The Greyhound And Its Varieties Witten Expressly for "The Sportsman" Magazine. Rough Varieties - The Highland Deerhound by H D Richardson, 1840
The animals which are comprised under this, the second division of the Greyhound family, are by some supposed to be entitled to a first place, as being in all probability the stock whence the smooth varieties were originally produced; but as this is a disputed point, and I dislike taking up the pages of the " Sportsman" with profitless discussions, which might only weary the majority of its readers, I have described the common, or smooth greyhound first, as being better known, and as being that animal to which the name of greyhound is at present more generally applied. As the smooth dogs, described in my last paper, have been found to resemble each other, more or less, in their habits and appearance, so will the rough dogs, which form the subject of the present.
The dog with which I shall commence this paper is that gigantic and beautiful animal known by the name of the Highland deerhound. He is not unfrequently mistaken for, or confounded with, the Scottish greyhound ; but no one who has seen the two together could ever afterwards mistake the one for the other. As however all my readers may not have had, nor probably may ever have, the opportunity of thus carefully inspecting both these animals together, I shall endeavour to point out the leading characteristies of each, and that too in so clear a manner that they may at once be able to declare to whether of the two varieties any specimen they may chance to meet with properly belongs. And by attending to my description they may, should they wish to purchase a deerhound at any time, save themselves from being imposed upon with a rough Scottish greyhound, which is a mode of imposition not unfrequently resorted to by dog dealers and others.
The principal characteristic of the Highland deerhound, and that by which he may with greatest facility be distinguished from the Scots greyhound, is his pendulous ear; his ear does not stand half-erect like that of the greyhound, but inclining at first, slightly backwards, falls, and is decidedly pendulous. Hence some are of opinion that this hound had for one of his ancestors the old English southern hound or Talbot. This, however, I should be rather inclined to doubt, as I conceive the Highland deerhound to be even of more ancient origin than that animal.
Another point in which this dog differs from the Scots greyhound is in the length, and texture of his hair. The hair of the Highland deerhound is extremely long, shaggy, and wiry, and stands forth around his face and eyes, which it almost conceals from view; he is, besides, much more powerfully built, and a great deal taller. He stands from twenty-eight to thirty inches in height at the shoulder, and frequently weighs more than one hundred pounds avoirdupoise. His head is carried high, and his mien is finely commandmg—we do not know any dog at present in existence which exhibits such a majestic deportment, or carries on his front greater evidence of purity of blood and originality of breeding. His body and limbs are not fleshy, but exceedingly firm and muscular: his back is arched, his legs straight and clean, and the hard projecting muscles may be felt upon his limbs, starting forth in so many iron prominences; his tail is long and bushy, with long hair on the under surface, it is generally carried curved in a demi-horizontal position, but when excited to anger, it rises in a straight line. His colour is generally yellow or sandy, often grey, rarely black or white,—it should not be of two distinct colours, as black and white, brown and white, &.c., but if the prevailing colour be dark, the breast and throat with the belly are usually white or grey. The muzzle and tips of the ears are in general, but by no means invariably, darker than the prevailing colour of the rest of the body.
Ihis is the dog formerly described by Ossian, the same used in ancient times by the Scottish kings and their nobility in the chase of the wolf, and the same frequently used by the princes of England and Wales for the same purpose. A good hound of this breed could kill a wolf single-handed. I dare say many of my readers are acquainted with the tradition of " Beth Geled," but for the sake of such as are not, I shall tell it to them.
Llewellyn, prince of Wales, and son-in-law to John, king of England, had received from that monarch a magnificent specimen of the Highland deerhound, named Gelert, which usually accompanied him in his hunting parties, and proved on such occasions a valuable auxiliary. One morning, however, Llewellyn was going forth to the chase, attended by his nobles, but the favoured Gelert could no where be found. In vain did the prince cause the mountain air to ring with the clear notes of his hunting horn; in vain did all shout his name—Gelert! Gelert! until the craggy Snowdon re-echoed to the sound—Gelert came not, and the prince and his train were compiled to ride on without him.
The absence of the peerless hound threw a gloom over the amusement of the day; every thing wrong, »nd the amount of game taken was unusually inconsiderable. In no very agreeable mood the prince returned, when the chase was over, to his castle, still wondering what could have induced his faithful dog to absent himself on a hunting morning.
