1735
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Fox-hunting.

The Pennsylvania Gazette (15 January 1736).

William Somervile


An excerpt from the third book of William Somervile's The Chase, not attributed. While this unsigned poem is replete with fine description, the best passages are doubtless those personifying the beasts involved in the chasing the wily but hapless fox: "Thro' ev'ry homestall and thro ev'ry yard, | His midnight walks, panting, forlorn, he flies; | Thro' ev'ry hole he sneaks, thro' ev'ry jakes | Plunging he wades besmear'd, and fondly hopes | In a superior stench to lose his own: | But faithful to the track, th' unerring hounds | With peals of echoing vengeance close pursue." While hunting was a georgic topic, there is nothing didactic about this descriptive ode, and while most imitations of The Splendid Shilling have urban settings the presentation of the fox and his pursuers, like the celebratory cider consumed at the close, relate this poem to the Philips series. Not seen.

The sport of fox-hunting was just becoming fashionable at this time (it had been celebrated the previous year in William Somervile's Miltonic The Chace), and while one suspects that Ben Franklin purloined this poem from a British publication, it is conceivably an American original. Some unusual diction ("on the drag I hear," "gorcing spur," "homestall" for homestead) might settle the matter. While the OED traces "homestall" to Anglo-Saxon origins, most of the more recent citations are American.



For these nocturnal thieves, huntsmen prepare
Thy sharpest vengeance. Oh! how glorious 'tis
To sight th' oppress'd, and bring the felon vile
To just disgrace! E'er yet the morning peep,
Or stars retire from the first blush of day,
With thy far-echoing voice alarm thy pack,
And rouse thy bold compeers. Then to the copse,
Thick with entangling grass, or prickly furze,
With silence lead thy many-colour'd hounds,
In all their beauty's pride. See! how they range,
Dispers'd, how busily this way and that
They cross examining with curious nose
Each likely haunt. Hark! on the drag I hear
Their doubtful notes, preluding to a cry
More nobly full, and swell'd with ev'ry mouth.
As stragling armies, at the trumpet's voice,
Press to their standard, hither all repair,
And hurry thro' the woods; with hasty step
Rustling, and full of hope; now driv'n on heaps
They push, they strive; while from his kennel sneaks
The conscious victim. See! he skulks along,
Slick at the shepherd's cost, and plump with meals
Purloin'd. So thrive the wicked here below
Tho' high his brush he bear, thro' tipt with white
It gayly shine; yet e're the sun declin'd
Recal the shades of night, the pamper'd rogue
Shall rue his face revers'd: and at his heels
Behold the just avenger, swift to seize
His forfeit head, and thirsting for his blood.

Heavens! what melodious strains! how beat our hearts
Big with tumultuous joy! the loaded gales
Breath harmony! and as the tempest drives
From wood to wood, thro' ev'ry dark recess
The forest thunders, and the mountains shake.
The chorus swells; less various, and less sweet
The trilling notes when in those very groves,
The feather'd choristers salute the spring,
And ev'ry bush in consort joins; or when
The master's hand, in meditated air,
Bids the loud organ breath, and all the pow'r
Of musick in one instrument combine,
An universal minstrelsy. And now
In vain each earth he tries, the doors are barr'd
Impregnable, nor is the covert safe;
He pants for purer air. Hark! what loud shouts
Re-echo thro' the groves! he breaks away,
Shrill horns proclaim his flight. Each stragling hound
Strains o'er the lawn to reach the distant pack.
'Tis triumph all and joy. Now, my brave youths,
Now give a loose to the clean gen'rous steed;
Flourish the whip, nor spare the galling spur,
But in the madness of delight, forget
Your fears. Far o'er the rocky hills we range,
And dangerous our course; but in the brave
True courage never fails. In vain the stream
In foaming eddies whirls; in vain the ditch
Wide gaping threatens death. The craggy steep,
Where the poor dizzy shepherd crawls with care,
And clings to ev'ry twig, gives us no pain,
But down we sweep, as stoops the falcon bold
To pounce his prey. Then up th' opponent hill,
By the swift motion flung, we mount aloft.
So ships in winter-seas now sliding sink
Adown the steepy wave, then toss'd on high
Ride on the billows, and defy the storm.

