The Epping Hunt

Thomas Hood


"On Monday they began to hunt." - Chevy Chase.

John Huggins was as bold a man
As trade did ever know,
A warehouse good he had, that stood
Hard by the church of Bow.

There people bought Dutch cheeses round,
And single Glo'ster flat,-
And English butter in a lump,
And Irish- in a pat.

Six days a week beheld him stand,
His business next his heart,
At counter, with his apron tied
About his counter-part.

The seventh, in a sluice-house box
He took his pipe and pot;
On Sundays, for eel-piety,
A very noted spot.

Ah, blest if he had never gone
Beyond its rural shed!
One Easter-tide, some evil guide
Put Epping in his head;

Epping, for butter justly famed,
And pork in sausage popp'd;
Where, winter time or summer time,
Pig's flesh is always chopp'd.

But famous more, as annals tell,
Because of Easter Chase:
There ev'ry year, 'twixt dog and deer,
There is a gallant race.

With Monday's sun John Huggins rose,
And slapt his leather thigh,
And sang the burthen of the song,
"This day a stag must die."

For all the livelong day before,
And all the night in bed,
Like Beckford, he had nourished "Thoughts
On Hunting" in his head.

Of horn and morn, and hark and bark,
And echo's answering sounds,
All poets' wit hath ever writ
In dog-rel verse of hounds.

Alas! there was no warning voice
To whisper in his ear,
Thou art a fool in leaping Cheap
To go and hunt the dear!

No thought he had of twisted spine,
Or broken arms or legs;
Not chicken-hearted he, altho'
T'was whispered of his eggs!

Ride out he would, and hunt he would,
Nor dreamt of ending ill;
Mayhap with Dr. Ridout's fee,
And Surgeon Hunter's bill.

So he drew on his Sunday boots,
Of lustre superfine;
The liquid black they wore that day
Was Warren-ted to shine.

His yellow buckskins fitted close,
As once upon a stag;
Thus well equipt he gaily skipt,
At once, upon his nag.

But first to him that held the rein
A crown he nimbly flung:
For holding of the horse? -why, no-
For holding of his tongue.

To say the horse was Huggins' own,
Would only be a brag;
His neighbour Fig and he went halves,
Like Centaurs, in a nag.

And he that day had got the gray,
Unknown to brother cit;
The horse he knew would never tell,
Altho' it was a tit.

A well-bred horse he was, I wis,
As he began to show,
By quickly "rearing up within
The way he ought to go."

But Huggins, like a wary man,
Was ne'er from saddle cast;
Resolved, by going very slow,
On sitting very fast.

And so he jogged to Tot'n'am Cross,
An ancient town well known,
Where Edward wept for Eleanor
In mortar and in stone.

A royal game of fox and goose,
To play on such a loss;
Wherever she set down her orts,
Thereby he put a cross.

Now Huggins had a crony here,
That lived beside the way;
One that had promised sure to be
His comrade for the day.

Whereas the man had changed his mind,
Meanwhile upon the case!
And meaning not to hunt at all,
Had gone to Enfield Chase.

For why, his spouse had made him vow
To let a game alone,
Where folks that ride a bit of blood
May break a bit of bone.

"Now, be his wife a plague for life!
A coward sure is he!":
Then Huggins turned his horse's head,
And crossed the bridge of Lea.

Thence slowly on thro' Laytonstone,
Past many a Quaker's box,—
No friends to hunters after deer,
Tho' followers of a Fox.

And many a score behind-before-
The self-same route inclined,
And, minded all to march one way,
Made one great march of mind.

Gentle and simple, he and she,
And swell, and blood, and prig;
And some had carts, and some a chaise,
According to their gig.

Some long-eared jacks, some knacker's hacks,
(However odd it sounds),
Let out that day to hunt, instead
Of going to the hounds!

And some had horses of their own,
And some were forced to job it:
And some, while they inclined to Hunt,
Betook themselves to Cob-it.

All sorts of vehicles and vans,
Bad, middling, and the smart;
Here rolled along the gay barouche,
And there a dirty cart!

And lo! a cart that held a squad
Of costermonger line;
With one poor hack, like Pegasus,
That slaved for all the Nine!

Yet marvel not at any load,
That any horse might drag,
When all, that morn, at once were drawn
Together by a stag!

Now when they saw John Huggins go
At such a sober pace;
"Hallo!" cried they; "come, trot away,
You'll never see the chase!"

But John, as grave as any judge,
Made answer quite as blunt;
"It will be time enough to trot,
When I begin to hunt!"

And so he paced to Woodford Wells,
Where many a horseman met,
And letting go the reins, of course,
Prepared for heavy wet.

And lo! within the crowded door,
Stood Rounding, jovial elf;
Here shall the Muse frame no excuse,
But frame the man himself.

A snow-white head, a merry eye,
A cheek of jolly blush;
A claret tint laid on by health,
With Master Reynard's brush;

A hearty frame, a courteous bow,
The prince he learned it from;
His age about threescore and ten,
And there you have Old Tom.

