Victorian London - Publications - Humorous - Lights and Shadows of London Life [by James Payn], 1867 - Vol. 2 -  Chapter 20 - At The Dog-Show

[back to menu for this book ...]




THAT half the world does not know how the other half lives, was wont to be a true saying, although but a partial truth. It might have been added, that it was likewise ignorant of the feelings, passions, ambitions, and even the amusements of the other half. A certain tulip affords not only pleasure to A, but excites him to a sort of frenzy he would give a quarter of his whole possessions to become the owner of an ill-smelling painted Jezebel of a flower, no other specimen of which, he is well assured, is in the collection of any rival tulip-fancier. The rest of the human alphabet used to stand aghast at A's infatuation. To B, whose entire existence, except the six weeks which [-253-] are out of the season, and when he cannot "get up a fourth" in all London, is spent in playing with grotesquely executed pieces of cardboard, and who founds his claim to religion and morality upon the ground that he desists from playing whist exactly as the clock strikes twelve upon Saturday nights, A's course of conduct was unintelligible; he had known persons to have weaknesses for particular suits, like Mrs. Sarah Battle, and even for particular cards, such as the Queen of Clubs, who does indeed carry a flower in her hand - but for tulips ! Could any one imagine a more frivolous and senseless taste? C, who has enough money to maintain himself and family in comfort and even luxury, and who would scorn to increase his capital by trade, finds all the interest of life centred in a horse-race; he bets heavily upon animals about which he knows nothing for certain, except that their owners are not to be trusted, and believes that there is no joy in this world comparable to that of overreaching a friend. C, I say, was wont to look with the utmost contempt on D, who [-254-] only cares for horses in respect to their capabilities of carrying him after hounds, and looks upon summer as an error in judgment on the part of Providence, insomuch as it affords no fox-hunting. E, who spends his spare time in thoughtful study upon the construction of some machine which shall destroy his fellow-creatures in the most unforeseen manner possible, by falling upon them from the skies, or bursting out upon them from under their feet, and whose idea of perfection is "the greatest destruction of the greatest number," used to conceive F to be little less than a brute, because he never misses a prize-fight, and his money is always ready at the Cat and Cauliflower, in the cause of Science and the National Manliness. Similarly, G and the rest of us were wont to have some particular delight or hobby which was "caviare to the general ;" a clique more or less limited sympathised with us, and a palisade more or less confined enclosed us, over which we gazed, indifferent-eyed, at the pursuits of the world.
    Now it is one of the specialties of Society, on the [-255-] other hand, and no insignificant evidence of its liberality and large-heartedness, that it has a desire to be informed about itself. Not only is the upper crust anxious to know how the under crust gets on, and despatches its missionaries, its Mayhews, and its Amateur Casual, and institutes its Social Science Association, and resolves itself into special commissions for that end, but the various cliques and coteries we have spoken of begin to evince an interest in that social body which they go to make up, and the social body in them. There is an inclination on the part of those within to lower their palisade, and on the part of those without to look over it, and see what is going on.
    Virtuosi who have spent tens of thousands upon the most hideous productions of the ceramic art; on clumsy jewellery of six centuries ago; upon ivory idols from the far ends of the universe; and who were wont to keep these things as jealously as the Turk his harem, are now as desirous of getting their goods appreciated as though they were marine store-dealers. Cognoscenti who used to pride [-256-] themselves upon their exclusiveness, now "loan" those mysterious treasures for public exhibition which were wont to be shewn as a favour only to their dearest friends, and then only for the sake of exciting their envy. Possessors of paintings that a few years ago would have been covered with a curtain, and exposed only on great occasions, like relics, to a few devotees of the Fine Arts, despatch them now to galleries, to which the most ignorant may gain admittance daily for sixpence, and which the humblest may enter on Wednesdays and Saturdays for nothing at all. Associations, archaeological and scientific, whose nebulous "proceedings" used to take place in dusty chambers, as far as possible removed from the ordinary world, hold open meetings, and attract to themselves excursion-trains at reduced prices. Chess-clubs, whose meditative doings were wont to be as secret as those of the Star Chamber, now play in our town-halls, and, for time additional gratification of the populace, incorporate a sort of blind-man's-buff with their time-honoured science. Flower-fanciers entice [-257-] fox-hunters to their rose-shows. Agriculturists, who were formerly supposed to have a monopoly of the organ of wonder, attract the entire metropolis to gaze at their long-horns and their short-horns, their shearlings and their yearlings.
