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THE GAME LAWS 1826 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume VI - Essays on England, Ireland, and the Empire 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume VI - Essays on England, Ireland, and the Empire, ed. John M. Robson, Introduction by Joseph Hamburger (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1982).
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THE GAME LAWS
Westminster Review, V (Jan., 1826), 1-22. Headed: “Art. I. Report from the Select Committee on the Laws relating to Game. Ordered by the House of Commons to be printed, 18th April, 1823. [Parliamentary Papers, 1823, IV, 107-53.] / [John Weyland.] A Letter on the Game Laws. By a Country Gentleman, a Proprietor of Game. [London:] Baldwin, [Cradock, and Joy,] Paternoster Row, and Hatchard, Piccadilly, 1815. / [John Weyland.] A Second Letter on the Game Laws. By a Country Gentleman, a Proprietor of Game. [London:] Baldwin, [Cradock, and Joy,] Paternoster Row, and Hatchard, Piccadilly, 1817. / [Edward Harbord.] Considerations on the Game Laws. By Edward Lord Suffield. [London:] J. Hatchard and Son. 1825. / Reconsiderations on certain proposed Alterations in the Game Laws. By George Bankes, Esq. [London:] J. Hatchard and Son. 1825.” Running titles: “The Game Laws.” Unsigned; not republished Identified in Mill’s bibliography as “An article on the Game Laws, in the 9th number of the Westminster Review” (MacMinn, 7). For comment on the essay, see lvii above.
The Game Laws
when we learned from the newspapers, that a bill to reform the Game Laws had been introduced into parliament by the representative of the greatest agricultural county in England, had been supported by a home secretary, and triumphantly carried through the Lower House; we pleased ourselves with the thought that, for once, at least, the aristocracy of Great Britain had shewn that the happiness and virtue of the bulk of the community were not altogether a matter of indifference in their eyes.[*] They have hastened to undeceive us. They have shewn a commendable anxiety that the public may not continue long to think better of them than they deserve. It has pleased our lords the peers to exercise, on the occasion of Mr. Stuart Wortley’s bill, that glorious privilege of crushing improvement, which has been vested in them, no doubt, for wise purposes, by our happy constitution. The legislature of this country has once more solemnly declared, that, come what will of the morals, the liberties, and even the lives, of the great mass of the agricultural population, the amusements at least of the aristocracy shall not be invaded. It remains to be seen how this declaration will be received by the public. How it ought to be received is evident enough.
To a superficial observer it might appear, that the wisdom and virtue to which we are thus indebted for the perpetuation of poaching, and (by an infallible consequence) of all other kinds of crime, are those of the House of Lords. More accurate reflection shows, that the root of the evil lies far deeper; that the peers have but borne their share in the triumph of the few over the many; and that to lay the blame upon them would be to throw that responsibility upon a part, which in justice belongs to the whole.
In the examination which we thought it necessary to institute in our first number into the nature and composition of the British aristocracy, we pointed out the manner in which the governing power is shared between the landed and the monied interests; the landed interest, however, retaining a decided preponderance.[*] Had any new proof been wanted of this preponderance, such a proof would have been afforded by the fate of Mr. Stuart Wortley’s bill. It is well known that those members of both branches of the legislature, who voted against the bill, have belonged almost exclusively to the class of landholders. The monied interest have been almost unanimous in its favour. The reason is obvious: the exclusive privilege which it was the object of the bill to take away, was a privilege created not for them, but against them. The whole body of peers are, almost without exception, landholders. Even in the Lower House a large majority are either themselves landholders, or are returned by that class. In that House, however, there were found landholders possessed of common humanity, and of an ordinary share of understanding, in sufficient numbers, when supported by the monied interest, to turn the balance in favour of improvement. That it was otherwise in a House composed almost entirely of landholders, only proves that in the agricultural class, as in every class, the purely selfish always form a large majority.
The fate of the Game bill, therefore, is a pretty conclusive proof, what, in this country, the landholders can do: it is also a pretty decisive specimen of what they will do, and such a specimen as, antecedently to experience, it would not have been very easy to anticipate.
Let us see what it is which the landholders get by these laws. They have a little more game to shoot, and a little more game to eat, than they possibly might have, if the game laws were amended; and they have the privilege of sending such game as they have shot, and do not desire to eat, as a present, to an unqualified friend, under pretence of its being a rarity; though all the world knows that it may be had of any poulterer for a few shillings.
Let us now turn our eyes to the other side of the account; and try to form some conception, though it be but an imperfect one, of the price which the Many pay to secure the Few in the enjoyment of these inestimable advantages.
If we were writing for the “great men,” we should descant upon the hardship of denying to the “second son of a man of £20,000 per annum,” the liberty of shooting over his father’s estate,* and refusing to the merchant or manufacturer the luxury of game, unless he happen to have a qualified friend who is able and willing to keep his table supplied. In the eyes of the said second son, or of the said merchant or manufacturer, these grievances might, for aught we know, be more acceptable subjects of remonstrance than those which we have chosen; and there have been pamphlets enough, and speeches enough, in which these and similar topics have been dwelt upon usque ad nauseam. As, however, the little men happen to outnumber the great men in the proportion of some thousands to one; and as, moreover, in our estimation, to be first tempted to crime, and then transported for it, with a considerable probability of being ultimately hanged, is a greater evil than that of being debarred from the pleasure of shooting, or the pleasure of eating, a partridge; we shall leave these last-mentioned privations to the generous indignation of would-be sportsmen, and of aldermen, with their associate speech-makers and pamphlet-makers. Our objection to the Game Laws rests upon a different ground. The class of evils to which we shall direct the attention of our readers, are so immeasurably superior in magnitude, that we cannot think it worth while to insist upon any others.
That among the poorer classes in the game-preserving districts, the crime of poaching is almost universal, and that the habitual poacher almost constantly ends by being a thief, are facts unhappily so notorious, that to adduce any proofs in support of them is a labour which may be spared. It is instructive, however, to mark the acute sense which is entertained of these evils by those who, in their capacity of magistrates, are best able to appreciate their magnitude and extent.
