First let the kennel be the huntsman's care

by William Somervile

William Somervile


First let the kennel be the huntsman's care,
Upon some little eminence 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
(Roused from their dark alcoves) delight to stretch
And bask in his invigorating ray.

Let no Corinthian pillars prop the dome,
A vain expense, on charitable deeds
Better disposed. . . . For use, not state,
Gracefully plain, let each apartment rise.
O'er all let cleanliness preside, no scraps
Bestrew the pavement, and no half-picked bones.

Water and shade no less demand thy care;
In a large square th' adjacent field enclose;
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.


A different hound for every different chase
Select with judgment; nor the timorous hare
O'ermatched destroy, but leave that vile offence
To the mean, murderous, coursing crew; intent
On blood and spoil. O blast their hopes, just Heaven!
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; t' unravel these.
Th' industrious beagle twists his wavering 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
Flecked here and there, in gay enamelled 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 proportioned that the nicer skill
Of Phidias himself can't blame thy choice.
Of such compose thy pack. But here a mean
Observe, nor the large hound prefer, of size
Gigantic; he in the thick woven covert
Painfully tugs, or in the thorny brake
Torn and embarrassed; but, if too small,
The pigmy brood in every furrow swims;
Moiled in the clogging clay, panting they lag
Behind inglorious; or else shivering creep
Benumbed 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.

But above all take heed, nor mix thy hounds
Of different kinds; discordant sounds shall grate
Thy ears offended; and a lagging line
Of babbling curs disgrace thy broken pack.


If the harmonious thunder of the field
Delight thy ravished ears, the deep-flewed hound
Breed up with care, strong, heavy, slow, but sure;
Whose ears, 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.

Soon the sagacious brute, his curling tail
Flourished 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
Th' audacious felon; foot by foot he 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 distained,
Unerring he pursues; till at the cot
Arrived, and seizing by his guilty throat
The caitiff vile, redeems the captive prey:
So exquisitely delicate his sense!


From the kennel rush the joyous pack;
A thousand wanton gaieties express
Their inward ecstasy, their pleasing sport
Once more indulged, and liberty restored.
The rising sun, that o'er th' horizon peeps,
As many colours from their glossy skins
Beaming reflects, as paints the various bow
When April showers descend.

Huntsman, lead on! behind the clustering pack
Submiss attend, hear with respect thy whip
Loud clanging, and thy harsher voice obey:
Spare not the straggling cur that wildly roves,
But let thy brisk assistant on his back
Imprint thy just resentments; let each lash
Bite to the quick, till howling he return,
And whining creep amid the trembling crowd.
Throw off thy ready pack. See where they spread,
And range around, and dash the glistening dew.
If some staunch hound with his authentic voice
Avow the recent trail, the jostling tribe
Attend his call, then, with one mutual cry,
The welcome news confirm, and echoing hills
Repeat the pleasing tale. See how they thread
The brakes, and up yon furrow drive along!
But quick they back recoil, and wisely check
Their eager haste; then o'er the fallowed ground
How leisurely they work, and many a pause
Th' harmonious concert breaks; till more assured
With joy redoubled the low valleys ring.

Happy the man who with unrivalled speed
Can pass his fellows, and with pleasure view
The struggling pack: how in the rapid course
Alternate they preside, and jostling push
To guide the dubious scent; how giddy youth
Oft babbling errs, by wiser age reproved;
How, niggard of his strength, the wise old hound
Hangs in the rear till some important point
Rouse all his diligence, or till the chase
Sinking he finds — then to the head he springs
With thirst of glory fired, and wins the prize.


And now in open view
See, see, she flies! Each eager hound exerts
His utmost speed, and stretches every nerve.
How quick she turns — their gaping jaws eludes,
And yet a moment lives; till, round enclosed
By all the greedy pack, with infant screams
She yields her breath, and there reluctant dies.


In vain the crowding pack
Draw on the margin of the stream, or cut
The liquid wave with oary feet that move
In equal time. The gliding waters leave
No trace behind, and his contracted pores
But sparingly perspire: the huntsman strains
His labouring lungs, and puffs his cheeks in vain.
At length a bloodhound bold, studious to kill,
And exquisite of sense, winds him from far;
Headlong he leaps into the flood, his mouth
Loud opening spends amain, and his wide throat
Swells every note with joy; then fearless dives
Beneath the wave, hangs on his haunch, and wounds
Th' unhappy brute, that flounders in the stream.
Sorely distressed, and struggling strives to mount
The steepy shore. Haply once more escaped
Again he stands at bay, amid the groves
Of willows, bending low their downy heads.
Outrageous transport fires the greedy pack;
These swim the deep, and those crawl up with pain
The slippery bank, while others on firm land
Engage; the stag repels each bold assault,
Maintains his post, and wounds for wounds returns.


