The Book of Household Management, by Isabella Beeton

Chapter XXII.

General Observations on Game.

1006. THE COMMON LAW OF ENGLAND has a maxim, that goods, in which no person can claim any property, belong, by his or her prerogative, to the king or queen. Accordingly, those animals, those ferae naturae, which come under the denomination of game, are, in our laws, styled his or her majesty’s, and may therefore, as a matter of course, be granted by the sovereign to another; in consequence of which another may prescribe to possess the same within a certain precinct or lordship. From this circumstance arose the right of lords of manors or others to the game within their respective liberties; and to protect these species of animals, the game laws were originated, and still remain in force. There are innumerable acts of parliament inflicting penalties on persons who may illegally kill game, and some of them are very severe; but they cannot be said to answer their end, nor can it be expected that they ever will, whilst there are so many persons of great wealth who have not otherwise the means of procuring game, except by purchase, and who will have it. These must necessarily encourage poaching, which, to a very large extent, must continue to render all game laws nugatory as to their intended effects upon the rustic population.

1007. THE OBJECT OF THESE LAWS, however, is not wholly confined to the restraining of the illegal sportsman. Even qualified or privileged persons must not kill game at all seasons. During the day, the hours allowed for sporting are from one hour before sunrise till one hour after sunset; whilst the time of killing certain species is also restricted to certain seasons. For example, the season for bustard-shooting is from December 1 to March 1; for grouse, or red grouse, from August 12 to December 10; heath-fowl, or black-game, from August 20 to December 20; partridges from September 1 to February 12; pheasants from October 1 to February 1; widgeons, wild ducks, wild geese, wild fowls, at any time but in June, July, August, and September. Hares may be killed at any time of the year, under certain restrictions defined by an act of parliament of the 10th of George III.

1008. THE EXERCISE OR DIVERSION OF PURSUING FOUR-FOOTED BEASTS OF GAME is called hunting, which, to this day, is followed in the field and the forest, with gun and greyhound. Birds, on the contrary, are not hunted, but shot in the air, or taken with nets and other devices, which is called fowling; or they are pursued and taken by birds of prey, which is called hawking, a species of sport now fallen almost entirely into desuetude in England, although, in some parts, showing signs of being revived.

1009. IN PURSUING FOUR-FOOTED BEASTS, such as deer, boars, and hares, properly termed hunting, mankind were, from the earliest ages, engaged. It was the rudest and the most obvious manner of acquiring human support before the agricultural arts had in any degree advanced. It is an employment, however, requiring both art and contrivance, as well as a certain fearlessness of character, combined with the power of considerable physical endurance. Without these, success could not be very great; but, at best, the occupation is usually accompanied with rude and turbulent habits; and, when combined with these, it constitutes what is termed the savage state of man. As culture advances, and as the soil proportionably becomes devoted to the plough or to the sustenance of the tamer or more domesticated animals, the range of the huntsman is proportionably limited; so that when a country has attained to a high state of cultivation, hunting becomes little else than an amusement of the opulent. In the case of fur-bearing animals, however, it is somewhat different; for these continue to supply the wants of civilization with one of its most valuable materials of commerce.

1010. THE THEMES WHICH FORM THE MINSTRELSY OF THE EARLIEST AGES, either relate to the spoils of the chase or the dangers of the battle-field. Even the sacred writings introduce us to Nimrod, the first mighty hunter before the Lord, and tell us that Ishmael, in the solitudes of Arabia, became a skilful bow-man; and that David, when yet young, was not afraid to join in combat with the lion or the bear. The Greek mythology teems with hunting exploits. Hercules overthrows the Nemaean lion, the Erymanthean boar, and the hydra of Lerna; Diana descends to the earth, and pursues the stag; whilst Aesculapius, Nestor, Theseus, Ulysses, and Achilles are all followers of the chase. Aristotle, sage as he was, advises young men to apply themselves early to it; and Plato finds in it something divine. Horace exalts it as a preparative exercise for the path of glory, and several of the heroes of Homer are its ardent votaries. The Romans followed the hunting customs of the Greeks, and the ancient Britons were hunters before Julius Caesar invaded their shores.

1011. ALTHOUGH THE ANCIENT BRITONS FOLLOWED HUNTING, however, they did not confine themselves solely to its pursuit. They bred cattle and tilled the ground, and, to some extent, indicated the rudimentary state of a pastoral and agricultural life; but, in every social change, the sports of the field maintained their place. After the expulsion of the Danes, and during the brief restoration of the Saxon monarchy, these were still followed: even Edward the Confessor, who would join in no other secular amusements, took the greatest delight, says William of Malmesbury, “to follow a pack of swift hounds in pursuit of game, and to cheer them with his voice.”