The receipt to make a poacher, [says Lord Suffield,] will be found to contain a very few and simple ingredients, which may be met with in every game county in England. Search out (and you need not go far) a poor man with a large family, or a poor man single, having his natural sense of right and wrong, and as much more as he was taught before he was seven or ten years old; let him absent himself from church, or go to sleep when he is there; give him little more than a natural disinclination to work; let him exist in the midst of lands where the game is preserved; keep him cool in the winter, by allowing him insufficient wages to purchase fuel; let him feel hungry upon the small spare pittance of parish relief; and if he be not a poacher, it will only be by the blessing of God. In the poacher thus easily concocted, my experience justifies me in asserting, that we have at least a fair promise, if not the absolute certainty, of an ultimately accomplished villain.*
The extent and progress of the evil, [says the able author of the letters on the Game Laws,] cannot be conceived by those who are not conversant with the lower ranks in the country villages. From extensive observation and inquiry, I believe in my conscience, that it is not too much to assert, that three fourths of the crimes which bring so many poor men to the gallows, have their first origin in the evil and irregular habits, necessarily introduced by the almost irresistible temptations held out, in consequence of the prohibitions of the Game Laws, to a nightly breach of their enactments. This I can safely declare of my own knowledge—that of the numerous country villages with which I am acquainted, not one exists in which the profligate and licentious characters may not trace the first and early corruption of their habits to this cause. The experience of every impartial magistrate, of every judge of assize, will fortify this assertion; many, indeed, have openly declared it.†
This state of things, dreadful as it is, the situation in which the country labourer is placed, might of itself have led us to anticipate.
It is well known that, over a great part of England, the common agricultural labourer, by the most incessant toil, can scarcely earn more than nine-pence or a shilling a day. In comparison with this the gains of the poacher must be enormous. A gang of poachers has been known to take as much as three sacks of game in one night.* At however low a price game may occasionally have been sold, the dividend of each poacher upon a booty like this must have been ample. The pursuit is not only no toil, but a positive pleasure; the risk of detection is little or nothing; for though an habitual poacher probably is in most cases ultimately discovered, the chances are many to one against the detection of any individual act. The same feelings which guard the honesty of the poor man on other occasions, have no existence here; for nothing is more notorious than that the taking of game is regarded as no crime, either by the offenders themselves, or by their neighbours. A little wire and string are the only materials required; and the facilities which exist for the immediate disposal of game can only be appreciated by those who have read the minutes of evidence taken before the committee of the House of Commons. Is it not, then, much more wonderful that any should resist such temptations, than that so many should yield to them?
If, by frequent and undetected repetition, the poor man has acquired a habit of trusting either wholly or in part to the illegal traffic for his subsistence; the first time that by accident or precaution he is prevented from obtaining his usual supply of game, he is averse to return to that life of toil which he has abandoned, and unable, perhaps, if his practices are suspected, to obtain employment were he to seek it. Inured now to the breach of the laws, he no longer regards the violation even of acknowledged property in the same light as before; what little scruple he has, soon yields to the pressure of necessity, and the orchard, the hen-roost, or the sheep-fold becomes the next object of his depredations. His illicit pursuits, too, bring him into contact with other characters of greater experience in crime; with poachers of longer standing than himself, and of more depraved habits; with thieves by profession, who, in the exercise of their calling, do not neglect a line of business at once so easy and so safe.
The thieves who become poachers, [says Lord Suffield,] united with the poachers who become thieves, are usually those who lead the gangs whose bloody and ferocious deeds are so frequently recorded during the winter months in all the newspapers of the day. These desperadoes provide guns and other instruments, the materiel for poaching—they hire (the fact falls within my own immediate knowledge) poor men, generally upon the same wages, or very little more, than are paid by the game-preserver to his night-watchers—they discipline these unhappy mercenaries in the exercise of their calling—they sometimes claim the whole of the booty—offer their mighty protection, and often actually do pay the penalties, if any novice should get into trouble by detection in a trivial offence on some other occasion; and finally, they undertake to dispose of the game with safety and profit, whenever it suits the convenience of the young beginner to produce any. (Pp. 26-7.)
Under such tuition it is not necessary to trace the progress of the unhappy novice from crime to crime. He who knows the first steps, can imagine the last.
If, on the other hand, he be detected, he is imprisoned for one, two, or three months, with or without hard labour, as the caprice or revenge of the game-preserving magistrate, who sits in judgment in his own cause, may dictate. If things were so ordered in an English gaol, that imprisonment should have the effect of making a man better, instead of worse, this temporary suspension of his illegal pursuits, and separation from his guilty associates, might be made the means of saving him from destruction. After he had endured, or while he was enduring, his allotted quantum of punishment, pains might be taken to eradicate his mischievous habits, to implant good ones in their stead, and to send him forth an altered man. This is what might be done, if prisons were what they might be made. To all who know what English prisons are, it is unnecessary to say, that their effects are precisely the reverse. There is nothing, even in the best of them, which deserves the name of reformatory discipline. Nothing is done to make the prisoner better; and when there is nothing doing to make him better, it is pretty certain, that there is enough doing to make him worse. Habituated to the society of criminals, he not only becomes prepared for the perpetration of any villainy, but learns from his associates the most skilful modes of committing crime and eluding detection. On leaving prison, he finds himself shut out from all decent means of obtaining a livelihood; those to whom he once looked for employment have learned from experience what sort of characters the discipline of an English gaol turns out upon society; his imprisonment, instead of being the instrument of his reformation, is the badge of his infamy, and an effectual bar to his ever retracing his steps, and quitting the path which leads from crime to crime, from punishment to punishment, and terminates in premature death.
This may suffice for a general sketch of the progress of village criminality. Particular instances, without number, might be selected from the works before us, if particular instances could give any additional certainty to general facts so unhappily notorious.
Daniel Bishop, one of the principal officers of the Bow-street Police Office, said on his examination,
“I think within four months there have been twenty-one transported that I have been at the taking of, and through one man turning evidence in each case, and without that they could not have been identified; the game-keepers could not, or would not, identify them.” [Parliamentary Papers, 1823, IV, 138.]
“You detected some men in Dorsetshire; how far did they come?—Sixteen miles, the whole of the village from which they were taken were poachers; the constable of the village, and the shoemaker, and other inhabitants of the village.” [P. 137.]
“Does not the poacher become frequently, what he does not allow himself in the first instance to be, a thief?—Yes; they go on from step to step; I had a case at Bishop’s Stortford, where they began with poaching and went on to thieving; and one was hanged, and there were seven or eight transported for life.” [P. 138.]
“Have you ever heard from any of the poachers that they have been concerned in other robberies?—Yes, I have; poaching is the first step to all depredations; if they are disappointed in poaching, they will go on and rob hen-roosts, or break into any farmer’s house, or steal a sheep, they have told me that.” [P. 136.]
