Friday, September 6, 2019

The Canine Race: Who's a Good Boy?

Cover page of S. Babcock's 1941 book "The Canine Race, a Brief Natural History of the Dog" with illustrations of several dogs and people enjoying various outdoor activities with their dogs Recently when a dog-loving patron asked to see our older materials dedicated to "man’s best friend," we stumbled upon a small gem in our Class of 1926 Memorial Collection; S. Babcock’s The Canine Race, a Brief Natural History of the Dog. Interspersed with Interesting Characteristic Anecdotes, and Embellished with Sixteen Beautiful Wood Engravings, published in 1841. One of dozens of books published in Babcock’s Toy Books series, the small publication contains a “portrait and description” of sixteen of the “most striking” dog breeds in addition to “interesting anecdotes of their natures, habits, and propensities.”

The book begins with a charming introduction and ode to our canine companions, remarking that “no other animal seems so well adapted… so bold, sagacious, tractable, and obedient... the flocks and the herds obey his voice… he fiercely and bravely gives battle to intruders. Nor is he less useful to the huntsmen in pursuit of game.” The "usefulness" of the various dog breeds beyond mere companionship--as guides, lifeguards, hunting companions, or “attendants on a carriage”--is espoused throughout the book, speaking to the prevalent attitude of the time among dog-owners who sought to "work" their dogs in addition to enjoying their company.

Despite its short length and young target audience, our copy of The Canine Race provides a wonderful example of how valuable books can be when examined more closely through a comparative lens to modern times. Upon closer inspection, our copy of The Canine Race demonstrates how selective breeding and human preferences have rapidly changed the appearance and functions of our canine friends, even within just the last 180 years. To illustrate this point, I decided to satisfy my inner evolutionary biologist by examining several images and breed descriptions contained within The Canine Race in comparison to recent publications on dog breeding and breed descriptions courtesy of the American Kennel Club (AKC) database. Below are some of the interesting "discoveries" I made of how dog breeds have transformed since the 1800s; courtesy of flipping through the pages of our copy of The Canine Race.

The Bulldog

Few dogs have been as heavily shaped by selective breeding as the English bulldog. This is perhaps best illustrated by the shockingly tall, slim and upright body posture as well as longer snout pictured in the wood engraving of “the bulldog” in our copy of The Canine Race (see photograph below). In 1840, English bulldogs already had some of the characteristic features we see today, like saggy jowls and a muscular build (see Babcock’s illustration, below), however as the AKC remarks “modern day bulldogs have far more pronounced facial wrinkles, an even thicker and squatter body, and a widened stance among their front legs.” Part of the reason for this rapid change in appearance over the past 180 years may be attributable to the switch from breeders selecting traits for producing good bull-fighting dogs (yes, this is where bulldogs get their name!), toward selecting traits simply for aesthetic purposes.
Woodcut illustration from 'The Canine Race' depicting an English bulldog.

When our copy of The Canine Race was published, bulldogs were still used for bull-baiting — a bloody sport (which became illegal in 1835 but persisted through the 1850s in the U.K.) where dogs were used to bait and attack bulls. As Babcock’s article shockingly describes, “Nothing can exceed the resolution and fierceness with which he (the bulldog) attacks the bull. Running directly at his head, and sometimes catching him by the nose, he will pin the bull to the ground ; nor can he, without great difficulty, be made to quit his hold. Such is his rage and perseverance at a bullfight in England… a man made a bet that he could cut off the feet of his dog, one after another, and that after each foot was cut off, the dog would return to the fight. The horrid experiment was tried, and the bet was won, for the dog continued to seize the bull after each amputation.” After describing this gruesome practice, the author adds a lighter note pointing to recent changes in attitude surrounding the sport: “Happily, the refinement and intelligence of the present time, has nearly put a stop to the cruel sports of bull-baitings in England.” Although the accuracy of the specific bullfighting accounts is questionable, bulldogs where undeniably different in both appearance and function in 1840.

The Terrier

In a section of The Canine Race devoted to our beloved terriers, the author notes that “this is a small, thickset hound, of which there are two kinds; one has short legs, long back, and is commonly of a black or yellowish color, mingled with white. The other is more sprightly in appearance; its color is reddish brown or black.” Today, the "two kinds" of terriers to which Babcock’s book refers are recognized as distinct breeds by the American Kennel Club - the Russell Terrier and Parson Russell Terrier.
Woodcut illustration from 'The Canine Race' depicting a terrier.

