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A Year's Residence in the United States of America: Vol 2
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369. THERE are persons, who question the right of man to pursue and destroy the wild animals, which are called game. Such persons, however, claim the right of killing foxes and hawks; yet, these have as much right to live and to follow their food as pheasants and partridges have. This, therefore, in such persons, is nonsense.
370. Others, in their mitigated hostility to the sports of the field, say, that it is wanton cruelty to shoot or hunt; and that we kill animals from the farm-yard only because their flesh is necessary to our own existence. PROVE THAT. No: you cannot. If you could, it is but the "tyrant's plea ;" but you cannot: for we know that men can, and do, live without animal food, and, if their labour be not of all exhausting kind, live well too, and longer than those who eat it. It comes to this, then, that we kill hogs and oxen because we choose to kill them; and, we kill game for precisely the same reason.
371. A third class of objectors, seeing the weak position of the two former, and still resolved to eat flesh, take their stand upon this ground: that sportsmen send some game off wounded and leave them in a state of suffering. These gentlemen forget the operations performed upon calves, pigs, lambs and sometimes on poultry. Sir ISAAC COFFIN prides himself upon teaching the English ladies how to make turkey-capons! Only think of the separation of calves, pigs, and lambs, at an early age, from their mothers! Go, you sentimental eaters of veal, sucking pig and lamb, and hear the mournful lowings, whinings, and bleatings; observe the anxious listen, the wistful look, and the dropping tear, of the disconsolate dams; and, then, while you have the carcasses of their young ones under your teeth, cry out, as soon as you can empty your mouths a little, against the cruelty of hunting and shooting. Get up from dinner (but take care to stuff well first), and go and drown the puppies of the bitch, and the kittens of the cat, lest they should share a little in what their mothers have guarded with so much fidelity; and, as good stuffing may tend to make you restless in the night, order the geese to be picked alive, that, however your consciences may feel, your bed, at least, may be easy and soft. Witness all this with your own eyes; and then go weeping to bed, at the possibility of a hare having been terribly frightened without being killed, or of a bird having been left in a thicket with a shot in its body or a fracture in its wing. But, before you go up stairs, give your servant orders to be early at market for fish, fresh out of the water; that they may be scaled, or skinned alive! A truce with you, .then, sentimental eaters of flesh: and here I propose the terms of a lasting compromise with you. We must, on each side, yield something: we sportsmen will content ourselves with merely seeing the hares skip and the birds fly; and you shall be content with the flesh and fish that come from cases of natural death, of which, I am sure, your compassionate disposition will not refuse us a trifling allowance.
372. Nor have even the Pythagoreans a much better battery against us. Sir RICHARD PHILLIPS, who once rang a peal in my ears against shooting and hunting, does, indeed, eat neither flesh, fish, nor fowl. His abstinence surpasses that of a Carmelite, while his bulk would not disgrace a Benedictine Monk, or a Protestant Dean. But, he forgets, that his shoes and breeches and gloves are made of the skins of animals: he forgets that he writes (and very eloquently too) with what has been cruelly taken from a fowl; and that, in order to cover the books which he has had made and sold, hundreds of flocks and scores of droves must have perished: nay, that, to get him his beaver-hat, a beaver must have been hunted and killed, and, in the doing of which, many beavers may have been wounded and left to pine away the rest of their lives; and, perhaps many little orphan beavers, left to lament the murder of their parents. BEN LEY was the only real and sincere Pythagorean of modern times, that I ever heard of. He protested, not only against eating the flesh of animals, but also against robbing their backs; and, therefore, his dress consisted wholly of flax. But, even he, like Sir Richard Phillips, eat milk, butter, cheese, and eggs; though this was cruelly robbing the hens, cows, and calves; and, indeed causing the murder of the calves. In addition, poor little BEN forgot the materials of book-binding; and, it was well he did; for else, his Bible would have gone into the fire!
373. Taking it for granted, then, that sports men are as good as other folks on the score of humanity, the sports of the field, like every thing else done in the fields, tend to produce, or preserve health. I prefer them to all other pastime, because they produce early rising; because they have no tendency to lead young men into vicious habits. It is where men congregate that the vices haunt. A hunter or a shooter may also be a gambler and a drinker; but, he is less likely to be fond of the two latter, if he be fond of the former. Boys will take to something in the way of pastime; and, it is better that they take to that which is innocent, healthy, and manly, than that which is vicious, unhealthy, and effeminate. Besides, the scenes of rural sport are necessarily at a distance from cities and towns. This is another great consideration; for though great talents are wanted to be employed in the hives of men, they are very rarely acquired in these hives: the surrounding objects are too numerous, too near the eye, too frequently under it, and too artificial.