Mr. John Stafford, chief clerk at the Bow-street office, being asked whether he was acquainted with any cases of particular atrocity, answered:
“I think one of the worst cases that I recollect, and that was a pretty early one (in the year 1816), was the case in Gloucestershire, where there was a large gang thoroughly organized, and bound together with secret oaths, that attacked the keepers belonging to the Berkeley estate, near Berkeley castle. Vickery, who was a very intelligent officer, was sent down upon that occasion, and from his exertions and the assistance he met with in the neighbourhood, he was enabled to bring the whole gang, or pretty nearly so, to justice. It consisted of about twenty; there were thirteen or fourteen of them, I think, tried and convicted of the murder. A man of the name of William Ingram, one of the principal keepers, was shot dead upon the spot; another of the keepers had an eye shot out; another was shot through the knee; and several of them were dangerously wounded. A man of the name of Allen, who was a farmer, and also a collector of rates or taxes in the parish, and looked upon as a respectable man, was at the head of that gang; and Allen was executed with a man of the name of Penny, who was a labourer, and was supposed to be the man that actually shot the game-keeper who was killed; the other offenders were all transported for life. And after that a young man, who was a lawyer or a lawyer’s clerk in some village adjoining, and who had administered the oath to those people to bind them together, was also tried and transported; it turned out that he swore them upon a Ready Reckoner,[*] but the court took that as sufficient, it having the effect to bind them.”
“Was the union of these men solely for the purpose of poaching?—Solely for the purpose of poaching in that instance, and the offence arose in the act of poaching. About the same time, I rather think a little before that, there were two men executed at Chelmsford; their offence was not committed in the act of poaching, but they certainly commenced their career by being poachers. There was a shoemaker of the name of Trigg, who lived at a little village called Berden, in Essex, who was shot . . . . Vickery and Bishop were sent down, and I went afterwards myself to direct them, and after a little time they succeeded in apprehending two men whose names were Turner and Pratt; they were apprehended at Bishop’s Stortford, and the number of implements that were found in the possession of these two men, exceeded any thing I ever heard of or saw before. It was astonishing the number of picklock keys they had, also wires, snares, every thing for the carrying on the combined operations of poachers and thieves . . . . Both were convicted and executed for the murder; and one of these men himself told me, that he had all his misfortunes to blame himself for, from originally commencing poacher; that poaching led them out at nights, and into bad company; that when they went out to get game, if they were disappointed in getting game, they would take poultry sometimes, and sheep; and that sometimes, rather than go home without any thing, they would break open houses; and it was in the breaking open of this shoemaker’s shop, that the man was shot in coming down to prevent the act; each charged the other with the actual commission of the murder, but they admitted they were both present.”
“Were these people at the time connected with poaching, and was poaching one of their occupations?—Certainly.”
“From the result of your information, has it appeared to you, that thieves and poachers are frequently connected together in the country, and that they are frequently the same persons?—I think that very soon after men become poachers, they either become thieves or are led into connection with them. I think that many men, perhaps, would not have been thieves if they had not previously become poachers.” [Ibid., pp. 143-4.]
Mr. Page, a Surrey magistrate, whose evidence to this point is particularly valuable, because he is hostile to any alteration in the law, says “I conceive that poachers are all poultry stealers and sheep stealers also.” [Ibid., p. 149.]
Mr. William Peel, another opponent of the bill, stated in Parliament, that one fourth of all the commitments in England were on account of offences against the game laws.[*]
The return made to the House of Commons shews that the number of persons in prison for such offences, in England and Wales, on the 24th February 1825, amounted to 581.[†]
And lastly, Mr. Secretary Peel, in his place in Parliament, declared, that the commitments for this class of offences, during the last six or seven years, had exceeded 9000; being considerably more than 1200 annually.[‡]
When we consider that, at least, eleven-twelfths of these unfortunate persons, from the loss of character which they suffered by being thrown into gaol, and the habits which they acquired while there, became, by a sort of moral necessity, confirmed and accomplished depredators, and the majority in all probability ended their career in New South Wales, in the hulks, or on the gallows, we may form some faint conception of the amount of evil which is annually inflicted upon the community by the game laws. And for what purpose?
Let us concede to the advocates of these laws, all which they could ask. Let us grant that the end and object for which all this misery is occasioned, is not the mere maintenance of an exclusive privilege. Let us grant that the measures proposed by Mr. Stuart Wortley would altogether extirpate the breed of game. This, at least, is the maximum of its mischievousness, the very “head and front of its offending;”[§] and if it did so much, it could not well do more. Now, is there any one, we ask, whose love of partridge is so strong, or his love of his fellow creatures so weak, that if he had to choose between depriving himself of the former, and inflicting all the evils, which we have attempted to delineate, upon the latter, he would feel so much as a moment’s hesitation in making his choice? Or if our great landholders be such persons, have they any reason to complain of any one for holding them up to hatred and contempt?
The end of property, as of all other human institutions, is, or ought to be, no other than the general good. If the existence of any particular kind of property be contrary to the general good, that kind of property ought not to exist. If the existence of game, and the existence of all this crime and misery, be necessarily concomitant, a reward ought to be offered for every head of game till the whole breed be extinct. Nor have there been wanting men who have had honesty enough and courage enough to avow such a doctrine, in the very face of an assembly of landholders. Lord Milton “thought the House had nothing to do with the effect which the bill might have, either as to the increase or the diminution of game. It was not the duty of parliament to provide for the amusement of country gentlemen, but to legislate for the preservation of the morals of the country.”* Lord Suffield, whose benevolence and manliness form so striking, and, to him, so honourable a contrast with the cowardice, the bigotry, and the selfishness, which fill the benches around him, declared in the House of Lords (February 20, 1824) that “so enormous were the evils produced by the present system, that he would give his support to the proposed alteration, though its effect were to be, to sweep every head of game from the face of the earth.”†
According to Mr. William Peel, indeed, even the extirpation of game would not put an end to those evils, of which the existence of game is positively proved to be the cause. “Because if there were no poachers, there would not cease to be criminals. After a few years, when the occupation of poachers should be destroyed, was it supposed that these men would return to the habits of honest industry?”[*] We never met with any one who supposed that because there were no poachers, there would cease to be criminals; nor did we ever meet with any one who supposed, that if there were no murderers, there would, for that reason, cease to be criminals. As little, however, did we ever meet with any one, who argued from thence, that it was not desirable there should cease to be murderers; or that it was not worth while to make a considerable sacrifice, if by any sacrifice this object could be attained. That they who have grown old in the crimes to which they were first allured by the temptations arising out of the game laws, might not cease to be criminals under any laws, is probable enough. But if the dreadful evils which these laws have produced in time past cannot now be remedied, even by the abolition of the laws, does it follow that they should not be prevented from continuing to produce evils equally dreadful in time to come? If it be proved, and the reader can judge for himself whether it be so, that poaching is, to an enormous extent, the cause of other crimes, that cause to which they owe their existence, and but for which, they would not have been; the truism, that “because there were no poachers, there would not cease to be criminals,” will avail the country gentlemen very little.
