The Saturday Review (review date 1879)
SOURCE: A review of The Amateur Poacher, in The Saturday Review, London, Vol. 48, No. 1253, November 1, 1879, pp. 548-49.
[In the following article, the Saturday Review critic provides a very positive assessment of The Amateur Poacher.]
This third volume of a very agreeable series is perhaps in some respects more enjoyable than its predecessors. Naturally we become sensible of a certain monotony, or at least of some diminution in the freshness of the first vivid pictures. But, on the other hand, the charms of the country are infinite with a variety that never grows stale; and the author of Wild Life and The Gamekeeper at Home dwells upon them with the affection of a lifelong familiarity. In The Amateur Poacher we have the most delicate painting of the minutest details of our rural landscapes, with realistic sketches in eloquent language of the changing scenery of English seasons. It is full, too, of the lively autobiographical reminiscences which always give truth and colour to a book. The author began his studies in amateur poaching in the earliest years of a happy boyhood. He was bred, if not born, as he has intimated to us before, in the most delightful circumstances a boy could desire. His home was in a venerable farmhouse in a primitive country, where the occupants had the right to shoot over farms that had never been touched by modem improvements. There had been no grubbing or trimming of the luxuriant hedgerows that divided the irregular fields; there was an abundance of the water that always attracts birds, with the pond under the alders and the brook among the osier beds, which we fancy we have heard of before. Rabbits swarmed in the banks and double mounds; snipe and even duck were to be found in the swamps and among the hedges in the season; a "cock" would now and then be flushed in the small spinneys; while, beyond the boundaries which enclosed their lawful shooting-grounds, were preserves that were strictly looked after by the keepers. The very danger of trespassing upon these forbidden domains had irresistible temptations for roving boys; and we have a thrilling account of an expedition into the great pheasant wood, although it was only upon very rare occasions that they ventured so far into the enemy's territory. The poaching indicated in the title does not necessarily imply breaking bounds. It merely means that, as boys will do, they had to follow their various sports under grave disadvantages of weapons, and were by no means particular as to the contrivances by which they circumvented the game.
The book begins with the romantic story of the youthful bent forcing its way under difficulties. It tells of the old gun with its single barrel of preposterous length, which had been hidden or forgotten in an attic popularly said to be haunted. "No modem mortal could have held that mass of metal steady to his shoulder." But the young artillerists made a gun-carriage of a chest set upon a linenpress, and they used the venerable piece of ordnance for practising sights upon animate objects from the garret window. That gun was burned in cruel kindness, lest the boys should do themselves a mischief with it; but as they were evidently set upon shooting with something or other, it was replaced a year or two after with another. Then the pair of scapegraces took the field in earnest, playing in a domestic English way at the hunter's life in the wilderness. They would sit watching for rabbits of a hot summer noon with the enduring stoicism of the Red Indian. "The shadowless recess grew like a furnace"; the black flies settled down upon them in crowds; and yet they felt bound in honour to sit motionless, in the hope of a shot at some unsuspecting rabbit. We can enter into their feelings of excitement when a woodpigeon perched upon a bough overhead, and, little dreaming of the danger immediately beneath, after assuring himself of his solitude by rapid glances all around, complacently gave them an easy opportunity; or still more, as they were navigating their craft among the osiers, when a great bird rose out of the wooded channel ahead, and dropped to a quick shot through the branches. The mysterious fowl proved to be a wild duck, and great was the triumph and rejoicing. For they had calked the seams of a water-logged old punt with dried moss and clay, and, having fitted her with a mast, a sail, and an anchor, they used to go poling her through the labyrinth of channels among the reeds. So far they had been more of sporting loafers than poachers. But their nautical tastes made them long for a handier boat, and to reach that object of their ambition money must be obtained somehow. Their ally the blacksmith was ready to buy any number of rabbits at sixpence a head, on the understanding that the vendor asked no questions. But getting rabbits with the gun was slow work, so it occurred to them that they might try their luck at wiring. The difficulty was, that though rabbits were known to be snared freely in the neighbourhood, nobody would own to having even a notion of the elements of the art. So they had to fall back on self-education and experiment, and it was only by slow degrees that they arrived at the necessary adroitness. In the chapter which gives the narrative of their studies, and elsewhere, we are taught the whole...
(The entire section is 2177 words.)