My old friend, Mr W of Bampton, once a Jehu of the hunt, now pursues such sports no longer.
His passion for the Morris so consumes him that he is only comfortable when he has a string of bells at his knee, and he complains that the tintinnabulation starts the hare too soon. I have put it to him that until recently otter-hunting was once prized as a sport, but he complains that this is now outside the law, and he would rather chase rabbits. Rabbits do not make noble sport, though John Byng criticised the Duke of Newcastle for preserving them at Clumber ‘I must be surprised that rabbets, such dangerous and distructive creatures, should be suffer’d to abound; and that a gentleman, who pays so much per head, for their destruction, shou’d not soon perceive that he is only encouraging their breed, and making the fortunes of his cunning park-keepers!’
Byng’s own rabbit-hunting was a more informal affair. In 1794 he would go out to Nodes Warren (now Keeper’s Warren) at Southill with a couple of ferrets, his hunting companion Young, who lived at the Gothic Lodge there, his dog Fancy and a bag of rabbits to turn out for coursing, presumably if his ferrets had no luck.
Such reflections have brought no consolation to Mr W, who dismisses rabbiting as a summer sport. This may have been its all-important contribution to life in the 18th century country house, but what good is that to him? – for summer is his dancing season.