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A Refinement Of "Sporting" Cruelty
by [?]

I firmly believe in the sound manhood of the English people, and I know that in any great emergency they would rise and prove themselves true and gallant of soul; but we happen for the time to have amongst us a very large class of idlers, and these idlers are steadily introducing habits and customs which no wise observer can regard without solemn apprehensions. The simple Southampton poet has told us what “idle hands” are apt to do under certain guidance, and his saying–truism as it appears–should be studied with more regard to its vital meaning. The idlers crave for novelties; they seek for new forms of distraction; they seem really to live only when they are in the midst of delirious excitement. Unhappily their feverish unrest is apt to communicate itself to men who are not naturally idlers, and thus their influence moves outwards like some vast hurtful wind blown from a pestilent region. During the past few years the idlers have invented a form of amusement which for sheer atrocity and wanton cruelty is unparalleled in the history of England. I shall say some words about this remarkable amusement, and I trust that gentle women who have in them the heart of compassion, mothers who have sons to be ruined, fathers who have purses to bleed, may aid in putting down an evil that gathers strength every day.

Most of my readers know what the “sport” of coursing is; but, for the benefit of strictly town-bred folk, I may roughly indicate the nature of the pursuit as it was practised in bygone times. A brace of greyhounds were placed together in the slips–that is, in collars which fly open when the man who holds the dogs releases a knot; and then a line of men moved slowly over the fields. When a hare rose and ran for her life, the slipper allowed her a fair start, and then he released the dogs. The mode of reckoning the merits of the hounds is perhaps a little too complicated for the understanding of non-“sporting” people; but I may broadly put it that the dog which gives the hare most trouble, the dog that causes her to dodge and turn the oftenest in order to save her life, is reckoned the winner. Thus the greyhound which reaches the hare first receives two points; poor pussy then makes an agonized rush to right or left, and, if the second dog succeeds in passing his opponent and turning the hare again, he receives a point, and so on. The old-fashioned open-air sport was cruel enough, for it often happened that the hare ran for two or three miles with her ferocious pursuers hard on her track, and every muscle of her body was strained with poignant agony; but there is this to be said–the men had healthy, matchless exercise on breezy plains and joyous uplands, they tramped all day until their limbs were thoroughly exercised, and they earned sound repose by their wholesome exertions. Moreover, the element of fair-play enters into coursing when pursued in the open spaces. Pussy knows every foot of the ground; nightly she steals gently to the fields where her succulent food is found, and in the morning she steals back again to her tiny nest, or form, amid the soft grass. All day she lies chewing the cud in her fashion, and moving her delicate ears hither and thither, lest fox or stoat or dog should come upon her unawares; and at nightfall she steals away once more. Every run, every tuft of grass, every rising of the ground is known to her; and, when at last the tramp of the approaching beaters rouses her, she rushes away with a distinct advantage over the dogs. She knows exactly whither to go; the other animals do not, and usually, on open ground, the quarry escapes. I do not think that any greyhound living could catch one of the hares now left on the Suffolk marshes; and there are many on the great Wiltshire plains which are quite capable of rushing at top speed for three miles and more. The chase in the open is cruel–there is no denying it–for poor puss dies many deaths ere she bids her enemies good-bye; but still she has a chance for life, and thus the sport, inhuman as it is, has a praiseworthy element of fairness in it.