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The Hunting Farmer
by [?]

I had almost said that if any one knew anything of scent, it is the farmer; but of scent I believe that not even the farmer knows anything. But he knows very much as to the lie of the country, and should my gentle reader by chance have taken a glass or two of wine above ordinary over night, the effect of which will possibly be a temporary distaste to straight riding, no one’s knowledge as to the line of the lanes is so serviceable as that of the farmer.

As to riding, there is the ambitious farmer and the unambitious farmer; the farmer who rides hard, that is, ostensibly hard, and the farmer who is simply content to know where the hounds are, and to follow them at a distance which shall maintain him in that knowledge. The ambitious farmer is not the hunting farmer in his normal condition; he is either one who has an eye to selling his horse, and, riding with that view, loses for the time his position as farmer; or he is some exceptional tiller of the soil who probably is dangerously addicted to hunting as another man is addicted to drinking; and you may surmise respecting him that things will not go well with him after a year or two. The friend of my heart is the farmer who rides, but rides without sputtering; who never makes a show of it, but still is always there; who feels it to be no disgrace to avoid a run of fences when his knowledge tells him that this may be done without danger of his losing his place. Such an one always sees a run to the end. Let the pace have been what it may, he is up in time to see the crowd of hounds hustling for their prey, and to take part in the buzz of satisfaction which the prosperity of the run has occasioned. But the farmer never kills his horse, and seldom rides him even to distress. He is not to be seen loosing his girths, or looking at the beast’s flanks, or examining his legs to ascertain what mischances may have occurred. He takes it all easily, as men always take matters of business in which they are quite at home. At the end of the run he sits mounted as quietly as he did at the meet, and has none of that appearance of having done something wonderful, which on such occasions is so very strong in the faces of the younger portion of the pink brigade. To the farmer his day’s hunting is very pleasant, and by habit is even very necessary; but it comes in its turn like market-day, and produces no extraordinary excitement. He does not rejoice over an hour and ten minutes with a kill in the open, as he rejoices when he has returned to Parliament the candidate who is pledged to repeal of the malt-tax; for the farmer of whom we are speaking now, though he rides with constancy, does not ride with enthusiasm.

O fortunati sua si bona norint farmers of England! Who in the town is the farmer’s equal? What is the position which his brother, his uncle, his cousin holds? He is a shopkeeper, who never has a holiday, and does not know what to do with it when it comes to him; to whom the fresh air of heaven is a stranger; who lives among sugars and oils, and the dust of shoddy, and the size of new clothing. Should such an one take to hunting once a week, even after years of toil, men would point their fingers at him and whisper among themselves that he was as good as ruined. His friends would tell him of his wife and children; and, indeed, would tell him truly, for his customers would fly from him. But nobody grudges the farmer his day’s sport! No one thinks that he is cruel to his children and unjust to his wife because he keeps a nag for his amusement, and can find a couple of days in the week to go among his friends. And with what advantages he does this! A farmer will do as much with one horse, will see as much hunting, as an outside member of the hunt will do with four, and, indeed, often more. He is his own head-groom, and has no scruple about bringing his horse out twice a week. He asks no livery-stable keeper what his beast can do, but tries the powers of the animal himself, and keeps in his breast a correct record. When the man from London, having taken all he can out of his first horse, has ridden his second to a stand-still, the farmer trots up on his stout, compact cob, without a sign of distress. He knows that the condition of a hunter and a greyhound should not be the same, and that his horse, to be in good working health, should carry nearly all the hard flesh that he can put upon him. How such an one must laugh in his sleeve at the five hunters of the young swell who, after all, is brought to grief in the middle of the season, because he has got nothing to ride! A farmer’s horse is never lame, never unfit to go, never throws out curbs, never breaks down before or behind. Like his master, he is never showy. He does not paw, and prance, and arch his neck, and bid the world admire his beauties; but, like his master, he is useful; and when he is wanted, he can always do his work.

O fortunatus nimium agricola, who has one horse, and that a good one, in the middle of a hunting country!