Page images




You know how I dislike, chiefly on your behalf, attributing the thoughts and expressions of men to animals other than men. The comparison suggests patronage and a sense of superiority, whereas you and I know perfectly well that there is no question between us of better or worse, whether in intellect or in morals. We are just different. That you are imbued, as I shall show, with a greater humility than I gives me no excuse for conceit, but rather for as much more humility as I can muster, handicapped, as I am, by my species.

After such a profession of philosophy as this it may seem illogical to indite you a letter, since you cannot read it though as a puppy you would have taken it in and duly digested it. But the human brain, so far as it issues in action, is ‘saved by its want of logic,' as a great Frenchman said of the English people. I address the letter directly to you because in this way I can most easily make explicit to myself just what I feel about our friendship, and how the miracle is possible that you and I, as thousands of others in like case, can be friends and brothers. I seek, and seem to have found, in this form the technique of analyzing my own feelings about the mutual affection of dogs and their masters a thing, it seems to me, often different in kind from the relation of dogs and their mistresses.


The old Scotch philosopher who used to lecture to me on mind was fond of asserting that reason was developed along the lines of conflicting instincts; but he did not keep a dog, much less a spaniel. Your reason is produced by the desire to possess it. Such is my experience and my inference from your guise and habits and gestures. Another professor used to say to me: 'Nothing interferes with progress like not wanting to make it' a profound maxim; and, if it is true, then the converse is true, that nothing promotes progress like intensely wishing to make it. You are quite sure, though I confess my belief with a blush, that I possess some faculty which you yearn to understand; and as you grow older you come nearer and nearer to this comprehension on the flood of your affection and strong admiration.

But before we follow out the steady growth of your intelligence let us consider your affections and emotions, which perhaps matter more.

You are, and have been these five years, as incapable of rancor as Mr. Jarndyce. The old tag, of course, is a lying one:

A woman, a spaniel, and a walnut tree;
The more you bash 'em, the better they be.

They are better in the sense that they have undergone a stronger test of their tolerance, but in that sense only do they enjoy persecution. Some few children have this gift of a forgiving

nature. One of my neighbors, whose temper is not under perfect control (you may remember, perhaps, how he once cursed his retriever because you found the bird his dog could not), one day castigated his very young son. When the sad business was over, the boy took him by the hand and led him out-of-doors from the torture chamber. 'Wouldn't you like to see my garden

for a treat?' he said. He was never beaten again. I felt like that rebuked parent when I returned one day from a sporting expedition. With a carelessness that I can now only regard as insensate, as definitely cruel, I allowed you to see me go forth with my gun, closing the door with furtive quickness between us. You did not bark or protest in any way; but when the sound of my footsteps died away you climbed upstairs to my bedroom, a place you had seldom entered, and, pulling from the cupboard an old shooting jacket, lay on it till I came back. You rejoiced in the return. There was no touch of rebuke in your welcome; but the mute protest as reported was almost unendurable, and next time I would rather offend a neighbor by taking out a dog too many than leave you to pine.

What was in your head all those hours as you lay with the smell of the shooting coat in your nostrils? Your immense joy in going out with a gun is inspired in part, I must believe, by the feeling that we are particularly en rapport when in pursuit of game. What is elemental in our two modes of life is in touch. We are primeval hunters, together seeking necessary food. We are in some sort equals; yet you are glad and proud to confess that I am the master. With what unvarying directness you pick up a fallen bird and lay it at my feet or thrust it to my stretched hand! It must be nearer your instinct to pursue the ground animal than the

flying bird; but it is the bird you prefer. Even your scent for it seems superior. You have followed in the wake of the man's preference, and you bring back the prey to him as affectionately as you would to your family in a state of


One of my hunting friends tells me that his favorite horse always knows a hunting morning, and is sometimes so excited that he will not touch his feed. You know when sport is afoot by a number of signs. You watch eagerly for the suit that your changeable master wears when he comes down to breakfast. If it is of blue serge, your ears are depressed by half an inch. Your eyes have the droop almost of a bloodhound and, with the long ears falling straight on either side of your sapient and melancholy face, you bear an unmistakable resemblance to that print of a bewigged judge which hangs among my ancestors. Still retaining the elemental habit of your ancestors, who hunted in the night season and, if hunting was good, gorged in the small hours, you are apt to be a little somnolent at the breakfast hour; and I have never known you at that time to ask for food. So when the suit is of blue serge you greet me with sleepy friendliness only and return to your mat to continue dozing. If the suit inIcludes a tail coat prelude to a top hat -I have known you to evince a faint curiosity. Your mobile nose makes the inquiry: 'What does this mean? The sight and smell are new to me; but a thing like that cannot portend even so much as a country walk.'

