Read CHAPTER III of Old Coloured Books, free online book, by George Paston, on


The books illustrated in colour at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century may be classed under certain well-defined headings narrative, topography, costume, and sport, the last being by no means the least important. Although neither Gillray nor Rowlandson ignored the sport of kings, it was Bunbury who, drawing upon his own personal experiences, set the fashion for hunting and “horsey” books, which were most commonly conceived in a vein of broad humour. Of such was Bunbury’s Geoffry Gambado, or the Academy for Grown Horsemen, of which several editions appeared between 1788 and 1808. The most distinguished of Bunbury’s immediate successors was Henry Alken, an artist whose origin seems wrapped in mystery. It has been rumoured that he began his career as stud-groom or trainer to the Duke of Beaufort in the opening years of the nineteenth century. His early drawings were produced under the pseudonym of “Ben Tallyho,” and the first work to which he signed his own name seems to have been The Beauties and Defects in the Figure of the Horse, comparatively Delineated, which appeared in 1816. This was followed by some sets of humorous etchings in frank imitation of Bunbury, such as Specimens of Riding, Symptoms of being Amazed, A Touch at the Fine Arts, and, in 1821, by a folio volume, The National Sports of Great Britain. In 1824 we find a most complimentary allusion to Alken’s work in an article on the fine arts in Blackwood’s Magazine, probably written by Christopher North. The writer, after observing that George Cruikshank failed in one subject only the gentlemen of England proceeds: “Where Cruikshank fails, there, happily for England and for art, Henry Alken shines, and shines like a star of the first magnitude. He has filled up the great blank that was left by the disappearance of Bunbury. He is a gentleman he has lived with gentlemen he understands their nature both in its strength and its weakness.... In this work [A Touch at the Fine Arts] there is a freedom of handling that is really delightful. Yet I am not sure but I give the preference to my older favourite, The Symptoms. The shooting parties the driving parties the overturning parties the flirting parties the fighting parties in that series are all and each of them nearly divine. Positively you must buy a set of Alken’s works they are splendid things no drawing-room is complete without them.” Alken, it will be seen, had already made his mark, but it was his connection with Mr. Apperley, alias “Nimrod,” that was to bring him his largest meed of fame.


Charles James Apperley was born at Plasgronow, Herefordshire, in 1778, and educated at Rugby. His father, a man of literary tastes, who corresponded with Dr. Johnson and read Greek before breakfast, had been tutor and bear-leader on the grand tour to Sir William Watkin Wynn. Young Apperley, who refused to be turned into a scholar, was gazetted cornet in 1798 in Sir W. Wynn’s regiment of yeomanry, and served in Ireland during the Rebellion. On his return to England in 1801, he married a Miss Wynn, a cousin of Sir William’s, and settled at Hinckley Hall in Leicestershire, where he hoped to add to his income by selling the hunters that he trained. Three years later he moved to Bilton Hall, near Rugby, once the property of Joseph Addison, where he hunted regularly with the Quorn and the Pytchley, till another move took him to Bitterly Court, in Shropshire, where he became intimate with that amazing character John Mytton, of Halston House, whose life and death he was afterwards to record in a book that made both subject and biographer famous. Here we may suppose that Apperley was witness of some of those escapades that are now familiar to every student of sporting literature: the midnight drive across country, when a sunk fence, a deep drain, and two quickset hedges were successfully negotiated; the attempt to leap a turnpike gate with a tandem, when leader and wheeler parted company; and the gallop over a rabbit warren to see whether the horse would fall, which it very naturally did, and rolled upon its rider. It was perhaps just as well for Apperley that he left this too exciting neighbourhood after a few years, and moved to Beaurepaire House, in Hampshire. The loss of money in farming operations brought him into difficulties, and at this time he seems to have conceived the idea of writing a book on hunting. He produced nothing, however, till some years later, when he was persuaded by Pittman, editor of the Sporting Magazine, to become a contributor, and his first article, on “Fox-Hunting in Leicestershire,” appeared in 1822. This was followed by accounts of other hunting tours, which proved so popular that the circulation of the magazine was soon trebled. Apperley is said to have received L20 a page for his work, the highest price ever paid to a journalist at that time, but apparently this splendid remuneration had to cover his working expenses, which included a stud of hunters. “Nimrod” soon became a celebrity in the sporting world, and masters of hounds trembled at his nod. The news of his arrival in a country set every member of the local hunt in a flutter; the best horses were brought out, and the best covers drawn, in the hope of a favourable notice from the great man.

