« ZurückWeiter »
began to rear, snorted most violently, throw out behind, plunged, and used every mischievous exertion of which the muscular powers of a blood-horse are susceptible. I, who felt the uneasiness he suffered before his violence began, being luckily prepared, sat him as steady and upright as if this bad been his usual exercise. John Watson was riding beside his horses, and a groom (I believe it was old Cheevers) broke out into an exclamation—' I say, John, that is a fine lad!' “Ay, ay,' replied Watson, highly satisfied, “you will find some time or other that there are few in Newmarket that will match him.' To have behaved with true courage, and to meet with applause like this, especially from John Watson, was a triumph such as I could at this time have felt in no other way with the same sweet satisfaction. My horsemanship had been seen by all the boys, my praises had been heard by them all !
“Horses, generally speaking, are of a generous and kindly nature. Of their friendly disposition towards their keepers, there is a trait known to every boy that has the care of one of them, which ought not to be omitted. The custom is to rise very early, even between two and three in the morning, when the days lengthen. In the course of the day, horses and boys have much to do. About half-past eight, perhaps, in the evening, the horse has his last feed of oats, which he generally stands to enjoy in the centre of his smooth, carefullymade bed of clean, long straw, and by the side of him the weary boy will often lie down, it being held as a maxim, a rule without exception, that were he to lie even till morning, the horse would never lie down himself, but stand still, careful to do his keeper no harm.
Except by accident, the race-horse never trots. He must either walk or gallop; and in exercise, even when it is the hardest, the gallop begins slowly and gradually, and increases till the horse is nearly at full speed. When he has galloped half a mile, the boy begins to push him forward without relaxation for another half mile. This is at the period when the horses are in full exercise, to which they come by degrees. The boy that can best regulate these degrees among those of light weight is generally chosen to lead the gallop; that is, he goes first out of the stable, and first returns.
“ In the time of long exercise, this is the first brushing
gallop. A brushing gallop signifies that the horses are nearly at full speed before it is over, and it is commonly made at last rather up hill. Having all pulled up, the horses stand some two or three minutes, and recover their wind; they then leisurely descend the hill, and take a long walk; after which they are brought to water. But in this, as in everything else (at least as soon as long exercise begins), everything to them is measured. The boy counts the number of times the horse swallows when he drinks, and allows him to take no more gulps than the groom orders,—the fewest to the hardest exercise, and one horse more or less than another, according to the judgment of the groom. After watering, a gentle gallop is taken, and after that another walk of considerable length; to which succeeds the second and last brushing gallop, which is by far the most severe. When it is over, another pause, thoroughly to recover their wind, is allowed them; then a long walk is begun, the limits of which are prescribed, and it ends in directing their ride homeward.
“ The morning's exercise often extends to four hours, and the evening's to much about the same time. *
“ In every stud of horses there are frequent changes ; and as their qualities are discovered, one horse is rejected and sold, or perhaps a stranger bought and admitted. It happened on such an occasion that a little horse was brought us from another stud, whence he had been rejected for being unmanageable. He had shown himself restive, and, besides the snaffle, was ridden in a check-rein. I was immediately placed on his back, and what seemed rather more extra. ordinary, ordered to lead the gallop as usual. I do not know how it happened, but under me he showed very little disposition to become refractory; and whenever the humour occurred, it was soon overcome. That he was, however, watchful for an opportunity to do mischief, the following incident will discover. Our time for hard exercise bad begun perhaps a fortnight or three weeks. As that proceeds, the boys are less cautious, each having less suspicion of his horse. leading the gallop one morning, and had gone more than half the way towards the foot of Cambridge Hill, when something induced me to call and speak to a boy behind me; for which purpose ! rather unseated myself, and, as I looked back, rested on my left thigh. The arch-traitor no sooner felt the pre
carious seat I had taken, then he suddenly plunged from the path, had his head between his legs, his heels in the air, and exerting all his power of bodily contortion, flung me from the saddle, with only one foot in the stirrup, and both my legs on the off side. I immediately heard the whole set of boys behind shouting triumphantly, 'A calf, a calf !' a phrase of contempt for a boy that is thrown. Though the horse was then in the midst of his wild antics, and increasing his pace to full speed, as far as the tricks he was playing would permit, still, finding I had a foot in the stirrup, I replied to their shouts by a whisper to myself, 'It is no calf yet.' The horse took his usual course, turned up Cambridge Hill, and now rather increased his speed than his mischievous tricks. This opportunity I took, with that rashness of spirit which is peculiar to boys, and, notwithstanding the prodigious speed and irregular motion of the horse, threw my left leg over the saddle. It was with the utmost difficulty that I could preserve my balance; but I did, though by this effort I lost hold of the reins, both my feet were out of the stirrup, and the horse for a moment was entirely his own master. But my grand object was gained-I was once more firmly seated, the reins and stirrups were recovered. In a twinkling the horse, instead of being pulled up, was urged to his utmost speed ; and when he came to the end of the gallop, he stopped of himself with a very good will, as he was heartily breathed. The short exclamations of the boys, at having witnessed what they thought an impossibility, were the gratifications I received, and the greatest, perhaps, that could be bestowed.