    The whole fashionable world, male and not a few of its female members, emigrated to Battersea Park the other day to see, and even to feel. It was considered a sign of ignorance not to knead and pinch the regions about the tails of the fat cattle. The ladies, who imagined, I think, that the objects of their attentions were personally gratified by this process, indented the animals with the points of their parasols. They gazed with interest upon "Little Wonder" - the fattest pig in the world, I should suppose - and expressed a tender pity that he should have been disqualified for a prize on account of his teeth.* [* These were certainly in a melancholy condition, but the objection lay in his advanced age, which his teeth too positively indicated. With respect to pigs, by-the-by, it was observed in my hearing by more than one fashionable visitor, that the fatter the pigs were the less hair they had, [-258-] and therefore the more obtrusively pink were their complexions. A question therefore arises, which may never have occurred to the agricultural mind by reason of its familiarity with this phenomenon: Is there, then, only a certain amount of hairs provided for each pig, so that the greater its superficies, the more sparse the hair? We pause for a reply.]
[-258-] The most remarkable timing in this great collection, perhaps, was an empty compartment, labelled " Pen of Three Females," which attracted great attention. I myself being interested in literature, was particularly curious about this, expecting to behold the writing implement which had been used in turn by some female triumvirate of letters - Hypatia, Hannah More, and Miss Martineau, perhaps - but there was nothing but space and straw. The precious relic, if there was one, had been unaccountably removed before my visit. The most strenuous efforts were however made by all to understand what there was really to be seen, and if we did not succeed, we deserved to do so.
    This creditable desire for knowledge on the part of Society at Battersea was, however, quite eclipsed [-259-] by its enthusiasm during the same week at Islington. The former is a locality which the aristocracy are unquestionably less accustomed to visit than the Second Cataract of the Nile, but the latter is a terra incognita indeed. It is not too much to say, that a greater number of English people of fashion have surveyed St. Peter's at Rome than have ever set eyes on, far less partaken of refreshments at, the Angel at Islington. Yet, cabinet ministers and their wives, and bishops (not of Bond Street), and hundreds of ladies and gentlemen of title and high degree, betook themselves, in a certain week in June, to this unknown district, in order to see a Dog-show.
    The Islington Agricultural Hall, in which this exhibition was held, is, as regards the exterior, of a doubtful style of architecture; but the interior is of that Transition period when people began to build roofs over their stables, but had not as yet divided them into stalls. More than a thousand dogs of all descriptions - Sporting, Toy, Fancy, Fighting, and Foreign - were assembled here, the smaller in little [-260-] detached dwellings of their own, and the larger on couches of straw, with no restriction as to space save that imposed by the length of their chains. The cleanliness of these creatures was beyond all praise, but yet there was a certain aroma about them - extrait de canaille, let us call it - which brought out Society's scent-bottles; while, as for the noise, we can well believe that the singers in the Philharmonic Concert Rooms over the way did find the canine rivalry a little trying. Lablache himself could never have got lower than the Alpine mastiff, whose bell-bass was incessant; nor could the singer of highest note in the vocal scale have beaten, in respect to shrillness at least, the white terriers. A couple of these, in particular, "Highly Commended" by the judges, but apparently far from satisfied with that award, never ceased, with red eyes and quavering voice, to impugn the justice of the decree which had deprived them of a silver medal. Aristocratically contemptuous of such complainers lay the King Charles's spaniels, each upon its little cushion, and with [-261-] scarlet ribbons in its jet-black hair. They seemed to know that the race is getting as scarce as old Port, and that the prices set on their silky heads ranged from ten to seventy guineas. These, in common with the majority of the dogs exhibited, were bond fide for sale; but where such sums as 1500, and even 2000, were affixed to any animal in the catalogue, it might be concluded that the owner did not wish to part with his canine favourite. Such unexpectedly large prices were, however, given in some cases, that the owners were obliged to part with what they had no intention of selling-the fancy price they had put on their property being insufficient to keep it in their own possession.
