Wild Country-Dealings in the Marvellous-Enchanting Moments The Wild Elephant of Ceylon - 'Rogues'-Elephant Slaughter-Thick Jungles-Character of the Country-Varieties of Game in Ceylon - 'Battery for Ceylon Sport'-The Elk or 'Samber Deer'-Deer-coursing.
It is a difficult task to describe a wild country so exactly, that a stranger's eye shall at once be made acquainted with its scenery and character by the description. And yet this is absolutely necessary, if the narration of sports in foreign countries is supposed to interest those who have never had the opportunity of enjoying them. The want of graphic description of localities in which the events have occurred, is the principal cause of that tediousness which generally accompanies the steady perusal of a sporting work. You can read twenty pages with interest, but a monotony soon pervades it, and sport then assumes an appearance of mere slaughter.
Now, the actual killing of an animal, the death itself, is not sport, unless the circumstances connected with it are such as to create that peculiar feeling which can only be expressed by the word `sport.' This feeling cannot exist in the heart of a butcher; he would as soon slaughter a fine buck by tying him to a post and knocking him down, as he would shoot him in his wild native haunts - the actual moment of death, the fact of killing, is his enjoyment. To a true sportsman the enjoyment of a sport increases in proportion to the wildness of the country. Catch a six-pound trout in a quiet mill-pond in a populous manufacturing neighbourhood, with well-cultivated meadows on either side of the stream, fat cattle grazing on the rich pasturage, and, perhaps, actually watching you as you land your fish: it may be sport. But catch a similar fish far from the haunts of men, in a boiling rocky torrent surrounded by heathery mountains, where the shadow of a rod has seldom been reflected in the stream, and you cease to think the former fish worth catching; still he is the same size, showed the same courage, had the same perfection of condition, and yet you cannot allow that it was sport compared with this wild stream. If you see no difference in the excitement, you are not a sportsman; you would as soon catch him in a washing tub, and you should buy your fish when you require him; but never use a rod, or you would disgrace the hickory.
This feeling of a combination of wild country with the presence of the game itself, to form a real sport, is most keenly manifested when we turn our attention to the rifle. This noble weapon is thrown away in an enclosed country. The smooth-bore may and does afford delightful sport upon our cultivated fields; but even that pleasure is doubled when those enclosures no longer intervene, and the wide-spreading moors and morasses of Scotland give an idea of freedom and undisturbed nature. Who can compare grouse with partridge shooting? Still the difference exists, not so much in the character of the bird as in the features of the country. It is the wild aspect of the heathery moor without a bound, except the rugged outline of the mountains upon the sky, that gives such a charm to the grouse-shooting in Scotland, and renders the deer-stalking such a favourite sport among the happy few who can enjoy it.
All this proves that the simple act of killing is not sport; if it were, the Zoological Gardens would form as fine a field to an elephant shot as the wildest Indian jungle.
Man is a bloodthirsty animal, a beast of prey, instinctively; but let us hope that a true sportsman is not savage, delighting in nothing but death, but that his pursuits are qualified by a love of nature, of noble scenery, of all the wonderful productions which the earth gives forth in different latitudes. He should thoroughly understand the nature and habits of every beast or bird that he looks upon as game. This last attribute is indispensable; without it he may kill, but he is not a sportsman.
We have, therefore, come to the conclusion that the character of a country influences the character of the sport. The first question, therefore, that an experienced man would ask at the recital of a sporting anecdote would be, `What kind of country is it?' That being clearly described to him, he follows you through every word of your tale with a true interest, and in fact joins in imagination in the chase.
There is one great drawback to the publication of sporting adventures - they always appear to deal not a little in the marvellous; and this effect is generally heightened by the use of the first person in writing, which at all events may give an egotistical character to a work. This, however, cannot easily be avoided, if a person is describing his own adventures, and he labours under the disadvantage of being criticised by readers who do not know him personally, and may, therefore, give him credit for gross exaggeration.
It is this feeling that deters many men who have passed through years of wild sports from publishing an account of them. The fact of being able to laugh in your sleeve at the ignorance of a reader who does not credit you, is but a poor compensation for being considered a better shot with a long bow than with a rifle. Often have I pitied Gordon Cumming when I have heard him talked of as a palpable Munchausen, by men who never fired a rifle, or saw a wild beast, except in a cage; and still these men form the greater proportion of the `readers' of these works.