What lengths we pass! where will the wand'ring chace
Lead us bewilder'd; smooth as swallows skim
The new-shorn mead, and far more swift we fly.
See my brave pack! how to the head they press,
Justling in close array, then more diffuse
Obliquely wheel, while from their op'ning mouths
The vollied thunder breaks. So when the cranes
Their annual voyage steer, with wanton wing
Their figure oft they change, and their loud clang
From cloud to cloud rebounds. How far behind
The hunter-crew, wide-stragling o'er the plain!
The panting courser now with trembling nerves
Begins to reel; ting'd by the gorcing spur,
Makes many a faint effort: he snorts, he foams;
The big round drops run trickling down his sides,
With sweat and blood distain'd. Look back and view
The strange confusion of the vale below,
Where sow'r vexation reigns; see, yon poor jade,
In vain th' impatient rider frets and swears,
With galling spurs harrows his mangled sides;
He can no more: his stiff unpliant limbs
Rooted on earth, unmov'd, and fix'd he stands,
For ev'ry cruel curse returns a groan,
And sobs, and faints, and dies. Who without grief
Can that pamper'd steed, his masters joy,
His minion, and his daily care, well cloath'd,
Well-fed with ev'ry nicer care; no cost,
No labour spar'd; who when the flying chace
Broke from the copse, without a rival led
The num'rous train; now a sad spectacle
Of pride brought low, and humbled insolence,
Drove like a pannier'd ass, and scourg'd along.
While these with loosen'd reins, and dangling heels,
Hang on their palfreys, that scarce bear
Their weights; another in the treach'rous bog
Lies flound'ring half ingulph'd. What biteing thoughts
Torment th' abandon'd crew! old age laments
His vigour spent: the tall plump, brawny youth
Curses his cumbrous bulk; and envies now
The short pygmean race, he whilom kenn'd
With proud insulting leer. A chosen few
Alone the sport enjoy, nor drop beneath
Their pleasing toils. Here, huntsmen, from this height
Observe yon birds of prey; if I can judge,
'Tis there the villain lurks; they hover round
And claim his as their own. Was I not right?
See! there he creeps along; his brush he drags,
And sweeps the mire impure; from his wide jaws
His tongue unmoisten'd hangs; symptoms too sure
Of sudden death. Hah! yet he flies, nor yields
To black despair. But one loose more, and all
His wiles are vain. Hark! thro' yon village now
The rattling clamour rings. The barns, the cots,
And leafless elms return the joyous sounds.
Thro' ev'ry homestall and thro ev'ry yard,
His midnight walks, panting, forlorn, he flies;
Thro' ev'ry hole he sneaks, thro' ev'ry jakes
Plunging he wades besmear'd, and fondly hopes
In a superior stench to lose his own:
But faithful to the track, th' unerring hounds
With peals of echoing vengeance close pursue.
And now distress'd, no shelt'ring covert near,
Into the hen-roost creeps, whose walls with gore
Distain'd attest his guilt. There, villain, there
Expect thy fate deserv'd. And soon from thence
The pack inquisitive, with clamour loud,
Drag out their trembling prize; and on his blood
With greedy transport feast. In bolder notes
Each sounding horn proclaims the felon dead;
And all th' assembled village shouts for joy,
The farmer, who beholds his mortal foe
Stretch'd at his feet, applauds the glorious deed,
And grateful calls us to a short repast:
In the full glass the liquid amber smiles,
Our native product. And his good old mate
With choicest viands heaps the lib'ral board,
To crown our triumphs, and reward our toils.

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