|GRAND STEEPLE CHASE AT THE CROIX-DE-BERNY, NEAR PARIS, 1846
Won by Mr. Tilbury's horse Culverthorpe
It has been often said that the anticipation of a pleasure is found greatly to surpass the enjoyment ...
— the winning horse—as much as 700,000 francs. CULVERTHORPE belongs, as would appear, to Mr. Tilbury.
In steeple-chasing as well as in flat-racing Mr. Vevers has frequently been his own jockey. In the Paris Steeple Chase of 1846 he rode LITTLE TOMMY, being at that time 64 years of age, and ran a close second to Mr. Tilbury's CULVERTHORPE.
La Croix-de-Berny, 25 April 1846
The event of the week is the steeple-chase which took place, as usual, at the Croix-de-Berny. Since, in France, the fields and meadows available for destruction are few, and the damage is monotonous; thus the meeting was again at the same "Crowned Beef". All of elegant Paris, pretentious Paris, English Paris came together for this event. "There were there all those we know." A favourite phrase of people who precisely know no-one, or who at least only know fashionable men and women by their names. But this brilliant crowd who came to applaud and admire, on the contrary, were only able to enjoy the most disagreeable of all spectacles, a ridiculous tragedy, five gentlemen riders setting off in pride on magnificent runners, and suddenly, after having gone scarcely a hundred paces, disappearing with their mounts into a ditch full of water... Total eclipse of gentlemen riders!... And yet the waves move; an ex-rider, now Neptune, emerges from the waters; he pulls violently by the bridle his horse who refuses to follow him; the water is pleasant. Taken all in all, the poor creature, who is injured, prefers by far to swim than to race. His ex-rivals, now his companions of misfortune, have the same idea; horses and riders paddle to their content in the ditch; the neighbouring ducks are jealous. Some try to climb up the bank, but they fall back upon those who are struggling beneath the water. It's a miserable fight which the mud and blood render at one and the same time burlesque and horrible. The beautiful and famous BARCHA which Lord Seymour had just bought at such a high price, ended her brilliant career in this obscure combat; several gentlemen riders were injured. We shall not be so cruel as to name even one; and yet, we have no pity for this kind of setback. We believe, that extravagant pretentions have only one justification, success.
Mr. de S... said, speaking of these sportsmen so amusingly lost in a ditch: "They're not such good riders as we thought, but they're excellent divers; did you know they stayed under water ten minutes!"
These races usually take place at the Croix de Berny, on a miry ground, — into which the horses' hooves sink with each stride of their galop. After several easy fences, such as hedges, etc., the exhausted horses and riders must cross the Bièvre.
The Bièvre is a river which runs with black putrid mud.
It's dangerous to take the risk of falling into this fetid marsh.
No risk is taken, — there is no chance of going further: — one is certain to fall in.
The experience of several years has shown that it is always so.
Reaching the Bièvre, — the horse, tired by the ground across which he has run and jumped, and feeling that there is no place to take off from, resists and refuses, the rider insists, the horse jumps, — and falls into the middle or on the other bank, from where he slides and falls back into the pond — from which he is removed with or without his rider who is fished out, — both black, dirty, stinking, and that so unvaryingly, that one might believe it was the real purpose of the matter.
It is the most elegant amusement of most elegant youth, — and nothing remains undone to attract the attention of the most beautiful and most fashionable women.
The pretext is the improvement of French horse breeding. — Until now all that has been achieved, to improve the breeding, — is to maim and kill individuals.
The English boast of greatly loving horses. The have for them a 'Golden Book', a civil register of births and baptisms. It is nonetheless from Great Britain that come the riders of exaggerated air, the monstrous challenges, the extraordinary races. — At one point the horse might have expected better usage; steam-power appeared to render them useless; they were doubly vanquished, and since two negations are equivalent to an affirmation, this second defeat cancelled out the first vain illusion! For the horse, freedom has in no way issued forth from the infernal boilers: for the horse, as well as for man, this dream will not be: now the contest is against the locomotives, they must be outrun, they must be attended to. While they follow their parallel lines, he goes right and left seeking their human cargo; instead of turning the mill stone, he brings them the wheat, distributes the flour: it's no different, if it isn't worse. —
The grandees of the race are no happier than the others. &mdahs; Speed is of the essence in our century; all belongs to he who arrives first, love, fortune, glory. In truth, life is no more than a race to the steeple, which is perhaps why it is so little amusing. One may no longer stop, through risk of being distanced. One must run, and keep running, rather than be blown-up with the overheated machine, or break one's neck on a foundered horse.
