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THE TROUBLES OF A GAME PROPRIETOR.
Among those gigantic follies, which pervade the great mass of society, and mar its repose and happiness, there is not one, at the present day, more prominent, than the love of sporting in all its diversities; and of these there is none so productive of such serious and extended mischiefs, of so many petty feuds and jealousies, or that can boast of more numerous votaries, than the fashionable mania for the preservation of game, and its destruction by the fowling-piece. Among our ancestors, few beside the idle country squire, whose income and landed property sanctioned the pastime, were professed shots. But now, from the landowner of fifty thousand pounds a year, to the retail shopkeeper, who makes his annual September sally to the stubbles in the neighbourhood of town, all ranks, professions, and ages, aspire to the ownership of a dog and gun: and far should it be from me to grudge them the healthy exercise of such pursuits, if they could, as things are constituted in England, be enjoyed by all who follow them, with peace and.common justice. But though the same fox, and the same pack of hounds, may be followed by a hundred as well as by fifty-though the same race may feast the eyes of a thousand as well as of a hundred gazers, the case is very different with a given quantity of game. It is perfectly clear, that all cannot be gratified in a country like our own, narrow in extent, and densely popu lous; and a large portion of that population admirers of a pastime, which, even to the individual owner of a large estate, can afford but a limited gratification, since it is the misfortune of shooting, that, unlike racing and other popular sports, the source of the amusement perishes by the very act from which the sportsman derives his pleasure. But such is the unconquerable perversity of our species, that it has in all ages conferred a value on objects in themselves valueless, that they are difficult of acquisition. To be able to excite the envy of others, by the possession of a rarity, is a lofty privilege, that excites our own. Hence arise those struggles and dissensions that estrange the tenant from his landlord, the peasantry from the gentry, the flock from the reverend pastor and magistrate, and neighbour from neighbour. And great as the evil is, it is still an increasing one; inasmuch as the mania for the sport and the possession of game, appears to be spreading. Look at our newspapers. As early as the month of July, they are filled with advertisements for the sale of dogs, guns, ammunition, and accoutrements. At this the landholder takes alarm, and fires off, in the same papers, his warnings against trespass, and denunciations of prosecution, and all the vengeance of the law. Look at a modern advertisement for the sale of an estatemevery narrow spot, of a gunshot in diameter, is pompously described to possess, as one of its most tempting qualities, extensive and flourishing plantations, abundantly stocked with gaine. Look at the reports of proceedings in our courts of justice-how frequently are the prosecutions for trespass, and the suits for penalties
incurred by the uncertificated or unqualified sportsman? Look under the head of casualties - how lamentable and frequent are the contests, sometimes fatal, between gamekeepers and midnight desperadoes? Look at a modern dinner; in which game is considered as an indispensable ingredient, although every guest present may be perfectly aware that his worthy host has neither land of his own, or any other source from which he could obtain the delicacy, save the poulterer's shop. And lastly,—look at the noon-day audacity with which our stage coachmen, poulterers, and higglers, carry on their illicit traffic; and the perfect confidence, so honourable to their superiors, which they always express, of finding purchasers. So that the possession of a paltry bird or hare, which, if not the subject of legal monopoly, there is every reason to believe, would be disregarded, leads, in the present state of things, to the complicated evils of murder and manslaughter; trespass, assault and battery; the demoralization of our peasantry; the misery of their wives and children ; ill-blood and litigation; mistrust and hatred ; oppression and revenge; in short, all sorts of flaws and chasms in the social structure. Now, what must we think of those who can persist in opposing the trial of any measure in the least degree likely to remove or diminish an evil like this, merely from a selfish fear that it might possibly interfere with their idle amusements. I am, for my own part, so strongly persuaded that the most beneficial effects would result from the legalization of the sale of game, that I most heartily deplore the late rejection of that measure in Parliament, and as sincerely hope that the liberal-minded men who firsi proposed it will continue to press it ; and that those who have hitherto opposed it will prove the soundness of their judgment, and the liberality of their minds, by adopting my view of the case. think it highly probable, that were such a measure carried before the projecting spirit of the age evaporates, we should speedily have a joint-stock company formed, for the rearing and sale of pheasants, partridges, and hares, and a much more feasible scheme would such a project be, than many of the wholesale frauds lately practised by certain worthy gentry, who have as yet escaped the treadmill and the whipping-post. At all events, there cannot be the least