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A New Edition in Two Volumes


William Blackwood and Sons
Edinburgh and London





















Like most of Professor Wilson's miscellaneous writings, the articles
contained in the two following volumes appeared originally in
"Blackwood's Magazine." Having been revised and considerably remodelled
by their Author, they were published in three volumes, 8vo, in 1842,
under the general title, "The Recreations of Christopher North." In the
reprint, the special titles of some of the articles are different from
those which the same papers bear in the Magazine.






There is a fine and beautiful alliance between all pastimes pursued on
flood, field, and fell. The principles in human nature on which they
depend, are in all the same; but those principles are subject to
infinite modifications and varieties, according to the difference of
individual and national character. All such pastimes, whether followed
merely as pastimes, or as professions, or as the immediate means of
sustaining life, require sense, sagacity, and knowledge of nature and
nature's laws; nor less, patience, perseverance, courage even, and
bodily strength or activity, while the spirit which animates and
supports them is a spirit of anxiety, doubt, fear, hope, joy,
exultation, and triumph - in the heart of the young a fierce passion - in
the heart of the old a passion still, but subdued and tamed down,
without, however, being much dulled or deadened, by various experience
of all the mysteries of the calling, and by the gradual subsiding of all
impetuous impulses in the frames of all mortal men beyond perhaps
three-score, when the blackest head will be becoming grey, the most
nervous knee less firmly knit, the most steely-springed instep less
elastic, the keenest eye less of a far-keeker, and, above all, the most
boiling heart less like a caldron or a crater - yea, the whole man
subject to some dimness or decay, and, consequently, the whole duty of
man like the new edition of a book, from which many passages that formed
the chief glory of the _editio princeps_ have been expunged - the whole
character of the style corrected without being thereby improved - just
like the later editions of the Pleasures of Imagination, which were
written by Akenside when he was about twenty-one, and altered by him at
forty - to the exclusion or destruction of many most _splendida vitia_,
by which process the poem, in our humble opinion, was shorn of its
brightest beams, and suffered disastrous twilight and eclipse - perplexing

Now, seeing that such pastimes are in number almost infinite, and
infinite the varieties of human character, pray what is there at all
surprising in your being madly fond of shooting - and your brother Tom
just as foolish about fishing - and cousin Jack perfectly insane on
fox-hunting - while the old gentleman your father, in spite of wind and
weather, perennial gout, and annual apoplexy, goes a-coursing of the
white-hipped hare on the bleak Yorkshire wolds - and uncle Ben, as if
just escaped from Bedlam or St Luke's with Dr Haslam at his heels, or
with a few hundred yards' start of Dr Warburton, is seen galloping, in a
Welsh wig and strange apparel, in the rear of a pack of Lilliputian
beagles, all barking as if they were as mad as their master, supposed to
be in chase of an invisible animal that keeps eternally doubling in
field and forest - "still hoped for, never seen," and well christened by
the name of Escape?

Phrenology sets the question for ever at rest. All people have
thirty-three faculties. Now there are but twenty-four letters in the
alphabet; yet how many languages - some six thousand we believe, each of
which is susceptible of many dialects! No wonder, then, that you might
as well try to count all the sands on the sea-shore as all the species
of sportsmen.

There is, therefore, nothing to prevent any man with a large and sound
development from excelling, at once, in rat-catching and
deer-stalking - from being, in short, a universal genius in sports and
pastimes. Heaven has made us such a man.

