“Then hey for boot and horse, lad!
And round the world away!
Young blood will have its course, lad!
And every dog his day!”
- C. Kingsley.
There’s a formula which the west country clowns
Once used, ere their blows fell thick,
At the fairs on the Devon and Cornwall downs,
In their bouts with the single-stick.
You may read a moral, not far amiss,
If you care to moralise,
In the crossing-guard, where the ash-plants kiss,
To the words “God spare our eyes”.
No game was ever yet worth a rap
For a rational man to play,
Into which no accident, no mishap,
Could possibly find its way.
If you hold the willow, a shooter from Wills
May transform you into a hopper,
And the football meadow is rife with spills,
If you feel disposed for a cropper;
In a rattling gallop with hound and horse
You may chance to reverse the medal
On the sward, with the saddle your loins across,
And your hunter’s loins on the saddle;
In the stubbles you’ll find it hard to frame
A remonstrance firm, yet civil,
When oft as “our mutual friend” takes aim,
Long odds may be laid on the rising game,
And against your gaiters level;
There’s danger even where fish are caught,
To those who a wetting fear;
For what’s worth having must aye be bought,
And sport’s like life and life’s like sport,
“It ain’t all skittles and beer.”
The honey bag lies close to the sting,
The rose is fenced by the thorn,
Shall we leave to others their gathering,
And turn from clustering fruits that cling
To the garden wall in scorn?
Albeit those purple grapes hang high,
Like the fox in the ancient tale,
Let us pause and try, ere we pass them by,
Though we, like the fox, may fail.
All hurry is worse than useless; think
On the adage, “’Tis pace that kills”;
Shun bad tobacco, avoid strong drink,
Abstain from Holloway’s pills,
Wear woollen socks, they’re the best you’ll find,
Beware how you leave off flannel;
And whatever you do, don’t change your mind
When once you have picked your panel;
With a bank of cloud in the south south-east,
Stand ready to shorten sail;
Fight shy of a corporation feast;
Don’t trust to a martingale;
Keep your powder dry, and shut one eye,
Not both, when you touch your trigger;
Don’t stop with your head too frequently
(This advice ain’t meant for a nigger);
Look before you leap, if you like, but if
You mean leaping, don’t look long,
Or the weakest place will soon grow stiff,
And the strongest doubly strong;
As far as you can, to every man,
Let your aid be freely given,
And hit out straight, ’tis your shortest plan,
When against the ropes you’re driven.
Mere pluck, though not in the least sublime,
Is wiser than blank dismay,
Since “No sparrow can fall before its time”,
And we’re valued higher than they;
So hope for the best and leave the rest
In charge of a stronger hand,
Like the honest boors in the far-off west,
With the formula terse and grand.
They were men for the most part rough and rude,
Dull and illiterate,
But they nursed no quarrel, they cherished no feud,
They were strangers to spite and hate;
In a kindly spirit they took their stand,
That brothers and sons might learn
How a man should uphold the sports of his land,
And strike his best with a strong right hand,
And take his strokes in return.
“’Twas a barbarous practice,” the Quaker cries,
“’Tis a thing of the past, thank heaven”,
Keep your thanks till the combative instinct dies
With the taint of the olden leaven;
Yes, the times are changed, for better or worse,
The prayer that no harm befall
Has given its place to a drunken curse,
And the manly game to a brawl.
Our burdens are heavy, our natures weak,
Some pastime devoid of harm
May we look for? “Puritan elder, speak!”
“Yea, friend, peradventure thou mayest seek
Recreation singing a psalm.”
If I did, your visage so grim and stern
Would relax in a ghastly smile,
For of music I never one note could learn,
And my feeble minstrelsy would turn
Your chant to discord vile.
Tho’ the Philistine’s mail could not avail,
Nor the spear like a weaver’s beam,
There are episodes yet in the Psalmist’s tale,
To obliterate which his poems fail,
Which his exploits fail to redeem.
Can the Hittite’s wrongs forgotten be?
Does he warble “Non nobis Domine”,
With his monarch in blissful concert, free
From all malice to flesh inherent;
Zeruiah’s offspring, who served so well,
Yet between the horns of the altar fell,
Does his voice the “Quid gloriaris” swell,
Or the “Quare fremuerunt”?
It may well be thus where David sings,
And Uriah joins in the chorus,
But while earth to earthy matter clings,
Neither you nor the bravest of Judah’s kings
As a pattern can stand before us.