Fox Hunting Life with Horse and Hound

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Here you will find reviews of, selections from, and commentaries concerning books, many of which don't even appear on Amazon's radar. But what goldmines for the literate foxhunter!

Riding a Point-to-Point

irish steeplechase

We are all lined up at the starting-post in the nearest thing to a straight line that a troublesome bay horse will allow. His green-clad rider is fighting desperately to prevent the brute from savaging every other fairly-well-behaved entrant in the race. Soon "Away you go! And good luck to you!" is heard as the flag drops; and the Starter sends a further God-speed to our thundering hooves with the merry notes of a "Gone Away" on his hunting horn.

The first fence looks like a strip of dark green canvas stretched between two groups of people. With a railing of human beings lining its approach on left and right, horses seem distracted, and treat the fence rather carelessly. Luckily it is only a simple gorse-built affair; though the horse on the left refuses it.

Flinging it behind, horses race away with renewed fury. The chestnut in front is setting a terrific pace. His rider endeavours to get him settled down, but with little success, and he leads over the first bank like a Derby winner. People are no longer crowding the fences and horses have less to distract them at their work. An open ditch yawns malevolently, but the pace affords scant opportunity for an examination of its width. A bank looms in front, and if that chestnut leads us to it at this pace some of us will see the inside view of an ambulance. Every stride makes it grow bigger. The chestnut's at it he's over; bay beside him crashes—went too close and hit his knees two horses out of it already. "Hey! Don't ride me in on top of him! Pull over!"

The Fox Meditates

rudyard kiplingIt’s been eye-opening to discover the many celebrated authors of classical literarature—like Rudyard Kipling—who have produced foxhunting poetry. In addition to those poets known for their sporting literature and published in these pages, Foxhunting Life readers have enjoyed the foxhunting poems of Sir Arthur Conant Doyle, William Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas, and William Butler Yeats.

What follows is a brief history of foxhunting in seven stanzas, written in the fox’s voice by Rudyard Kipling.

 

 When Samson set my brush afire
To spoil the Timnites barley,
I made my point for Leicestershire
And left Philistia early.
Through Gath and Rankesborough Gorse I fled,
And took the Coplow Road, sir!
And was a Gentleman in Red
When all the Quorn wore woad, sir!

When Rome lay massed on Hadrian's Wall,
And nothing much was doing,
Her bored Centurions heard my call
O' nights when I went wooing.
They raised a pack-they ran it well
(For I was there to run 'em)
From Aesica to Carter Fell,
And down North Tyne to Hunnum.

The Thaw

the thaw1.lionel edwards"By the road where the ditches are ready to run!"  /   Lionel Edwards illustrationHark to the avalanche snow from the roofs
   O’er eaves where the icicles melt in the sun!
Hark to the musical suck of the hoofs
   By the road where the ditches are ready to run!
On the slope of the hill is a patchwork of green
    And the fallows are spotted with spaces of brown,
While woodlands and copses and hedges between
    Have lost the white burden that weighted them down.

Siegfried Sassoon, Foxhunting, and the Great War

Siegfried SassoonSiegfried Loraine Sassoon (1886-1967), poet and novelist, platinum print, wearing military uniform with the collar badges of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and hat, Beresford’s stamp and copyright line on verso, 6 x 4½ in (15.2 x 11.5 cm). Accessed via Wikimedia Commons, January 2019.The National Sporting Library in Middleburg, Virginia, holds some 956 books on “foxhunting,” ranging in date from J. Roberts, An Essay on Hunting (1733) to Alastair Jackson, Lady of the Chase: The Life and Hunting Diaries of Daphne Moore (2018). Anyone likely to be visiting this website will know all the familiar names, from the prolific Nimrod and Robert Smith Surtees, to the less widely published William Scarth Dixon and Willoughby de Broke (Richard Greville Verney), to writers primarily known for one seminal work: Anthony Trollope, Hunting Sketches (1865), or George Whyte-Melville, Riding Recollections (1878). 

The Library’s holdings from the twentieth century alone total an impressive 602 works. They also include many by familiar names, such as the “standards” J. Stanley Reeve and A. Henry Higginson or, more recently, Michael Clayton and Alexander Mackay-Smith, as well as a number of influential works by women writers, such as Lady Diana Shedden and Lady Apsley, “To Whom The Goddess . . .”—Hunting and Riding for Women (1932), Lida Fleitmann Bloodgood, Hoofs in the Distance (1953), and E.V.A. Christy, Cross-Saddle and Side-Saddle (1932), one of many books on equitation that include the demands of riding across country.

Many of the 20th century works, most of them held by NSLM, date to the interwar years. Citing 177 examples, Anne Grimshaw (see list of Works Cited below) has estimated that books specifically on hunting published in England between 1919 and 1945 accounted for “25% of the total output of equestrian literature” (Grimshaw, 160). Included in this group is at least one title of signal literary merit: Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man, published by the distinguished poet Siegfried Sassoon in 1928 as the first volume of what would become a Great War trilogy, The Complete Memoirs of George Sherston (1937).