Posts Tagged ‘Dogs in the 19th Century’

…they are very affectionate and playful, and bear the confinement of the house better than many other breeds, racing over the carpets in their play as freely as others do over the turf. For this reason, as well as the sweetness of their skins, and their short and soft coats, they are much liked by the ladies as pets.Chest of Books, Dog Breeding, The Pug

Gainsborough's painting of a pug sold for £993,250 at Sotheby's in 2009

Much has been made of Lady Bertram’s affection for her pug in Mansfield Park, and some have identified the dog as a symbol of imperialism, sexism and oppression. (Slipping the Leash: Lady Bertram’s Lapdog, Sally Palmer.) I see pug as a symbol of Lady Bertram’s wealth, indolence, and misplaced affection, for she cares much more for her dog’s minute-to-minute well-being than her childrens’. Towards the end of the novel, Lady Bertram showers more affection on Fanny Price than her disgraced daughter Maria, offering Fanny a puglet from Pug’s next litter.

William Hogarth, self-portrait with pug

Pugs are among the oldest breed of dogs. Their root can be traced to 400 BC China, where the dogs were bred to adorn the laps of Chinese sovereigns during the Shang dynasty.   By the 1300s there were three main types of dogs that are identifiable as founders of breeds of today: the Pekingese, the Japanese Spaniel, and the Pug.*  Small dogs presented as gifts arrived in Europe via the Dutch East India Company. In The Netherlands, the pug became the official dog of the House of Orange, and by 1688, William and Mary had  introduced the pug to England. Their popularity spread quickly  throughout the British Isles, and during this period the little dog may have been bred with the old type King Charles Spaniel.

Pug with clipped ears, J.A. Howe, 1850

The Victorians made dogs acceptable as pets in Britain and, as a result, they are largely responsible for the degree of genetic disorders in dogs today. They bred dogs to achieve a fashionable look or to emphasise a cute, childlike appearance as seen in the pug, the King Charles spaniel and other lapdogs. A Potted Relationship of Dog and Man Through the Ages

Engraving, pair of 19th century pugs. Notice the clipped ears.

Reading Mansfield Park again, I came to realize that Jane Austen’s choice of a dog for Lady Bertram was a stroke of genius, for Pug is the canine reflection of herself. The tiny dog’s affectionate and inactive natures makes it the perfect house-bound dog. They are known for preferring human laps over engaging in outdoor exercise. Unless they are trained from puppyhood to be more independent, Pugs suffer from separation anxiety should their humans leave them for very long. Just recently, when I took my terrier to a dog park to exercise and play with his own kind, I saw a Pug contentedly sitting in his mistress’s lap, observing the commotion and rambunctious activity around him with a look that I can only describe as Pug-eyed horror. Though a young dog, he was not at all inclined to move. His mistress, a young woman, sighed, saying this was her first Pug and that she’d had not idea how very disinclined they were to do anything but sit, eat, and sleep. She did add that he was a perfect apartment pet.

George Selwyn and pug by Reynolds, 1766

Today’s Pug looks different from their 18th & 19th century counterparts, who were longer in leg and less wrinkled of face. Many had their ears clipped, a practice banned in England in 1895. Today’s Pug is stockier (tending to obesity in older age), needs a thorough cleaning of its facial folds to prevent infection,  and is prone to illnesses due to overbreeding. Nevertheless, this affectionate pet is still popular, gentle with children and considered an excellent little guard dog.

Dermot, a Westminster Dog Show Quality Pug

More on the Topic

* The Pug FAQ

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Mrs. Norris, Lady Bertram and pug

Mrs. Norris, Lady Bertram and pug, 2007 Mansfield Park"I hope she will not tease my poor pug," said Lady Bertram; "I have but just got Julia to leave it alone." - Mansfield Park, Chapter One

To the education of her daughters, Lady Bertram paid not the smallest attention. She had not time for such cares. She was a woman who spent her days in sitting nicely dressed on a sofa, doing some long piece of needlework, of little use and no beauty, thinking more of her pug than her children, but very indulgent to the latter, when it did not put herself to inconvenience, guided in every thing important by Sir Thomas, and in smaller concerns by her sister. – description of Lady Bertram by Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

One is continually struck by the varied roles that dogs have played (and continue to play) in civilized society. Take the Georgian era, for example. Dogs were either pampered and coddled in the upper echelons or considered a work dog at best or a pest in the lower stratas. The image of Lady Bertram caring more for her pug than children, and of the upper crust caring for their hunting dogs and appreciating their courage and companionship is reinforced by paintings commissioned at that time. Edwin Landseer, the famous Victorian painter of animals, painted a typical series of paintings for the day: Dogs in Low Places and High Places, which showed the dog in pampered and humble settings.

But for every coddled Georgian canine, there were a score of dogs that lived lives of misery as garbage collectors (scavenging what they could off the streets), or were used for cruel sports, such as dog fights or bear baiting. (I have deliberately used a small image, for I cannot think of the unspeakable cruelty such “sport” must have been to the animals.) Dog fights are still popular today, as evinced by the Michael Vick scandals.

Girl with her dog, British School, 1775, Sudley House

Girl with her dog, British School, 1775, Sudley House

“Industrialization and urbanization in the late 18th and early 19th centuries shifted the focus of blood sports from baiting (in which dogs attacked other species) to fighting (in which dogs attacked each other). Rural laborers flocked to cities to become factory hands. They retained their love for blood sports but lacked the space and free days for baits of large animals. Dogfights, on the other hand, could be held indoors, artificial light allowed evening matches, and workers could still go to work the next day. Businesses called pits arose to meet the demand.” Edmund Russell, A Tale of Two Smithfields, UVA Today

Despite the cruel way in which dogs were treated, increased urbanization marked a change in which dogs were regarded. Edmund Russell goes on to say in his article, “At the same time, industrialization and urbanization in Britain changed attitudes toward dogs. Urbanites had little experience with raising farm animals for slaughter, while more and more families kept pets. Pet dogs had individual names, lived in the house, and never arrived for dinner on a platter.”

Portrait of an Extraordinary Musical Dog, Philip Reinagle, 1805, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Portrait of an Extraordinary Musical Dog, Philip Reinagle, 1805, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Hunters were bred for specific purposes, and these dogs were kept in kennels to live lives of relative ease and prosperity.

Foxhounds and terriers in a kennel, John Emms (1843-1912)

Foxhounds and terriers in a kennel, John Emms (1843-1912)

But in an age when many people were displaced and lived in abject poverty, the last thing on their minds would be the well-being of their canine friends. During times of plague and epidemics, dogs were killed by the scores as potential carriers of diseases such as rabies. In her cookbook, Hannah Glasse provides recipes to make cures for those bitten by mad dogs. The first one is an 18th century recipe (1747) provided by a Dr. Mead.

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The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy Which Far Exceeds Any Thing of the Kind Yet Published … By Hannah Glasse

As the 19th century progressed, humane societies were formed and paintings of dogs took on a sentimental turn, like this painting by Edwin Landseer entitled “Saved.” Today, the dog’s role in society has not changed much from what it was in Jane Austen’s day, and they still occupy a niche in all strata of society, from the high to the low … to the despicably cruel. (See image in this post.)

Edwin Landseer, Saved, Wikimedia Commons

Edwin Landseer, Saved, 1856, Wikimedia Commons

For more about dogs in this era, click on the following links:

Landseer High and Low images from Picturing Animals in Great Britain: 1750-1850

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