In 1830 the Sporting Magazine came to grief, in consequence of the death of the editor, and Apperley, who had borrowed large sums of Pittman, was obliged to take refuge from his creditors at Calais, where he spent the next twelve years. Here, a year later, arrived John Mytton, also a fugitive, having run through a splendid property, and ruined a magnificent constitution by drink, before he was thirty-five. Apperley seems to have done his best for his old friend and comrade, who, having exchanged old port of which his daily allowance had been from four to six bottles a day for brandy, was rapidly drinking himself to death. Mytton, who seems to have been practically a madman in his last years, returned to London in 1833, and was promptly thrown into the King’s Bench, where he died of delirium tremens in the following year.

Apperley occupied himself during his exile in writing sporting memoirs and reminiscences, and contributing to Ackermann’s New Sporting Magazine. In 1835 he was invited by Lockhart to write three articles on Hunting, Racing, and Coaching for the Quarterly Review, and these, which represent some of his best work, were republished under the title of The Chase, the Turf, and the Road, with coloured etchings by Henry Alken. Lockhart was so much impressed by the powers of his new contributor, that he told John Murray, “I have found a man who can hunt like Hugo Meynell and write like Walter Scott,” a criticism that did more credit to his sporting than his literary acumen, though Apperley’s style is greatly superior to that of Pierce Egan and other of his sporting contemporaries. In 1837 he published his Memoirs of the Life of John Mytton, which had appeared serially in the New Sporting Magazine, and was illustrated with plates drawn by Alken and etched by Rawlings. This was followed by The Life of a Sportsman, illustrated by the same artist, which has become one of the classics of hunting literature. Apperley returned to London in 1842, and died in Pimlico the following year.


The death of Apperley was preceded by the rise of another famous sporting writer, Robert Smith Surtees (1803-64), the second son of Anthony Surtees, of Hamsterley Hall, Durham. Robert was educated at Durham Grammar School, and afterwards articled to a solicitor. A partnership was bought for him in London, but this proved unsatisfactory, and the young man, turning his back upon the law, started upon his literary career as contributor to the old Sporting Magazine. In 1831, in connection with Rudolf Ackermann, the son and successor of Rowlandson’s employer, he started the New Sporting Magazine, which he edited down to 1836, and in the pages of this periodical the celebrated Mr. Jorrocks, humorist, sportsman, and grocer, made his first bow to the public. These papers were collected under the title of Jorrocks’ Jaunts and Jollities in 1838, with illustrations by “Phiz”; but a later edition, that of 1843, contains fifteen coloured plates by Alken. In the same year Surtees succeeded to the family estate, but in spite of this change in his circumstances he did not lay aside his pen. Lockhart had once remarked to Apperley a propos the creator of Jorrocks, “That fellow could write a good novel if he liked to try”; and the compliment, being promptly repeated to Surtees, resulted in the composition of Handley Cross (1843), in which Mr. Jorrocks makes his appearance as a country squire and master of hounds. A later edition of the book was illustrated by a new sporting artist, John Leech. Handley Cross was followed by Hawbuck Grange, Ask Mamma, and the ever-popular Mr. Sponge’s Sporting Tour, which contained numerous coloured plates and woodcuts by Leech. “The Yorkshireman,” as Surtees was nicknamed, presumably because he was born in Durham, also contributed papers to Bell’s Life, some of which, commemorative of the fine open winter of 1845-46, were afterwards published as The Analysis of the Hunting Field, with illustrations by Alken, who now disappears from our view, though he left two or three sons in the same “line of business,” with whom he has sometimes been confused, while the popular name of Alken became a general patronymic for a whole school of sporting artists. Surtees, who died at Brighton in 1864, was a fine horseman and a keen observer of social types, though, so far from being the rollicking sportsman suggested by his books, he is described as a man of rather reserved and taciturn nature. The remarkable character of Mr. Jorrocks was evolved during long, lonely journeys, when the shrewd ex-grocer, or rather his imaginary conception, stood his creator in the stead of a travelling companion.