For Veterans Day: A Wartime Ride

Siegfried Sassoon, by George Charles Beresford (1915)

For this Veterans Day, the houndbloggers return to an old favorite, the English poet Siegfried Sassoon. Among foxhunters, he’s as well known for his delightful and nostalgic prose work Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man as he is among schoolchildren and British historians as one of England’s brilliant War Poets, whose style helped change the trajectory of modern poetry. Sassoon was a passionate foxhunter, especially during his youth and in the years immediately after World War I, though he often felt that the hunting side of his personality tended to distract from the greater work of his life, poetry.

Siegfried Sassoon’s grave at the churchyard in Mells. Photo by Graham Allard.

When the Great War broke out in 1914, Sassoon joined up and took his hunter and point-to-point winner Cockbird with him to war. Sassoon wrote a great deal about Cockbird, and his picture can be found in many Sassoon biographies; our favorite is quite a famous picture of Cockbird standing in the Sassoon family’s yard, with Sassoon standing at his head and gazing with obvious pride at his hunting and racing partner. Alongside them is a small side table that, you can tell, has been carried out into the yard especially for the occasion of the photo, for on it is a magnificent silver racing trophy, the Colonel’s Cup–now lost (like Cockbird, alas), whereabouts unknown.

Hounds hunting on Veterans Day 2012.

In honor of Veterans Day, we hope you’ll page back through the blog and see our earlier posts, The Hounds of War: A Veterans Day for Hunting Soldiers and A Hunt for the Veterans. But today we give our page to Sassoon, not for the biting but deeply touching poems he penned in the trenches (some of which you can read here), but for an unusually peaceful wartime passage in Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man:

“I was happy as I trudged along the lanes in the column, with my platoon chattering behind me and everything gilt with the sun’s good humour. Happier still when I borrowed the little black mare no one could ride and cantered about the open country by myself, which I did two or three afternoons a week. The black mare was well bred but had lost the use of one eye. She had a queer temper and had earned an evil reputation by kicking various officers off or bolting back to the transport lines with them after going half a mile quite quietly. She was now used as a pack-pony for carrying ammunition, but by gentle treatment I gained her confidence and she soon became a sort of active-service echo of my old favourites. Dick rode out with me as often as he could persuade the Transport Officer to let him have a horse.

Our Iroquois Sassoon, now retired, named after the poet.

“When riding alone I explored the country rather absent-mindedly, meditating on the horrors which I had yet to experience: I was unable to reconcile that skeleton certainty with the serenities of this winter landscape–clean-smelling, with larks in the sky, the rich brown gloom of distant woods, and the cloud shadows racing over the lit and dappled levels of that widespread land. And then I would pass a grey-roofed chateau, with its many windows and no face there to watch me pass. Only a bronze lion guarding the well in the middle of an overgrown lawn, and the whole place forlorn and deserted. Once, as I was crossing the main road from Abbeville to Beauvais, I watched the interminable column of a French army corps which was moving southward. For the first I saw the famous French field-guns–the ’75s.’

“But even then it wasn’t easy to think of dying. … Still less so when Dick was with me, and we were having an imitation hunt. I used to pretend to be hunting a pack of hounds, with him as my whipper-in. Assuming a Denis Milden manner (Denis was at Rouen with the cavalry and likely to remain there, in spite of the CO’s assumptions about open warfare), I would go solemnly through a wood, cheering imaginary hounds. After an imaginary fox had been found, away we’d scuttle, looking in vain for a fence to jump, making imaginary casts after an imaginary check, and losing our fox when the horses had done galloping. An imaginary kill didn’t appeal, somehow. Once, when I was emerging rapidly from a wood with loud shouts, I came round a corner and nearly knocked the Brigadier off his horse. He was out for a ride with his staff-captain; but no doubt he approved of my sporting make-believe, and I didn’t dare stop for apologies, since the Brigadier was a very great man, indeed. Dick enjoyed these outings enormously and was very much impressed by my hunting noises. The black mare seemed to enjoy it also.”

The guns in the wood. The Royal Artillery Hunt still hunts (within the law) on Salisbury Plain, not far from Sassoon’s former home at Heytesbury.