374. For these reasons I have always encouraged my sons to pursue these sports. They have, until the age of 14 or 15, spent their time, by day, chiefly amongst horses and dogs, and in the fields and farm-yard; and their candle light has been spent chiefly in reading books about hunting and shooting and about dogs and horses. I have supplied them plentifully with books and prints relating to these matters. They have drawn horses, dogs, and game themselves. These things, in which they took so deep an interest, not only engaged their attention and wholly kept them from all taste for, and even all knowledge of, cards and other senseless amusements; but, they led them to read and write of their own accord; and, never in my life have I set them a copy in writing nor attempted to teach them a word of reading. They have learnt to read by looking into books about dogs and game; and they have learnt to write by imitating my writing, and by writing endless letters to me, when I have been from home, about their dogs and other rural concerns. While the Borough-tyrants had me in Newgate for two years, with a thousand pounds fine, for having expressed my indignation at their flogging of Englishmen, in the heart of England, under a guard of Hanoverian sabres, I received volumes of letters from my children; and, I have them now, from the scrawl of three years, to the neat and beautiful hand of thirteen. I never told them of any errors in their letters. All was well. The best evidence of the utility of their writing, and the strongest encouragement to write again, was a very clear answer from me, in a very precise hand, and upon very nice paper, which they never failed promptly to receive. They have all written to me before they could form a single letter. A little bit of paper, with some ink-marks on it, folded up by themselves, and a wafer stuck in it, used to be sent to me, and it was sure to bring the writer a very, very kind answer. Thus have they gone on. So far from being a trouble to me, they have been all pleasure and advantage. For many years they have been so many secretaries. I have dictated scores of registers to them, which have gone to the press without my ever looking at them. I dictated registers to them at the age of thirteen, and even of twelve. They have, as to trust-worthiness, been grown persons, at eleven or twelve. I could leave my house and affairs, the paying of men, or the going from home on business, to them at an age when boys in England, in general, want servants to watch them to see that they do not kill chickens, torment kittens, or set the buildings on fire.
375. Here is a good deal of boasting; but, it will not be denied, that I have done a great deal in a short public life, and I see no harm in telling my readers of any of the means, that I have employed; especially as I know of few greater misfortunes than that of breeding up things to be school-boys all their lives. It is not, that I have so many wonders of the world: it is that I have pursued a rational plan of education, and one that any man may pursue, if he will, with similar effects. I remembered, too, that I myself had had a sportsman-education. I ran after the hare-hounds at the age of nine or ten. I have many and many a day left the rooks to dig up the wheat and peas, while I followed the hounds; and have returned home at dark-night, with my legs full of thorns and my belly empty to go supperless to bed, and to congratulate myself if I escaped a flogging. I was sure of these consequences; but that had not the smallest effect in restraining me. All the lectures, all the threats, vanished from my mind in a moment upon hearing the first cry of the hounds, at which my heart used to be ready to bound out of my body. I remembered all this. I traced to this taste my contempt for card-playing and for all childish and effeminate amusements. And, therefore, I resolved to leave the same course freely open to my sons. This is my plan of education: others may follow what plan they please.
376. This Chapter will be a head without a body; for, it will not require much time to give an account of the rural sports in America. The general taste of the country is to kill the things in order to have them to eat, which latter forms no part of the sportsman's objects.
377. There cannot be said to be any thing here, which we, in England, call hunting. The deer are hunted by dogs, indeed, but the hunters do not follow. They are posted at their several stations to shoot the deer as he passes. This is only one remove from the Indian hunting. I never saw, that I know of, any man that had seen a pack of hounds in America, except those kept by old JOHN BROWN, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, who was the only hunting Quaker that I ever heard of, and who was grand father of the famous General Brown. In short, there is none of what we call hunting; or, so little, that no man can expect to meet with it.
378. No coursing. I never saw a greyhound here. Indeed, there are no hares that have the same manners that ours have, or any thing like their fleetness. The woods, too, or some sort of cover, except in the singular instance of the plains in this Island, are too near at hand.
