Horsemanship, by Washington Irving

Bracebridge Hall, or The Humorists

A coach was a strange monster in those days, and the sight put both horse and man into amazement. Some said it was a great crabshell brought out of China, and some imagined it to be one of the pagan temples, in which the canibals adored the divell.

—TAYLOR, THE WATER POET.

I have made casual mention, more than once, of one of the Squire's antiquated retainers, old Christy, the huntsman. I find that his crabbed humour is a source of much entertainment among the young men of the family; the Oxonian, particularly, takes a mischievous pleasure, now and then, in slyly rubbing the old man against the grain, and then smoothing him down again; for the old fellow is as ready to bristle up his back as a porcupine. He rides a venerable hunter called Pepper, which is a counterpart of himself, a heady cross-grained animal, that frets the flesh off its bones; bites, kicks, and plays all manner of villainous tricks. He is as tough, and nearly as old as his rider, who has ridden him time out of mind, and is, indeed, the only one that can do any thing with him. Sometimes, however, they have a complete quarrel, and a dispute for mastery, and then, I am told, it is as good as a farce to see the heat they both get into, and the wrong-headed contest that ensues; for they are quite knowing in each other's ways, and in the art of teasing and fretting each other. Notwithstanding these doughty brawls, however, there is nothing that nettles old Christy sooner than to question the merits of the horse; which he upholds as tenaciously as a faithful husband will vindicate the virtues of the termagant spouse, that gives him a curtain lecture every night of his life.

The young men call old Christy their "professor of equitation;" and in accounting for the appellation, they let me into some particulars of the Squire's mode of bringing up his children. There is an odd mixture of eccentricity and good sense in all the opinions of my worthy host. His mind is like modern Gothic, where plain brick-work is set off with pointed arches and quaint tracery. Though the main ground-work of his opinions is correct, yet he has a thousand little notions, picked up from old books, which stand out whimsically on the surface of his mind.

Thus, in educating his boys, he chose Peachem, Markam, and such like old English writers, for his manuals. At an early age he took the lads out of their mother's hands, who was disposed, as mothers are apt to be, to make fine, orderly children of them, that should keep out of sun and rain and never soil their hands, nor tear their clothes.

In place of this, the Squire turned them loose to run free and wild about the park, without heeding wind or weather. He was, also, particularly attentive in making them bold and expert horsemen; and these were the days when old Christy, the huntsman, enjoyed great importance, as the lads were put under his care to practise them at the leaping-bars, and to keep an eye upon them in the chase.

The Squire always objected to their riding in carriages of any kind, and is still a little tenacious on this point. He often rails against the universal use of carriages, and quotes the words of honest Nashe to that effect. "It was thought," says Nashe, in his Quaternio, "a kind of solecism, and to savour of effeminacy, for a young gentleman in the flourishing time of his age to creep into a coach, and to shroud himself from wind and weather: our great delight was to outbrave the blustering Boreas upon a great horse; to arm and prepare ourselves to go with Mars and Bellona into the field, was our sport and pastime; coaches and caroches we left unto them for whom they were first invented, for ladies and gentlemen, and decrepit age and impotent people."

The Squire insists that the English gentlemen have lost much of their hardiness and manhood, since the introduction of carriages. "Compare," he will say, "the fine gentleman of former times, ever on horseback, booted and spurred, and travel-stained, but open, frank, manly, and chivalrous, with the fine gentleman of the present day, full of affectation and effeminacy, rolling along a turnpike in his voluptuous vehicle. The young men of those days were rendered brave, and lofty, and generous in their notions, by almost living in their saddles, and having their foaming steeds 'like proud seas under them.' There is something," he adds, "in bestriding a fine horse that makes a man feel more than mortal. He seems to have doubled his nature, and to have added to his own courage and sagacity the power, the speed, and stateliness of the superb animal on which he is mounted."

"It is a great delight," says old Nashe, "to see a young gentleman with his skill and cunning, by his voice, rod, and spur, better to manage and to command the great Bucephalus, than the strongest Milo, with all his strength; one while to see him make him tread, trot, and gallop the ring; and one after to see him make him gather up roundly; to bear his head steadily; to run a full career swiftly; to stop a sudden lightly; anon after to see him make him advance, to yerke, to go back, and sidelong, to turn on either hand; to gallop the gallop galliard; to do the capriole, the chambetta, and dance the curvetty."

In conformity to these ideas, the Squire had them all on horseback at an early age, and made them ride, slapdash, about the country, without flinching at hedge, or ditch, or stone wall, to the imminent danger of their necks.

Even the fair Julia was partially included in this system; and, under the instructions of old Christy, has become one of the best horsewomen in the country. The Squire says it is better than all the cosmetics and sweeteners of the breath that ever were invented. He extols the horsemanship of the ladies in former times, when Queen Elizabeth would scarcely suffer the rain to stop her accustomed ride. "And then think," he will say, "what nobler and sweeter beings it made them. What a difference must there be, both in mind and body, between a joyous, high-spirited dame of those days, glowing with health and exercise, freshened by every breeze that blows, seated loftily and gracefully on her saddle, with plume on head, and hawk on hand, and her descendant of the present day, the pale victim of routs and ball-rooms, sunk languidly in one corner of an enervating carriage."

The Squire's equestrian system has been attended with great success; for his sons, having passed through the whole course of instruction without breaking neck or limb, are now healthful, spirited, and active, and have the true Englishman's love for a horse. If their manliness and frankness are praised in their father's hearing, he quotes the old Persian maxim, and says, they have been taught "to ride, to shoot, and to speak the truth."

It is true, the Oxonian has now and then practised the old gentleman's doctrines a little in the extreme. He is a gay youngster, rather fonder of his horse than his book, with a little dash of the dandy; though the ladies all declare that he is "the flower of the flock." The first year that he was sent to Oxford, he had a tutor appointed to overlook him, a dry chip of the university. When he returned home in the vacation, the Squire made many inquiries about how he liked his college, his studies, and his tutor.

"Oh, as to my tutor, sir, I've parted with him some time since."

"You have! and, pray, why so?"

"Oh, sir, hunting was all the go at our college, and I was a little short of funds; so I discharged my tutor, and took a horse, you know."

"Ah, I was not aware of that, Tom," said the Squire, mildly.

When Tom returned to college, his allowance was doubled, that he might be enabled to keep both horse and tutor.