Now on firm land they range; then in the flood
They plunge tumultuous; or through reedy pools
Rustling they work their way: no hole escapes
Their curious search. . . . Yon hollow trunk,
That with its hoary head incurved salutes
The passing wave, must be the tyrant's fort
And dread abode. How these impatient climb,
While others at the root incessant bay!
They put him down. See, there he dives along!
Th' ascending bubbles mark his gloomy way. . . .
See, that bold hound hasseized him; down they sink
Together lost, but soon shall he repent
His rash assault. . . . Again he vents;
Again the crowd attack. That spear has pierced
His neck. . . . Lo! to yon sedgy bank
He creeps disconsolate: his numerous foes
Surround him, hounds and men. Pierced through and through,
On pointed spears they lift him high in air.


For every longing dame select
Some happy paramour; to him alone
In leagues connubial join. Consider well
His lineage; what his fathers did of old.
Chiefs of the pack, and first to climb the rock,
Or plunge into the deep, or tread the brake
With thorn sharp-pointed, plashed, and briars inwoven.
Observe with care his shape, sort, colour, size.
Nor will sagacious huntsmen less regard
His inward habits. The vain babbler shun,
Ever loquacious, ever in the wrong.
His foolish offspring shall offend thy ears
With false alarms, and loud impertinence.
Nor less the shifting cur avoid, that breaks
Illusive from the pack; to the next hedge
Devious he strays, there every muse he tries:
If haply then he cross the steaming scent,
Away he flies vain-glorious; and exults
As of the pack supreme, and in his speed
And strength unrivalled. Lo! cast far behind
His vexed associates pant, and labouring strain
To climb the steep ascent. Soon as they reach
Th' insulting boaster, his false courage fails,
Behind he lags, doomed to the fatal noose,
His master's hate, and scorn of all the field.
What can from such be hoped, but a base brood
Of coward curs, a frantic vagrant race?


Soon as the tender dam
Has formed them with her tongue, with pleasure view
The marks of their renowned progenitors,
Sure pledge of triumphs yet to come. All these
Select with joy; but to the merciless flood
Expose the dwindling refuse, nor o'erload
Th' indulgent mother. If thy heart relent,
Unwilling to destroy, a nurse provide,
And to the foster parent give the care
Of thy superfluous brood; she'll cherish kind
The alien offspring; pleased thou shalt behold
Her tenderness and hospitable love.
If frolic now and playful they desert
Their gloomy cell, and on the verdant turf,
With nerves improved, pursue the mimic chase,
Coursing around; unto the choicest friends
Commit thy valued prize: the rustic dames
Shall at thy kennel wait, and in their laps
Receive thy growing hopes, with many a kiss
Caress, and dignify their little charge
With some great title, and resounding name
Of high import.


But cautious here observe
To check their youthful ardour, nor permit
The inexperienced younker, immature,
Alone to range the woods, or haunt the brakes
Where dodging conies sport — his nerves unstrung,
And strength unequal; the laborious chase
Shall stint his growth, and his rash, forward youth
Contract such vicious habits, as thy care
And late correction never shall reclaim.

When to full strength arrived, mature and bold,
Conduct them to the field; not all at once,
But as thy cooler prudence shall direct,
Select a few, and form them by degrees
To stricter discipline. With these consort
The staunch and steady sages of thy pack,
By long experience versed in all the wiles
And subtle doublings of the various chase.
Easy the lesson of the youthful train
When instinct prompts, and when example guides.
If the too forward younker at the head
Press boldly on in wanton sportive mood,
Correct his haste, and let him feel abashed
The ruling whip. But if he stoop behind
In wary modest guide, to his own nose
Confiding sure, give him full scope to work
His winding way, and with thy voice applaud
His patience and his care; soon shalt thou view
The hopeful pupil leader of his tribe,
And all the listening pack attend his call.


