Chase, The - Book 1

by William Somervile

William Somervile


The Chase I sing, hounds, and their various breed,
And no less various use. O thou great Prince!
Whom Cambria's towering hills proclaim their lord,
Deign thou to hear my bold, instructive song.
While grateful citizens with pompous show
Rear the triumphal arch, rich with the' exploits
Of thy illustrious house; while virgins pave
Thy way with flowers, and, as the royal Youth
Passing they view, admire, and sigh in vain;
While crowded theatres, too fondly proud
Of their exotic minstrels, and shrill pipes,
The price of manhood, hail thee with a song,
And airs soft-warbling; my hoarse-sounding horn
Invites thee to the Chase, the sport of kings;
Image of war, without its guilt. The Muse
Aloft on wing shall soar, conduct with care
Thy foaming courser o'er the steepy rock,
Or on the river bank receive thee safe,
Light-bounding o'er the wave, from shore to shore.
Be thou our great protector, gracious Youth!
And if in future times, some envious prince,
Careless of right and guileful, should invade
Thy Britain's commerce, or should strive in vain
To wrest the balance from thy equal hand;
Thy hunter-train, in cheerful green array'd,
(A band undaunted, and inur'd to toils)
Shall compass thee around, die at thy feet,
Or hew thy passage through the' embattled foe,
And clear thy way to fame, inspir'd by thee,
The nobler chase of glory shall pursue
Through fire, and smoke, and blood, and fields of death.
Nature, in her productions slow, aspires
By just degrees to reach Perfection's height:
So mimic art works leisurely, till time
Improve the piece, or wise experience give
The proper finishing. When Nimrod bold,
That mighty hunter, first made war on beasts,
And stain'd the woodland green with purple dye,
New, and unpolish'd was the huntsman's art;
No stated rule, his wanton will his guide.
With clubs and stones, rude implements of war,
He arm'd his savage bands, a multitude
Untrain'd; of twining osiers form'd, they pitch
Their artless toils, then range the desert hills,
And scower the plains below the trembling herd
Start at the' unusual sound, and clamorous shout
Unheard before; surpris'd, alas! to find
Man now their foe, whom erst they deem'd their lord,
But mild and gentle, and by whom as yet
Secure they graz'd. Death stretches o'er the plain
Wide-wasting, and grim slaughter red with blood:
Urg'd on by hunger keen, they wound, they kill,
Their rage licentious knows no bound; at last
Incumber'd with their spoils, joyful they bear
Upon their shoulders broad, the bleeding prey.
Part on their altars smokes a sacrifice
To that all-gracious Pow'r, whose bounteous hand
Supports his wide creation; what remains
On living coals they broil, inelegant
Of taste, nor skill'd as yet in nicer arts
Of pamper'd luxury. Devotion pure,
And strong necessity, thus first began
The chase of beasts; though bloody was the deed,
Yet without guilt: for the green herb alone
Unequal to sustain man's labouring race,
Now every moving thing that liv'd on earth
Was granted him for food. So just is Heav'n!
To give us in proportion to our wants.
Or chance or industry in after-times
Some few improvements made, but short as yet
Of due perfection. In this isle remote
Our painted ancestors were slow to learn,
To arms devote, of the politer arts
Nor skill'd nor studious; till from Neustria's coasts
Victorious William, to more decent rules
Subdued our Saxon fathers, taught to speak
The proper dialect, with horn and voice
To cheer the busy hound, whose well-known cry
His listening peers approve with joint acclaim.
From him successive huntsmen learn'd to join
In bloody social leagues, the multitude
Dispers'd, to size, to sort their various tribes,
To rear, feed, hunt, and discipline the pack.
Hail, happy Britain! highly-favour'd isle,
And Heaven's peculiar care! to thee 'tis given
To train the sprightly steed, more fleet than those
Begot by winds, or the celestial breed
That bore the great Pelides through the press
Of heroes arm'd, and broke their crowded ranks;
Which proudly neighing, with the sun begins
Cheerful his course; and ere his beams decline,
Has measur'd half thy surface unfatigued.
In thee alone, fair land of liberty!
Is bred the perfect hound, in scent and speed
As yet unrivall'd, while in other climes
Their virtue fails, a weak degenerate race.
In vain malignant steams, and winter fogs
Load the dull air, and hover round our coasts;
The huntsman ever gay, robust, and bold,
Defies the noxious vapour, and confides
In this delightful exercise, to raise
His drooping herd, and cheer his heart with joy.
