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myself. The subject is one on which it is desirable that the opinions of all should be canvassed; indeed there are few of your readers who are not deeply interested in it. Upon the whole, I confess that the Report appears to me entitled to very considerable praise, although there may be parts of it which are not wholly free from objection.
I have now reached the third and last class of those who object to the present system of the Game Laws considering it as tending to the demoralization of the lower orders of society, and to the continual increase of crime. Their objections mainly go to the state of the law of qualifications, which has already been discussed, and to the prohibitions as to buying and selling game. We have before seen what the leading Acts of Parliament upon this subject are; and it is scarcely necessary now to go more fully into them. The general aim of the Legislature appears to have been to prevent the buying and selling of game; and even to punish the bare possession of it by an unqualified person, rather than encounter the difficulties which might occasionally arise as to proving a sale or intention of selling. The object evidently has been the preservation of the breed of game.
I have already shewn, that every individual has at Common Law, and independently of the restrictions imposed by the various Acts upon the subject, a right to kill game upon his own land. It will hardly be disputed, that, when he has so killed a bird, it becomes his absolute property: the first law of nature, the principle of occupancy, already discussed in my first communication, establishes VOL. XXII. N. S.-No. 129.
the right. It follows as a necessary consequence, and from the very nature of property, that he may dispose of that to which he has so acquired an absolute right. The laws, therefore, prohibiting the buying and selling of game are a restriction upon the private rights of the individual. Let us see, according to the maxim before cited from Archdeacon Paley, whether they produce sensible good effects.
It is an undoubted and melancholy truth, that of late years poaching has increased to a most surprising and alarming extent. Of the evil consequences which necessarily follow from that increase, no man is found to express a doubt. The witnesses examined before the Committee of the House of Lords upon the present occasion, as well as those examined at former periods before Committees of the House of Commons, alike concur in their testimony upon this point, however they may differ in their ideas as to the causes which have led to the increase. Whether in the agricultural or the manufacturing districts, in England or in Scotland, the effect has been the same; although in the agricultural districts the system is commenced at an early period of life, since there, as Mr. Benett tells us," the boy scarcely twelve years old learns to set snares with his father." Different circumstances are assigned by different persons as the true and only causes; but probably no one circumstance alone has sufficed to produce the evil: it has rather been a combination of causes. One cause, to which much of the prevalence of this crime may be attributed, as the majority of the witnesses agree, is the vast extent to which modern M
preserves have been increased in their numbers and size-a change that we owe to the imitation of the habits of our Continental neighbours, and to the introduction of their system of battues. Our fathers certainly were not less entitled to the character of true sportsmen than ourselves; and yet they were contented, if over their estates were to be found scattered moderate sprinklings of game, sufficient to keep themselves supplied with sport, and to afford occasional amusement to their friends, The modern sportsman is not so easily satisfied. His plea sure is to multiply the breed in one large covert, which he him self scarcely ventures to approach. Strictly watched, and carefully preserved, to this he looks for what he terms his sport. A grand day, or, if the extent permit, a grand week is named; the best shots amongst his friends are invited; the hitherto almost sacred privacy of the preserve is at length invaded; and on the following day the Morning Post announces to the fashionable world in round numbers, a high sounding total of heads of game destroyed."
The consequences are natural. The main object of every one, who, like the poacher, pursues a particular course of life for his support, must necessarily be to obtain as much profit as he can with as little exertion, or in other words within as limited a space of time and at as little risk as may be. The amount of profit which is to be the remuneration for the time and risk, will be at least one principal medium by which the encouragement to the commission of the offence will be regulated; and as that profit increases, the number Evid. p. 116.
of those who will seek to take advantage of it will naturally increase also.
