and tenantry as their predecessors were, who were born and bred among that tenantry, who have from their youth exchanged thousands of cordial greetings betwcen each other, and are thus endeared both by kind words and generous actions? A tenantry crushed by the oppression of irremunerative returns for labour and capital will not receive with cordiality new landlords who personally or by the instrumentality of their connections have brought about those events which have so seriously infringed upon the comforts and condition of the British farmer. Pecuniary exactments will reign on both sides in the place of reciprocal advantages. Is it compatible with the kindly, generous, hospitable feelings which warm the breast of every sportsman, that those abounding with the most wealth should enjoy their amusements at the expense of their less affluent companions? It is a condition that certainly ought to be amended. No man can be expected to pay for presenting himself at the covert side as he does for his admission on a steeple-chase course, or for his ticket at a railway station ; neither is the system of capping in the field when a fox is killed, as was formerly the custom in some hunts, likely to be revived with advantage; nevertheless, some project may be devised, applicable to the occasion and the times.
The last day of the season! The last day of any event is an epoch pregnant with various musings: should it be the last day of an occasion beset with disagreeable reminiscences, it is essentially hailed with gladness ; if, on the other hand, it be the termination of pleasing associations, regret must ensue, the more so if it be a final conclusion than an annual or periodical cessation. The last day of the hunting season is an event capable of exciting a variety of sensations, regret usually predominating that one of the most enthusiastic amusements of Englishmen is about to be suspended : should it have been prolific in sport, that regret is the more predominant ; if the reverse, we look forward with more sanguine hopes for the future. The past season has decidedly been one to which the latter cogitations have been especially applicable. Generally speaking, few packs have experienced their average amount of sport. During cub-hunting complaints were universal of badness of scent. The month of November was more than commonly dry ; December was cold, cheerless, and foggy ; at Christmas the frost commenced, which did not break up till about the 24th day of the new year; February was an inauspicious month, exulting in boisterous winds, storms, and rain ; in March the land became very dry, especially during the latter portion of the month, which induced many packs to give up hunting earlier than they have been accustomed to do ; when, as if to tantalize the fox-hunter, the month of April was moist and favourable, in fact it was the best scenting month throughout the year, and after all hopes of hunting appeared to have been“ parched up, it came on as a sort of supplementary season.
The statement which I made in a former communication, that Sir John Cope would resign his hounds and country at the termination of the season, has been realized, after having hunted the country some four or five-and-thirty years. Not only as a master of hounds, but also as a country gentleman, the worthy baronet commands the esteem of the surrounding neigbourhood ; and although I have, on a few occasions, met the Bramshill hounds, I have never had the pleasure of seeing their highly respected master at the head of them.
Mr. Wheble, of Bull Marsh Court, is Sir John Cope's successor, to whom the hounds have been most liberally presented. Sir John's care being to select a gentleman, a resident in the county, for his successor, who was likely to continue ; and Mr. Montague having given up the South Berkshire, that country, which, in fact, was always a part of the Bramshill, will be again united thereto, so that it will be very extensive; commencing at Unhill Wood as the extreme northern point, traversing castward, it will include Streatley, Pangbourne, Hall Place, to Pinkney Green, two miles from Maidenhead, having Windsor Park and Virginia Water for the eastern extremity. Frimley and Farnborough define the south eastern boundary, and branching off in a north-westerly course, will include Fleet, Winchfield, Strathfieldsaye, Ufton, on to Westrop Green, a place of meeting near Fence Wood, which, with Compton, two miles from East Ilsley, will form the western extremity. This embraces a district of diversified character. Much of the eastern portion abounds with healthy wilds, not altogether unfavourable to scent, but very uninteresting to ride over ; the neighbourhood of Windsor Park excepted, which affords more grass land. There are many extensive fir plantatious, where you cannot see much of hounds, and which are also bad for hearing them in. Around Strathfieldsaye, the country is deep, the en. closures are small, and the fences are formed on high treacherous banks, very apt to give way under a horse's hind legs. The western portion, and the vicinity of Unhill and Streatley, is a more open country, with occasional large tracts of down, in some parts hilly. Most of the appointments are within easy reach of stations on the Great Western or South Western Railway.