Yet there seems to be a natural course or progress in pastimes. We do
not now speak of marbles - or knuckling down at taw - or trundling a
hoop - or pall-lall - or pitch and toss - or any other of the games of the
school playground. We restrict ourselves to what, somewhat inaccurately
perhaps, are called field-sports. Thus Angling seems the earliest of
them all in the order of nature. There the new-breeched urchin stands on
the low bridge of the little bit burnie! and with crooked pin, baited
with one unwrithing ring of a dead worm, and attached to a
yarn-thread - for he has not yet got into hair, and is years off gut - his
rod of the mere willow or hazel wand, there will he stand during all his
play-hours, as forgetful of his primer as if the weary art of printing
had never been invented, day after day, week after week, month after
month, in mute, deep, earnest, passionate, heart-mind-and-soul-engrossing
hope of some time or other catching a minnow or a beardie! A tug - a tug!
With face ten times flushed and pale by turns ere you could count ten,
he at last has strength, in the agitation of his fear and joy, to pull
away at the monster - and there he lies in his beauty among the gowans
and the greensward, for he has whapped him right over his head and far
away, a fish a quarter of an ounce in weight, and, at the very least,
two inches long! Off he flies, on wings of wind, to his father, mother,
and sisters, and brothers, and cousins, and all the neighbourhood,
holding the fish aloft in both hands, still fearful of its escape, and,
like a genuine child of corruption, his eyes brighten at the first blush
of cold blood on his small fumy fingers. He carries about with him,
up-stairs and down-stairs, his prey upon a plate; he will not wash his
hands before dinner, for he exults in the silver scales adhering to the
thumb-nail that scooped the pin out of the baggy's maw - and at night,
"cabined, cribbed, confined," he is overheard murmuring in his sleep - a
thief, a robber, and a murderer, in his yet infant dreams!

From that hour Angling is no more a mere delightful daydream, haunted by
the dim hopes of imaginary minnows, but a reality - an art - a science - of
which the flaxen-headed schoolboy feels himself to be master - a mystery
in which he has been initiated; and off he goes now, all alone, in the
power of successful passion, to the distant brook - brook a mile
off - with fields, and hedges, and single trees, and little groves, and a
huge forest of six acres, between and the house in which he is boarded
or was born! There flows on the slender music of the shadowy
shallows - there pours the deeper din of the birch-tree'd waterfall. The
scared water-pyet flits away from stone to stone, and dipping,
disappears among the airy bubbles, to him a new sight of joy and wonder.
And oh! how sweet the scent of the broom or furze, yellowing along the
braes, where leap the lambs, less happy than he, on the knolls of
sunshine! His grandfather has given him a half-crown rod in two
pieces - yes, his line is of hair twisted - plaited by his own
soon-instructed little fingers. By Heavens, he is fishing with the fly!
And the Fates, grim and grisly as they are painted to be by full-grown,
ungrateful, lying poets, smile like angels upon the paidler in the
brook, winnowing the air with their wings into western breezes, while at
the very first throw the yellow trout forsakes his fastness beneath the
bog-wood, and with a lazy wallop, and then a sudden plunge, and then a
race like lightning, changes at once the child into the boy, and shoots
through his thrilling and aching heart the ecstasy of a new life
expanding in that glorious pastime, even as a rainbow on a sudden
brightens up the sky. _Fortuna favet fortibus_ - and with one long pull,
and strong pull, and pull altogether, Johnny lands a twelve-incher on
the soft, smooth, silvery sand of the only bay in all the burn where
such an exploit was possible, and dashing upon him like an osprey, soars
up with him in his talons to the bank, breaking his line as he hurries
off to a spot of safety twenty yards from the pool, and then flinging
him down on a heath-surrounded plat of sheep-nibbled verdure, lets him
bounce about till he is tired, and lies gasping with unfrequent and
feeble motions, bright and beautiful, and glorious with all his yellow
light and crimson lustre, spotted, speckled, and starred in his scaly
splendour, beneath a sun that never shone before so dazzlingly; but now
the radiance of the captive creature is dimmer and obscured, for the eye
of day winks and seems almost shut behind that slow-sailing mass of
clouds, composed in equal parts of air, rain, and sunshine.

