Vol. 35, pp. 350-356 of The Harvard Classics
A writer of Elizabethan times said that no other country had as many dogs as England. Once Henry VII ordered all mastiffs to be hung because they "durst presume to fight against the lion," England's regal beast.
Of Our English Dogs and Their Qualities
[1577, Book III., Chapter 13; 1587, Book III., Chapter 7.]
The first sort therefore he divideth either into such as rouse the beast, and continue the chase, or springeth the bird, and bewrayeth her flight by pursuit. And as these are commonly called spaniels, so the other are named hounds, whereof he maketh eight sorts, of which the foremost excelleth in perfect smelling, the second in quick espying, the third in swiftness and quickness, the fourth in smelling and nimbleness, etc., and the last in subtlety and deceitfulness. These (saith Strabo) are most apt for game, and called Sagaces by a general name, not only because of their skill in hunting, but also for that they know their own and the names of their fellows most exactly. For if the hunter see any one to follow skilfully, and with likelihood of good success, he biddeth the rest to hark and follow such a dog, and they eftsoones obey so soon as they hear his name. The first kind of these are often called harriers, whose game is the fox, the hare, the wolf (if we had any), hart, buck, badger, otter, polecat, lopstart, weasel, conie, etc.: the second height a terrier and it hunteth the badger and grey only: the third a bloodhound, whose office is to follow the fierce, and now and then to pursue a thief or beast by his dry foot: the fourth height a gazehound, who hunteth by the eye: the fifth a greyhound, cherished for his strength and swiftness and stature, commended by Bratius in his De Venatione, and not unremembered by Hercules Stroza in a like treatise, and above all other those of Britain, where he saith: “Magna spectandi mole Britanni:” also by Nemesianus, libro Cynegeticôn, where he saith: “Divisa Britannia mittit Veloces nostrique orbis venatibus aptos,” of which sort also some be smooth, of sundry colours, and some shake-haired: the sixth a liemer, that excelleth in smelling and swift-running: the seventh a tumbler: and the eighth a thief whose offices (I mean of the latter two) incline only to deceit, wherein they are oft so skilful that few men would think so mischievous a wit to remain in such silly creatures. Having made this enumeration of dogs which are apt for the chase and hunting, he cometh next to such as serve the falcons in their time, whereof he maketh also two sorts. One that findeth his game on the land, another that putteth up such fowl as keepeth in the water: and of these this is commonly most usual for the net or train, the other for the hawk, as he doth shew at large. Of the first he saith that they have no peculiar names assigned to them severally, but each of them is called after the bird which by natural appointment he is alloted to hunt or serve, for which consideration some be named dogs for the pheasant, some for the falcon, and some for the partridge. Howbeit the common name for all is spaniel (saith he), and thereupon alluded as if these kinds of dogs had been brought hither out of Spain. In like sort we have of water spaniels in their kind. The third sort of dogs of the gentle kind is the spaniel gentle, or comforter, or (as the common term is) the fistinghound, and those are called Melitei, of the Island Malta, from whence they were brought hither. These are little and pretty, proper and fine, and sought out far and near to falsify the nice delicacy of dainty dames, and wanton women’s wills, instruments of folly to play and dally withal, in trifling away the treasure of time, to withdraw their minds from more commendable exercises, and to content their corrupt concupiscences with vain disport—a silly poor shift to shun their irksome idleness. The Sybaritical puppies the smaller they be (and thereto if they have a hole in the fore parts of their heads) the better they are accepted, the more pleasure also they provoke, as meet playfellows for mincing mistresses to bear in their bosoms, to keep company withal in their chambers, to succour with sleep in bed, and nourish with meat at board, to lie in their laps, and lick their lips as they lie (like young Dianas) in their waggons and coaches. And good reason it should be so, for coarseness with fineness hath no fellowship, but featness with neatness hath neighbourhood enough. That plausible proverb therefore versified sometime upon a tyrant—namely, that he loved his sow better than his son—may well be applied to some of this kind of people, who delight more in their dogs, that are deprived of all possibility of reason, than they do in children that are capable of wisdom and judgment. Yea, they oft feed them of the best where the poor man’s child at their doors can hardly come by the worst. But the former abuse peradventure reigneth where there hath been long want of issue, else where barrenness is the best blossom of beauty: or, finally, where poor men’s children for want of their own issue are not ready to be had. It is thought of some that it is very wholesome for a weak stomach to bear such a dog in the bosom, as it is for him that hath the palsy to feel the daily smell and savour of a fox. But how truly this is affirmed let the learned judge: only it shall suffice for Doctor Caius to have said thus much of spaniels and dogs of the gentle kind.
