Sunday, November 16, 2003

The Game Laws. This is a blast of oratory from the usually comic Sydney Smith, found in Hesketh Pearson's The Smith of Smiths. Before reading, you will need to know that the game laws reserved to certain landlords the exclusive right to hunt certain animals, and the right to protect that right by means of man-traps and spring-triggered guns. But you already did, no?
"There is a sort of horror in thinking of a whole land filled with lurking engines of death -- machinations against human life under every green tree -- traps and guns in every dusky dell and bosky bourn -- the ferae naturae, the lords of manors, eyeing their peasantry as so many butts and marks, and panting to hear the click of the trap and to see the flash of the gun. How any human being educated in liberal knowledge and Christian feeling, can doom to certain destruction a poor wretch, tempted by the sight of animals that naturally appear to him to belong to one person as well as another, we are at a loss to conceive. We cannot imagine how he could live in the same village, and see the widow and orphans of the man whose blood he had shed for a trifle. We consider a person who could do this to be deficient in the very elements of morals -- to want that sacred regard to human life which is one of the corner stones of civil society." -- Sydney Smith, Edinburgh Review.
Bonus link: Smith's Writings in favour of Catholic emancipation -- a counterintuitive position in a 19-century Anglican priest -- which are all I can find in full online.
[The Smith of Smiths, by Hesketh Pearson (Hamish Hamilton, 1934). Amusing, oddly camp, not very narrative biography.]

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