« AnteriorContinuar »
Thus terminated a chasse which occupied from four to five weeks, in which while much ground was gone over and much fatigue endured. From want of incident, it was perhaps unworthy of record, much less of being told at length; but I have purposely entered into the most minute details, the better to exemplify some of the many obstacles and inconveniences with which a man has to contend whilst prosecuting his sport in the wilds of Scandinavia.
Sweden, Dec., 1846.
ENGLISH SPORTS, AND ENGLISH SPORTING QUARTERS.
“ Merry England! What a picture do these simple words recall!
Hamlets nestling in the shelter of the old ancestral hall !
How many there are who can tell a welcome tale of sport and pleasure in the land of the stranger! how few who have ever wandered from their well-accustomed haunts of park and preserve, to seek it o'er the vast wild hills, or amid the glorious woodlands, of this our merry England for merry is it still, and such may it ever remain, beauteous in luxuriance of foliage, unequalled beyond the narrow channel which divides it from the continent of Europe --ụnexampled in richness of soil, unsurpassed in loveliness of landscape, and what is far more precious than all the romantic scenes to be found in foreign lands, the calm and peaceful homeliness of its vales, mid summer's warmth and brightness, contrasting with the snug and comfortable appearance of its hamlets in the winter's storm! Having said thus much, however, we by no means presume to reflect on or dispute the taste of him who desires to cast his fly over the rippling surface of Norwegian rivers, or follow in the exciting chase of the bear or elk in the kingdom of Sweden. Let the hawk be cast in mid air on the hunting plains of Holland, the snipe be shot in the marshes of Normandy, or the chamois on the Alps. Those who have the means and inclination to seek such enjoyments are right to seek them, even in foreign lands; and there have been times, perhaps are now, that we should be nothing loth to follow in their footsteps. Admitting, however, the sport and enjoyment thus to be obtained, and by no means cavilling with the taste which induces so many young Englishmen to fly for sport and pleasure on the continent, we must nevertheless assert that there are many spots of unequalled beauty in our merry land, abounding in fowl and fish, scarcely ever mentioned, still more rarely visited. As regards ourselves, we must beg to premise our sketch of some of these interesting locales by declaring that an extensive knowledge of foreign lands has only tended to make us cling more fondly and feel more proudly of our own; and while there are many who spend thousands annually in what are termed foreign luxuries and foreign pleasures, and are driving over hill and dale in search of the picturesque or the novel, we would humbly suggest that others would take an excursion with us to the garden of Devon, or the lakes of Cumberland, avail themselves of a sight of the noble forests of Hampshire, Gloucestershire, and Somersetshire, cast a fly in some of the beauteous rivers which intersect our land, or listen to the echo of their ripple on the mountains of their native country. For many a wild red deer is still to be found even in merry England, where, believe us, there are scenes as fair, rivers as well filled with salmon, forests as well stocked with game, and landscapes as lovely, and spots as full of interest and romance, as those which present themselves on the dusty and uninteresting roads which traverse the greater portion of France, the monotony of Holland, the muddy waters of the Rhine, worthy of a visit as undoubtedly it is, or the “ lovely Etalee,” as we once heard an affected lady call it-at least, for any lengthened period as a residence, however inclined we may be to admit that they have many claims, both as regards pleasure for the lover of nature, pastime for the idler, and sport for the sportsman. Having enjoyed many of these sights, however, let us hope for the pleasure of some of our sporting friends, as well as those who love to look on the fairest works of providence, as companions through the land on which the foot of foreign foe has yet ne'er dared to linger. We will endeavour to lead them to rivers more bright to look on, and as fair for sport as the Nauseem or the Alten ; though we profess to be no disciple of Walton. We will show them vast forests, where if the bear or wild boar harbour not therein, like those of Sweden, so interestingly named by Mr. Lloyd, where nevertheless they shall find the red deer and the fallow deer both ranging wild, the blackcock and the heath polt, and almost every other species of game which a sportsman can well desire to meet with, and this in a land where, notwithstanding its generous and lavish charity to its unhappy sister Erin, and although it has itself suffered the scourge of scarcity with which it has pleased God to inflict it, is nevertheless
" As fair as ever ;
Merry England such art thou !" We shall now endeavour to sketch-We fear but roughly-with the pencil of memory some of the fair spots and interesting sporting localities of this highly-favoured land. Sportsmen, we shall be glad of your company, be your number ever so large, to walk over them; though we speak not of the land of the mountain and the flood, but of that of the waving corn-field and the luxuriant vale. But while you are preparing for your ramble to the abode of the forester and the gamekeeper, for we may chance to halt for a night or two at such rural and welcome quarters, we will endeavour to interest you with a word or two in reference to that respectable class of sporting servants, both in regard to the nature of what they were, what they now are, and what we humbly conceive they ought to be. We desire not to detain you long on this subject, otherwise we might be enabled to tell you many an anecdote connected with an individual who lived with no less than three successive