Mr. Stuart Wortley’s bill is an experiment, and ought to be considered as such. It is an experiment to ascertain, whether it be possible to have the pleasures of game, without the evils of poaching. Granting that its success is doubtful; granting that its promoters have failed of making it perfectly certain that it would really produce all the good which they anticipate; does this exculpate those by whom the bill has been thrown out? No! If they, who have forbidden this experiment, had instituted any other experiment which might afford a better chance of mitigating the evil—if, objecting to this mode, they had pointed out any other mode by which their amusements might be reconciled with the happiness and virtue of their countrymen,—something more might have been said for their benevolence as well as for their wisdom. But if they who have so strenuously resisted this alteration, are as strenuous in their resistance to every alteration in that system which is the cause of such unspeakable evils; if they oppose this plan, only as they oppose every plan by which their exclusive privileges are to be curtailed; then are they accountable for all the misery which is produced, for all the lives which are sacrificed, by the direct or indirect consequences of the system; and whatever appellation is due to the man who, for a paltry gratification, knowingly and wilfully inflicts the greatest conceivable evils upon hundreds and thousands of his countrymen, that appellation properly belongs to them.
The alterations proposed to be made in the existing game laws by Mr. Stuart Wortley’s bill are principally three: 1. to legalize the sale of game. 2. to abolish qualifications. 3. to render game the private property of the person on whose land it is killed.
Of the first two of these proposed changes, we unequivocally approve; and of the principle of the third, though we disapprove of some of the details.
It is against the first proposition, to legalize the sale of game, that the enemies of the bill have mainly directed their opposition. Let us hear what can be said for them on this point, by the ablest of their advocates.
I must be allowed, [says Mr. Bankes,] to insert a short extract from Lord Suffield’s pamphlet. “Few persons, I am apt to think,” says his lordship, “are aware of the sum it costs to rear pheasants. I have seen a very accurate calculation, made upon a series of years, for one of the best stocked estates in the kingdom, and computing at the very lowest rate, it appears that every pheasant killed thereon, has cost the proprietor twenty shillings.” I suggest, then, [continues Mr. Bankes,] that if the proprietor attempts to undersell the poacher, supposing game to be sold at the same rate at which it stands at this day, as between poulterer and poacher, viz. for pheasants, sometimes no more than one shilling a head, he, the proprietor, will lose nineteen shillings a head upon every item of his dealings, and this on the very lowest rate of computation: the idea of underselling, therefore, is absurd, and some other principle of excluding poachers from the market must be fixed upon, or the subject will not bear a grave consideration; for, admitting that the profit of the poacher were reduced far below even the low quotation which I have above made, if he gained only one penny a head, and subjected the landed proprietor, his competitor, to a loss of nineteen shillings and eleven pence farthing, still, is it not clear, that he would poach and sell to advantage? the prime cost of the pheasants to the poacher being the expense of a little wire and string; a cheap and durable material! Of the value of his time and trouble, I say nothing, for it is admitted that he is allured by an innate love of the sport, which is the common property of our nature; no wonder, therefore, if he shall unwillingly forego a course of life, which combines profit with amusement; and, in whatever ratio the profit may decrease, the amusement is still the same: he will pursue it, therefore, so long as the produce will barely feed and maintain him.*
Now this, we own, might appear very plausible, did we not happen to possess positive proof directly in the teeth of it. The evidence taken before the committee establishes, that a considerable proportion of the game which is sold in London, is even now received from the rightful owners. One poulterer says, that he draws one third of his supply from that source. Another, that he has had upwards of 400 head of game per week from a qualified person. Another, that he has had two hampers, or three hampers, a day, from noblemen.[*]
I have heard, [says Lord Suffield,] from a friend, on whose veracity I can place the most perfect reliance, of a nobleman who did send his game to a poulterer. The poulterer returned him in exchange a certain quantity of poultry, for which, without this set-off, he would most unquestionably have been paid in cash. From another friend, equally entitled to credit, I have heard of another nobleman who actually did sell his game to a London dealer, and was annually paid for it in money. From a third friend, whom I believe as implicitly as the two former, I have heard of a country magistrate who now annually pockets from three to five hundred pounds by the sale of his game. . . . An example has fallen within my own knowledge, of a proposal made by a London dealer, to take all the game a gentleman, possessing a large estate well furnished, might choose to send him. And what renders the matter still more singular, and still more illustrative of the fact, that such contracts are common—the party applied to was a gentleman whose character was of a kind to render his entering upon such a traffic utterly improbable, and the dealer had not the slightest knowledge of him, either personally or by intercourse of business. I ask, then—I confidently ask, is it reasonable to suppose that such a proposal as this could be made to a gentleman, unless the professed dealer in game had some reason to think it would be accepted? And what reason could he have for thinking it would be accepted in this instance, but the positive knowledge of similar transactions?†
Proprietors, then, in considerable numbers, do sell their game, and find poulterers to buy it, even under the present law, under which it is alike punishable to deal with the lawful proprietor, and with the poacher; notwithstanding, too, that the game which the gentlemen send, being mostly shot, is usually in worse condition than the snared game of the poacher. There could not well be a more complete practical refutation of Mr. Bankes’s nineteen shilling argument. If a proprietor can afford to sell his pheasants* contrary to law, he can afford to sell them according to law.
We have reason to believe, that Lord Suffield’s estimate of the cost of rearing pheasants is greatly above the mark.† Be this, however, as it may; game is an article, the price of which is not regulated by its cost of production. It is killed for amusement, and not for profit. If so many landholders are willing to rear pheasants at so enormous a cost, for the mere amusement, when they are not permitted to send them to market at all, it is not very likely that, if the sale were legalized, they would cease to rear them, because, in addition to the amusement, they could only obtain five shillings a head for them, and not twenty.
