THE DOG IN LITERATURE by Joseph Walker McSpadden 1921
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SO far as the present editor is aware, this is the first attempt to gather together a group of diverse stories in honor of man’s best friend, the Dog. Single stories and verses have been written about him ever since letters were invented, but he does not seem to have been accorded a definite place in literature.
It is high time; for does not the dog appear in the earliest of our books—the Bible—with the earliest of mentions as the companion of man? An old Arab legend states that when Adam was turned out of the Garden of Eden and sat down disconsolate by the roadside, he suddenly felt a cool muzzle thrust within his palm, and looking down saw the sympathetic eyes of a dog. The animal had crept up to comfort him, and when Adam arose to begin his weary march the faithful beast followed at his heels. There he has been ever since.
The folk-tales dating back to antiquity have their legends about dogs. The Norseman, the Arab, the American Indian, these and many another race celebrate his deeds. Among his first mentions in written word we find Homer in the “Odyssey” telling of the splendid hound, Argus. Homer also mentions two kinds of dogs —the white-footed, swift hunting dogs who likewise tended the flocks; and the house-dogs that did not bear so good a character, for Priam seems afraid of those of his own household. He complains: “Myself then, last of all at the street door, will the ravening dogs tear—when the dogs I reared in my halls, about my table, and to guard my doors, when they have drunk my blood . . . . this is the most piteous thing that cometh upon hapless man.” But Argus, fine old beast, is not of that stripe. He lies in the courtyard awaiting his master, Odysseus's return. Twenty years of absence have dimmed his eyes but not his memory or his love; and when master and dog finally meet, the old animal dies satisfied.
In the field of mythology we frequently meet dogs—such as the hounds of Diana; Cerberus, the “awful dog of Hell,” who guarded the gate to Hades; Sirius the baleful “Star-Dog”; and Sarama, “the spotted one” to whom the devout Brahmin prays. There are many portraits of Cerberus, from that of Hesiod who describes him as having fifty heads to Dante's, who depicts him as crimson-eyed and black-bearded, tearing the spirits of the damned to pieces. He is described as three-headed, when Hercules has his pleasant little encounter with him. But it remained for Disraeli in “The Infernal Marriage,” to take him out of the realm of mythology and treat him as a real dog:
Pluto had seized Proserpine and was carrying her off to the lower world (that much is mythology anyway).
“I long to be at home once more,” he says, “by my own fireside, patting my faithful Cerberus.”
“I think,” replies Proserpine, “I shall like Cerberus; I am fond of dogs.”
They arrive at the palace gates, and the dog appears.
“Ah, Cerby! Cerby!” exclaims Pluto, “my fond and faithful Cerby!” as the dog gambols up to the chariot.
“The monster!” cries Proserpine. “My love!” cries Pluto in astonishment.
“The hideous brute!” says she.
“My dear, how can you say so?” says he.
And then comes a pretty lovers' quarrel indeed, ending, of course, in Pluto's discomfiture.
“What would you have me to do?” asks the discomfited king of Hades.
“Shoot the horrid beast,” is the lady's reply.
This is quite worthy of Dickens himself, than whom no writer has shown a more intimate knowledge of dogs, or more ready sympathy for their ways. He even awakens a certain regard for Bull's-eye, the disreputable bull-dog of Sikes (described in later pages of the present book). Around the comical figure of Jip he weaves a satire that all lovers of lap-dogs should take home to themselves. (See the story from “David Copperfield.”) We have had space to include only these two from Dickens; but the reader is invited to turn also to his chapter on “Shy Neighborhoods,” in “An Uncommercial Traveller,” where he gives us some inimitable portraits. Then there are the performing dogs of “Old Curiosity Shop.”
Sir Walter Scott's name at once comes to mind as that of a man who was devoted to his dog friends in daily life, and who has immortalized more than one of them in fiction. Of his dog portraits, the little terrier, Wasp, in “Guy Mannering” is one of the best. We have included some of his story in “Dandie Dinmont and His Terriers,” and only wish we could have included all; for the faithful Wasp reappears throughout the book.
In “The Talisman,” a dog comes very near to being the hero. The “noble hound,” Roswal, set to guard the banner of England in his master's absence is set upon and left for dead, and the banner captured. When Sir Kenneth finds him “the dying animal faithful to the last,” licking his master's hand, the knight's “strength of mind gave way to a burst of agonized distress, and he groaned and wept aloud.” But Roswal, fortunately for them both, does not die. He lives to disclose the culprit in a very dramatic manner. With “a furious and savage yell,” he leaped upon the steed of his enemy and “seizing the Marquis by the throat, pulled him down from the saddle.” Then came a cry, “Cut the slave and his hound to pieces!” But King Richard, who witnesses the occurrence, exclaims, “He dies the death who injures the hound.” And the King later pays this tribute to man’s best friend:
“The Almighty, who gave the dog to be companion of our pleasures and our toils, hath invested him with a nature noble and incapable of deceit. He forgets neither friend nor foe, remembers and with accuracy both benefit and injury. He hath a share of man’s intelligence, but no share of man's falsehood. You may bribe a soldier to slay a man with his sword, or a witness to take life by false accusation, but you cannot make a hound tear his benefactor; he is the friend of man, save when man justly incurs his enmity.”
