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SPORTING IN AFRICA*
John Bright should be in ecstasies! Roualeyn Gordon Camming, after five years absence from his native land, returns to help the member for Manchester to abolish the game laws. What will be the use of laws for the preservation of game when the game itself is repudiated? Five Years of A Hunter's Life has already reached a second edition. Two editions more will about exhaust the sporting readers of the United Kingdom; and what sportsman then, what individual with a blush of shame in his fallen nature, will survey a poor partridge with a nobler sentiment than he regards the barn-door fowl? We dare the British lion to spend his magnificent energies in running a timid unresisting hare off his agitated legs the instant he ascertains how the unaided pluck of one man has extinguished the supremacy of his African prototype. As easily imagine that England's admired aristocracy will pass their holydays in catching flies and flaying earwigs, as suppose that they will condescend to cowardly battues, having learnt how the uncaged lion himself may be met on equal terms, and vanquished bravely, as a king should be. It is time to enlarge the sphere of our recreations. In all that concerns our daily occupations ACHIEVEMENTS OF A HERO. 259
* Times, Sep. 19, 1850.
we have been marching of late in seven-leagued boots. With respect to our manly pleasures we are still in swaddling clothes. In the days of railroads and electric telegraphs, marine and earthly, it is really too derogatory to human dignity to gallop after a harmless puss, with the view of giving fire to the blood of the undignified pursuer. We have never awakened to the fact before, so complacently does wonder sleep upon the neck of custom. Roualeyn the First opens our eyes with his rifle, and it will not be that potentate's fault if we lazily close them again.
It is not, however, without an alarming sense of inability that we presume to deal with the adventures of Roualeyn Gordon Cumming, prince of hunters, conqueror and autocrat of all the beasts. We are conscious of our great audacity in venturing even to quote the achievements of a hero, now for the first time in his life weeping because there are no more animals to vanquish, and desolate because the megatherium was disposed of before he took to shooting. What can the feeble quill say of a gentleman who quitted Great Britain that he might take part in a war against savages, and bade adieu to civilization and the Cape, because warring with mere men yielded no relish to his splendid and bloody ambition? With what spirit shall we address ourselves to the labours of a fellow Christian who seriously informs us, that "the sweetest and most natural sounds" he ever heard were the bellowings of a whole troop of hungry lions, to which he listened in the depths of a forest at the dead hour of midnight, "unaccompanied by any attendant, and ensconced within 20 yards of the fountain" which
the said lions were awfully approaching; that it was "a joyful moment" to him when, on another occasion, he found himself face to face with a maddened lioness, and he "at once made up his mind that she or he must die"—the chances being twenty to one at the moment in favour of the brute? How can we assimilate our notions of things in general with those of an individual who gravely assures us that "lion hunting may be followed to a certain extent with comparative safety," and that nothing more is required of "him who would shine in the overpoweringly exciting pastime of hunting this justly celebrated king of beasts," than "a tolerable knowledge of the use of the rifle, and acquaintance with the disposition and manner of lions ( ! ), perfect calmness and self-possession ( !! ), and a recklessness of death ( !!! ) V To speak the plain truth, Mr. Roualeyn Gordon Cumming's ideas of enjoyment are so very peculiar, and the coolness with which he talks of things unpleasant is so absolutely frightful, that a flesh and blood reviewer is about as much at home with him as the adventurous editor of a weekly newspaper found himself the other day deciding, with bludgeons on either side of him, between the respective merits of the amiable Tipton Slasher and the not less redoubtable Bendigo.
We are not too proud to acknowledge our utter incapacity in the presence of a personage who cannot close his eyes o' nights for the intense amusement he derives from a mad chorus of leopards, elephants, and hyenas, all screaming within a few yards of his dormitory; who mourns for a gun that bursts in his hands "as David mourned for Absalom;" who "takes coffee"
PLEASANT WORK. 261
and then "rides for a leopard;" who closes a chapter of his journal and tumbles into his hole with a memorandum, that "lions roar about the camp all the evening" jotted down in the temper of an elderly gentleman closing his diary with the unexciting remark, "thermometer 53 in the shade;" who discovers to his horror the corpse of a faithful follower half eaten up by a lion, and endeavours "to divert his mind" by starting at once "in quest of elephants;" who takes to crocodile shooting as a recreation after sterner sport as a man inclines to a rubber after chess; who "ends a grim lion's career with a single ball behind the shoulder, cutting the main arteries close to the heart," and then affectingly "plucks a lock of hair" from the beloved one's mane, that he may wear it close to his bosom in everlasting and tender remembrance: who, struggling with a hippopotamus in the water, expresses "his great astonishment," as he might have done had he been struggling with a new-born babe, that " he could not guide the monster in the slightest; but she continued to splash and plunge and blow, and make her circular course, carrying him along with her as if he were a fly on her tail;" who "could not die happy" until he had slaughtered an elephant, and who positively describes as "pleasant work" an encounter with one of the giants of the forest, in the course of which the mighty beast received "35 balls, all about and behind his shoulders," and receiving them was fain to reduce his furious pace "to a very slow walk," for "blood flowed from his trunk and all his wounds, leaving the ground behind him a mass of gore; his frame shuddered violently, his mouth opened and shut, his lips
quivered, his eyes were filled with tears;" who chases rhinoceros as boys run after butterflies, and who cannot for the life of him conceive that "the coward exists not prepared to die" any moment for a lovely and glorious land uninhabited by any but savage beasts and equally wild and less governable men.
Travellers tell strange tales, especially just now, of Africa. The last accounts furnished by the explorers into the far interior make known the startling fact, that the country, instead of being as supposed a worthless desert, is a land of snowy mountains, great rivers, and inhabited not by negroes but by people as white as ourselves. According to Mr. Gumming, the portion of Africa to which he confined his exploits, is quite as remarkable as himself—and that is saying much. A bite of a dog, as everybody knows, is nothing to laugh at in England; in Africa a snake may "spit his poison into the eye of a marksman, and yet never interfere with his skill in drawing his bow." One night, whilst Roualeyn was occupied " bagging buffaloes, rhinoceros, koodoos, zebras, and other game, a horrid snake," writes the hunter, "flew up at my eye and spat poison into it. Immediately I washed it well out at the fountain. I endured great pain all night, but the next day the eye came all right." In Africa you may live in the water and take no harm, suffer acute rheumatism and experience no inconvenience, lose all your strength and yet not be in the slightest degree feeble. "On the 15th," it is written in Roualeyn's diary, "I felt very ill, but in the forenoon I went down to the river, where I shot two sea-cows. In the evening, feeling worse I bled myself, but strong fever was on me all night."