According to the AKC, both breeds shared a common heritage as fox-hunting dogs descended from the kennels of Reverend John “The Sporting Parson” Russell of the mid-1800s, around the same time that The Canine Race was published. It was only after the publication of The Canine Race that the lines of the two terriers diverged enough to be recognized as two distinctly separate breeds. Today, both terrier breeds have flatter backs and their color is predominantly white with tan, brown, or black spots as opposed to the other way around (compare modern photos to the photograph from The Canine Race, pictured below). Although popularized on children’s shows like Wishbone as family pets today, Babcock’s publication notes that terriers were primarily bred by fox-hunting enthusiasts in the mid 1800s, “as this animal is very expert in forcing foxes and other game out of their holes, and is particularly hostile to the fox.”

 “The Harrier

In contrast to the English bulldog and terriers depicted in our 1841 edition of The Canine Race, some breeds, like harriers, look and perform essentially the same today as they did in the mid-19th century. One of the oldest English breeds, harriers were bred for hunting hare (hence the breed’s name) in the United Kingdom since the 1300s. As Babcock’s book details, “The Harrier pursues the hare with much ardor, and scarcely gives her any time to breathe.” Today, the AKC breed standard indicates that Harriers “must be active... in all ways appearing able to work tirelessly, no matter the terrain, for long periods.” Apparently, Harriers were as active in the 1840s as they are today, for Babcock also mentions how seemingly inexhaustible harriers appear, as “the most active sportsman finds he has sufficient exercise when he attempts to keep up with them.”

Woodcut illustration from 'The Canine Race' depicting a harrier.

Our edition of The Canine Race also contains two interesting accounts of lesser-known hunting dog breeds that nearly went extinct, or are currently on the edge of disappearing, due to changes in breeding for their original hunting purposes. After the section on harriers, the author notes that “There is another breed of dogs, between the Harrier and the Terrier, which is a strong, active, and hardy hound, used in hunting the otter. This animal is rough, with wiry hair, and very long ears.” The breed to which the author is referring to - the British otterhound - became much less popular since the mid 1800s with the decline in England’s otter populations, and more recently with the country-wide ban placed on otter hunting in 1978. As a 2018 article in London’s The Mirror reports: “Britain's rarest dog breed is facing extinction, after just 24 puppies were registered with the Kennel Club last year. Britain’s Otterhound Club is now appealing for prospective dog owners to choose an otterhound and protect the breed’s future.” Although The Canine Race cites otterhounds as a common breed in Babcock’s time, today purebred otterhounds are rarer than giant pandas or white rhino, with fewer than 1,000 dogs worldwide and 300 in Britain.

Babcock’s book also includes an account of another canine breed whose popularity has fluctuated substantially over the past 180 years; the Irish Wolf Dog (today known as the Irish wolfhound). Babcock writes that in the 1840s “the race is now nearly extinct...there being now no wolves or other formidable beasts of prey, in Ireland.” Historical records from the AKC corroborate this story, indicating that by the late 1700s wolves and other big game animals of Ireland had been hunted to extinction, in part due to the effectiveness of wolfhounds in leading hunting parties. Essentially, it was a case of a dog breed doing its job “too well for its own good” (AKC). Luckily the growth in popularity of wolfhounds as show dogs and family pets saved the breed, and today they are no longer threatened.

 “The Coach Dog

If you’re wondering “what is a coach dog?” you aren’t alone. Commonly used at the time our edition of The Canine Race was printed, this common name for the breed we now refer to as a Dalmatian has fallen into general disuse. Babcock writes that “The dog is very common in England, being esteemed an elegant attendant on a carriage (coach),” pointing to why the name was used frequently in the 1800s. Indeed, the traditional occupation of Dalmatians “was to trot beside horse-drawn coaches, and to guard the horses and rig when otherwise unattended” according to the AKC. Interestingly, although their primary function has changed since Babcock’s time, the Dalmatian Club of America still holds annual road trials to test their dogs’ “coach dog” ability.
Woodcut illustration from 'The Canine Race' depicting a so-called "coach dog", or Dalmatian

