The illustrations in the book are by Cecil Aldin, Vernon Stokes, and Edwin Noble
CAMP AND MAIDA
|I have sometimes thought of the final cause of dogs having such short lives, and I am quite satisfied it is in compassion to the human race; for if we suffer so much in losing a dog after an acquaintance of ten or twelve years, what would it be if they were to live double that time?|
It is an extract written in April, 1822, by Sir Walter Scott to
his friend Maria Edgeworth, a name best known to Victorian schoolrooms as the
author with her father of Edgeworth's Parents' Assistant, but in her day
a novelist of standing. Scott was a great admirer of her writing, and his
letter is in the main an invitation to Abbotsford for the following summer;
meanwhile, he tells her, he knows nothing that he would wish her to see
"which has any particular chance of becoming invisible in the course of
fourteen months, excepting my old bloodhound, poor fellow, on whom age now sits
so heavily that he cannot follow me far from the house."
The old bloodhound was Maida, of whom under the name of Bevis Scott has drawn a portrait in Woodstock. And Maida, doubtless, of the many dogs Scott owned came nearest to his heart; he writes often of Maida in his letters, and Maida as Scott's companion is described in an essay, as we shall see, by Washington Irving. "Bloodhounds", elsewhere called "stag-hounds", "mastiffs", and "greyhounds" - to-day we should name them deerhounds - were no doubt Scott's favourite breed. Lockhart in his Life quotes from Recollections of Sir Walter Scott, a series of papers contributed by Robert Pierce Gillies, a member of the Scottish Bar, to Fraser's Magazine, in which Scott, then (1802) a young man of thirty, is described as setting out for a walk. "He had now," we are told, "somewhat of a boyish gaiety of look, and in person was tall, slim, and extremely active....As to costume, he was carelessly attired in a widely-made shooting-dress, with a coloured handker- chief round his neck: the very antithesis of style usually adopted either by student or barrister." And that is the picture we get of him, lame from babyhood as we know he was, "just proposing to have lunch, and then a long, long walk through wood and wold" with his visitor:
|"But it is time to set out; and here is one friend" (addressing himself to a large dog) "who is very impatient to be out in the field. He tells me he knows where to find a hare in the woods of Mavisbank. And here is another" (caressing a terrier) "who longs to have a battle with the weazels and water-rats, and the foumart that wons near the caves of Gorthy: so let us be off."|
"A large dog - it is a suitable description of a greyhound
mastiff. But if Scott's favourite breed was what to-day we call a deerhound,
that is not the dog of which we hear first by name in the Life. In
April, 1803, we find him on his way to London, and thence to spend a week with
his friends George Ellis and his wife at Sunninghill, when his host and hostess
heard the first two or three cantos of the Lay of the Last Minstrel read
under an old oak in Windsor Forest. He was accompanied on this trip by "a
very large and fine bull-terrier, by name Camp".
And Camp, when his master had returned to Scotland, assisted in a surprising adventure. On August 27th, 1803, writing from his college at Lasswade to his Sunninghill host, Scott breaks off a letter begun on the subject of Thomas the Rhymer:
|I am interrupted by an extraordinary accident, nothing less than a volley of small shot fired through the window, at which my wife was five minutes before arranging her flowers. By Camp's assistance, who ran the culprit's foot like a Liddesdale bloodhound, we detected an unlucky sportsman whose awkwardness and rashness might have occasioned very serious mischief - so much for interruption:|
But the interruption becomes Camp's path to fame.
