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Wild Sports of the West
With Legendary Tales and Local Sketches in two volunes by William Hamilton Maxwell (1833)


Some explanation may be necessary for obtruding upon the public the private details of a sportsman’s life, and particularly when the scene of his exploits is laid within “the four seas of Britain.” In the customary course of field adventure, few besides the individual concerned are much interested in the successes and disappointments he experiences: and rural sports are, in all their general incidents, so essentially alike, as to render their minute description, almost invariably, a dull and unprofitable record.

Circumstances, however, may occasionally create an interest which in ordinary cases would be wanting. From local connexions, a field almost untrodden by any but himself was opened to the writer of these Sketches. He was thrown into an unfrequented district, with a primitive people to consort with. With some advantages to profit from the accident, a remote and semi-civilized region was offered to his observation; and although within a limited distance of his majesty’s mail-coach, a country was thus disclosed as little known to the multitude as the interior of Australasia ; and where, excepting some adventurous grouse-shooter, none have viewed its highlands or mingled with its inhabitants.

That the scenic and personal sketches are faithful the reader is assured; some were written on the spot, and others traced from vivid recollection. Those with whom the author shot these wild moors, or fished the waters, will best estimate the fidelity of the descriptions; and one valued friend, though now beneath another sun, will probably recall the days he spent by “fell and flood,” and bring to memory those light and joyous nights.

Of the actors in the following scenes, some are still living, while others are no more. The colonel, that best and honestest of boon companions, sleeps with his fathers; and old John and the Otter-killer have gone the way of all flesh. The priest, “mine honoured friend,” I rejoice to say, is still healthy and vigorous ; in his wild but happy retirement he holds “the noiseless tenor of his way,” exercises hospitality most liberally to the stranger, and throws forty feet of silk and hair better than any artist in the empire. Last of the ‘dramatis personae,’ Hennessey is in full force, and *mulalo nomine,’ may still be found in Ballycroy.

With regard to the tales and legends narrated in the succeeding pages, the former were told just as they are introduced. “The Blind Seal” is known to be substantially true: I have heard it from many and never knew its veracity impugned. My lamented friend was himself the principal actor in “the Night Attack;” and he, poor fellow, was exactly the man who in an affray, or a carouse, might be depended on. The heroes of the “Gold Snuffbox” are alive and merry, and long may they continue so! for “truer friends and better company” never listened to the “chimes at midnight.” “Mr. Dawkins” is, I believe, engaged in seeking through Doctors Commons to be relieved “e vinculo matrimonii"-— and “Mr. Burke” duly announced among the last arrivals in the Sidney Gazette.

Respecting the legendary stories, I have no pledge to offer for their authenticity,—old Antony believed them to the letter—I have given them nearly in his own words, and I may say with Sir Walter Scott,

“I cannot tell how the truth may be;
I say the tale as ’twas said to me.”

“The Legend of Knockathample” remains as the Otter-killer related it; but with “Rose Roche” I confess to have taken liberties, in suppressing a portion of her flirtation with the “black-eyed page,” which, although, upon the lady’s part, I feel convinced was perfectly platonic, yet by uncharitable constructions might be tortured into something like indiscretion.

If I have undervalued those rural recreations in which many a worthy citizen sometimes dissipates, I hope my contempt for his avocations will be ascribed to the true cause, namely, that local advantages have spoiled my taste and rendered me fastidious. He who can shoot grouse upon the moor will spend little time in killing pigeons from the trap; the angler who in a morning hooks some halfscore salmon, would reckon it but sorry amusement to dabble in a pond. To a Galway rider, the Epping hunt would be a bore, and he would probably treat it with the same contumely that one of this redoubted body did hare-hunting, by riding to the hounds in morocco slippers, and carrying an open umbrella to protect him from the sun.

As I have casually named “an honoured name,” I lament that it was not his fortune to have visited those interesting scenes, where I have been so long a useless wanderer. The wild features and wilder associations of that romantic and untouched country, would have offered him a fresh field whereon to exercise his magic pencil— and many a tale and legend still orally handed down, but which in a few years must of necessity be forgotten, would have gained immortality from the touch of “the mighty master.” But alas ! the creations of his splendid imagination will no more delight an enchanted world. The wand is broken, the spell is over, the lamp of life is nearly exhausted—and even now, Scotland may be mourning for the mightiest of her gifted sons.

As a votive offering, these volumes are inscribed to that matchless genius, by an humble, but enthusiastic admirer of Sir Walter Scott.

Sydenham, 12th September.

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