Wednesday 27 August 2014

Of Noble Dogs and Nobility

 "Histories are more full of examples of fidelity of dogs than of friends." Alexander Pope

Alexander Pope wrote this at the beginning of the 18th century, in agreement with the sentiments of King Frederick II of Denmark. Indeed, some histories have it that the latter 16th century king created the country's highest order of merit in order to honour his dog, Wilpret.

King Frederick II had a reputation for being a man who enjoyed life to the full. He had a penchant for wine, woman, hunting, and feasts, and some even say that he drank himself to death. But perhaps being hot-headed, vain, and ambitious hides an underlying disappointment in the fidelity of the human race. It seems the one constant in his world was his dog, Wilpret.
1581, King Frederick II of Denmark
It is said that Frederick honoured Wilpret by awarding the dog the Chief Order of Denmark (which later became the Order of the Elephant – an honour only bestowed on royalty, or people of exceptional importance.) This is backed up by an gilded plaque, now hanging in the Wallace Collection, London, showing a mounted Frederick. The plaque bears the inscription:
"My trust is in God alone, Wilpret is true."
In a world of shifting allegiance, Frederick's dog at least was constant.
Frederick's plaque - on display at the Wallace collection, London.
Writing a little of over a century later, Alexander Pope applauds this recognition of canine allegiance.
"A modern instance of gratitude to a dog is that the Chief Order of Denmark (now call'd the Order of the Elephant) was instituted in memory of the fidelity of a dog nam'd Wild-Brat [sic]."

However, some people believed that dogs had a place, and that wasn't necessarily at a king's side in the council chamber. Samuel Pepys, writing in his diary in 1667, seems irritated by King Charles II playing with his dogs during a meeting.
"the silliness of the King, playing with is dog all the while, or his codpiece, and minding the business."
The spaniels that Charles so favoured. 
With the Stuart family history it is easy to understand why Charles had a low opinion of people and only truly trusted his dogs. As Bishop Burnet remarked after Charles' death:
"He thought that no one did serve him out of love…"
Although, the constant companionship of faithful canine companions hopefully brought some comfort. Indeed, they did go everywhere with him, as this poem by Lord Rochester implies:
"His very dog at Council Board,
Sits grave and wise as any Lord."
Perhaps one of the reasons why Charles loved dogs was that they put on no airs and graces in his company.  Indeed, whilst traveling on a barge with "a dog the King loved", Samuel Pepys writes how the dog fouled in the boat.
“which made us laugh, and me think that a King and all that belongs to him are but just as others are.”  

Perhaps that's the point, and dogs don't see class or station, but offer unconditional devotion and love. 
No relevance to this post I'm afraid!
Just too cute. 

Wednesday 20 August 2014

A Cur : A Compliment Not a Curse

"A dog of mixed type, especially one that is frightening or fierce." Oxford Dictionary

Times and language change.
Last night, whilst reading "Anecdotes of Dogs" – a charming book written by Edward Jesse in 1858, this was brought home to me in the table of contents. Reading through chapters listing dog breeds, nestled between "the Great Danish dog" and "the Lurcher", was "the Cur".

I am more familiar with "cur" being used in historical fiction as an unflattering curse, as in "You cur, unhand that woman!" but it seems in Victorian times (and presumably pre-dating this) a cur was a type of purpose bred cattle droving dog. Admittedly a cur was of mixed ancestry, but he was a noble working dog all the same.

I decided to skip straight to the chapter on curs, and indeed found out that this forgotten strain of dogs were shot through with fine instincts and loyalty to their owners- far removed from the modern implication.  

The first (true) story related by Mr. Jesse concerns a merchant's shop in London. A large box properly labelled and seemingly in order, was delivered one evening to stay their overnight and be shipped off with other goods in the morning. A customer and his cur entered the shop whereupon the dog set to sniffing the box and then barking at it with intent to draw attention. This led the merchant to investigate the box, at which point he found a boy hidden inside tasked with the job of letting in his fellow felons after dark, in order to plunder the shop.

Another moving story is that of a pregnant cur. This bitch belonged to John Lang, Esq, who used her to work his cattle. One day, large with pup, she went into labor whilst working the cattle. She gave birth on the moor, concealed the puppies in a gorse bush and went back to work herding the cattle back home with all diligence. Only once had she handed over her charge did she return to the puppies and brought them home by the scruff, one by one. In Mr. Jesse's account he notes how Mr. Lang preserved the entire litter so as not to distress so faithful an animal (this seems to imply that he might otherwise have destroyed some of them!)
The gates to Portsmouth dockyard - circa 1901
Our final tale involves the aptly named "Trusty". This cur belongs to a workman employed in Portsmouth dockyard. The man's wife prepared his meal every day, tied it in a cloth and placed it in a hand-basket. The dog was trained to carry the basket by the handle and cover a distance of a mile or so to deliver it to his master. If the dog tired, he carefully placed the basket on the ground whilst he rested, but growled at anyone who approached. Once he got to the dockyard, he had to wait until a porter noticed him and opened the gate.
Knocking off time at Harland and Wolff shipyard, Belfast

 On finding his master, by all accounts man and dog were equally enamored of one another, and the man shared his food with Trusty. Once finished, the laborer repacked the basket and the dog delivered it safe home again.