Then there is Wolf in “The Abbot,” a deerhound who saves a man from drowning, and is intensely jealous of the young fellow's favor with the lady of Avenel. Bevis, in “Woodstock,” attends church with his master and “behaved himself as decorously as any of the congregation,” and returned home “perhaps as much edified as most of them.” In “Ivanhoe” we meet Fangs, “a lean, black dog,” plebeian of birth but noble of soul, at whom Cedric hurls a javelin because “in his uncouth way” the dog is rejoicing over Gurth’s return.
From these kindly dogs and true we turn with a shudder to contemplate Snarleyyow, the Dog-Fiend of the Yungfrow, a creation of Marryat's. Here is an utterly impossible cur belonging to an utterly impossible character. Bill Sikes's Bull's-eye is respectable by comparison. It is described generally as “one of the ugliest and most ill-conditioned curs which had ever been produced.” To the eye of the casual observer there was not a single redeeming quality in the beast; but, for that matter, the same could be said of his master. The lieutenant was as unlovely a brute, physically and morally, as his dog, but “all the affection he ever showed to anything living was certainly concentrated on this one animal, and next to his money Snarleyyow had possession of his master's heart.” The master was trying to marry a widow, but Snarleyyow having bitten her and her servant, she demands the dog's corpse as a preliminary, and the lieutenant is sorely perplexed whether to give up the widow or “his darling Snarleyyow—a dog whom he loved the more, the more he was through him entangled in scrapes and vexations—a dog whom everyone hated, and therefore beloved—a dog which had not a single recommendation, and therefore was highly prized.” As a final scene for the precious pair, the lieutenant is about to be hanged, and pleads for a moment's grace that he may “kiss his poor dog.” Then he is hanged— and the dog is hanged with him! By way of epitaph the author adds: “Thus perished one of the greatest scoundrels and one of the vilest curs which ever existed. They were damnable in their lives, and in their death they were not divided.”
As an antidote for this picture we may turn to Kingsley’s “Hypatia,” where Bran the huge British mastiff, leads her master Raphael by devious paths from a mystic heathenism to sanity and light. He comes to accept Bran as his “guide, tutor, and queen of philosophy,” and later says: “I took her, my dog, for my teacher, and obeyed her, for she was wiser than I, and she led me back, the poor dumb beast, like a God-sent and God-obeying angel, to human nature, to mercy, to self-sacrifice, to belief, to worship, to love.”
Like Roswal, in Scott’s “Talisman,” of whom we have already spoken, the dog becomes, upon the overthrow of the master's fortune, the chief instrument for bringing him back to peace and happiness.
Nor must we overlook another dog, one taken from the pages of the supreme master of literature, Shakespeare. In “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” we have a delightful picture of Launce the garrulous servant and his dog Crab. We meet Launce first on his entry into service. “I have received,” he says, “my proportion, like the Prodigious Son, and am going to Court.” Then he pays his respects to his dog:
“I think Crab, my dog, is the sourest natured dog that lives: my mother weeping, my father wailing, my sister crying, our maid howling, our cat wringing her hands, and all our house in a great perplexity, yet did not this cruel-hearted cur shed one tear. He is a stone, a very pebblestone, and has no more pity in him than a dog.”
Later Crab gets into trouble; he “thrusts himself into the company of three or four gentlemanlike dogs under the Duke's table,” and at once there is a hullabaloo. “Whip him!” cries one of the guests; but Launce will not stand for it.
“I goes to the man that whips the dogs. ‘Friend, quoth I, do you mean to whip the dog?” ‘Ay, marry do I, quoth he. “You do him the more wrong, quoth I; it was I did the thing you wot of.” He makes no more ado, but whips me out of the chamber. How many masters would do this for his servant? Nay, I'll be sworn I have sat in the stocks for puddings he has stolen, otherwise he had been executed. I have stood on the pillory for geese he hath killed, otherwise he had suffered for’t” (and then looking at his dog), “thou thinks’t not of this now.”
One of the gems of dog literature, “Rab and His Friends,” by an author who is now known for no other story, Dr. John Brown, is here reprinted in full. Another well known story by the delightful Irving, “Rip Van Winkle,” is also included. We wonder how much of interest has been added to this figure by the inclusion of his dog in the picture! He is a part of the background that cannot be spared. Other inclusions, Tolstoi's “Stories of My Dogs,” are evidently based on real life.
Of recent years there has been a renaissance of dog literature, which has produced more than one remarkable book. Ouida with her pathetic story of “A Dog of Flanders” was one of the forerunners. Then came Marshall Saunders with her “Beautiful Joe,” in which the dog tells his own story, just as “Black Beauty,” the horse, did, and to as large a circle of admirers! Among the ablest of latter-day books in which the dog is quite frankly the hero, is “Bob, Son of Battle,” by Alfred Ollivant—an unforgettable picture of the sheep country of England. Another Scotch doggie who will live in history is “Greyfriars Bobby,” a skye-terrier whose actual devotion to his master has been perpetuated in bronze. Conan Doyle has made use of dogs more than once in his tales of mystery, the most notable example being “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” Jack London was a master at dog stories, his “Call of the Wild” being only the first of a wonderful group. Still more recently Albert Payson Terhune has contributed his bit, in “Lad: a Dog,” and in other noteworthy tales.
The above résumé is not intended to be a bibliography of this fascinating field; it is but a guide-post along the way. To all dog lovers who follow it, is promised many another canine friend, big and little.
Dedicated to my best friend: Teddy Schmitz. I miss you buddy.