|I must begin by congratulating you (George Ellis replies) on Mrs. Scott's escape; Camp, if he had had no previous title to immortality, would deserve it, for his zeal and address in detecting the stupid marksman, who, while he took aim at a bird on a tree, was so near shooting your "bird in a bower".|
Besides Camp, there were other companions of Scott's writing hours. At one time, he had been used to spend hours with his books when he was supposed to have gone to bed; but this, his doctor warned him, meant nervous headaches, so he altered his time-table and began the day at five o'clock instead, lighting his own fire if he needed one, and dressing at great leisure:
|Arrayed in his shooting jacket, or whatever dress he meant to use till dinner time, he was seated at his desk by six o'clock, all his papers arranged before him in the most accurate order, and his books of reference marshalled around him on the floor, while at least one favourite dog lay watching his eye, just beyond the line of circumvallation.|
But Camp was the favourite. Camp - this was in 1805 -
|was at this time the constant parlour dog. He was very handsome, very intelligent, and naturally very fierce, but gentle as a lamb among the children. As for the more locomotive Douglas and Percy - (they were "large dogs" and youthful - he kept one window of his study open, whatever might be the state of the weather, that they might leap out and in as the fancy moved them. He always talked to Camp as if he understood what was said - and the animal certainly did understand not a little of it; in particular, it seemed as if he perfectly comprehended on all occasions that his master considered him as a sensible and steady friend, the greyhounds as volatile young creatures whose freaks must be borne with.|
And so we come to the knowledge of what it meant to Scott that dogs should have such short lives. Four years later we are near the end:
|This favourite (Lockhart writes) began to droop early in 1808, and became incapable of accompanying Scott in his rides; but he preserved his affection and sagacity to the last. At Ashstiel, as the servant was laying the cloth for dinner, he would address the dog lying on his mat before the fire, and say "Camp, my good fellow, the Sheriff's coming home by the ford - or by the hill"; and the sick animal would immediately bestir himself to welcome his master, going out at the back door or the front door, according to the direction given, and advancing as far as he was able, either towards the ford of the Tweed, or the bridge over the Glenkinnon burn beyond Laird Nippy's gate. He died about January, 1809, and was buried in a fine moonlight night, in the little garden behind the house in Castle Street, immediately opposite to the window at which Scott usually sat writing. My wife (Scott's daughter, Sophia, married to Lockhart) tells me she remembers the whole family standing in tears about the grave, as her father himself smoothed down the turf above Camp with the saddest expression of face she had ever seen in him. He had been engaged to dine abroad that day, but apologized on account of "the death of a dear old friend"; and Mr. Macdonald Buchanan was not at all surprised that he should have done so, when it came out next morning that Camp was no more.|
The little procession goes on. That same year we hear - it is the first and last time - of one of Camp's contemporaries. She must have been young, for all we hear is of promise, yet she is unnamed; her only fame is that she was companion to Douglas and Percy.
|I have a great deal to write to you (Scott to Ellis) abut a new poem which I have on the anvil - also, upon the melancholy death of a favourite greyhound bitch - rest her body, since I dare not say soul! She was of high blood and excellent promise....As I have quite laid aside the gun, coursing is my only and constant amusement, and my valued pair of four-legged champions, Douglas and Percy, wax old and unfeary.|
Three years later:
|Poor Percy is dead. I intend to have an old stone set up by his grave, with "Cy gist i preux Percie" and I hope future antiquarians will debate which hero of the house of Northumberland has left his bones in Teviotdale.|
So ends one cycle of dog life, and we come to another, the best and last - the cycle of Maida. Of all Scott's dogs, Maida was chief. When he first came into Scott's possession, what age he was when we first hear of him, and how long he lived, we do not know. We meet him first, not in one of Scott's letters, but in an essay of Washington Irving, describing a visit paid by him to Abbotsford in 1817. Maida at this date is already an old dog. Irving, bearing an introduction from Thomas Campbell, had halted his carriage on the high-road above Abbotsford and had sent down his card asking if it would be agreeable to Scott to receive him:
|The noise of my chaise (he writes) had disturbed the quiet of the establishment. Out sallied the warder of the establishment, a black greyhound, and leaping on one of the blocks of stone, began a furious barking. This alarm brought out the whole garrison of dogs, all open-mouthed and vociferous. In a little while, the lord of the castle himself made his appearance. I knew him at once, by the likenesses that had been published of him. He came limping up the gravel walk, aiding himself by a stout walking staff, but moving rapidly and with vigour. By his side jogged along a large iron-grey staghound, of most grave demeanour, who took no part in the clamour of the canine rabble, but seemed to consider himself bound, for the dignity of the house, to give me a courteous reception.|
Irving had asked if he might pay a visit "in the course of the morning". He had had breakfast, he told Scott; Scott told him that the air of the Scottish hills warranted a second. He had meant to proceed on his journey; Scott put his son Charles in charge of him, to show him Melrose Abbey; the next day they would have a look at the Yarrow, and the day after they would drive to Dryburgh Abbey. He was committed before he knew it to a visit of several days. Back with Charles from Melrose, Scott was ready for a ramble about the neighbourhood:
| As we sallied forth, every dog in the establishment turned out to
attend us. There was the old staghound, Maida, that I have already mentioned, a
noble animal, and Hamlet, the black greyhound, a wild thoughtless youngster,
not yet arrived at the years of discretion; and Finette, a beautiful setter,
with soft, silken hair, long pendant ears, and a mild eye, the parlour
favourite. When in front of the house, we were joined by a superannuated
greyhound, who came from the kitchen wagging his tail; and was cheered by Scott
as an old friend and comrade. In our walks, he would frequently pause in
conversation to notice his dogs, and speak to them as if rational companions;
and indeed, there appears to be a vast deal of rationality in these faithful
attendants on man, derived from their close intimacy with him. Maida deported
himself with a gravity becoming his age and size, and seemed to consider
himself called upon to preserve a great degree of dignity and decorum in our
society. As he jogged along a little distance ahead of us, the young dogs would
gambol about him, leap on his neck, worry at his ears, and endeavour to tease
him into a gambol. The old dog would keep on a long time with imperturbable
solemnity, now and then seeming to rebuke the wantonness of his young
companions. At length he would make a sudden turn, seize one of them, and
tumble him in the dust, then giving a glance at us, as much as to say "You
see, gentlemen, I can't help giving way to this nonsense", would resume
his gravity, and jog on as before. Scott amused himself with these
peculiarities. "I make no doubt," said he, "when Maida is alone
with these young dogs, he throws gravity aside, and plays the boy as much as
any of them; but he is ashamed to do so in our company, and seems to say - 'Ha'
done with your nonsense, youngsters: what will the laird and that other
gentleman think of me if I give way to such foolery?'...."
