by Rob McClure Smith
Featured image: Edouard Jean Vuillard. The Artist’s Mother Playing Checkers, c. 1890–91. The Art Institute of Chicago.
vulpes vult fraudem, foemina laudem—Publius Syrus, Fragments
It is claim’d that these little Pamphlettes which have passed from me formerly have got me some little Credit and Esteem amongst all of the Female Sex who delight in or be desirous of good Accomplishments. But there being so much time elaps’d since the last came forth methinks I hear some of you say “I wish dear Mr. Wooley would present some new Instruction.” To say the truth, I have been importun’d by divers of my Friends and Acquaintance to do so. To which end being very desirous still to serve you, I offer this Fuchsprellen, which I assure you worthy for the very precious things you will find there.
There are an hundred Divertissements harmless enough, which a young Lady may find suitable to her Inclination; but give me leave to find out one for her which hath the attendance of Profit as well as Pleasure that is a Toss. To speak the Truth, a Toss is a most excellent qualification for a Gentlewoman to exercise and please her Fancy therein and the best and readiest way to put the Body into a graceful Posture. The chiefest thing to consider is how to govern and behave your selves in this laudable and ingenious Art. For how will you blush when you come into a mixt Society, where each Person strives to shew her utmost Art and Skill, and you for the want thereof must stand still and appear as one whose Body wanted Motion, or a very Soul to actuate it. Yet the Mode and Humour of these times look upon it not only as a generous and becoming Property, but upon Gentility illbred if not thorowly acquainted therewith. Ladies, it is presumed you know the rudimentary grounds of Tossing, else your resort amongst wellaccomplisht gentlewomen would not only be improper but much hazard your Repute and good Esteem among them; and as you can toss, so I would have you learn other Formalities. By this Assistance, you will be enabled to give proper Directions for preparing every necessary Entertainment and be directed also how to act as Hostess in manner as befits your rank.
i) The Invitation to a Toss is made an Fortnight in advance of the Pass-time to avoid disappointments.
ii) The circle of canvas Screens is plac’d in a well-apportioned Courtyard. I cannot bewail enough the careless neglect of some in this matter as leads to the attempt’d scaling of Stonewalls, where Egress is sure Impediment to Enjoym’nt.
iii) Couples to stand some twenty feet one to other. These so partner’d hold fast the end of the Cord Sling laid flat on the Ground before their Feet. Be prepar’d upon the sudden release of the Trap and delay not when the Sling is cross’d by whatsoever gallop’ng Beast to raise it swiftly with the Gentleman oppos’d as one. If all in attendance are expert at the Practise, the Beast may be forc’d to run a Gauntlet of Teams. On such Occasions avoid the partnering of Strang’rs, and neither affect Variety nor Glory in the multiplicity of your Partners for there can be no greater Argument of Mutability and Lightness. Partnering with some pert Jacknapes, full of college-petulance and self-conceit at their skill at Tossing, is ever a Speck and a Blemish redounding to your dis’vantage. Give me leaf to tell you there is nothing so delicate as your Moral Character, and nothing which it is in your interest so much to preserve pure. Ex pede herculem is an old and true saying, and very applicable to our present Subject.
iv) If your Partner be not o’er hasty, for in this Pass-time a gentleman’s Alacrity counts nought, let your own tugging at the Cord be at once dignified and graceful as befits your standing. There are but few Figures that bear quick Motion; with every one its effect is that of a jerk, a most awkward movement, and un-becoming.
v) Highest Tossis Victor of that morning’s Contest, with the heighth of twenty and four feet of Fox and Hare but rarely surpass’d by ev’n the most dexterous at the Art of Tossing.
vi) On this Subject, only web’d or cord Sling and the Ground inlayed with soft Sand alone.
vii) A fit collection releas’d. The Elector of Saxony at sport in Dresden it is said once employed 649 Foxes, 527 Hares, 30-some Badgers and 21 Wildcats. But we as contrary approof a Moderation display’d but little by that Augustus the Strong. In truth, 50 Foxes and some few smaller will offer sufficient hours Divertissement and Pleasure.On this Subject, only web’d or cord Sling and the Ground inlayed with soft Sand alone.