1012. NOR WAS EDWARD the only English sovereign who delighted in the pleasures of the chase. William the Norman, and his two sons who succeeded him, were passionately fond of the sport, and greatly circumscribed the liberties of their subjects in reference to the killing of game. The privilege of hunting in the royal forests was confined to the king and his favourites; and in order that these umbrageous retreats might be made more extensive, whole villages were depopulated, places of worship levelled with the ground, and every means adopted that might give a sufficient amplitude of space, in accordance with the royal pleasure, for the beasts of the chase. King John was likewise especially attached to the sports of the field; whilst Edward III. was so enamoured of the exercise, that even during his absence at the wars in France, he took with him sixty couples of stag-hounds and as many hare-hounds, and every day amused himself either with hunting or hawking. Great in wisdom as the Scotch Solomon, James I., conceited himself to be, he was much addicted to the amusements of hunting, hawking, and shooting. Yea, it is oven asserted that his precious time was divided between hunting, the bottle, and his standish: to the first he gave his fair weather, to the second his dull, and to the third his cloudy. From his days down to the present, the sports of the field have continued to hold their high reputation, not only for the promotion of health, but for helping to form that manliness of character which enters so largely into the composition of the sons of the British soil. That it largely helps to do this there can be no doubt. The late duke of Grafton, when hunting, was, on one occasion, thrown into a ditch. A young curate, engaged in the same chase, cried out, “Lie still, my lord!” leapt over him, and pursued his sport. Such an apparent want of feeling might be expected to have been resented by the duke; but not so. On his being helped up by his attendant, he said, “That man shall have the first good living that falls to my disposal: had he stopped to have given me his sympathy, I never would have given him anything.” Such was the manly sentiment of the duke, who delighted in the exemplification of a spirit similarly ardent as his own in the sport, and above the baseness of an assumed sorrow.

1013. THAT HUNTING HAS IN MANY INSTANCES BEEN CARRIED TO AN EXCESS is well known, and the match given by the Prince Esterhazy, regent of Hungary, on the signing of the treaty of peace with France, is not the least extraordinary upon record. On that occasion, there were killed 160 deer, 100 wild boars, 300 hares, and 80 foxes: this was the achievement of one day. Enormous, however, as this slaughter may appear, it is greatly inferior to that made by the contemporary king of Naples on a hunting expedition. That sovereign had a larger extent of ground at his command, and a longer period for the exercise of his talents; consequently, his sport, if it can so be called, was proportionably greater. It was pursued during his journey to Vienna, in Austria, Bohemia, and Moravia; when he killed 5 bears, 1,820 boars, 1,950 deer, 1,145 does, 1,625 roebucks, 11,121 rabbits, 13 wolves, 17 badgers, 16,354 hares, and 354 foxes. In birds, during the same expedition, he killed 15,350 pheasants and 12,335 partridges. Such an amount of destruction can hardly be called sport; it resembles more the indiscriminate slaughter of a battle-field, where the scientific engines of civilized warfare are brought to bear upon defenceless savages.

1014. DEER AND HARES may be esteemed as the only four-footed animals now hunted in Britain for the table; and even those are not followed with the same ardour as they were wont to be. Still, there is no country in the world where the sport of hunting on horseback is carried to such an extent as in Great Britain, and where the pleasures of the chase are so well understood, and conducted on such purely scientific principles. The Fox, of all “the beasts of the field,” is now considered to afford the best sport. For this, it is infinitely superior to the stag; for the real sportsman can only enjoy that chase when the deer is sought for and found like other game which are pursued with hounds. In the case of finding an outlying fallow-deer, which is unharboured, in this manner, great sport is frequently obtained; but this is now rarely to be met with in Britain. In reference to hare-hunting, it is much followed in many parts of this and the sister island; but, by the true foxhunter, it is considered as a sport only fit to be pursued by women and old men. Although it is less dangerous and exciting than the fox-chase, however, it has great charms for those who do not care for the hard riding which the other requires.

