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Game-laws are enough to make the blood of the most temperate boil with indignation.'
Such then is as much of our case against the game-laws, as we deem it necessary to bring forward. We will now proceed to examine the Honourable Grantley Berkeley's vindication of their humanity, their justice, and their essential bearing on the social, moral, and religious interests of the poor. It is generally admitted to be the best defence of the game-laws with which the public have been favoured. It is the production of an Honourable and an M.P. ; of the younger brother of a peer-the ennobled possessor of Berkeley Castle—which has the historic notoriety of having been stained with nobler blood than that of pheasants, or even of poachers ;—of the hero of twenty-six personal encounters in defence of game, who has the distinction of having got himself sworn as a special constable for the capture of a party of marauders, and of having succeeded in the glorious enterprise; whose extensive experience has taught him the grand secret of protecting the sanctuary of the cover, namely, 'a well directed punch of the head,' and showing them their own blood !' When, in addition to all this, we assure our readers, that the work before us is written with that fine enthu. siasm which the subject would naturally inspire, we have surely said enough to enlist their deepest interest, and to vindicate for it a place, (it will need, by the way, the editorship of Colonel Gurwood), beside the dispatches of the Duke of Wellington.
Its title page, which, if rhetorical laws were as rigid as game laws, would probably have subjected the author to some awkward consequences, runs as follows. “A pamphlet in defence of the Game-laws
Jn Reply to the Assailants; and on their effects upon the morals of the poor.' It may occur to some that the clause in old English might have been omitted, as defensive pamphlets are so much more commonly written in reply to assailants than to those who fully concur in the views of the writer. But perhaps it may be fairly allowed to peers and honourables, who intrude themselves so seldom upon the literature of their country, to use, when they do write, as many words as they please. Mr. Berkeley's pamphlet is so utterly defective in connection and arrangement, that it is impossible to adopt with respect to it any ordinary method of criticism. We must confine our attempt to the somewhat difficult task of seizing the most prominent points of his argument. The very commencement of his pamphlet may be taken as a fair specimen of that total disregard to known facts which distinguishes the whole production.
This advocate of the exclusive right of the aristocracy to the amusements secured by the game-laws, has the effrontery to boast that he has always 'advocated the interests of the poor, and endeavoured, not unsuccessfully, to uphold them in their rights, their sports, and their recreations;' and designates his opponents as 'self-sufficient Quixotes, who seek to trample on those rights, whether they be those of amusement, of food, or healthful locomotion. It may safely be conceded to Mr. Berkeley, that as a controversialist he makes it very difficult for any one to reply to him. What can be said to a man who, in advocating the most rigid protection of game, pretends to be ruled by an interest in the rights, sports, recreations, and healthful locomotion of the poor !
Had he pretended a regard for the morals or the industrious habits of the poor, there might have been some plausibility in his assumption, but the audacity of such a boast as this can only be met with the gaze of blank astonishment-its only consistency is with the honourable writer's constabulary tactics. It is giving the whole thinking public a 'well directed punch on the head. In the next page Mr. Berkeley has the boldness to affirm that the crime of poaching has not at all increased beyond the ratio of population, and that "it has not increased in any greater extent than other crimes, and not nearly so much as many others. It is impossible to reason with a man who thus sets all the most notorious facts at defiance. We need not refer to statistics, inasmuch as the reports of every daily paper, the incessant complaints of magistrates, and the solemn remonstrances of juries, stamp this assertion as not only false, but ridiculous. If Mr. Berkeley does not wish to be classed in reputation with Busfield Ferrand, we would recommend him to suppress his pamphlet on the game laws. We are not surprised to see the above outrageous assertion immediately succeeded by the following sentence :- I am also prepared to show that, so far from having a demoralising tendency, or of being injurioas to the welfare of the lower classes, the game laws are founded on sound and rational principles, and have a beneficial effect in regard to the proprietor, the tenant, the yeoman, and the poor.'
As the Honourable Mr. Berkeley, according to his own account, has been engaged in six-and-twenty personal encounters with poachers, he does not affect to deny that some offences, however few, are committed against that sacred palladium of British morals and prosperity, the game-law; and for the development of his theory on the causes and the remedy of these irregularities, we must endeavour to disentangle the confused mass of paragraphs which lies before us. As, however, any attempt to condense his notions into an intelligible abstract VOL. XVII.
would be altogether futile, we must adopt the method pursued by council with a garrulous or superannuated witness, and let him tell his own tale, with as little interruption as may be.
Mr. Berkeley first attempts to show that the undue and horrible severity with which offences against the game laws are visited, does not contribute to the fatal effects of encounters between poachers and keepers, or, as he invariably terms it, of murder; charging the guilt by a petitio principii, which can only be pardoned in a young logician, upon the poacher and not upon the keeper. He says :
'I may be permitted here to turn to other statutes, and invite the public attention as to how far the mitigation of punishment has led to the prevention of crime, where the experiment has been tried. Has the abolition of the punishment of death lessened the crime of forgery? No. Forgery has increased to a frightful extent. Has the reluctance to visit murder with that unflinching severity, so honestly and religiously demanded at the hands of man, lessened its perpetration ? No. We have the fearful fact from the lips of a culprit who murdered his sergeant on parade, when he found that death was to be awarded to his crime, that had it not been from the observation he had made as to the rarity of the fact and reluctance in government to carry out the capital punishment, and the hope he therefore imbibed that he should but be transported for life, he would never have murdered his non-commissioned officer.