As Llewellyn approached his stately mansion, the first object which presented itself to his astonished view was Gelert, who came forth from the portal, fawning to meet his lord, but horror! the hound was covered with recent blood, which was even vet dropping from his hairy lips. The castle door, the stairs, every place was covered with blood. A horrible idea took possession of Llewellyn's mind, and he. rushed to the apartment where, on his going forth in the morning, he had left his young and only son, the heir of his kingdom, and the surviving image of his departed wife, asleep upon his infant couch. He called no.servant, he summoned no attendant,—his impatience, his horror, i^ere too great to admit of such delay—he gained the apartment, and the noble Gelert followed on his master's hurried steps.
On entering the apartment of his child the chieftain was confirmed in his terrible suspicions: all was confusion and blood, the couch tossed and covered with gore. Turning hastily, he saw the dog, "hell-hound," cried he, "thou hast devoured my child!" and he plunged his too ready sword in the side of the unresisting dog.
The dying yell of the poor animal awoke the chieftain's child, who had been all the while lying, sound asleep, beneath a confused bundle of bedelothes, and beneath the couch lay a tremendous Wolf! terrible still, though rendered innocuous by death. Now was the truth. rendered apparent, the wolf had been slain by the faithful dog, in defence of his master's heir!
Llewellyn was distracted at the loss of his noble hound, and, as the only proof of his grief and affection that it remained in his power to show, erected to nis memory a marble monument, bearing an inscription, detailing an account of Gelert's fidelity, and unworthy fate. The above took place about A.D. 1200. It is this tradition which has given rise to that beautiful poem, entitled " The Grave of the Greyhound." In the title you will perceive, reader, some tendency to confound the deerhound with the greyhound, but there can be no doubt of the real description of dog to which the tradition has reference.
Conrad Gesner speaks of the Scottish dog, under the name of "Canis Grains Scoticus," as a greyhound of prodigious size and strength, but says nothing of its being long haired. This must, however, have been an omission on his part, for there can be little doubt of its having been originally bred rough, for it is a remarkable fact the rough species of greyhounds are, generally speaking, to be i'ound in cold and mountamous regions, where strength and endurance, rather than an extraordinary degree of swiftness, is the main object to be preserved by breeders.
The Highland deerhound appears to have been remarkable, even in the most ancient times, for his size, courage, strength, and fineness of smell. I do not know how far I may incur the displeasure of my scientific readers by introducing Ossian's description of Fingal's dog "Bran," for in this age of scepticism and contradiction, poor Mr. McPherson usually gets the credit of having been the composer, and not the editor, or collector of the works to which he affixed the venerable name of Ossian; it will however be long ere I, for one, can allow myself to believe that McPherson was capable of composing such sublime poetry, and if capable, was such a fool as to deny the authorship. Hoping that many of my readers will agree with me in my opinion, I shall not hesitate to adduce Ossian's mention of this dog, as a proof of the great antiquity of the breed, and of the purity in which it still exists, as declared by the identity which exists between Ossian's description and its present appearance.
By Ossian the usual epithets applied to the hounds of Fingal are "hairy footed," "white breasted, and " bounding," &c. The two first are singularly characteristic of the breed, the breast bejng as I have already stated, usually of a white colour, and the feet being much more covered with hair than those of other dogs; even the wider xurfuce of the toes being considerably protected by it from being wounded by the sharp rocks and briars, which form the princi • pal features of that description of country in which these dogs' powers are more frequently called into requisition. In "Temora," "Bran" is described as found by Cathmor sleeping by the shield of Fillan, who had been slain in battle, and whose body the faithful hound watched, supposing that he only slumbered. Fillan was the son of Fingal, ana had been killed in combat by Cathmor. The passage is as follows :—
"Now had he come to the mossy cave where Fillan lay in night. One tree was bent above the stream which glittered over the rock. There shone to the moon the broken shield ofClatho's son; and near it, on the grass, lay hairy-footed Bran. He had missed the chief on Mora, and searched him along the wind. He 'thought that the blueeyed hunter slept; he lay upon his shield. No blast came over the heath, unknown to bounding Bran. Cathmor saw the white-breasted dog; he saw the broken shield. Darkness is blown back on his soul, he remembers the falling away of the people. They came a stream, are rolled away, another race succeeds; but some mark the fields, us they pass, with their own mighty names. The heath, through dark brown years is theirs; some blue stream winds to their fame. Of these be the chief of Athn, when he lays him down on earth. Often mny the voice of future times meet Cathmor in the air, when he strides from wind to wind, or folds himself in the wing of a storm."—Temwn, Bonk VI. When I turned up this passage, reader, it was my intention only to have inserted the two or three lines which had more immediate reference to my subject, but I could not afterwards bring myself to mar it, and I leave its exquisite beauty to plead my excuse.
