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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 39



With what words shall we describe the battue? What language can sufficiently condemn it? Compare the scandalous waste which it entails and the other mischiefs of it page 12 with the paltry nature of the offset in pleasure and the fewness of those who share it. And what a sport it is! Not to object to it on the score of refinement or humanity, the preserve is surely no school of manly qualities. The Nimrod who rides to the hot corner on a hundred-guinea shooting-cob, and slakes his thirst with champagne cup, can hardly be thought to be cultivating an aptitude for hardship. And if murder must still remain one of the fine arts, why not practise shooting at targets and glass balls?

Sportsmen occasionally have the coolness to remind us that hares and pheasants are edible, just like beef and mutton. The reply is, that when sheep and oxen are left to scamper harum-scarum across country we may discuss the point. Meanwhile it is unnecessary. Suppose a club of schoolboys should insist on having rats preserved in the city granaries for sporting purposes? I dare say rat-flesh would make delicious ragouts. Certain Highland lords have depastured whole mountains in order to convert them into deer forests. Doubtless they have a plausible apology. They have obeyed the doctrines of Ricardo. Those districts would fetch more rent in forest than in pasturage.

Now, mankind is deeply indebted to Adam Smith, but it is less indebted to Adam Smith's disciples, for some of these latter, being men of acute but narrow understandings, have adopted that cheap device for simplifying things on paper; they have laid down as absolute rules, rules which are subject to considerable exceptions. For instance, they have laid down the lust of greed as the master-passion of the soul, always to be reckoned on; and, furthermore, that its free play always best subserves the public weal, whereas, to go no farther, the behavior of game-preservers in the low countries, and again on the Highlands, respectively, disproves both these theories.

Now, the depasturing of a mountain involves, if nothing else, the banishing and virtual and real expatriation of numerous families, because the Highlander's true fatherland is not Great Britain, nor even Scotland, but his own locality. To the town-dweller, to the young, strong, rich, or book-learned, society everywhere extends a welcome, and everywhere is home. Not so to the worn-out Highland cottier. Within the glen where his fathers have been nurtured since long ere the days of Wallace are page 13 gathered the memories which give life charm and sanctity for him. Yet all this protects him not against the Philistinism of a partial culture, nor does the white flower which marks extreme old age. He is turned out that cockneys may shoot grouse, and as he goes he says: "Surely the bitterness of death is past."

In denouncing game, I plead not for the poacher. Whether poachers, as a class, differ much morally from other criminals is extremely doubtful, and the nonsensical notion that game belongs to anyone because it is wild is purely mischievous. The Legislature is abundantly competent to pass any game or fishery laws which may appear judicious, and no Dick or Harry has any God-given claim to lead a riff-raff life.