Thoughts on Hunting, in a Series of Familiar Letters to a Friend; A New Edition.

Peter Beckford’s “Thoughts on Hunting”

BECKFORD, Peter. Thoughts on Hunting, in a Series of Familiar Letters to a Friend. A New Edition. London: Sold by D. Bremner, Successor to Mr. Elmsly, 1798.

Reprint of the 1796 edition, which was published under the title: Thoughts upon Hare and Fox Hunting (first published in 1781 with only an engraved frontispiece of Diana and and a plan of a kennel at the end). Octavo (8 1/16 x 4 13/16 inches; 205 x 126 mm.). [2, half-title], xiv, [1, directions to the binder], [1, blank], 340 pp. Title-page a cancel. Twenty engraved plates by Cook, Howitt, and others.

Late nineteenth-century tan polished calf, expertly and almost invisibly rebacked, with original spine laid down. Covers with gilt triple fillet border and gilt corner ornaments, spine decoratively tooled in gilt in compartments with five raised bands and red and green morocco gilt lettering labels, board edges ruled in gilt, turn-ins decoratively tooled in gilt, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt. An excellent copy. No copies of the 1798 edition are located in OCLC and only one copy, at the British Library, is located in the ESTC.

“The corner-stone of a huntsman’s library” (Gee).

Peter Beckford (1739/40–1811), dog breeder and writer on hunting, “was the son of Julines Beckford (1717?–1764) of Steepleton Iwerne, Dorset…His grandfather was Peter Beckford (bap. 1643, d. 1710), sugar planter and lieutenant-governor of Jamaica, and William Beckford (d. 1770), lord mayor of London, was his uncle…Beckford's reputation rests largely on the two works he issued in 1781, Thoughts upon Hare and Fox Hunting in a Series of Letters and Essays on Hunting: Containing a Philosophical Enquiry into the Nature of Scent. The former was a particularly popular work, and in 1798 Beckford successfully sued a publisher for issuing a pirated edition of it two years earlier. Beckford's works were remarkable because they detailed the grubby nitty-gritty of animal husbandry in a light, eloquent prose. Clearly an expert in every aspect of managing hunting animals, Beckford offered detailed advice on all aspects of animal welfare, specializing at various periods in the breeding of harriers, foxhounds, and buck-hounds. Almost a hundred years later his tips on various practical topics were quoted in D.P. Blaine’s authoritative An Encyclopaedia of Rural Sports (1870). For all his eloquence, however, his works were already proved to be somewhat out of date, on account of their discussion of an older, slower, form of hunting using harriers not foxhounds. In Thoughts upon Hare and Fox Hunting he wrote: ‘the morning is the part of the day which generally affords the best scent; and the fox himself is, in such a case, then less able to run away from you…the whole aim of fox hunting being to keep the hounds well in blood, sport is but a secondary consideration.’ (p. 173) By contrast, adherents to a new system, introduced by Hugo Meynell and well established by the 1770s, started hunting at midday and pursued the fox for many hours, often at great speed. Ironically, it appears that many of the hounds from Meynell's famous Quorn pack were originally bred by Beckford, who sold them when he went on one of his extended foreign excursions” (ODNB).

Mellon/Podeschi 64 (describing the 1781 first edition). Schwerdt I, pp. 56-57 (describing the 1781, 1796, 1810, and 1820 editions). Item #00854

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