The Poetical Works of Thomas Hood, by Thomas Hood

The Epping Hunt.

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Striding in the Steps of Strutt — The historian of the old English ports — the author of the following pages has endeavored to record a yearly revel, already fast hastening to decay. The Easter phase will soon be numbered with the pastimes of past times: its dogs will have had their day, and its Deer will be Fallow. A few more seasons, and this City Common Hunt will become uncommon.

In proof of this melancholy decadance, the ensuing epistle is inserted. It was penned by an underling at the Kells, a person more accustomed to riding than writing:—

“Sir — About the Hunt. In anser to your Innqueries, their as been a great falling off laterally, so muches this year that there was nobody allmost. We did smear nothing provisionally, hardly a Bottle extra, wich is a proof in Pint. In short our Hunt may be said to be in the last Stag of a decline.”

“I am, Sir,”

“With respects from your humble Servant,”

“BARTHOLOMEW RUTT.”

“On Monday they began to hunt.”—Chevy Chase.

John Huggins was as bold a man

As trade did ever know,

A warehouse good he had, that stood

Hard by the church of Bow.

There people bought Dutch cheeses round,

And single Glo’ster flat —

And English butter in a lump,

And Irish — in a pat.

Six days a week beheld him stand,

His business next his heart,

At counter, with his apron tied

About his counter-part.

The seventh, in a sluice-house box

He took his pipe and pot;

On Sundays, for eel-piety,

A very noted spot.

Ah, blest if he had never gone

Beyond its rural shed!

One Easter-tide, some evil guide

Put Epping in his head;

Epping, for butter justly famed,

And pork in sausage pop’t;

Where, winter time or summer time,

Pig’s flesh is always chop’t.

But famous more, as annals tell,

Because of Easter Chase:

There ev’ry year, ’twixt dog and deer,

There is a gallant race.

With Monday’s sun John Huggins rose,

And slapt his leather thigh,

And sang the burthen of the song,

“This day a stag must die.”

For all the livelong day before,

And all the night in bed,

Like Beckford, he had nourished “Thoughts

On Hunting” in his head.

Of horn and morn, and hark and bark,

And echo’s answering sounds,

All poets’ wit hath ever writ

In dog-rel verse of hounds.

Alas! there was no warning voice

To whisper in his ear,

Thou art a fool in leaping Cheap

To go and hunt the deer!

No thought he had of twisted spine,

Or broken arms or legs;

Not chicken-hearted he, altho’

T’was whispered of his egg!

Ride out he would, and hunt he would,

Nor dreamt of ending ill;

Mayhap with Dr. Ridout’s fee,

And Surgeon Hunter’s bill.

So he drew on his Sunday boots,

Of lustre superfine;

The liquid black they wore that day

Was Warren-ted to shine.

His yellow buckskins fitted close,

As once upon a stag;

Thus well equipt he gaily skipt,

At once, upon his nag.

But first to him that held the rein

A crown he nimbly flung:

For holding of the horse? — why, no —

For holding of his tongue.

To say the horse was Huggins’ own,

Would only be a brag;

His neighbor Fig and he went halves,

Like Centaurs, in a nag.

And he that day had got the gray,

Unknown to brother cit;

The horse he knew would never tell,

Altho’ it was a tit.

A well-bred horse he was, I wis,

As he began to show,

By quickly “rearing up within

The way he ought to go.”

But Huggins, like a wary man,

Was ne’er from saddle cast;

Resolved, by going very slow,

On sitting very fast.

And so he jogged to Tot’n’am Cross,

An ancient town well known,

Where Edward wept for Eleanor

In mortar and in stone.

A royal game of fox and goose,

To play on such a loss;

Wherever she set down her orts,

Thereby he put a cross.

Now Huggins had a crony here,

That lived beside the way;

One that had promised sure to be

His comrade for the day.

Whereas the man had changed his mind,

Meanwhile upon the case!

And meaning not to hunt at all,

Had gone to Enfield Chase.

For why, his spouse had made him vow

To let a game alone,

Where folks that ride a bit of blood

May break a bit of bone.

