Open main menu

Page:Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management.djvu/818

This page has been validated.

tionably limited; so that when a country has attained to a high state of cultivation, hunting becomes little else than an amusement of the wealthy. In the case of fur-bearing animals, however, it is somewhat different, for these continue to supply the wants of civilization with one of its most valuable materials of commerce.

The Themes which form the Minstrelsy of the Earliest Ages relate either to the spoils of the chase or to the dangers of the battlefield. The sacred writings introduce us to Nimrod, the first mighty hunter before the Lord, and tell us that Ishmael, in the solitudes of Arabia, became a skilful bowman; and that David, when yet young, was not afraid to join in combat with the lion or the bear. Greek mythology teems with hunting exploits; Hercules overthrows the Nemaean lion, the Erymanthean boar and the hydra of Lerna; Diana descends to the earth and pursues the stag; Æsculapius, Nestor, Theseus, Ulysses and Achilles are all followers of the chase. Aristotle, the philosopher, advises young men to apply themselves early to it; and Plato finds in it something divine. Horace exalts it as a preparative exercise for the path of glory, and several of the heroes of Homer are its ardent votaries. The Romans followed the hunting customs of the Greeks, and the ancient Britons were hunters before Julius Caesar invaded our shores. Although the ancient Britons followed hunting, however, they did not confine themselves solely to its pursuit. They bred cattle and tilled the ground and, to some extent, indicated the rudimentary state of a pastoral and agricultural life; but, in every social change field sports maintained their place. After the expulsion of the Danes, and during the brief restoration of the Saxon monarchy, such sports were still followed; even Edward the Confessor, who would join in no other secular amusement, took the greatest delight, says William of Malmesbury, "to follow a pack of swift hounds in pursuit of game, and to cheer them with his voice." Nor was Edward the only English sovereign who delighted in the pleasures of the chase. William the Norman, and his two sons who succeeded him, were passionately fond of the sport, and greatly circumscribed the liberties of their subjects in reference to the killing of game. The privilege of hunting in the royal forests was confined to the king and his favourites; and in order that these might be made more extensive, whole villages were depopulated, places of worship levelled with the ground, and every means adopted that might give a sufficient extension of space for the beasts of the chase. King John was especially devoted to field sports, and went so far as to lay an interdict upon the winged as well as upon the four-footed creation. These forest laws at length became so tyrannical and intolerable that our ancestors became almost as anxious for their reformation as they were for the relaxation of the feudal system, and they wrung from the king the Charta de Forestâ with as much insistence as they wrung from him Magna Charta. Edward III was so enamoured of the exercise that even