John Wilson.

The recreations of Christopher North [pseud.] .. online

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Henry D. Bacon,

St. Louis, Mo.

University of California. !



1877. 1

Accessions No. .../<fJ7^.(^... Shelf No.




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Printed by T. K. & P. G. Collins.



Fttte First 5

Fttte Secon^d 15

Fttte Third 24









Prologue 103

Flight First — Glen Etive 113

Flight Second — The Coves of Cruachan 122

Flight Third — Still Life 129

Flight Fourth — Down Riter and up Loch 140






Chapter 1 182

Chapter II 188

Chapter III 195

Chapter IV 200


First Canticle 203

Second Canticle 213

Third Canticle 222

Fourth Canticle 228


First Course 234

Second Course 238

Third Course 241

Fourth Course 245


First Rhapsody 249

Second Rhapsody 255






First Saunter 287

Second Saunter • 297







/^V^ ^^ T'3'5 ^ ^^



These is a fine andbeautiful 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 princi-
ples are subject to infinite modifications and
varieties, according to the ditfarence of indi-
vidual and national character. All such pas-
times, whether followed merety as pastimes,
or as professions, or as the immediate means
of sustaining life, require sense, sagacit)', and
knowledge of nature and nature's laws ; nor
less, patience, perseverance, courage even, and
bodily strength or activit)', 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 dead-
ened, by various experience of all the m^'ste-
ries of the calling, and by the gradual subsid-
ing of all impetuous impulses in the frames
of all mortal men beyond perhaps threescore,
when the blackest head will be becoming gra)',
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 glor}' of the editio prinreps have
been expunged — the wholecharacter of the style
corrected withoutbeiug thereby improved — just
like the later editions of the Pleasures of Ima-
gination, 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 spkndida vitia, by which process
the poem, in our humble opinion, was shorn
of its brightest beams, and sutfered disastrous
twilight and eclipse — perplexing critics.

Now, seeing that such pastimes are in num-
ber almost infinite, and infinite the varieties of

human character, pray what is there at all sur-
prising in )-our being madly fond of shooting —
and )'our brother Tom just as foolish about
fishing — and cousin Jack perfectly insane on
fox-hunting — while the old gentleman your fa-
ther, in spite of wind and weather, perennial
gout, and annual apoplexy, gees 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 1

Phrenologj' sets the question for ever at rest.
All people have thirt} - three faculties. Now
there are but twenty-four letters in the alpha-
bet ; yet how many languages — some six-thou-
sand 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 univer-
sal 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,
sonaewhat 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 unwrithingringofadeadworm,
and attached to a yarn-thread — for he has not
3'et got into hair, and is years ofl'gut — his rod
of the mere willow or hazel wand, there will
A 2 5


he stand during aH his play-hours, as forget-
ful of his primer as if the weary art of print-
ing 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 catch-
ing 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 ha.nds, 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 ;
lie will not wash his hands before dinner, for
he exuhs in the silver scales adhering to the
thumb-nail that scooped the pin out of the
baggy's maw — and at night, " cabin'd, cribb'd,
confined," he is overheard murmuring in his
sleep — a thief, a robber, and a murderer, in his
)'^et infant dreams !

