The “Fox’s Prophesy” poem is a truly remarkable piece of work. Written, you will note, over 140 years ago, it repeatedly “predicts” occurrences that have subsequently transpired, even down to the modern farming practices of removing hedgerows, and the current crisis in foxhunting in England. It leaves one feeling overawed at the foresight. (And a little annoyed that someone had to holloa at that point so we didn’t find out more!).
The following verses, to which, the very apposite title of “The Fox’s Prophecy” has been given, were found among the papers of the late Mr D.W.Nash; and were probably written by him about the winter of 1870-71. At that time the writer was, no doubt, much impressed by the brilliant military triumphs which Prussia and the Federated German States had during the preceding autumn against France, and possibly his mind was full of forebodings as to what the rise of a great new and ambitious power like Prussia (Germany) might mean to England. However that may be, they have such an extraordinary relation to the circumstances of the present time as fully warrant their publication.
It is well that as many readers as possible should realise what very few did then, that 1870 was the prelude to 1914. Mr Nash was one of the few who foresaw the trend of events and has visualised it for us in “The Fox’s Prophecy”.
The Cotswold Hunt was established in the year 1858. Previous to which it formed part of Lord Fitzhardinge’s country. On the death of Mr Cregoe Colemore in 1871, the hounds were purchased, by Sir Francis Goldsmid, Sir Alexander Ramsey, Mr Agg-Gardner, Mr W.Watson, Mr F. Mowatt and Mr G. Fletcher. In the year 1885 they were secured on behalf of the hunt through the exertions of Mr A. le Blanc and vested in three,trustees: Lord Fitzhardinge, W. F. Hicks Beach Esq., and H. J. Elewes, Esq., for the benefit of the Cotswold country.
Tom Hill was in the saddle
One bright November morn,
The echoing glades of Guiting Wood
Were ringing with his horn.
To read more, click here to subscribe or if you are already a subscriber, please log in!
The diamonds of the hoar-frost
Were sparkling in the sun,
Upon the fallen leaves the drops
Were shining one by one.
The hare lay on the fallow,
The robin carolled free;
The linnet and the yellow finch
Twittered from tree to tree.
In stately march the sable rook
Followed the clanking plough;
Apart their watchful sentinel,
Cawed from the topmost bough.
Peeped from her hole the fieldmouse,
Amid the fallen leaves;
From twig to twig the spider
Her filmy cable weaves.
The waving of the pine boughs,
The squirrel’s form disclose;
And through the purple beech-tops
The whirring pheasant rose.
The startled rabbit scuttered
Across the grassy ride;
High in mid-air the hovering hawk
Wheeled round in circles wide.
The freshest wind was blowing
O’er groves of beech and oak,
And through the boughs of larch and pine
The struggling sunbeam broke.
Still lingered on the wood,
And on the leaves the morning sun,
Poured out a golden flood.
Soft, fleecy clouds were sailing,
Across the vault of blue;
A fairer hunting morning,
No huntsman ever knew.
All nature seemed rejoicing,
That glorious morn to see;
All seemed to breathe a fresher life –
Beast, insect, bird and tree.
But sound and sight of beauty,
Fell dull on eye and ear,
The huntsman’s heart was heavy,
His brow oppressed with care.
High in his stirrups raised he stood,
And long he gazed around,
And breathlessly and anxiously,
He listened for a sound.
But nought he heard save song of bird,
Or jay’s discordant cry;
Or when among the treetops,
The wind went murmuring by.
No voice of hound, or sound of horn,
The woods around were mute,
As though the earth had swallowed up,
His comrades – man and brute.
He thought, ‘I must essay to find,
My hounds at any cost:
A huntsman who has lost his hounds
Is but a huntsman lost.’
And shook his bridle free,
When he was struck by an aged fox,
That sat beneath a tree.
He raised his eyes in glad surprise,
That huntsman keen and bold;
But there was in that fox’s look
That made his blood run cold.
He raised his hand to touch his horn,
And shout a ‘Tally-Ho!’
But, mastered by that fox’s eye,
His lips refused to blow.
For he was grim and gaunt of limb,
With age all silvered o’er,
He might have been an Arctic Fox,
Escaped from Greenland’s shore.
But age his vigour had not tamed,
Nor dimm’d his sparkling eye,
Which shone with an unearthly fire –
A fire could never die.
And thus the huntsman he addressed,
In tones distinct and clear,
Who heard as they who in a dream,
The fairies’ music hear.
“Huntsman,” he said – a sudden thrill,
Through all the listener ran,
To hear a creature of the wood,
Speak like a Christian man –
“Last of my race, to me ‘tis given,
The future to unfold,
To speak the words which never yet,
Spake fox of mortal mould.
“Then print my words upon your heart ,
And stamp them on your brain,
That you to others may impart
My prophecy again.
“Strong life is yours in manhood’s prime,
Your cheek with heat is red,
Time has not laid his finger yet
In earnest on your head.
“But ere your limbs are bent with age,
And ere your locks are grey,
The sport that you have loved so well
Shall long have passed away.
“In vain shall generous Colmore
Your hunt consent to keep;
In vain the Rendcombe baronet
With gold your stores shall heap.
