This section is from the book "Hunting: A Manual of Fox, Hare, Stag & Otter Hunting", by J. Otho Paget. Also available from Amazon: Hunting: A Manual of Fox, Hare, Stag & Otter Hunting.
An M. F. H., to be perfect, must embody all the virtues of a saint with the commanding genius of a Kitchener and the tact of a diplomatist. To find these qualities combined is well-nigh impossible, so that we give up hope of ever finding the perfect Master, and content ourselves with ordinary men. It is a thankless task, and it has always been a wonder to me that any one can be found willing to accept the responsibilities. Of course, I refer only to the country where there is a professional huntsman, and not to where the Master hunts the hounds himself,—that pleasure is sufficient to repay one for many worries. Every one who comes out feels entitled to criticise and find fault with the Master. The man who is early at the meet asks in an aggrieved voice why hounds do not move off, and the man who is a little late is annoyed because they have gone before he arrives. The man who coffee-houses when hounds are drawing and gets left behind, considers he has been very badly treated, and, of course, the Master is to blame. The man who over-rides hounds thinks he is doing no harm, and objects to the Master's expostulations; but when that man sees another committing the same offence he gets very much excited and asks why the other is not called to order. Then there is the man who has lost his nerve, and him we will freely forgive, for though the Master gets most of the abuse, the groom, the horse, the country, and the huntsman all come in for their share, and the poor nerveless creature is never happy until he reaches home again.
The troubles of a Master are not only those connected with his day's hunting, for they are only trifles compared to covert-owners, farmers, and the general management of a country. The farmer will write an imperative summons to hunt the foxes which are killing his poultry, and by the same post will come a letter from his neighbour to say he does not want the hounds because his ewes are heavy with lamb; the landowner says his coverts are swarming with foxes and he must have them hunted, whilst the adjoining landowner says he does not want hounds until after a certain date, because of disturbing his pheasants. Each of these individuals must have their wishes considered, and you will perceive it is not very easy to oblige one without offending the other.
No one should become Master of a pack of hounds unless he is very keen about the sport, or otherwise he will not devote the time and attention which alone can make things work smoothly. Men very often accept the office because they are rich and because they wish to add to their social status, but having no real liking for the sport and getting tired of the responsibilities, they generally resign in a year or two. These men do harm to the country and leave an unpleasant task for their successors. They are probably lavish in their generosity without troubling to see that their money goes in the right quarter, and deserving cases are neglected. A Master must be ever ready to give and to give freely, but he should know for what purpose he is giving. Local charities, horse-shows, and anything that is for the benefit or pleasure of the man whose land he hunts over, should be supported by the Master.
The Master has at all times many things that will try his temper, but if he can only keep it under control he will find it much easier to restrain a hard-riding field than by flying into a passion and using bad language. A word in season, given in a clear, calm voice, is generally sufficient to curb a too eager spirit which is threatening to limit the space which should always be allowed a pack. A Master must, however, be always in a forward position himself to do this, and he will find it a mere waste of breath to shout at the back of a man who is a field in front of him. He must rule with firmness and impartiality, but his commands should be worded courteously and not in a tone of insult or offence. It should not be forgotten that men come out hunting for pleasure, and that to be roundly abused for some trifling offence will destroy their enjoyment for the day. The unwritten law of the hunting - field says that whatever language the Master may address to a member of his field, that man must swallow it all and never reply a word. This is, of course, an excellent rule without which it would be impossible to control the exuberant spirits when they commit offences; but the Master should remember, in calling a man to order, that his victim is tongue-tied, and therefore, under the circumstances, abuse is cowardly except in extreme cases.
Of course, I know it is very easy to sit in a chair and advise a Master never to lose his temper ; but I am fully aware of his many trials, and believe that there are occasions when an angel would feel inclined to use bad language. Those men who have already held the position I should not think of advising, but the young man who is just about to become an M. F. H. may perhaps find these hints of some use. Some people think that a Master is especially well qualified for the post if he has a loud voice and a choice vocabulary of swear-words. These are not the qualities which would recommend a man in my eyes—but then, I may be mistaken.
If any one refuses to obey the Master's commands, that man must either go home or the hounds must go back to their kennels. It is no use threatening to take hounds home and not doing it, for the sooner the field understand the Master means what he says, the sooner will they attend to his wishes. Taking hounds home is, however, a very serious step, and should only be done under great provocation.
In case any one so far forgets himself as to insult the Master, the latter must remember that he is lowering the dignity of his position by bandying words with one of his field, and his only course is to report the matter to the most prominent member of the hunt, demanding an immediate apology.
However much the hunt may dislike the proceedings of their Master, they must loyally support him whilst he remains in that position. An M. F. H. is a king, and a king can do no wrong. If he does not administer affairs according to the liking of his kingdom, the hunt committee must ask him politely to amend his ways, or failing that to resign his crown, but individual criticism is rank treason.