The last occasion of my meeting Sir John Cope's hounds was at Mortimer Fair Place. They certainly did not look so well in their coats as they ought to have done, the time of the year to the contrary notwithstanding. The South Berkshire hounds, as well as the country, being added to them, there will be many to draft, and thereby form a superior pack. Robert Tocock, who has been whipper-in to Sir John Cope many seasons, is promoted to the post of huntsman. David Edwards, who has been whipping-in to Mr. Montague, is to continue in that same calling ; and James Shirley, who has been the huntsman seventeen years, is out of place. He will be remembered by many as whipper-in, cotemporary with Jack Stevens, to the Squire in Leicestershire, and was considered the best man of his day in that calling. That it is a most difficult task in any service to afford satisfaction to all parties, where there are many in a position to express their opinions, cannot be denied. In no station of life is this more evident than in that of a huntsman, whether he be a gentleman or servant. This is most readily accounted for when it is remarked there are two distinct classes of men who assemble at the covert side, each having arrived at the same point with totally different objects in view. Fortunately many of these (despite the examples of railway speed, which inculcates the idea that everything must be accomplished in rivalry of the combined effects of fire and water) deserve the appellation of sportsmen, who delight in seeing a nice pack of hounds at the place of meeting, in high condition, bright in their coats, neither overloaded with flesh, or in the other extreme, who derive gratification, when watching the huntsman's operations, to observe that he performs them artistically, cheering his hounds with melodious voice, and in appropriate language, on the first challenge to hear that he has confidence in his pupils, by the enthusiastic cheer he gives them. On the other hand, there is a class of men
who come to the place of meeting with only two objects, namely, to ride, and to find fault with all and every thing that impedes their equestrian prowess. They are only pleased with a racing burst of twenty minutes, never taking into consideration whether the country is capable of affording such events. In Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, parts of Warwickshire, and in other grass countries, such things are often practicable ; when the fox is killed or lost, another may be found in the next piece of gorse, almost to a certainty, and ditto repeated. But there are many countries where such a system is quite out of the question as a general practice, where such an event may happen once or twice in a season as an exception, but not as a rule. In such districts hounds must work for and kill their fox by the united results of their own inimitable instinct, and the talent of their huntsman. Men who have no other gratification than that of riding would do well to eschew such districts : they are almost certain to experience disappointment in that which they seek for, and they are quite certain to cause annoyance to other persons. There are days likewise, and there have been many this season, even in the best grass countries, when the scent has not been sufficiently good, to enable hounds to run into a good, wild, healthy fox, without working hard for him. Again, the duties of a huntsman are so numerous, that it cannot be a source of much astonishment that very few men can be found really qualified to undertake the responsibilities. Skill in the kennel and in the field are necessarily essentials. But there are many other attributes which must be combined. Habits of intemperance are utterly opposed to early rising, and those bodily exertions which a huntsman must encounter. It may be urged by some that a huntsman has many temptations. Granted; he may have, therefore, the greater necessity for his having a perfect control over himself. Many causes lead men in the first instance to habits of intemperance, as, for instance, the inordinate love for spiritous liquors, the most culpable of all excuses; the influence of companions, still inexcusable ; grief, vexation, trouble, will drive some men to the miserable alternative of vainly attempting to drown their sorrows in intoxication : while censure cannot be withheld, they are the most venial sinners of any, and they are entitled to some commiseration. Such men, judiciously managed at the commencement of their misconduct, may sometimes be reclaimed that is, if their station in life places them under the control of their superiors, or those for whom they entertain respect. An over indulgent master is often the greatest enemy a servant can have—that is, if the servant does not possess proper control over himself, or is in any way prone to bad habits, or neglect of duty. When a man is given to intemperance, nothing can be more unfortunate for him than not being checked at first : when thoroughly inculcated, it requires much philosophy to overcome the evil. It is a very common thing for would-be clever people to find fault with a huntsman when he loses his fox, and to exclaim if he had made such and such a cast he would have recovered him, or if he had been quicker, or if he had done something which he did not do, and which perhaps he ought not to do, that he would have killed his fox ; when probably the true cause has arisen from the field having overridden the hounds. Others will exclaim very learnedly about leaving hounds to themselves. If they were never overridden, or ballooed on to a fresh fox, or by ary other chance changed from their hunted