« AnteriorContinuar »
HE old and infirm have at least this privilege, that they can recal to their minds those scenes of joy in which they once delighted, and ruminate over their past pleasures, with a fatisfaction almost equal to the first enjoyment. For thofe ideas, to which any agreeable sensation is annexed, are easily excited; asleaving behind the most strong and permanent impreffions. The amufements of our youth are the boast and comfort of our declining years. The ancients carried this notion even yet further, and supposed their heroes in the Elyfian Fields were fond of the very fame diverfions they exercised on earth. Death itself could not wean them from the accustomed sports and gayeties of life. "Pars in gramineis exercent membra palæftris ; "Contendunt ludo, et fulvâ luctantur arenâ : "Pars pedibus plaudunt choreas, et carmina dicunt. "Arma procul, currûfque virûm miratur inanes. "Stant terrâ dcfixæ hastæ, paffimque soluti "Per campum pafcuntur equi. Quæ gratia currûm "Armorumque fuit vivis, quæ cura nitentes "Pafcere equos, eadem fequitur tellure repoftos."
VIRG. Æneid. vi.
Part on the graffy cirque their pliant limbs
Struggling difpute the prize. Part lead the ring,
The chief their arms admires, their empty cars, Their lances fix'd in earth. Th' unharnefs'd steeds Graze unreftrain'd; horfes, and cars, and arms, All the fame fond defires, and pleafing cares, Still haunt their fhades, and after death furvive. I hope therefore I may be indulged (even by the more grave and cenforious part of mankind) if at my leifure hours, I run over, in my elbow-chair, fome of those chaces, which were once the delight of a more vigorous age. It is an entertaining, and (as I conceive) a very innocent amusement. The refult of these rambling imaginations will be found in the following poemi; which if equally diverting to my readers, as to myself, I fhall have gained my end. I have intermixed the preceptive parts with fo many defcriptions and digreffions in the Georgick manner, that I hope they will not be tedious. I am fure they are very neceffary to be well understood by any gentleman, who would enjoy this noble sport in full perfection. In this at least I may comfort myself, that I cannot trespass upon their patience more than Markham, Blome, and the other profe writers upon this subject.
It is most certain, that hunting was the exercise of the greatest heroes in antiquity. By this they formed themselves for war; and their exploits against wild beasts were a prelude to their other victories. Xenophon fays, that almost all the ancient heroes, Nestor, Thefeus, Caftor, Pollux, Ulyffes, Diomedes, Achilles, &c. were matnlaì xuvnyev, difciples of hunting; being taught carefully that art, as what would be highly ferviceable
ferviceable to them in military discipline. Xen. Cynegetic. And Pliny obferves, those who were defigned for great captains, were firft taught "certare cum fu"gacibus feris curfu, cum audacibus robore, cum cal. "lidis aftu:" to contest with the swiftelt wild beasts, in speed; with the boldest, in strength; with the most cunning, in craft and fubtilty. Plin. Panegyr. And the Roman emperors, in those monuments they erected to transmit their actions to future ages, made no fcruple to join the glories of the chace to their most celebrated triumphs. Neither were their poets wanting to do juftice to this heroick exercise. Befide that of Oppian in Greek, we have feveral poems in Latin upon hunting. Gratius was contemporary with Ovid; as appears by this verfe;
"Aptaque venanti Gratius arma dabit."
Lib. iv. Pont.
Gratius fhall arm the huntsman for the chace. But of his works only fome fragments remain. There are many others of more modern date. Amongst these Nemefianus, who feems very much superior to Gratius, though of a more degenerate age. But only a fragment of his first book is preserved. We might indeed have expected to have feen it treated more at large by Virgil in his third Georgick, fince it is exprefsly part of his fubject. But he has favoured us only with ten verses; and what he fays of dogs, relates wholly to greyhounds and maftiffs.
"Veloces Spartæ catulos, acremque Moloffum." Georg. iii. The greyhound fwift, and mastiff's furious breed.
And he directs us to feed them with butter-milk. Pafce fero pingui." He has, it is true, touched upon the Chace in the 4th and 7th books of the Æneid. But it is evident, that the art of hunting is very different now from what it was in his days, and very much altered and improved in these latter ages. It does not appear to me that the ancients had any notion of pursuing wild beafts by the fcent only, with a regular and welldifciplined pack of hounds; and therefore they must have paffed for poachers amongst our modern sportsmen. The mufter-roll given us by Ovid, in his story of Actæon, is of all forts of dogs, and of all countries. And the description of the ancient hunting, as we find it in the antiquities of Pere de Montfaucon taken from the Sepulchre of the Nasos, and the Arch of Constantine, has not the least trace of the manner now in use.
Whenever the ancients mention dogs followed by the fcent, they mean no more than finding out the game by the nofe of one fingle dog. This was as much as they knew of the "odora canum vis." Thus Nemefianus fays,
"Odorato nofcunt veftigia prato,
"Atque etiam leporum fecreta cubilia monftrant." They challenge on the mead the recent stains, And trail the hare unto her fecret form.
Oppian has a long description of these dogs in his first book, from ver. 479 to 526. And here, though he feems to defcribe the hunting of the hare by the fcent through many turnings and windings; yet he really fays no more, than that one of those hounds, which he
calls-ixveurnges, finds out the game. For he follows the scent no further than the hare's form; from whence, after he has started her, he purfues her by fight. I am indebted for these two laft remarks to a reverend and very learned gentleman, whofe judgment in the belles lettres nobody disputes, and whofe approbation gave me the affurance to publish this poem.
Oppian also observes, that the best fort of these finders were brought from Britain; this island having always been famous (as it is at this day) for the best breed of hounds, for perfons the best skilled in the art of hunting, and for horfes the most enduring to follow the chace. It is therefore ftrange that none of our poets have yet thought it worth their while to treat of this fubject; which is without doubt very noble in itself, and very well adapted to receive the most beautiful turns of poetry. Perhaps our poets have no great genius for hunting. Yet I hope, my brethren of the couples, by encouraging this firft, but imperfect, effay, will fhew the world they have at least fome tafte for poetry.
The ancients efteemed hunting, not only as a manly and warlike exercise, but as highly conducive to health. The famous Galen recommends it above all others, as not only exercifing the body, but giving delight and entertainment to the mind. And he calls the inventors of this art wife men, and well-skilled in human nature. Lib. de parvæ pilæ exercitio.
The gentlemen, who are fond of a gingle at the clofe of every verfe, and think no poem truly musical but