“I once saw an instance of what may be called the grandeur of alarm in a horse. In winter, during short exercise, I was returning one evening on the back of a hunter that was put in training for the Hunter's Plate. There had been some little rain, and the channel, always dry in summer, was then a small brook. As I must have rubbed his legs dry, if wetted, I gave him the rein and made him leap the brook, which he understood as a challenge for play; and beginning to gambol, after a few antics, he reared very high, and plunging forward with great force, alighted with his fore-feet on the edge of a deep gravel-pit, half-filled with water, so near that a very few inches farther he must have gone headlong down. His first astonishment and fear were so great, that he stood for some time
breathless and motionless: then gradually recollecting himself, his back became curved, his ears erect, his hind and fore legs in a position for sudden retreat ; his nostrils, from an inward snort, burst into one loud expression of horror, and rearing on his hind legs, he turned short round, expressing all the terrors he had felt by the utmost violence of plunging, kicking, and other bodily exertions. I was not quite so much frightened as he had been, but I was heartily glad, when he became quiet again, that the accident had been no worse. The only little misfortune I had was the loss of my cap, and being obliged to ride back some way, in order to recover it.”
By this time young Holcroft was sixteen, and had begun to feel a craving for knowledge of a different nature from any that he could obtain at Newmarket; although even there he had contrived to read every book that came in his way, to perfect himself in arithmetic, and to acquire a scientific knowledge of vocal music, which was of great use to him in his after career. He had made this progress, too, chiefly from his own efforts ; so that the great process of self-instruction which distinguished him through life was now begun, and he already knew enough to feel an ardent desire to know more. London, where his father was now living as a cobbler, offered at least the hope of education ; accordingly, to the great amazement and regret of good John Watson, who had been uniformly kind. to him, and to whom he could hardly summon courage to announce his determination, he abandoned the field in which his success had been so encouraging, took leave of his companions, biped and quadruped, and made his way to the great city.
Here a long series of disappointments awaited him. He became, indeed, a skilful and rapid worker at the shoemaking trade ; but the position and confinement disagreed with him (well they might aster the free seat on horseback, the exercise, and the pure air of Newmarket), and his habit of idling his time in reading, as the phrase goes, prevented his earning more than the bare necessaries of his abstemious life. He tried various schemes ; taught an evening school ; kept a day school somewhere in the country, with such indifferent success that he had but one pupil, and lived upon potatoes and buttermilk for three months; authorship, too, he tried in a small way, creeping into notice in the most obscure newspapers and the smallest magazines, and at about the age of twenty, when barely able to support himself, he married. It is to be noted that throughout his whole life he was eminently a marrying man, having married three wives, and left a young widow, the daughter of Monsieur Mercier, author of the “ Tableau de Paris.” Shortly after his first marriage, of which we hear but little, although he was eminently kind and indulgent in his domestic character, he seems to have been induced, by his success in a spouting club, to try his fortune on the stage. He has left a characteristic account of his application to Foote :
“ He had the good fortune to find the manager at breakfast with a young man, whom he employed partly on the stage, and partly as an amanuensis. "Well,' said he, 'young gentleman, I guess your business by the sheepishness of your manner; you have got the theatrical cacoethes; you have rubbed your shoulder against the scene : nay, is it not so ?' Holcroft answered that it was. Well, and what great hero should you wish to personate ? Hamlet, or Richard, or Othello, or who ?' Holcroft replied that he distrusted his capacity for performing any that he had inentioned. "Indeed !' said he, that's a wonderful sign of grace. I have been teased these many years by all the spouters in London, of which honourable fraternity I dare say you are a member; for I can perceive no stage varnish, none of your true strolling brass lacker on your face.' 'No, indeed, Sir.' 'I thought so. Well, Sir, I never saw a spouter before that did not want to surprise the town in Pierre, or Lothario, or some character that demands all the address and every requisite of a master in the art. But, come, give us a touch of your quality-a speech. There's a youngster,' pointing to his secretary, 'will roar Jaffier against Pierre. Let the loudest take both.' Accordingly, he held the book, and at it they fell. The scene they chose was that of the before-mentioned characters in Venice Preserved. For a little while after they began, it seems that Holcroft took the hint that Foote had thrown out, and restrained his wrath. But this appeared so insipid, and the ideas of rant and excellence were so strongly connected in his mind, that when Jaffier began to exalt his voice, he could no longer contain himself, but, as Nick Bottom says, 'they both roared so, that it would have done your heart good to hear them.' Foote