In merriest key I trow was he,
So many guests to boast;
So certain congregations meet,
And elevate the host.

"Now welcome lads," quoth he, "and prads,
You're all in glorious luck:
Old Robin has a run to-day,
A noted forest buck.

"Fair Mead's the place, where Bob and Tom
In red already ride;
'Tis but a step, and on a horse
You soon may go a-stride."

So off they scampered, man and horse,
As time and temper pressed-
But Huggins, hitching on a tree,
Branched off from all the rest.

Howbeit he tumbled down in time
To join with Tom and Bob,
All in Fair Mead, which held that day
Its own fair mead of mob.

Idlers to wit-no Guardians some,
Of Tattlers in a squeeze;
Ramblers in heavy carts and vans,
Spectators up in trees.

Butchers on backs of butchers' hacks,
That shambled to and fro!
Bakers intent upon a buck,
Neglectful of the dough!

Change Alley Bears to speculate,
As usual, for a fall;
And green and scarlet runners, such
As never climbed a wall!

'Twas strange to think what difference
A single creature made;
A single stag had caused a whole
Stagnation in their trade.

Now Huggins from his saddle rose,
And in the stirrups stood:
And lo! a little cart that came
Hard by a little wood.

In shape like half a hearse,-tho' not
For corpses in the least;
For this contained the deer alive,
And not the dear deceased!

And now began a sudden stir,
And then a sudden shout,
The prison-doors were opened wide,
And Robin bounded out!

His antlered head shone blue and red,
Bedecked with ribbons fine;
Like other bucks that come to 'list
The hawbucks in the line.

One curious gaze of mild amaze,
He turned and shortly took;
Then gently ran adown the mead,
And bounded o'er the brook.

Now Huggins, standing far aloof,
Had never seen the deer,
Till all at once he saw the beast
Come charging in his rear.

Away he went, and many a score
Of riders did the same,
On horse and ass -like high and low
And Jack pursuing game!

Good Lord! to see the riders now,
Thrown off with sudden whirl,
A score within the purling brook,
Enjoyed their "early purl."

A score were sprawling on the grass,
And beavers fell in showers;
There was another Floorer there
Beside the Queen of Flowers!

Some lost their stirrups, some their whips,
Some had no caps to show;
But few, like Charles at Charing Cross,
Rode on in Statue quo.

"O dear! O dear!" now might you hear,
"I've surely broke a bone";
"My head is sore,"-with many more
Such speeches from the Thrown.

Howbeit their wailings never moved
The wide Satanic clan,
Who grinned, as once the Devil grinned,
To see the fall of Man.

And hunters good, that understood,
Their laughter knew no bounds,
To see the horses "throwing off,"
So long before the hounds.

For deer must have due course of law,
Like men the Courts among;
Before those Barristers the dogs
Proceed to "giving tongue."

And now Old Robin's foes were set
That fatal taint to find,
That always is scent after him,
Yet always left behind.

And here observe how dog and man,
A different temper shows,
What hound resents that he is sent
To follow his own nose?

Towler and Jowler -howlers all,
No single tongue was mute;
The stag had led a hart, and lo!
The whole pack followed suit.

No spur he lacked, fear stuck a knife
And fork in either haunch;
And every dog he knew had got
An eye-tooth to his paunch!

Away, away! he scudded like
A ship before the gale;
Now flew to "hills we know not of,"
Now, nun-like, took the vale.

Another squadron charging now,
Went off at furious pitch;-
A perfect Tam o' Shanter mob,
Without a single witch.

But who was he with flying skirts,
A hunter did endorse,
And like a poet seemed to ride
Upon a wing'd horse,-

A whipper-in? -no whipper-in:
A huntsman? no such soul.
A connoisseur, or amateur?
Why yes, -a Horse Patrol.

A member of police, for whom
The county found a nag,
And, like Acteon in the tale,
He found himself in stag!

Away they went then, dog and deer,
And hunters all away,-
The maddest horses never knew
Mad staggers such as they!

Some gave a shout, some rolled about,
And anticked as they rode,
And butchers whistled on their curs,
And milkmen Tally-ho'd!

About two score there were, not more,
That galloped in the race;
The rest, alas! lay on the grass,
As once in Chevy Chase!

But even those that galloped on
Were fewer every minute,-
The field kept getting more select,
Each thicket served to thin it.

For some pulled up, and left the hunt,
Some fell in miry bogs,
And vainly rose and "ran a muck,"
To overtake the dogs.

And some, in charging hurdle stakes,
Were left bereft of sense-
What else could be premised of blades
That never learned to fence?

But Roundings, Tom and Bob, no gate,
Nor hedge, nor ditch, could stay;
O'er all they went, and did the work
Of leap years in a day.

And by their side see Huggins ride,
As fast as he could speed;
For, like Mazeppa, he was quite
At mercy of his steed.

No means he had, by timely check,
The gallop to remit,
For firm and fast, between his teeth,
The biter held the bit.