In Hollinshed's " Chronicles," a very old book, viz., A.D. 1586, we find a curious circumstance recorded, of a quarrel which occurred between the Scots and Picts, which had its origin in the theft of one of the above-mentioned deerhounds by some of the Pictish nobility. As Hollinshed is a different sort of name from Ossian, and as the story is really a curious one, serving to show how highlv these dog? were prized even in old times, I shall make no apology to my readers for quoting the passage.
"Divers young gentlemen of the Pictish nobilitie repaired unto king Craithlint for to hunt and make merie with him; but when they should depart homewards, perceiving that the Scotish dogs did far excell theirs, both in fairnesse, swiftnesse, and hardinesse, and also in long standing up and holding out, they got diverse, both dogs and bitches of the best kinds for breed, to be given them by the Scotish lords; and yet not so contented, they stole one belonging to the king, from his keeper, being more esteemed of him than all the others which he had about him. The maister of the leash, being informed hereof, pursued after them which had stolen the dog, thinking indeed to have taken him from them; but they, not willing to depart with him, [Qy. part?] fell at altercation, and in the end, chanced to strike the maister of the leash through with their horse -spears, so that he did die presentlie; whereupon, noise and crie being raised in the countrie by his servantes, diverse of the Scots, as they were going home from hunting, returned, and falling upon the Picts to revenge the death of their fellow, there ensued a shrewd bickering betwixt them, so that of the Scots there died three score gentlemen, besides a great number of the commons, not one of them understanding (till all was done) what the matter meant. Of the Picts there were about an hundrede slainc."
Nor was this all, for this apparently trifling circumstance led to a succession of bloody encounters between the two nations, in which many thousands lost their lives.
Sir Walter Scott had a fine dog of this description named "Maida" —Maida was not, however, altogether thorough bred, being a cross betwixt the deerhound and the wolf-dog of the Pyrenees. Sir Walter had received Maida from Maedonnell' of Glengarry, who kept the finest deer-dogs in »he kingdom, which he occasionally crossed with the wolf-dog of the Pyrenees as in the above instance, and also with the Spanish blocdhound, " in order," as Brown says, " to prevent the degeneracy which arises from consanguinity "—for my part, however, I am at a loss to know how they can continue to be genuine deerhounds, after having been rendered mongrels by the forementioned system of crossing; unless, indeed, the cross is only, as that of the bull-dog with greyhound, employed as a strain afterwards carefully obliterated by breeding from the old stock. "Maida" was, at his death, buried by his master at the gate of his seat of Abbotsford. A tombstone is laid over the spot, on which is cut the figure of a dog, and also the following inscription :—
"Maida, tu inarmorca dormis sub imagine Maidue
Ad januain domini. Sit tibi terra levis!"
The Highland deerhounds are very fierce towards other dogs, so much so that when they are brought to a house, during the hunting season, all the other dogs must be sent out of the way, otherwise they run a fair chance of being worried to death.
Deer-hounds are now becoming very scarce, and are with great difficulty to be procured. They fetch very high prices when thorough bred and well-sized. I once offered ten guineas for one not nine months old; and its owner, though a professed dog-dealer, laughed at me. The man subsequently got twenty-three pounds for him!
Glengarry and family have, I believe, lately left Scotland, and I suppose taken their deer-hounds with them. He was the last of the chiefs, and the last who took a pleasure and a pride in maintaining this breed in its perfection; they will now, I doubt not, speedily become extinct, and in a few years will be spoken of as the old Irish wolf-dog now is—as having been, as lost, and never to be recovered. There is a smooth variety of Highland deer-hound, which has lately become a settled breed. It would almear to have originally sprung from a cross between greyhound and British bloodhound, or between the Cuban dog and the deer-hound. It is now, however, a fixed breed, and a cross is seldom resorted to in order to obtain it. He is a tall, muscular, raw-boned dog; the ears are far larger, and more pendulous, than those of the greyhound or deer-hound, which would lead us to conclude that some long-eared dog, as the British bloodhound, had some connection with his origin. His colour is generally tan, or black and tan; his muzzle and tips of ears usually dark; he is not unlike the African blood-hound in appearance, for which dog, indeed, he is not unfrequently substituted, and palmed upon the ignorant or unwary. He is exceedingly swift and fierce, can pull down a stag single-handed; runs chiefly by the sight, but will also, on losing vieir, occasionally take up the scent, until he recovers it. In point of scent, however, he is inferior to the true deer-hound, whose powers of smell are of a very high order, considering the shape of his head and muzzle. This dog cannot take a hare readily, for although his speed is sufficient for that purpose, he generally fails at the double. There is little difference, excepting in the coat, between this dog and the rough breed, save that the latter is much larger and fiercer, has u more commanding aspect, and is much more highly prized on these accounts.
