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It is not uncommon for some confusion to exist with regard to the term staghound, by which nomenclature the impression of the breed of deerhounds is often conveyed. In the section dealing with the latter variety, Mr. Hood-Wright, so long and successfully associated with deerhounds, expresses his preference for the name of “ Scottish staghound.” On the other hand, there is a famous pack of staghounds which goes by the title of “New Forest Deerhounds." Again, by way of further variation, the late Royal pack was always called the “ Royal Buckhounds,” whilst, to make confusion worse confounded, Staghounds, New Forest Deerhounds, and Buckhounds are, or are said to be, one and all foxhounds, described technically and generically.
The truth is, the modern staghound is only a staghound in that it is used for hunting the stag; many of the packs of to-day are filled up with overgrown hounds drafted from foxhound kennels, and you breed foxhounds to produce staghounds. The foxhound used for fox-hunting runs from 23 to 24 inches at the shoulder; the Royal buckhounds were 24 inches, the bitch pack being only 22 inches. The Devon and Somerset staghounds (entirely drafted from various foxhound kennels) rise to 26 inches at the shoulder, and are the tallest of all the staghound packs. The
tallest foxhound on record was a monster of 27 inches, whelped in the Warwickshire pack. Many masters of staghounds buy, never breed, their own hounds. All of which rather tends to cut away the ground from under an article like this, and leaves me in the awkward
OLD SOUTHERN HOUND (1803). After Reinagle. position of having to produce the play, sans the character, of Hamlet.
Charles James Apperley, better known as “Nimrod,” who flourished in the first four decades of the last century, and was a most popular and voluminous sporting writer, in his work on The Horse and the Hound has some interesting and valuable observations to make about the staghound of his times, as follows :
The English staghound, now nearly gone, is little more than a mongrel bloodhound ; at least it is reasonable to conclude that the cross which produced him was from the English bloodhound, with some lighter animal of a similar species (perhaps a greyhound or a lurcher) approximating his form. It is asserted in the Sportsman's Cabinet, published in 1803, that the staghound was “ originally an improved cross between the old English deeptongued, southern hound and the fleeter foxhound, grafted upon the basis of what was formerly called, and better known by the appellation of bloodhound.” But this assertion must have been made without proper reflection, for, in the first place, a cross between the deep-tongued southern hound and the foxhound will not produce an animal nearly so large and strong as the staghound; and secondly, the staghound was known in England long before the foxhound was made use of, or, indeed, before there was an animal at all resembling the one which is now known by that term. We confess we regret the prospect of the total extinction of the English staghound, which, although his form possessed little of that symmetry we now see in the English foxhound, was a majestic animal of its kind, and possessed the property, peculiar alone to the bloodhound and itself, of unerringly tracing the scent he was laid upon, amongst a hundred others.
The illustration to this text (in the third edition of The Horse and the Hound) presents one of those exasperating anomalies which crop up so constantly to confront and confound the researcher after old canine types, for it is nothing less that a very racylooking deerhound—an animal which on the face of it hunted by sight and not by scent, with greyhound ears, body, and neck, and the alert look of the breed. I cannot help thinking this ghastly satire on the letterpress must have been the unhappy thought of some thrifty editor wishing to find use for a spare block. Happily Reinagle has left us an excellent likeness of the staghound as he existed a hundred years ago, and I reproduce an outline copy of it, drawn with the fidelity in which Mr. Desmond excels. Comparing this with Reinagle's engravings of other hounds (Sagaces) it would appear to be an animal of about 28 inches at the shoulder, and I think that“ Nimrod's ” description of a "majestic hound” may very fairly be applied to it. In another work published in the middle of the nineteenth century, with illustrations by Harrison Weir, there is an illustration of a staghound and a foxhound standing side by side, the former being certainly 4 inches taller at the shoulder than the latter ; and the artist being one we can thoroughly trust in animal portraiture, his representation is interesting as confirming Reinagle's standard of height, though I could have wished Harrison Weir's hound had not curled its tail over its back quite so aggressively. But the lesson to be learnt from these two illustrations of the early and middle of last century, given us by two eminent artists, is that the staghound of our grandfather's times was in its outward conformation a foxhound, perhaps a little more leggy, certainly taller, and with his ears unrounded. He remains pretty much the same to-day.
Neither of these hounds answers to “Nimrod's ” description, and I fear the breed he describes is extinct. The which is a pity, for the old English staghound was an ancient and historic animal, and one we can ill spare from our canine category. He is intimately associated with our history from the time of Alfred the Great; associated with the sport of kings and nobles ; followed in the field by many an English monarch ; favoured by Queen Elizabeth, and patronised by Queen Victoria in the evolution, if not in the actual type of hound. There are writers who ally it to the old Talbot hound, and one rather sanguinely asserts Shakespeare gave a matchless description of the old English breed in the well-known passage in Midsummer-Night's Dream :
My hounds are bred out of the Spartan kind,