Ye vigorous youths, by smiling fortune blest
With large demesnes, hereditary wealth,
Heap'd copious by your wise forefathers' care,
Hear and attend! while I the means reveal
To' enjoy those pleasures, for the weak too strong,
Too costly for the poor: to rein the steed
Swift-stretching o'er the plain, to cheer the pack
Opening in concerts of harmonious joy,
But breathing death. What though the gripe severe
Of brazen-fisted Time, and slow disease
Creeping through every vein, and nerve unstrung,
Afflict my shatter'd frame, undaunted still,
Fix'd as a mountain ash, that braves the bolls
Of angry Jove; though blasted, yet unfallen;
Still can my soul in Fancy's mirror view
Deeds glorious once, recal the joyous scene
In all its splendors deck'd, o'er the full bowl
Recount my triumphs past, urge others on
With hand and voice, and point the winding way.
Pleas'd with that social sweet garrulity,
The poor disbanded veteran's sole delight!
First let the kennel be the huntsman's care,
Upon some little emmence erect,
And fronting to the ruddy dawn; its courts
On either hand wide opening to receive
The sun's all-cheering beams, when mild he shines,
And gilds the mountain tops. For much the pack
(Rous'd from their dark alcoves) delight to stretch,
And bask, in his invigorating ray:
Warn'd by the streaming light, and merry lark,
Forth rush the jolly clan; with tuneful throats
They carol loud, and in grand chorus join'd
Salute the new-born day. For not alone
The vegetable world, but men and brutes
Own his reviving influence, and joy
At his approach. Fountain of light! if chance
Some envious cloud veil thy refulgent brow,
In vain the muse's aid, untouch'd, unstrung,
Lies my mute harp, and thy desponding bard
Sits darkly musing o'er the unfinish'd lay.
Let no Corinthian pillars prop the dome,
A vain expence, on charitable deeds
Better dispos'd, to clothe the tatter'd wretch
Who shrinks beneath the blast, to feed the poor
Pinch'd with afflictive want: for use, not state,
Gracefully plam, let each apartment rise.
O'er all let cleanliness preside, no scraps
Bestrew the pavement, and no half-pick'd bones,
To kindle fierce debate, or to disgust
That nicer sense, on which the sportsman's hope,
And all his future triumphs must depend.
Soon as the growling pack with eager joy
Have lapp'd their smoking viands, morn or eve,
From the full cistern lead the ductile streams,
To wash thy court well-pav'd, nor spare thy pains,
For much to health will cleanliness avail.
Seek'st thou for hounds to climb the rocky steep,
And brush the entangled covert, whose nice scent
O'er greasy fallows, and frequented roads
Can pick the dubious way? Banish far off
Each noisome stench, let no offensive smell
Invade thy wide inclosure, but admit
The nitrous air, and purifying breeze.
Water and shade no less demand thy care:
In a large square the' adjacent field inclose,
There plant in equal ranks the spreading elm,
Or fragrant lime; most happy thy design,
If at the bottom of thy spacious court,
A large canal, fed by the crystal brook,
From its transparent bosom shall reflect
Downward thy structure and inverted grove.
Here when the sun's too potent gleams annoy
The crowded kennel, and the drooping pack
Restless and faint, loll their unmoisten'd tongues,
And drop their feeble tails; to cooler shades
Lead forth the panting tribe; soon shalt thou find
The cordial breeze their fainting hearts revive:
Tumultuous soon they plunge into the stream,
There lave their reeking sides, with greedy joy
Gulp down the flying wave, this way and that
From shore to shore they swim, while clamour loud
And wild uproar torments the troubled flood:
Then on the sunny bank they roll and stretch
Their dripping limbs, or else in wanton rings
Coursing around, pursuing and pursued,
The merry multitude disporting play.
BuThere with watchful and observant eye
Attend their frolics, which too often end
In bloody broils and death. High o'er thy head
Wave thy resounding whip, and with a voice
Fierce-menacing o'er-rule the stern debate,
And quench their kindling rage; for oft in sport
Begun, combat ensues, growling they snarl,
Then on their haunches rear'd, rampant they seize
Each other's throats, with teeth, and claws, in gore
Besmear'd, they wound, they tear, till on the ground,
Panting, half dead the conquer'd champion lies:
Then sudden all the base ignoble crowd
Loud-clamouring seize the helpless worried wretch,
And thirsting for his blood, drag different ways
His mangled carcass on the' ensanguin'd plain.