generations, or we should rather say heads of the family, of which we ourselves are an humble member—that is to say, his servitude, which commenced in 1732 and terminated by death in 1777, included a period of forty-five years-a sufficient proof, we presume, of his integrity and worth without saying a word more on that head. The figure of this man was tall and bony, his constitution excellent, and his power of enduring fatigue proportionally great ; moreover, his tempér, a serious consideration in regard to such servants, was admirable. If not a firstrate shot, which is by no means in our humble opinion essential as a gamekeeper, he was nevertheless quite sufficient master of his gun to destroy vermin or kill such game as might be occasionally required for the use of the family when absent ; but what is far more essential to a keeper than shooting qualities, he perfectly understood the nature of game in its wild state, and could consequently discriminate between destructive abundance and reasonable preservation, in the latter of which he rarely failed. Early to bed and early to rise was his practice as well as his precept; and although none better loved a glass of good strong ale, such as we were wont to meet with when the farmer generously offered his foaming mug, and spoke of the number of birds on his land, instead of handing you a small glass of vile sherry, with a mouthful of complaints as to the imagined injury the game had done to his crops, but few men knew better the effects of quantity as well as quality; and although he rarely went to rest without his skin full, he was never known to be drunk. This valuable servant was born in Hertfordshire, and it is a strange fact, but nevertheless a true one, that a violent fever which he endured when nineteen years of age, had the effect of changing his hair grey in one night, which through life caused him to bear the appearance of age ; not, however, till he had passed his seventy-third year did he evince any decided signs of physical failure, and even during the few subsequent years of his existence he still crept about the estate with the gun over his shoulder, permitted undisturbed to enjoy his favourite pursuits till a good old age removed him from those who valued him as a man, and respected him for his faithful services.
Such is one of the thousands of gamekeepers of other days—would there were many such !
Those useful members of the community called gamekeepers, to whom, if they do their duty, may be added the word beneficial, were first empowered to act under the protection of the law-that is to say, by qualification in the reign of the second Charles; and we need scarcely add that in the present day, in order to preserve game with any hope of success, such servants are absolutely necessary. It ought, however, clearly to be understood that it is not every man who presents himself to serve in such capacity, and is enabled to prove himself a good shot or even a good sportsman, who is in any manner fully equal to the trust he seeks. To be a thoroughly good gamekeeper calls for qualifications rarely attained, yet not the less necessary to one who desires to obtain a good place, which means a good master. One of the most material points in his calling is that he should constantly bear in mind that, however faithfully and honestly he may perform the duties of his position, on no occasion without he be attacked by the night poacher, or in the absolute necessity of self-preservation, should he conceive himself the executioner of the law. Were there better gamekeepers, game laws would be far less necessary, and the universal outery against game as private property and undue preservation—the latter a proceeding but rarely justifiable—would cease to be a cause of constant dissatisfaction, even to those who seek such cause, having no other to cavil at. The game-keeper is not hired to raise game on an estate like mushrooms in a hot-bed, or in such profusion as to feed without mercy on the crops of the farmer or destroy the young plantations, in order that it may operate to his advantage by the sale caused from its abundance, without infringing on the hoped for sport of his master, and thereby avoiding detection, but to destroy the vermin, and in his careful preservation of game to preserve and protect also the interests of the farmer on whose lands it is bred and nurtured, by giving just and proper information of any serious depredations, whereby he enables a just reparation to be made. Except in rare instances, no game-keeper can ever be required to kill a fox within the limits of a country where a pack of hounds are supported. If he do so without orders he commits an act unworthy the name of sportsman, and stamps his master as a selfish man, who in his unbounded desire for his own pleasures curtails the sport of many others; for never yet have we known the gamekeeper, who was thoroughly master of his calling, who could not sufficiently stock his preserves with pheasants, and yet leave unmolested the earths for the vixen and her cubs. A gamekeeper is not required for the slaughter, but for the protection of game; he should, therefore, make himself thoroughly acquainted with the nature of every species of bird and beast denominated game, as also