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THE SOUTH DEVON HOUNDS, AND THE SOUTH DEVON COUNTRY.
Many years since, I know not how many, when a mere child of ten years of age, I chanced to pass my holidays at that well-known sporting rendezvous, stamped in the hearts of all sportsmen in golden letters, "Handly Cross." It was a fair mild morning of January, if memory fail me not, about 9 A.M., when having discussed a considerable quantity of bread and butter, washed down by sugared milk-and-water called tea, and having conjointly with my nose and fingers rubbed the wintry mist from the parlour windows, I clambered up on an ottoman to amuse myself by watching the passers-by, when lo! a vision appeared before my young admiring eyes, which from that hour has been engraven on the pages of memory with feelings of admiration never to be effaced, while leathers, tops, red-coats and hunters continue to be the pride of men, or the cheerful and exciting notes of the hunting horn echo throughout the length and breadth of Merrie England. With all my eyes, staring through the glass, my little hands clutching the window curtains to hold on by, my excitement was so great, on this never-to-be-forgotten morning I first beheld a pack of fox-hounds, and those hounds were none other but the celebrated Handly Cross subscription pack, hunted by the celebrated John Jorrocks, M.F.H. John Jorrocks himself, attired in the well-known hunting costume-scarlet coat, facings sky-blue-headed the pack; while his illustrious huntsman, Pig, mounted on Artaxerxes followed in the rear. Great, I say,
was my excitement at this, to me, most splendid sight-my little heart beat, my youthful lips were sealed with astonishment, or I verily believe I should have shouted, as I have since not seldom done, probably when I had far better have left it alone, "Forward, forward, Tallyho, Tallyho!"
But joking apart, and taking this opportunity, an opportunity doubtless that thousands of others would gladly avail themselves of, cordially to thank the author of that most amusing sporting serial, the forerunner, I trust, of many others for creating hearty laughter-1 do say, from the hour that I first beheld a pack of hounds to this present time, that I scribble after a gallant run with the South Devon, I most thoroughly agree with John Jorrocks, Esq., in placing my lance in rest against all the world who say no, when I declare, in that lusty sportsman's words, there's nothing like fox-hunting. My first entry, I may truthfully say, was with the well-known and justly celebrated pack of Ralph Lambton, in days lang syne, when he hunted the county of Durham. By that much-esteemed master of hounds, long years since, I was invited, when just appointed to my first commission in a crack regiment of Light Dragoons, in company with a younger brother, to pass a joyful sporting week at the Sedgefield Club; and then was it,
in its real practical untold delight, I first listened to the echo of the huntsman's horn in the woodland, first beheld the glorious burst of a pack of fox-hounds from a gorse covert, first enjoyed the untold delight of listening to the tallyho, first saw the death of that beloved animal fox-yes, beloved animal; for he affords to man more real joy, when determined to make his point, than aught else I know of, of worldly pleasure.
Since those happy hunting days at Sedgefield, when Lambton and Shafto, and Williamson, and Harland, and Surtees, and numerous other good men and true in the field, were wont to meet in courteous and gentlemanlike, yet jovial festivity, around the board in the evening, and at the covert side in the morning, I have visited many and many another gallant hunting-field over the grass fields of Northamptonshire; I have followed a flying pack on the chalky hills and amid the flinty pastures of Hampshire, when that kind old sportsman, Villebois, commanded his beautiful lady pack ;-with the Cheshire-the Vine, and with the late noble-hearted Duke of Beaufort, as with various others, have I spent many a joyous day in the hunting field; and now, in my old age, I still pull on my leathers, and go a hunting-and where? why with the South Devon and Tiverton hounds. Indeed! exclaims some fine gentleman, perfuming the magazine with a scented cabbage-leaf he fancies an Havannah, and for which he has paid accordingly-I have written "gentleman; nevertheless read that horrid word "gent," an unexplainable individual, who imagines he is a sportsman, inasmuch as he sometimes attires himself in a red coat and leathers, waistcoat with innumerable pockets, a hunting cap, amazing jewellery, and so forth, and then, seated in a cab, drives through London, to show himself to the admiring passers-by, and having proceeded by train to the meet of Her Majesty's stag-hounds, or any other neighbouring pack, and having witnessed the uncarting of the wretched animal fed by the state, to be miserably worried by dogs and men, home he comes to tell his mother, who knew not he was out, that he had been hunting. Hunting indeed! and so he had— that is, what many persons term hunting, but which I most unquestionably do not; and I therefore assert that our fair Devonia is essentially a hunting county, as I shall endeavour to prove; and this, presumptive as it may appear, in spite of the direct opposition of so great an authority-at least the world, who nevertheless are not seldom wrong, claim him-"Nimrod." Now, in my early days, it so happened that I chanced to meet this justly celebrated sporting writer as far as the writing is concerned, but most unjustly celebrated sportsman as far as sporting is concerned, in a very commodious country house, where both cook and cellar were much to his liking; and consequently, in the height of his enthusiasm and grati tude for benefits conferred, he told the world that the young squire, son of the old squire whose claret he had swallowed to no inconsiderable extent, was a first-rate man in the field, though forsooth he was given to shooting and not to hunting-indeed rarely joined the hounds. I also saw Nimrod in several hunting fields; and what I did see (highly as I appreciate his writings) enables me to assert, that although generally well mounted, he was anything but a first-rate horseman, and I verily believe he never in his life saw a run from end to end, in a first-rate country, so as to be enabled practically to describe it. Yet he wrote very agreeably on sporting subjects; and even now, I for one often refer to
his articles in the Old Sporting Magazine with delight, for which the good lady in Warwick-square paid freely; and thus he speaks of Devonshire, land of the myrtle, land of beauty :- "This is certainly the worst hunting county I was ever in; yet, strange to say, there are more packs of hounds kept in it than in any other three counties in England." Another writer adds :-"What Nimrod remarked years since, holds good now; nearly every parish in the South of Devon has its parish pack of harriers; besides, there are no less than eight established packs of foxhounds, and several other packs. This number may be accounted for in some measure by the nature of the country-its never-ending still-beginning succession of hills and dales rendering communication between the different parishes less frequent than is the case in most other counties; added to which, the love for hunting, the passion for the chase, though natural to man, is most distinctly marked in the people of Devonshire."
All this is true to the letter, and certainly not exaggerated, inasmuch as not only one pack of harriers is kept in some parishes, but in others there are two; and when hares are out of season for hunting, why the harriers become otter-hounds. Indeed I have heard of a gentleman who was about to settle in a village in South Devon, to whom the following occurred, and in good truth can I assert that it has happened to myself: Having cast a shoe out hunting, the gentleman in question called on a village blacksmith to get his horse shod, when he was informed by a boy retained at the smithy that he had no chance till the day following, for his master was out a-hunting. Subsequently he called on the butcher and baker, to make similar inquiries as to the necessaries of life; but like blacksmith, like butcher, like baker, they were all hunting-and so is it in this said to be a non-hunting county. Now although the illustrious Nimrod has declared, and hundreds who know nothing about the matter are ready to believe it, that South Devon, and Devon in toto, is the worst hunting county in the world, I am ready to break a lance with any man who will or can deny what I am about to assert in its favour. If Nimrod intended it to be understood that it was not a chasing county-in fact a county where, twice during the week, quick runs were secured over a grass country with a kill at the finish, I go with him; yet unquestionably not so, though I may be in error, when I assert my opinion that hunting and sporting do not absolutely infer racing for thirty minutes with disappointment without blood. And I therefore boldly declare that Devonia, land of myrtles and magnolias, is a sporting and a hunting county in every sense of the word, from east to west, north to south, from Mount Tavey to Beerhead, from beautiful Babicombe to still more beautiful Linton-right across Exmoor, over Dartmoor, on the banks of the river Exe, or the Tamar; go where you will-aye, and when you may-fox-hounds, or harriers, or otter hounds, or beagles-coursing, or fly-fishing-sport of all kinds-war to the life against fish, fox, and fowl, in fair sportsmanlike manner, is to be had, and plenty of it-good, bad, and indifferent; and though it be asserted, and not without reason, that to sovereign beauty mankind bends the knee, I verily believe in Devon and its neighbouring county, Cornwall, it may be justly added that to universal sport mankind bends the knee. As an illustration of such belief, I fancy there are more sporting parsons-a good old English
* Can the sweet-smelling varmint be called flesh?
