Old English Sports eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 100 pages of information about Old English Sports.

Nor was this only a sport for ignorant rustics; kings and noble courtiers, and even ladies, used to frequent the bear-gardens of the metropolis, and witness with delight the slaughter of bulls, and bears, and dogs.  Erasmus tells us that in the reign of Henry VIII. “many herds of bears were maintained in this country for the purpose of baiting.”  Queen Elizabeth commanded bears, bulls, and the ape to be baited in her presence, and James I. was not averse to the sight.  The following is a description of this barbarous entertainment—­“There is a place built in the form of a theatre, which serves for baiting of bulls and bears.  They are fastened behind, and then worried by great English bull-dogs; but not without risk to the dogs from the horns of the one and the teeth of the other.”  Even horses were sometimes baited, and sometimes asses.  Evelyn, in his Diary, thus describes the strange sight—­“June 16th, 1670.  I went with some friends to the bear-garden, where was cock-fighting, dog-fighting, bear and bull-baiting, it being a famous day for all these butcherly sports, or rather barbarous cruelties.  The bulls did exceedingly well, but the Irish wolf-dog exceeded, which was a tall greyhound, a stately creature indeed, who beat a cruel mastiff.  One of the bulls tossed a dog full into a lady’s lap, as she sat in one of the boxes at a considerable height from the arena.  Two poor dogs were killed, and so all ended with the ape on horseback, and I most heartily weary of the rude and dirty pastime, which I had not seen, I think, in twenty years before.”  Foreigners, who have visited England in by-gone times, often allude scornfully to our forefathers’ barbarous diversions; but on the whole they seem rather to have enjoyed the sport.  A Spanish nobleman was taken to see a poor pony baited with an ape fastened on its back; and he wrote—­“to see the animal kicking amongst the dogs, with the screams of the ape, beholding the curs hanging from the ears and neck of the pony, is very laughable!” But enough has been said of these terrible and monstrous cruelties.  Happily for us they no longer exist, and together with cock-fighting, throwing at cocks and hens, and other barbarous amusements, cannot now be reckoned among our sports and pastimes.  It was a happy thing for us when the conscience of the nation was aroused, and the law stepped in to put an end to such disgraceful scenes which were witnessed in the Paris Garden at Southwark, or in the rude bull-run of a Yorkshire village.  The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was not known in the days of bear-baiting and cock-throwing.



    “Rivet well each coat of mail;
     Blows shall fall like showers of hail;
     Merrily the harness rings,
     Of tilting lists and tournay sings,
     Honour to the valiant brings. 
        Clink, clink, clink!”—­Armourers’ Chorus.

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Old English Sports from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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