Years after the Great War, when Sassoon was living in Heytesbury, Wiltshire, and still hunting now and again with the packs around Salisbury Plain, there was a touching moment caught by Alec Waugh. Waugh, brother of the author Evelyn Waugh (of Brideshead Revisited fame, among many other wonderful books), recounted it in his book My Brother Evelyn and Other Portraits:

“I last saw Sassoon in October 1940 under ironically appropriate circumstances.

“A few weeks earlier I had been posted as staff-captain to the Petroleum Warfare Department, a branch of the Ministry of Mines, that under the dynamic inspiration of Geoffrey Lloyd made a considerable contribution to the war effort. … At that time we were chiefly concerned with the defensive uses to which oil might be put, flame-throwers, tank traps, flame on water. In mid-October we went down into the country to give a demonstration.

“It was what is called a typical, which is to say it was an exceptional, late autumn day; a day that started with mist and a chill in the air, a mist through which the sunlight began to break about eleven. By noon it was  summer hot. It was the prefect day to drive down into the country with a team of cameramen to film the demonstration and it was a perfect picnic site that had been chosen for the demonstration, at the head of a valley, with the grass very green with dew and the trees red and brown and yellow and the spire of a church showing between the branches of an orchard.

“We got down early, set out our cameras, and waited. The blitz had been heavy on the previous night. It was a relief to lie out in the grass, with the sun warm upon our faces, in a countryside untouched by war. The valley was quiet and deserted: nothing dramatic in the country’s history had happened here. It was strange to reflect that within an hour its slopes would be lined with red-hatted officers; a whistle would blow, the handles of the cameras would turn, and explosion would follow on explosion, the soft greensward would be scorched and ripped and scattered into a desert of smouldering fires and scarred iron.

Our horse Sassoon, also named for the poet and foxhunting man.

“The demonstration started at two o’clock. Within a quarter of an hour the beauty of the valley was destroyed and it was just as the high grade staff officers were moving to their cars, as the final informal conferences were breaking up, that a horseman, a civilian, came trotting by. This was, no doubt, a favorite ride of his. He had had no idea that this demonstration was to be held. It could scarcely be a pleasant surprise for him. I looked up, to note with a start of surprise that it was Sassoon.

“My first instinct was to run across and greet him; but a second, wiser instinct checked me. There was an inscrutable expression on that drawn, handsome face as it looked down on the charred and littered grass.

“What thoughts, I wondered, were moving behind that mask: how many different thoughts must be creating a mixed mood–memories of the last war and his revolt against it, his contempt for ‘scarlet majors at the base,’ his poems that had seemed then and later the battle call to a crusade; the sacrifice of his generation that had failed to prevent this second war, whose intensified horror was exemplified by these new engines of destruction, with himself a quarter of a century later, in his fifties and too old for service?

“It was kinder to leave him to that mood, those memories.”

Bedtime Stories: J. Stanley Reeve

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

The houndbloggers can’t say they knew very much about author J. Stanley Reeve when , in 2009, they picked up a slightly water stained copy of his 1921 book Radnor Reminiscences: A Foxhunting Journal. But he was, in fact, quite a figure of the day. Reeve, who lived from 1878 until 1960, was second cousin-in-law, if there is such a thing, to Theodore Roosevelt (himself a friend of Iroquois Hunt founder General Roger D. Williams) and of the famous poet Amy Lowell, too. Time magazine once described Reeve as the “seasoned and punctilious sportsman of Haverford, Pa.,” and Town and Country gave him the title of “the leading fox hunter of the leading fox hunting city in the country.” Better yet, we have since found a 2010 article by Terry Conway that gives a less formal but more delightful portrait of tonight’s Bedtime Stories author: ” a seasoned sportsman and snappy dresser celebrated for his colorful straw bowlers and, on occasion, a nearly orange suit.” Goodness.

A Radnor Hunt stalwart, Reeve also was on hand for one of the great runs in the history of Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds, the so-called Lenape Run of February 1932, described in delicious detail here. The history describes “a 9 3/4-mile point–39 miles as hounds ran–in five hours and 20 minutes” that ended with only three riders remaining when the gallant fox was accounted for by the hunt’s bitches: huntsman Charlie Smith, M. F. H. Plunket Stewart, and Reeve.