“Now, be his wife a plague for life!

A coward sure is he”:

Then Huggins turned his horse’s head,

And crossed the bridge of Lea.

Thence slowly on thro’ Laytonstone,

Past many a Quaker’s box —

No friends to hunters after deer,

Tho’ followers of a Fox.

And many a score behind — before —

The self-same route inclined,

And, minded all to march one way,

Made one great march of mind.

Gentle and simple, he and she,

And swell, and blood, and prig;

And some had carts, and some a chaise,

According to their gig.

Some long-eared jacks, some knacker’s hacks,

(However odd it sounds),

Let out that day to hunt, instead

Of going to the hounds!

And some had horses of their own,

And some were forced to job it:

And some, while they inclined to Hunt,

Betook themselves to Cob-it.

All sorts of vehicles and vans,

Bad, middling, and the smart;

Here rolled along the gay barouche,

And there a dirty cart!

And lo! a cart that held a squad

Of costermonger line;

With one poor hack, like Pegasus,

That slaved for all the Nine!

Yet marvel not at any load,

That any horse might drag,

When all, that morn, at once were drawn

Together by a stag!

Now when they saw John Huggins go

At such a sober pace;

“Hallo!” cried they; “come, trot away,

You’ll never see the chase!”

But John, as grave as any judge,

Made answer quite as blunt;

“It will be time enough to trot,

When I begin to hunt!”

And so he paced to Woodford Wells,

Where many a horseman met,

And letting go the reins, of course,

Prepared for heavy wet.

And lo! within the crowded door,

Stood Rounding, jovial elf;

Here shall the Muse frame no excuse,

But frame the man himself.

A snow-white head, a merry eye,

A cheek of jolly blush;

A claret tint laid on by health,

With Master Reynard’s brush;

A hearty frame, a courteous bow,

The prince he learned it from;

His age about threescore and ten,

And there you have Old Tom.

In merriest key I trow was he,

So many guests to boast;

So certain congregations meet,

And elevate the host.

“Now welcome lads,” quoth he, “and prads,

You’re all in glorious luck:

Old Robin has a run to-day,

A noted forest buck.

“Fair Mead’s the place, where Bob and Tom

In red already ride;

’Tis but a step, and on a horse

You soon may go a-stride.”

So off they scampered, man and horse,

As time and temper pressed —

But Huggins, hitching on a tree,

Branched off from all the rest.

Howbeit he tumbled down in time

To join with Tom and Bob,

All in Fair Mead, which held that day

Its own fair mead of mob.

Idlers to wit — no Guardians some,

Of Tattlers in a squeeze;

Ramblers in heavy carts and vans,

Spectators up in trees.

Butchers on backs of butchers’ hacks,

That shambled to and fro!

Bakers intent upon a buck,

Neglectful of the dough!

Change Alley Bears to speculate,

As usual, for a fall;

And green and scarlet runners, such

As never climbed a wall!

’Twas strange to think what difference

A single creature made;

A single stag had caused a whole

Stagnation in their trade.

Now Huggins from his saddle rose,

And in the stirrups stood:

And lo! a little cart that came

Hard by a little wood.

In shape like half a hearse — tho’ not

For corpses in the least;

For this contained the deer alive,

And not the dear deceased!

And now began a sudden stir,

And then a sudden shout,

The prison-doors were opened wide,

And Robin bounded out!

His antlered head shone blue and red,

Bedecked with ribbons fine;

Like other bucks that come to ‘list

The hawbucks in the line.

One curious gaze of mild amaze,

He turned and shortly took;

Then gently ran adown the mead,

And bounded o’er the brook.

Now Huggins, standing far aloof,

Had never seen the deer,

Till all at once he saw the beast

Come charging in his rear.

Away he went, and many a score

Of riders did the same,

On horse and ass — like high and low

And Jack pursuing game!

Good Lord! to see the riders now,

Thrown off with sudden whirl,

A score within the purling brook,

Enjoyed their “early purl.”

A score were sprawling on the grass,

And beavers fell in showers;

There was another Floorer there

Beside the Queen of Flowers!

