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North Devon
by [?]


Note: {1} Fraser’s Magazine, July 1849.


We were riding up from Lynmouth, on a pair of ragged ponies, Claude Mellot and I, along the gorge of Watersmeet. And as we went we talked of many things; and especially of some sporting book which we had found at the Lyndale Hotel the night before, and which we had not by any means admired. {2} I do not object to sporting books in general, least of all to one on Exmoor. No place in England is more worthy of one. There is no place whose beauties and peculiarities are more likely to be thrown into strong relief by being looked at with a sportsman’s eye. It is so with all forests and moorlands. The spirit of Robin Hood and Johnny of Breadislee is theirs. They are remnants of the home of man’s fierce youth, still consecrated to the genius of animal excitement and savage freedom; after all, not the most ignoble qualities of human nature. Besides, there is no better method of giving a living picture of a whole country than by taking some one feature of it as a guide, and bringing all other observations into harmony with that original key. Even in merely scientific books this is very possible. Look, for instance, at Hugh Miller’s ‘Old Red Sandstone,’ ‘The Voyage of the Beagle,’ and Professor Forbes’s work (we had almost said epic poem) on ‘Glaciers.’ Even an agricultural writer, if he have a real insight in him–if he have anything of that secret of the piu nel’ uno, ‘the power of discovering the infinite in the finite;’ of seeing, like a poet, trivial phenomena in their true relation to the whole of the great universe into which they are so cunningly fitted; if he has learned to look at all things and men, down to the meanest, as living lessons written with the finger of God; if, in short, he has any true dramatic power: then he may impart to that apparently muddiest of sciences a poetic or a humorous tone, and give the lie to Mephistopheles when he dissuades Faust from farming as an occupation too mean and filthy for a man of genius. The poetry of agriculture remains as yet, no doubt, unwritten, and the comedy of it also; though its farce-tragedy has been too often extensively enacted in practice–unconsciously to the players. As for the old ‘pastoral’ school, it only flourished before agriculture really existed–that is, before sound science, hard labour, and economy were necessary– and has been for the last two hundred years simply a dream. Nevertheless, as signs of what may be done even now by a genial man with so stubborn a subject as ‘turnips, barley, clover, wheat,’ it is worth while to look at old Arthur Young’s books, both travels and treatises; and also at certain very spirited ‘Chronicles of a Clay Farm,’ by Talpa, which teem with humour and wisdom.

{2} Some years after this was written, the very
book which was needed appeared, as “The Chase of
the Red Deer,” by Mr. Palk Collyns.

In sporting literature–a tenth muse, exclusively indigenous to England–the same observation holds good tenfold. Some of our most perfect topographical sketches have been the work of sportsmen. Old Izaak Walton, and his friend Cotton, of Dovedale, whose names will last as long as their rivers, have been followed by a long train of worthy pupils. White’s ‘History of Selborne;’ Sir Humphry Davy’s ‘Salmonia;’ ‘The Wild Sports of the West;’ Mr. St. John’s charming little works on Highland Shooting; and, above all, Christopher North’s ‘Recreations’–delightful book! to be read and re-read, the tenth time even as the first–an inexhaustible fairy well, springing out of the granite rock of the sturdy Scotch heart, through the tender green turf of a genial boyish old age. Sporting books, when they are not filled–as they need never be–with low slang, and ugly sketches of ugly characters–who hang on to the skirts of the sporting world, as they would to the skirts of any other world, in default of the sporting one–form an integral and significant, and, it may be, an honourable and useful part, of the English literature of this day; and, therefore, all shallowness, vulgarity, stupidity, or bookmaking in that class, must be as severely attacked as in novels and poems. We English owe too much to our field sports to allow people to talk nonsense about them.