Springs, summers, autumns, winters - each within itself longer, by many
times longer than the whole year of grown-up life, that slips at last
through one's fingers like a knotless thread - pass over the curled
darling's brow; and look at him now, a straight and strengthy stripling,
in the savage spirit of sport, springing over rock-ledge after
rock-ledge, nor needing aught as he plashes knee-deep, or
waistband-high, through river-feeding torrents, to the glorious music of
his running and ringing reel, after a tongue-hooked salmon, insanely
seeking with the ebb of tide, but all in vain, the white breakers of the
sea. No hazel or willow wand, no half-crown, rod of ash framed by
village wright, is now in his practised hands, of which the very left is
dexterous; but a twenty-feet rod of Phin's, all ring-rustling, and
a-glitter with the preserving varnish, limber as the attenuating line
itself, and lithe to its topmost tenuity as the elephant's
proboscis - the hiccory and the horn without twist, knot, or flaw - from
butt to fly a faultless taper, "fine by degrees and beautifully less,"
the beau-ideal of a rod by the skill of cunning craftsman to the senses
materialised! A fish - fat, fair, and forty! "She is a salmon, therefore
to be woo'd - she is a salmon, therefore to be won" - but shy, timid,
capricious, headstrong, now wrathful and now full of fear, like any
other female whom the cruel artist has hooked by lip or heart, and, in
spite of all her struggling, will bring to the gasp at last; and then
with calm eyes behold her lying in the shade dead, or worse than dead,
fast-fading, and to be re-illumined no more the lustre of her beauty,
insensible to sun or shower, even the most perishable of all perishable
things in a world of perishing! - But the salmon has grown sulky, and
must be made to spring to the plunging stone. There, suddenly, instinct
with new passion, she shoots out of the foam like a bar of silver
bullion; and, relapsing into the flood, is in another moment at the very
head of the waterfall! Give her the butt - give her the butt - or she is
gone for ever with the thunder into ten fathom deep! - Now comes the
trial of your tackle - and when was Phin ever known to fail at the edge
of cliff or cataract? Her snout is southwards - right up the middle of
the main current of the hill-born river, as if she would seek its very
course where she was spawned! She still swims swift, and strong, and
deep - and the line goes steady, boys, steady - stiff and steady as a Tory
in the roar of Opposition. There is yet an hour's play in her dorsal
fin - danger in the flap of her tail - and yet may her silver shoulder
shatter the gut against a rock. Why, the river was yesterday in spate,
and she is fresh run from the sea. All the lesser waterfalls are now
level with the flood, and she meets with no impediment or
obstruction - the coast is clear - no tree-roots here - no floating
branches - for during the night they have all been swept down to the
salt loch. _In medio tutissimas ibis_ - ay, now you feel she begins to
fail - the butt tells now every time you deliver your right. What!
another mad leap! yet another sullen plunge! She seems absolutely to
have discovered, or rather to be an impersonation of, the Perpetual
Motion. Stand back out of the way, you son of a sea-cook! - you in the
tattered blue breeches, with the tail of your shirt hanging out. Who the
devil sent you all here, ye vagabonds? - Ha! Watty Ritchie, my man, is
that you? God bless your honest laughing phiz! What, Watty, would you
think of a Fish like that about Peebles? Tarn Grieve never gruppit sae
heavy a ane since first he belanged to the Council. - Curse that collie!
Ay! well done, Watty! Stone him to Stobbo. Confound these stirks - if
that white one, with caving horns, kicking heels, and straight-up tail,
come bellowing by between us and the river, then, "Madam! all is lost,
except honour!" If we lose this Fish at six o'clock, then suicide at
seven. Our will is made - ten thousand to the Foundling - ditto to the
Thames Tunnel - ha - ha - my Beauty! Methinks we could fain and fond kiss
thy silver side, languidly lying afloat on the foam as if all further
resistance now were vain, and gracefully thou wert surrendering thyself
to death! No faith in female - she trusts to the last trial of her
tail - sweetly workest thou, O Reel of Reels! and on thy smooth axle
spinning sleep'st, even, as Milton describes her, like our own worthy
planet. Scrope - Bainbridge - Maule - princes among Anglers - oh! that you
were here! Where the devil is Sir Humphrey? At his retort? By mysterious
sympathy - far off at his own Trows, the Kerss feels that we are killing
the noblest Fish whose back ever rippled the surface of deep or shallow
in the Tweed. Tom Purdy stands like a seer, entranced in glorious
vision, beside turreted Abbotsford. Shade of Sandy Govan! Alas! alas!
Poor Sandy - why on thy pale face that melancholy smile! - Peter! The
Gaff! The Gaff! Into the eddy she sails, sick and slow, and almost with
a swirl - whitening as she nears the sand - there she has it - struck right
into the shoulder, fairer than that of Juno, Diana, Minerva, or
Venus - and lies at last in all her glorious length and breadth of
beaming beauty, fit prey for giant or demigod angling before the Flood!

