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Give me Leave to strengthen your Memories, and confirm your Experience, with a Sett of Speculations, newly drawn from Darkness and Confusion into the Advantage of a clear Light and regular System. They Contain many demonstrable Truths which never before made any Figure abroad in Terms of Art, or were reduced to any Shape or Expression. On this Account I might here very reasonably plead the Novelty of the Subject in Defence and Excuse of the Performance, having had no Path or Footsteps to guide me but my own long Experience; and might, with less Vanity and more Propriety than most Writers, take to myself the Title of an Author, were it not the utmost of my Ambitions only to oblige and inform my Fellow-Sportsmen, and to communicate freely and honestly what Knowledge I have treasured up in this hitherto unexplained and difficult Mystery.
Nevertheless, I am sensible, there is no becoming Sportsmen by Book. You may here find the Rules and proper Direction for that End; but Practice alone can make you Masters. Bare Theory may as soon stamp a General as a Marksman. No-You must sweat and be cold, must sweat again, and be cold again, before you can arrive at any Degree of Perfection in this Art. I have furnished you with all necessary Tools of the Trade, but it is Time and Experience must finish and accomplish the Workman; and even after seven Years Industry, you will find but too many Occasions to prove you still deficient and imperfect. It is but too true (and you must all of you bear me Witness to the Truth of this) that even the best Marksmen have their chronical Miscarriages. In some Hands, the ill Fortune of the first Shoot determines and influences the Success of all the rest: And one may take a certain Sort of Augury from the Escape and Flight of the first Mark. The natural Cause of this seems to proceed from the original Disappointment, which in some Men is irrecoverable for that whole Day. As on the contrary, a prosperous Hit shall have the very opposite Effect, and induce such an easy Serenity and steady Assurance as to carry inevitable Death with them for many Hours after.
On this Occasion I have often wondered why the French, of all Mankind, should alone be so expert at the GUN, I had almost said infallible. It is as rare for a professed Marksman of that Nation to miss a Bird as for one of Ours to kill. But, as I have been since informed, they owe this Excellence to their Education. They are trained up to it so very young that they are no more surprized or alarmed with a Pheasant than a Rattle-Mouse. The best Field-Philosophers living for they are always there Masters of their Temper.
However, I have now, at last, broke the Ice, and put my young Countrymen in the Way to rival that volatile Nation in their peculiar Accomplishment.
I intended (according to Custom) an Invocation to Apollo, our great Exemplar in this Art, who shot Icarus Flying many hundred Years ago; but considering; upon second Thoughts, how many Snites, Woodcocks, Partridges, Pheasants, Polts, &c., I had lost upon his Occasion, and how often I had been glad of the prophane Opportunity of turning my Backside on his Godship, I concluded that I had little Reason to expect his Assistance.
The Muses having all of them Wings, as is evident from the sublime Flights they take, I had less Hopes of their Inspiration. Indeed, I sensibly perceived I had disobliged them, and that they had withdrawn their Favours, upon Supposition, I suppose, of some possible Danger they might be in by my Means. However, their Ladyships were mistaken, since they were no more concerned in this Subject than Flying-Coaches, Flying-Post, Flying-Clouds, Flying-Camps, Flying-Reports or Flying-Bottles of Ale, or forty other material and immaterial Beings to which the Poets have fastened Wings, as Time, Fame, Money, Love, &c. In short, Gentlemen, in Consideration of the Nature of the Subject, you must not expect a very fanciful or entertaining Poem; but, this I will be bold to say, that as to the Matter and Substance of it, if what you find here be well read, digested and remembered, it will then prove truly useful and very serviceable.
LOW-LEATHERN-HEEL'D our lacquer'd Boots are made:
Mounted on tott'ring Stilts raw Freshmen tread;
Firm Footing an unshaken Level lends,
But Modish Heels are still the Woodcock's Friends.
Our Shot of sev'ral sorts, half round the Waste,
In Ticking semicircularly plac'd,
Embrac'd and poiz'd us well. Silent we go,
As when Apollo from his Silver Bow,
Wrapped in a Cloud, the Grecian Camp dismay'd,
And, unperceiv'd thro' Darkness, struck 'em dead.
