Sivut kuvina
PDF
ePub

61

CHAP. III.

THE FOOT-RACE.

“ So run, that ye may obtain.”—1 Cor. ix. 24.

Of all days in the year the Derby Day is that, perhaps, which excites the most lively interest amongst all classes of Englishmen. From the peer to the costermonger the dawn of that day is ever hailed with delight by all. Care and sorrow are banished for the time as unwelcome intruders, whose presence on Epsom Downs would be improper in the highest degree; whilst mirth and jollity are installed in their accustomed places.

“ The Road to the Derby” has formed the subject of illustration to many a pen and pencil caricaturist. And although of late years the establishment of railways has caused thousands to avail themselves of that rapid and commodious means of transit, the “ Road” continues to exhibit one continued throng of vehicles, equestrians, and pedestrians, of every imaginable and unimaginable variety, from Hyde Park Corner to the Course.

Horse-racing has long been a favourite pastime with the English people, and whatever its natural and inherent evils, whatever the follies and vices engrafted on it, and which it may be thought by many are fostered by, and inseparable from it, it cannot be denied that there is much to admire, much to feel proud of, when we visit one of our great national race meetings.

The thousands upon thousands of happy countenances, - the general appearance of keen enjoyment diffused throughout the vast multitude assembled together to partake in one common pleasure, - the magnificence of equipage on one hand, and its ludicrous contrast on the other, the variety of figure and costume,- the bustle and excitement of the scene,

are all calculated to interest and amuse the mind of the beholder, more or less, according to his idiosyncrasy, and make him pride himself upon the name of Englishman.

But it is when we come to view the noble ani. mals whose speed and endurance on that day are to be put to the test of keenest competition; to mark whose performances the vast and multifarious crowd have been drawn together from all parts, that the admirer of Nature, he who delights to gaze on the great works of creation fresh from

the Creator's hand, “ to look from Nature up to Nature's God,” finds the purest gratification.

What beautiful, what magnificent forms! What grace and strength combined! What perfect symmetry! The glossy coat, - the finely turned limb, — the arching neck, — the full mane and tail, — the vein and muscle starting through the skin, - the dilated nostrils, - the sparkling, lustrous eye,- each, in turn, calls forth our admiration, and obliges us to confess the surpassing beauty and grandeur of the Creator's works, their unrivalled excellence, and perfect adaptation to their intended purposes, and how insignificant is the handiwork of man beside them.

Nor is it the mere external beauty of the racehorse we are called upon to admire, there is much of moral beauty, if I may be allowed to use the expression, about him: much from which man may derive a profitable lesson. When we consider his vast strength, and the means of aggression that he possesses, we cannot but be charmed by his extreme gentleness and docility.

See that slight, pale lad who bestrides him, how utterly incapable of restraining him should he put forth his powers in opposition to his rider's will! Yet a single word is sufficient to insure his obedience; the slightest touch of bit, or whip, or spur, is enough to control and regulate his motions.

And mark his conduct in the race, his courage and endurance ! his generous emulation ! yet all in strictest subjection to the will of the master.

It is true here and there we find a vicious horse, as we too often find a vicious man. One will not be restrained, but rushes madly forward, careless of his rider's endeavours to curb him. Another is stubborn and sulky, and cannot be induced to start. A third springs forward in the race with a light, free spirit, and seems to bid fair to be a winner, but before a quarter of his career is run he swerves from his

course, starting aside like a broken bow," and disappoints all the expectations formed of him.

To none of these horses will the prize be awarded, however great their natural powers, how capable soever of distancing all competitors. “ The race is not to the swift” alone, many other qualifications are requisite to insure success.

But the great majority of race-horses are unquestionably as tractable as they are mighty in strength and courage, and show a perseverance and anxiety in running the race appointed them, which men might imitate to their great advantage.

But it is not of the Derby, or of any other

horse-race, I am about to speak. I purpose relating a little incident that excited my warmest sympathy at the time when two men contended for mastery in a foot-race.

Perhaps of all our national sports, of those at least open to the competition of the poor man, the foot-race-cricket alone excepted—is the least liable to objection.

The popular amusements of former days,-bullbaiting, bear and badger baiting, cock-fighting, and dog-fighting, - have very properly fallen into discredit, and are comparatively but little practised in these times. They are all, more or less, cruel and brutal. Boxing, once a manly English exercise, calculated to encourage a spirit of rustic chivalry and love of fair play amongst us, and which had little of danger in it when practised only by well trained men, and under the surveillance of competent seconds, has, through the folly and wickedness of some of its professors, lost all hold on the sympathies of the respectable portion of society. The purring fight of Lancashire is brutal and disgusting, fit only to be classed with the gouging of America. Wrestling is liable to inflict serious injury on those who practise it; but running and walking seem little likely to be attended with inconvenience or evil

E

« EdellinenJatka »