"The child is father of the man,
And I would wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety!"

So much for the Angler. The Shooter, again, he begins with his pipe-gun,
formed of the last year's growth of a branch of the plane-tree - the
beautiful dark-green-leaved and fragrant-flowered plane-tree - that
stands straight in stem and round in head, visible and audible too from
afar the bee-resounding umbrage, alike on stormy sea-coast and in
sheltered inland vale, still loving the roof of the fisherman's or
peasant's cottage.

Then comes, perhaps, the city pop-gun, in shape like a very musket, such
as soldiers bear - a Christmas present from parent, once a colonel of
volunteers - nor feeble to discharge the pea-bullet or barley-shot,
formidable to face and eyes; nor yet unfelt, at six paces, by hinder-end
of playmate, scornfully yet fearfully exposed. But the shooter soon
tires of such ineffectual trigger - and his soul, as well as his hair, is
set on fire by that extraordinary compound - Gunpowder. He begins with
burning off his eyebrows on the King's birthday; squibs and crackers
follow, and all the pleasures of the pluff. But he soon longs to let off
a gun - "and follows to the field some warlike lord" - in hopes of being
allowed to discharge one of the double-barrels, after Ponto has made his
last point, and the half-hidden chimneys of home are again seen smoking
among the trees. This is his first practice in firearms, and from that
hour he is - a Shooter.

Then there is in most rural parishes - and of rural parishes alone do we
condescend to speak - a pistol, a horse one, with a bit of silver on the
butt - perhaps one that originally served in the Scots Greys. It is
bought, or borrowed, by the young shooter, who begins firing first at
barn-doors, then at trees, and then at living things - a strange cur,
who, from his lolling tongue, may be supposed to have the hydrophobia - a
cat that has purred herself asleep on the sunny churchyard wall, or is
watching mice at their hole-mouths among the graves - a water-rat in the
mill-lead - or weasel that, running to his retreat in the wall, always
turns round to look at you - a goose wandered from his common in
disappointed love - or brown duck, easily mistaken by the unscrupulous
for a wild one, in pond remote from human dwelling, or on meadow by the
river-side, away from the clack of the muter-mill. The corby-crow, too,
shouted out of his nest on some tree lower than usual, is a good flying
mark to the more advanced class; or morning magpie, a-chatter at skreigh
of day close to the cottage door among the chickens; or a flock of
pigeons wheeling overhead on the stubble-field, or sitting so thick
together that every stock is blue with tempting plumage.

But the pistol is discharged for a fowling-piece - brown and rusty, with
a slight crack probably in the muzzle, and a lock out of all proportion
to the barrel. Then the young shooter aspires at halfpennies thrown up
into the air - and generally hit, for there is never wanting an apparent
dent in copper metal; and thence he mounts to the glancing and skimming
swallow, a household bird, and therefore to be held sacred, but shot at
on the excuse of its being next to impossible to hit him - an opinion
strengthened into belief by several summers' practice. But the small
brown and white marten wheeling through below the bridge, or along the
many-holed red sand-bank, is admitted by all boys to be fair game - and
still more, the long-winged legless black devilet, that, if it falls to
the ground, cannot rise again, and therefore screams wheeling round the
corners and battlements of towers and castles, or far out even of
cannon-shot, gambols in companies of hundreds, and regiments of a
thousand, aloft in the evening ether, within the orbit of the eagle's
flight. It seems to boyish eyes that the creatures near the earth, when
but little blue sky is seen between the specks and the wallflowers
growing on the coign of vantage: the signal is given to fire; but the
devilets are too high in heaven to smell the sulphur. The starling whips
with a shrill cry into his nest, and nothing falls to the ground but a
tiny bit of mossy mortar, inhabited by a spider!

