Bedtime Stories: A Trio from Our Bookshelves

An occasional series in which we offer a pleasant “good night” to our readers, courtesy of hunting literature. Sweet dreams!

AND also from the Kindle. Mr. Houndblogger gave me a Kindle for Christmas, and I discovered to my delight that there are some old hunting books available to read on it for free–never a bad thing when, for instance, you have four dogs, a horse, and the associated vet bills. Free is good.

But as convenient as I find electronic books, and they are, they still don’t replace the wonderful smell of the old hunting tomes that line our bookshelves and that we’ve had so much fun collecting from various exquisite shops.

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot and turning up some brief passages that, collectively, make a nice group of Bedtime Stories. Have a good weekend!

WILLIAM SOMERVILLE: The Chace

I’m not sure anyone can ever rival Somerville’s beautiful description of the ideal hound, “with blithe count’nance,” as written in his poem “The Chace”:

“… his wide op’ning nose

Upward he curls, and his large sloe-black eyes

Melt in soft blandishments, and humble joy;

His glossy skin, or yellow-pied, or blue,

In lights or shades by Nature’s pencil drawn,

Reflects the various tints; his ears and legs

Fleckt here and there, in gay enamel’d pride,

Rival the speckled pard; his rush-grown tail

O’er his broad back bends in ample arch;

On shoulders clean, upright and firm he stands;

His round cat foot, strait hams, and wide-spread thighs,

And his low-dropping chest, confess his speed,

His strength, his wind, or on the steepy hill,

Or far-extended plain; in ev’ry part

So well proportion’d, that the nicer skill

Of Phidias himself can’t blame thy choice.

Of such compose thy pack.”

THE DUKE OF BEAUFORT and MOWBRAY MORRIS: Hunting (1885)

“I am very fond of listening to hounds singing in kennel. It is delightful to hear as it rises and falls, and seem as if each hound had studied his notes; it is also a beautiful sight to see them sitting up with heads in air enjoying their chorus. At Badminton, ever since I can recollect it has been the practice not to interfere with them and to let them have their song out. Charles Hamblin has a theory that they are apt to fight; but that is all nonsense; they are much more apt to fight if they are stopped. I never knew of a case of their fighting after singing. They seem satisfied and quiet. They sing much more in the summer time and when they are fresh than during the hunting season; still they will do it at all times, but more or less according to how fresh they are, and with regard to the state of the weather. Fine weather induces them to sing. I am sure it is much better for them to enjoy their music.”

LORD DUNSANY: My Talks with Dean Spanley

” ‘I remember the hounds coming once to our house; professional hunters, you know. I should have liked to have asked them whether they had been permitted to come there by the wise master, and whether their intentions were entirely correct, and indeed a great many other things; and, if their answers had been satisfactory, I should have liked to have told them all about our woods and all about who lived in them. I could have helped them in hundreds of ways. But unfortunately I was shut up. I shouted a good deal to them from my house; but I should have liked to have round and see that they were all quite well. And I should have liked to have chased the horses, so that they should not think, on account of their size, that they were more important than me. But there it was; I was shut up.

‘I had an enormous amount to do when they left. I had to go and find out who they all were. and where they had come from, and if they were all quite well. Every tuft of grass had news of them. There were the scents of the hounds themselves, and scents from the roads they had come by, and tracks and scents of the horses: the field in front of our house was nothing less than a history; and it took me a long time to go through it. I was a bit behindhand owing to having been shut up, but the scents that had gone from lawns and paths still hung in the taller grasses, and I was able to gather all the information that I required.’

Hey, Eider, you're SUPPOSED to be IN BED.

‘What for?’ blurted out Wrather, before I could stop him.

‘To guard the house,’ said the Dean. ‘It was my duty to guard it. And I had to know who had come near it, and what their business was. Our house was sacred, and we couldn’t have people coming near it unless we knew what they had come for: there might have been an enemy among them. …

‘Even the butcher’s cart had to be barked at, though at many hoses such a cart as that would be allowed to drive up without question. I certainly could not have all those people coming without enquiring as to their motives, and, as a matter of general interest, their state of health. So I naturally had a very busy morning. They went visiting in our wood while I was still shut up, and I heard them leave the wood hunting. They all shouted out that they were after a fox, and quite right, too, but I could not allow them merely on that account to come near a house such as ours without proper investigations.

‘And there were two or three light carriages that had come to our stables, and that were fortunately still there when I was let out. So I sniffed at the wheels to get news of what was going on  in the world, and I left a message with all of them to say that I was quite well.’ ”


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