mountain. At the village the family of the man had become alarmed at his absence, and ascended the mountain in the hope of assisting him home. Two terrific avalanches at that time fell, and, rolling down from where the snows had accumulated for years, overwhelmed, first the courier, his guides, and the dogs, and continuing their course, swept the man's family to destruction—and it is said Barry was one of the dogs that met so untimely an end. Though the monks have had their dogs for many years—how many has not yet been traced, but their monastery was founded in 962—as British subjects St. Bernards are but a modern institution. Perhaps they were originally at the Hospice for protection of person and property, as the following extract from an old English newspaper will testify:— “In March, 1786, the convent of Sion, on the borders of Switzerland, was attacked by twenty-four villains who demanded the treasure thereof. The monks replied that their rents were ill-paid, and that at present they had very little stock, but they would show them where it was. Accordingly the robbers were shown upstairs where it was said to be, when, opening the door where the bloodhounds (?) were and giving them the word, they fell instantly upon the villains and tore some of them to pieces. The others, attempting to fly, were pursued and taken accordingly. These dogs are kept therefore for the preservation of the convent, and to find dead bodies in the snow; for many perish in attempting to cross the Alps, whose bodies are found by these dogs and receive decent interment.” I think the above quotation particularly interesting, especially as it is about the time when we appear to have little knowledge of the St. Bernard. It would be by no means difficult to bring about such a change in the duties of a hound, who, when seeking the dead bodies of travellers, would not unfrequently discover other travellers who had not quite succumbed to the rigours of an Alpine storm, and so be the means of their preservation. Such cases occurring once or twice, and the kind-hearted monks would not be unwilling to discern that some refreshment placed around the neck of the dog would be seen and gratefully appreciated by the poor man who required such assistance. It has been said that it was not until 1815 that the first St. Bernard was imported to this country, this being a specimen that went to Leasowe Castle, in Cheshire, the seat of the Cust family. Many years, however, passed over before the great dog began to force himself upon the public. Landseer painted him on one of his canvasses, but this great artist called him the Alpine mastiff. Still, even then, he was known as the St. Bernard ; for I have an extract from a magazine dated 1843, in which it is said that a St. Bernard puppy, born in London, endeavoured during a severe winter to track the footsteps in the snow just as his parents might have done years before on the Alps, and what made this still more strange was the fact that until the snow fell the puppy had never before attempted anything of the kind. Then Albert Smith, a celebrated entertainer a generation ago, who pleased our fathers, and ourselves in our childhood with his interesting lectures and panoramas, after one of his visits to the continent, returned with a couple of St. Bernard dogs from the Hospice. These he made a most attractive feature of his already pleasant show, introducing them in connection with Mont Blanc. This would be about 1850. Still the dog of the Hospice did not attain popularity. The country was not at that time educated up to the pitch of dog shows; railway communication was not then what it is now, and, moreover, it is quite likely that had the general public wanted St. Bernards, they could not have obtained them in sufficient numbers to satisfy the demand. Canine history tells us that a distemper of a virulent character attacked the Hospice dogs about fifty or sixty years ago, and killed all with the exception of one animal. Again, earlier than this, an avalanche it is said proved almost equally fatal in its effects. In 1852 “Idstone" informs us that there were but three dogs at the Hospice, although seven or eight others were kept in some of the neighbouring villages. The latter must have been always the case, and one cannot believe that at any time during the history of this dog it was so near extermination that but a single specimen remained. It is a well authenticated fact, although one that has hitherto been almost, or entirely, overlooked by writers on the St. Bernard, that dogs of the race have from time out of mind been used in Switzerland and on its borders as beasts of burden. No doubt some of the villagers who did business with the monks were dog lovers, and would now and then beg or purchase a puppy, and from youngsters so obtained, and trained to draw light handy carts, quite as much as from those brought up in the Hospice, our present race must have sprung. But old Barry was not nearly so big a dog as our best modern specimens, possibly he might be more active than some of them ; nor was his colour so bright, nor were his markings so exact and regular as are looked for to-day. Barry was a dullish brindle and white, or white and brindle in

hue, a pleasant-looking, smooth-coated dog, with nice character, I have been told, but a pigmy in comparison with the giants of our times. Some modern champions, with their thick, shaggy coats, twisted hind legs and huge heads, would, I am afraid, make but sorry headway through the snow, even though they might possess “double dew claws,” with which nature was said to have provided them in order that they should not sink in the snowdrifts. Happily the latter fallacy has been exploded, and neither the absence of or presence of such abnormal excrescences has the slightest weight with a judge of St. Bernards at the present day. As a fact, the Swiss monks prefer the smooth or short-coated dogs, for reasons which are sufficiently obvious. About thirty years it is since this dog began to obtain popularity in this country. A year or two before that time, specimens had occasionally appeared at our earlier dog shows, in the “variety'' classes mostly, but in 1863 there was a canine exhibition at Cremorne Gardens, and here a section was specially provided for the novel variety, and it had an entry of fifteen. Lord Garvagh was the judge, and he gave the first prize to the Rev. N. Bates's Monk—an imported dog, said at the time, as all imported dogs then were, to be descended from the celebrated Barry. The / feld report of the show

« ForrigeFortsett »