Monday, December 12, 2011

Robert Browning

December 12 is the 112th anniversary of poet Robert Browning’s death, which occurred in 1899.  From “Complete Works of Robert Browning” comes the story of one Donald, with a reference to Sir Walter Scott: 

‘Donald. An anecdote of a sportsman told in a Highland bothie to a band of young Oxford fellows, when their adventures in praise of sport were going the rounds, in order to exemplify the cruel and degrading side of the sportsman's instinct. The teller of the story says he heard it from a ghastly wreck of a man, who burst into just such a merry bothie circle as theirs to tell how once, in taking the short cut over a mountain, at the narrowest part of the footway a stag blocked the path, and how, instead of butting him over the precipice, it halted, and understood the course that flashed upon him,—to let himself down flat and let the beast step over him. This it did, with slow, careful intelligence, when just as the creature stood above him the sportsman got the better of the man in him. He drew out his dirk and stabbed. Over the beast fell, the human beast on top, his life saved, however, by falling on the stag, but his bones so broken that he was a cripple the rest of his days, his only resource hobbling into hunting-bothies with the head and hide of the stag, to tell, for the sake of the food and alms it brought him, his story of huge sport.

The story is true, Mrs. Orr says, "repeated to Browning by one who had heard it from the so-called Donald himself." Sir Walter Scott tells it, in "The Keepsake" for 1832, substantially as Browning gives it, and as he also had heard it, with the exception that the mountaineer is going in quest of a sheep or goat missing from his flock instead of to meet a lassie at the bridge below, as Browning perhaps chooses to say. Sir Walter closes his account as follows: "I never could approve of [his] conduct towards the deer in a moral point of view, . . . but the temptation of a hart of grease offering, as it were, his throat to the knife, would have subdued the virtue of almost any deer-stalker."…’

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