“In vain Sir Alexander,
And Watson Keen in vain,
O’er the pleasant Cotswold Hills
The joyous sport maintain.
“Vain all their efforts; spite of all
Draws nigh the fatal morn,
When the last Cotswold fox shall hear
The latest huntsman’s horn.
“Yet think not, huntsman, I rejoice
To see the end so near;
Nor think the sound of horn and hound
To me a sound of fear.
“In my strong youth which numbers now
Full many a winter back,
How scornfully I shook my brush
Before the Berkeley Pack.
“How oft from Painswick Hill I’ve seen
The morning mist uncurl,
When Harry Ayres blew the horn
Before the wrathful Earl.
“How oft I’ve heard the Cotswold’s cry,
As Turner cheered the pack,
And laughed to see his baffled hounds,
Hang vainly on my track.
“Then think not that I speak in fear,
Or prophesy in hate;
Too well I know the doom reserved,
For all my tribe by fate.
“Too well I know, by wisdom taught,
The existence of my race
O’er all wide England’s green domain,
Is bound up with the Chase.
“Better in early youth and strength
The race for life to run,
Than poisoned like the noxious rat,
Or slain by felon gun.
“Better by wily slight and turn
The eager hound to foil,
Than slaughtered by each baser churl,
Who yet shall till the soil.
“For not upon these hills alone,
The doom of sport shall fall;
O’er the broad face of England creeps,
The shadow on the wall.
“The years roll on: old manners change,
Old customs lose their sway;
New fashions rule; the grandsire’s garb
Moves ridicule today.
Unto the axe shall yield;
Hedgerow and copse shall cease to shade
The ever-widening field.
“The manly sports of England
Shall vanish one by one;
The manly blood of England
In weaker veins shall run.
“The furzy down, the moorland heath,
The steam plough shall invade;
Nor park nor manor shall escape –
Common, nor forest glade.
“Degenerate sons of manlier sires
To lower joys shall fall;
The faithless lore of Germany,
The gilded vice of Gaul.
“The sports of their forefathers
To baser tastes shall yield;
The vices of the town displace,
The pleasure of the field.
“For swiftly o’er the level shore
The waves of progress ride;
The ancient landmarks one by one
Shall sink beneath the tide.
“Time-honoured creeds and ancient faith,
The Altar and the Crown,
Lordship’s hereditary right,
Before that tide go down.
“Base churls shall mock the mighty names,
Writ on the roll of time;
Religion shall be held a jest,
And loyalty a crime.
“No word of prayer, no hymn of praise
Sound in the village school;
The people’s education
Lay orators shall preach
New creeds, and free religions
Self-made apostles teach.
“The peasants to their daily tasks
In surly silence fall;
No kindly hospitalities
In farmhouse or in hall.
“Nor harvest feast nor Christmastide
Shall farm or manor hold:
Science alone can plenty give,
The only god is Gold.
“The homes where love and peace should dwell
Fierce politics shall vex,
And unsexed woman strive to prove
Herself the coarser sex.
“Mechanics in their workshops
Affairs of state decide;
Honour and truth – old-fashioned words –
The noisy mob deride.
“The statesmen that should rule the realm
Coarse demagogues displace;
The glory of a thousand years
Shall end in foul disgrace.
“The honour of old England,
Cotton shall buy and sell,
And hardware manufacturers
Cry ‘Peace! – lo! All is well.
“Trade shall be held the only good,
And gain the sole device;
The statesman’s maxim shall be peace,
And peace at any price.
“Her army and her navy
Britain shall cast aside;
Soldiers and ships are costly things,
Defence an empty pride.
“The German and the Muscovite
Shall rule the narrow seas;
Old England’s flag shall cease to float
In triumph on the breeze.
“The footsteps of the invader
Then England’s shores shall know,
While home-bred traitors give the hand
To England’s every foe.
“Disarmed before the foreigner,
The knee shall humbly bend,
And yield the treasures that she lacked
The wisdom to defend.
“But not for aye – yet once again,
When purged by fire and sword,
The land her freedom shall regain
To manlier thoughts restored.
“Taught wisdom by disaster,
England shall learn to know
That trade is not the only gain
Heaven gives to man below.
“The greed for gold departed,
The golden calf cast down
Old England’s sons again shall raise
The Altar and the Crown.
“Rejoicing seas shall welcome
Their mistress once again;
Once more the banner of St George
Shall rule upon the Main.
“The blood of the invader
Her pastures shall manure,
His bones unburied on her fields
For monuments endure.
“Again in hall and homestead,
Shall joy and peace be seen,
And smiling children raise again
The maypole on the green.
“Again the hospitable board
Shall groan with Christmas cheer
And mutual service bind again
The Pheasant and the Peer.
Shall field from field divide;
Again among the woodlands
The scarlet troop shall ride.”
Again it seemed that aged fox,
More prophecies would say,
When sudden came upon the wind,
‘Hark forrard! Gone away.’
The listener startled from his trance –
He sat there all alone;
That well-known cry had burst the spell,
The aged fox was gone.
The huntsman turned, he spurred his steed
And to the cry he sped;
And, when he thought upon that fox,
Said naught, but shook his head.