Without further ado, we turn the evening over to Mr. Reeve:

“It has always seemed to me that those hunting people who never begin hunting until the regular season commences, in November, miss half the delights of the game. Anything that one gets real enjoyment from is worth a little hardship; and it certainly pays in regard to hunting.

“It seems like getting up in the middle of the night the first time one does it; but that good early morning smell; the hack to covert in the dark; and the glorious music of about 30 couples of hounds as they go swishing through the wet grass; a field of only three or four out and all in rat-catcher kit, and all with the same trend of thought! Who is the ‘lay-a-bed’ chap who says it does not pay? he’s never tried it; that’s the reason he talks as he does.

‘But what a blessing it is,’ as my father used to say, ‘that we all don’t think alike.’ Other wise, there would be no nice small fields in August and September, and we would not have that feeling, after a morning’s cubbing, of having sort of ‘put one over’ on the other fellows.

“The present generation of sportsmen–and especially the younger ones–are a bit prone to want their sport made easy for them. Motors, too, have quite taken away one of the most delightful parts of a day’s hunting; that of hacking to the meet and the hack home with a congenial friend; a good pipe of tobacco and maybe a nip or two from a flask; and, as Sabretache, in his ‘Pictures in the Fire,’ says:

“‘How often in riding to the meet have you met and been greatly amused by overtaking a chap who evidently had gotten out of bed that morning with the wrong foot first. Nothing is right with him or his world; horse won’t walk; there’s a button giving him Hades inside his boot; the bad-worded groom has put on the very saddle that he doesn’t like; it’s a rotten part of the country we are going into; not a dog’s earthly of a gallop, and, even if we do, the whole place is wired like a mouse-trap; then, cuss these motors that make his nasty, flashy, washy chestnut shy and go up on the bank; dash the wind that won’t let him light a cigarette; and if he ever rides that horse again may he be boiled; he’d sell him for half-a-pound of tea (rather a high figure to on him in these days); and why the devil grooms put on odd leathers and can’t take the trouble to burnish one’s irons, blessed if he knows … and so forth and so on! Poor old thing! He’s bound to be in trouble, a man like this, who starts out looking for it. First thing that happens to him is that the chestnut, who will not wait his turn at a gate, bangs his knee against it, and then, raking at his bridle, nearly puts one of his thumbs out of joint against the breast-plate; next thing, at a small place that a donkey could jump, the chestnut drops his hind legs in, and flounders and sprawls in a manner that nearly causes the owner to leave the plate. Know him? Of course you know him, so do we all!’

“So different from the other kind of fellow, who, like the ‘lady’ who went to the ball-dance and said she’d had a splendid time–three falls, four Scotches, and a mazurka–is full of beans and benevolence, no matter what happens. When you meet him after the first scene of the first act–say after those men on the haystack have interfered with the plot as originally arranged by the high-class expert who is hunting the hounds–he has a nasty red mark bang across his nose, there’s a hole in his new ‘Hard-hitter,’ and the nice-looking bay five-year-old he is riding has a large consignment of Chester County distributed over his forehead-band and face. Mr. Fuller-Beans says, in reply to your inquiry about the bouleversement: ‘Not a bit, old cock! And he’s never put a foot wrong since! A real topper, and he’ll make up into one of the very best.’ And that nice, persevering young bay horse really does perform brilliantly in Act II, just because he realizes that Mr. Fuller-Beans’s heart is in the right place, and that a little matter like that fall over the bit of a stick that mended that gap is not the kind of thing that is going to choke him off or upset his temper. However, it takes all kinds of people to make up the world, and most of them are pretty nice, especially the ladies.”

