Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

So we go

difference between the two races, that difference between the Roman paved road, with its established common way for all passengers,its regular stations and milestones, and the Celtic trackway, winding irresolutely along in innumerable ruts, parting to meet again, as if each savage (for they were nothing better) had taken his own fresh path when he found the next line of ruts too heavy for his cattle. Around the spurs of Dartmoor I have seen many ancient roads, some of them long disused, which could have been hollowed out for no purpose but that of concealment.

But where are the hounds all this time? There, two fields on our left, at a dead stand-still. I am afraid that it would not matter much if they were ten fields off. I am beginning to fear exceedingly that we shall not kill this fox. The delay is getting serious. Some one observes “ that he must be a long way ahead of us by now ;” and is answered by a general gfunt, or groan. However, we are on the right side of the hounds. If he has gone anywhere, he has gone to the large covers of the southern winter-garden, and has crossed our path up above. slowly up the hill, till the valley lies beneath us like a long green garden between its two banks of brown moor, and through a cheerful little green, with red brick cottages scattered all round, each with its large neat garden and beehives, and pigs and geese, and turf-stack, and clipt yews and hollies before the door, and rosy dark-eyed children, and all the simple healthy comforts of a wild “heth-cropper's” home. When he can, the good man of the house works at farm labour, or cuts his own turf; and when work is scarce, he cuts copses and makes heath-brooms, and does a little poaching. True, he seldom goes to church, save to be christened, married, or buried; but he equally seldom gets drunk. church and public stand together two miles off ; so that social wants sometimes bring their own compensations with them, and there are two sides to every question.

Hark! A faint, dreary hollo off the moor above. And then another, and another. Up the lane we gallop, trusting to the cry; for the clod of these parts delights in the chase like any bare-legged Paddy, and casts away flail and fork wildly, to run, shout, assist, and interfere in all possible ways, out of pure love. The descendant of many generations of broom-squires and deer-stealers, the instinct of sport is strong within him still, though no more of the king's deer are to be shot in the winter turnip-fields, or worse, caught by an apple-baited hook hung from an orchard bough. He now limits his aspirations to hares and pheasants, and too probably once in his life “ hits the keeper into the river,” and reconsiders himself for awhile after over a crank in Winchester jail. Well, he has his faults; and I have mine.

But he is a thorough good fellow nevertheless ; quite as good as I; civil, contented, industrious, and often very handsome ; and a far shrewder fellow too—owing to his dash of wild forest bloodgypsy, highwayman, and what not—than his bullet-headed, and flaxen-polled cousin, the pure South Saxon of the Chalk-downs. Dark haired he is, ruddy, and tall of bone ; swaggering in his youth ; but when he grows old, a thorough gentleman, reserved, stately and courteous as a prince. Fifteen years have I lived with him hail fellow well met, and never yet had a rude word or action from him.

We canter up to the agriculturist who stands roaring on the top of a gate-post, and steadying himself by a tree.

" He is just gone on there. Not a quarter of an hour since. Along that hedge-row."

So ? Then, when the hounds are thrown into the field, why do they not hit him off? Why does the next field only give a hint of his having past; and the next none at all? Why are we doomed to wander shivering for the next half hour, up and down this lane-end, discussing the solemn question as to where Reinecke may, can, will, shall, might, could, would, and should have gone; and watching those two sorrowful red coats and that sorrowful line of hounds trotting in a great ring below us through the fallow fields, while the huntsman's notes of encouragement come up the breeze, fainter, sadder, more hopeless every minute?

Because the scent has failed. And why scent fails, or does not fail, and what scent is—and, in short, any thing about the matter, man knows—no more than he knows why his own pulse beats. It depends on the weather? Probably. It is best with a steady or rising glass ? Possibly. It is best in a southerly wind and a cloudy sky ? In some countries. On clays and grass, they say. And yet what sings the poet of the immortal Billesden Coplow fox, who ran seventy miles on end ?-(there were three foxes up though that day :)

The wind was northeast, and most bitterly keen;
'Twas the worst hunting morning that ever was seen.

And yet the best scenting day I ever saw on grass was a sunny April southwester, when it was so hot the horses could hardly breathe or go; and the best days for the heather are howling black northeasters. There is reason to believe that scent lies best when the air is colder than the ground; and I have a scientific theory, that

Scent varies inversely as evaporation;

which sounds very fine, and seems to come true--as often as other theories do, namely, about once in three times ; quite often enough to prove the correctness of any theory, whether zoological or theological. So it may stand, though it wont help us to recover this fox; and I am going home.