O breasts of pity void! to' oppress the weak,
To point your vengeance at the friendless head,
And with one mutual cry insult the fall'n!
Emblem too just of man's degenerate race.
Others apart by native instinct led,
Knowing instructor! among the ranker grass
Cull each salubrious plant, with bitter juice
Concoctive stor'd, and potent to allay
Each vicious ferment. Thus the hand divine
Of Providence, beneficent and kind
To all his creatures; for the brutes prescribes
A ready remedy, and is himself
Their great physician. Now grown stiff with age,
And many a painful chase, the wise old hound
Regardless of the frolic pack, attends
His master's side, or slumbers at his ease
Beneath the bending shade; there many a ring
Runs o'er in dreams; now on the doubtful foil
Puzzles perplex'd, or doubles intricate
Cautious unfolds, then wing'd with all his speed,
Bounds o'er the lawn to seize his panting prey;
And in imperfect whimperings speaks his joy.
A different hound for every different chase
Select with judgment; nor the timorous hare
O'ermatch'd destroy, but leave that vile offence
To the mean, murderous, coursing crew; intent
On blood and spoil. O blast their hopes, jusTheav'n!
And all their painful drudgeries repay
With disappointment and severe remorse.
But husband thou thy pleasures, and give scope
To all her subtle play: by nature led
A thousand shifts she tries; to' unravel these
The' industrious beagie twists his waving tail:
Through all her labyrinths pursues, and rings
Her doleful knell. See there with countenance blithe,
And with a courtly grin, the fawning hound
Salutes thee cowering, his wide opening nose
Upward he curls, and his large sloe-black eyes
Melt in soft blandishments, and humble joy;
His glossy skin, or yellow-pied, or blue,
In lights or shades by nature's pencil drawn,
Reflects the various tints; his ears and legs
FleckThere and there, in gay enamell'd pride,
Rival the speckled pard; his rush-grown tail
O'er his broad back bends in an ample arch;
On shoulders clean, upright and firm he stands;
His round cat foot, strait hams, and wide-spread thighs,
And his low-dropping chest, confess his speed,
His strength, his wind, or on the steepy hill,
Or far-extended plain; in every part
So well proportion'd, that the nicer skill
Of Phidias himself can't blame thy choice.
Of such compose thy pack. BuThere a mean
Observe, nor the large hound prefer, of size
Gigantic; he in the thick-woven covert
Pamfully tugs, or in the thorny brake
Torn and embarrass'd bleeds: but if too small,
The pigmy brood in every furrow swims;
Moil'd in the clogging clay, panting they lag
Behind inglorious; or else shivering creep
Benumb'd and faint beneath the sheltering thorn.
For hounds of middle size, active and strong,
Will better answer all thy various ends,
And crown thy pleasing labours with success.
As some brave captain, curious and exact,
By his fix'd standard forms in equal ranks
His gay battalion; as one man they move
Step after step, their size the same, their arms
Far-gleaming, dart the same united blaze:
Reviewing generals his merit own;
How regular! how just! and all his cares
Are well repaid, if mighty George approve.
So model thou thy pack, if honour touch
Thy generous soul, and the world's just applause.
But above all take heed, nor mix thy hounds
Of different kinds, discordant sounds shall gratc
Thy ears offended, and a lagging line
Of babbling curs disgrace thy broken pack.
But if the' amphibious otter be thy chase,
Or stately stag, that o'er the woodland reigns;
Or if the' harmonious thunder of the field
Delight thy ravish'd ears; the deep flew'd hound
Breed up with care, strong, heavy, slow, but sure;
Whose cars down-hanging from his thick round head
Shall sweep the morning-dew, whose clanging voice
Awake the mountain echo in her cell,
And shake the forests: the bold talbot kind
Of these the prime, as white as Alpine snows,
And great their use of old. Upon the banks
Of Tweed, slow winding through the vale, the seat
Of war and rapine once, ere Britons knew
The sweets of peace, or Anna's dread commands
To lasting leagues the haughty rivals aw'd;
There dwelt a pilfering race, well-train'd and skill'd
In all the mysteries of theft, the spoil
Their only substance, feuds and war their sport:
Not more expert in every fraudful art
The' arch felon was of old, who by the tail
Drew back his lowing prize: in vain his wiles,
In vain the shelter of the covering rock,
In vain the sooty cloud, and ruddy flames
That issued from his month; for soon he paid
His forfeit life: a debt how justly due
To wrong'd Alcides, and avenging Heav'n!
