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: 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.”