The High-Mettled Racer est à l’origine une balade de Charles Dibdin (père) qui l’avait écrite pour son opéra Liberty Hall. Celui-ci n’a pas eu un grand succès contrairement au pantomime équestre qui réutilisa la ballade : The Life, Death, and Restoration of th High-Mettled Racer ; or, Harlequin on Horseback mis en scène par Thomas Dibdin à l’Astley’s Amphitheatre en 1815.
See the course throng’d with gazers ; the sports are begun, / The confusion, but hear ! – I’ll bet you, Sir, – done, done ! / Ten thousand strange murmurs resound far and near ; / Lords, hawkers, and jockeys, assail the tired ear : –
While with neck like a rainbow, erecting his crest, / Pamperd, prancing, and pleas’d, his head touching his breast, / Scarcely snuffing the air, he’s so proud and elate, / The High-Mettled Racer first starts for the plate.
Now Renard’s turn’d out ; and o’er hedge and ditch rush, / Hounds, horses, and huntsmen, all hard at his brush ; / They run him at length, and they have him at bay, / And by scent and by view, cheat a long tedious way : –
While, a like born for sports of the field and the course, / Always sure to come thorough, a staunch and fleet horse ; – / When fairly run down, the fox yields up his breath, / The High-Mettled Racer is in at the death.
Grown aged, us’d up, and turn’d out of the sud, / Lame, spavin’d, and wind-gall’d, but yet with some blood ; / While knowing postilions his pedigree trace, / tell his dam won this sweeptakes, his sire gain’d that race ; –
And what matches he won to the ostlers count o’er, / As they loiter their time at some hedge alehouse door ; / While the harness sore galls, and the spurs his sides goad, / the High-Mettled Racer’s a heck on the road. /
Till at last having labour’d, drudg’d early and late, / Bow’d down by degrees, he bends on to his fate ; / Blind, old, lean, and feeble, he tugs rouand a mill, / Or draws sand, till the sand of his hour-glass stands still. / And now, cold and lifeless, expos’d to the view, / In the very same cart which he yesterday drew, / While a pitying crowd his sad relics surrounds, / The High-Mettled Racer is sold for the hounds.
Source : A. H. SAXON, Enter foot and horse : a history of hippodrama in England and France, New Heaven and London : Yale University Press, 1968, pp.73-74. La source de Saxon est l’édition imprimée par Charles Dibdin, The High-Mettled Racer publiée à Londres en 1831 (et illustrée par 10 gravures de Cruikshank). Cette édition serai elle-même inspirée du succès de l’arlequinade.