« ForrigeFortsett »
shadow whilst the substance was almost in the act of departing. I do not know, on reconsideration, whether the simile is very apposite ; but what I wish to convey is that we are rather apt to fiddle-faddle over romantic fiction whilst we ignore cold facts—rather apt to weep over the Song of the Shirt whilst we clothe our soldiers in shirts that are contracted to be sewn for a few farthings. And whilst Scott was being republished in cheap edition after cheap edition, and Landseer's pictures reproduced in inexpensive duplicate, we thought less of the deerhound in the flesh than in the spirit, and if it had not been for dog shows and a few level-headed practical fanciers the noble animal might have died out altogether whilst we were weeping over a pen or pencil portrait of him.
Look through any of the books published about dogs in the first half of the nineteenth century, and you will find but meagre mention of the Scottish deerhound. Even in an edition of Goldsmith's Animated Nature, issued in 1864, with an Appendix on modern dogs supposed to be brought up to date, the deerhound, or “Scottish greyhound," as it is called, is dismissed with a line and a half of description, whilst the Esquimaux dog is accorded a couple of pages, and the Samoyede a page. Two other books at my elbow do not mention it at all, though they dilate on the Irish wolf-dog (as an extinct species) and the Maltese terrier. So much for the practical lessons of Scott and Landseer in the 'Fifties and 'Sixties. It would almost seem from contemporaneous literature that the hound only lived in their pages and canvas about that period. But with the institution of dog shows the fine old breed claimed, and had its claim allowed too, recognition amongst the earliest exhibited varieties ; and if, with the passage of time, it has not gained that wide popularity it deserves, it has at least become firmly established, and is not likely to dwindle back into the obscurity which has engulfed the lost tribes of Israel, and the deerhound had almost shared before dog shows came to fish it out from the waters of oblivion.
Notwithstanding the neglect to which it was subjected in the deathly dull inanition of the inartistic middle Victorian era, the deerhound is an ancient, and, in many ways, a royal breed of dog. We may brush aside the theory that it was descended from the Irish wolf-hound, for assuredly Scotland, with its wild glens and rugged mountain tracks swarming with deer, was well equipped to produce a hunting hound for the chase of them. Nature provides these things; she does not wait for man to invent them ; at least she “ didn't used to”; in this twentieth century man is a length ahead of nature, and has discovered gramaphones, Marconigrams, and radium. But this is neither here nor there, and I accept the hypothesis that if Nature provided wolves in Ireland and the wolf-dog to exterminate them, she was quite capable of providing the deerhound in the sister kingdom without any help from Erin in their procreation.
One thing I willingly allow : that the Scottish deerhound has a strain of ancient Irish wolf-hound blood in it to the same extent that the Irish terrier has a dash of Scottish terrier somewhere in its pedigree. The two countries could scarcely fail to interchange dogs amongst other commodities. But whatever the deerhound may have borrowed from the wolf-hound in the past, it has returned to the wolf-hound of the present. That it is again beginning to borrow is another matter altogether, and one of which two or three of my contributors hint as true in theory if not in fact. But, after all, wolf-hound and deerhound, are they
not both allied breeds—noble breeds—peerless breeds ? And shall we find fault with them for claiming a cousinship? Not I, for one ; nor, I think, any fancier who loves perfection in a hunting hound, or can appreciate a Dublin Fusilier and a Gordon Highlander side by side, as these two dogs may fitly stand.
As I have said, the Scottish deerhound is an ancient breed. You may read incidentally of it in the earliest chapters of Scottish history. The old English historian, Holinshed, tells us how certain Pictish nobles went a-hunting in the domains of Crainlint, King of the Scots, and when they were departing gave diplomatic praise to certain Scottish greyhounds that were better than their own strain of dogs. Royal hospitality demanded that a gift should be made them of a few couples. But one dog they greatly coveted was not included in the offering, and they had the meanness to steal it. The which gave rise to war and a fierce battle, wherein many on both sides were slain. Whereby you may perceive that even in those far times the deerhound was accounted worth fighting over. Then, again (as Mr. Rawdon Lee recalls in a most instructive and interesting article on the breed), there is mention of the deerhound in the days of Robert Bruce, when a famous couple, called Help and Hold, were the heroes in the chase of a white deer in the Pentland Hills, on their ability to catch which their master, Sir William St. Clair, had wagered his head against a grant of broad acres by the Scottish king,—a most charming and breathless epic, in which the hounds just succeeded in winning for their master a magnificent demesne. I can vaguely enter into the triumph of killing that "white" deer, for it was my good fortune on two occasions to bag a white antelope on the plains of India. In the sixteenth century the deerhound was
reported to exist in considerable numbers, but after that they appear to have declined to some extent, notwithstanding that they were fostered by some of the great Scottish chiefs. The Gordons, the Macdonnels, the MacPhersons, the Lochiels of Lochabar, the M-Kenzies, and the MacLeods all had strains of their own. Johnson, in his Tour to the Hebrides, makes mention of a breed of deerhound indigenous to the Isle of Skye, which he
describes as “a brindled greyhound larger and stronger than those with which we course hares.” Baron Cuvier's description is “a wiry-haired greyhound, with long, curling, stiffish hair, generally white, inclining to a reddish-brown tinge."
Coming to more modern times, we find the deerhound retaining its pristine spirit and courage, and exhibiting a gallantry worthy of Gelert of old. Sir Samuel Baker, in one of his earliest books treating of big game shooting in Ceylon, gives us a fine description of the feats of a deerhound called "Smut," the hero of countless battles, and of one especially in which he bayed and seized by the cheek a wounded elk, hanging on to the powerful and infuriated animal at deadly peril to himself till his master was able to spear it. This happened in the 'Sixties. The feat, however, fades into insignificance compared to the performance of sundry deerhounds in America in quite recent years, as may be deduced from the following spirited account of wolf-hunting, which I excerpt from an article by Dr. Van Hummell, a noted deerhound-fancier in the United States, in the American Book of the Dog :
A high-bred deerhound, properly trained, has more courage and can stand more punishment than any other dog. He can run fast enough to catch an antelope, jack rabbit, cayote, wolf, deer, or elk ; he will tree a mountain lion or bear, and will even fight a grizzly bear long enough for you to place yourself in safety.
Some years since I sold a trained pack of six deerhounds to the Sun River Hound Club of Montana, which was composed of wealthy cattlemen who were losing thousands of dollars worth of cattle annually through the ravages of the large, grey timber wolf. They hired Mr. Porter, an experienced wolf-hunter, to handle this pack of deerhounds on their cattle-range for one year, and I had guaranteed the dogs to kill any wolf in the locality.
It seems that one of the members of the club had a large flock of sheep, and one certain wolf had been preying on them for four years past; this tremendous wolf was to be the first one the pack was to tackle. If they could catch and kill him, my guarantee was to be considered fulfilled. The rest of the story is best told in the letters Mr. Porter wrote me.
“Dear Doctor— The dogs and I arrived safe-only very sore from long travel. These men are very anxious to see what kind of work these high-priced dogs will do. Last night that big wolf they wrote you about killed four sheep near the house, and I followed him five or six miles, merely to see what he looked like. I saw him, and I want to tell you now that I think my job and you dog-money will be gone when I allow the dogs to go near