« AnteriorContinuar »
entered, but came in just as I effected a brilliant “ fancy cannon.” I could scarcely believe my eyes. Close-shaved, his curling locks cut off, but with the same fresh complexion, the same merry smile—that marker was Frank Morrison. He appeared in no way taken aback at meeting me, talked freely of his difficulties, his position, and his hopes~in short, went cheerfully over past, present, and future, and seemed to make quite as good a marker as he had made a dandy. I am ashamed to say,
I lent him five pounds; and on my return the following afternoon, he was gone, por have I ever seen him since.
My old friend Captain Taffrail, of the merchant service, is very full of a most delightful passenger whom he took out with him, under a false name, on his last trip to the gold-diggings ; and I have casually heard of a very agreeable man at this moment attached to Omar Pasha's staff in the Balkan ; from all I can make out, one or other of them must be Frank Morrison, nor is it quite impossible that he may be identical with both.
THE SPIRIT OF
The heath of Newmarket, the downs of Epsom, and the royal turf of Ascot, have won honours as immortal as those achieved by Olympia of old ; not, however, with a breathing interval of four years, but year by year, and month by month, as if there were no end to either resources or excitement, and those innumerable impulses which concentrate their tens of thousands at each favourite place. So, travelling a little northwards, we meet with a town which, dedicated with an equally aspiring zeal to Jupiter Olympius, and encouraged by the example of Iphitus, lays as high a claim to celebrity as any of its southern rivals. Exactly one mile from the heart of the borough stands this celebrated spot—this famous common ; not distinguished, like Chobham, for encampment and sham fight; yet common to the foot of the pedestrian-common to the hoof of the horseman-common to the tire of the carriage wheel ; as common, too, to the bound of the race-horse, as gladdening to the eye of the stranger; as common, also, to the call of the lapwing, as to the zig-zag flight of the snipe ; to the little pyramid of yellow gorse, as to the swing of the tiny hare-bell in the gentle breeze.
The road to this immense arena, where the first qualities of the best equine competitors, fleetness and endurance, are put to the severest of all tests, is flanked by giant elms, whose huge arms overhang a wide gravel foot-path, railed off from the broad level turnpike, both of which are capable of receiving a stream of human beings in carriages or on foot, sweeping or moving along to the wide-spread treble-piled green carpet, decorated with white rails, line beyond line, divided into courses, and so arranged that the pedestrians, also railed off, do not suffer the least annoyance from either vehicles or horsemen. Beyond the entrance to this common, on the line of the St. Leger rails, extends a noble avenue
of younger elms, planted by the defunct corporation, one of whose members, who had seen some seventy-five winters, exclaiming to his fellowcustodians, on the completion of the scheme, “Yes, gentlemen, we shall have the finest avenue of elms in all England in fifty years hence !” And the council chamber rang with applause.
It would require a brighter intellect than that of a Marmontel or a Macaulay to pierce into all the mysteries of racing, to untwist its sinuosities, and to reconcile its contradictions. But what can the Spirit of the Turf not accomplish? It levelled the common, smoothed the turf, and divided it into courses ; fenced them off ; and provided for the accommodation and security of all parties. It reared the Grand Stand, with its annual receipt of some four thousand pounds; and affording a splendid sight above, spreads below the sumptuous board with rich viands and sparkling wines, for the entertainment of visitors-winners and losers alike. It built the Nobleman's Stand, aristocratic and exclusive. It reared also the New Stand, with its weighing-room, its clerk-of-thecourse's room, and its reporters' room ; or, rather, not to speak it profanely, the gentlemen of the fourth estate, who enlighten and entertain the public, through the morning and weekly journals, with faithful details of the racing banquet spread out at second-hand, and garnished with a little pleasant fiction and many a plausible sham; while, close at hand, the forked-lightning flag of the electric telegraph denotes that it is ready to transmit the word on the wires to all parts of the kingdom, with the marvellous rapidity of its own emblem. It sloped the lawn, where the horses are stripped, saddled, and mounted, and where critical eyes measure every racing point, and anxious countenances indicate confidence or doubt, as the skill of the trainer is put to the test of accurate judgment, or the peculiarities of sire or dam are traced line after line with extraordinary correctness ; the green lawn, with its white bettingring in the centre, where a multitude of confused voices—one louder than the rest-proclaims the excitement of the moment; with the depth of the cool calculator ; the recklessness of the puzzled novice ; the quiet confidence of the old-hand ; the wildness of the desperate adventurer ; the foresight which depends upon the truth of public performances, condition, and blood ; and the ignorance or stupidity that runs riot with one idea. It turns over the leaves of the betting-book, Crockford-like, with extraordinary rapidity, and can tell in a moment which way the wind blows, and on what tack to steer ; whether six to four can be afforded, or five to two rejected ; whether, awaiting for an unexpected turn in the market, eight to one can be laid out, when ten to one had been previously accepted ; looking, if the worst comes to the worst, that, by judicious management, ten per cent. is certain upon the whole sum laid
But it requires a clear head, a quick eye, and a sharp ear, to mark every flow and ebb of the betting tide, and to seize it at the flood which suits the figures in the book, with, immediately afterwards, the decision of the judge confirming the fortune of the lucky moment.