Going home. The fox will be hit off probably, for a few yards up on the moor to the left ; heard of, probably, to-morrow, from some keeper five miles off: but Reinecke will not die this day. He will lie safe at a friend's house till nightfall, and trot home to Malepartus during the small hours, to brag and crow to his admiring spouse over his mighty feats, and how he outwitted that dull thing called man; carefully “remembering to forget," as Peter Pindar has it, that his life was saved, neither by courage nor cunning, but by base panic fear of a gaunt sheep-dog, who turned and coursed him exactly whither he did not want to go, at the top of this

very

lane. Be it so: or be it otherwise ;—what care I? I have had my exercise and pleasure, and shall not have any more such for full a week to come; I have sent more oxygen through my lungs in the last hour than I have in the previous eight-and-forty. I have given a wholesome stir to that Thumos (translate as you willwrath, spirit, pluck, or otherwise,) which Plato says is the root of all virtues. I have indulged for awhile that savage element which ought to be in the heart of every man ; for it alone gives him the energy by which he civilizes himself. I have overcome obstacles and endured dangers ; by doing which alone man becometh strong, great, useful, or otherwise worth one brass farthing. I have felt myself for half an hour a free man, with a right to as much of Noman's Land, which is the whole universe, as I could take and hold with four horse-hoofs. I have cast off the trammels of society, in as far as they are represented by banks, ditches, and hurdles, and have returned awhile to that state of nature out of which all civilization came, and to which perfect civilization ought in some way to return. In short, I have done and seen and thought, things unspeakable—at least so I hold. And if I have ridden neither very long nor very wellso much the better for me, who can get so much out of so little. Here again comes in the advantage of being a minute philosopher. On the other side of the account, my hat has one more dent in it; but what is one among so many? I feel, too, a little chilly about the small of the back, and shall indulge in a warm salt-bath the minute I get home. But my heart is lightened and my brain cleared ; and I can go home to the cheerful study and write off this epistle to you, old friend, without foul copy or correction, so sharpened are my wits by the simple expedient of air

and exercise, idleness and excitement—the only method by which the mens sana can be kept inside the corpus sanum. It has been a short pleasure, truly, but all the more easily obtained ; and a frivolous one, perhaps, in wise folks' eyes; but then, you know, nothing is frivolous to a Minute Philosopher.

ENGLAND FROM WOLSEY TO ELIZABETH.

(North British Review.]

THERE appeared, a few years since, a “ Comic History of England," duly caricaturing and falsifying all our great national events, and representing the English people, for many centuries back, as a mob of fools and knaves, led by the nose in each generation by a few arch-fools and arch-knaves. Some thoughtful persons regarded the book with utter contempt and indignation ; it seemed to them a crime to have written it; a proof of “banausia,” as Aristotle would have called it, only to be outdone by the writing a “ Comic Bible.After a while, however, their indignation began to subside; their second thoughts, as usual, were more charitable than their first; they were not surprised to hear that the author was an honest, just, and able magistrate; they saw that the publication of such a book involved no moral turpitude ; that it was merely meant as a jest on a subject on which jesting was permissible, and as a money speculation in a field of which men had a right to make money; while all which seemed offensive in it, was merely the outcome, and as it were apotheosis, of that method of writing English history which has been popular for nearly a hundred years.

66 Which of our modern historians,” they asked themselves, “ has had any real feeling of the importance, the sacredness, of his subject? Any real trust in, or respect for, the characters with whom he dealt? Has not the belief of each and all of them been the same that on the whole, the many always have been fools and knaves; foolish and knavish enough, at least, to become the puppets of a few fools and knaves who held the reins of power ? Have they not held that, on the whole, the problems of human nature, and human history, have been sufficiently solved by Gibbon and Voltaire, Gil Blas, and Figaro ? That our forefathers were silly barbarians,—that this glorious nineteenth century is the one region of light, and that all before was outer darkness, peopled by “foreign devils,” Englishmen, no doubt, according to the flesh,

A History of England from the Fall of Wolsey to the Death of Elizabeth. By J. A. FROUDE.

« PoprzedniaDalej »