How different if the clothes are those which go together with a gun and cartridges! From brain to spine the excitement travels. A shiver, what the French call a frisson, invades you. Your instinctive sleepiness vanishes. If you have enough control of yourself to

lie down during breakfast, you choose a spot within sight, and whenever I look up I see one brown eye fixed on me, alert to detect any movement from the table, any confirmation of the strong hope that the clothes are true witnesses. As I get up you follow close to heel or sometimes paw the door, in utter impatience to reach the gun cases in the hall. Your predecessor, for some reason that I could never gauge, was quite sure that the handling of cartridges meant a shooting expedition, but was not nearly so excited at the handling of a gun. You are aware of the meaning of both; but it is the gun itself that extracts from you that short, sharp, excited bark, and, if the door is open, sends you out to the wicket gate by which we usually depart.

You are quite certain that without both gun and cartridges shooting is impossible. You will lie serene and content for hours if need be by the side of the bag, and you love to rest your nose on it. Do you remember how you were torn by indecision that morning when, on the way to a shoot, I leaned the gun against a fence, and the cartridge bag below it, while I made a short expedition to a clubhouse a hundred yards to the side of our proper route? If I had told you to sit by the side of the gun you would have done it without question or doubt; but I said nothing. What were you to do? Was it safer to stay by the gun or to go with me? You followed a few yards in my direction; then went back to the gun; then left it, and stopped with indecision in every line of your pose and every movement. Finally your decision was made. Before I was out of sight you had returned, with moderate content, to the gun and cartridge bag. I might have dodged you. It was quite certain that the gun could not, and that without the gun sport was impossible. If

this had happened before that sad day when I left you behind I think you would have come with me; but since then it has never been ‘glad, confident morning again' quite in the old way. A vague fear of desertion still lies in the back of your mind.


Not many things baffle you when it is a question of game. I can tell with a confidence very seldom misdirected what it is that you scent: your behavior in the neighborhood of a hare, a pheasant, or a covey of partridges is always distinctive. How you lift your head for the partridges and waver this way and that, indicating that the scent has more than one source! How close to the ground is your nose and how steady your progress in the wake of a rabbit or hare! Your speed and excitement rise visibly when you become aware of a pheasant. Tell me how it is that the only bird, other than the game bird, that at all excites you is the lark. I knew two setters that suffered from a like weakness. And why do you refuse, except under stern orders, to retrieve either pigeon or snipe? Of course it is the scent; and since my scientific friends tell me that you excel me in this sense by 340 to 1, I cannot pretend to follow you or understand your sense any more than you can interpret my brain.

What pleasure it has added to my days to walk with you across the autumn fields and watch your skilled enjoyment of the scents that come and go; but sometimes you rebuke me, all the more severely because you wish to compliment. Yours is the 'praise that hurteth more than blame,' as Whittier wrote.

When the birds are flushed and that loud exciting noise is heard you must believe that the endeavor was

[ocr errors]

successful. It is quite impossible for me to persuade you that nothing has fallen, that Homer has nodded, that your object of reverence was capable of a lapse. It seems impossible. You cannot grasp a qualified omnipotence - a Greek god hampered by Fates or necessity or mere weakness. You are as sure as John Stuart Mill that similar causes have similar effects. On the rare occasions much rarer than a missed bird when two birds have fallen to one barrel, what trouble I have to induce you after retrieving one to look for the other! You look up into my face as if if to say, 'Why, I've just brought it. Have you forgotten already?' You do what I tell you because obedience qualified, it is true, by excitement is a good part of your religion; but your faith wavers. You search halfheartedly and are a demonstrably worse finder. Even that marvelous nose of yours fails of its perfection unless there is intention behind its


In everything I do you seek meaning, and, as your interests are less varied than mine, you are generally baffled. The spade is an instrument that quite defeats you. You must have seen it used to dig out some rabbit or rat that had gone to ground, and have decided that this was a legitimate use and that after the gun it deserved your respect. But it is almost always used vainly. When I transplant a rosebush you sniff and sniff and sniff round the hole to discover why I was digging. You sniff especially at any upturned worms, and I have caught you looking with a puzzled glance at the robins which at once fly toward me and grow busy as soon as I leave the spot by so little as a yard or two. You sniff and you wonder, but never, never, never shall I be able to give you so much as an inkling of the gardener's purposes. How queer it is that you can smell those partridges

while still a hundred, even two hundred yards away, and do not heed at all the perfume of the tree lupine that invests the whole garden!