    Scarcely less delicate than the King Charleses were the Maltese dogs, white door-mats for my lady's boudoir, and with only an exquisite pink nose-tip to proclaim them dogs at all. Some of these dainty ones were even in glass-cases - looking rather stuffed - and one had her family-tree planted at her door, so that all might be aware of [-262-] her lofty lineage. She was the granddaughter of Rose, the most luxuriant-coated lady-dog ever known in England, whose tresses were thirteen and a half inches in length. In curious contrast to these were their insufficiently clothed neighbours, the toy-terriers, who wore their gossamer chains with much impatience, and strove to bite off the very tickets that proclaimed their triumphs: some of these were shivering like half an aspen leaf, and occasionally emitting a Liliputian snap, like the closing of a portemonnaie. The pug-dogs, very deficient in nose, and with the rest of their features (to say the least) very much foreshortened, also kept up a continuous duodecimo snarl; they looked as if they had failed in becoming bull-dogs - just as the critics are said to be disappointed authors - and their tempers perhaps were soured by that circumstance.
    The foreign dogs - among which I discovered a Scotch collie, much disgusted with his company - were for the most part rather a sad sight. There were some Pekin dogs, who appeared to regret [-263-] that they had ever been littered, or had not gone the way of all dogs in their native country in early youth, and been served up at mandarins' tables. The poodles, too, shivered miserably in the cold shade of the English aristocracy; and the Egyptian dogs - half rat and half Italian greyhound - were a piteous spectacle. The former were "got up" as well as their circumstances would permit; what little hair they had was combed and comme il faut - taken assiduous care of, as is the hair of the human when he first perceives that he is getting bald; but the dogs of Egypt had absolutely no hair, while their complexion was of that dead blue which a gentleman's upper lip presents immediately after shaving. It may have been my insular prejudice, but the Russian retrievers, handsome dogs though they were, seemed to present the same keen, cowed expression that is often observable in their masters; while the French sporting-dog betrayed at once the inaptitude of our Gallic neighbours for le Sport. I am certain that the pointers at least had been accustomed to con-[-264-]sider tomtits as game. There were numbers of some nameless extra-foreign classes upon whose ancestors it would have puzzled Mr. Darwin himself to pronounce for certain, but all seemed to occupy themselves very agreeably in catching flies - and other insects.
    Of a very different sort from these were the great St. Bernards, the philosophers of the canine world, in whose thoughtful faces and vast limbs its intellect and dignity are most united. Not even the massive Alpine mastiffs gave such assurance of a dog as these, nor the huge boar-hounds, almost as terrible and truculent as the game they pursue. Most of these mighty creatures were dumb - too disdainful to complain of their captivity at the hands of man - but ever and anon they poured forth an awful note of lamentation, not for themselves, as it seemed, but for the humiliation of the species over which they felt themselves to reign in vain. The Prometheus bound might have expressed himself to the same effect against the gods. One of these St. Bernards [-265-] might be bought - although it seemed profanation to barter so noble a creature - for a hundred pounds; but the affixed price would be in reality far less than the actual expense, for the best dogs are certain to be often stolen if their purchasers live in town, and to cost from two pounds to ten for each recovery. The adventures of ladies and gentlemen of fashion after their lost dogs might be published appropriately enough under the title of The Wilds of Whitechapel.
The deer-hounds* [* There were two smooth-coated deer-hounds, a very rare kind, specimens of which, I believe, are only to be found in Eastwell Park, where they are used for separating the deer from the herd.] moaned, and even barked as they slept, hunting, doubtless, in their dreams, upon the heathery hills. It must have been sad for Gelert (two grand dogs were so named), with his heart in the Highlands, to wake and find his body in Islington. The offspring of this species, so beautiful in maturity, are as ungainly in early youth as calves or cygnets, nor did the majority of the canine puppies exhibited give promise of [-266-] future good looks; the young of King Charles's breed, on the other hand, looked every inch (though their inches were few) a prince or princess, and those of the Newfoundlands were perfect miniatures of papa and mamma.
