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No Master of Foxhounds, alive or dead, has a greater right to be heard than Mr. Thomas Smith. “The proof of the pudding is in the eating,” and though it is not altogether true that the proof of the ability to show sport is the number of Foxes’ noses on the kennel door, the fact that Mr. Smith killed ninety Foxes in ninety-one days’ hunting in a Country which has no great reputation as a scenting country, is a piece of evidence in favour of his knowledge of woodcraft, and of his skill in applying it, which cannot be gainsaid, the more particularly when we take into account the epoch during which this remarkable feat was achieved. It is true that Mr. Smith hunted Hounds when the modern system of getting away close behind the Fox, and trying to burst him, had superseded the system that prevailed before 1750 of dragging up to the Fox and trying to hunt him down at the end of a long chase with Hounds that would have been beaten for pace in the first mile by those of Mr. Osbaldiston and Mr. Smith. But much of the contemporary evidence goes to show that Foxes were wilder in Mr. Smith’s time in the sense that they probably had to travel long distances for their food, as there were fewer small coverts than exist to-day. Consequently there were fewer Foxes. It is true that these conditions were favourable to the Hounds in that their chance of changing Foxes was diminished. On the other hand the multiplication of small Fox coverts with artificial earths that has proceeded in the last fifty years makes the killing of a lot of Foxes, especially during the Cub-hunting, an easier matter than in the days of Mr. Thomas Smith. If the artificial earth is securely stopped late at night, and skilfully opened at the right moment in a morning’s Cub-hunting, when the Cubs are beginning to wonder what to do, they are sure to creep into the earth, and the eating of one or more vi of them is reduced to a certainty. For this reason the counting of noses is not in these days a supreme test of the capacity of the Huntsman and the Hounds, unless all noses are written off and not allowed to count until after November 1st, when there is not so much opportunity for digging. But each of Mr. Smith’s ninety Foxes brought to hand probably represented a really hard day’s work, even though he omits to state how many he killed above ground at the end of good runs. In this connection it should not be forgotten that in these illuminating pages he has confessed himself, indirectly perhaps, to be the complete Master of the use of the spade and the terrier.

But he was surely the complete Master of all other branches of Foxhunting craft. In the work which is now republished by Mr. Edward Arnold he puts into the mouth of various Foxes their experiences of being hunted by various Hounds and Huntsmen. His method, perhaps a trifle fanciful, is attractive in the highest degree to all lovers of wild animals, and the careful reader will find the Fox himself explaining the mistakes on the part of the Huntsman which allowed the Fox to baffle him. We know of no writing that explains the point of view of the Fox except this work, and that of Mr. Masefield. But it is no disparagement of Mr. Masefield to say that his “Reynard the Fox” is based upon his poetical talent and knowledge of the countryside, while Mr. Smith’s fancy is based upon the lifelong experience of an enthusiast who has carefully studied the whole Art of the Chase, and thought out the application of the Science of Foxhunting to each particular phase and incident of the run.

The story of each Fox is full of interest, and it is not possible within the limits of this introduction to explore each situation. There are, however, one or two remarks in “Pytchly’s Story” which seem to extract the essence of the successful pursuit of the Fox. Now this essence is contained in the physiological truth that the vast majority of good runs are made, and stout Foxes killed, by the Hounds following the vii line, first by their sense of smell, and secondly by their power to run fast enough and long enough to catch the Fox, provided he does not go to ground. Each moment the Hounds are not on the line is a moment wasted, which at a later stage in the run will probably develop into minutes, and ultimately spell defeat. Brilliant victories, and much galloping and jumping may be achieved by means of the Huntsman tearing off to a point without a scent, but ninety-nine times out of a hundred this kind of speculation ends in disaster.

Ficción y literatura
20 enero

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