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SPORTING SONGS. S a people, the English are pre-eminently fond of sporting, and have been so from the earliest times ; but this passion has left few enduring traces upon our poetical literature. Somerville's “ Chase" is the only sporting poem the language can boast, and it is a poem deserving of more than the niggardly praise which Dr. Johnson has bestowed upon it in his "Lives of the Poets." But beyond this, there is little or nothing to show in our poetry of which sporting literature can justly be proud, unless it be an occasional description in the rhymed romances of Sir Walter Scott.
The roaring choruses of “Hark forward!” or “Tantivy,"
“ Tantarara," or, worse than all, “ Yoicks! Tally-ho!" were doubtless exciting enough at sportsmen's festivals in the bye-gone days; although they do not look well in print, and have no attractions for the mere reader. It requires a good singer, a loud chorus of willing voices, and the contagious enthusiasm of a large company, to render such roistering ballads at all agreeable, or even tolerable, and paper and print invariably rob them of their attractions. Of all such attempts descriptive of the pleasures of field sports, scarcely one has reached mediocrity, whether as regards music, style, or sentiment. They have either called forth the just condemnation of the lover of music, or a smile of derision in the sportsman, from their want of characteristic terms and descriptions, and very often a feeling bordering on disgust in the well-educated man from the coarseness of their expression. It is easy to account for this by the fact that such compositions principally date from a period when the minds and habits of men were as coarse as their compositions ; but it is difficult to account for the equally certain fact that no recent attempts have been made to take up the same subject by those capable of producing music and poetry of a higher order.
The Squire Western of the novelist is a character which is no longer the prototype of the sportsman. The follower of the chase in 1700 was coarse in manner and mind, but it was not the chase that made him so. The coarseness was in society generally. For if there were Squire Westerns in those days there were also Commodore Trunnions and Parson Trullabers. The state of the roads rendered a journey from Devonshire or Yorkshire an undertaking of quite as much trouble and necessary preparation as is now a trip by the overland route to India. In those days the foxhunter came once in half-a-dozen years, or perhaps once in his life, to see the sights of London; now he goes into the country for a few months to enjoy the chase—he is at the cover side at eleven in the forenoon, and often amid all the refinements of the Opera by eleven at night. The real poetry of field sports yet remains to be written. The only songs we have upon the subject are for the most part the effusions of rude writers, and the homeliest diction seems to have been considered the most appropriate, or at all events the most likely to please the rough and ready gentlemen who a hundred or a hundred and fifty years ago leaped five-bar gates, and lived their lives among hounds and horses. Even Dibdin, so admirable in his sea songs, became coarse when he sang of the sports of the field.
English songs in praise of angling, cricketing, and skating are, as literary compositions, of a much more refined class than the other sporting lyrics.
Mr. Armiger, of Melton Mowbray, who published in 1830 a collection of songs and ballads relating to Racing, Hunting, Coursing, Shooting, Hawking, Angling, and Archery, has selected no less than three hundred lyrics of these various kinds; which number, great as it is, is far from having exhausted the subject; for, with a view of presenting an original compilation, he purposely excluded from it every song to be found in a similar volume, published in 1810, under the title of “Songs of the Chase," containing upwards of 340 songs upon the same topics. The object of his volume was to show the groundlessness of “ the complaint frequently made at the festive board of a dearth of sporting songs,” an object in which he most undoubtedly succeeded, although his collection might be cited to prove what neither he nor the previous editor intended to show-a dearth of genius in writers of this class. The selection here made includes some of the most ancient sporting songs in the languagevaluable on that account if on no other—and also some of the most popular of later compositions.
We three good fellows be,
But give us fair play for our money.
We three merry men be,
Though we had not a penny of money
This song, of which the editor has not been able to trace the first appearance, is modelled upon the style of, or is a parody upon, “ The Soldier's Glee," from the “ Deutoromelia."-See“ Military and Patriotic Songs."
ROBIN, LEND TO ME THY BOW.
From a curious musical miscellany, called “ Pamelia,” 4to. Lond. 1609. The song, bowever, is much older than the date of the book, being frequently mentioned by Elizabethan writers.
Now, Robin, lend to me thy bow,
Sweet Robin, lend to me thy bow;
With my sweet ladye go.
And whither will thy ladye go?
Sweet Wilkin tell it unto me;
To wait on thy ladye.
My lady will to Uppingham,
To Uppingham, forsooth, will she
To wait on my ladye.
1 A market town in Rutlandshire.