As we are anxious to make every possible concession to our opponents, we will suppose that the object for which game is preserved, is not the pleasure of killing it, but the pleasure of giving it away; a pleasure which would cease, when the game itself ceased to be, or rather to be called, a rarity; and that the game-preserver would no longer incur so great an expense merely for the amusement of shooting. What then? The worst that could happen, is, that there would be no preserves, no feeding, no artificial multiplication of game. Whatever might be the case with the game which is fed and preserved, it cannot be said of the game which flies about and finds subsistence for itself, that the cost of its production is nineteen or twenty shillings. Of such game the cost of production is really nothing; and what Mr. Bankes says of the thief, may be said, with equal truth, of the proprietor, that “even the lowest price must always bring in more than he gave.”[*] The sum total, then, of the greatest evil, which, under any possible circumstances, could arise from the measure, is, that there would be no more battues, and that gentlemen would be under the necessity of resigning themselves to the hard fate of killing, like their fathers before them, twenty or thirty birds in a day, instead of four or five hundred. We cannot say that we think them much to be pitied; we have no sensibility to spare for this kind of distress; and even if the worst fears of the country gentlemen were realized, if an end were put, for good and all, to game-preserving, we are inclined to suspect that the sun would continue to rise and set, very much as usual. Such a consummation, perhaps, is rather to be wished than dreaded;[†] for experience has proved, that if there be one passion, more than another, which, when once it takes possession of a man, has a tendency to extinguish in his mind every spark of humanity, and to make him inflict, without remorse, for the sake of a selfish gratification, the most immeasurable evils upon his fellow-creatures, it is the passion of game-preserving; “the very mention,” it has been truly said, “of hares and partridges in the country, too often puts an end to common humanity and common sense.”[*]
But we are told, that, if game were made saleable, no penalty could be inflicted upon any one for having it in his possession, and the principal means of detecting poachers would thus be sacrificed.
If game is made saleable, [says Mr. Bankes,] it may, by possibility, form part of the provision of the bill which makes it so, that licensed brokers alone shall deal it forth to the public, and that qualified persons alone shall be the first suppliers of it; but, that there should be any qualification or license required for the buyer, is of course out of the question; that which every man may buy, it follows of consequence, every man must have a right to hold in possession, unmolested and uncontrolled; consequently, when the proposed law shall have passed, if the poacher shall succeed in taking his prey from the trap or wire unnoticed, his danger is at an end; if questioned, the law will have furnished him with an answer; nay, how shall the law allow of his being questioned? unless, indeed, under such suspicious circumstances relative to time or place, as would justify the detention of a man under the same circumstances, who might have fowls or any other articles of property about him; but in such cases the detention is solely intended to give opportunity for an owner to come forward, and if no owner shall appear, the suspected party is necessarily discharged. With respect to game, since it cannot be identified, ownership of course cannot be proved; a game-keeper, who should attempt to swear to the bulk or plumage of his master’s pheasants, would he not be laughed at by a jury? It will be of no avail, therefore, to commit a man, though you should meet him not far from your own preserves, with part of your patrimony, ratione soli, peeping from his pockets; for, unless by his own confession, he never can be convicted. Will it be said—Oh! but a poor man—a pauper—a man who has no means—a man who cannot have bought; we may convict him—What? convict him of being poor!*
It is a very trite adage, that prevention is better than cure. If you cannot go to the root of the evil, it is the next best thing, but only the next best, to lop off the branches. So far as regards those who poach for gain, it is sufficiently proved that the motive to poaching would be taken away, if the sale of game was legalized, since they would be undersold by the rightful owner. It is of very little consequence, therefore, so far as they are concerned, whether the facilities of detection would be increased or diminished. What it is not a man’s interest to do, he will not do, whether the facilities of detection be great or small. It is only with respect to those who poach for sport, that the means of detection need to be attended to. What proportion this class of poachers bears to the whole, it is impossible to guess—it can only be proved by experiment. We may be permitted to doubt, however, whether the penalty against unqualified persons having game in their possession, be the chief, or anything like the chief, security against poaching. “Poachers,” says Mr. Secretary Peel, “are much more frequently convicted for being detected in the act of killing game than for having game in their possession. It appeared, from a return of persons convicted for having game in their possession, in Norfolk, Suffolk, Dorsetshire, and Sussex, that they bore no proportion to those convicted for being found out at night in the act of destroying game.”* In fact, as we have already observed, and as is fully proved by the Minutes of Evidence, the facilities for the immediate disposal of game are such, that unless from mismanagement, it can very rarely happen to a poacher to be found with game in his possession, unless the game-keepers have the good fortune to catch him immediately after he has shot it, or taken it out of the snare. It would still be punishable, in any but persons legally entitled to game, or their game-keepers, to possess snares, or any other engines for the destruction of game, except a gun. To be found out at night with a gun, unless for sufficient reasons assigned, might also be punishable.
We have hitherto contented ourselves with pointing out the specific evils arising out of the prohibition of the sale of game, and have abstained from insisting upon the general argument, that all laws, which are practically inoperative, should be repealed. Yet this is an argument which the supporters of the existing laws would find it extremely difficult to answer. “If laws,” says Mr. Secretary Peel, “stand upon our Statute Book which are practically evaded and violated every day; this is of itself a sufficient reason for their repeal—the constant violation of laws is a bad example. And by whom are these laws violated? In general, by those whose duty it is to enforce the laws of the country. It often happens that a gentleman who is occupied during the morning in enforcing the laws, himself sets the example of violating them in a subsequent part of the day.”[*]
The extent to which these laws are violated needs not to be dwelt upon, for it is sufficiently known. Suffice it to say, that one poulterer says, he would undertake to provide every family in London with a dish of game on the same day; another, that he would engage to supply the whole House of Commons, without the least difficulty, twice a week for the whole season; and a third, that he sells on the average 500 head per week for about three months in the season, and has sold upwards of 1200 head in the course of a single week.[†] It appears, indeed, that almost the only person who is ever prevented, by the existing laws, from selling game, is the rightful owner. For the end for which they were designed, no laws can be more completely and notoriously inefficacious. For the end of securing to the thief almost a monopoly of the market, they are unfortunately to a great degree effectual.
On the subject of qualifications, but little needs be said; the state of the law under this head is too ridiculous to require any exposure. Let the reader who wishes to know it in all its absurdity, turn to Mr. Secretary Peel’s humorous description.[*] For what reason should not the poorest man in the kingdom be at liberty to kill game, if invited by the owner of it? except in so far as it might be expedient to make this privilege a source of revenue, by requiring the payment of a certain tax for a game certificate. There cannot be a more unobjectionable subject of taxation; and the only restriction necessary to be observed (a restriction applicable to all other taxes) is, not to raise the tax so high as to afford an adequate motive for its evasion.