There now! Put's a different complexion of the word "cur" doesn't it? Based on these examples it should be a compliment, not a curse. 

Wednesday 13 August 2014

The Painter and His Pug - by guest, Madame Gilflurt

Once again I am indebted to the lovely Madame Gilflurt, (aka Catherine Curzon) with another enchanting post about a pet from history. I have a pet crush on pugs so I'm especially intrigued to read about Trump. 
G x

The Painter and His Pug - by Madame Gilflurt

It is no secret that I adore the pets who share my house, nor is it privileged information that my constant companion is Pippa, my wonderful hound. A man who shared my love of dogs is, of course, William Hogarth, the legendary painter who, like my sister, shared his home with a pug. 

Hogarth's pug went by the name of Trump and it's fair to say that he was a celebrity in his own right, with small porcelain figures of Trump being sold to Hogarth's fans, whilst the painter himself was on occasion depicted as a pug too!

The Painter and his Pug by William Hogarth, 1745

In the 1730s, Hogarth began work on what would become The Painter and his Pug. The work depicts Hogarth as a picture within a frame whilst Trump sits outside it, reality alongside the constructed and framed image of Hogarth. Although the finished portrait shows Hogarth in informal dress, initial work on the canvas showed a very different figure, with the artist resplendent in wig and formal dress. Clearly Hogarth had a rethink though and chose to depict himself as a craftsman, rather than a figure of wealth and importance. 

He has taken great care over other aspects of the painting too, as the self-portrait rests atop a bile of books by Milton, Swift and Shakespeare, whilst the palette in the foreground bears the words, Line of Beauty and Grace. Although Hogarth painted out "and Grace", over time it has become visible again and this refers to Hogarth's artistic beliefs set out in his work, The Analysis of Beauty.

The Painter and his Pug was completed in 1745, a decade or so after work on it began. As a dog-lover, it is a painting that immediately speaks to me because of the way in which Trump is presented, obediently sitting before his master alongside the books, palette and words that mean so much to the artist. He is a vital part of Hogarth's life and art, as much a part of his inspiration as the literature on which Hogarth's portrait rests. trump would not be the only pug owned by William Hogarth but his place in history is assured, captured forever in this striking work.


Glorious Georgian ginbag, gossip and gadabout Catherine Curzon, aka Madame Gilflurt, is the author of A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life. When not setting quill to paper, she can usually be found gadding about the tea shops and gaming rooms of the capital or hosting intimate gatherings at her tottering abode. In addition to her blog and Facebook, Madame G is also quite the charmer on Twitter. 

Thank you again, Madame for your wonderful gossip. If ever you are in London, Master Hogarth's House is utterly fascinating, although it now no longer residues in rural idyll but on the edge of one of London's most filthy and ugly arterial roads.
Kindest regards,
Grace x

Wednesday 6 August 2014

Thomas Gainsborough: The Painter's Daughters with a Cat

Welcome! In the third post of a short series by guest authors, I'm especially pleased to welcome historical blogger extraoridinaire - Madame Gilflurt, aka Catherine Curzon. Madame is a prolific blogger (quite how she keeps it up I've no idea) on things historcial and the pleasure mine that she's popped by today. So without further ado, over to Madame...

Thomas Gainsborough: The Painter's Daughters with a Cat

With the recent anniversary of the death of Thomas Gainsborough, I have spent some time contemplating his work and this particular painting that caught my eye. Gainsborough was known, of course, for his remarkable portraits and landscapes; he enjoyed a most illustrious client list, including some of the most famous names in Georgian society and his reputation has endured throughout the centuries to this very day, deservedly regarded as one of the icons of 18th century art.

Gainsborough was father to two daughters, Mary and Margaret, born in 1750 and 1751 respectively. He painted them on several occasions and the work that has commanded my attention today is The Painter's Daughters with a Cat, though if you can spot the cat, well done!

This portrait is undated but is believed to have been painted around 1760-61, based on the approximate age of the two girls.The unfinished work shows Mary and Margaret in a casual embrace, looking not directly at the viewer but slightly off to the side, perhaps to where Gainsborough works at the canvas. I find it a striking image and one that captures the spirit of the children, utterly at ease with one another and with with the business of posing for the celebrated artist who to them, was simply a father.
Spot the cat (clue, look at the orange splodge to the right)
At a cursory glance the cat may prove hard to locate but look to the lower right of the painting, where a shape can be identified lounging on Margaret's forearm. Reaching over, Margaret is pulling the animal's tail gently and in the outline of its face, we can see that the feline was far from happy!

Sadly the painting was never finished and as such, we can only catch the barest glimpse of the phantom cat in the little girl's arms, or share this moment of childhood domesticity.

Glorious Georgian ginbag, gossip and gadabout Catherine Curzon, aka Madame Gilflurt, is the author of A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life. When not setting quill to paper, she can usually be found gadding about the tea shops and gaming rooms of the capital or hosting intimate gatherings at her tottering abode. In addition to her blog and Facebook, Madame G is also quite the charmer on Twitter. 

Thank you Catherine, for yet another fascinating post. You are welcome any time, especially if you post about animals. 
G x
Sorry - couldn't resist - any excuse to repost my son's sketch of Widget (she looks a lot happier than Gainsborough's cat!).