Bedtime Stories: Scrutator

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

THIS is a blatant excuse to go back to reading one of the houndbloggers’ favorite sporting authors, Knightley William Horlocks, who fortunately used a less cumbersome pen name: Scrutator. It’s been a while since I opened up one of my favorite volumes, Scrutator’s The Science of Foxhunting (1868), but coming across that passage about Rummager and huntsman Frank Goodall reminded me. As it happens, my copy of The Science of Foxhunting is inscribed by Goodall, who presented it in 1870 to the Hon. Alan Pennington. So far I have found only a few brief references to Pennington in relation to hunting, although he appears to have been a Master for one season at the Holderness; according to Covertside Sketches by J. Nevill Fitt, he “resigned at the end of it on account of the scarcity of foxes.” Another mention of Pennington is in Annal of the Billesdon Hunt (Mr. Fernie’s) 1856-1913: Notable Runs and Incidents of the Chase, Prominent Members, Celebrated Hunters and Hounds, Amusing Stories and Anecdotes by the improbably named F. Pallister Costobadie (yes, really). Pennington, according to Pallister Costobadie, “used, with Sir Wm. Milner, to hunt from Billesdon, and with the Master and huntsman were generally to be found in the first flight. Nothing gave the writer greater satisfaction in his teens than when the fortune of the day, combined with youth and light weight, enabled him on a game old horse, once not unknown over ‘the sticks,’ to keep within measurable distance of this well-mounted quartet.”

And, indeed, underneath Goodall’s inscription in the Scrutator book, he has  written “Billesdon, 1870.”

But on to Scrutator himself, now. We have featured him before, in a 2009 Bedtime Story about the abduction of the Welsh hound Trojan.

Frank Goodall, huntsman of the Royal Buckhounds

I confess I know little about this favorite author’s life, other than that he resided in Gloucestershire at Ashwick House, where people seemed intent on destroying his rooks, and that he had an exceptionally good pack of exceptionally large hounds, as described by people who hunted with them. I’m hoping that Peter Brook over at Baily’s can enlighten me further, but in the meantime I can tell you that his writing is wonderful and that he is fascinated by hounds. “If he had done nothing more,” a commentator wrote of him in “Baily’s Magazine of Sports & Pastimes” in 1861, “the sporting world would owe him a deep debt of gratitude for having increased the pleasures of the hunting field, tenfold at least, by teaching us to interest ourselves in the hounds themselves, instead of resting satisfied with showing us, in what way we may run the least risk of breaking our necks, without detriment to the sport of our companions.”

And now, after that long prelude, we give you Scrutator.

A remarkable return

“As an instance of the extraordinary instinct in a foxhound which directs his way home, I may relate the following fact: The late Mr. Elton, of Stapleton House, who for many years kept a pack of foxhounds of Lord Egremont’s breed, conjointly with my father, to hunt both fox and hare, gave a hound which had bred a litter of whelps that year to a friend residing in Essex, but at that time staying with him. This hound was taken in his travelling chariot–the usual mode of locomotion in those days–from Bristol, right through London and thirty miles beyond. On the second night after her arrival there, she escaped from the kennel, and no tidings of such a hound being heard of or seen in the neighborhood could be gathered.

“Her new owner, after fruitless inquiries and researches, bethought himself, as almost a forlorn hope, of writing to her late master, telling him the day she absconded, when he was greatly surprised to learn that the hound had reached Stapleton on the fifth day after being missed from Essex. Knowing the instinct and sagacity of the canine race, this feat would not have appeared anything very wonderful, save for the hounds threading her way through the labyrinths of the great metropolis. She would have taken cognizance of the various inns on the road where the carriage stopped to change horses, and where, most probably, she alighted with her new master to stretch her legs. The sign of a large red fox, with a goose in his mouth, could not fail to attract her attention. A White Horse might bring to her mind the old grey mare ridden by the huntsman. The Goat and Compasses–etymologically explained by “God encompasseth us”–a phrase and sign in common usage during that arch-liberator or arch-fiend’s reign, Cromwell–would strike her as bearing some resemblance to deer which she had seen in a park near home. The Three Magpies, on Hounslow Heath, a very notorious posting-house in those times, were likely to have made some impression on her mind from those birds generally assisting hounds with their hoarse notes, when a fox is before them.”

A little eau de vie

“By the foxhunters of the old school, a few little extras were considered requisite to complete their equipment for the field. The loose shoe was generally attached to the saddle, in case of losses of this kind. A small leather case, for eau de vie or tincture of rhubarb, according to taste–the latter having been, as reported, the usual cordial taken by the great Mr. Meynell, when exhausted by the fatigue of a long run. De gustibus non disputandum.