While we were discussing the humours and peculiarities of our canine companions, some object provoked their spleen, and produced a sharp and petulant barking from the smaller fry; but it was some time before Maida was sufficiently roused to ramp forward two or three bounds, and join the chorus with a deep-mouthed bow-wow. It was but a transient outbreak, and he returned instantly, wagging his tail, and looking up dubiously in his master's face, uncertain whether he would receive censure or applause. "Ay, ay, old boy!" cried Scott, "you have done wonders; you have shaken the Eildon hills with your roaring; you may now lay by your artillery for the rest of the day. Maida," continued he, "is like a great gun at Constantinople; it takes so long to get it ready, that the smaller guns can fire off a dozen times first; but when it does go off, it plays the very devil."
Tweedside by Abbotsford and Melrose in 1817 was a scene different from to-day's. The ramble about the neighbourhood which Scott proposed for Irving took them up into the hills; it was in August or early Sepember, and from the Eildon Hills -
| Three crests against the saffron sky
Beyond the purple plain,
as Andrew Lang has sung in his lovely lines "Twilight on Tweed" - Scott could point in turn to Lammermuir, Gala Water, Teviotdale, the Braes of Yarrow, Ettrick stream, bare outlines of hill beyond hill above the Lowland rivers, and, as Irving saw them, without a thicket or a tree. Irving said something about the barrenness of it all.
|It may be pertinacity (Scott said) but to my eye, these grey hills, and all this wild border country, have beauties peculiar to themselves. I like the very nakedness of the land; it has something bold, and stern, and solitary about it. When I have been for some time in the rich scenery about Edinburgh, which is like ornamental garden land, I begin to wish myself back again among my own honest grey hills; and if I did not see the heather, at least once a year, I think I should die!|
Those were the surroundings, plain hill and heather, in which Scott walked with Irving; very different from the wooded banks of Tweed a hundred years later. Very different, too, from the scene where we next - in May, 1818 - meet Maida, which is the room in Castle Street, Edinburgh, looking out on the garden where Scott smoothed the turf over Camp the bull terrier's grave eight years before. Lockhart gives us the picture of this "den", with its single Venetian window opening on a patch not much larger than itself. The walls -
|were entirely clothed with books; most of them folios and quartos, and all in that complete state of repair which at a glance reveals a tinge of bibliomania.....The old bindings had obviously been retouched and regilt in the most approved manner; the new, when the books were of any mark, were rich but never gaudy - a large proportion of blue morocco - all stamped with his device of the portcullis, and its motto, clausus tutus ero being an anagram of his name in Latin.....His own writing apparatus was a very handsome old box richly carved, lined with crimson velvet, and containing ink bottles, taper-stand, etc., in silver - the whole in such order that it might have come from the silver-smith's window half an hour before. Besides his own huge elbow-chair, there were but two others in the room, and one of these seemed, from its position, to be reserved exclusively for the amanuensis. I observed, during the first evening I spent with him in this sanctum, that while he talked, his hands were hardly ever idle - sometimes he folded letter-covers - sometimes he twisted paper into matches, performing both tasks with great mechanical expertness and nicety; and when there was no loose paper fit to be so dealt with, he snapped his fingers, and the noble Maida aroused himself from his lair on the hearthrug, and laid his head across his master's knees to be caressed and fondled.|
And so in Lockhart's narrative we come to the last portrait from the life of Maida. Among the furniture of the little room in Castle Street was an oaken-railed carpeted ladder used for getting books down from the higher shelves:
|On the top step of this convenience, Hinse of Hinsfeldt - (so called from one of the German Kindermarchen) - a venerable tom-cat, fat and sleek, and no longer very locomotive, usually lay watching the proceedings of his master and Maida with an air of dignified equanimity; but when Maida chose to leave the party, he signified his inclinations by thumping the door with his huge paw, as violently as ever a fashionable footman handled a knocker in Grosvenor Square; The Sheriff rose and opened it for him with courteous alacrity, - and then Hinse came down purring from his perch, and mounted guard by the footstool, vice Maida absent upon furlough. Whatever discourse might be passing, was broken every now and then by some affectionate apostrophe to these four-footed friends. He said they understood everything he said to them, and I believe they did understand a great deal of it.|
