There is still another circumstance, which inclines me to give very considerable credit to Master Simon’s suspicions. Lady Lillycraft is very fond of quoting poetry, and the conversation often turns upon it, on which occasions the general is thrown completely out. It happened the other day that Spenser’s Fairy Queen was the theme for the greater part of the morning, and the poor general sat perfectly silent. I found him not long after in the library, with spectacles on nose, a book in his hand, and fast asleep. On my approach, he awoke, slipt the spectacles into his pocket, and began to read very attentively. After a little while he put a paper in the place, and laid the volume aside, which I perceived was the Fairy Queen. I have had the curiosity to watch how he got on in his poetical studies; but though I have repeatedly seen him with the book in his hand, yet I find the paper has not advanced above three or four pages; the general being extremely apt to fall asleep when he reads.
Ne is there hawk which mantleth on her
Whether high tow’ring or accousting low,
But I the measure of her flight doe search,
And all her prey and all her diet know.
There are several grand sources of lamentation furnished to the worthy Squire, by the improvement of society and the grievous advancement of knowledge; among which there is none, I believe, that causes him more frequent regret than the unfortunate invention of gunpowder. To this he continually traces the decay of some favourite custom, and, indeed, the general downfall of all chivalrous and romantic usages. “English soldiers,” he says, “have never been the men they were in the days of the cross-bow and the long-bow; when they depended upon the strength of the arm, and the English archer could draw a cloth-yard shaft to the head. These were the times when, at the battles of Cressy, Poietiers, and Agincourt, the French chivalry was completely destroyed by the bowmen of England. The yeomanry, too, have never been what they were, when, in times of peace, they were constantly exercised with the bow, and archery was a favourite holiday pastime.”
Among the other evils which have followed in the train of this fatal invention of gunpowder, the Squire classes the total decline of the noble art of falconry. “Shooting,” he says, “is a skulking, treacherous, solitary sport, in comparison; but hawking was a gallant, open, sunshiny recreation; it was the generous sport of hunting carried into the skies.”
“It was, moreover,” he says, “according to Braithwate, the stately amusement of ‘high and mounting spirits;’ for as the old Welsh proverb affirms in those tunes, ’you might know a gentleman by his hawk, horse, and grayhound.’ Indeed, a cavalier was seldom seen abroad without his hawk on his fist; and even a lady of rank did not think herself completely equipped, in riding forth, unless she had a tassel-gentel held by jesses on her delicate hand. It was thought in those excellent days, according to an old writer, ’quite sufficient for noblemen to winde their horn, and to carry their hawke fair; and leave study and learning to the children of mean people.’”