Trees raced along, all Essex fled
Beneath him as he sate,-
He never saw a county go
At such a county rate!

"Hold hard! hold hard! you'll lame the dogs,"
Quoth Huggins, "So I do,-
I've got the saddle well in hand,
And hold as hard as you!"

Good Lord! to see him ride along,
And throw his arms about,
As if with stitches in the side,
That he was drawing out!

And now he bounded up and down,
Now like a jelly shook:
Till bumped and galled -yet not where Gall
For bumps did ever look!

And rowing with his legs the while,
As tars are apt to ride,
With every kick he gave a prick,
Deep in the horse's side!

But soon the horse was well avenged
For cruel smart of spurs,
For, riding through a moor, he pitched
His master in a furze!

Where sharper set than hunger is
He squatted all forlorn;
And like a bird was singing out
While sitting on a thorn!

Right glad was he, as well might be,
Such cushion to resign:
"Possession is nine points," but his
Seemed more than ninety-nine.

Yet worse than all the prickly points
That entered in his skin,
His nag was running off the while
The thorns were running in!

Now had a Papist seen his sport,
Thus laid upon the shelf,
Altho' no horse he had to cross,
He might have crossed himself.

Yet surely still the wind is ill
That none can say is fair;
A jolly wight there was, that rode
Upon a sorry mare!

A sorry mare, that surely came
Of pagan blood and bone;
For down upon her knees she went
To many a stock and stone!

Now seeing Huggins' nag adrift,
This farmer, shrewd and sage,
Resolved, by changing horses here,
To hunt another stage!

Tho' felony, yet who would let
Another's horse alone,
Whose neck is placed in jeopardy
By riding on his own?

And yet the conduct of the man
Seemed honest-like and fair;
For he seemed willing, horse and all,
To go before the mare!

So up on Huggins' horse he got,
And swiftly rode away,
While Hugging mounted on the mare,
Done brown upon a bay!

And off they set, in double chase,
For such was fortune's whim,
The farmer rode to hunt the stag,
And Huggins hunted him!

Alas! with one that rode so well
In vain it was to strive;
A dab was he, as dabs should be-
All leaping and alive!

And here of Nature's kindly care
Behold a curious proof,
As nags are meant to leap, she puts
A frog in every hoof!

Whereas the mare, altho' her share
She had of hoof and frog,
On coming to a gate stopped short
As stiff as any log;

Whilst Huggins in the stirrup stood
With neck like neck of crane,
As sings the Scottish song -"to see
The gate his hart had gane."

And lo! the dim and distant hunt
Diminished in a trice:
The steeds, like Cinderella's team,
Seemed dwindling into mice;

And, far remote, each scarlet coat
Soon flitted like a spark,-
Tho' still the forest murmured back
An echo of the bark!

But sad at soul John Huggins turned:
No comfort could he find;
While thus the "Hunting Chorus" sped,
To stay five bars behind.

For tho' by dint of spur he got
A leap in spite of fate-
Howbeit there was no toll at all,
They could not clear the gate.

And, like Fitzjames, he cursed the hunt,
And sorely cursed the day,
And mused a new Gray's elegy
On his departed gray!

Now many a sign at Woodford town
Its Inn-vitation tells:
But Huggins, full of ills, of course,
Betook him to the Wells,

Where Rounding tried to cheer him up
With many a merry laugh,
But Huggins thought of neighbour Fig,
And called for half-and-half.

Yet, 'spite of drink, he could not blink
Remembrance of his loss;
To drown a care like his, required
Enough to drown a horse.

When thus forlorn, a merry horn
Struck up without the door,-
The mounted mob were all returned;
The Epping Hunt was o'er!

And many a horse was taken out
Of saddle, and of shaft;
And men, by dint of drink, became
The only "beasts of draught."

For now begun a harder run
On wine, and gin, and beer;
And overtaken man discussed
The overtaken deer.

How far he ran, and eke how fast,
And how at bay he stood,
Deer-like, resolved to sell his life
As dearly as he could;

And how the hunters stood aloof,
Regardful of their lives,
And shunned a beast, whose very horns
They knew could handle knives!

How Huggins stood when he was rubbed
By help and ostler kind,
And when they cleaned the clay before,
How worse "remained behind."

And one, how he had found a horse
Adrift -a goodly gray!
And kindly rode the nag, for fear
The nag should go astray.

Now Huggins, when he heard the tale,
Jumped up with sudden glee;
"A goodly gray! why, then, I say
That gray belongs to me!

"Let me endorse again my horse,
Delivered safe and sound;
And, gladly, I will give the man
A bottle and a pound!"

The wine was drunk, -the money paid,
Tho' not without remorse,
To pay another man so much,
For riding on his horse:-

And let the chase again take place,
For many a long, long year-
John Huggins will not ride again
To hunt the Epping Deer!

Thus pleasure oft eludes our grasp
Just when we think to grip her;
And hunting after Happiness,
We only hunt the slipper.