Spring is in the air, and even if that air is cold at times, the thought of warm weather activities, and perhaps a weekend in the country, is appealing. With that in mind, we offer a glimpse at a small but thorough and entertaining treatise by English writer Giles Jacob (1686-1744).
Jacob is best known for his popular writing on legal topics, titles such as The accomplish’d conveyancer; The compleat parish-officer; Every man his own lawyer; and A new law-dictionary. These and other works were published in multiple editions, many well after his death. But he also wrote poetry (Human happiness: a poem), parody (The rape of the smock), and a guide to country living (The country gentleman’s vade mecum).
The compleat sportsman was published in London in 1718 and intended for “all Gentlemen who spend any part of their Time in the Country”. In a fulsome dedication to the baronet Sir Charles Keymis (sometimes spelled Kemeys) Jacob extols the virtues of “rural pleasures” and the beauty and richness of Keymis’ estate, Keven Mabley in county Glamorgan, Wales.
The Vale you are situated in, is, perhaps, equally fine to any in England, adorn’d with beautiful Prospects, and the most ornamental Woods and Coppices, which afford an uncommon Plenty of all Sorts of Game: Neither are you distant from pleasing Rivers and gliding Streams, plenteously stor’d with all Kinds of Fish, besides numerous Fish-Ponds and murmuring Brooks, entirely encompassing your Mansion-House.
Jacob confidently notes in the preface
“I doubt not but the Reader will do me the Justice to confess, that this Book is the most compleatest on the Subject …” and hopes that it “will be received by all Gentlemen who spend any Part of their Time in the Country, with the Candour natural in Country Gentlemen.”
In his three part treatise, Jacob explains techniques for hunting a wide range of game, from quails to rabbits (including several pages of advice on dog breeding, feeding, and training); discusses the creation and maintenance of deer parks; and gives detailed guidance on fishing for over a dozen categories of fish and eels.
For example, on trout angling he writes (p.122):
If you fish with the Worm, make Choice of a Dew or Lob-worm, or a Brandling or Gilt-tail Worm, which is esteemed best for small Trouts, and the Lob-worm the most approved for the large Fish. … Brandling-worms are usually found in an old decayed Dunghill … but the best of them you generally find in Heaps of Tanner’s-Bark; and large yellow Cadis-worms are very good Baits for the trout in a still Water. … The old Trout is very fearful, commonly lies close all Day (except in May, the Fly Season,) and does not stir out of his Hole until Night, when he feeds very boldly near the Top of the Water …
Jacob’s penchant for precise terminology reveals itself in a section (p. 55-59) on “Hunter’s Terms, &c.” which even includes a list of popular names for hunting hounds, and illuminating passages such as this one:
When Beasts lodge, a Hart is said to harbor; A Buck lodgeth; A roe beddeth; a Hare formeth; a Coney sitteth, a Fox kennelleth; a Marten treeth; a Badger eartheth; an Otter watcheth. When they dislodge, the Hart is said to be unharbour’d, the Buck rouz’d, the Hare started, the Coney bolted, the Fox unkennell’d, the Marten treed, the Badger dug, and the Otter vented.
Sprinkled generously throughout his text are numerous references and excerpts from relevant British laws and statutes, handy templates for warrants and licenses, and (p. 90-113) “A Concise Abridgement of the Forest-Laws”.
The enthusiasm and detail with which he approaches his subject suggests that when not busy writing primers on the law, Giles Jacob—the son of a maltster—thoroughly enjoyed (or dreamed of enjoying) the pursuits of a country gentleman.