Like Tom Moody, John Peel owes his celebrity to a song, though I am bound to say that the Cumberland huntsman was far more worthy of such a distinction than the Shropshire whipper-in. And what canny Cumbrian is there, the wide world over, whose heart is not stirred within him by the dear, familiar words and tune of “D'ye ken John Peel,” even as the hearts of his Scottish neighbours across the Border are stirred by “Auld Lang Syne”!
It has been sung in strange places, that famous Cumberland hunting-song. Its chorus rang out hearty and homely from the huts at Balaclava and the dreary trenches before Sebastopol. It cheered the spirits of the band of beleaguered heroes in the Residency at Lucknow. The future King of England, our jolly sport-loving Prince, has been known many a time to join lustily in its spirit-stirring chorus. I myself have heard it sung on the boards of Drury Lane by some seventy comely lasses, whose shapely figures, clad in the hunting costume of the other sex, made one of the prettiest pictures I ever saw upon the stage, and gave an effect to the song which roused the audience to enthusiasm.
And yet, world-famous as the song is, I don't suppose that one person in a thousand knows who wrote it, or has the faintest notion who or what John Peel was beyond the fact that he was fond of hunting. Indeed, I have often heard the question asked, whether John Peel was a real person or merely a mythical hero. Well, that question is easily answered.