A panegyric upon dogs, together with some observations on modern novels and romances.
VARIOUS and wonderful, in all ages, have been the actions of dogs; and if I should set myself to collect, from poets and historians, the many passages that make honourable mention of them, I should compose a work much too large and voluminous for the patience of any modern reader. But as the politicians of the age, and men of gravity may be apt to censure me for misspending my time in writing the adventures of a lap-dog, when there are so many modern heroes, whose illustrious actions call loudly for the pen of an historian; it will not be amiss to detain the reader, in the entrance of this work, with a short panegyric on the canine race, to justify my undertaking it.
And can we, without the basest ingratitude, think ill of an animal, that has ever honoured mankind with his company and friendship, from the beginning of the world to the present moment? While all other creatures are in a state of enmity with us; some flying into woods and wildernesses to escape our tyranny, and others requiring to be restrained with bridles and fences in close confinement; dogs alone enter into voluntary friendship with us, and of their own accord make their residence among us.
Nor do they trouble us only with officious fidelity, and useless good-will, but take care to earn their livelihood by many meritorious services: they guard our houses, supply our tables with provision, amuse our leisure hours, and discover plots to the government. Nay, I have heard of a dog's making a syllogism; which cannot fail to endear him to our two famous universities, where his brother-logicians are so honoured and distinguished for their skill in that useful science.
After these extraordinary instances of sagacity and merit, it may be thought too ludicrous, perhaps, to mention the capacity they have often discovered, for playing at cards, fiddling, dancing, and other polite accomplishments; yet I cannot help relating a little story, which formerly happened at the play-house in Lincolns-Inn-Fields.
There was, at that time, the same emulation between the two houses, as there is at present between the great common-wealths of Drury-Lane and Covent-Garden; each of them striving to amuse the town with various feats of activity, when they began to grow tired of sense, wit, and action. At length, the managers of the house of Lincolns-Inn-Fields, possessed with a happy turn of thought, introduced a dance of dogs; who were dressed in French characters, to make the representation more ridiculous, and acquitted themselves for several evenings to the universal delight and improvement of the town. But one unfortunate night, a malicious wag behind the scenes, threw down among them the leg of a fowl, which he had brought thither in his pocket for that purpose. Instantly all was in confusion; the marquis shook off his peruke, mademoiselle dropped her hoop-petticoat, the fiddler threw away his violin, and all fell to scrambling for the prize that was thrown among them.—But let us return to graver matter.
If we look back into ancient history, we shall find the wisest and most celebrated nations of antiquity, as it were, contending with one another, which should pay the greatest honour to dogs. The old astronomers denominated stars after their name; and the Egyptians in particular, a sapient and venerable people, worshipped a dog among the principal of their divinities. The poets represent Diana, as spending great part of her life among a pack of hounds, which I mention for the honour of the country gentlemen of Great-Britain; and we know that the illustrious Theseus dedicated much of his time to the same companions.
Julius Pollux informs us, that the art of dying purple and scarlet cloth was first found out by Hercules's dog, who roving along the sea-coast, and accidentally eating of the fish Murex, or Purpura, his lips became tinged with that colour; from whence the Tyrians first took the hint of the purple manufacture, and to this lucky Event our fine Gentlemen of the army are indebted for the scarlet, with which they subdue the hearts of so many fair ladies.
But nothing can give us a more exalted idea of these illustrious animals, than to consider, that formerly, in old Greece, they founded a sect of philosophy; the members whereof took the name of Cynics, and were gloriously ambitious of assimilating themselves to the manners and behaviour of that animal, from whom they derived their title.
And that the ladies of Greece had as great a fondness for them as the men, may be collected from the story which Lucian relates of a certain philosopher; who in the excess of his complaisance to a woman of fashion, on whom he depended for support, took up her favourite lap-dog one day, attempting to caress and kiss it; but the little creature, not being used to the rude gripe of philosophic hands, found his loins affected in such a manner, that he was obliged to water the sage's beard, as he held him to his mouth; which so discomposed that principal, if not only seat of his wisdom, as excited laughter in all the beholders.
Such was the reverence paid to them among the nations of antiquity; and if we descend to later times, we shall not want examples of great men's devoting themselves to dogs. King Charles the second, of pious and immortal memory, came always to his council-board accompanied with a favourite spaniel; who propagated his breed, and scattered his image through the land, almost as extensively as his royal master. His successor, king James, of pious and immortal memory likewise, was distinguished for the same attachment to these four-footed worthies; and 'tis reported of him, that being once in a dangerous storm at sea, and obliged to quit the ship for his life, he roared aloud with a most vehement voice, as his principal concern, 'to save the dogs and the Duke of M——.' But why need we multiply examples? The greatest heroes and beauties have not been ashamed to erect monuments to them in their gardens, nor the greatest wits and poets to write their epitaphs. Bishops have entrusted them with their secrets, and prime-ministers deigned to receive information from them, when treason and conspiracies were hatching against the government. Islands likewise, as well as stars, have been called after their names; so that I hope no one will dare to think me idly employed in composing the following work: or if any such critic should be found, let him own himself ignorant of ancient and modern history, let him confess himself an enemy to his country, and ungrateful to the benefactors of Great-Britain.
And as no exception can reasonably be taken against the dignity of my hero, much less can I expect any will arise against the nature of this work, which one of my contemporaries declares to be 'an epic poem in prose'; and I cannot help promising myself some encouragement, in this life-writing age especially, when no character is thought too inconsiderable to engage the public notice, or too abandoned to be set up as a pattern of imitation. The lowest and most contemptible vagrants, parish-girls, chamber-maids, pick-pockets, and highwaymen, find historians to record their praises, and readers to wonder at their exploits. Star-gazers, superannuated strumpets, quarrelling lovers, all think themselves authorized to appeal to the public, and to write apologies for their lives. Even the prisons and stews are ransacked to find materials for novels and romances. Thus, I am told, that illustrious mimic Mr. F——t, when all other expedients fail him, and he shall no longer be able to raise a kind of tax, if I may so call it, from tea, coffee, chocolates, and marriages, designs, as the last effort of his wit, to oblige the world with an accurate history of his own life; with which view one may suppose he takes care to chequer it with so many extraordinary occurrences, and selects such adventures as will best serve hereafter to amaze and astonish his readers.
This then being the case, I hope the very superiority of the character here treated of, above the heroes of common romances, will procure it a favourable reception, although perhaps I may fall short of my great contemporaries in the elegance of style, and graces of language. For when such multitudes of lives are daily offered to the public, written by the saddest dogs, or of the saddest dogs of the times, it may be considered as some little merit to have chosen a subject worthy the dignity of history; in which single view I may be allowed to paragon myself with the incomparable writer of the life of Cicero, in that I have deserted the beaten track of biographers, and chosen a subject worthy the attention of polite and classical readers.
Having detained the reader with this little necessary introduction, I now proceed to open the birth and parentage of my Hero.