Maida gets older, but is still active when, eighteen months later, in October, 1819, Scott finishes a letter to his son Walter stationed with his regiment, the 18th Hussars, at Cork, with news from Abbotsford:
|Sir William Rae (Lord Advocate) and his lady came to us on Saturday. On Sunday Maida walked with us, and in jumping the paling at the Greentongue Park contrived to hang himself up by the hind-leg. He howled at first, but seeing us making towards him he stopped crying, and waved his tail by way of signal, it was supposed, for assistance. He sustained no material injury, though his leg was strangely twisted into the bars, and he was nearly hanging by it. He showed great gratitude, in his way, to his deliverers.|
Three months later Scott is again in Castle Street, but without Maida, left at Abbotsford. The winter of 1820 was exceptionally severe, and in his letters Scott shows himself very anxious about the distress among his poorer neighbours, for whom he sends money to be distributed. He is also concerned about Maida in the cold weather, and writes instructions to "Dear Willie". For "dear Willie" readers of The Bride of Lammermoor and Ivanhoe must feel a special affection, as one of the amanuenses to whom Scott dictated nearly the whole of them. There were two amanuenses, John Ballantyne and William Laidlaw, of whom Scott preferred Ballantyne as a worker, since he wrote without interruption, whereas Laidlaw in his affection for his employer would not only beg him to stop dictating when in pain with the internal spasms from which Scott suffered through so many years of his life, but made other comments.
|John (writes Lockhart) kept his pen to the paper without interruption, and though with many an arch twinkle in his eyes, and now and then with an audible smack of the lips, had resolution to work on like a well-trained clerk; whereas good Laidlaw entered with such keen zest into the interest of the story as it flowed from the author's lips, that he could not suppress exclamations of surprise and delight - "Gude keep us a' - the like o'that!- eh sirs!" - and so forth - which did not promote dispatch.|
And so, under the date January 25th, 1820, we read:
|Dear Willie - I have yours with the news of the inundation, which, it seems, has done no damage. I hope Mai will be taken care of. He should have a bed in the kitchen, and always be called indoors after it is dark, for all the kind are savage at night. Please cause Swanston to knock him up a box, and fill it with straw from time to time. I enclose a cheque for £50 to pay accounts, etc. Do not let the poor bodies want for a £5, or even a £10, more or less.|
|We'll get a blessing wi' the lave,
And never miss't.
Indoors after dusk - a box, straw - a bed in the kitchen - eh
sirs! eh sirs!
Two years later, Scott is writing the letter quoted at the beginning of this chapter. But it is more than two years later still that the end comes. "Old Maida died quietly in his straw last week," he writes to his younger son Charles, an undergraduate at Oxford, and adds that the old dog "is buried below his monument" - a recumbent stone figure of Maida carved by Scott's mason, and placed by the gate of Abbotsford a year before Maida died - "on which the following epitaph is engraved - though it is great audacity to send Teviotdale Latin to Brazen-nose -
| Maidae marmorea dormis sub imagine Maida,
Ad januam domini sit tibi terra levis.
Thus Englished by an eminent hand -
| Beneath the sculptured form which late you
Sleep soundly, Maida, at your master's door."
"Teviotdale Latin" sent with audacity to a classical scholar at Oxford - Scott wrote more truly than he knew. Charles doubtless noticed the false quantity in januam at once. But as a matter of fact, as we learn from the Life, the latin couplet was the work of Lockhart, whom Scott asked to help him with it, and the "eminent hand" of the translator was Scott's. The lines met with an unhappy fate. The false quantity was pointed out to Scott, who meant to have them corrected, but before he could get the correction done - the engraving on Maida's monument had already been completed - James Ballantyne the publisher had seen them, and believing them to be Scott's, had copied them and printed them in his newspaper, the Kelso Mail. Not only that, but he somehow added a mistake of his own with another false quantity, substituting for dormis the word jaces. Naturally, the lines with their mistakes found other copiers, and paragraphs headed "Sir Walter Scott's false quantities" were printed in Edinburgh and London papers. Scott, who had never intended the inscription to be published, was perhaps vexed, but beyond a letter to the Morning Post and an amusing letter in rhyme to Lockhart, seems to have decided to dismiss the "contemptible rumpus", as he describes it to Lockhart, from his mind.