We have not put upon you the indignity of learning 'parlor tricks.' You cannot 'die for your country,' and no biscuit is balanced on the flat of your nose; but you will play any game that has any sense in it and an athletic


You will play football and dribble the ball at some pace with your nose as propellant. You will jump a lawn-tennis net. You will play catchwho-catch-can; and how quaintly the primeval instinct dovetails into a more lately developed mood when we try to rob you of a bone! You growl furiously, but at the same time deny the anger by as furious a wagging of the tail. A stranger would not know which end to believe; but you have made it quite clear to us that a game is being played, of which growling is a necessary part. Perhaps because there was a suggestion of primeval instinct in it you liked best of all games hide-and-seek with that rubber doll possessing a squeak in its middle. To hunt for it wherever hidden was a passion with you. It squeaked under pressure like a live thing; and its voice was 'the voice of the stomach,' declared by philosophers to be the elemental music of the world, connecting man with the lower animals and becoming articulate in the youngest baby or puppy. But I should very much like to know how you developed the habit of sitting up on your haunches and wagging your forepaws up and down, as if you were pulling a church bell rope. At such times as you discovered the doll in some unapproachable place, such as the mantelpiece or the top of a bookshelf, you looked as if you were praying to an idol in a state of ecstasy. You were ludicrous — and, it seems, pathetic too, for someone seeing

[ocr errors]

you quoted one of the most moving remarkable that in other relations your

lines in all poetry:

Tendebantque manus ripa ulterioris amore.

And indeed you were always, in a symbolic sense, 'stretching out your hands in yearning for the farther bank.' You always wanted to grasp what was just beyond you; and by reason of your yearning you have learned wonderfully. In your early days you knew no words. You learned tones of voice, could distinguish the short, sharp command from the wheedling endearment, and other less gross contrasts; but words, as such, meant nothing. With great labor you have learned a few. I should very much like to know from you whether my estimate of the number is too small or too big. I put the number at about ten or eleven: 'here; lie down; heel; mat; basket; pussy; fetch; shoot; seek; good dog; Whuff.'

Some you learned by much repetition, especially those used on the field of battle. One was driven into your brain by the intensity of your jealousy. You had not many dislikes. The postman and the woman who sang were two; Pussy was the third. She used to annoy you of deliberate purpose by walking past you and tapping your face with her vertical tail. It was done with aggressive deliberation. Her slow, selfish ways altogether were irritating to you and you loathed her habit of jumping on people's laps. If the word 'pussy' passed one's lips you were uncomfortable, even as your excitement was obvious at the word 'shooting,' however uttered. But you restrained your hatred wonderfully and never since puppyhood attempted to express your dislike by more than a low grumble. It was enough: the cat, a master of the policy of self-interest, knew well its significance. Your restraint in this regard was the more

[ocr errors]

jealousy was more explicit. You never could endure any embracing among men and women. You leaped up instantly against the two offenders and uttered a succession of peculiar short, sharp, and almost painful barks. At first I attributed the protest to jealousy; but the same notes were uttered when two of the family wrangled or pretended to wrangle for we were not so unkind to one another as you feared.

Were you jealous or protective? Did you take the wrestle for an embrace or the embrace for a wrestle? I have never felt quite sure. You are often very like a human child. 'I'll dare you to slap my mummy,' a very, very small son said to his father at a pretended quarrel; and perhaps you too forget your faculty of humorous perception when it is a question of defending the weaker. Who knows?

The depths of your sex loyalty are profounder than ours. The dog that will attack a bitch is scarcely known; and the courtesy you extend to the other sex is given also to the human child. The cat, whom you do not like and disdainfully ignore, might smother a baby and badly scratch it if it offends; but the infant is not born who can try your tolerance too hard. Several have tried, wholly in vain. My neighbor's terrier, waked suddenly by a teasing prod, snapped his teeth on his master's nose. Poor dog! With what obsequious obeisance he cringed before that outraged organ when any cruel allusion was made to it. Other terriers, of whom I knew, fell upon their master and mistress and bit them, as if they were enemies, once on the occasion of a spill from their carriage. But you have reached far beyond such elemental relapses. The brain in that big forehead the heaviest brain of any dog has created in you an attitude of

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »