Page images

of foxhounds to breed out the faults thus produced. The modern hound, if much faster than its predecessors of Beckford's time, has certainly lost some of the fine qualities of the old English hound, especially in voice and scenting power and keenness. These qualities have probably been bred out in the desire to cope with the haste and hurry required for the modern chase. Again it is, unfortunately, a well established fact that in many countries hounds have learnt to depend too much upon their huntsman and too little on their own powers, and have thus become slacker and less self-reliant than their ancestors.

Hugo Meynell, who did so much to change the character of fox-hunting, was in his early youth a hare hunter pure and simple. His father kept harriers, and the family and hunt servants were wont to sally out on foot carrying hunting poles. Than harehunting, it may be remarked, there is no better education for the youthful sportsman; and it would be well for the modern fox-hunting field if every member of it had been entered to beagles. Meynell bought Quorndon Hall from Earl Ferrers in 1753, got together a big pack of hounds and started the hunt which has since been known to all the world as the Quorn. He married, as his second wife, in 1757, a Miss Boothby, granddaughter of his predecessor, the famous Thomas Boothby, already mentioned. Meynell had in his earlier days somewhat curious methods. He hunted at one time with a huge pack of 100 couples, which waited in a field outside the covert where a few hounds were drawing for a fox. So soon as the fox was on foot, away went the whole pack, amid a most glorious tumult. This wild practice was, however, very wisely abandoned and Meynell in the course of fifty years evolved the style of hunting which now exists. In his later years he hunted with twenty couples. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, sport with these hounds eclipsed that shown by any other pack in England; subscribers and visitors rapidly increased and Meynell and his hounds acquired the fame which has ever since been theirs.

Over-riding of hounds now came into prominence and it is clear that the great Hugo was troubled by it in the last years of his reign. He finished his long mastership in 1800 and was succeeded by the Earl of Sefton, to whom followed Lord Foley (1802-06), Mr. T. Assheton Smith (1806-17), "Squire " Osbaldeston (1817-21 and 1823-27), and Sir Bellingham Graham

(1821-23). These and the subsequent years may be described as the "Galloping Days," when Melton and Market Harborough became fashionable; when men went out to steeple-chase rather than to hunt, and were many of them riding at one another most of the time. Sir James Musgrave once jumped on to Osbaldeston, broke his leg badly and never stopped to apologise. "Hounds are running! What does it matter?" was all he could vouchsafe to the crippled "Squire." Not all hunting men, however, even at Melton, were as selfish or as callous as this.

So they hunted in those wild days. Melton and Harborough were full of wealth; men rode the finest horses in the world— pace was everything. Assheton Smith was the greatest flyer of them all. He stopped at nothing and would always be with his hounds. But, what with his own pressure and that of his field, hounds were often sadly over-driven and lost many a fox in consequence.

Osbaldeston, in his " Autobiography," recently edited by Mr. E. D. Cuming, gives a fair sample of the jealous and unruly fields of those days. A fox had gone to ground near Quenby Hall, and Osbaldeston had asked his field not to ride after the animal when ejected, but to give the hounds a fair chance. They all assented. Yet, when the fox was bolted after a quarter of an hour, "the whole crowd," writes Osbaldeston, after him and did not pull up until he was lost to sight. pack got mingled with 300 horsemen, never saw the fox, nor, of course, hunted him a yard." So much for a Quorn hunt of that period! Osbaldeston at once took his hounds home.

[ocr errors]



There is a very curious painting by Ferneley, entitled “A Scene near Melton," of about this period, painted for Sir Hugh Hume Campbell, which suggests, in caricature, a hunt of this kind. A leading horseman gallops alongside the fox. One or two men are in the brook behind; a hound or two and other red-coated men are nearing the water. One hound is trampled down by a horse and his rider. Then comes a huge field careering over fences. Far behind, in the background, the pack is faintly indicated following in the distance !

Nevertheless, in spite of such dreadful lapses, there was much fine sport shown by the rising generation of fox-hunters in all parts of England. The men who hunted for the most part knew not fear and their performances, staying powers and hardiness

were prodigious. In other regions than Leicestershire famous masters were hunting hounds fairly and which they were usually able to control.

reasonably, with fields They worthily upheld

the great sport of fox-hunting and gave enormous pleasure to vast numbers of followers.

The great days of English fox-hunting may be regarded as ranging from 1815 to 1878. During that period the landed interest flourished exceedingly. The larger farmers had made a great deal of money during the long French war and had left considerable fortunes to their successors, who lived handsomely, put down good cellars of port and hunted freely. The squires and aristocracy were at the summit of their fortunes; rents had much increased and there was scarce a cloud in the sky. The repeal of the Corn Laws in 1848 was the first symptom of impending change. There is a curious little story-a true one, of which the writer has knowledge of a Suffolk farmer in a large way of business near Sudbury, at this time, which is very suggestive. Before the repeal of the Corn Laws this farmer had a good print of Sir Robert Peel hanging in his dining-room in a place of honour. When the Act of Repeal was passed he went to the engraving and turned it with its face to the wall. So it remained for thirty long years, until death had quenched the long hatred.