well-founded doubt, that in a country like this, full of capital and enterprise, where every article that produces the least profit would soon find a dealer, the breeding of game for market would soon become as common an employment among our peasantry as the rearing of poultry; and the price of game would, in consequence, soon become so low, that half-pay officers, and other plagues of the land proprietor, would cease to involve themselves in quarrels and litigation, to obtain what a slender income might, at least occasionally, obtain with peace and respectability—the opulent would no longer feel ambitious of displaying that on their table, which would be within the reach of humble competence—the poacher would be undersoldand even the gamekeeper would learn, at last, that honesty is the best policy. Of course the game of wild growth, unmolested by half its present number of persecutors, would rapidly increase; and thus the proprietor, who now opposes the legalization of the sale of game, from selfish motives, would, I believe and hope, find it ultimately
promote his amusements. A measure which affords a reasonable prospect of such desirable results as I have just enumerated, must, surely, in the judgment of all who can lay the least claim to patriotism and philanthropy, be entitled to a trial ; and that, too, of such a duration as may afford some security to those who may embark their little capital in the rearing of game. Or even if one only of such results, the prevention of poaching, should ensue from the adoption of this measure, it would be a glorious triumph for its supporters. For this single result is a combination of happy consequences—thousands of our peasantry reclaimed from a course which seldom fails to lead them, through a gradation of crime, to the gallows, or banishment for life—their wives and children happy and well conducted, under the care of industrious husbands and fathers, instead of being forsaken, and dependent upon parish relief-poor rates diminished (another sugar-plum for the land owner)—thousands, who are closely connected with the original plunderers, by conveying the game to its destination, forced to seek a more honest means of subsistence—mistrust and hatred between our gentry and peasantry dispelled-laws no longer violated, and blood no longer shed in desperate midnight conflicts-all form a picture, at which the eyes of the moral and humane must glisten with delight. But I have said enough-and alas! when the writer cries hold ! it generally happens that the reader has been long ago satiated. However, to diminish crime or misery, to reunite the severed ties of neighbourhood, of landlord and tenant, and other connexions of civilised life; to banish the general ambition to possess what a few only can legally possess, and to remove or lessen the envy of the many towards those privileged few, are objects which should enable him who zealously scribbles in the prosecution of them, to bear with resignation bis reader's twinkling eye, drawling tone, and frequent pause; and even to support the protracted yawn, as it grates upon his ear, without meditating any breach of the peace.
It was chiefly with the latter view, viz. of lessening those envious feelings, which many a keen, but careless sportsman, is but too apt to entertain towards the proprietors of well-stocked preserves, by showing the peculiar vexations incident to such possessions, that I subjoin the diary of a game proprietor for the first week in September. There is more in the tone and feelings of the hapless journalist, that would have been once quite applicable to myself, than I should like to acknowledge, in any other character than that of an anonymous scribbler.
Sunday.-An excellent practical sermon from Dr. Rosyphiz, on the superlative excellence of charity; and the utter hopelessness of our obeying its dictates in the important concerns of life, unless we also hold them sacred in minor affairs—in undergoing petty injuries and trials of temper, as well as in the patient endurance of more serious aggressions from our fellow creatures. The examination of our past and present feelings towards our neighbours, the natural consequence of such a discourse. Felt a momentary twinge or two, when I thought of Hodge. But what if the fellow had been my tenant for twenty years ? Did I not freely pardon three different acts of poaching, before I turned him out of his farm ? And what, if he set fire to my haystack, and was hanged for the arson, and his wife died brokenhearted ? was the catastrophe to be referred to my assertion of my just rights of property, or to his own base revenge? As to his six children, they are secure from want in the workhouse, to the support of which my property contributes largely in poor rates. To assert the sacred rights of property, is an imperative duty which every man owes to society. On this ground do I strictly resent, and mean to resent, the robbery of my game, by peasant or gentleman. Such resentment is no breach of charity. Dr. Rosyphiz was too general—why did he not make such an obvious exception ? He sha'n't have his annual brace to-morrow. As to mankind at large, I can survey my feelings towards them with the greatest complacency; with the exception of my immediate neighbours on the right and left, whose estates are too contiguous, and themselves too fond of shooting, to allow of our being on the best of terms—and also with the exception of some ten or a dozen of those gentle felons, half-pay officers, naval and military, at the neighbouring watering place.
