Bedtime Stories: Frederick Watson

An occasional series in which we wish our readers a happy good night, courtesy of hunting literature. Sweet dreams!

“HOUNDS, like all real artists, sing on the smallest possible provocation, but they prefer the night before a hunt because they have not dined, and feel–quite naturally–extremely aesthetic.

“Hound singing has been resolutely ignored by musical authorities. Even the bagpipes have had their own dismayed literature: and there are, one may presume, handbooks on the triangle. But although serious-minded representatives of the BBC have lain in English dew to connect up Bridge parties all over the place with the hesitant and rather niggardly transports of the nightingale, the solid, sustained, and purely Slavonic symphony of foxhounds has been deliberately ignored.

“If the night is clear, and so painfully still that strangers in The Pig and Turnip can listen without opening the bedroom windows, well-bred hounds feel it a religious duty to acquaint all subscribers, members, farmers, villagers, foxes, and vagrants, within a radius of three miles, that there will be a bit of sport in the morning. That, in fact, was happening when this chronicle opens.

“As the clock struck 1 a.m. and everybody was nicely asleep all along the Muchley valley, little Wistful (who being harrier-bred was a promising soprano) rose dutifully on the sleeping-bench and, with a preliminary tuning note or two, quavered an opening bar. It rose and melted away. Her brother, Wayfarer, blinking with ignoble slumber, threw in his throaty alto. Two mournful voices rose with anguished but limited cadence. Hubert, the disillusioned kennel tom-cat, twitched his abandoned whiskers as he crouched by the boiler-house door, but what were too harriers in the empty moonlight? Ravisher and Comely, Crinoline and Trespass–a little late but in excellent voice. Then Cosy, Warrior, Tapster and Vanity, Bouncer, Ranger, Damsel, and Hornet. The mournful chant went up, quavered, wavered, and as those fine basses Warlock, Samson, Harper, and Lawless came in, the chord fell an octave, the harmonies blended, the full chorus grew and sounded, melted a little and was sustained. But here was not finality. That came with old Conqueror, whose hollow note, like a sonorous dinner-gong effulgent and deafening, gave a sense of high tide before the ebb. There was Welsh in the pack–too much by half as Owen (who had come from Sussex) said–and where there is Welsh the range of voice is operatic.

“The moonlight shed its pale radiance on the ecstatic faces, the shuttered eyes, forlorn muzzles and quivering throats. The whole kennel was in it now. Twenty couple altogether. The night had been soundless and, with ever-extending consternation, the valley was more and more aware that, according to their old law and heritage, hounds were singing …”

from In the Pink or The Little Muchley Run, by Frederick Watson (1932)

May your own hounds sing you to sleep tonight in anticipation of a great season’s hunting to come. Merry Christmas from the hound blog and all the Iroquois hounds, retired and active!

Some of the best of YouTube

WE’RE still in the deer season doldrums, when our hunting pauses; our huntsman is sidelined with a leg injury; and I’ve been watching a horse sale where the prices are dropping. Sounds like a good time to import some good cheer!

Over the last few nights I’ve spent some happy hours toodling around YouTube to see what good hound and foxhunting videos and slideshows I could find. Here are a few I’ve come up with.

David Ryan is a photographer in Ireland whose photos are tremendous. Below is a photo slideshow from his day following the Galway Blazers, set to excellent music. Some of these will just make you sigh, they’re so beautiful. A few others will make you laugh (fall in the mud, anyone? Been there, done that?). And there’s an early one of a hound trying to get through a closed gate that is just downright puzzling (how did he do that?).

The one below is from England, and I post it here mainly for the very good scenes of hounds. And there are some woollies! The huntsman’s monologue also holds interest in that it shows the deep concerns hunt staff and hunting folk generally had in the lead up to England’s foxhunting ban.

Next is a two-minute photo slide show that shows all the ambience of an American hunt, presented by the Washington Times and featuring the Bull Run hunt.

Hikers’ chance encounter with the Dartmoor resulted in this brief clip. Features more horn than hounds, but it’s nice nonetheless. And listen to that wind on the moors!

The next video is from a HorseTV piece about foxhunting (also videoed pre-ban, apparently), including some really nifty footage filmed from a helicopter as hounds were in full cry. Those shots show how well a pack works together, turning together almost like a school of fish. There’s something for everyone in this video: daring jumps, a few spills, and, best of all, some great views of the hound and the fox (which got away). My one complaint: for some reason, at least on my computer, it’s all a bit dark. Well worth watching anyway:

The Bray Harriers in Ireland hunt through some of the world’s most beautiful country. In this video, you also get to see a drag hunt’s “fox” at work, laying the line on horseback (and a lot of jumping).

Finally, if there’s anything cuter than a hound puppy, I don’t know what it is. Besides, I love the way this guy calls his pups.

There. I feel better. How ’bout you?