EVER since I was a boy, and ah! long, long before that, I fancy, the one great anxiety of parents of the upper and middle classes blessed with large families has been, "What are we to do with our boys?" and the cry goes on increasing, being intensified by the depreciation in the value of land, and by our distant colonies getting a little overstocked with young gentlemen, who have been banished to them by thousands, to struggle and strive, sink or swim, as fate wills it. At home, all professions are full and everything has been tried; and, go where you will, even the children of the noble may be found wrestling with those of the middle and working classes for every piece of bread that falls in the gutter. Nothing is infra dig. that brings in a shilling, and all has been and is being tried. The sons of the great are to be found shoulder to shoulder with "Tommy Atkins," up behind a hansom cab, keeping shops, selling wines, horses, cigars, coals, and generally endeavouring feebly to shoulder the son of the working man out of the race over the ropes. Fortunately Heaven tempers the wind to the shorn lamb, and I believe it has done so now. I believe kind Dame Nature during the last summer has stepped in and opened out an honourable path for many gentlemen's sons, that I think will be their salvation, and at all events, if it does not make them all rich, will, if they only follow it, make them most useful members of society and keep them out of mischief and out of their mammas' snug drawing-rooms. I have followed the path myself, and, after fifty years' tramp down it, have been forced to abandon it owing to gout and rheumatism. I have not picked up a big fortune at it, or become celebrated, except quite locally; but I have had a good time and helped the world in general, and am content with my past life.
I was the son of a worthy country parson, who in my youth proposed to me in turn to become a judge, a bishop, a general, a Gladstone, a Nelson, a Sir James Paget, and a ritualistic curate; but when talking to me on the subject the good old man always said, "Mind, my boy, though I propose these various positions for you, yet, if you have any decided preference yourself, I will not thwart you, I will not fly in the face of nature."
For some time I thought I should rather like to be a bishop, and to this day I think I should have made a good one; but the voice spoke at last, and my destiny was settled.
With the modest capital of five shillings given me by my father, and a mongrel terrier, given me by a poacher who had to go into retirement for killing a pheasant and half killing a keeper, I began my career as abut I had better give you one of my professional cards. Here it is
To HRH The Prince of Wales,
The Nobility and Gentry.
I had a struggle at first. Rats, full-grown ones, only fetched twopence each, and the system adopted by farmers of letting their rat-killing, for, say, three pounds a year for a farm of 400 acres, almost broke me; but I stuck to my profession, and do not regret having done so.
In those days, and during all my active life, I have had to work to live, owing to the constant scarcity of rats; but if I managed to make a living then, what might not be done now, when Nature has sent the rat to our homesteads by thousands, and farmers and others are being eaten off the face of the earth by them?
Why, my dear young friends, your fortune stares you in the face, and you have only to stretch out your hand and grasp itno! I have made a mistake: you have a little more to doyou have, first, to learn your profession, which is no easy matter; and to enable you to do this, I intend writing the following book for the use of schools (which I herewith dedicate to the Head Masters of Eton, Harrow, Westminster, Rugby, and all other schools); but in placing this book on your school-desk, allow me to say that it is no good having it there through the long school hours unless you open it, read it, and deeply ponder over it; and more, my dear boys, let me pray that you will take it home with you, and, casting aside your usual holiday task, study it well, and, as far as possible, actively put in practice what I am going to try and teach you. Some fathers may wish their sons to enter on a more humble course of life, but this I rather doubt. However, should they do so, it will be only so much the better for those who take it up: there will be more room for them. Most mothers, I fear, will object to it on the ground that rats and ferrets don't smell nice; but this objection is not reasonable, They might as well say that the whiff of a fox on a soft December morning as you ride to covert is not delicious!
Respect your parents, respect even their prejudices; gently point out to your father that you are ambitious and wish for a career in which you can distinguish yourself. Above all, respect your mother, and show your respect by not taking ferrets or dead rats in your pockets into her drawing-room, and by washing your hands a little between fondling them and cuddling her. But to finish this sermon, let me point out that though in this great profession you will be everlastingly mixed up with dogs of all sorts, always make them come to you, and never go to them.
One last word. If in the following pages you come across a bit of grammar or spelling calculated to make a Head Master sit up, excuse it, and remember that I have been a rat-catcher all my life, and as a class we are not quite A1 at book learning.