Some lost their stirrups, some their whips,

Some had no caps to show;

But few, like Charles at Charing Cross,

Rode on in Statue quo.

“O dear! O dear!” now might you hear,

“I’ve surely broke a bone”;

“My head is sore,”— with many more

Such speeches from the thrown.

Howbeit their wailings never moved

The wide Satanic clan,

Who grinned, as once the Devil grinned,

To see the fall of Man.

And hunters good, that understood,

Their laughter knew no bounds,

To see the horses “throwing off,”

So long before the hounds.

For deer must have due course of law,

Like men the Courts among;

Before those Barristers the dogs

Proceed to “giving tongue.”

And now Old Robin’s foes were set

That fatal taint to find,

That always is scent after him,

Yet always left behind.

And here observe how dog and man,

A different temper shows,

What hound resents that he is sent

To follow his own nose?

Towler and Jowler — howlers all,

No single tongue was mute;

The stag had led a hart, and lo!

The whole pack followed suit.

No spur he lacked, fear stuck a knife

And fork in either haunch;

And every dog he knew had got

An eye-tooth to his paunch!

Away, away! he scudded like

A ship before the gale;

Now flew to ”hills we know not of,”

Now, nun-like, took the vale.

Another squadron charging now,

Went off at furious pitch; —

A perfect Tam o’ Shanter mob,

Without a single witch.

But who was he with flying skirts,

A hunter did endorse,

And like a poet seemed to ride

Upon a wingèd horse —

A whipper-in? — no whipper-in:

A huntsman? no such soul.

A connoisseur, or amateur?

Why yes — a Horse Patrol.

A member of police, for whom

The county found a nag,

And, like Acteon in the tale,

He found himself in stag!

Away they went then, dog and deer,

And hunters all away —

The maddest horses never knew

Mad staggers such as they!

Some gave a shout, some rolled about,

And anticked as they rode,

And butchers whistled on their curs,

And milkmen tally-hoed.

About two score there were, not more,

That galloped in the race;

The rest, alas! lay on the grass,

As once in Chevy Chase!

But even those that galloped on

Were fewer every minute —

The field kept getting more select,

Each thicket served to thin it.

For some pulled up, and left the hunt,

Some fell in miry bogs,

And vainly rose and “ran a muck,”

To overtake the dogs.

And some, in charging hurdle stakes,

Were left bereft of sense —

What else could be premised of blades

That never learned to fence?

But Roundings, Tom and Bob, no gate,

Nor hedge, nor ditch, could stay;

O’er all they went, and did the work

Of leap years in a day.

And by their side see Huggins ride,

As fast as he could speed;

For, like Mazeppa, he was quite

At mercy of his steed.

No means he had, by timely check,

The gallop to remit,

For firm and fast, between his teeth,

The biter held the bit.

Trees raced along, all Essex fled

Beneath him as he sate —

He never saw a county go

At such a county rate!

“Hold hard! hold hard! you’ll lame the dogs,”

Quoth Huggins, “So I do —

I’ve got the saddle well in hand,

And hold as hard as you!”

Good Lord! to see him ride along,

And throw his arms about,

As if with stitches in the side,

That he was drawing out!

And now he bounded up and down,

Now like a jelly shook:

Till bumped and galled — yet not where Gall

For bumps did ever look!

And rowing with his legs the while,

As tars are apt to ride,

With every kick he gave a prick,

Deep in the horse’s side!

But soon the horse was well avenged

For cruel smart of spurs,

For, riding through a moor, he pitched

His master in a furze!

Where sharper set than hunger is

He squatted all forlorn;

And like a bird was singing out

While sitting on a thorn!

Right glad was he, as well might be,

Such cushion to resign:

“Possession is nine points,” but his

Seemed more than ninety-nine.

Yet worse than all the prickly points

That entered in his skin,

His nag was running off the while

The thorns were running in!

Now had a Papist seen his sport,

Thus laid upon the shelf,

Altho’ no horse he had to cross,

He might have crossed himself.

