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only have to group and colour them as they stand, nor
lose, if able to catch them, one of the dazzling lights or
deepening shadows streamed on them from that sunny,
yet not unstormy sky.

You read in books of travels and romances, of Barbs and
Arabs galloping in the desert — and well doth Sir Walter
speak of Saladin at the head of his Saracenic chivalry ;
but take our word for it, great part of all such descrip-
tions are mere falsehood or fudge. Why in the devil's
name should dwellers in the desert always be going at
full speed ? And how can that full speed be any thing
more than a slow heavy hand-gallop at the best, the barbs
being up to the belly at every stroke? They are always,
it is said, in high condition — but we, who know something
about horse-flesh, give that assertion the lie. They have
seldom any thing either to eat or drink ; are lean as church-
mice ; and covered with clammy sweat before they have
trotted a league from the tent. And then such a set of
absurd riders, with knees up to their noses, like so many
tailors riding to Brentford, via the deserts of Arabia!
Such bits, such bridles, and such saddles ! But the whole
set-out, rider and ridden, accoutrements and all, is too
much for one's gravity, and must occasion a frequent


66 avilson's miscellaneous writings.

laugh to the wild ass as he goes braying unharnessed by.
But look there ! Arabian blood, and British bone ! Not
bred in and into the death of all the fine strong animal
spirits — but blood intermingled and interfused by twenty
crosses, nature exulting in each successive produce, till
her power can no farther go, and in yonder glorious

" Gives the world assurance of a horse !"

" A horse I A horse I A kingdom for a horse I"

Form the three hundred into squadron, or squadrons, and
in the hand of each rider a sabre alone, none of your
lances, all bare his breast but for the silver-laced blue, the
gorgeous uniform of the hussars of England, — confound
all cuirasses and cuirassiers, — let the trumpet sound a
charge, and ten thousand of the proudest of the Barbaric
chivalry be opposed with spear and scimitar, — and through
their snow-ranks will the three hundred go like thaw —
splitting them into dissolution with the noise of thunder.
t_ The proof of the pudding is in the eating of it ; and
where, we ask, were the British cavalry ever overthrown?
And how could the great north-country horse-coupers
perform their contracts, but for the triumphs of the turf?
Blood — blood there must be, either for strength, or speed,
or endurance. The very heaviest cavalry — the Life Guards
and the Scots Grays, and all other dragoons, must have
blood. But without racing and fox-hunting, where could it
be found ? Such pastimes nerve one of the arms of the
nation when in battle ; but for them 'twould be palsied.
What better education, too, not only for the horse, but
rider, before playing a bloodier game in his first war cam-
paign? Thus he becomes demicorpsed with the noble
animal ; and what easy, equable motion to him, is after-
wards a charge over a wide level plain, with nothing in
the way but a fiiw regiments of flying Frenchmen ! The
liills and dales of merry England have been the best
riding-school to her gentlemen — her gentlemen who have
not lived at home at ease — but with Paget, and Stewart,
and Seymour, and Cotton, and Somerset, and V'ivian,
have left their heredilary luills, and all the [)eaceful pas-


times pursued among the sylvan scenery, to try the met-
tle of their steeds, and cross swords with the vaunted
Gallic chivalry ; and still have they been in the shock vic-
torious ; witness the skirmish that astonished Napoleon
at Saldanha — the overthrow that uncrowned him at
Waterloo !

" Well, do you know, that after all you have said, Mr.
North, I cannot understand the passion and the pleasure of
fox-hunting? It seems to me both cruel and dangerous."

Cruelty ! Is there cruelty in laying the rein on their
necks, and delivering them up to their high condition —
for every throbbing vein is visible — at the first full burst
of that maddening cry, and letting loose to their delight
the living thunderbolts? Danger? What danger but
of breaking their own legs, necks, or backs, and those of
their riders? And what right have you to complain of
that, lying all 3^our length, a huge hulking fellow, snoring
and snorting half asleep on a sofa sutTicient to sicken a
whole street? U'hat though it be but a smallish, reddish-
brown, sharp-nosed animal, with pricked-up ears, and
passionately fond of poultry, that they pursue? After the
first tallyho, Reynard is rarely seen, till he is run in
upon — once perhaps in the whole run, skirting a wood,
or crossing a common. It is an idea that is pursued,
on a whirlwind of horses to a storm of canine music, —
worthy, both, of the largest lion that ever leaped among
a band of Moors, sleeping at midnight by an extinguished
fire on the African sands. There is, we verily believe
it, nothing foxy in the fancy of one man in all that glo-
rious field of three hundred. Once off and away —
while wood and welkin rings — and nothing is felt —
nothing is imaged in that hurricane flight, but scorn of
all obstructions, dikes, ditches, drains, brooks, palings,
canals, rivers, and all the impediments reared in the
way of so many rejoicing madmen, by nature, art, and
science, in an inclosed, cultivated, civilized, and Christian
country. There they go — prince and peer, baronet and
squire, — the nobility and gentry of England, the flower
of the men of the earth, each on such steed as Pollux
never reined, nor Philip's warlike son — for could we ima-
gine Bucephalus here, ridden by his own tamer, Alexan-