No flapping Sleeves our ready Arms controul;
Short Cuffs alone prove fatal to the Fowl.
Nor arm'd in warm Surtout, we vainly fear
The Sky's Inclemency, or Jove severe:
Active and free our Limbs and Muscles are
Whilst Excercise does glowing Warmth prepare.
To such Examples You who dare not yield
Sneak to the Chimney-side and quit the Field!
OUR SPORT almost at hand, we charge the Gun,
Whilst ev'ry well-bred Dog lies qui'tly down.
Charge not before. If over-Night the Piece
Stands loaded, in the Morn the Prime will hiss:
Nor Prime too full, else you will surely blame
The hanging fire and lose the pointed Aim.
Should I of This the obvious Reason tell:
The caking Pressure does the Flame repel
And Vulcan's lamed again by his own Steel.
Yet cleanse the Touch-hole first: A Partridge Wing
Most to the Field for that wise Purpose bring.
In Charging, next, good Workmen never fail
To ram the Powder well, but not the Ball;
One Third the well-turn'd Shot superior must
Arise, and overcome the nitrous Dust,
Which, dry'd and season'd in the Oven's Heat,
Has stood in close-mouthed Jarr the dampless Night.
Now search for Tow, and some old Saddle pierce:
No Wadding lies so close or drives so fierce.
And here be mindful constantly to Arm
With Choice of Flints, a Turn-Screw and a Worm;
The accidental Chances of the Field
Will for such Implements Occasion yield.
AND NOW, our Pieces loaded, we divide
The Rows between, each takes a diff'rent Side;
Careful, yet Unconcern'd; not Idle, still
Unbent, with Dilligence enough to Kill.
Learn'd to Take Time, the Chief and Only Rule,
First to be practis'd in the Marksman's School.
Most Youths undisciplined the Sport confound
By random Firing on improper Ground:
For as in Flights of hasty Wit, the same
Examined, will be Parallel in Game. . . .
. . . Eager Pursuit still over-shoots Success
And timorous Distrust will Under-miss.
A loit'ring Fool should no Forgiveness find,
Nor can I have scarce Pity for the Blind.
The Weak and Crazy shou'd be kept at home
And fed with Jellies till their Strength is come.
Whoever fails in any single Part
Can ne'er commence a Master of this Art.
SEE: A Cock-Pheasant sprung! He mounts_he's down!
Trust to your Dogs! Quick, quick_Recharge your Gun
Before the Air gets in and damps the Room!
The Chamber hot will to the Powder give
A Benefit, and will the same receive.
The open Touch-hole, too, if haste you make,
Its little fatal Train will freelier take.
Oft have I seen th' undocumented Swain
Feath'ring the Parts and cleansing off the Pan
Until the cooling Piece grew moist again.
The tardy Charge wiped that cold Sweat away_
And grew itself half Wild-fire by the way.
Besides, suppose that Bird, but slightly touch'd
I'th' Body, mazy there sits slyly couched,
When, with your Gun discharged, you come to take
Him up: he shall a second Effort make,
With unrecover'd Flight shall mount away
While you in vain lament th' escaping Prey.
In some close Covert he unfound shall lie,
And, subtle in his Dissolution, die.
Woodcocks and Snites and Partridge rarely run
When crippl'd in the Wing, and fairly down,
But Pheasants seldom lie: Oft'times in vain
I've sought the headlong Fowl, concluded slain.
THERE SPRUNG a single Partridge_ha! she's gone!
Oh! Sir, you'd Time enough, you shot too soon;
Scarce twenty Yards in open Sight!_for Shame!
Y'had shatter'd her to Pieces with right Aim!
Full forty Yards permit the Bird to go,
The spreading Gun will surer Mischief sow;
But when too near the flying Object is,
You certainly will mangle it, or miss;
And if too far, you may too slightly wound
To kill the Bird, and yet not bring to Ground.
As Virtue 'twixt two Vices does consist,
The same in Shooting justly is confest;
But when the Trees diversify the Scene,
No Mortal there can keep the Golden Mean.
Spite of the Rules of Art he must let fly
In one of the Extremes, too far, or nigh,
Must nimbly take Advantage of what Leave
The Opens, Glades and Interstices give.