    It is not too much to say, that very few human Sovereigns have ever looked so majestic as did the blood-hounds. These are unquestionably the hereditary aristocracy of the canine race, and their impassive magnificence is just what the folks who are anxious to appear "well connected" are always striving after. They are not very intellectual, indeed; but then there is no necessity for it. Nature has set her coroneted seal upon them (which she sometimes omits to do with the biped), and no one disputes their title to Nobility, although the bull-dog may of course turn up his democratic nose at the Institution itself as much as he pleases. Each blood-hound looked as if he had gained the first prize, and was sitting to Sir Edwin Landseer for his portrait, at the especial request of her Majesty Queen Victoria. Their play, if their [-267-] mutual condescensions can be called by so light a same, was as that of lions; and once or twice there burst forth a terrible sound from their massive jaws, such as the hunted slave in the Dismal Swamp has often shuddered to hear, and the echo of which has startled the Recording Angel, accustomed as he is to the vindictive cruelty and unnatural avarice of Man.
    The twenty couple of fox-hounds belonging to the Duke of Beaufort had, of course, no price set on them; they were priceless: their owner even refused the prize awarded, because there were no competitors. If a Frenchman could possibly be taught to understand such things, he would have beheld in that miniature kennel the finest specimens of the sporting-dog that exist. Nature and art combined in them to produce all excellences - speed, endurance, tone, sagacity, delicacy of smell, unanimity, beauty. More care, more money, more labour had been expended on the bringing up of these dogs than on the nurture and education (alas!) of half the people who would fill that [-268-] exhibition on its shilling-days. What an idea of the importance of sporting-dogs in England would the following pedigree (extracted from the pages of this catalogue) of a mere pointer afford to a foreigner:-

Conceive the astonishment of this ancestral animal if he could be informed that there are countries so savage and uncivilised that they possess no game-laws!
    [-269-] The little creatures with their hair combed over their eyes, whose uniformity of appearance at both extremities suggested the famous inqniry of the street-boy : "Vich is is ed, and vich is is tail?" were, of course, Skye terriers; and the much larger dogs, looking very much ashamed of themselves, as filling an unrecognised and amphibious position - half-land, half-water dog - were otter-dogs, the Marines of the canine army. There was a very large show of mastiffs, so quiet and sleepy, to all appearance, that it was hard to suppose such creatures delighted in combat. One very fine one, of indomitable pluck and vigour, was entitled Quaker - in compliment, no doubt, to the member for Birmingham. About the bull-dogs, however, there could be no mistake as to their mission in the world. Fighting was evidently what they were born for, and a profession in which their business and pleasure were happily mixed. Their resemblance to fighting-men-to the bullet-headed, short-nosed, low-browed, evil-eyed individuals who belong to what is called (by a hideous misnomer) [-270-] the Fancy, was most striking, and seems to confirm the doctrine of metempsychosis beyond contradiction. One or two of them had even black eyes. A female bull-terrier, with pups, quite failed to convey the expression of tenderness which the pleasures of maternity are said to imprint upon the countenances of the very lowest of her sex. The pups, also, were black, which, when considered with the fact that the legitimate husband was no more than whity-brown, placed the lady's morality and taste upon an equally low level.
    It was quite a relief to leave this vulgar company, and to go up stairs, as it were, into the drawing-room, where the graceful greyhounds, clothed though they were, were uttering small-talk against the unseasonable cold, and the retrievers were handing about their drinking-mugs to everybody (for practice), as though at a kettledrum. The timid setters, with beseeching eyes, were here too, and the spaniels wishing to make friends with anybody, and the glorious Newfoundlands, full of [-271-] magnificent good-nature, and surrounded by admiring young people, whom they welcomed by "giving paw." The superiority of expression was certainly with this last species, with the St. Bernards, and with the blood-hounds; next in intelligence came the sporting-dogs ; then the "varmint" creatures, whose thoughts run on rats and badgers; then the pet and fancy classes; and lastly, the fighting-dogs, with their blood-shot eyes fixed longingly upon the spectator's under-lip.
    Upon the whole, the Islington Exhibition was a most interesting one, and the dog-fanciers have established their claim to some consideration. Whitechapel and Belgravia have for the first time shaken hands. It is no little credit to the managers of the undertaking, that a thousand dogs should have been collected together, and accommodated so conveniently both for themselves and the public. This enormous raw material for hydrophobia has been dismissed without any occurrence of that malady; but if the evil had not been averted, it would certainly not have been for any want of such deterrent [-272-] and remedial agents as bark and whine, a supply of which each animal was expected to bring with him - and did it.