Dogs of the homely kind are either shepherd’s curs or mastiffs. The first are so common that it needeth me not to speak of them. Their use also is so well known in keeping the herd together (either when they grass or go before the shepherd) that it should be but in vain to spend any time about them. Wherefore I will leave this cur unto his own kind, and go in hand with the mastiff, tie dog, or band dog, so called because many of them are tied up in chains and strong bonds in the daytime, for doing hurt abroad, which is a huge dog, stubborn, ugly, eager, burthenous of body (and therefore of but little swiftness), terrible and fearful to behold, and oftentimes more fierce and fell than any Archadian or Corsican cur. Our Englishmen, to the extent that these dogs may be more cruel and fierce, assist nature with some art, use, and custom. For although this kind of dog be capable of courage, violent, valiant, stout, and bold: yet will they increase these their stomachs by teaching them to bait the bear, the bull, the lion, and other such like cruel and bloody beasts (either brought over or kept up at home for the same purpose), without any collar to defend their throats, and oftentimes there too they train them up in fighting and wrestling with a man (having for the safeguard of his life either a pikestaff, club, sword, privy coat), whereby they become the more fierce and cruel unto strangers. The Caspians make so much account sometimes of such great dogs that every able man would nourish sundry of them in his house of set purpose, to the end they should devour their carcases after their deaths thinking the dog’s bellies to be the most honourable sepulchres. The common people also followed the same rate, and therefore there were tie dogs kept up by public ordinance, to devour them after their deaths: by means whereof these beasts became the more eager, and with great difficulty after a while restrained from falling upon the living. But whither am I digressed? In returning therefore to our own, I say that of mastiffs, some bark only with fierce and open mouth but will not bite; but the cruelest do either not bark at all or bite before they bark, and therefore are more to be feared than any of the other. They take also their name of the word “mase” and “thief” (or “master-thief” if you will), because they often stound and put such persons to their shifts in towns and villages, and are the principal causes of their apprehension and taking. The force which is in them surmounteth all belief, and the fast hold which they take with their teeth exceedeth all credit: for three of them against a bear, four against a lion, are sufficient to try mastries with them. King Henry the Seventh, as the report goeth, commanded all such curs to be hanged, because they durst presume to fight against the lion, who is their king and sovereign. The like he did with an excellent falcon, as some say, because he feared not hand-to-hand match with an eagle, willing his falconers in his own presence to pluck off his head after he was taken down, saying that it was not meet for any subject to offer such wrong unto his lord and superior, wherein he had a further meaning. But if King Henry the Seventh had lived in our time what would he have done to our English mastiff, which alone and without any help at all pulled down first a huge bear, then a pard, and last of all a lion, each after other before the French king in one day, when the Lord Buckhurst was ambassador unto him, and whereof if I should write the circumstances, that is, how he took his advantage being let loose unto them, and finally drave them into such exceeding fear, that they were all glad to run away when he was taken from them, I should take much pains, and yet reap but small credit: wherefore it shall suffice to have said thus much thereof. Some of our mastiffs will rage only in the night, some are to be tied up both day and night. Such also as are suffered to go loose about the house and yard are so gentle in the daytime that children may ride on their backs and play with them at their pleasures. Divers of them likewise are of such jealousy over their master and whosoever of his household, that if a stranger do embrace or touch any of them, they will fall fiercely upon them, unto their extreme mischief if their fury be not prevented. Such a one was the dog of Nichomedes, king sometime of Bithynia, who seeing Consigne the queen to embrace and kiss her husband as they walked together in a garden, did tear her all to pieces, maugre his resistance and the present aid of such as attended on them. Some of them moreover will suffer a stranger to come in and walk about the house or yard where he listeth, without giving over to follow him: but if he put forth his hand to touch anything, then will they fly upon them and kill them if they may. I had one myself once, which would not suffer any man to bring in his weapon further than my gate: neither those that were of my house to be touched in his presence. Or if I had beaten any of my children, he would gently have essayed to catch the rod in his teeth and take it out of my hand or else pluck down their clothes to save them from the stripes: which in my opinion is not unworthy to be noted.