So Maida died, but lives. "Dear Willie" doubtless realized whose portrait Scott's readers were being given when he took down in dictation the description of Bevis in the pages of Woodstock. "Eh sirs! eh sirs!" This is Bevis's first appearance and the scene is Woodstock Park. Sir Henry Lee of Ditchley, the old cavalier, provoked to sudden attack on the Independent "Honest Joe" Tomkins, the steward of the Lords Commissioners, and worsted in the duel, stands disarmed and at Honest Joe's mercy. Alice Lee, Sir Henry's daughter, has called for help, and one of the under-keepers of the Park, Joceline Joliffe, has suddenly appeared, brandishing his quarterstaff.
|At this moment another auxiliary rushed out of the thicket to the knight's assistance. It was a large wolf-dog, in strength a mastiff, in form and almost in fleetness a greyhound. Bevis was the noblest of the kind which ever pulled down a stag - tawny coloured like a lion, with a black muzzle and black feet, just edged with a line of white around the toes. He was as tractable as he was strong and bold. Just as he was about to rush upon the soldier, the words, "Peace, Bevis!" from Sir Henry, converted the lion into a lamb, and, instead of pulling the soldier down, he walked round and round, and snuffed, as if using all his sagacity to discover who the stranger could be, towards whom, though of so questionable an appearance, he was enjoined forbearance. Apparently he was satisfied, for he laid aside his doubtful and threatening demonstrations, lowered his ears, smoothed down his bristles, and wagged his tail.|
A couple of hundred pages further on in the book, Bevis makes another sudden entry, this time in defence of Alice, who is trying to break off conversation in the park with a woman, Charles Stewart in disguise.
| Alice shook the woman's hand angrily off, took up her pitcher, though
not above half full, and as she saw the stranger rise at the same time, said,
now without fear doubtless, but with a natural feeling of resentment and
dignity, "I have no reason to make my cries heard as far as Woodstock;
were there occasion for my crying for help at all, it is nearer at
She spoke not without warrant, for at the moment broke through the bushes and stood by her side, the noble hound Bevis, fixing on the stranger his eyes that glanced fire, raising every hair on his gallant mane as upright as the bristles of a wild boar when hard pressed, grinning till a case of teeth, which would have matched those of any wolf in Russia, were displayed in full array, and, without barking or springing, seeming, by his low, determined growl, to await but the signal for dashing at the female, whom he plainly considered as a suspicious person.
But the stranger was undaunted. "My pretty maiden," she said, "you have indeed a formidable guardian there, where cockneys or bumpkins are concerned; but we who have been at the wars know spells for taming such furious dragons, and therefore let not your four-footed protector go loose on me, for he is a noble animal, and nothing but self-defence would induce me to do him injury." So saying, she drew a pistol from her bosom, and cocked it, pointing it towards the dog, as if apprehensive that he would spring upon her.
"Hold, woman, hold!" said Alice Lee, "the dog will not do you harm. - Down, Bevis, couch down."
In both these passages Bevis is given the same role; he is the watch-dog, ready to protect and defend. A third time he irrupts, once more in defence against an intruder in disguise. Alice is seated at an oriel window, back with her father in his home; she suddenly realizes that a stranger has climbed up outside and is looking into the room, she seizes a pistol and screams to her father; the stranger tries to climb down, misses his footing and falls.
|Nor was the reception on the bosom of our common mother either soft or safe; for, by a most terrific bark and growl, they heard that Bevis had come up and seized on the party, ere he or she could gain their feet.|
Follows confusion, bustle, cries, Sir Henry bids Bevis hold on till he comes. Alice begs Sir Henry to stay where he is, there are voices without.
|The individual who had fallen under the power of Bevis was most impatient in his situation, and called with least precaution, "here, Lee- Forester - take the dog off, else I must shoot him."|
It was Alice's brother, Sir Henry's own son Albert, in the disguise necessary to the story. And it is almost the last appearance of Bevis. He enters once more with mystery in the air. Joceline, the keeper, who has fallen out with Tomkins, and has in fact finished him off with his quarterstaff - "Aha! let ash answer iron!" - is in difficulties trying to explain to the unsuspecting Sir Henry what has happened.
| Just as he was about to speak, a most melancholy howling arose at the
hall door, and a dog was heard scratching for admittance.
"What ails Bevis next?" said the old knight. "I think this must be All-Fools' Day and that everything around me is going mad."
The same sound startled Albert and Charles from a private conference in which they had engaged, and Albert ran to the hall door to examine personally into the cause of the noise.
