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Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour By Robert Smith Surtees Characters: 9215

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

Time was when the independent borough of Swillingford supported two newspapers, or rather two editors, the editor of the Swillingford Patriot, and the editor of the Swillingford Guide to Glory; but those were stirring days, when politics ran high and votes and corn commanded good prices. The papers were never very prosperous concerns, as may be supposed when we say that the circulation of the former at its best time was barely seven hundred, while that of the latter never exceeded a thousand.

They were both started at the reform times, when the reduction of the stamp-duty brought so many aspiring candidates for literary fame into the field, and for a time they were conducted with all the bitter hostility that a contracted neighbourhood, and a constant crossing by the editors of each other's path, could engender. The competition, too, for advertisements, was keen, and the editors were continually taunting each other with taking them for the duty alone. ?neas M'Quirter was the editor of the Patriot, and Felix Grimes that of the Guide to Glory.

M'Quirter, we need hardly say, was a Scotsman-a big, broad-shouldered Sawney-formidable in 'slacks,' as he called his trousers, and terrific in kilts; while Grimes was a native of Swillingford, an ex-schoolmaster and parish clerk, and now an auctioneer, a hatter, a dyer and bleacher, a paper-hanger, to which the wits said when he set up his paper, he added the trade of 'stainer.'

At first the rival editors carried on a 'war to the knife' sort of contest with one another, each denouncing his adversary in terms of the most unmeasured severity. In this they were warmly supported by a select knot of admirers, to whom they read their weekly effusions at their respective 'houses of call' the evening before publication. Gradually the fire of bitterness began to pale, and the excitement of friends to die out; M'Quirter presently put forth a signal of distress. To accommodate 'a large and influential number of its subscribers and patrons,' he determined to publish on a Tuesday instead of on a Saturday as heretofore, whereupon Mr. Grimes, who had never been able to fill a single sheet properly, now doubled his paper, lowered his charge for advertisements, and hinted at his intention of publishing an occasional supplement.

However exciting it may be for a time, parties soon tire of carrying on a losing game for the mere sake of abusing each other, and ?neas M'Quirter not being behind the generality of his countrymen in 'canniness' and shrewdness of intellect, came to the conclusion that it was no use doing so in this case, especially as the few remaining friends who still applauded would be very sorry to subscribe anything towards his losses. He therefore very quietly negotiated the sale of his paper to the rival editor, and having concluded a satisfactory bargain, he placed the bulk of his property in the poke of his plaid, and walked out of Swillingford just as if bent on taking the air, leaving Mr. Grimes in undisputed possession of both papers, who forthwith commenced leading both Whig and Tory mind, the one on the Tuesday, the other on the Saturday.

The pot and pipe companions of course saw how things were, but the majority of the readers living in the country just continued to pin their faith to the printed declarations of their oracles, while Grimes kept up the delusion of sincerity by every now and then fulminating a tremendous denunciation against his trimming, vacillating, inconsistent opponent on the Tuesday, and then retaliating with equal vigour upon himself on the Saturday. He wrote his own 'leaders,' both Whig and Tory, the arguments of one side pointing out answers for the other. Sometimes he led the way for a triumphant refutal, while the general tone of the articles was quite of the 'upset a ministry' style. Indeed, Grimes strutted and swaggered as if the fate of the nation rested with him.

The papers themselves were not very flourishing-looking concerns, the wide-spread paragraphs, the staring type, the catching advertisements, forming a curious contrast to the close packing of The Times. The 'Gutta Percha Company,' 'Locock's Female Pills,' 'Keating's Cough Lozenges,' and the 'Triumphs of Medicine,' all with staring woodcuts and royal arms, occupied conspicuous places in every paper. A new advertisement was a novelty. However, the two papers answered a great deal better than either did singly, and any lack of matter was easily supplied from the magazines and new books. In this department, indeed, in the department of elegant light literature generally, Mr. Gri

mes was ably assisted by his eldest daughter, Lucy, a young lady of a certain age-say liberal thirty-an ardent Bloomer-with a considerable taste for sentimental poetry, with which she generally filled the poet's corner. This assistance enabled Grimes to look after his auctioneering, bleaching, and paper-hanging concerns, and it so happened that when the foregoing run arrived at the office he, having seen the next paper ready for press, had gone to Mr. Vosper's, some ten miles off, to paper his drawing-room, consequently the duties of deciding upon its publication devolved on the Bloomer. Now, she was a most refined, puritanical young woman, full of sentiment and elegance, with a strong objection to what she considered the inhumanities of the chase. At first she was for rejecting the article altogether, and had it been a run with the Tinglebury Harriers, or even, we believe, with Lord Scamperdale's hounds, she would have consigned it to the 'Balaam box,' but seeing it was with Mr. Puffington's hounds, whose house they had papered, and who advertised with them, she condescended to read it; and though her delicacy was shocked at encountering the word 'stunning' at the outset, and also at the term 'ravishing scent' farther on, she nevertheless sent the manuscript to the compositors, after making such alterations and corrections as she thought would fit it for eyes polite. The consequence was that the article appeared in the following form, though whether all the absurdities were owing to Miss Lucy's corrections, or the carelessness of the writer, or the printers, had anything to do with it, we are not able to say. The errors, some of them arising from the mere alteration or substitution of a letter, will strike a sporting more than a general reader. Thus it appeared in the middle of the third sheet of the Swillingford Patriot:


This splendid pack had a superb run from Hollyburn Hanger, the property of its truly popular and sporting owner, Mr. Puffington. A splendid field of well-appointed sportsmen, among whom we recognized several distinguished strangers, and members of Lord Scamperdale's hunt, were present. After partaking of the well-known profuse and splendid hospitality of Hanby House, they proceeded at once to Hollyburn Hanger, where a fine seasonal fox, though some said he was a bay one, broke away in view of the whole pack, every hound scorning to cry, and making the welkin ring with their melody. He broke at the lower end of the cover, and crossing the brook, made straight for Fleecyhaugh Water Meadows, over which there is always an exquisite perfume; from there he made a slight bend, as if inclining for the plantations at Winstead, but changing his mind, he faced the rising ground, and crossing over nearly the highest point of Shillington Hill, made direct for the little village of Berrington Roothings below. Here the hounds came to a check, but Mr. Bragg, who had ridden gallantly on his favourite bay, as fine an animal as ever went, though somewhat past work of mouth, was well up with his hounds, and with a 'gentle rantipole!' and a single wave of his arm, proceeded to make one of those scientific rests for which this eminent huntsman is so justly celebrated. Hitting off the scent like a coachman, they went away again at score, and passing by Moorlinch Farm buildings, and threading the strip of plantation by Bexley Burn, he crossed Silverbury Green, leaving Longford Hutch to the right, and passing straight on by the gibbet at Harpen. Here, then, the gallant pack, breaking from scent to view, ran into their box in the open close upon Mountnessing Wood, evidently his point from the first, and into which a few more strides would have carried him. It was as fine a run as ever was seen, and the grunting of the hounds was the admiration of all who heard it. The distance could not have been less than ten miles as a cow goes. The justly popular owner of this most celebrated pack, though riding good fourteen stones, led the Walters on his famous chestnut horse Tappy Lappey. After this truly brilliant affair, Mr. Puffington, like a thorough sportsman, and one who never thrashes his hounds unnecessarily-unlike some masters who never know when to leave off-returned to Hanby House, where a distinguished party of noblemen and gentlemen partook of his splendid hospitality.

And the considerate Bloomer added of her own accord, 'We hope we shall have to record many such runs in the imperishable columns of our paper.'


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