The Hare by Francis C. Woodworth

Hares have been known to possess a good deal of cunning, which is a fortunate circumstance for them, as they often need not a little of this trait of character in their numerous persecutions. "I have seen," says Du Fouilloux, a French naturalist, "a hare so cunning, that, as soon as it heard the huntsman's horn, it started from its place, and though at the distance of a quarter of a league from it, leaped to a pond, and there hid itself among the rushes, thus escaping the pursuit of the dogs. I have seen a hare, which, after having run above two hours before the dogs, has dislodged another hare, and taken possession of its residence. I have seen them swim over three ponds, of which the smallest was not less than eighty paces broad. I have seen others, which, after having been warmly chased for two hours, have entered a sheep-cot, through the little opening under the door, and remained among the cattle. Others, again, when the dogs have chased them, have joined a flock of sheep in the field, and, in like manner, remained with them. I have seen others, which, when they heard the dogs, have concealed themselves in the earth, or have gone along on one side of a hedge, and returned by the other, so that there was only the thickness of the hedge between the dogs and the hare. I have seen others, which, after they had been chased for half an hour, have mounted an old wall of six feet high, and taken refuge in a hole covered with ivy."

An English hunter tells a very affecting anecdote about two hares which were chased by a pack of dogs. A hare which they had pursued for some time was nearly exhausted. On the way, he came across another hare, doubtless a personal friend of his. The latter, after a short conversation with the former—for there was not time for many ceremonies—took the place of the poor weary one, and allowed himself to be chased by the dogs, while the other, who must soon have fallen a victim to the dogs, was left to shift as best he could, and try to find a place of shelter.

The hares in Liberia exhibit much foresight. In the month of August they cut great quantities of soft, tender grass, and other herbs, which they spread out to dry. This hay, early in autumn, they collect into heaps, and place either beneath the overhanging rocks, or around the trunks of trees, in conical heaps of various sizes, resembling the stacks in which men sometimes preserve their hay in winter. The stacks which the hares make are much smaller, however, not usually more than three feet high. In the winter these stacks are covered with snow, and the animals make a path between them and their holes. They select the best of vegetables for their winter store, and crop them when in the fullest vigor, and these they make into the best and greenest hay.

Dr. Towson, while in Gottingen, succeeded in getting a young hare so tame, that it would play about his sofa and bed. It would leap upon his knee, pat him with its fore feet, and frequently, while he was reading, it would jump up in his lap, and knock the book out of his hand, so as to get a share of his attention.

One Sunday evening, five men were sitting on the bank of the river Mersey, in England, singing sacred songs. The field where they were had a forest on one side of it. As they were singing, a hare came out of this forest, and ran toward the place where they were seated. When she came up very near the spot, she suddenly stopped, and stood still for a considerable time, appearing to enjoy the sound of the music. She frequently turned her head, as if listening with intense interest. When they stopped singing, she turned slowly toward the forest. She had nearly reached the forest, when the gentlemen commenced singing again. The hare turned around, and ran back swiftly, nearly to the spot where she stood before, and listened with the same apparent pleasure, until the music was finished, when she again retired toward the woods, and soon disappeared.

Cowper was a great lover of pets; and I confess that I love him for this trait in his character. He has endeared himself to me, indeed, as much by the kindness he showed to the different animals which he had about him, and which he had taught to love him, as by almost any other act of his. I never think of Cowper, without thinking, too, of the interest he took in every thing that breathed; and I hardly ever see a pet hare, or rabbit, or squirrel, without thinking of him. If the reader is as much interested in the poet as I am, he will like to see a portrait of him, which I introduce in this connection. Many people take great delight in hunting such beautiful and innocent animals as the fawn and the hare. But Cowper was no sportsman. He could not bear to hurt any thing that lived. You remember, perhaps, what he says in his "Task" about being kind to animals. Let me see if I can quote it from memory. I guess I can, for I learned it at school when a little boy, and those things are always fixed in the memory more indelibly than those which are learned in maturer years. I think he says—

"I would not enter on my list of friends—
Though graced with polished manners and fine sense,
Yet wanting sensibility—the man
Who needlessly sets foot upon a worm.
An inadvertent step may crush the snail,
That crawls at eve along the public path;
But he who has humanity, forewarned,
Will step aside, and let the reptile live."

He was right—the kind-hearted poet was right. Well, as I said before, he was not only careful about giving pain to animals, but he was very fond of pets. First and last, he had a good many of these pets. But there were none of them that he took so great delight in as his hares. He had two of these pretty little creatures, and they seemed to be as fond of him as he was of them. Cowper was subject to fits of great despondency, or depression of spirits. With him hypochondria was a sort of chronic disease. He would try to be cheerful. He knew the nature of his melancholy, and often tried to remedy indirectly what could not be reached directly. He resorted to innocent amusements in order to lead the mind away from the contemplation of its own ills, real or imaginary. This was well—it was philosophical—but it did not always succeed. The disease was too deeply seated in his system. The care which he took of his pets was no doubt one of his favorite amusements. These hares—there were three of them at first, though one of them did not live long—had each very different characters. The poet described them in detail in one of his letters. Puss was the greatest favorite. He was more tractable, tame and affectionate than the rest. Once the fellow was very sick, and his master treated him with a great deal of kindness, gave him medicine, and nursed him so well that he recovered. Cowper says that Puss showed his gratitude by licking his hand for a long time, a ceremony he never went through with but once in his life, before or afterward. Bess, who died young, was the funny one. He had a great fund of humor and drollery. Tiney, though very entertaining in his way, seems to have been rather a grave and surly fellow. When he died—and he lived to a good old age, some nine years, I think—Cowper buried him with honor, and wrote an epitaph for him. I will copy two or three stanzas from this epitaph, to show that Tiney got quite as good a character as he deserved.

EPITAPH ON A HARE

Here lies, whom hound did ne'er pursue,
Nor swifter greyhound follow, Whose feet ne'er tainted morning dew,
Nor ear heard huntsman's hallo.

Old Tiney, surliest of his kind,
Who, nursed with tender care, And to domestic bounds confined,
Was still a wild Jack-hare.

Though duly from my hand he took
His pittance every night, He did it with a jealous look,
And when he could, would bite.

I kept him for his humor's sake,
For he would oft beguile My heart of thought, that made it ache,
And force me to a smile.

But now beneath this walnut shade,
He finds his long, last home, And waits, in snug concealment laid,
Till gentler Puss shall come.

He, still more aged, feels the shocks,
From which no power can save, And, partner once of Tiney's box,
Must soon partake his grave.