"It is no alarm," said the old knight to Kernegay, "for in such cases the dog's bark is short, sharp, and furious. These long howls are said to be ominous. It was even so that Bevis's grandsire bayed the whole livelong night on which my poor father died. If it comes now as a presage, God send it regard the old and useless, not the young, and those who may yet serve King and country!"
The dog now pushed past Colonel Lee, who stood a little without, while Bevis advanced into the room where the company were assembled, bearing something in his mouth, and exhibiting in an unusual degree that sense of duty and interest which a dog seems to show when he thinks he has the charge of something important. He entered, therefore, drooping his long tail, slouching his head and ears, and walking with the stately yet melancholy dignity of a war horse at his master's funeral. In this manner he paced through the room, went straight up to Joceline, who had been regarding him with astonishment, and uttering a short and melancholy howl, laid at his feet the object which he bore in his mouth.
It was, of course, the glove belonging to Joseph Tomkins - ("Men call me Honest Joe and Trusty Tomkins") - whom for laying hands on his beloved Phoebe Mayflower Joceline had sent to his reckoning. Here Scott, in his careful, detailed portrait of Bevis, clearly has had in his mind a picture of Maida engaged on some similar business, and I have often wondered what it was. Throughout he draws Bevis, or Maida, as the fierce guardian of a home rather than as the companion of quiet country happenings, and it is not until we come to the very end that we see the old dog as we may imagine Maida at Abbotsford. The King has come into his own; Sir Henry is a grandfather, Alice a mother, Joceline married to a matronly Phoebe:
|We must not omit one other remarkable figure in the group - a gigantic dog, which bore the sight of being at the extremity of canine life, being perhaps fifteen or sixteen years old. But though exhibiting the ruin only of his former appearance, his eyes dim, his joints stiff, his head slouched down, and his gallant carriage and graceful motions exchanged for a stiff, rheumatic and hobbling gait, the noble hound had lost none of his instinctive fondness for his master. To lie by Sir Henry's feet in the summer, or by the fire in winter, to raise his head to look on him, to lick his withered hand or his shrivelled cheek from time to time, seemed now all that Bevis lived for.|
And there we may leave Maida.
BETH GELERT: AN INVENTED GRAVE
I have tried to decide when I first heard the story of Gelert.
It is one of my earliest memories: the story of the faithful hound left to
guard his master's child, found by his master covered with blood near the empty
cradle, killed by him on the spot, and then - the wolf found dead by the cradle
and the child alive at its side. It is a story with all the elements needed for
oral tradition, simplicity, love, pity, death; and that must be why it has
survived through the centuries. I cannot put any date to the time when I heard
it, nor point to any book from which it could have come to me; merely it is in
my memory as the best of stories of a great and faithful dog.
But did it ever happen? Was there ever a dog named Gelert? Of course there was, the tourist from Wales will answer at once; go to Bedd Gelert, which means "grave of Gelert", in Carmarthonshire, and you can see the very stone under which the faithful creature was buried: si monumentum quaeris, and so on. But look a little further than the stone. Get, if you can, an admirably written guide-book, Bedd Gelert: Its Facts, Fairies and Folklore (it was published in Portmadoc in 1899) and in it you will find another story told by the author, Mr. D.E. Jenkins. And Mr. Jenkins's story, founded on local research, is a very good one. It is that in the year 1793, before which date no one in North Wales had heard of a dog named Gelert, a certain enterprising person of the name of David Pritchard, came north from South Wales to Bedd Gelert and took up his residence of the Royal Goat Hotel. He needed customers; how should he attract them? The name, decided Pritchard, the name of the place, the "grave of Gelert", shall bring them to my inn. Was there not a Welsh proverb, "I repent as much as the man who slew his greyhound"? Then here shall the greyhound have been slain, and his name shall be Gelert. All that was necessary was help from the parish clerk, and the placing of a gravestone on a suitable spot; so the stone was placed and the story told, among others to William Robert Spencer, who made a set of verses about it, and so came the name into the speech and hearsay of local tourists in Wales, from the nineteenth century to this day. And William Robert Spencer? He was a friend of Pitt, Fox, and Sheridan, admired for his wit and graces of society - a Georgian poet whose biography ends with the sad statement: "died in poverty in Paris, 1834". Here, in Beth Gelert, or The Grave of the Greyhound, is the story as he tells it:
| The spearmen heard the bugle sound,
And cheerly smiled the morn;
And many a brach, and many a hound,
Obeyed Llewelyn's horn.
And still he blew a louder blast,
And gave a lustier cheer;
"Come Gelert, come, wer't never last
Llewelyn's horn to hear.
"Oh where does faithful Gelert roam,
The flower of all his race;
So true, so brave, a lamb at home,
A lion in the chase?"