Veil'd in the shades of night they ford the stream,
Then prowling far and near, whate'er they seize
Becomes their prey; not flocks nor herds are safe,
Nor stalls protect the steer, nor strong-barr'd doors
Secure the favourite horse. Soon as the morn
Reveals his wrongs, with ghastly visage wan
The plunder'd owner stands, and from his lips
A thousand thronging curses burst their way
He calls his stout allies, and in a line
His faithful hound he leads, then with a voice
That utters loud his rage, attentive cheers:
Soon the sagacious brute, his curling tail
Flourish'd in air, low-bending plies around
His busy nose, the steaming vapour snuffs
Inquisitive, nor leaves one turf untried,
Till conscious of the recent stains, his heart
Beats quick; his snuffling nose, his active tail
Attest his joy; then with deep opening mouth
That makes the welkin tremble, he proclaims
The' audacious felon; foot by fooThe marks
His winding way, while all the listening crowd
Applaud his reasonings. O'er the watery ford,
Dry sandy heaths, and stony barren hills,
O'er beaten paths, with men and beasts distain'd,
Unerring he pursues; till at the cot
Arriv'd, and seizing by his guilty throat
The caitiff vile, redeems the captive prey:
So exquisitely delicate his sense!
Should some more curious sportsman here enquire,
Whence this sagacity, this wondrous pow'r
Of tracing step by step, or man or brute?
What guide invisible points out their way,
O'er the dank marsh, bleak hill, and sandy plain?
The courteous Muse shall the dark cause reveal.
The blood that from the heart meessant rolls
In many a crimson tide, then here and there
In smaller rills disparted, as it flows
Propell'd, the serous particles evade
Through the' open pores, and with the ambient air
Entangling mix. As fuming vapours rise,
And hang upon the gently purling brook,
There by the' incumbent atmosphere compress'd.
The panting chase grows warmer as he flies,
And through the net-work of the skin perspires;
Leaves a long-streaming trail behind, which by
The cooler air condens'd, remains, unless
By some rude storm dispers'd, or rarefied
By the meridian sun's intenser heat.
To every shrub the warm effluvia cling,
Hang on the grass, impreguate earth and skies.
With nostrils opening wide, o'er hill, o'er dale,
The vigorous hounds pursue, with every breath
Inhale the grateful steam, quick pleasures sting
Their tingling nerves, while they their thanks repay,
And in triumphant melody confess
The titillating joy. Thus on the air
Depend the hunter's hopes. When ruddy streaks
At eve forebode a blustering stormy day,
Or lowering clouds blacken the mountain's brow;
When nipping frosts, and the keen biting blasts
Of the dry parching east, menace the trees
With tender blossoms teeming; kindly spare
Thy sleeping pack, in their warm beds of straw
Low-sinking at their ease: listless they shrink
Into some dark recess, nor hear thy voice
Though oft invok'd; or haply if thy call
Rouse up the slumbering tribe, with heavy eyes
Glaz'd, lifeless, dull, downward they drop their tails
Inverted; high on their bent backs erect
Their pointed bristles stare, or mong the tufts
Of ranker weeds, each stomach-healing plant
Curious they crop, sick, spiritless, forlorn.
These mauspicious days, on other cares
Employ thy precious hours, the' improving friend
With open arms embrace, and from his lips
Glean science, season'd with good-natur'd wit.
But if the' inclement skies and angry Jove
Forbid the pleasing intercourse, thy books
Invite thy ready hand, each sacred page
Rich with the wise remarks of heroes old.
Converse familiar with the' illustrious dead;
With great examples of old Greece or Rome
Enlarge thy free-born heart, and bless kind Heav'n,
That Britain yet enjoys dear liberty,
That balm of life, that sweetest blessing, cheap
Though purchas'd with our blood. Well-bred, polite.
Credit thy calling. See! how mean, how low,
The bookless sauntering youth, proud of the skut
That dignifies his cap, his flourish'd belt,
And rusty coupies gingling by his side.
Be thou of other mold; and know that such
Transporting pleasures, were by Heav'n ordain'd
Wisdom's relief, and virtue's great reward.

Last updated October 28, 2017