Now, under the former system the poacher had much ground to cover, and consequent time to expend in the pursuit of game, before he could obtain any material quantity: the modern preserves afford him increased facilities for the attainment of his object. In them he finds a certain and an abundant supply, to which he can at once resort, and where, in a far less space of time, he may obtain a much greater quantity. To them, we find from the Evidence, and indeed, without the assistance of that, from daily experience, the poachers resort accordingly. follows that fresh encouragement is held out to the commission of the offence; and the offenders are multiplied. A pheasant, says Sir William Cooke, is a temptation they cannot withstand*: and no wonder; for when they get amongst the pheasants in the preserves, says the Yorkshire Freeholder, they will soon secure a pound a nightt. It is true, that with the extent of the preserves, the number of keepers has necessarily increased, by which the danger of the pursuit has become proportionably greater. But the more than proportionably enlarged profits have, at the same time, taught the poacher not to hesitate at the increased risk; and whilst they have made him more determined in persevering in his course, and resisting all opposition to it, have furnished him with the means of procuring others to assist in making that resistance more effectual. To such an extent is the system now carried, that it is not uncommon for parties to be made up of men who are hired + Evid. p. 109.
at the paltry pay of two shillings and sixpence a night for that purpose only. Hence it is, that the rencontres between poachers and keepers are of such frequent occurrence, and so dreadful in their consequences. The accounts of the more fatal ones scattered through the Evidence, and particularly the melancholy detail contained in the petition of the Sheriff and Grand Jury of Lancaster attached to the Report, are convincing proofs that it is high time that the Legislature interposed to prevent the frequent repetition of such scenes.
to the days when I first learnt to feel all that interest in the sports of the field, which the young are more intensely alive to, but which the older sportsman does not fail to enjoy. Well do I remember my first youthful visit to an old and valued friend now no more, and as keen a sportsman as ever put gun to shoulder. I can still picture to myself the bright autumnal mornings, when we used to sally forth in all the security of fustian, our single-barrelled Nocks resting lightly on the shoulderfor the days of velveteen and double barrels had not then dawned
pointers Don and Basto at our heels. I can fancy that I see them now ranging wide, but not wild, over the extended stubble, or more slowly busy about some spotquitting and again returning to it
For my own part, I care not how soon I see this system of bat--and with my old friend's favorite tues sent back to the country from which it was imported, whe ther I look at the unsportsmanlike nature of the pursuit, or the evil consequences to which it leads. And let me not be deemed illiberal in my feelings towards other coun--where, perhaps, a recent covey tries, when I thus express myself upon the subject. I was during the season, let me be permitted to say, a frequent attendant at the little theatre where a French company of actors last year amused the town. I could admire the tragic force and feeling of Madame Georges, and enjoy the comic powers of Monsieur Perlet; and it is with pleasure I have heard that they have now a more open and recognised scene for their exertions. Nor have I, at another place, been less alive to the powers of a Pasta or a Fodor, though I could have wished to see them somewhat better supported on their stage. I am not blind, I trust, to foreign merit. But in this system of battues I own I can find nothing to admire or to approve. I was brought up in a far different school; and can look back with a retentive and grateful recollection
had fed. With what eager anticipations have I marked, in the midst of a more extended range, the half turn and instantaneous pause of our older favorite Don, with head and eye fixed in the direction in which he first caught the scent, his body in a forced yet not unnatural curve, stern stiff and extended, and the whole frame motionless, whilst the well-broken Basto stood backing him in the distance. The flush of pleasure as the bird dropped to the gun-the careless listlessness of the "down charge"-the game shewn as an encouragement to the dogs, and then bagged-the pat of approbation as we again started to enjoy the hopes and fears, the doubts and anxieties of the pursuit, are yet fresh in my remembrance; too fresh for me to turn with reconciled feelings to the present course. Then indeed there was pleasure in
keepers which could at any time in reason be required to be maintained. Your contemporary is more deserving of attention, when he says that Government should do its utmost to break up the organized gangs of the more desperate poachers; and that it should not be left wholly to the ordinary Magistracy. His suggestion is good, that, whenever such a gang is known to exist, active police officers should be sent down from Town to obtain the necessary information respecting its members, and to watch its movements. Such officers would indeed find little difficulty in possessing themselves of knowledge enough to bring some of the leaders at least to justice. Connected with the question of preserves is that of the abolition of the use of spring guns. Many of the witnesses have greatly attributed the increase of poaching to this cause. It is true that there are others who in their testimony are disposed to give little weight to it. But be it as it may, the evils which formerly arose so frequently from their use, and the many instances in which innocent individuals, and even the very persons who set them, became the victims of these indiscriminate death-dealers, too clearly demonstrate the absolute necessity of their abolition, to permit the propriety of their use to be advocated. It may fairly be stated as the result of the different opinions expressed upon this subject, that the
gentlemen seem generally to consider their use to have prevented many poachers from invading the property where they were set; whilst the other witnesses consider that the poachers in general, particularly when they did not go in large parties, cared little for them, and by moderate caution could easily evade them.