But no Gelert answers the horn. Llewelyn rides home:
| That day Llewelyn little lov'd
The chace of hart and hare;
And scant and small the booty prov'd,
For Gelert was not there.
Unpleas'd Llewelyn homeward hied,
When near the portal seat,
His truant Gelert he espied,
Bounding his Lord to greet.
But when he gain'd his castle door,
Aghast the chieftain stood;
The hound all o'er was smear'd with gore,
His lips, his fangs, ran blood.
Llewelyn gaz'd with fierce surprise;
Unus'd such looks to meet,
His fav'rite check'd his joyful guise,
And crouch'd and lick'd his feet.
Llewelyn looks for his child, finds the bed overturned and empty:
| "Hell-hound! my child's by thee
The frantic father cried;
And to the hilt his vengeful sword
He plung'd in Gelert's side.
His suppliant looks, as prone he fell,
No pity could impart;
But still his Gelert's dying yell
Pass'd heavy o'er his heart.
Arous'd by Gelert's dying yell,
Some slumberer wakened nigh:-
What words the parent's joy could tell
To hear his infant's cry!
Conceal'd beneath a tumbled heap
His harried search had miss'd,
All glowing from his rosy sleep,
The cherub boy he kiss'd.
Nor scath had he, nor harm, nor dread,
But, the same couch beneath,
Lay a gaunt wolf, all torn and dead,
Tremendous still in death.
Ah, what was then Llewelyn's pain!
For now the truth was clear:
His gallant hound the wolf had slain
To save Llewelyn's heir.
Vain, vain, was all Llewelyn's woe:
"Best of thy kind, adieu!
The frantic blow that laid thee low,
This heart shall ever rue."
Those are the verses, written at Dolymelynllyn, August 11th, 1800 - all founded on an innkeeper's invention. As for the story itself, authorities on folk-lore will tell you that it belongs to India as well as Europe, and has been told East and West through two thousand years and more. And with as little alteration as if those who tell or told it were reading in different languages from the same book, for only the other day, in a magazine printed in 1942 in America, I found it under the heading, "The Trapper and his Dog", retold by Rex Beach; who wrote introducing his version of the tale that: "For years animal lovers have repeated this story of the North Woods, and although some of them declared that they had read it, nobody seems to remember who wrote it, or where it was published." And that, when you think of it, is pretty nearly all that you can say about any folk-lore story.
IRISH GREYHOUNDS AND "SPOTS"
To have written some of the most delightful letters in the language, and to have been the first Englishwoman to praise big dogs - it is a pleasant double distinction. It belongs to Dorothy Osborne - Osborne as she was when she wrote the letters, Temple as she became when she married the man to whom she wrote them - Sir William Temple, statesman, traveller, diplomatist. More than that, for he was his mistress's constant lover, and married her after seven years' courtship to which fate superseded the smallpox. "She is said to have been handsome," writes Macaulay; Sir Peter Lely, who painted her portrait, I am sure thought she was beautiful. And for the talent and charm of her writing, her husband was the first judge, but to-day there are others. Macaulay's survey of the years in which she lived suggests a comparison:
|Anno Domini sixteen hundred and fifty-three; - let us look round through historic mist for landmarks, so that we may know our whereabouts - he writes, and among the landmarks he points out - Master Izaak Walton, who in this year, 1653, published the first edition of his Compleat Angler, and left a comrade for the idle hours of all future ages.|
May not Mistress Dorothy be set beside Master Izaak? I think of Charles Lamb writing to his friend Robert Lloyd of the pleasure "which Walton has given you. It must square with your mind. The delightful innocence and healthfulness of the Angler's mind will have blown upon yours like a Zephyr. Don't you already feel your spirit filled with the scenes? - the banks of rivers - the cowslip beds - the pastoral scenes - the near alehouses - and hostesses and milkmaids...." Well, here is Dorothy Osborne in 1653 writing to her lover of her days at Chicksands Priory, her home in Bedfordshire:
|You ask me how I spend my time here. I can give you a perfect account not only of what I do for the present, but of what I am likely to do this seven years if I stay here so long. I rise in the morning reasonably early, and before I am ready I go round the house till I am weary of that, and then into the garden till it grows too hot for me. About ten o'clock I think of making me ready, and when that's done I go into my father's chamber, from whence to dinner, where my cousin Molle and I sit in great state in a room, and at a table that would hold a great many more. After dinner we sit and talk till Mr. B. comes in question, and then I am gone. The heat of the day is spent in reading or working, and about six or seven o'clock I walk out into a common that lies hard by the house, where a great many young wenches keep sheep and cows, and sit in the shade singing of ballads. I go to them and compare their voices and beauties to some ancient shepherdess that I have read of, and find a vast difference there; but, trust me, I think these are as innocent as those could be. I talk to them, and find they want nothing to make them the happiest people in the world but the knowledge that they are so. Most commonly, when we are in the midst of our discourse, one looks about her, and spies her cows going into the corn, and then away they all run as if they had wings at their heels. I, that am not so nimble, stay behind; and when I see them driving home their cattle, I think 'tis time for me to return too. When I have supped, I go into the garden, and so to the side of a small river that runs by it, when I sit down and wish you were with me (you had best say this is not kind neither). In earnest, 'tis a pleasant place, and would be much more so to me if I had your company. I sit there sometimes till I am lost with thinking; and were it not for some cruel thoughts of the crossness of our fortunes that will not let me sleep there, I should forget that there were such a thing to be done as going to bed.|