Photo by Dave Traxler.

“That a drop of eau de vie has stood us in good need when meeting with accidents in the hunting field, we can vouch for, and once in particular, when our fox took his line through a farmyard up hill, which, there being no other mode of getting to the hounds by a high wall on either side, we were obliged to follow. Our only means of exit was through a door–not a gate–and being young, hot, and hasty at that time, without considering the difference of rising ground, instead of leading our horse through, which we ought to have done, we had the temerity to ride him. The consequences might have been seen had we allowed ourselves a moment for reflection. In lowering our head to pass under, the back of our neck came in contact with the lintel, which, being rather old, gave way; but the concussion was so severe that, finding ourselves on the point of fainting, we swallowed the contents of our flask, and scrambling out of the saddle lay flat on the grass.”

A close shave

“Sir Wheeler Cuffe, it appears from his own account, was the first man who introduced clipping, or, as he called it, ‘shaving horses.’ His stud being reduced by hard work or accidents, he was told of a good hunter then running loose in a farmyard (having been disabled the previous season), but now quite sound, although with a coat like a bear.

“A bargain having been struck with his present owner, he was transferred to the baronet’s stable, who, to bring him quickly into hunting trim, hit upon the novel expedient of first cutting off all the long hair, and then sending for the village barber, to lather and shave him all over excepting the head and legs; and he used to relate with great glee that, although well known before in the hunt, he was not recognized by even his former master after this metamorphosis, his colour having been quite changed.”

An exceptional deer

“Red deer generally–the stags I mean–are fierce and savage, particularly in the rutting season; the only exception to this rule in our experience being an aged one presented to us with other red calves by the grandfather of the present Duke of Beaufort, when we were also in our calfhood or boyhood, and by whom, being then Lord-Lieutenant of the county, we had also the honor of being appointed a magistrate at a very early date.

“This deer, which had been named ‘Mumbo Jumbo,’ from the terror inspired by his majestic size and appearance to all women and children, happened to be the most gentle of his kind. He would come down to the hall-door, and receive bits of bread and other things from the hands of our children, following them also about the park in the most dutiful manner. A friend of ours acquainted somewhat with the nature of red deer, remarked to us one day, ‘If you don’t kill that stag, he will some day kill one of your children.’

“‘We know him too well,’ was our reply, ‘or a bullet would have gone through his head long ago.’

“Poor old Mumbo Jumbo merited our confidence in him to the last. When, chilled by the blasts of a very inclement winter in a heavy fall of snow, he was found unable to rise from the ground, we had him conveyed upon a hurdle covered with straw into a loose box, where he was attended with assiduous care until his candle was burnt out; and his grateful acceptance of all our little attentions to his wants proved that he appreciated our kindness. Those who have studied deeply the characteristics of animal nature must have perceived something more than instinct cropping out in their conduct towards those who show them great kindness. ‘The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib,’ and so will every animal or bird in the creation respond in some way to gentle and kind treatment.”

Bedtime Stories: G. T. Roller

WE’D never heard of G. T. Roller, either, until a big box arrived from England earlier this month, filled with old hardbound copies of the old “Baily’s Magazine of Sports and Pastimes.” They were mostly from the nineteen-teens and -twenties, and, according to their bookplates, had once lined the smoking room shelves at London’s Junior Carlton Club.

Needless to say, these sumptuous volumes have been keeping the houndbloggers pleasantly occupied ever since. We first found G. T. Roller on page 167 of the April 1920 issue, as the author of “Hounds, please, Gentlemen!” His story was so wonderful (though sad for one hound and a most unfortunate porcupine), and such a peculiar testimony to the lengths to which hound lovers will go to find sport, that we had to bring it into the internet age, lest it be lost forever. Without further ado, we give you Mr. Roller:

” ‘Hounds, please, Gentlemen!’

“That’s the cry on all five continents where the Empire has, or is about to, paint the map red, also in an occupied country. For wherever two or three Britons are gathered together there will be a hunt, provided they can scrape together horses to ride, and dogs of any sort that can follow a line. The native gets clear of the cry at first, but later–well, he

‘Joins the glad throng,

That goes laughing along.’

and sees there is really something in chasing a small animal with a pack of ‘yap dogs.’

