Imatges de pàgina
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were the sole and incessant occupation of every animated being, until death, the universal hunter, who, though he may sometimes prolong the chase, never eventually spares his prey, ran down and annihilated every thing that moved upon the face of the earth. By comparing the world, as it then existed, with the happiness and widely-diffused civilization with which it is now blessed, and above all, by contrasting the hourly-improving intellectual eminence of the living generation with the ignorant barbarism of the early ages, we may form some conception, though probably but a dim one of the glorious destiny which a beneficent Providence has reserved for mankind, even in our present sphere.

When mankind had partially advanced to the agricultural state, we find that their most distinguished heroes and demigods were sportsmen and hunters, whose exploits, although subsequently dressed up in fable by the poets, had doubtless, in most instances, a basis of fact. Every nation has its Nimrod; nor need we doubt that there must have been some foundation for the marvellous adventures recorded of Orion, Apollo, Hercules, and other monsterdestroyers, if we recollect that the fossil remains of those gigantic quadrupeds, the mammoth and the megalonix, establish the fact that the earth was formerly infested with terrible animals, whose races have now become extinct, and whose existence was once deemed as fabulous as we now deem the legendary labours of Hercules. This potent sportsman, and others of the same stamp, seem to have been the knightserrant of the early ages, who wandered about the world tilting at dragons, minotaurs, and similar culprits, and to whom the honour of deification was awarded by the grateful people, delivered from such formidable ravagers.

Poetry soon invested their achievements with fictitious embellishments, a circumstance almost necessary to the success of any narra

tive, when the world was in its childhood, and readers, possessing the taste of children, who always find simple truth insipid, required to be stimulated by the marvellous and the supernatural. Of such puerilities we find an abundant supply in the nonage of our own literature. Numerous troops of dragons survived the heroic ages, seeking every opportunity of attacking holy hermits and pious wanderers, if we are to believe the legends of the saints, whose commentators indignantly reject any spiritual interpretation of these desperate conflicts, and insist that every devout champion, thus assailed, maintained a not less perilous and triumphant battle than did the doughty Saint George. The celebrated Moore, of Moore Hall, appears to have been the last of our British sportsmen who was so fortunate as to encounter a bona-fide dragon. In the dun cow, hunted down and killed by Guy Earl of Warwick, we have an imitation, although but a sorry one, of Theseus and his minotaur; while the Laidly Worm, of ballad renown, presents us a serpent, inferior doubtless to the Pythian monster slain by the darts of Apollo, although sufficiently formidable to have conferred no mean celebrity on its destroyer.

A certain degree of rudeness, and not unfrequently of coarseness and cruelty, characterizes all the amusements of remote antiquity, which being unrefined by any intellectual mixture, were chiefly calculated to display and invigorate the bodily qualities of the · parties who engaged in them. Many of their pas

times were but imitations of the different military exercises ; and though vaulting, racing, wrestling, throwing the bar or the quoit, and cudgel-p'aying, might not be directly referrible to this object, they conduced to it collaterally by strengthening the body, inuring it to fatigue, and preparing it for war, which in such barbarous times was considered the paramount business of life. Strength and courage,

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the sole constituents of a hero, were then exercised without mercy in the field of battle, and imparted a touch of ferocity even to those nominally amicable contests that were celebrated on days of festival. Hunting and field-sports moreover, which at this early epoch were so widely pursued, and which in all ages retain the same character of cruelty, must have stamped upon the general mind a savageness that could scarcely fail to betray itself in the hours of pastime and relaxation. What indeed can be expected from the diversions of a rude untutored people, but that they should evince manifest traits of violence and barbarism, even where they do not degenerate into actual brutality?

Such is the character of the earliest games recorded in history, whether fabulous or authentic. In the sports of the Argonauts, after their return, Cycnus, the son of Mars, killed Diodotus, and was himself slain by Hercules. The games described in the twenty-fourth book of the Iliad, the eighth of the Odyssey, and by Virgil in the fifth book of the Æneid, are mere struggles of bodily strength and skill, frequently marked by dangerous violence, and always unrelieved by any intellectual competition. The game of the Cestus, or loaded gauntlet, a murderous weapon, was in high favour with the heroes and demigods. Amycus, king of the Bebrycians, compelled all strangers, who touched upon his coast, to try their skill in managing this rude instrument, which proved fatal to most of those who accepted his friendly challenge; but the royal athlete was at length defeated at his own favourite pastime, and slain by Pollux.

In a more advanced stage of civilization, however, after wealth and luxury had been introduced—when there were whole classes of unemployed men and women who had as yet no resource in literary pursuits, and who eagerly sought relief from the tedium of inoccupation-we may presume a variety of games and amusements to have been invented. These, as they were intended for people averse from any

violent exercise or fatigue, would only call the powers of the body into a gentle exercise, calculated for the purposes of health ; while others, wholly sedentary in their nature, would address themselves more or less to the faculties of the mind. This second stage, by making the intellect participate with the body and the senses in our amusements, not only gave an immediate exaltation to their character, but prepared the way for those subsequent meliorations which, under the influence of the diffusion of knowledge occasioned by the discovery of printing, have been gradually refining, elevating, and humanizing our diversions. It must be confessed, that in England they still retain many traits of barbarism, which have long since fallen into desuetude with our more polished neighbours of the continent; but at the same time it should be remembered that the Corinthian classes, who in the days of Queen Elizabeth flocked to bull, bear, badger, ape baitings, and other exhibitions equally cruel and ruffianly, would be now held utterly disgraced, at least in the estimation of real gentlemen, by participating in such low-lived sports. The charms of music, of the drama, of literature, of social meetings that combine “ the feast of reason with the flow of soul;" all those

pursuits, in short, wherein the pleasures of sense are made subservient to the gratifications of the mind—these are the amusements alone worthy of rational people, and these receive the especial patronage of the English gentry.

In the present hasty summary it is not our purpose to notice the gradations by which this striking improvement has been effected, nor shall we point out what yet remains to be accomplished, in order to perfectionate the manners of the age with reference to its amusements. Hints, however, upon both these points may incidentally be given in the course of the following little work, to which we shall now proceed, only premising that although we shall briefly discuss some of the sports and diversions of ancient times and foreign nations, we shall not treat the subject as if we were writing for professed antiquaries, but rather in a popular and anecdotical manner; and that it will be the chief object of our inquiries to record and elucidate the pastimes which at various periods have been prevalent in our own country.

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