From that hour Angling is no more a mere
delightful day-dream, haunted by the dim hopes
of imaginary minnows, but a reality — an art —
a science — of which the flaxen-headed school-
boy 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 pas -
sion 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, be-
tween it 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 bircli-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 jo}^ and wonder. And oh !
how sweet the scwnt of the broom or furze, yel-
lowing 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, wha grim and grisly as they are
painted to be oy full-grown, ungrateful, lying
poets, smile like angels upon thepaidler 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 ^'allop, 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. Forlnna faret
forlilms — 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 oflT 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
aboiit till he is tired, and lies gasping with un-
frequent and feeble motions, bright and beauti-
ful, 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 dazzingly : but now the ra-
diance 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 strip-
ling, in the savage spirit of sport, springing
over rock-ledge after rock-ledge, nor heeding
aught as he plashes knee-deep, or waistband-
high, through river-feeding torrents, to the glo-
rious 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 at-
tenuating line itself, and liyie 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
materialized ! 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-illnmined no more the
lustre of her beauty, insensible to sun or
shower, even the most perishable of all perish-
able 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, re-
lasping 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 1 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 )-et |
an hour's play in her dorsal fin — danger in ,
the flap of her tail — and yet may her silver I
shoulder shatter the gut against a rock. |
M'hy the river was yesterday in spate, and she j
is fresh run from the sea. All the lesser
waterfalls are now level with the flood, and j
she meets with no impediment or obstruction
—the course 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 tuiisslmas ibis — ay, now you feel she
begins to fail— the butt tells now ever}- 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 1 — Ha !
Watty Ritchie, my man, is that you 1 God
bless your honest laughing phiz ! What Watty,
would you think of a Fish like that about
Peebles 1 Tam Grieve never gruppit sae hea\^'
a ane since first he belanged to the Council. —
Curse that colley ! 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 grace-
fully thou wert surrendering thyself to death !
No faith in female — she trusts to the last trial
of her tail — sweetly workest thou, 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 Humphry 1
At his retort"! By mysterious sympath)' — far
ofi" 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, en-
tranced in glorious vision, beside turreted Ab-
botsford. Shade of Sandy Govan ! Alas ! alas !
I'oor Sandv — why on thvpale face that melan-
choly smile !— Peter ! the Gaff! The Gaff!
Into the eddy she sails, sick and slow, and al-
most with a swirl — whitening as she nears the
sand — there she has it — struck right into the
shoulder, fairer than that of Juno, Diana, Mi-
nerva, or Venus — and lies at last in all her glo-
rious length and breadth of beaming beauty,
fit prey for giant or demigod angling before
the Flood !

"The child is father of the man.
And 1 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 fra-
grant-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 in-
land vale, still loving the roof of the fisher-
man'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 hin-
der-end of plajTnate, scornfully yet fearfully
exposed. But the shooter soon tire's of such
ineffectual trigger — and his soul, as well as
his hair, is set on fire by that extraordinary
compound — Gunpowder. He begins with burn-
ing off his ej-ebrows on the King's birthday;
squibs and crackers follow, and all the plea-
sures of the pluff. But he soon longs to let
off a gun — " and follow to the field some war-
like lord" — in hopes of being allowed to dis-
charge one of the double-barrels, after Ponto
has made his last point, and the half-bidden
chimneys of home are again seen smoking
among the trees. This is his first practice in
fire arms, 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, shout-
ed out of his nest on some tree lower than
usual, is a good flying mark to the more ad-
vanced 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 sit-
ting so thick together, that every stock is blue
with tempting plumage.

But the pistol is discharged for a fowling
piece — brown and rust}', with a slight crack
probably in the muzzle, and a lock out of all
proportion to the barrel. Then the yoimg
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 there-
fore 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 longed-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 cas-
tles, or far out even of cannon shot, gambles
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 boy-
ish 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
cr}'- into his nest, and nothing falls to the ground
bnt a tiny bit of mossy mortar inhabited by a
spider !

But the Day of Daj's arrives at last, when
the school-boy, or rather the college bo}', return-
ing 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 o-wn — and is
provided with a license, probably without any
other qualification than that of hit or miss. On
some portentous morning he efl^ulges with the
sun in velveteen jacket and breeches of the
same-^many-buttoned gaiters, and an unker-
chiefed throat. 'Tis the fourteenth of Septem-
ber, 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 ear-
liest 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 whir shaking the dew-
drops from the broom on the brae — and first
one bird, and then another, and then the re-
maining number, in itself no contemptible co-
vey, seems to fancy's ear to spring single, or in
the clouds, from the coppice brushwood with
here and there an intercepting standard tree.

Poor Ponto is much to be pitied. Either
having a cold in his nose, or having ante-break-
fasted 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
!J fants to their breasts ; and the schoolmaster.

fastening a knowing eye on dunce and ne'er-
do-weel, holds up, in silent warning, the terror
of the taws. Frequent flogging will cowe the
spirit of the best man and dog in Britain.
Ponto travels now in fear and trembling but a
few yards fronj his t}-rant's feet, till, rousing
himself to the sudden scent of something smell-
ing strongly, he draws slowly and beautifully,

"There fix'd, a perfect semicirle 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-in-
censed, 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 eterwal 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

Online LibraryJohn WilsonThe recreations of Christopher North [pseud.] .. → online text (page 1 of 80)