1015. THE ART OF TAKING OR KILLING BIRDS is called “fowling,” and is either practised as an amusement by persons of rank or property, or for a livelihood by persons who use nets and other apparatus. When practised as an amusement, it principally consists of killing them with a light firearm called a “fowling-piece,” and the sport is secured to those who pursue it by the game laws. The other means by which birds are taken, consist in imitating their voices, or leading them, by other artifices, into situations where they become entrapped by nets, birdlime, or otherwise. For taking large numbers of birds, the pipe or call is the most common means employed; and this is done during the months of September and October. We will here briefly give a description of the modus operandi pursued in this sport. A thin wood is usually the spot chosen, and, under a tree at a little distance from the others, a cabin is erected, and there are only such branches left on the tree as are necessary for the placing of the birdlime, and which are covered with it. Around the cabin are placed avenues with twisted perches, also covered with birdlime. Having thus prepared all that is necessary, the birdcatcher places himself in the cabin, and, at sunrise and sunset, imitates the cry of a small bird calling the others to its assistance. Supposing that the cry of the owl is imitated, immediately different kinds of birds will flock together at the cry of their common enemy, when, at every instant, they will be seen falling to the ground, their wings being of no use to them, from their having come in contact with the birdlime. The cries of those which are thus situated now attract others, and thus are large numbers taken in a short space of time. If owls were themselves desired to be taken, it is only during the night that this can be done, by counterfeiting the squeak of the mouse. Larks, other birds, and water-fowl, are sometimes taken by nets; but to describe fully the manner in which this is done, would here occupy too much space.

1016. FEATHERED GAME HAVE FROM TIME IMMEMORIAL given gratification to the palate of man. With the exception of birds of prey, and some other species, Moses permitted his people to eat them; and the Egyptians made offerings to their priests of their most delicate birds. The ancient Greeks commenced their repasts with little roasted birds; and feathered game, amongst the Romans, was served as the second course. Indeed, several of the ancient gourmands of the “imperial city” were so fond of game, that they brought themselves to ruin by eating flamingoes and pheasants. “Some modern nations, the French among others,” says Monsieur Soyer, “formerly ate the heron, crane, crow, stork, swan, cormorant, and bittern. The first three especially were highly esteemed; and Laillevant, cook of Charles VII., teaches us how to prepare these meagre, tough birds. Belon says, that in spite of its revolting taste when unaccustomed to it, the bittern is, however, among the delicious treats of the French. This writer also asserts, that a falcon or a vulture, either roasted or boiled, is excellent eating; and that if one of these birds happened to kill itself in flying after game, the falconer instantly cooked it. Lebaut calls the heron a royal viand.”

1017. THE HERON WAS HUNTED BY THE HAWK, and the sport of hawking is usually placed at the head of those amusements that can only be practised in the country. This precedency it probably obtained from its being a pastime to generally followed by the nobility, not in Great Britain only, but likewise on the continent. In former times, persons of high rank rarely appeared in public without their dogs and their hawks: the latter they carried with them when they journeyed from one country to another, and sometimes even took them to battle with them, and would not part with them when taken prisoners, even to obtain their own liberty. Such birds were esteemed as the ensigns of nobility, and no action was reckoned more dishonourable in a man of rank than that of giving up his hawk. We have already alluded to the hunting propensities of our own Edward III., and we may also allude to his being equally addicted to hawking. According to Froissart, when this sovereign invaded France, he took with him thirty falconers on horseback, who had charge of his hawks, and every day, as his royal fancy inclined him, he either hunted, or went to the river for the purpose of hawking. In the great and powerful, the pursuit of game as a sport is allowable, but in those who have to earn their bread by the sweat of their brow, it is to be condemned. In Burton’s “Anatomy of Melancholy” we find a humorous story, told by Poggius, the Florentine, who reprobates this folly in such persons. It is this. A physician of Milan, that cured madmen, had a pit of water in his house, in which he kept his patients, some up to the knees, some to the girdle, some to the chin, pro modo insaniae, as they were more or less affected. One of them by chance, that was well recovered, stood in the door, and seeing a gallant pass by with a hawk on his fist, well mounted, with his spaniels after him, would needs know to what use all this preparation served. He made answer, To kill certain fowl. The patient demanded again, what his fowl might be worth which he killed in a year? He replied, Five or ten crowns; and when he urged him further, what his dogs, horse, and hawks stood him in, he told him four hundred crowns. With that the patient bade him begone, as he loved his life and welfare; “for if our master come and find thee here, he will put thee in the pit, amongst the madmen, up to the chin.” Thus reproving the madness of such men as will spend themselves in those vain sports, to the neglect of their business and necessary affairs.

1018. AS THE INEVITABLE RESULT OF SOCIAL PROGRESS is, at least to limit, if not entirely to suppress, such sports as we have here been treating of, much of the romance of country life has passed away. This is more especially the case with falconry, which had its origin about the middle of the fourth century, although, lately, some attempts have been rather successfully made to institute a revival of the “gentle art” of hawking. Julius Firmicus, who lived about that time, is, so far as we can find, the first Latin author who speaks of falconers, and the art of teaching one species of birds to fly after and catch others. The occupation of these functionaries has now, however, all but ceased. New and nobler efforts characterize the aims of mankind in the development of their civilization, and the sports of the field have, to a large extent, been superseded by other exercises, it may be less healthful and invigorating, but certainly more elegant, intellectual, and humanizing.

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31