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The Hunting Parson
by [?]

I feel some difficulty in dealing with the character I am now about to describe. The world at large is very prone to condemn the hunting parson, regarding him as a man who is false to his profession; and, for myself, I am not prepared to say that the world is wrong. Had my pastors and masters, my father and mother, together with the other outward circumstances of my early life, made a clergyman of me, I think that I should not have hunted, or at least, I hope that I might have abstained; and yet, for the life of me, I cannot see the reason against it, or tell any man why a clergyman should not ride to hounds. In discussing the subject, and I often do discuss it, the argument against the practice which is finally adopted, the argument which is intended to be conclusive, simply amounts to this, that a parish clergyman who does his duty cannot find the time. But that argument might be used with much more truth against other men of business, against those to whose hunting the world takes no exception. Indeed, of all men, the ordinary parish clergyman, is, perhaps, the least liable to such censure. He lives in the country, and can hunt cheaper and with less sacrifice of time than other men. His professional occupation does not absorb all his hours, and he is too often an idle man, whether he hunt or whether he do not. Nor is it desirable that any man should work always and never play. I think it is certainly the fact that a clergyman may hunt twice a week with less objection in regard to his time than any other man who has to earn his bread by his profession. Indeed, this is so manifestly the case, that I am sure that the argument in question, though it is the one which is always intended to be conclusive, does not in the least convey the objection which is really felt. The truth is, that a large and most respectable section of the world still regards hunting as wicked. It is supposed to be like the Cider Cellars or the Haymarket at twelve o’clock at night. The old ladies know that the young men go to these wicked places, and hope that no great harm is done; but it would be dreadful to think that clergymen should so degrade themselves. Now I wish I could make the old ladies understand that hunting is not wicked.

But although that expressed plea as to the want of time really amounts to nothing, and although the unexpressed feeling of old ladies as to the wickedness of hunting does not in truth amount to much, I will not say that there is no other impediment in the way of a hunting parson. Indeed, there have come up of late years so many impediments in the way of any amusement on the part of clergymen, that we must almost presume them to be divested at their consecration of all human attributes except hunger and thirst. In my younger days, and I am not as yet very old, an elderly clergyman might play his rubber of whist whilst his younger reverend brother was dancing a quadrille; and they might do this without any risk of a rebuke from a bishop, or any probability that their neighbours would look askance at them. Such recreations are now unclerical in the highest degree, or if not in the highest, they are only one degree less so than hunting. The theatre was especially a respectable clerical resource, and we may still occasionally see heads of colleges in the stalls, or perhaps a dean, or some rector, unambitious of further promotion. But should a young curate show himself in the pit, he would be but a lost sheep of the house of Israel. And latterly there went forth, at any rate in one diocese, a firman against cricket! Novels, too, are forbidden; though the fact that they may be enjoyed in solitude saves the clergy from absolute ignorance as to that branch of our national literature. All this is hard upon men who, let them struggle as they may to love the asceticisms of a religious life, are only men; and it has a strong tendency to keep out of the Church that very class, the younger sons of country gentlemen, whom all Churchmen should wish to see enter it. Young men who think of the matter when the time for taking orders is coming near, do not feel themselves qualified to rival St. Paul in their lives; and they who have not thought of it find themselves to be cruelly used when they are expected to make the attempt.