Oft lead them forth where wanton lambkins play,
And bleating dams with jealous eyes observe
Their tender care. If at the crowding flock
He bay presumptuous, or with eager haste
Pursue them scattered o'er the verdant plain —
In the foul fact attached, to the strong ram
Tie fast the rash offender. See! at first
His horned companion, fearful and amazed,
Shall drag him trembling o'er the rugged ground;
Then, with his load fatigued, shall turn a-head,
And with his hard curled front incessant peal
The panting wretch; till, breathless and astunned,
Stretched on the turf he lie. Then spare not thou
The twining whip, but ply his bleeding sides.


Nor is't enough to breed; but to preserve
Must be the huntsman's care. The staunch old hounds,
Guides of thy pack, though but in number few,
Are yet of great account; shall oft untie
The Gordian knot, when reason at a stand
Puzzling is lost, and all thy art is vain.
O'er clogging fallows, o'er dry plastered roads,
O'er floated meads, o'er plains with flocks distained
Rank-scenting, these must lead the dubious way.

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 soil
Puzzles perplexed, or doubles intricate
Cautious unfolds, then, winged with all his speed,
Bounds o'er the lawn to seize his panting prey;
And in imperfect whimperings speaks his joy.


Unnumbered accidents and various ills
Attend thy pack, hang hovering o'er their heads,
And point the way that leads to death's dark cave.
Short is their span; few at the date arrive
Of ancient Argus, in old Homer's song
So highly honoured — kind, sagacious brute!
Not ev'n Minerva's wisdom could conceal
Thy much loved master from thy nicer sense.
Dying his lord he owned, viewed him all o'er
With eager eyes, then closed those eyes well pleased.


When Sirius reigns and the sun's parching beams
Bake the dry gaping surface, visit thou
Each ev'n and morn, with quick observant eye
Thy panting pack. If in dark sullen mood
The glouting hound refuse his wonted meal,
Retiring to some close obscure retreat,
Gloomy disconsolate — with speed remove
The poor infectious wretch, and in strong chains
Bind him, suspected. Thus that dire disease
Which art can't cure wise caution may prevent.
But, this neglected, soon expect a change,
A dismal change, confusion, frenzy, death.
Or in some dark recess the senseless brute
Sits sadly pining: deep melancholy
And black despair upon his clouded brow.
Hang lowering; from his half-opening jaws
The clammy venom and infectious froth
Distilling fall; and from his lungs inflamed
Malignant vapours taint the ambient air,
Breathing perdition: his dim eyes are glazed,
He droops his pensive head, his trembling limbs
No more support his weight; abject he lies,
Dumb, spiritless, benumbed; till death at last
Gracious attends, and kindly brings relief.
Or, if outrageous grown, behold, alas!
A yet more dreadful scene; his glaring eyes
Redden with fury, like some angry boar
Churning he foams; and on his back erect
His pointed bristles rise; his tail incurved
He drops, and with harsh broken howling rends
The poison-tainted air, with rough hoarse voice
Incessant bays; and snuffs the infectious breeze;
This way and that he stares aghast, and starts
At his own shade: jealous, as if he deemed
The world his foes. If haply towards the stream
He cast his roving eye, cold horror chills
His soul; averse he flies, trembling, appalled.


If now perchance through the weak fence escaped,
Far up the wind he roves, with open mouth
Inhales the cooling breeze; nor man nor beast
He spares implacable. ...
Hence to the village with pernicious haste
Baleful he bends his course: the village flies
Alarmed; the tender mother in her arms
Hugs close the trembling babe; the doors are barred,
And flying curs by native instinct taught
Shun the contagious bane; the rustic bands
Hurry to arms, the rude militia seize
Whate'er at hand they find, clubs, forks, or guns;
From every quarter charge the furious foe
In wild disorder and uncouth array:
Till, now with wounds on wounds oppressed and gored,
At one short poisonous gasp he breathes his last.


Sing, philosophic muse, the dire effects
Of this contagious bite on man.
The rustic swains, by long tradition taught
Of leeches old, as soon as they perceive
The bite impressed, to the sea coasts repair.
Plunged in the briny flood, th' unhappy youth
Now journeys home secure; but soon shall wish
The seas as yet had covered him beneath
The foaming surge.
At last with boundless sway
The tyrant frenzy reigns: for as the dog
(Whose fatal bite conveyed th' infectious bane)
Raving he foams, and howls, and barks, and bites,
His nature and his actions all canine.
See there distressed he lies, parched up with thirst,
But dares not drink. Till now at last his soul
Trembling escapes.

Last updated October 28, 2017