“Last year a certain Yeomanry regiment quartered near Damascus (they must be nameless, for I know their modesty), made up their minds to hunt the fox, the hare, the jackal or anything–what cared they which–as long as it was a hunt. A large litter of pups made the nucleus of the pack, and these were presented to them by the Transport lady dog (a mascot) many months before, and brought up by the Transport who love dogs–and mules, sometimes the porcupine (but more of that later). They–these ‘pariah pups’–were of the age to learn to hunt; but alas! no ‘old entry’ to help ’em along. So these sportsmen tried to teach them, so to speak, by hand. They laid an aniseed drag and loosed the horde of four couple (and the mamma) on the line. The horde assiduously hunted garbage–and on the outskirts of Damascus there is plenty of it–but refused the line entirely. The huntsman hunted the line on his own; it was thick enough, and ‘yoiked ’em’ on with hunting noises and the aid of about four whips. The attempt was laughed at, and the enthusiasts (for a time) were laughed at also.

“Patiently a few of the officers of the regiment set to work helped by a few troopers, real good types of sporting yeomen who knew the great game and didn’t give a hang for the laughs. They meant to get something out of nearly nothing, that would give the follower a hunt. It was uphill work and work done in the afternoon, generally pouring rain, after morning parade that they went out–ostensibly to exercise the Transport dogs, really they were teaching them. They never got quite what they wanted, but with the help of ‘Bellman,’ a cross between a spaniel and–well, goodness knows what, but a sportsman at any rate, drafted into the pack–they began to hunt. It was bad sort of hunting, but it was hunting. So often you can put up a fox or jackal and hounds will run at sight for a bit, and those mongrels did their best. Then in would come Bellman very late, but he’d hunt the line.

“Oh, you of the gallant shires, don’t smile, think what these keen ones were up against and the stuff they had to work with.

“One afternoon a certain Indian Cavalry Colonel came out with the much-scoffed-at pack ‘for exercise.‘ They put up a fox and hunted him in a sort of a way, till he checkmated hounds by descending a precipice. That same colonel was so pleased with the hound work, albeit erratic, that he helped enormously in persuading the enthusiasts to really get hunting going.

“They did, and the opening meet was held at the west end of ‘the street that is called Straight,’ mentioned in the Bible, but never as a hunting fixture in the Field or other sporting paper. It was warm that opening meet day. The hounds were brought up ‘Straight Street’ in the regimental hound cart (half a limber wagon, to speak the truth). When let out at the ‘rendezvous’ they hunted every garbage heap in the vicinity, keeping the whips busy, and finally got out into the country. Not a yard of scent, but about 1.15 they did have a bit of a gallop over an amusing bit of country, little banks and ditches, but enough to fire the hunting spirit in everybody; and they laughed no more. Several hunts came after this with varying success on the east side of Damascus, but giving pleasure to many.

“Then this yeomanry regiment got their commanding officer back from leave, who took over the pack and hunted them himself, showing good sport.

“The pack killed hares and jackals–but let us breathe it in a whisper–never a fox. About this time they obtained one wonderful hound, an Arab greyhound, wonderful and weird with a Newgate fringe round his ears. But he ate up the ground like an Avro eats the air. The pack and the field beat the plain and if they put up a hare that extraordinary Arab ‘welsher’ would spot him and streak. If the hare doubled in a fold of the ground and got out of sight he was done. Then the Master would get up the long left behind pack with the aid of his whips, and hunt; once put up again the dog of the desert was sure to get him. ‘Funny hunting,’ you will say, but it was the best to be had and they all enjoyed it. Forsooth they had a field of eighty-five out with them once, and all to a man went home happy.

“But they had their tragedies, not counting when they were laughed at; Bellman was killed one morning, killed by an overzealous follower of the hunt; that was the worst. Another was the loss of the horn, the only horn the hunt possessed. Wildly did the hunt committee advertise for another. ‘The Egyptian Gazette,’ ‘The Palestine News,’ ‘Brigade Orders,’ even H.Q. cried aloud to borrow, beg, or buy a hunting horn, but alas! no horn forthcame. A cable to England brought one but long after hunting had stopped.

