|1841 illustration El Coche Simon|
The majority of coachmen likely fell between the two extremes. The coachman was a man with a difficult job to do. It took strength, stamina, and resilience. The control of two, four, or even six, horses was no mean feat. Sitting out of doors in all weather for hours at a time required a constitution of iron, and a will to match. To keep a schedule, manage passengers, know one's horses, cope with accidents, highwaymen and weather needed a cool head and no little intelligence.
|cover-pianoforte music Boston Public Library|
The behaviour of one such coachman was detailed in the September 1819 issue of The Monthly Magazine or British Register. A correspondent designated only as H. from Kentish-town wrote:
Riding yesterday a few miles on the outside of a stage-coach, I had an opportunity of observing how wantonly the coachman made use of his whip, not alone on the backs of his unfortunate horses, but on every other animal that had the misfortune to come within its reach. Not an ass, not a horse, not a pig, not a dog, approached him, without feeling the effects of his inhumanity. Yet he did not appear to be an ill-natured man: mischief, not malice, seemed to prompt him.
|from The English Spy by Bernard Blackmantle|
H. goes on:
Amongst other subjects of conversation, (for his tongue was not less in perpetual motion than his whip,) benefit-societies [like guilds, or later, trade unions] became the object of his praise;...
...[a] passenger mentioned the name of his society; and the coachman replied, "And mine is the Benevolent Whip,"--at the same instant laying it about the back of a poor dog that happened to be passing.
This gratuitous exercise of a whip, appears to me to be a species of cruelty sufficiently definable to become the subject of a prohibitory law.Five years after H. wrote to the Monthly Magazine, in 1824, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was formed. H. must have been pleased.
I therefore think, that all acts of cruelty towards animals by persons not using them at the time, and especially towards animals over whom they are not entitled, either by ownership or otherwise, to exercise any control, might, and ought to be, made a punishable offence.
The coachman continued to go his own way for another ninety years, and then was immortalized in history and fiction. How interesting it is to hear from a gentleman of the Regency era about a real coachman, and his behaviour.
'Til next time,
N.B. The Monthly Magazine or British Register 1819 is available from Google Books free for download.