379. But, of shooting the variety is endless. Pheasants, partridges, woodcocks, snipes, grouse, wild-ducks of many sorts, teal, plover, rabbits.
380. There is a disagreement between the North and the South as to the naming of the two former. North of New Jersey the pheasants are called partridges, and the partridges are called quails. To the South of New Jersey, they are called by what I think are their proper names, taking the English names of those birds to be proper. For, pheasants do not remain in coveys; but, mix, like common fowls. The intercourse between the males and females is promiscuous, and not by pairs, as in the case of partridges. And these are the manners of the American pheasants, which are found by ones, twos, and so on, and never in families, except when young, when, like chickens, they keep with the old hen. The American partridges are not quails; because quails are gregarious. They keep in flocks, like rooks (called crows in America), or like larks, or starlings; of which the reader will remember a remarkable instance in the history of the migration of those grumbling vagabonds, the Jews, soon after their march from HOREB, when the quails came and settled upon each other's backs to a height of two cubits, and covered a superficial space of two days' journey in diameter. It is a well known fact, that quails flock: it is also well known, that partridges do not, but that they keep in distinct families, which we call coveys from the French couvée, which means the eggs or brood which a hen covers at one time. The American partridges live in coveys. The cock and her pair in the spring. They have their brood by sitting alternately on the eggs, just as the English partridges do; the young ones, if none are killed, or die, remain with the old ones till spring; the covey always live within a small distance of the same spot; if frightened into a state of separation, they call to each other and re-assemble; they roost all together in a round ring, as close as they can sit, the tails inward and the heads outward; and are, in short, in all their manners, precisely the same as the English partridge, with this exception, that they will sometimes alight on a rail or a bough, and that, when the hen sits, the cock, perched at a little distance, makes a sort of periodical whistle, in a monotonous, but very soft and sweet tone.
381. The size of the pheasant is about the half of that of the English. The plumage is by no means so beautiful; but, the flesh is far more delicate. The size of the partridge bears about the same proportion. But its plumage is more beautiful than that of the English, and its flesh is more delicate. Both are delightful, though rather difficult, shooting. The pheasant does not tower, but darts through the trees; and the partridge does not rise boldly, but darts away at no great height from the ground. Some years they are more abundant than other years. This is an abundant year. There are, perhaps, fifty coveys within half a mile of my house.
382. The wood-cocks are, in all respects, like those in England, except that they are only about three-fifths of the size. They breed here; and are in such numbers, that some men kill twenty brace, or more in a day. Their haunts are in marshy places, or woods. The shooting of them lasts from the fourth of July till the hardish frosts come. The last we killed this year was killed on the 21st of November. So that here are five months of this sport; and pheasants and partridges are shot from September to April.
383. The snipes are called English snipes, which they resemble in all respects, and are found in great abundance in the usual haunts of snipes.
384. The grouse is precisely like the Scotch grouse. There is only here and there a place where they are found. But, they are, in those places, killed in great quantities in the fall of the year.
385. As to wild ducks and other water-fowl, which are come at by lying in wait, and killed most frequently swimming, or sitting, they are slaughtered in whole flocks. An American counts the cost of powder and shot. If he is deliberate in every thing else, this habit will hardly forsake him in the act of shooting. When the sentimental flesh-eaters hear the report of his gun, they may begin to pull out their white handkerchiefs; for death follows his pull of the trigger, with, perhaps, even more certainty than it used to follow the lancet of DOCTOR RUSH.
386. The PLOVER is a fine bird, and is found in great numbers upon the plains, and in the cultivated fields, of this Island, and at a mile from my house. Plovers are very shy and wary; but they have ingenious enemies to deal with. A waggon, or carriage of some sort, is made use of to approach them; and then they are easily killed.
387. Rabbits are very abundant in some places. They are killed by shooting; for all here is done with the gun. No reliance is placed upon a dog.
388. As to game-laws there are none, except those which appoint the times for killing. People go where they like, and, as to wild animals, shoot what they like. There is the Common Law, which forbids trespass, and the Statute Law, I believe, of "malicious trespass," or trespass after warning. And these are more than enough; for nobody, that I ever hear of, warns people off. So that, as far as shooting goes, and that is the sport which is the most general favourite, there never was a more delightful country than this Island. The sky is so fair, the soil so dry, the cover so convenient, the game so abundant, and the people, go where you will, so civil, hospitable, and kind.