Does not that square with your mind? Is it not indeed a pleasant place? Only, might we not have gone into the garden or to the side of the small river, with a dog? For the writer of these many letters often walked, I think, with her dogs in the garden, by the farm fields, into the common, and her dogs, I am sure, were a comforting contrast to her cousin Molle, who frequented the family so much, as she puts it in another letter, and suffered from imaginary dropsy. It must have been he who, included in the pronoun "they", talked without end of other ailments. "They do so fright me with strange stories," she writes, "of what the spleen will bring me to in time, that I am kept in awe with them like a child; they tell me 'twill not leave me common sense, that I shall hardly be fit company for my own dogs." And her dogs were for out of doors, not for "great state in a room". She writes to her lover in another letter of the kind of dog she wanted:
|You shall do one favour for me into the bargain. When your father goes into Ireland, lay your commands upon some of his servants to get you an Irish greyhound. I have one that was the General's; but 'tis a bitch, and those are always much less than the dogs. I got it in the time of my favour there, and it was all they had. Henry Cromwell undertook to write to his brother Fleetwood for another for me; but I have lost my hopes there. Whomsoever it is that you employ, he will need no other instructions but to get the biggest he can meet with; 'tis all the beauty of those dogs, or of any kind, I think. A masty is handsomer to me than the most exact little dog that ever lady played withal.|
Behind the sentences of that letter lies the story of the turning-point of a life. Henry Cromwell's "brother Fleetwood" was Charles Fleetwood, who had married Cromwell's daughter, Bridget, widow of General Ireton, and had been made Commander-in-Chief in Ireland. In those earlier years, as Macaulay phrases it, Dorothy Osborne "was besieged by as many suitors as were drawn to Belmont by the fame of Portia. The most distinguished on the list was Henry Cromwell." But if he was one of the many rejected, and if Dorothy could write to her future husband reminding him who she might have been "if I had been so wise as to have taken hold of the offer made me by Henry Cromwell", Portia seems still to have corresponded with the rejected suitor on the subject of dogs. Perhaps he knew her views about "masties" and other sorts, and perhaps he tried harder to please her than she thought; at all events, a few weeks after she had "lost her hopes there", we find her writing of hopes fulfilled:
|I must tell you what a present I had made me to-day. Two of the finest young Irish greyhounds that ere I saw; a gentleman that serves the General sent them me. They are newly come over, and sent for by Henry Cromwell, he tells me, but not how he got them for me.|
"Greyhounds" were always favourties at Chicksands: deerhounds as we should call them to-day, and "wolf-dogs" as they were sometimes known in Dorothy Osborne's day. But there was room in her affections for other breeds, or for at least one of another breed, as we may know from a letter written six months after the arrival of the greyhounds, when Temple himself had set out on a visit to Ireland, and had left his dog to be looked after at Chicksands:
|Your dog is come too (she writes) and I have received him with all the kindness that is due to anything you send. I have defended him from the envy and malice of a troop of greyhounds that used to be in favour with me; and he is so sensible of my care over him, that he is pleased with nobody else, and follows me as if we had been of long acquaintance.|
Was he a masty, then, perhaps? He was a dog of size, we may be sure, not an "exact little dog". One other breed she mentions, in almost the last of these seventy-odd letters left to us of those written to her lover in the seven years of their waiting. She sends a message to his sister:
|At this present I can assure you that I am pleased with nobody but your sister; and her I love extremely, and will call her pretty; say what you will, I know she must be so, though I never saw more of her than what her letters show. She shall have two "spots", if she please (for I had just such another given me after you were gone) or anything else that is in the power of|
"Spots" are "carriage dogs", or Dalmatians. And were there other dogs mentioned in other letters, or in another letter of a day of her life at Chicksands? I like to think so, and that she wrote, perhaps, of another morning and evening spent in the garden or by the river or into the common, with greyhounds, spots, masties, and all.