Where Woodcocks dodge, there Distance knows no Laws;
Necessity admits no room for Pause.
But in the Ersh of Barley, Oats, or Wheat,
Where Quails delicious, and sweet Partridge sit,
Or in the Springs, where bores the charming Snite,
Or where the glorious Polt in open Heath
Moves sweetly in an even Line from Death:
There, if the Goodness of the Piece be prov'd,
Pursue not the fair Mark till far remov'd!
Raise the Mouth gently from below the Game
And readily let fly at the first Aim.
But without Aim admit no random Shoot_
'Tis just to judge before you execute. . . .
FIVE GENERAL sorts of Flying Marks there are:
The Lineals two, Traverse, and Circular;
The Fifth Oblique, which I may vainly teach
But Practice only perfectly can reach.
WHEN A BIRD comes directly to your Face,
Contain your Fire a while and let her pass,
Unless some Trees behind you change the Case.
If so, a little Space above her Head
Advance the Muzzle, and you strike her dead.
Ever let Shot pursue where there is room;
Marks hard before thus easy will become.
BUT WHEN the Bird flies from you in a Line,
With little Care I may pronounce her thine:
Observe the Rule before, and neatly raise
Your Piece til there's no Open under-space
Betwixt the Object and the Silver Sight;
Then send away, and timely stop the Flight.
TH' UNLUCKY Cross Mark, or the Traverse Shoot,
By some thought easy (yet admits Dispute,
As the most common Practice is to Fire
Before the Bird) will nicest Time require:
For, too much Space allow'd, the Shot will fly
All innocent and pass too nimbly by;
Too little Space, the Partridge, swift as Wind,
Will dart athwart and bilk her Death behind.
This makes the Point so difficult to guess,
'Cause you must be exact in Time or miss.
In other Marks there's a less desp'rate Stake,
Where the swift Shot will surely Overtake. . . .
FULL FORTY Yards or more to th' Left or Right
The Partridge now Obliquely takes her Flight.
You've there th' Advantage of a Sideling Line;
Be careful, nor her inward Side decline:
Else just behind the Bird the Shot will glance:
Nor have you any Hopes from Flying Chance.
Last is the Mark which is styled Circular
There's nothing more required but steady Care
T'attend the Motion of the Bird and gain
The best and farthest Lineal Point you can;
Carrying your Piece around, have Patience till
The Mark's at best Extent, then fire and kill. . . .
BUT HOLD, my Spirits fail! a Dram, a Dram,
A Sup of Vigour to pursue the Game!
Enough, enough_A Gulp too much is worse
Than none at all, like one help'd over his Horse.
Sportsmen, beware! for the superfluous Glass
Will blunt the Sight and ev'ry Object glaze,
Whilst all Things seem around one undistinguish'd Mass.
Th' unpointed Eye once dull'd, farewell the Game:
A Morning Sot may shoot, but never aim.
Marksmen and Rope-dancers with equal Care
Th' insidious fasting Bottle shou'd forbear.
Else each who does the Glass unwisely take
E'er Noon a false and fatal Step will make;
The first will Turkeys slay, and make Pigs squeak,
The latter, ten to one, will break his Neck.
YET HOW my Blood's on fire! oh! how I hate
I' th' midst of Sport to see a Glutton eat,
When Pheasants mount, and the Gay Birds arise,
To see a Coxcomb paring of his Cheese!
Scourge, Beadle, from the Field that cramming Fool,
Or pack the Mouncher back to School.
All that he chews to me proves pois'nous Food,
And does Me much more Mischief than Him Good.
HALLOO-HALLOO-See, see from yonder Furze
The Lurchers have alarm'd and started Puss!
Hold! What d'ye do? Sure you don't mean to Fire!
Constrain that base, ungenerous Desire,
And let the Courser and the Huntsman share
Their just and proper Title to the Hare!
Let the poor Creature pass and have fair Play,
And fight the Prize of Life out her own Way.
The tracing Hound by Nature was designed
Both for the Use and Pleasure of Mankind;
Form'd for the Hare, the Hare too for the Hound:
In Enmity each to each other bound:
Then he who dares by diff'rent Means destroy
Than Nature meant, offends 'gainst Nature's Law. . . .
