Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

I have mentioned as having seen at Bill George's kennels some sixteen years ago; while others that I frequently used to meet with at that time were of the same character. These, one and all, presented the same type—a strong proof of their purity—and that type was in all respects the same as the old English mastiff portrayed by Vandyke. The same may be said of the dogs in Landseer's picture of Alpine mastiffs, which have all the points of the true mastiffs, although their tails, as might be expected from the cold climate, are hairier than they should be. At that time one used to meet with good English mastiffs also, but they were few compared to the number of half-bred animals that went by that name; and, with the exception of Mr. Lukey's breed, the good ones have nearly all come from Lancashire, Cheshire, and the north of England generally, where some years ago they were still in considerable request for guarding the large bleaching grounds. Between these and the Alpine dogs I never could discover the slightest difference except in size—the best English dogs varying from 29in. to 33in. at the shoulder, while the Alpine male specimens were seldom under 32in.

Now, it is ridiculous to suppose that the dogs that used to be found at the convent, and in a few of the Swiss valleys, were a breed indigenous to that small part of the continent of Europe; and yet it was there only that the breed existed. When, therefore, we find the same animal common in England two hundred years ago, and still to be met with in considerable numbers, though more rarely than formerly, it is only reasonable to conclude that the English and Mount St. Bernard mastiffs are identical breeds, and that the monks, requiring large, powerful, generous, and highcouraged animals for their benevolent purposes, selected the old English dog in preference to all other breeds. It is very easy to understand that, with the disuse of the breed for combating wild animals, they should have been allowed to die out and degenerate in England; and it is equally easy to understand that the mastiffs kept at the Convent of St. Bernard for a particular purpose, requiring strength and courage, should have been kept up, and thus that the best specimens of the breed in modern times have come from there.

The above opinion of Colonel Garnier's, written, say, a quarter of a century ago, will scarcely find favour now. There is not the slightest similarity between the smooth St. Bernard and the mastiff, and our English bred specimens of the former are all, as a rule, bigger and heavier than any animals that have been imported. Nor can I see any resemblance, excepting, perhaps, in size, between Landseer's Alpine mastiffs, painted in the early part of that great artist's career, and our own English mastiff. No doubt crosses with some foreign bred dogs were introduced sixty years ago, and even more recently, but at that time canine education was not far advanced, and a dog with a foreign name would bring more money in the market than one that bore a national nomenclature. On this account I fancy pedigrees became somewhat mixed, and, reading all that has been written by Colonel Garnier and others, it would be difficult to believe in the British mastiff as little more than a mongrel rather than as a direct descendant of all that is old in our English dogs. We hear of the bulldog cross and the bloodhound cross; but when were they introduced, and by whom 2 These are important questions, which have not hitherto been answered. There is no doubt that amongst modern mastiffs specimens quite frequently occur that show in the round, broad skull, sunken eyes, and, shall I say, the undershot jaw, a decided leaning to the bulldog in expression. Some admirers of the breed say the mastiff ought to be undershot, and that he was so originally. A perfect mastiff ought to be as level in his teeth as a terrier. He should have a distinctive character of his own, not of the bulldog as above described, nor of the hound with a long square face, with loose skin under his throat, and deeply pendulous dewlaps. Such dogs as I have in my mind bore none of these defects. They looked mastiffs pure and simple, and were such from the end of their noses to the tips of their tails. As my paragon I always took that grand dog Turk, who was bred by the late Miss Aglionby at Esthwaite Hall, near Hawkshead, one of the Lancashire portions of the English lake district. This fine dog, born in 1865, was one of an extraordinary litter by Mr. E. Field's King from the breeder's Hilda, the one whelping including Wolf, which his fair owner considered the better dog, Knight Templar, Emperor, and Turk. Thus there were four dogs in the same litter the like of which could scarcely be bred in twenty litters to-day. How these dogs won in classes that were far stronger then than now, and for years after likewise, is a matter of history. In 1871 sixtynine mastiffs were benched at one of the Crystal Palace shows, and at Birmingham the same year there were twenty-nine competitors in the open dog class. There were men at that time who bred their dogs with care, and they had not commenced to breed for exaggerated heads to the sacrifice of qualities equally important.

Earlier than the Turk epoch, Mr. E. Hanbury, from Wiltshire, was showing some good dogs, and not many years later Mr. E. Nichols, of South Kensington, who survives, and takes as much interest in them as ever, would not look at any dog that possessed the round bull-headed skull introduced a little later. Bill George's Tiger, whose name will be found in the pedigrees of most modern mastiffs, was no great wonder in the way of size, but his head was correctly shaped, and if he was underhung at all it was very little. I never saw the dog myself, but whilst one authority says Tiger's lower jaw protruded, I am told that this was not the case. Mr. Lukey's Governor was not undershot, but no doubt some of the early dogs were so deformed, still with this defect they had not the additional ones of crooked and too twisted hocks, so prevalent as I write in 1893.

Other fine dogs that were not underhung were Mr. C. Bathurst's Peveril, Mr. Hanbury's Rajah, Sir T. Fermor Hesketh's Nero, Mr. Ralph Yeardsley's Anlaf, a son of Mr. M. B. Wynn's Monarch, and later Mr. Dickenson's Lion and Mrs. Rawlinson's Hector, with many others that could be mentioned, and with so much good stuff to breed from, the wonder is that the defects alluded to have not died out rather than increased. Then there is no getting away from the fact that the more any of the modern mastiffs resemble the bulldog in head, the greater probability that they resemble him in his walk—or waddle rather—a gait certainly quite out of place in a typical mastiff.

To my idea, that dog Crown Prince, who was bred by Mr. Woolmore in 1880, has much to answer for, so far as the present defects in the mastiff are concerned. He was a peculiarly coloured fawn dog, known to fanciers as “Dudley-faced "–that is, his nose was red, his eyes had a similar inclination, and a yellow redness pervaded his face and muzzle, which to me was always most repellant. Unfortunately, his evil marking notwithstanding, this dog attracted the notice of the judges, and by them was awarded the highest honours attainable, because they said his head was so extraordinarily good in its various developments. It was ex

« ForrigeFortsett »