with every species of vermin. If he can shoot sufficiently well to kill a hawk or a polecat his requirements on this point will pass examination, and he need scarcely trouble himself as to the necessity of being enabled to kill fifty brace during a morning's walk. At the same time, however, he should have the firmness to avoid trying his hand, without he have orders to the contrary, at a woodcock ; the first which appears on the estate should be reported to his master, and to him be left the pleasure of killing it. Let him as far as may be practicable live on the most friendly terms with all the tenants on the property over which his duties extend ; through them he will probably obtain the best information as to the haunts of the poacher, and otherwise be made locally acquainted with their habits and pursuits, and thus be frequently enabled to reason better than threaten them from their depredations. At the same time it should be borne in mind that a determination on the part of the offending party to persist in sporting over ground which to him belongeth not, does not warrant personal abuse, far less personal chastisement, from the hand of a gamekeeper, without, as we have previously observed, he be attacked at night or otherwise assaulted and in danger. Then where is the man who will not resist? If there be one, he is no fit person to protect the interests of the master whom he serves. His duty is that of laying his complaint before his master, or in his absence before a magistrate, and it is for him or them to decide whether they judge fit to proceed in the matter ; they know the best remedy, and the most proper mode of seeking it. There are some men, and good servants, whom we are ready to believe actuated by an anxious zeal in their calling, who are frequently given to overstep the line of their authority; and in such case we hesitate not to affirm that whether the man be the hired advocate of prince or commoner, he does more harm to what is justly termed a glorious sport, which has existed in old England from the time of William the Conqueror to that of Victoria the beloved, than do all the foxes or all the vermin in a country. A mild word truly turneth away wrath ; and for our own part we must admit that were we ever so desirous for a crack at our neighbour's pheasants, a courteous hint that they were none of ours would open our eyes to the error we were about to commit, and cause us instantly to renounce the pleasure; whereas the bullying, blustering, insulting words of a vulgar man's vulgar servant-for never was a truer saying than $' Like master, like man"-would only make our fingers itch to close his, and our mouths water for a pheasant and truffles, secured from the well-stocked and well-fed abundance of the saucy fellow's vulgar master. But the real duties of a gamekeeper may be explained in a few more words. He should thoroughly enjoy the pursuit for which he engages his services, and fully understand in every possible manner the nature and instinctive habits of the bird or beast he is required to preserve, protect, and nurture. What is termed a crack shot he need not be, but in most cases (for in some dog-breakers are specially kept) he should be thoroughly acquainted with the breaking of dogs, pointers and setters ; keeping, however, this knowledge for the use of his master, and not for the purpose of gain from the stranger, Having these qualities, if he avails himself of them honestly, truly, and practically in the service of him by whom he is selected, let him be generously paid for his arduous duties, and you will neither have your game poached or sold, nor will he be pestered by constant complaints of trespassers, or pained with constant demands from the tenants without just and sufficient cause. One of the greatest proofs of a good servant is the fact of his having a good master: and if to this be added the fact of that master's being personally a good sportsman, which thousands are not who keep gamekeepers, then he may doubly reckon on the duties of his servant being properly performed.
Notwithstanding the democratical, or, more properiy speaking, the agri-cratical—if there be such a word-outcry against the preservation of game, which, commencing in the distant vales of merry England, has found echo in the halls of St. Stephen, we must affirm that it is the absolute abuse, and not the honourable use, of the delights of sporting which has caused this ill-feeling to exist. In days of yore the game on a man's estate was considered as much his private property and pleasure as the fowls in his farm-yard, and the majority of tenants had a pride, as well as a generous gratification, in reporting to their landlord or his keeper that much sport and abundant game would be found on the broad acres of which they held the temporary possession. The sale of game may, in a great measure, have caused the downfal of such kindly feeling between master and tenant, inasmuch as the latter may now feel, and at times, we regret to add, with reason, that his grain feeds the birds with which the public market is stocked when killed by the hand of the poacher, rather than by the sport of its owner and his friends. It is nevertheless clear to all who give the matter calm consideration, that no man rents a farm or a woodland who is not previously fully alive to the fact of game being preserved thereon or therein. It is equally just and honourable of him, however, who lets the land to give the clearest practical information possible, as to the probable injury that may be committed by such preservation, so as to admit of a fair remuneration