But the Day of Days arrives at last, when the schoolboy, or rather the
college boy, returning to his rural vacation (for in Scotland college
winters tread close, too close, on the heels of academies), has a gun - a
gun in a case - a double-barrel too - of his own - and is provided with a
licence, probably without any other qualification than that of hit or
miss. On some portentous morning he effulges with the sun in velveteen
jacket and breeches of the same - many-buttoned gaiters, and an
unkerchiefed throat. 'Tis the fourteenth of September, and lo! a
pointer at his heels - Ponto, of course - a game-bag like a beggar's
wallet at his side - destined to be at eve as full of charity - and all
the paraphernalia of an accomplished sportsman. Proud, were she to see
the sight, would be the "mother that bore him;" the heart of that old
sportsman, his daddy, would sing for joy! The chained mastiff in the
yard yowls his admiration; the servant lasses uplift the pane of their
garret, and, with suddenly withdrawn blushes, titter their delight in
their rich paper curls and pure night-clothes. Rab Roger, who has been
cleaning out the barn, comes forth to partake of the caulker; and away
go the footsteps of the old poacher and his pupil through the autumnal
rime, off to the uplands, where - for it is one of the earliest of
harvests - there is scarcely a single acre of standing corn. The
turnip-fields are bright green with hope and expectation - and coveys are
couching on lazy beds beneath the potato-shaw. Every high hedge,
ditch-guarded on either side, shelters its own brood - imagination hears
the whirr shaking the dewdrops from the broom on the brae - and first one
bird and then another, and then the remaining number, in itself no
contemptible covey, seems to fancy's ear to spring single, or in clouds,
from the coppice brushwood with here and there an intercepting standard

Poor Ponto is much to be pitied. Either having a cold in his nose, or
having ante-breakfasted by stealth on a red herring, he can scent
nothing short of a badger, and, every other field, he starts in horror,
shame, and amazement, to hear himself, without having attended to his
points, enclosed in a whirring covey. He is still duly taken between
those inexorable knees; out comes the speck-and-span new dog-whip, heavy
enough for a horse; and the yowl of the patient is heard over the whole
parish. Mothers press their yet unchastised infants to their breasts;
and the schoolmaster, fastening a knowing eye on dunce and neerdoweel,
holds up, in silent warning, the terror of the tawes. Frequent flogging
will cow the spirit of the best man and dog in Britain. Ponto travels
now in fear and trembling but a few yards from his tyrant's feet, till,
rousing himself to the sudden scent of something smelling strongly, he
draws slowly and beautifully, and

"There fix'd, a perfect semicircle stands."

Up runs the Tyro ready-cocked, and, in his eagerness, stumbling among
the stubble, when, hark and lo! the gabble of grey goslings, and the
bill-protruded hiss of goose and gander! Bang goes the right-hand barrel
at Ponto, who now thinks it high time to be off to the tune of "ower the
hills and far awa'," while the young gentleman, half-ashamed and
half-incensed, half-glad and half-sorry, discharges the left-hand
barrel, with a highly improper curse, at the father of the feathered
family before him, who receives the shot like a ball in his breast,
throws a somerset quite surprising for a bird of his usual habits, and,
after biting the dust with his bill, and thumping it with his bottom,
breathes an eternal farewell to this sublunary scene - and leaves himself
to be paid for at the rate of eighteenpence a pound to his justly
irritated owner, on whose farm he had led a long, and not only harmless,
but honourable and useful life.

It is nearly as impossible a thing as we know, to borrow a dog about the
time the sun has reached his meridian, on the First Day of the
Partridges. Ponto by this time has sneaked, unseen by human eye, into
his kennel, and coiled himself up into the arms of "tired Nature's sweet
restorer, balmy sleep." A farmer makes offer of a collie, who, from
numbering among his paternal ancestors a Spanish pointer, is quite a Don
in his way among the cheepers, and has been known in a turnip-field to
stand in an attitude very similar to that of setting. Luath has no
objection to a frolic over the fields, and plays the part of Ponto to
perfection. At last he catches sight of a covey basking, and, leaping in

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