A Tradition of Advice: Ratcatcher to Scarlet, 1933

Today I have something a bit more modern that was on hand already for another project: Ratcatcher to Scarlet, a book written and illustrated by Cecil Aldin (1870-1935) in 1933.

I wish I had more time to read books like this one! You couldn’t ask for a more clear, concise, and practical explanation of the dos and don’ts of foxhunting. For those who are curious, the title of the book refers to the tweed hunting attire known as a ratcatcher. An apt title, Ratcatcher to Scarlet covers all the bases, from following on foot or horseback, to best practices for cubbing and everything in between.

The book carries on an older tradition in foxhunting literature: the passing down of advice from older generations to younger enthusiasts. Aldin specifically points this out in his preface.

“These notes are for that young entry and not for the old hounds, but we may also include the beginner in the noble art of fox-catching, of whatever age, be he youngster, subaltern, millionaire or embryo Jorrocks. Penned for my son-in-law, I leave them in the form in which they were originally written.”

I greatly enjoy reading Aldin’s writings. An active foxhunter, Aldin used his extensive knowledge of the etiquette and techniques of foxhunting in his many illustrations.

"A. is in the wrong. Firstly, because he jumped a fence when hounds were not running. Secondly, he was wrong because he has smashed a repair rail unnecessarily, a rail which the farmer, to keep his cattle in the field, will have to repair the next day."
“A. is in the wrong. Firstly, because he jumped a fence when hounds were not running. Secondly, he was wrong because he has smashed a repair rail unnecessarily, a rail which the farmer, to keep his cattle in the field, will have to repair the next day.”
"In a few moments hounds hit off almost at our feet and the whole field comes charging down upon us. A few yards from us is a gateway in the timber fence; we open this and hold it back for those who prefer a gate to timber topping, and once more we have a fine view of a fox away and the pack and field in his wake."
“In a few moments hounds hit off almost at our feet and the whole field comes charging down upon us. A few yards from us is a gateway in the timber fence; we open this and hold it back for those who prefer a gate to timber topping, and once more we have a fine view of a fox away and the pack and field in his wake.”
"Notwithstanding your vigorous kicks, she eased up as she approached the ditch in front of her, springing off her hocks straight on to the top of the bank and broken fence, with her ears cocked forward ready for the Irish ditch on the landing side."
“Notwithstanding your vigorous kicks, she eased up as she approached the ditch in front of her, springing off her hocks straight on to the top of the bank and broken fence, with her ears cocked forward ready for the Irish ditch on the landing side.”
"At water, your heart should be over long before your horse. By the feel of your legs your horse should not have the slightest doubt about your intention of going over -- or in, i.e. that if he doesn't do his best you mean driving him in. A suggestion of hesitation on your part conveys itself immediately to your mount -- your heart therefore must be in or over long before you are, if you mean to have a cut at it at all."
“At water, your heart should be over long before your horse. By the feel of your legs your horse should not have the slightest doubt about your intention of going over — or in, i.e. that if he doesn’t do his best you mean driving him in. A suggestion of hesitation on your part conveys itself immediately to your mount — your heart therefore must be in or over long before you are, if you mean to have a cut at it at all.”
"Make him bend in and out of these trees at the walk and trot, looking well ahead of yourself all the time. Imagine you are driving a car through them. You would not be gazing down at your wheels; it is well ahead all the time you would be looking. Never hesitate as to which side of a tree you are going, or your horse will hesitate as well and probably smash your knee."
“Make him bend in and out of these trees at the walk and trot, looking well ahead of yourself all the time. Imagine you are driving a car through them. You would not be gazing down at your wheels; it is well ahead all the time you would be looking. Never hesitate as to which side of a tree you are going, or your horse will hesitate as well and probably smash your knee.”

The book is very practical. At heart, it underscores the reality of hunting that transcends the outward spectacle: the successful hunter possesses  knowledge of hunting and good riding; nothing can replace that.

For more information, visit the National Sporting Library & Museum website.

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