I shall now describe the Scottish greyhound.
In form the Scottish greyhound approaches far more nearly than does the Highland deer-hound. In muzzle, ear, shape, he is a perfect greyhound, excepting that he is rather more strongly built.
Although generally termed Scottish greyhound, this dog is not peculiar to that country, being found in even greater perfection in Ireland, where he is not unfrequently styled "Irish greyhound," an erroneous appellation, which confounds him with the Irish wolf-dog or the "Canis Grains Hibernicus" of Zoologists. It is a question, however, whether the greater degree of blame is not to be attached to Mr. Ray who gave the name of " Grains" to the "Canis Hibernicus," a name to which he was no more entitled than is my bloodhound—not belonging to the greyhound family at all, but the second division of the dog-tribe, according to the anatomical distribution of F. Cuvier.
This confusion of terms has given rise to innumerable errors among zoologists, and writers on the subject of natural history; and I imagine some such mistake must have been the cause of Captain Brown's * describing that dog as a sort of greyhound, and even giving a figure of him as such. My friend the Captain's sketch is a very respectable looking one. It is a representation of a large, powerful, even gigantie, greyhound, but by no means like the animal it is intended for.
Mr. Nolan, of Batchelor's Walk, Dublin, possesses a remarkably fine dog, which was formerly in the Zoological Gardens, Phoenix Park. He is not a thorough-bred deer-hound, as Ids owner seems to imagine, but a splendid cross between thut animal and the Scottish greyhound.
The colour of the Scottish greyhound varies. It is to be found of an iron grey, sandy or white—rarely, but occasionally black, with generally a white throat or breast. When thus marked, I should suspect them not to be thorough-bred, but to have been produced by a cross with deer-hound.
The Scottish greyhound is a very courageous dog. I once had one, a perfectly white specimen, on which no speck of any other hue could be discovered, which was not merely a good running dog, but also a most excellent watch-dog, and an inveterate fighter. When going along the street it was frequently as much as I could do to keep him from attacking every strange dog he met. And although my readers may naturally enough imagine that he was by no means well adapted for this sort of employment, I can assure them that "Bran" (so I called him) was of a very different opinion, and could "turn up a good sized Newfoundland dog "in the twinkling of a bed-i,ost." He was likewise a determined cat-hunter and rat-killer, and, not a little to my vexation, initiated a pair of greyhounds I kept at the same time, in both these delectable amusements. I at length resorted to the hood, which I need scarcely inform my readers, is a semicircular, or rather, crescent-shaped piece of leather, fixed by means of straps across a dog's nose, in such a manner as to preclude the possibility of his seeing.
A singular mistake prevails among the Scottish peasantry, and indeed among others who should be better informed, respecting this dog, and also the Highland deer-hound; they are apt to confound them with the blood-hound or sleuth-hound; this mistake evidently does not originate in their identity of appearance, for no animals could be more unlike, but from the circumstance of their having been formerly used, equally with the blood-hound, in the pursuit of thieves on the border.
That both the Scottish greyhound and the deer-hound were formerly thus used we arc informed by Topscl, Gesner, and Johnston, and I know of no other manner in which we can account for this popular error.
Both the deer-hound and Scots greyhound possess good scent, and will run a drag as well as a fox-hound. They run in silence and with great cunning, taking advantage of every opportunity which admits the practice of artifice. If employed in hare-hunting or coursing, I should say he will certainly seek to intercept puss by short cuts, instead of depending upon his speed alone for his success in capturing her; and on account of this habit, which is termed " running sly," he is not usually permitted to enter for a sweepstakes unless by previous agreement between all parties. The height of the Scottish greyhound ranges between twenty-six and twenty-eight inches, but unless crossed with deer-hounds it seldom arrives at the latter stature.
I am very sorry that want of space prevents my adding to the foregoing sketch an account of the Russian and Persian greyhounds, etc they shall, however, form the subject of another paper.