The last sort of dogs consisteth of the currish kind meet for many toys, of which the whappet or prick-eared cur is one. Some men call them warners, because they are good for nothing else but to bark and give warning when anybody doth stir or lie in wait about the house in the night season. Certes it is impossible to describe these curs in any order, because they have no one kind proper unto themselves, but are a confused company mixed of all the rest. The second sort of them are called turnspits, whose office is not unknown to any. And as these are only reserved for this purpose, so in many places our mastiffs (beside the use which tinkers have of them in carrying their heavy budgets) are made to draw water in great wheels out of deep wells, going much like unto those which are framed for our turnspits, as is to be seen at Roiston, where this feat is often practised. Besides these also we have sholts or curs daily brought out of Ireland, and made much of among us, because of their sauciness and quarrelling. Moreover they bite very sore, and love candles exceedingly, as do the men and women of their country; but I may say no more of them, because they are not bred with us. Yet this will I make report of by the way, for pastime’s sake, that when a great man of those parts came of late into one of our ships which went thither for fish, to see the form and fashion of the same, his wife apparelled in fine sables, abiding on the deck whilst her husband was under the hatches with the mariners, espied a pound or two of candles hanging on the mast, and being loath to stand there idle alone, she fell to and eat them up every one, supposing herself to have been at a jolly banquet, and shewing very pleasant gesture when her husband came up again unto her.
The last kind of toyish curs are named dancers, and those being of a mongrel sort also, are taught and exercised to dance in measure at the musical sound of an instrument, as at the just stroke of a drum, sweet accent of the citharne, and pleasant harmony of the harp, shewing many tricks by the gesture of their bodies: as to stand bolt upright, to lie flat on the ground, to turn round as a ring holding their tails in their teeth, to saw and beg for meat, to take a man’s cap from his head, and sundry such properties, which they learn of their idle roguish masters, whose instruments they are to gather gain, as old apes clothed in motley and coloured short-waisted jackets are for the like vagabonds, who seek no better living than that which they may get by fond pastime and idleness. I might here intreat of other dogs, as of those which are bred between a bitch and a wolf, also between a bitch and a fox, or a bear and a mastiff. But as we utterly want the first sort, except they be brought unto us: so it happeneth sometimes that the other two are engendered and seen at home amongst us. But all the rest heretofore remembered in this chapter there is none more ugly and odious in sight, cruel and fierce in deed, nor untractable in hand, than that which is begotten between the bear and the bandog. For whatsoever he catcheth hold of he taketh it so fast that a man may sooner tear and rend his body in sunder than get open his mouth to separate his chaps. Certes he regardeth neither wolf, bear, nor lion, and therefore may well be compared with those two dogs which were sent to Alexander out of India (and procreated as it is thought between a mastiff and a male tiger, as be those also of Hircania), or to them that are bred in Archadia, where copulation is oft seen between lions and bitches, as the lion is in France (as I said) between she wolves and dogs, whereof let this suffice, sith the further tractation of them doth not concern my purpose, more than the confutation of Cardan’s talk, De subt., lib. 10, who saith that after many generations dogs do become wolves, and contrariwise, which if it were true, then could not England be without many wolves: but nature hath set a difference between them, not only in outward form, but also inward disposition of their bones, whereof it is impossible that his assertion can be sound.