The other month Paris had its steeple-chase. The winner was assured of a magnificent prize: he was crowned with bank-notes. — Several of the vanquished were also crowned, but less honorably. — For our neighbours, all properties being enclosed, the first ground arrived at is suitable for this style of exercise. One takes two villages, two steeples, at random, and one may be certain that obstacles will not be lacking. — In France it's different; ditches and hedges are rare; Berny itself did not naturally present many difficulties; The Bievre, a good little river, wished no-one's death. But provision was made; mounds were built up, fences planted; here it was dug out, there it was piled up, in such a way that the race-course became sufficiently interesting.
On the day, Paris was in ferment, — it had rained a great deal the day before, and the heavens promised steady showers. — To the glory of the sportmen it must nonetheless be said that the drenching quenched no-one's ardour. So many pleasures were promised to the inquisitive! They could count on at least half a dozen fractures, without mentioning the bruises. Encouraged with such wonderful hopes, we did (I was there, I beg you to believe it), we put up with the rain, during five hours, with a certain determination, each posted near the place which seemed to him to be the most dangerous, a logical precaution since the fascination is in the accidents. — The bell rings; the signal is given. — There they are, here they are.. Pst.. pst... pst.... they've gone, disappeared.... Is it over, is that all, said a universal voice... — Ah, look out! Two riders have fallen behind. — The mud on their clothes shows they've already had a few problems, it's a good sign. Effectively, the horses resist, rear up, fall down, ____ . One finishes up by jumping — the other rolls over again, and so well, man and horse — that one could believe this time they'll end there. Just in time! here's some fun — on the way back, it's better still. Out of twelve, two return; the others arrive in a heap, as a scattered army, limping, injured, wounded, it's delightful to see.
One good point in this race, — is that the Jockeys were not jockeys. The winner was Robert Peel's own nephew: what glory for the family! He who came second, is an honorable squire, father of seven children and of a most respectable age, sixty-eight years; he had come expressly from London with his horse, the one carrying the other. — It was truly a British occasion. All the islanders who cover the continent seemed to be there. One could have believed oneself at Epsom or at Newmarket.
The races at the Field of Mars followed close on the day at Berny. Under pretext of encouraging the horse-breeders, it's a society event, an opportunity for pleasure and betting for the gentlemen riders (which the ordinary people translate as gentilshommes ridés [wrinkled gentlemen]). — A crowd is never lacking at these meetings, there's something for all in Paris, and the public takes part, although they know that there as elsewhere they play the role of dupe. It's not through its qualities or its weaknesses that a horse wins or loses. Neither does it always depend on the jockey. — There are big interests linked to this success, or that defeat, and consequently great swindles to achieve them. — The English have been admirably inventive in this kind of skill, and French sport imitates them only too well; as for the rest it is of little interest to the poor devils who go there on foot, to know whether Dummer has run two seconds faster than Tiger, or whether Count C. has a better horse than Squire R. Their entertainment is the crowd itself, the people round and about, the apparel, the riders. Horses and carriages are dressed out coquettishly; on that day the owners put all their pride into their livery, vanity by ricochet.
At Chantilly begins again what was done in Paris; here are the same horses, the same jockeys and the same punters. It's difficult to find sufficient reason for this second event, unless it's the need so well understood to improve by all means the breeding of the horses. Chantilly, is the post-script, the indispensable appendix: without which the work would remain incomplete and God knows what would happen to the poor horses. Now, if they're not able to run eight leagues an hour without its worrying them, if they can't jump in one leap the mouth of the Garonne, if the mountains impede their progress, it can only be their fault: the Jockey-Club is not to blame. They, in order to better demonstrate their success, bring the runners onto the turf in cars. — Horse-kind would be ungracious not to savour this manner of going. — Ibrahim has been present at all these races; his surprise was great, it is said, to see the progress made in such by European civilisation....
Never has the liking and enthusiasm for horses been so widespread. — In order to have a carriage for herself, a whole month through, the prettiest woman will refuse nothing, and any passing beau takes on himself the hardest privations to feed her horse. The more often, it's true, it isn't so, but the entire future is compromised. The expense of a horse goes wonderfully with all others: it seems that the ecus run as fast as their master, slowly, wisely with people on foot, and post-speed with an English blood-horse. Fortune has there found one of the best ways of turning the wheel faster.
If imitation of the English takes a part in these equestrian ways, it is particularly by the air of ridicule which it gives to the pretentions and language of the British. One should live more in the stable than in one's drawing-room, and speak the language of stable-boys to be in fashion. One no longer has a servant, but a groom. Your Norman nag will be called Miss Egerton, her obscure parents become Rainbow and Emilia. If challenged, you lay a bet: it's very gentlemanly. You will lose the rest of your louis and have your horse put down, unless it is he who kills you, and finally, so that you may meditate on the fragility of greatness in this world, Clichy will open her almshouse to you.
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