68 Wilson's miscellaneous writings.

der would be thrown out during the very first hurst, and
glad to find his way dismounted to a village alehouse for
a pail of meal and water. Hedges, trees, groves, gardens,
orchards, woods, farmhouses, huts, halls, mansions, palaces,
spires, steeples, towers, and temples, all go wavering by,
each demigod seeing, or seeing them not, as his winged
steed skims or labours along, to the swelling or sinking
music, now loud as a near regimental band, now faint as an
echo. Far and wide over the country are dispersed the
scarlet runners — and a hundred villagers pour forth their
admiring swarms, as the main current of the chase roars
by, or disparted runlets float wearied and all astray, lost
at last in the perplexing woods. Crash goes the timber
of the five-barred gate, — away over the ears, flies the ex-
rough rider in a surprising somerset — after a succession
of stumbles, down is the gallant gray on knees and nose,
making sad work among the fallow — friendship is a fine
thing, and the story of Damon and Pythias most affecting
indeed — but Pylades eyes Orestes on his back sorely
drowned in sludge, and tenderly leaping over him as he
lies, claps his hand to his ear, and with a " hark forward,
tan-tivy !" leaves him to remount, lame and at leisure
— and ere the fallen has risen and shook himself, is round
the corner of the white village-church, down the dell, over
the brook, and close on the heels of the straining pack,
all a-yell up the hill crowned by the Squire's Folly.
" Every man for himself, and God for us all," is the
devout and ruling apothegm of the day. If death befall,
what wonder ? since man and horse are mortal ; but
death loves better a wide soft bed with quiet curtains and
darkened windows in a still room, the clergyman in the
one corner with his prayers, and the {)hysician in another
with his pills, making assurance doubly sure, and prc -
vcnting all possibility of the dying Christian's escape. Let
oak branches smite the too slowly stooping skull, or rider's
back not timely levelled with his steed's ; let faithless
bank give way, and bury in the brook ; let hidden drain
yield to fore-feet and work a sudden wreck ; let old
coal-pit, with briery mouth, betray ; and roaring river
bear down man and horse to banks uiiscaleable by the
very VVel.'sh goat ; let duke's or earl's son go sheer over a


quarry fifty feet deep, and as many high ; yet, '< without
stop or stay, down the rocky way" the hunter train flows
on ; for the music grows fiercer and more savage, — lo! all
that remains together of the pack, in far more dreadful
madness than hydrophobia, leaping out of their skins,
under insanity from the scent, now strong as stink, for
V^ulpes can hardly now make a crawl of it ; and ere he,
they, whipper-in, or any one of the other three demoniacs,
have time to look in one another's splashed faces, he
is torn into a thousand pieces, gobbled up in the general
growl ; and smug, and smooth, and dry, and warm, and
cozey, as he was an hour and twenty-five minutes ago
exactly, in his furze-bush in the cover, — he is now piece-
meal in about thirty distinct stomachs ; and is he not,
pray, well ofT for sepulture ?


(Blackwood's Edinburgh ]\Iagazine, 1829.)

Periodical literature — how sweet is the name! 'Tis
a type of many of the most beautiful things and events in
nature ; or say, rather, that they are types o^ it — both the
flowers and the stars. As to flowers, they are the prettiest
periodicals ever published in folio — the leaves are wire-
wove and hot-pressed by Nature's self; their circulation
is wide over all the land ; from castle to cottage they are
regularly taken in ; as old age bends over them, his youth
is renewed ; and you sec childhood poring upon them,
prest close to its very bosom. Some of them are ephe-
meral, and their contents are exhaled between the rising
and setting sun. Once a-week others break through their
green, pink, or crimson cover ; and how delightful, on the
seventh day, smiles in the sunshine the Sabbath flower —
the only Sunday publication perused without blame by the
most religious — even before morning prayer. Each month,
indeed, throughout the whole year, has its own flower-
periodical. Some are annual, some biennial, some tri-
ennial, and there are perennials that seem to live for ever
— and yet are still periodical — though our love will not
allow us to know when they die, and ph(enix-like reappear
from their own ashes. So much for flowers — typifying or
typified; — leaves emblematical of pages — buds of binding
— dcw-veils of covers — and the wafting away of bloom
and fragrance like the dissemination of fine feelings, bright
fancies, and winged thoughts !

The flowers are the periodicals of the earth — the stars
are those of heaven. With what unfailing regularity do
the numbers issue forth ! Hesperus and Lucifer ! ye are


one concern ! The pole-star is studied by all nations.
How beautiful the poetry of the moon ! On what subject
does not the sun throw light! No fear of hurting your
eyes by reading that fine clear large type on that softened
])age. Lo ! as you turn over, one blue, another yellow,
and another green, all, all alike delightiul to the pupil, and
dear to him as the very apple of his eye ! Yes, the great
periodical press of heaven is unceasingly at work — night
and day ; and though even it has been taxed, and its ema-
nations confined, still their circulation is incalculable ; nor
have we yet heard that Ministers intend instituting any
prosecution against it. It is yet free, the only free power
all over the world. 'Tis indeed like the air we breathe —
if we have it not, we die !

Look, then, at all our paper periodicals \

Online LibraryJohn WilsonCritical and miscellaneous essays (Volume 1) → online text (page 6 of 34)