BUT SEE, the stiffen'd Earth by Frost is bound,
The flocking Larks bestrew and peck the Ground. . . .
. . . Now let the Sportsman so dispose his Charge
As may dispense the circling Shot at large:
The Shot and Powder well proportioned be,
Neither exceeding in the Quantity;
Destruction thus shall a wide Compass take
And many little bleeding Victims make.
And now proceed, not by Approach, but Storm:
Run briskly, fire amidst the rising Swarm,
And you will treble slaughter thus perform
When each Bird moves expansive in the Air,
And the whole Mark lies open, rais'd and fair!
For one o' th' Ground, you have ten Chances there.
THE WEATHER'S chang'd_The Winds more briskly blow,
The Snites against the Wind will move but slow;
Thin cover'd Snites ne'er travel down the Wind,
Wise to maintain their Garments close behind.
The flirting Woodcocks now short Flights will take,
And pearching Pheasants to the Trees will make.
Turn the wild Poultry from the Bough_Away
For shame, ne'er let that bawling Lurcher bay,
Poachers alone surprize the gazing Prey!
JOVE! LAY these ratt'ling Gusts, and smooth the Skies!
We cannot hear the whirring Partridge rise;
The flashing Prime too in our Faces drives!
And now it mizzles_the damp Powder gives_
We cannot keep our Fire-locks dry_Away,
Our sport is over, 'tis in vain to stay.
NOW THAT the pushing Winds distort the Aim,
And warp the palsy'd Barrels from the Game:
O'er Bowl of Punch suppos'd, or Tub of Ale,
Let us relate an useful Winter-Tale:
Matters of Fact and modern Fates my Verse
Shall with exact Integrity rehearse.
The strong Impressions may rash Youth prepare
Safely to use the dang'rous Gun with Care.
Ye Parents, let your Sons these Stories know,
And thus you may prevent the distant Woe.
A BLOOMING Youth, who had just passed the Boy,
The Father's only Child and only Joy,
As he, intent, design'd the Larks his Prey,
Himself as sweet and innocent as They,
The fatal Powder in the Porch of Death,
Having in vain discharg'd its Flash of Breath,
The tender Reas'ner, curious to know,
Whether the Piece were really charg'd or no,
With Mouth to Mouth apply'd began to blow_
A dreadful Kiss! For now the silent Bane
Had bor'd a Passage thro' the whizzing Train_
The Shot all rent his Skull, and dashed around his Brain!
UNGUARDED SWAINS! oh! still remember this,
And to your Shoulders close constrain the Piece,
For lurking Seeds of Death unheard may hiss!
The Gun remov'd, may in the firing fly,
Wrench from your Hands, and wound the Standers-by!
ONCE MORE let me instruct th' uncaution'd Youth_
Be Magd'line's College Witness of the Truth. . . .
. . . As thro' the Brambles of th' intangling Brake,
The heedless Strephon did his Passage make,
Th' unguarded Cock beneath himself he drew
Against some Sprig, and thus himself he slew!
FORGIVE ME, if I longer must detain
And tire thy Patience with this tragic Strain,
Since mine the Labour is, but thine may be the Gain.
Varied and frequent is the Accident
Which ev'ry where attends the Hammer'd Flint.
The neighb'ring Sparks into the Pan may fall,
And the loose Piece with Mischief may recoil.
Th' unheeded Muzzle pointed at a Friend
May instantly unthought Destruction send.
Sometimes the Cock may at half-bent go down,
True Sportsmen therefore always mount the Gun.
They walk with Flint by Guardian Thumb restrain'd,
With Piece well handl'd, ready at Command,
Nor need their jeopardiz'd Companions dread
Their tripping Heels, or the strain'd Ankles tread.
Such sad Events have darken'd ev'ry Scene,
That the good-natured Muse cou'd not forbear
T'awake your Caution, and alarm your Care.
Shepherds, farewell: Go, and her Words preserve;
The Muse at least will your best Thanks deserve.
WOODCUT: From Johann Elias Ridinger,
Abbildungen der Jagtbaren Thiere (Album of Game Animals), Augsburg,
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