But it is not so with the man of one idea. Led, in the first instance, by some victory of the preceding year, his attention becomes turned to, or fixed upon one particular horse ; and he thinks about the matter so continually, that his mind becomes impressed with the conviction that he is sure to win in spite of all opposition. These impressions are strengthened from time to time by favourable reports from the stable, until they
become indelibly fixed by assurances from the trainer himseif, who is a man of acknowledged skill and experience, that his horse is in the best possible condition ; with the adjuncts, “and we are fully persuaded, barring accidents, that he will carry off the great prize on Wednesday next.' Indeed, his mind becomes so wedded to one notion, that the race is as good as won already ; and even the faults of the favourite are turned into beauties. It is his thought by day, and his dream by night. He is continually lingering about the stable-yard of this wonderful animal, and ready to catch at every straw which may be blown up by the wind in that quarter. His dreams by night confirm the day's impressions: he sees more visions than Laud, and possesses more estates than Burleigh ; and he almost fancies that he hears the decision as of old-Eclipse first, and the rest nowhere. Forgetting that he has only one chance, with twenty against him, he ventures all upon the result, which might have been easily foreseen, and disregards the advice of his friends that he is acting upon erroneous notions, His favourite is a bad third in the race ; and the man with one idea, buying experience in the dearest market, is ruined.
If, however, rashness or indiscretion, blindness or greediness of gain, should, in these as in all other matters, hurry a man on the road that leads to the precipice of ruin and destruction, the Spirit of the Turf accomplishes wonders in other forms. This spirit raised a stable-boy, with eight guineas a year and a stable suit, to the jockey's saddle, in which he won the highest reputation, and became the owner of horses himself. The same spirit changed an inn-waiter into the possessor of a splendid first-rate stud. The same spirit exalted a Bristol butcher to be the magnate of the ring and a member of the House of Commons. The same spirit raised an obscure man from the joiner's bench, to become the great leviathan of the mystio circle—the proposer of odds to an amount calculated to terrify the rest of book-makers ; as, for instance, “ Seventy-five thousand to thirty-five thousand against Autocrat for the Derby ; who says done?” It seems difficult to reconcile such a desperate venture, and similar ventures, with the sober dictates of prudence and discretion. But, unless a sight of the contents of the "book” could be obtained, no correct judgment can be formed in the matter, which must remain inexplicable. The enthusiasm of the adventurer may not infect those around him or before him ; but it awakens thein to the nature of their own position.
The same spirit likewise cheered, as winners of racing honours, the hearts of dukes, marquises, earls, barons, baronets--Rockingham, Exeter, Hamilton, Fitzwilliam, Leeds, Scarbrough, Eglinton, E. Bentinck, Gascoigne, Goodericke, Greville, Wentworth, Lister Kaye, Bethell, Foljambe, Stapleton, Hunlock, Mellish, Pierse, Watt, Peter, and so on, down to Bowes. But the splendid and exciting scenes of which Doncaster Common has been the theatre, with actors of the noblest blood and highest ancestry, and gentlemen of the highest reputation, all distinguished for that uprightness, integrity, and honour, which, gracing the racing drama, carry it to the highest state of perfection, have not escaped the taint of suspicion, from which, indeed, the palace of royalty rarely escapes. This is the reverse of the Spirit of the Turf; a blister on its reputation, and a destroyer of its vitality.
The “ Running Rein” delinquency of the Derby was bad enough.
The “ Ludlow affair" of the St. Leger of 1832 has earned for itself an unenviable notoriety. The state of confusion which pervaded the betting-room on the night previous to the decision of the race, almost defies the power of accurate description : all betting was abandoned ; the books were thrown into perplexing and inextricable disarrangement, It was a mystery whether Ludlow was to start to lose, or start to win. The betting men mounted chairs and benches, leaped upon the tables, and with violent gestures denounced the whole transaction in unmeasured terms. The declarations of the owner of Ludlow could neither restore peace nor confidence, It was insisted that the public ought to be protected against such villainous conduct; and it was two hours after midnight before the room was cleared, and the grey of morning appeared before the carriages had ceased to rattle along the streets of the town.