We owe much to "Nimrod "-pompous, patronising and diffuse as he too often is. Without his ready pen we should have lost the vivid pictures of the great figures of the hunting world between 1800 and 1830. His popularity was immense. When he began to write for the old "Sporting Magazine " its income was £1800. In less than two years, thanks to his articles, the figures had risen to £5250! His famous Quarterly Review article on "The Chase" is the best of all his writings, probably for the reason that it was severely edited by J. G. Lockhart, son-in-law of Sir Walter Scott. "Nimrod " was himself a fine and courageous horseman, an expert horse-dealer and knew all there was to be known about hunting. His later years were sad enough. Extravagant and always in financial difficulty, he retired to Calais in 1831, and thenceforth did most of his work from there. His last years were full of trouble. In the winter of 1842-43 he sustained a severe fall and was injured internally. His "Life and Times," then appearing in Fraser's Magazine, was abruptly broken off by the editor, with the public and rather

cruel intimation that it was discontinued owing to the " extreme volubility" of the author. The last blow was the painful quarrel with Surtees, who had just then published “ Handley Cross," in which he had pilloried "Nimrod" as "Pomponius Ego." "Nimrod" demanded an explanation, and in reply Surtees stuck to his guns and wrote that the likeness was intended. These and other worries and altercations, together with his illness, completed Apperley's misfortunes, and he died in London of peritonitis, in May, 1843. And so, after all his junketings— for he had warmed both hands eagerly at the fire of life-poor "Nimrod," long severed from his family, crept home to make his end," returning," as he says in one of his last letters, “ like a hare, to die in his own country." Doubtless, when he thus wrote, he was thinking of Goldsmith's lines :

And as a hare, when hounds and horn pursue,
Pants to the place from whence at first she flew,
I still had hopes, my long vexations past,
Here to return and die at home at last.

R. S. Surtees, who deals chiefly with the period 1820-50, has given us in his hunting novels many life-like and most amusing pictures of the fox-hunting past. Two or three of his works, uneven and unfair as they often are, will live, no doubt, for centuries. But his outlook is a bitter one: he loves to show the ugly side of human nature, and how seldom he draws a gentleman, though he himself was descended from an ancient line of Northumbrian squires! We gather that Surtees was somewhat of a misanthrope. He must, in his time, have met and foregathered with hundreds of honest and pleasant English fox-hunters; yet he never portrays any of them in his books. His pen, broadly humorous, as it is, is too often dipped in gall.

Hunting in the last century continued with unabated vigour and enjoyment till 1880. The number of packs had greatly increased, and sport was extraordinarily good. Mr. Charles Simpson, in The Harboro' Country," has reproduced the hunting diary of Mr. Tailby, a great master of hounds, who flourished in Leicestershire from 1856 to 1878. These diaries give an excellent idea of the wonderful sport enjoyed in those days. Since 1880 the sport has slowly, yet steadily, deteriorated and, except in favoured countries, it must be admitted that hunting is not what it was. The causes of this decline are not

far to seek. The losses of farmers, who have never recovered from the bad times between 1879-95, and the decay of the landed gentry, much accelerated by hostile legislation and unfair taxation, were followed by the ruinous results of the Great War. Barbed wire has been, and is, a terrible foe to hunting as it used to be enjoyed; in many countries jumping is now almost impossible over large areas.

In comparatively few hunts can it be said that hunters can now ride at their fences with anything like the old confidence and freedom. The increase of population and of small houses, bungalows and poultry farming are, except in the wilder and more remote parts of the country, of course all against modern hunting. Pheasants and covert shooting again, are adverse factors. Mr. Charles Richardson's "The Complete Foxhunter," a first-rate book by an expert, published in 1909, gives a good picture of some of the difficulties of present-day sport. Next to barbed wire, that fell enemy, the vast increase of motor traffic, which has changed the whole course of country life in England, is-it is to be confessed the greatest foe of hunting folk. A year or so ago, in the Whaddon Chase country, Lord Dalmeny, the master, was compelled," writes a correspondent of Country Life," to leave it to the motor division to say whether they or his hounds should hunt the fox, and, if the former, then that he could not see much point in keeping hounds out." "In another country last season," says the same writer, “ char-a-banc purveyors were offering their patrons a royal fox-hunt; five shillings there and back."" Such are some of the modern


features of this noble sport!

Nevertheless, hunting still struggles bravely along under very adverse conditions. It is not so strong as before the war, when 426 packs of hounds were hunting in these islands. But, considering the dire results of the great wrestle with Prussian militarism, it is wonderful that during last season (1926-27) no fewer than 352 packs of hounds were in the field in England, Scotland and Ireland. Hunting, under crippled conditions, will probably last for the greater part of another century in the wilder parts of the country. After that time the finest of English field sports will probably have come to an end and the land will know it no more.


« PreviousContinue »