“Also they had humour, lots of it, but the best was when the hunt agreed to bag a fox and take him to the best side of their country, what might be termed ‘the vale.’

“If all facts of the case were known, it was not so unsporting as it sounds, but we have not the space to quote them.

“Albeit a fox was run to earth in ‘the home covert’–a cactus plantation–stopped in and guarded until the shades of night were falling fast, when out came the baggers with spades and a large sack. The sack was spread over the hole and digging started. Suddenly a terrible scrambling and rattling was heard underground and something hurled itself into the sack. They had bagged a porcupine! Unfortunately in the digging operations his near hind leg had been broken, so he was quickly put out of his pain. Everyone had a quill and the Transport ate him, and very nice they said he tasted.

Photo by Dave Traxler.

“So through many vicissitudes the hunt got through a season, making the welkin ring round the Damascus olive groves and the native to clear the way to the cry of ‘Hounds, please, Gentlemen!'”

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.’ ”


Bedtime Stories: George G. Vest

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

Tonight’s Bedtime Story has a good story of its own behind it, and we have to thank one of our readers for drawing our attention to it. Here’s the gist of this fascinating tale. In 1870, Kentucky-born George G. Vest was a lawyer in Missouri when he was hired by a farmer named Charles Burden. It was an unusual case, and one that will resonate with hound-lovers everywhere. Burden was suing his neighbor (who also was, as it happened, his brother-in-law) over the death of Burden’s best foxhound, Old Drum, who had been found shot multiple times along the bank of Big Creek. Burden’s suspicion fell on his brother-in-law, Leonidas Hornsby, because Hornsby, a sheep farmer who had been plagued with heavy losses from marauding dogs and wolves, had been heard to say he would shoot the first stray dog he saw on his property. Burden also had heard gunfire, followed by the wailing of a dog, from the vicinity of Hornsby’s farm on the night Old Drum had gone missing.

The case took a number of twists and turns, and after a series of appeals and legal maneuvers, it finally landed in George Vest’s office. On September 23, 1870, in the Old Johnson County Courthouse in Warrensburg, Missouri, Vest presented his closing argument on Burden’s behalf, and, really, on Old Drum’s behalf as well. His remarks quickly became famous and were widely distributed among dog-lovers as “Eulogy of the Dog,” and we bring it to you tonight, in full, in honor of all dogs, particularly those who are abused, neglected, in need, or killed for whatever reason, even, as sometimes happens, for the crime of being the wrong color.

For the record, Burden won that round of the litigation: the jury returned a verdict in his favor and awarded him the maximum $50. The case continued on appeal, but in the end Burden prevailed. Vest went on to be a U.S. Senator, serving from 1879 to 1903.

George Vest’s “Eulogy of the Dog”:

“Gentlemen of the jury, the best friend a man has in the world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter whom he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name, may become traitors to their faith. The money that a man has he may lose. It flies away from him perhaps when he needs it most. A man’s reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads. The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous, is the dog.

Vest's "Eulogy of a Dog" is reprinted in full on a statue outside the courthouse in Johnson County, Missouri. That's Old Drum the foxhound in the place of honor, right where he belongs.

“Gentlemen of the jury, a man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground when the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he can be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer, he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounter with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince.

“When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens. If fortune drives the master forth an outcast into the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him, to guard him against danger, to fight against his enemies. And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes his master in its embrace and his body is laid in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws and his eyes sad but open, in alert watchfulness, faithful and true, even unto death.”

Bedtime Stories: John and Dorothy Kirk

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

TONIGHT’S Bedtime Story is an unusual one. Chances are, you haven’t heard of John and Dorothy Kirk. We hadn’t either, until the afternoon we walked into d’Arcy Books in Devizes, England. Slipped between the hardback hunting books, we spotted a sunny yellow spine, about the color of a nice autumn squash. It was only about a quarter of an inch wide and made of heavy construction paper. When I pulled the book out of its slot on the shelf, I found it was a lovely, brief series of reminiscences that evidently meant so much to their authors that they had them privately printed by Hyssett & Son, Limited, of Weston-super-Mare, in 1975.