viii) The first release is Foxes; then followes Hares, then others. Twenty releases plentiful, and interval after each allows for swift Disposal of the Remnant by your servants.
ix) Choose a pleasing Variety (whatsoever your Humour be) but we insist against the Boar which driven into the Enclosure if to the great Delectation of the Cavaliers will also contribute to the Terror of the Ladies, among whose Hoopskirts they may commit Havoc and Distress.
x) In the next place Wildcats do not give a pleasing Sport, for if they cannot bury their Claws and Teeth in the Faces or Legs of the Tossers they cling to the Tossing-Slings for dear Life, and it is next to impossible to offer one a skilful Toss.
xi) We know not enough of Wolves to speak of them, but give Caution.
xii) Do not venture in the Circle as Nymphs, Goddesses and Muses as is unbecoming to your Deportment. I cannot forbear to abstain from Laughter, when I see a Gentlewoman of small Stature as Mnemosyne or in some other Phanatick Dressing chas’d in Horrors by a scamp’ring Ferret. Suitableness and Comeliness of Habit makes the greatest Discovery of your Virtue and Discretion and a ridiculous Garb is the Indicium of a Foolish Maid.
xiii) Habiting the Beasts in Gauds and Tinsel and Fakery is as much to be condemned.
xiv) I say, if you have Skill, be not over-conceited thereof, lest it lead you into the Error of engaging a Creature you do not know; or but imperfectly. A Gentlewoman of my acquaintance, wellborn and bred, and everyway accomplisht, was bereft a Toe by her irresistible Passion to toss an Weasel in such ways as were not pleasing to’t and latterly her. Many more instances I could insert, but forbear to publish further the Shame of such inconsiderate rashness.
xv) Even the low’st-toned Remark disturbs the Lover of the Sport. To enter the Pass-time without Affectation is to notice all that pass before and whence with a most minute Attention. Upon this Subject Excesses of any kind are to be avoided and Exclamations of Admiration as ‘Exquisite,’ ‘Beautiful!’ ‘Lovely!’ are in the worst Taste. So too that frequent and loud Laughter as is characteri- stick of Folly and Ill Manners; the Mode in which the Mob express their silly Joy at silly Things. Extravagant Gestures of Merriment are excessiv’ly vulgar and unlady-like. Viz. if wounded Reynard dragging his Legs after him as a cut Snake should in the crawling there trail Innards red across a Gentlewoman’s fine new floral Brocade then pray tell, dear Lady, what is here cause for Levity? Where the Mirth?
xvi) Have your Servants dispatch maim’d Beasts with haste. Incourage them in what they are injin’d to perform but make no Participation. If the Holy Roman Emperor took no small Pleasure in joining the Court Dwarves in the Clubbing it is to my eyes alien from the Gravity of the Occasion. What is Sauce for Leopold is Goose for Lady Jane. Viz., if your filthy tatterdemalion of a Scotch Gamekeep, as occur’d at a Toss I was my self Witness to in Worcestershire last Saint Swithins, should snatch a bleating and lame Fox Cub by the hinder Legs and after throw it to the Distance of some yards, consigning the Beast absolutely over to a Kennel of Hounds that in some few moments devour’d him Nose and Foot, proclaiming “Here’s yir Supper the noo” in suchlike dulcet Hielan’ tones, why be your self Witness to an Act so vulgar and defic’nt in that the French call Bienséance?
xvii) The Toss ends in torch-lit Procession and Banquet within, and is in this Denoument distinctive from the late-season Goose-pull. Regarding Arrangements for the Banquet I offer my Pamphlette of these some few years past—Quaint Directions for the Carving of All Manner of Game.
With these few Remarks I take my leave, always to all who have Esteem for me, their Faithful and Humble Servant, Tobias Wooley.
Rob McClure’s fiction has appeared in Chicago Quarterly Review, Gettysburg Review, Manchester Review, Barcelona Review and many other magazines. His novel Cowan, winner of the Black Spring Crime Fiction Prize, is forthcoming in 2021. He is Professor of English at Knox College.