To the general principle of vesting the property of game in the owner of the soil on which it is found, there can, as it appears to us, be no valid objection. It has, indeed, been said, that, inasmuch as the produce of the soil which the game feeds on, belongs to the occupier, and inasmuch as it is just that the game should be the property of him at whose expense it is maintained, therefore, the ownership of game should be vested in the occupier, and not in the landlord; a question, in reality, of mere form, and not of substance, since in whatever way this matter might be regulated, the terms of the lease would be adjusted accordingly. The tenant, of course, would be willing to give a considerable additional rent, for the power of destroying, and the right of appropriating game. On the other hand, if the landlord chose to reserve to himself the exercise of the same privileges, either conjointly with his tenant or exclusively (as he now reserves the right of sporting over the land), he would also, as a matter of course, make a proportional abatement of rent.
So much for the principles of the bill. Details are foreign to our present purpose. We shall not, therefore, take up the time of our readers by examining, whether the subordinate arrangements might or might not be improved. We trust that we have sufficiently established the general expediency of the measure.
There is scarcely any thing so bad, as not to have its use; and however bad a thing may appear on the whole, nevertheless in a fair estimate of its character, such uses as it may have, ought not to be omitted. Even the Game Laws, it must be acknowledged, have their uses; and it is but just that these should be taken for as much as they are worth. Accordingly, near the commencement of this article, we made an enumeration of as many of them as at that time occurred to us; which seemed chiefly to consist in affording to honourable gentlemen a few additional pheasants and partridges, to be consumed at their own tables, or despatched (with compliments) to their friends. We omitted, however, to notice one highly important use, of which, to say the truth, we were not, at the time, apprized; but, having since received information of it, fairness requires that we should afford it a place in our pages. That our readers may not suppose it to be the work of our invention, we inform them that it rests on no less authority than that of a writer in the Sporting Magazine, under the signature of “Nimrod,” who, we are told, is regarded as a sort of oracle by the sporting world; and that the person to whom, according to Nimrod, mankind are indebted for the idea, is “a large landed proprietor, a magistrate for two counties, a preserver of game” (this we could have guessed) “and a member of parliament of more than twenty years standing.”
I am one of those, [says this preserver of game,] who think that evil alone does not result from poaching. The risk poachers run from the dangers that beset them, added to their occupation being carried on in cold dark nights, begets a hardihood of frame, and contempt of danger, that is not without its value. I never heard or knew of a poacher being a coward. They all make good soldiers, and military men are well aware, that two or three men, in each troop or company, of bold and enterprizing spirits, are not without their effect on their comrades. Keepers are all brave men, and willingly subject themselves to great perils to preserve their employer’s property.[*]
What a pity that the good old English practice of highway robbery has of late years so lamentably declined; a misfortune for which we are in some measure indebted to the mistaken policy of our ancestors, who most unwisely laid hold of every highwayman they could catch, and hanged him. Had they been gifted with a tithe of the wisdom which falls to the lot of a modern game-preserver, they would have joyfully embraced the opportunity of recruiting the army with such undaunted spirits; in which case the highway might very probably, to the great advantage of the state, have remained a nursery for soldiers to this day. Bereft of this resource, the squires are now compelled to betake themselves to the poachers; who, if they are not highwaymen, are something very nearly as bad.
Considering the vast importance of an army to Great Britain, it would be squeamishness to find fault with the morality of filling the country with bloodshed and murder, in order to make good soldiers; since, after all, it is not much worse than impressment, which, however, we do not remember to have ever heard so ingeniously defended. But we submit that, if to the training of a good soldier it be indispensably necessary that he be engaged, once a week, or thereabouts, in a nightly affray, means might be found of securing to him this inestimable advantage without the expense of so much crime and so much wretchedness to the community. Instead of fighting against the gamekeepers, these future heroes might be set to fight against one another: a battle-royal might be held, if deemed requisite, every “cold, dark night” in the season; with the assistance of a drill-serjeant, they might be put in the way of destroying one another scientifically, which would at all events be a point gained; and if an adequate motive were found wanting, when pheasants and partridges were no longer to be the reward of their toils, parliament could not decently refuse an annual grant, to promote so laudable an end. Or if it be the pains and penalties of poaching, rather than the nighly affrays, which beget that “contempt of danger,” so highly prized by this sporting philanthropist, we would suggest the sending down commissioners, once a year, into every village, there to call together all the able-bodied men in the neighbourhood, for the purpose of drawing lots, which of them should be hanged or transported. This scheme (besides being fairer than the present system) would have a twofold operation, and, indeed, in every supposable case, could not but prove highly advantageous, since if it failed in producing “hardihood and contempt of danger,” it would have the opposite advantage of striking a salutary terror into the lower classes. There is indeed, as we are informed by the same authority, “a certain canting party in the House of Commons, who want to appear better than their neighbours; and, in affectation of finer feelings, would soon, if left to themselves, alter the bold and manly character of this country” (of the poachers, we presume) “but I hope they will never succeed:”[*] these persons who “want to appear better than their neighbours,” for which insolent wish they deserve to be hunted out of respectable society, will be apt to state, as an objection to the proposed plan, that it involves the shedding of innocent blood; but if it be necessary that a certain number of our countrymen should be annually hanged, pour encourager les autres,[†] we conceive that it is better to take hold of the first man you meet, and hang him out of hand, than to wait till he shoots a gamekeeper, and then hang him for the offence.
The arguments of the landed gentlemen against Mr. Stuart Wortley’s bill, are not all of them, it may be supposed, of the force of that last mentioned; several of them, however, are curious, and characteristic. Thus, Mr. William Peel’s “great objection to the bill was, that it would destroy the noble amusement of fox-hunting; for when to the other inducements to destroy foxes, the occupier of land had the additional one of preserving his game, the race would soon be extinct.”[‡] If this be fox-hunting morality, truly fox-hunters seem to be blessed with an easy conscience.
Mr. Lockhart was of opinion, that “qualifications had their value; they afforded inducements to the acquisition of learning and honour, and to the perseverance necessary to attain the stations which conferred them. They were cheap incentives to exertion.”[§] Mr. Lockhart seems to imagine that learning and honour, like waifs and estrays, are perquisites which attach themselves to the lord of the manor.
Mr. Horace Twiss objected to legalizing the sale of game, because “its tendency would be, to degrade the country gentlemen into hucksters.”[*] This being said of those who without any scruple sell the consciences of their tenants at every election, either for money or for power, is not a little ridiculous; but it seems that a man then only becomes a huckster, when he sells that which is his own. Yet we never heard that country gentlemen felt any invincible aversion to selling their timber, or any other part of the produce of the land.