Yet surely still the wind is ill

That none can say is fair;

A jolly wight there was, that rode

Upon a sorry mare!

A sorry mare, that surely came

Of pagan blood and bone;

For down upon her knees she went

To many a stock and stone!

Now seeing Huggins’ nag adrift,

This farmer, shrewd and sage,

Resolved, by changing horses here,

To hunt another stage!

Tho’ felony, yet who would let

Another’s horse alone,

Whose neck is placed in jeopardy

By riding on his own?

And yet the conduct of the man

Seemed honest-like and fair;

For he seemed willing, horse and all,

To go before the mare!

So up on Huggins’ horse he got,

And swiftly rode away,

While Hugging mounted on the mare,

Done brown upon a bay!

And off they set, in double chase,

For such was fortune’s whim,

The farmer rode to hunt the stag,

And Huggins hunted him!

Alas! with one that rode so well

In vain it was to strive;

A dab was he, as dabs should be —

All leaping and alive!

And here of Nature’s kindly care

Behold a curious proof,

As nags are meant to leap, she puts

A frog in every hoof!

Whereas the mare, altho’ her share

She had of hoof and frog,

On coming to a gate stopped short

As stiff as any log;

Whilst Huggins in the stirrup stood

With neck like neck of crane,

As sings the Scottish song —“to see

The gate his hart had gane.”

And lo! the dim and distant hunt

Diminished in a trice:

The steeds, like Cinderella’s team,

Seemed dwindling into mice;

And, far remote, each scarlet coat

Soon flitted like a spark —

Tho’ still the forest murmured back

An echo of the bark!

But sad at soul John Huggins turned:

No comfort could he find;

While thus the “Hunting Chorus” sped,

To stay five bars behind.

For tho’ by dint of spur he got

A leap in spite of fate —

Howbeit there was no toll at all,

They could not clear the gate.

And, like Fitzjames, he cursed the hunt,

And sorely cursed the day,

And mused a new Gray’s elegy

On his departed gray!

Now many a sign at Woodford town

Its Inn-vitation tells:

But Huggins, full of ills, of course,

Betook him to the Wells,

Where Rounding tried to cheer him up

With many a merry laugh,

But Huggins thought of neighbor Fig,

And called for half-and-half.

Yet, ‘spite of drink, he could not blink

Remembrance of his loss;

To drown a care like his, required

Enough to drown a horse.

When thus forlorn, a merry horn

Struck up without the door —

The mounted mob were all returned;

The Epping Hunt was o’er!

And many a horse was taken out

Of saddle, and of shaft;

And men, by dint of drink, became

The only ”beasts of draught.”

For now begun a harder run

On wine, and gin, and beer;

And overtaken man discussed

The overtaken deer.

How far he ran, and eke how fast,

And how at bay he stood,

Deer-like, resolved to sell his life

As dearly as he could;

And how the hunters stood aloof,

Regardful of their lives,

And shunned a beast, whose very horns

They knew could handle knives!

How Huggins stood when he was rubbed

By help and ostler kind,

And when they cleaned the clay before,

How worse “remained behind.”

And one, how he had found a horse

Adrift — a goodly gray!

And kindly rode the nag, for fear

The nag should go astray.

Now Huggins, when he heard the tale,

Jumped up with sudden glee;

“A goodly gray! why, then, I say

That gray belongs to me!

“Let me endorse again my horse,

Delivered safe and sound;

And, gladly, I will give the man

A bottle and a pound!”

The wine was drunk — the money paid,

Tho’ not without remorse,

To pay another man so much,

For riding on his horse.

And let the chase again take place,

For many a long, long year,

John Huggins will not ride again

To hunt the Epping Deer!

Moral.

Thus pleasure oft eludes our grasp,

Just when we think to grip her;

And hunting after happiness,

We only hunt a slipper.

Originally published in 1830 in a thin duodecimo, with illustrations by George Cruikshank. It was while Hood was living at Winchmore Hill that he had the opportunity of noting the chief features of this once famous Civic Revel — the Easter Monday Hunt — even then in its decadence.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hood/thomas/poetical-works/poem106.html

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 20:51