Nor did the matter rest after the decision of the race, which was won by Margrave : the scene was re-enacted on Wednesday night. It had been communicated to one of the stewards that the purchase of Ludlow, in connexion with two relatives, formed the first, second, and third parties; the fourth remaining concealed. The purchaser was told that any communication, in explanation, must be made publicly, and not privately. A private communication was tendered, but refused. The matter was then taken up publicly in the betting-room. The fourth party were called upon ; but no explanation was made. Yet the purchaser or purchasers of Ludlow met with that public chastisement and castigation which were perfectly justified by the nature of the disgraceful and dishonourable transaction.
“ Upon their brows Shame was ashamed to sit.” It was the same motive which induced Bernard, the jockey, to run against Red Gauntlet, whilst ascending the hill at full speed, and force him against a distance-post (which was shivered into a thousand pieces), and into the ditch, ploughing up the turf some five or six yards; and it was the same motive which, unknown to the owner, induced the poisoning of Plenipo, and occasioned him to be the last in the race, instead of the first, to the astonishment and mortification of his jockey and every one else, and the more to be condemned because want of judgment on the part of the trainer or of skill on that of the jockey was entirely out of the question.
The Spirit of the Turf knows nothing of these transactions, which are invasions of its territory, and destructive of all confidence, because rebellious against its authority. They are blights and blurs on the face of racing reputation. They induce desperate men to combine for the worst purposes, and to meet in lone ways and secret corners, at the dark hour of midnight, and accomplish their intentions by bribes, by threats, and by intimidation, for the security and aggrandisement of self alone-transactions, however, which fortunately are of rare occurrence by the establishment of a better state of things, for which the racing community may heartily thank the lamented Lord George Bentinck.
No! That spirit, which seems to be indigenous to the very soil, possesses higher capabilities of enjoyment and gratification. It attracts its tens of thousands, from all parts of the kingdom, to one spot, as to some high festival, all animated by the same impulses, and participators
in the same pleasures. Its tides of communication, setting in from all quarters, and rolling over the iron highways, meet at one point, and form an almost overwhelming human inundation, which, however, finds safe outlets in all manner of ways. It makes long-absent friends greet each other with a warmth and sincerity of feeling which seems to be augmented by long absence and long distance: it spreads the hospitable board with profusion, and augments the pleasures of social enjoyment: it gives a richer sparkle to the beaker of wine, and a higher zest to all gratification. With the large mass of visitors, an exuberant gaiety is the universal feeling; a desire to please and be pleased, especially if a rich and mellow autumn sun lights up every object, and throws over each animated and continually varying scene a cheerful and enlivening hue. It pervades everywhere: it rings around the splendid glass chandeliers of the betting-room, rendering more lustrous the colours of a thousand prisms; vibrating, perhaps, into the adjoining noble apartment, with its hundred-guinea carpet, candelabra, mirrors, pictures, plants, flowers, and—something else : it assembles jovial parties in neat private lodgings : it throws open drawing-room windows, decorated with handsome draperies and bouquets of rare exotics : it bustles in hotels and inns innumerable, at breakfast, luncheon, and dinner, with " soups always ready.” New comers continually increase the throng, till the staff of waiters, up-stairs and down-stairs, can scarcely answer the demands of their countless guests. It hurries the rattling wheels hither and thither, and excites the drivers, quick of eye and ear, to extraordinary activity; while the tide on foot becomes continually augmented and capable of bearing everything before it. On the ground, it draws the champagne cork and spreads the refreshment hamper : it piles up pyramids of oysters and stacks of orchard fruits, and temptingly exposes stores of confectionery, as well as more substantial fare, beneath the shading canvass : it cries “ correct card” everywhere : it animates the occupiers of the long rank of booths and minor stands—receptacles, however, which reflect no credit on either the taste or judgment of the racing corporation—with more than usual activity, alacrity, and enthusiasm to meet the wishes of their numerous patrons, who congregate thicker and faster, until there is scarcely ra om to stir : and, more than all, it gives to the sound of the saddling-bell the power of the magician's wand, changing the whole scene, and increasing the bustle and animation felt to the very hem of the living mass: it crowds all the stands with, at the proper moment, the significant words “Hats off, gentlemen!” it perches countless feet on rails and planks, the wheels and roofs of carriages—every elevated spot where a view of the splendid spectacle can be possibly obtained.
It is a similar spirit which animates the powers of the most generous, as well as the most beautiful, of all animals ; and a first-rate horse at full speed, with a superior jockey in the saddle, is a magnificent sight. Every sinew, thew, and muscle in that perfectly symmetrical and splendid frame become visible. The head is stretched out level with the neck; the nose is elevated ; the ears are laid back; the nostrils distended; the eye-balls glare; bound succeeding bound with unflinching resolution, and covering a space of four-and-twenty feet, stroke after stroke ; evincing a fleetness, pluck, and power of endurance which can find no equal, and which, combined, sufficiently attest the extraordinary