Mr. William Peel “was surprised that his honourable friend, the member for Yorkshire, who was so little of a reformer in general, should have disposed in so radical a manner of the Game Laws, by a bill which would annihilate all the Game Laws in the country.”[†] It is, indeed, but too plain, that this is the first step towards the subversion of the social fabric; and had Mr. Stuart Wortley succeeded in carrying his bill for the annihilation of the Game Laws, no doubt his next step would have been, to bring in a bill for the annihilation of all laws. Mr. Peel, however, did not go far enough, in calling this bill a radical measure. Why not call it atheistical? The epithet would have been equally appropriate.
“Had not this country,” asked Sir John Shelley, “had not this country risen to its highest pinnacle of glory during the existence of these laws.”* We cannot be too thankful to the country gentlemen for their conduct on this occasion. They have ridden all the vulgar fallacies so hard, that one would almost think they had a mind to try how ridiculous they could make them.
But the argument which has been repeated oftenest, and insisted upon most earnestly, is the importance of a resident gentry; a favourite topic in an assembly of landowners, and which was re-echoed from all sides of the House, it is difficult to say by whom loudest, the supporters or the opponents of the measure.[*] By the latter, it was made the foundation for the following exquisite ratiocination. It is of the greatest importance that there should be a resident gentry—now if there be no game, there will be no resident gentry, it being notorious that the only purpose, for which a country gentleman ever resides on his estate, is that of killing game; but if the law be altered, there will be no game; the law, therefore, ought to remain as it is, and we ought to go on as hitherto, making poachers first, giving them time to ripen into thieves, and hanging them afterwards. This is not bad logic, for a country ’squire, and, but that every one of the premises is false, it would be quite unobjectionable.
Assumption the first: Alter the law, and you destroy game. Destroy game, and there will be no resident gentry; this is assumption the second, and a curious one too. A resident gentry is of vast importance; this is the grand assumption of all. If we were content to refute them out of their own mouths, we might ask what great good can come out of the residence of a country gentleman, whose sole motive for residing upon his estate, is, by their own confession, the killing of game? But we wave this: their authority is not worth having, even against themselves.
We ask, then, why it is of such vast importance that country gentlemen should reside on their estates? By what means do they contrive to render their presence so great a blessing to their tenantry? Is it by riding with horses and hounds through the growing corn, destroying for a day’s amusement the labours of a year? Is it by carrying with them a whole host of London retainers, to infect the village with the vices of the town, as if the vices of the country were not sufficient? or if not in either of these ways, how is it?
We shall be told, no doubt, of the unwearied exertions of the country gentlemen in administering justice, and preserving the peace of the country. Particular stress will be laid upon the circumstance, that these exertions are unpaid; it being in this country an article of faith, that whatsoever is unpaid is good, and that every thing is unpaid which a man does not actually pocket money for. The real character of that unpaid magistracy, who, if credit is to be given to their own assertions, are the most glorious of all the glories of this happy country, and who are really the cause why, in England, which is called the land of freedom, the mass of the people are the slaves of a more degrading despotism than they probably are in any other country in Europe, will, on some future occasion, be examined in detail. For the present purpose, a few obvious reflections will suffice: That one-fourth of the annual commitments in England and Wales, and probably, as far as regards the agricultural population, much more than half, are for offences against the Game Laws: That on every one of these occasions, the committing magistrate is at the same time judge and party; that he is deciding in his own cause, just as truly as if he were pronouncing sentence upon a poacher taken on his own estate. The consequences, in a tribunal unchecked by publicity, and subject to no appeal, unless from the magistrates individually to the magistrates collectively, are exactly such as might be expected. But the oppressions practised upon poachers convict, are nothing in comparison with the oppressions which are practised upon those who are only suspected to be poachers. Every one who has lived in the country knows what we mean, and the memory of every one will supply him with numerous instances; though it is not every one who is aware of the legal traps which it is in the power of a magistrate to lay for any one who has offended him—of the number of sleeping laws which he can revive when he pleases, laws which are not, and cannot be, impartially executed, or common justice and common humanity would be shocked, but which it is left to the discretion of a vindictive or tyrannical magistrate to execute or not as he will. Many a man has been immured, many a man is even now lying in a gaol, whose nominal offence has been that of cutting a twig, or going off a path; his real offence, that of being poor, and being suspected, truly or untruly, of being a poacher.
If the reader wishes to form some conception of the extent of the arbitrary power which magistrates possess, let him look at the late Report of Commitments under the Vagrant Laws.[*] Under these laws it is scarcely too much to say, that there is not a man, certainly there is not a poor man, who is not in the power of any one who will take the trouble of watching him for a short time; there is scarcely an act of human life which, if done in the way in which it often must be done by the poor man, is not an act of vagrancy. To convict a man of being a vagrant, little more is necessary than to find him guilty of the crime of being poor.
It is an insult to our understandings to say, that powers like these are not abused. Till lately, indeed, the abuses of magisterial power, like the abuses of almost every other power, were comfortably hidden from the public eye. Of late, however, it has not been in the power of libel law to prevent occasional instances from becoming known. In one instance within our own knowledge an unfortunate man was committed to the treadmill for a month as a “rogue and vagabond” under the Vagrant laws, on no ground whatever but that of being found on a private path. This act of magisterial tyranny took place in Yorkshire.*Ex uno disce alios. It is not every magistrate who would commit an act of this kind; but every magistrate can do so if he please.
[[*] ]James Archibald Stuart-Wortley, Speech in Introducing the Game Laws Amendment Bill (17 Feb., 1825), Parliamentary Debates (hereafter cited as PD), n.s., Vol. 10, cols. 187-9; he brought forward “A Bill to Amend the Laws for the Preservation of Game,” 6 George IV (21 Mar., 1825), with the support of Robert Peel, the Home Secretary, in speeches of 17 Feb. and 7 Mar., PD, n.s., Vol. 10, cols. 528 and 952-6. The bill sought the repeal of such laws as 22 & 23 Charles II, c. 25 (1670) and 57 George III, c. 90 (1817). On 30 Apr., 1825, p. 5, The Times reported the passing of the bill in the Commons; on 10 May, 1825, p. 2, its defeat in the Lords. The authoritative report of the debates not being available to Mill, he uses in this article the debates on the similar bill brought forward by Stuart-Wortley (and supported by Peel) in 1824; see p. 113n.
[[*] ]James Mill, “Periodical Literature: Edinburgh Review,” Westminster Review, I (Jan., 1824), 206-68.
[* ]See Mr. Secretary Peel’s speech [on the Game Laws Amendment Bill], PD, [n.s., Vol. 10, col. 913,] March 11th, 1824.
[* ][Harbord, Considerations on the Game Laws,] pp. 22-3.
[† ][Weyland, A Letter on the Game Laws,] pp. 6-7.
[* ]See the evidence of Daniel Bishop, before the Committee of the House of Commons [on the Laws Relating to Game, PP, 1823, IV, 136].
[[*] ]A work such as The Complete Ready Reckoner, or Trader’s Companion; Shewing . . . the Value of Any Quantity of Goods (London: Tallis, 1822).
[[*] ]William Peel, Speech on the Game Laws Amendment Bill (11 Mar., 1824), PD, n.s., Vol. 10, col. 906.
[[†] ]“Return of the Number of Persons Confined in the Different Gaols of Great Britain, for Offences against the Game Laws,” PP, 1825, XXIII, 565.
[[‡] ]Robert Peel, speech of 11 Mar., 1824, cols. 918-19.
[[§] ]Shakespeare, Othello, I, iii, 80.
[* ][Charles William Wentworth Fitzwilliam, Speech on the Game Laws Amendment Bill,] PD, [n.s., Vol. 11, col. 958,] May 31st, 1824.
[† ][Edward Harbord, Speech on the Game Laws (20 Feb., 1824), ibid., Vol. 10, col. 267.] Lord Normanby also said on one occasion, in the House of Commons, that he wished there was not a head of game in England.
[[*] ]William Peel, speech of 11 Mar., 1824, col. 906.
[* ][Bankes, Reconsiderations,] pp. 7-8.
[[*] ]The evidence of the three poulterers (“C.D.,” “I.K.,” and “L.M.”) is given in “Evidence Taken before the Select Committee on the Laws Relating to Game,” PP, 1823, IV, 120, 129, and 139.
[† ][Harbord, Considerations,] pp. 14-15.
[* ]See the evidence of L.M., porter at an inn, from which we learn, that even pheasants are sold by the proprietors in the same way as other game. [“Evidence,” p. 141.]
[† ]Extract from the evidence of I.K., poultry salesman: “What is the lowest price you ever take for pheasants?—About a shilling or eighteen-pence a-piece; it has been so low this season, at times, that gentlemen who send me game have written to me to say, that the prices were so low, it scarcely paid them for feeding.” [Ibid., p. 129.]
[[*] ]Bankes, Reconsiderations, p. 5.
[[†] ]Cf. Shakespeare, Hamlet, III, i, 63.
[[*] ]Sydney Smith, “The Game Laws,” Edinburgh Review, XXXI (Mar., 1819), 301.
[* ][Bankes, Reconsiderations,] pp. 26-7.
[* ]PD, [n.s., Vol. 10, col. 918,] 11th March, 1824. We quote the debates of 1824, because, when this article was written, those of 1825 had not been published in an authoritative form. [In 1824 the debate centred on Stuart-Wortley’s “Bill to Amend the Laws for the Preservation of Game,” 5 George IV (23 Feb., 1824), PP, 1824, I, 579-92. For the debates of 1825, see p. 101n above.]
[[*] ]Speech of 11 Mar., 1824, cols. 914-15.
[[†] ]“Evidence,” pp. 126 (“G.H.”), 118 (“C.D.”), and 127 (“I.K.”).
[[*] ]Speech of 11 Mar., 1824, cols. 913-14.
[[*] ]Charles James Apperley (“Nimrod”), “Of the Game Laws,” Sporting Magazine, n.s. XVI (Aug., 1825), 307-8.
[[*] ]Ibid., p. 308.
[[†] ]François Marie Arouet Voltaire, Candide, ou l’optimisme, in Oeuvres complètes, 66 vols. (Paris: Renouard, 1817-25), Vol. XXXIX, p. 290.
[[‡] ]Speech of 11 Mar., 1824, col. 906.
[[§] ]John Ingram Lockhart, Speech on the Game Laws Amendment Bill (11 Mar., 1824), PD, n.s., Vol. 10, col. 910.
[[*] ]Speech on the Game Laws Amendment Bill (31 May, 1824), ibid., Vol. 11, col. 957.
[[†] ]Speech of 11 Mar., 1824, col. 905.
[* ][Speech on the Game Laws Amendment Bill (11 Mar., 1824), PD, n.s., Vol. 10, col. 905.] It was the same Sir John Shelley, who, in the last session, made it a matter of reproach to the Spring Gun Bill, that it “made the preservation of a gooseberry of greater value than the preservation of a pheasant.” Had he been wise, (for we will not speak here of justice or humanity), he would have reserved such sentiments for his sporting companions: though even among these (such is now the prevalence of liberality and right feeling) he might have chanced to find some to whom they would have been far from acceptable. We do not affect surprise, that a country gentleman should esteemnothing of any importance, except his own amusements; any more than that a child who has been spoiled at home, should continue when abroad to expect that the interests and inclinations of every body should give way to his whims. That a man should prefer himself to others is natural enough; but a prudent man takes pains to hide this preference, instead of ostentatiously publishing it to the world. We presume that Sir John Shelley (as frequently happens to our agricultural Solons) conscious that he had the sympathies of a majority of the audience whom he was addressing, had forgotten that there is now a public in this country: we think he could not else have failed to perceive that such an exhibition of undisguised selfishness was calculated to be any thing rather than creditable to him in their eyes. It might become Sir John Shelley to reflect (if it be not too much to expect reflection from an agricultural pericranium) that if a gooseberry be not so good a mark as a pheasant, for a country gentleman to shoot at, the consumers of gooseberries, however, are rather more numerous than the consumers of pheasants; and that the fruit and vegetables of a market gardener, on which his subsistence depends, may be as well worthy of protection, and may need it as much, as the hares and partridges of a sporting ’squire. [For the Bill, which was not enacted, see “A Bill, Intitled, An Act to Declare Unlawful the Setting of Spring Guns, and Other Offensive Engines,” 6 George IV (28 Mar., 1825), PP, 1825, III, 599-601.]
[[*] ]See, e.g., William Peel and Shelley, speeches of 11 Mar., 1824, cols. 906 and 905.
[[*] ]“Return of Persons Committed under the Vagrant Laws,” PP, 1824, XIX, 215-338. For the law, see 5 George IV, c. 83 (1824).
[* ]The case to which we allude is notorious in the county. The committing magistrate was indicted, and a true bill found against him by the grand jury, but the prosecution was dropped, the affair (it is universally believed) having been compounded by the payment of five hundred pounds to the prosecutor.