Cockieleerie Law by Robert Bird



In Full Court, Edinburgh, 23rd December, 1892.

Six legal wigs, like well-plumed tappit hens,
Sat brooding o’er a pair of fighting cocks;
While lesser wigs, begowned, and brief in hand,
Declaimed in flowing periods, of the fray,
Like ancient bards, that wanted but their harps,
Their wallets, ballad verse, and song, to make
The very goose quills, sleeping on the bench,
Awake! take sides and spill each other’s ink.
And as they spake, a legal fog dropt down
Upon the learned six, and each beheld,
In green mirage, born of the cloud of words,
Two cocks, Game cocks, crop-combed, erect, and slim,
With feathers dipped in crimson, gold, and blue,
Frill-necked, with trailing wings and spurs of steel,
That on each other flew and pecked and spurred,
And spurred and pecked again, until the Court
Reeked like a cock-pit, and the crowd of wigs,—
Of boyish idle wigs,—took bonnet shapes
That hooded scowling brows of cursing men,
Who laid their bets on this bird, and on that,
As, with quick panting breath and beaks agape,
They pranced, flew, fought, until the oaken bar
Seemed spattered o’er with feathers and cock blood.
At length one cock the other overthrew,
And struck quick spurs into his quivering breast
Until he died; then he, with croaking crow,
Fell, wounded, bleeding, dying by his side
Amid the applauding cheers of thirsty throats,
Soon to be slaked with liquid bets, and so
The battle ended, but the fog remained.

A rustling of silk plumes upon the bench,
Five wigs bent low, and thus great Solon spake—
“’Twas in Kilbarchan that this fight was fought,
And straight the men who prompted it were ta’en,
And jailed, and tried, and sentenced for the same;
But now they seek release, and this their plea,
That in the gracious Act which says that men
Shall not treat brutes and beasts with cruelty,
The name of “Cock” is absent; therefore they
Claim full exemption for their brutish deeds,
And we, vicegerents of our gentle Queen,
With spectacle on nose, must well explore
This vital point in Cockieleerie-law.

The illumined page of history reveals
Cock-fighting as an ancient royal sport.
The Early Greeks and Romans in their day
Found pastime sweet in setting cock on cock;
The sage Themistocles took keen delight
In battling fowls; while glorious Cæsar, too,
Loved much to back his bird; and, furthermore,
Marc Antony’s gamecocks did always lose
When pitted against Cæsar’s fiercer breed.
King Henry VIII., of sainted memory!
At Whitehall had a special cock-pit built,
Wherein his royal birds made lively sport
For gentle dames and all his merry knights.
The most accomplished scholar of his day,
Squire Roger Ascham, tutor to Queen Bess,
Much as he loved his books, loved cocks the more,
And loved them most when victors in the fight.
And last of all, that great and noble Duke,
The conqueror of Blenheim, in game birds
Found something that reminded him of self;
And thus we see the fighting instinct strong
In cocks, and other nobles of past time.

“Game cocks, we find, from earliest Cockereldom,
Delight in war, as dogs to bark and bite,
And raining blows upon each other’s ribs
Do best fulfil their part of nature’s plan,
Which built them slim and bade them love the fray;
And while we hope no preference here to show,—
’Tis open question, whether rearing fowls
To wring their necks, or match them in the pit,
Does more exalt the brute or sink the man.

“But here, the cocks were armed with spurs of steel,
And ’tis a subtle matter, whether they
With iron shod, or spurred with native horn,
Do deal the deadliest blows in angry fray;
And, while we have our own opinion strong!
’Tis not within our province to pronounce.

“If it be wrong with steel to prick a fowl,
What of the spurs with which hard riders goad
The bleeding sides of horses in the race,
Or in the steeplechase, or country hunt?
And what of hares in coursing run to death?
Of quivering foxes torn by yelling hounds?
Of wheeling pigeons slaughtered for a prize?
We make no mention of the common use,
Of otter hunting, grouse and pheasant drives.
And of the sport termed noble, where the stag
Is forced upon the guns that lay him low.
No doubt, two blacks can never make one white,
Nor multiplying blacks turn black to grey;
But if to brutalise mankind be thought amiss,
Then there are other ways, than fighting cocks.

“Still that’s beside our purpose, which is this—
To scan the statute, microscope in hand,
And note if in its sweep humane, we see
A roosting place for fighting chanticleer.
And there we find, or rather fail to find,
The name of “Cock” among the saving list
Of nineteen beasts protected by the law,
Though thus the list concludes, “and other kinds
Of animals domestic
,” or like words.
Are we to find Game Cocks, domestic fowls?
Are we to hold that birds, are animals?
Our view is quite the contrary, or else
There’s not a beast, bird, fish, or insect but
The term “domestic” would to them apply,
And make it penal e’en to slay a louse.

“And while, in other parts of this same Act,
We find “Cock” followed by the general phrase,
Or other kind of animal,” we hold
It bears not on the matter now in hand,
But only serves to show that Parliament,
When brooding, clucking, hen-like, o’er this Act,
Had Cocks well in their eye, and plainly did,
Of purpose full, omit them from the list;
And while bear-fights, bull-fights, dog-fights, and all
Vile sports and brutish cruelty to beasts,
The spirit and the letter of the law
Do quite forbid, unanimous we hold
Cock-fighting is a lawful use of Cocks,
And finding so we liberate these men
.

“It will be said, this Statute has been read
Reversely in our sister England, where
It is the Charter of proud Chanticleer;
But what of that? It alters not our mind!
But only shews, that they, of feebler clay,
Stick not at trifles, so the end be good,
And let the heart o’erbeat the legal mind;
While we, of sterner stuff, fail not to find
Motes in the sunshine of their simple wits,
And gnats to strain out of their cups of wine;
For in the nice accomplishment and use
Of splitting hairs, and weighing feathers small,
Of riddling wisdom from a peck of words,
We are more skilled, more subtle, more profound
Than our legal brethren of the South.”
Whereat five horse-hair wigs again bowed down
In low obeisance to the mighty sage,
And straight the Court was cleared of cocks and men.