title, almost obsolete in these days of priests and Puseyite garmentsboth rectors, bishops, curates and so forth, in this famed county, than in any four others in all England; and of course, if they set the example, it is the duty of their parishioners to follow; and why not, if so be they are really "sportsmen," as I would desire the honourable appellation to be understood? which would then in no manner prevent, and in many instances well known to me, does not prevent their being noble-hearted christian gentlemen, and benevolent charitable parish clergymen-doing infinitely less harm in occasionally riding after a pack of fox-hounds, and living in peace and charity with all men, than walking about dressed up like Jesuits, taking tea and talking balderdash with the silly old women, outwardly declaring themselves orthodox divines, and pocketing tithes, inwardly feeling as Roman priests, and spending those tithes, paid by protestants, in teaching error and promoting auricular confession. However, I intend no discourtesy to the clergy as a body; and I have only to add, that out-door sports were much in favour during the fourteenth century, when the priesthood were so much addicted to the pleasures of the chase, that a clergyman was prohibited from keeping a dog for hunting, unless he had a benefice of the value of at least ten pounds per annum; while bishops all kept hounds. The fox-hunting parson is in fact a character as old as the days of Richard II., in whose reign the Bishop of Ely was remarkable for being a first-rate rider. The right reverend prelate could take a fence with the youngest and best men in the field. His delight, however, was wolf hunting; and he often said jestingly that the interests of his flock prompted him to pursue their most formidable
Now having said thus much with regard to Devonia as a hunting county, that is no reason why that portion of it hunted by the South Devon hounds should be like Northamptonshire, or any other shire that I know of, as regards its chasing qualities-so far from it, I should say, that take it all in all, there is no more trying county in all England, for both hounds, horses, and riders; and herein, to a real sportsman, are its chief merits, inasmuch as although it is a very rare circumstance to obtain a fast run, save it be over the moorland, or in the limited grass vales, with a kill in the open; such things do occur, and if so be they are of rare occurrence, what then? There is no county throughout all the fair lands of Merrie England, where the instinct of the animal hound is more admirably demonstrated. Many a fair hunting morning have I sat on my Exmoor cob, watching the beautiful hunting of the truly beautiful South Devon bitch pack, carrying on the scent from field to field, over innumerable fences; for be it known the fields of South Devon are innumerable, and the fences almost as big as the fields.
It is therefore, as I have said, a pleasure of rare occurrence to get a first-rate chace; but chasing is not really hunting. And yet have I seen the pack break close to a fox; after carrying the scent through a labyrinth of fields and fences, burst on the open, and finish with a kill amid the finest scenery in England or the world, as regards its peculiar character.
I can only trace the South Devon hounds as far back as the life-time of one of the best, most kind-hearted, and generous of sportsmen, G. Templar, Esq., of Stover, now the property of the Duke of Somerset, whose
coverts are still hunted by the South Devon. Of Mr. Templar I cannot speak too highly as a sportsman and a gentleman; though alas! his abundant hospitality brought him to a check which he never recovered. The hounds were entirely kept at his own expense; and although he hunted that portion of Devon now termed "the South Devon," which may be said to be bordered on the south-east by the sea, south-west by the river Dart, north-east by the river Exe, and north-west by the Dartmoor range of hills, the hounds were only within a few years so termed. Mr. Templar, although a thorough sportsman, had his eccentricities: were I to endeavour to relate one-tenth of them, it would occupy the whole magazine; I shall therefore confine myself to a few of the best. Mr. Templar had two packs-with one of which he hunted the wild foxes of the west; with the other, strange that I should have to assert it, he hunted invariably bag-foxes, which he imported by scores and kept in regular training. These hounds were termed the " Letthem-alones "more familiarly termed "Let-um-alone "--and why? They were so amirably trained, that after a first-rate run, any one being up at the time who would cry out to the hounds" Let-him-alone," could save the fox. The foxes were all highly fed and absolutely kept in training, weights being attached to them when they were turned loose, while a boy rode after them with a hunting whip. Moreover, they had all their appropriate names-one being entitled "Boxer," solely that when it came to his turn to afford a run, Mr. Templar, first exclaiming "Lethim-alone," would absolutely drop him in the very centre of the pack, through which he fought his way, scarcely a hound attemping to molest him; moreover, not a hound moved after the fox had broken, till the word was given, and then they flew to the scent. On one occasion, this eccentric sportsman absolutely mounted a monkey on a favourite horse, dressed in a scarlet coat: the monkey was strapped on the back of the hunter, and away they went. Now it so happened that the fox turned out afforded an admirable run,through a stiff country with innumerable large fences, and ere the day ended, not one of the field was up. During the latter part of the run, some men who were ploughing were appealed to, in reference to the line the pack had taken, and asked if any one was with the hounds. Their reply was truly graphic-" Zoons," said one, "I see'd the hounds, a racing like mad, with only one gentleman up, and he was a very little gentleman, in red;" and "Darn it," added the other man, "he was afear'd of nute, for he lipt everything as if banks and geets were nute." Now this little gentleman was the monkey; and when the field arrived they found that for once the "Let-um-alones" had broken up their fox. The noble animal that had gone so well through the run with a feather on his back, was seen standing near the hounds, endeavouring to pick up a few blades of grass; while the monkey sat on his back grinning, and endeavouring to pull his head with the string by which the bridle was attached. Alas! poor Mr. Templar's love for hunting, and love to see his fellow-sportsmen well-fed and happy, brought him, as is vulgarly said, to grief; and the lawyers did the rest. In addition to his other qualities, he was a man of admirable wit and considerable talent, and if space were allowed to me, I could here insert specimens of his poetical talent which do credit alike to his heart as to his understanding. Mr. King followed Mr. Templar for three seasons; and I fancy I am not incorrect in asserting that Sir Walter Carew bunted