Glimpses Of Our Ancestors In Sussex - online book

With Sketches Of Sussex Characters, Remarkable Incidents &c

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The Southdown Shepherd.                   91
passions and that poetry which the Pastoral poets and Italian and Spanish novelists import into the shepherd-life, it may have been true of Arcadia or Andulasia, or in the vales of Temp£ or Tivoli, but with these things the Down shepherd has naught to do and never had. If he " told his tale " it was his tale of sheep and not of love, and he did not tell it, as Milton sings, under a hawthorn tree—there are few or no hawthorn trees on the Southdowns—but as the animals passed into or out of their fold; and if he had his likes and his dislikes—his desires and his disappointments—they had reference to the masters into whose service he passed, the wages he received, the "guerdon" he got for successful lambing, and such-like business matters, and not to rages and jealousies and hates arising from the tender passion— the jiltings of mistresses (his "young woman" never thought of jilting him nor his "missus" of planting the "green-eyed monster" in his breast!) or the treasons of friends. If the human passions slumber anywhere they do so in the heart of a Southdown shepherd, and thus he seldom or never figures at a Police Court or in an Assize calendar. Even the Game Laws lose their terrors to him: he is no poacher, but fast friends with the sportsman, to whom a "shepherd's hare" is always a dernier ressort, and a safe one too, when the covers fail to supply sport.
The Down shepherd, too, has his own field of sport, or used to have. Wheatears, which once abounded on our Downs, were a little mine of wealth to him—he caught them with springes set in the turf—and plovers' eggs were another source of revenue. The capture of the first and the search for the second, the marking down of a hare's seat, or the watching of rabbits going in and out of their burrows—these, doubtless, supply those varieties to the shepherd's life on the Downs without which it would be dull indeed, for days must sometimes pass with no other society but that of sheep and dog, and nothing more to do than watch the one and order the other.
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