Indeed, Dalmatians went by several other common names which have fallen out of use since the 19th century, including the "Danish Dog" and "common Harrier of Italy" which Babcock also mentions. Aside from a changing name, one will notice that the Dalmatian pictured in Babcock’s publication (see right) is missing a key feature of today’s Dalmatians - it’s floppy ears. This was not a result of selective breeding, but rather of aesthetic preferences for ear-less or “docked” Dalmatians in the mid 1800s. On the subject of docking, the author sympathizes with the dogs, hoping that “it will not much longer be the fashion to cut off the useful and ornamental ears of the animals, which is generally practised. The notion that this increases the beauty of the Coach Dog is a mistaken one. Surely the decorations which nature bestows on each animal are its greatest ornaments, and that can be no true taste which sanctions this barbarous custom.” Today show dog associations and the AKC side with the author, asserting that Dalmatians should have ear tips that “reach to the bottom line of the cheek.”

 “The Newfoundland Dog

The Canine Race ends with a description of one of the largest and most recognizable dog breeds, the Newfoundland. As their name suggests, Newfoundlands originated on the Canadian island as companions to fishermen and settlers along the ocean coast. The author explains that “in their native country, (Newfoundlands) are extremely useful to the settlers… who employ them to bring wood from the backcountry. Three or four of them, yoked to a sledge, will draw three hundred weight of wood for several miles.” Indeed, the great strength of Newfoundlands is still famous and widely employed today (the breed is now most often used by water rescue teams), but horses and tractors came to replace their roles as draft animals. In terms of appearance, Newfoundlands may still sport black/brown/gray fur mixed with white as shown in Babcock’s illustration (see below), although this variation has become less common today than all-black or all-brown-coats. In addition, the size of Newfoundlands, much like other large breeds like St. Bernards and German shepherds, has increased an estimated 20% since the mid-1800s (AKC).

Woodcut illustration from 'The Canine Race' depicting a Newfoundland dog.
For dog-lovers, cultural and biological evolutionary scientists and curious history fans alike, The Canine Race provide a fascinating glimpse into the history of man’s best friend, and in turn the evolution of ourselves. To check Babcock’s book for yourself, stop by Rauner and ask for "1926 Coll. C343."

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

An Almanac of One's Own

Title page of the Lady's Almanac, with a facing advertisement for face cream
Sometimes, when we are in search of inspiration for a blog post, we go wandering through the shelves in search of hidden gems and intriguing volumes that reside amidst our printed collections. A favorite place to browse, for this librarian at least, is the 1926 collection. The Class of 1926 Memorial Collection (its formal title) was established in 1960 by the Dartmouth Class of '26 to honor its deceased members; it consists of examples of illustrated books published throughout the New England states during Dartmouth's first century from the year of Dartmouth's chartering through to its centennial date, 1769-1869. As you may have guessed, a high percentage of these books are meant for moral guidance or the instruction of children. There are also a number of texts devoted to educating the reader about world events and places, and there are a goodly number of almanacs scattered about for good measure.

Today's find is a little book titled The Lady's Almanac for 1856. There are numerous other small volumes next to it on the shelf, each with the same publisher's binding and of
A poem and facing engraving for the month of Maythe same diminutive stature. Within the blue covers, each month has its own chart for sunrises and sunsets, moonrises, moon phases, and a place where a lady may jot down important "memoranda" for each day of the month (although the space afforded seems hardly sufficient to record a single thought). A simple poem and full-page engraving begin each monthly entry, and each poem inevitably addresses one of the recurring themes of childhood, nature, or religious duty.

What really catches the eye, at least of a modern-day observer, is the number of advertisements in the front and back of the book that are clearly meant for a lady; or, at least, provide insight as to what merchants at the time thought that a lady should like. Advertisements for home furnishings, skin cream, children's clothing, piano fortes, and sewing machines all jostle for An advertisement for a commercial collegeattention within the almanac. Interestingly enough, an ad for a commercial college shows a man and a woman both sitting opposite each other at scribe's desks, suggesting that some measure of educational equality might be within reach for women at the time, if only at a clerical level. This brief hint of parity is overpowered, however, by the text in the latter half of the almanac, which conforms to stereotypes of the time about a woman's place in society. "The longer I live, the less grows my sympathy with women who are always wishing themselves men," begins one short essay titled, "Woman's Mission", while another is titled "The Fine Art of Patching."

In many ways, this vision of society seems very antiquated; in others, it is still uncomfortably too familiar. To explore this window into the 1850s for yourself, come to Special Collections and ask to see 1926 Collection L33.