*The severity of punishment on persons banded and armed at night for the destruction of game does not produce murder rather than submission.'-pp. 6, 7.
This may be regarded as a fair specimen of the author's utter recklessness of assertion—of what may be properly called his 'punch on the head' method of reasoning. Where does he find his proof that forgery has frightfully increased far beyond the ratio of increased population, since the amendment of the law ? Can he be ignorant of the fact that the certainty and fixedness of punishment is far more effective than its severity, fluctuating, as all severe punishments must be, through the scruples of prosecutors, the humanity of jurors, the stupid tyranny of magistrates, and the testy caprice of judges ? If so, we beg to refer him from the extorted confessions of culprits to the enlightened and comprehensive views of such jurists as Romilly and Mackintosh.
His next argument appears to be directed not so much in support of the game laws as against those which obtain in our solar system, and which regulate the succession of day and night. He puts into the mouths of his opponent the following unspeakably silly enquiry :
"What is the reason, then,' asks the surface observer, 'why
there are more murders in poaching cases by night than there are by day? Does it not arise from the difference in the grade of punishment ?
". It does not arise, he replies, ‘from the difference in the punishment by which the heavier and the lighter crimes are met.''
And after a series of sentences, which are really too foolish to be quoted, he adds :
• There are a thousand obvious reasons why the night should be the more probable time for murder than the day.'-pp. 8, 9.
Of course there are. Who doubts it? When men are forbidden, under heavy penalties, from exercising what they deem their just rights, they prefer the obscurity of the night to the dangerous openness of the day. Christian martyrs and persecuted dissenters have even been driven to the same necessity. The obvious hinge of the question is the rigidly restrictive character of the game laws, and upon this our author is wisely silent.
The next cause to which Mr. Berkley refers, is the beer shop:
• Inflamed with the beastly drugs of the pothouse, and in the hope of being shielded from observation by the obscurity of night, the cowardly and brutal ruffian fires his gun, without any very clear reason in his brain as to the cause of his doing so, save in the hope of injuring some honest man. The severity of punishment consequent on capture no more hastens the murderous grasp on the trigger than it hastens the next year's snow; the ruffian steals, &c., &c.'
And again (p. 17), 'watching in the cold drives him to drink with the evil companions of his sport, &c. Now we beg to ask Mr. Grantley Berkeley, whether his keepers are members of the temperance society ? Have they no acquaintance with the butler at the hall ? Are keepers so differently constituted from other men, that watching in the cold midnight never suggests to their minds the convenience of a flask of gin? Do they not carry guns? And would it be an unpardonable impeachment of their character to imagine that they may now and then be a little pot-valiant in their encounters with the unauthorised sportsman ? But Mr. Berkeley tells us that he himself has been in the habit of accompanying his keepers all night in their rounds. Did he never fortify himself against the cold of the midnight watch with those creature-comforts to which mendacious rumour hints that sportsmen are slightly addicted. Did punch in the stomach never precede the well-directed punch on the head,' which he has so gloriously inflicted in his twenty-six encounters ? On these points, as on the drunkenness of poachers, Mr. Berkeley unfortunately adduces no evidence whatever.
One of our author's strongest points, however, is that no man is led to the conventional crime of poaching by distress, and on this he cites the evidence of the Duke of Beaufort, whom all who are acquainted with his Grace's character and pursuits, must, of course, regard as an unprejudiced witness. Now, if by distress these honourable and noble game preservers mean the temporary and total destitution of food for their families, without the slightest prospect of supply, we can admit their statement with a comparatively slight discount; indeed, in such a state of things, the labourer would be more likely to pawn his gun, than to load it; but then, gentlemen have yet to learn that syncope from starvation and the raging fever of famine, are not the only forms of distress, though such alone may constitute their criterion. Children, with insufficient rations of oatmeal and potatoes—wives sinking, perhaps, in pregnancy, from want of adequate support - limbs incapacitated by rheumatism, from want of fuel and blankets, are indications of what humane men designate as distress, by whatever terms they may be known in the vocabulary of the aristocracy; and these, we have abundant evidence to prove, are some of the many temptations to the infraction of the
laws. Besides, Mr. Berkeley tells us that poaching (i.e. by his own showing, nocturnal poaching) is extensively pursued as a trade; men, boys, and even women, he tells us, are accustomed to exterminate the game in the fur, the feather, and the egg.
"In Wiltshire, my keeper caught a woman in the act of setting traps for game, her husband thinking that she would attract less sus. picion than himself, and that we should deer her as simply employed in gathering sticks for fuel. In each of these places I had the rights of sporting, and set about a speedy reformation. In each of these places some of the tenantry were the first whom I caught poaching; and in each place I had personally to establish a character for determination of purpose and aptness of hand, before I could enforce obedience. In addition to the rebellious spirit of the lower orders, consequent on long neglect of the laws and habitual demoralization which ever attends their slightest infringement, I was hampered with the weak and prosy decision of timid injustice, for I seldom attained justice.'
Now, men, women, and children, do not usually act withont motives; and nightly watchings coupled with Mr. Berkeley's
well directed punch of the head,' and the agreeable sight of their own blood,' are not the most powerful incentives to this kind of sport; yet our author has the simplicity to assure us that the game do no harm to the farmers' crops and the labourers' cabbages; and even adduces an instance of one old man who, in a fit of landlord loyalty, declared that he thought