Monday, Sept. 1.-Dreamed I was in the field, and came up with a gentleman poacher, who refused to show me his certificate, or give his address. Determined not to let the blackguard escape ; collared him, and shook him; he threw his arms round, and a struggle ensued : awakened by the piercing shrieks of my wife, whom, it seems, in the imaginary conflict, I had nearly throttled with my left hand, while, with my right hand, I most unmercifully pummelled her dear dainty little shoulders. The room instantly filled with guests and domestics; my poor little Sophy, out of her senses with horror and amazement at this apparent attempt at murder on the part of one who had always borne the character of the most affectionate of husbands, notwithstanding all my protestations and contrition, persisted in beseeching me to spare her life, to my unspeakable chagrin, as the bystanders evidently looked on the whole as a slight matrimonial fracas—a good deal of tittering among the servants-nothing but small beer shall be drank in the kitchen for a month to come. Received a gentle curtain lecture on my devotedness to field sports, and the vexations to which it subjected me. Sallied out with the major, and the rest of my guests, at four o'clock, on just such a morning as a sportsman would have bespoken. Proceeded direct to the further extremity of my property, on which I had seen several fine covies as late as yesterday. But after much time spent in a careful search, we found not a single head of game, but strong symptoms of their having been netted the preceding night—my keepers, of course, all amazement-myself all mortification
—and my guests, too evidently, all disappointment at such an unpropitious commencement. Returned to breakfast in fuming ill temper -scalded my throat, broke a cup and saucer, and severely cut my trigger finger. Retook the field, and had scarcely commenced operations, when a shot, within the limits of my estate, drew us off in pursuit to the right, which we had scarcely reached, ere a succession of shots drew us off to the left. This manœuvre being repeated, it was clear that some rogues were acting in concert. I laid in ambush ; and sent my keeper in a contrary direction. Pounced, at length, upon three half-pay gentry; a chaplain in the navy, a lieutenant in ditto, and an army captain. They refused to show their sporting credentials, or to give their names and address. Waxed ungovernably wroth, I shot the only sorry quadruped that all three, between them, had to boast of. This they returned with fearful interest, by slaughtering two beautiful setters, and a high-bred pointer. Moreover the captain and lieutenant saluted me with alternate salves of naval and military abuse, while the canon of divinity exploded, in a formal challenge, and talked of a saw-pit as the scene of combat. Endured all this in grim silence, while I noted down in my memory the faces and persons of the three marauders--compelled to return home at an early hour in consequence of the loss of dogs. Concocted a furious advertisement for the county paper, offering a reward “ to any one who would discover the names and addresses of three fellows, who had feloniously entered my property," adding a minute description of the three banditti above mentioned.
Tuesday.--Awakened by a loud report near the house, and greeted with the pleasing intelligence, that a spring-gun, which I had set yesterday, without giving due notice, had lacerated the leg of one of my keepers, in such a manner as to render amputation necessary. Must, of course, maintain the man for the rest of his life !-ten children! How inconsiderate in people, of his station in life, to beget such a swarm! Sallied out, after an early breakfast. Shot at a bird, which fell on my neighbour Tallyho's side of the hedge. Went after it—Tallyho himself behind the hedge! Verily believe the fellow was lurking in ambush. He taxed me with a wilful trespass—High words and a regular breeze. Forgot the scrub was a magistrate, and swore fiercely. He called upon me to pay a fine-laughed him to scorn. Detected my tailor carrying a double-barrelled gun on his shoulder, (what will this world come to!) peering over the hedge from the high road, into one of my turnip fields, the resort of two coveys !—never felt in such a sanguinary mood before. Greatly disappointed by the rascal's giving up his meditated inroad, in consequence of his perceiving me, before I could conceal myself. Much chagrined to find, on inquiry, that the monster is both qualified and licenced. The new dogs, which I had purchased yesterday evening, without a trial, on a dog dealer's word of honour, turned out totally worthless, and spoilt my sport so effectually, as to send me home at an early hour. On arriving at home, found a constable in my house, carrying off some of my furniture, under a distress warrant from Tallyho, to raise the fine which I had refused to pay for swearing. Kicked the caitiff out, and swore afresh, to the amount of a sovereign. Summoned instanter. Obliged to pay the amount of penalties ; and the constable bound over to prosecute for the assault." My guests, vexed and disappointed, took their leave this evening, instead of spending, as they had intended, the whole week with me.
Wednesday.—Found the words, “ blood-thirsty tyrant," chalked on my walls this morning; owing, no doubt, to my use of spring-guns, and my keeper's accident. Received notice of an action having been commenced against me by the three half-pay worthies, treating my advertisement respecting them as libellous. I saw more than one of the fraternity hovering about the confines of my estate yesterday.