November 1st marks the official opening of the foxhunting season, though most hunts will be holding their opening meets today. My post today is a long one, though I have pruned it heavily. I do urge you to read it, however, and with care, because it is extraordinary. This poem was written in 1871, by an unknown author. It tells of a huntsman on a fine hunting morning who has temporarily lost his hounds. Beneath a tree he sees an ancient fox, who to his surprise speaks to him “like a Christian man”. The poem is too long to reproduce here in its entirety, but the fox utters a series of prophecies, which have come startlingly true. He tells the huntsman (and remember this was written 140 years ago):
“But ere your limbs are bent with age,
And ere your locks are grey,
The sport that you have loved so well
Shall long have passed away.
Too well I know, by wisdom taught,
The existence of my race
O’er all wide England’s green domain
Is bound up with the Chase.
Better in early youth and strength
The race for life to run,
Than poisoned like the noxious rat,
Or slain by felon gun.”
He goes on:
“For not upon these hills alone
The doom of sport shall fall;
O’er the broad face of England creeps
The shadow on the wall.
The woodlands where my race has bred
Unto the axe shall yield;
Hedgerow and copse shall cease to shade
The ever-widening field.
The manly sports of England
Shall vanish one by one
The manly blood of England
In weaker veins shall run
The furzy down, the moorland heath,
The steam plough shall invade;
Nor park nor manor shall escape –
Common, nor forest glade.
The sports of their forefathers
To baser tastes shall yield
The vices of the town displace
The pleasures of the field.
For swiftly o’er the level shore
The waves of progress ride;
The ancient landmarks one by one
Shall sink beneath the tide.
Time-honoured creeds and ancient faith,
The Altar and the Crown,
Lordship’s hereditary right,
Before that tide go down.
Base churls shall mock the mighty names
Writ on the roll of time;
Religion shall be held a jest
And loyalty a crime.
No word of prayer, no hymn of praise
Sound in the village school;
The people’s education
In England’s ancient pulpits
Lay orators shall preach
New creeds, and free religions
Self-made apostles teach.
Nor harvest feast nor Christmastide
Shall farm or manor hold;
Science alone can plenty give,
The only god is Gold.
The homes where love and peace should dwell
Fierce politics shall vex,
And unsexed woman strive to prove
Herself the coarser sex.
Mechanics in their workshops
Affairs of State decide;
Honour and truth – old-fashioned words –
The noisy mobs deride.
The statesmen that should rule the realm
Coarse demagogues displace;
The glory of a thousand years
Shall end in foul disgrace.
Trade shall be held the only good,
And gain the sole device;
The statesman’s maxim shall be peace,
And peace at any price.
Her army and her navy
Britain shall cast aside;
Soldiers and ships are costly things,
Defence an empty pride.
The footstep of the invader
Then England’s shore shall know,
While home-bred traitors give the hand
To England’s every foe.
Disarmed, before the foreigner
The knee shall humbly bend,
And yield the treasures that she lacked
The wisdom to defend.”
The fox does go on, however, to prophesy that this sorry state of affairs will not last:
“But not for aye – yet once again
When purged by fire and sword
The land her freedom shall regain
To manlier thoughts restored.
Taught wisdom by disaster,
England shall learn to know
That trade is not the only gain
Heaven gives to man below.
The greed for gold departed,
The golden calf cast down,
Old England’s sons again shall raise
The Altar and the Crown.
Again the smiling hedgerow
Shall field from field divide;
Again among the woodlands
The scarlet troop shall ride”.
I am not looking forward to the fire and sword, but it is reassuring to know that things will get better!