I gather from the preface that the Kirks are a married couple who grew up walking puppies for Mr. Tiarks’s Foxhounds (Dorothy) and the Holderness (John) but then were away from hunting while serving in the Royal Air Force. In retirement, John took on the role of Acting Master at the Weston and Banwell Harriers, and their shared experience with these hounds prompted them to start writing things down. I’m so glad they did! In the preface, Dorothy Kirk wrote, “The kindly comments of friends have encouraged me to believe that there is tremendous interest but astonishing lack of knowledge displayed about the professional skill and arduous work required to put a Pack of Hounds into the hunting field; all sorts of erroneous beliefs being held even by country folk, for of such stock was the Mother who recently was heard explaining the distant hunting scene to her daughter–‘No, dear, there has not been an accident. I think the funny little man in green blowing a trumpet has lost all his dogs’!!”

As someone who abhors the trend of Random capitalization that You sometimes See these Days (excepting, of course, the Pooh-style usage that can be fun), I nonetheless was really delighted to see that Dorothy Kirk capitalized Pack of Hounds and in doing so put them on a par with Mother!

And now, without further ado, the Kirks:

“Towards the end of November the Meet was at Cullum Green, Kewstoke, and we moved off in the general direction of Ebdon. Most of the Field experienced difficulty in crossing the wide ditches that hereabouts in Spring and Summer are attractively edged with a thick embroidery of purple flowering reeds and willow herb but which are now ‘blind,’ full of stiff stark stems and rotting leaves which effectively obscure the opposite bank.

“We were drawing the hedgerows for Foxes, but numerous hares were getting up in front of the hounds in every field, frustrating every effort of the Whips to keep them under control, and eventually leading us astray on to the land of a farmer who not only had a rooted objection to Hunting but also unfortunately was there in person, ready and willing to give his pent-up feelings full expression.

“Hounds were collected and hacked the long lonely road past Woodspring Priory of faraway History on to the top of Middle Hope ridge, the gorse-covered back of which reaches down to that bleak shore where the mouth of the Severn pours its muddy waters into the Bristol Channel.

“Half a gale was blowing across the Severn, bringing a strong smell of seaweed and the tingling lash of salty spray and rain on our faces. Thank goodness hounds spoke almost at once to a Fox in the gorse. As luck would have it, there were three of them afoot, but one was pushed down on to the lonely fore-shore and the hounds went with him.

“Now those watchers on the cliff who had the courage and stamina to face the elements were rewarded by a quite spectacular piece of hound-hunting. The Pack, full of music and undaunted by the frightful weather, stuck to their line among the seaweed and the rocks, slipping and sliding right to the water’s edge and so, for half a mile through silt and shingle, till their quarry swung up on to Middle Hope once more.

“Here, on the short, springy turf, the scent burning and with a wild crash of tongue, the hounds tore away, leaving a near frantic Field held in check by an iron gate which had been ‘locked’ against summer visitors by a pile of large boulders. Once through this obstacle, a glorious heart-warming mile-long gallop set the blood flowing through our frozen features; then another check whilst a second locked, spiked iron gate was removed from its hinges–then at last up with the hounds again on the very tip of Sand Point where our horses had great difficulty in keeping a foot-hold on the steep, narrow ridge.

“Here, in almost unrestricted possession, rabbits caused an additional hazard. We had not seem so many humble coneys for many a year; their little cotton tails bobbing in the bitter wind as they scurried away and dived into thick cover, distracting the attention of the younger hounds.

“It was all too evident that the hounds had lost this wily old Fox, and no wonder: for the wind was now so strong that it seemed to blow the notes from the huntsman’s horn straight back into his face. There was nothing to do but collect hounds and call it a day.

“As we slowly returned towards our trailers and boxes, taking an occasional warming companionable pull at each other’s pocket flask, we were greeted with fresh proof that the ‘looker on sees more of the game,’ for Mr. Leonard Parsons and Gordon, who had remained on the vantage point of Middle Hope ridge, were happy to inform us that they had watched an unhurried ‘Charley,’ quite satisfied that he had outwitted the hunt, make a leisurely return journey along the sheltered side of the ridge, into the self-same patch of gorse from which we had so rudely chased him an hour or so before.”