Another cause for the increase of poaching will be found in the distress which has been but too prevalent of late years amongst the lower classes. I know how much ridicule is usually attached to those who in any manner connect the Game Laws with the Poor Laws; nor is it my intention to tire your readers with a dissertation upon this most important subject. "Our poor," says Sir Josiah Child, "have always been in a most sad and wretched condition." But never has their situation more powerfully attracted public attention, or more loudly demanded the interference of the Legislature, than in modern times. It is said, I know, that it rarely happens that the poacher is driven to the course of plunder which he pursues by actual want. It is rather a spirit of idleness too heedlessly indulged in; vicious habits thoughtlessly acquired, and unhappily continued; and a strong desire of gain, without regard to the means by which it is to be procured, which makes him what he is. Sir William Cooke does not apprehend that the distresses
It may well be called a most important subject: for it appears that the taxation for the poor has become so very serious a charge, that it already almost amounts to one half the taxes which are required to be raised for the Government of the country. The Poor Tax is nearly 8,000,0001. The taxes for the Government are only 20,000,0001. The increase of the Poor Tax for the last year, as compared with the year 1826, has been nine per cent; and we may well begin to fear, that, if it be not shortly stopped, it will in the course of time amount to as much as the Government taxes. It is a singu lar fact, that the taxation of the people of this country, for the poor only, far exceeds the taxation of Ireland for seven millions of souls. The amount of the latter is only 5,000,0001. whilst the former is 8,000,0001.
in his neighbourhood are the causes of the increase of poaching. The most formidable gang he ever remembers was composed of men who were in full employment, all earning from fifteen to twenty shillings a week*. "I do not be lieve that in our district," says Mr. Bradshaw, "lowness of wages has any thing to do with it. I believe no man is driven to poaching by distresst." Lord Skelmersdale does not attribute their proceedings to want of occupation, or to the distress of the population in his part of the world. But it is to be remembered, that each of these gentlemen is speaking of a manufacturing district; and it must be admitted, that, amongst the manufacturers, it is not want of employment or actual distress which in general leads them to the commission of the offence. So far from it indeed, it appears that at the very time when wages were at the highest, poaching was carried on to the greatest extent. And it is thus accounted for by Mr.Bradshaw: "When wages were high, manufacturers, traders, and merchants were making the most money, and therefore then they bought the most games." The temptation to the manufacturing poacher was the profit to be made; and the preserves afforded him facilities for making it. But in the agricultural districts a very different story is told. The wages of the agriculturist have never borne a due proportion to those of the manufacturer. There are many circumstances which combine to make the latter necessarily and properly higher than the former; but still there is a relative proportion which the wages of the agriculturist have always been below.
• Evid. p. 114. + Evid. 119.
It has been said, and with much reason, that the wages of labour ought always to be such as to ena ble an industrious and prudent man to marry at the age of fiveand-twenty, and to bring up a family; or else, to lay by a decent and comfortable provision for his old age, if he remain single. Let us see what those wages now are. Mr. Benett speaks of seven shillings a week as the amount in his country. Mr. Hunt says, that in Hampshire there have been many who received only four shillings. Mr. Wedge speaks of giving five, six, and seven shillings. Are these sums upon which a man can hope to lay by a little stock of savings with a view to marriage, or by way of provision for his old age? And yet, even at these, many are unable to procure employment at all, or at best only idle away their time in what is called working, though it scarcely deserves the name, upon the roads. The parish gives work at a low price, but the men do not do it; for to active and honest industry, the idea of parochial employment, and the necessarily paltry pittance of parochial pay, soon forms a damper too powerful to be resisted.
When a man has been at work honestly and industriously all day, and at fair and reasonable wages, he comes home contented, but weary, and is glad to enjoy the necessary change of repose. But if the whole day has been passed, either in sauntering about in entire idleness, or in employment which in reality is little else, he comes home without fatigue indeed, but often without wages, certainly with scarcely the means of keeping body and soul together: he is ready to go out again at night, for he is not
Evid. p. 127. § Evid. p. 119.