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EARLY HISTORY OF THE BLOODHOUND . .  continued:  Robert Boyle’s Account

Robert Boyle’s Account

IN JESSE, THERE IS AN ACCOUNT which I cannot remember seeing published before in the Bloodhound literature1, Harmer mentions it briefly, but with no reference to Boyle taken from Robert Boyle (1627-1691). This should be regarded as an absolute classic, in view of its early date, and the eminence of its author, the great scientist, founder member of the Royal Society, author of The Skeptical Chymist, originator of Boyle’s Law. Although the account is anecdotal, it is in the context of someone showing a scientist’s interest in the nature of scent, and at least a respectable scepticism about the reliability of witnesses. It is the earliest description I know of of a bloodhound trial, and one on a human scent, and confirms the use of Bloodhounds for both man and animal tracking at that time. The standard of performance reflected is quite fascinating, in view of the many more modern instances. I have had strange answers given me in Ireland, by those who make a gain, if not an entire livelihood, by killing of wolves in that country (where they are paid so much for every head they bring in), about the sagacity of that particular race of dogs they employ in hunting them; but not trusting much to those relators, I shall add, that a very sober and discreet gentleman of my acquaintance, who has often occasion to employ bloodhounds, assures me that, if a man have but passed over a field, the scent will lie, as they speak, so as to be perceptible enough to a good dog of that sort for several hours after. And an ingenious hunter assures me that he has observed that the scent of a flying and heated deer will sometimes continue on the ground from one day to the next following. On the Strange Subtilty of Effluviums: from Boyle’s Life and Works, by T Birch 1772. Vol. iii, p.674. A person of quality, to whom I am near allied, related to me that to make a trial whether a young bloodhound was well instructed (or, as the huntsmen call it, made), he caused one of his servants, who had not killed or so much as touched any of his deer, to walk to a country town four miles off, and thence to a market-town three miles distant from thence; which done, this nobleman did a competent while after put the bloodhound on the scent of the man and caused him to be followed by a servant or two, the master himself thinking it also fit to go after them to see the event; which was that the dog, without ever seeing the man he was to pursue, followed him by the scent to the above mentioned places, notwithstanding the multitude of market people that went along in the same way, and of travellers that had occasion to cross it. And when the bloodhound came to the chief market-town, he passed through the streets without taking any notice of any of the people there, and left not till he had gone to the house where the man he sought rested himself, and found him in an upper room, to the wonder of those that followed him. The particulars of this narrative the nobleman’s wife, a person of great veracity, that happened to be with him when the trial was made, confirmed to me. Inquiring of a studious person that was keeper of a reddeer park, and versed in making bloodhounds, in how long time after a man or deer had passed by a grassy place one of these dogs would be able to follow him by the scent? he told me it would be six or seven hours: whereupon an ingenious gentleman that chanced to be present, and lived near that park, assured us both that he had old dogs of so good a scent, that, if a buck had the day before passed in a wood 1, 1Jesse includes the note: “Scent lies better for hounds in rough and wooded ground.” I do not know if the note is his alone, or if it appears in Boyle. they will, when they come where the scent lies, though at such a distance of time after, presently find the scent and run directly to that part of the wood where the buck is. He also told me that, though an old bloodhound will not so easily fix on the scent of a single deer that presently hides himself in a whole herd, yet, if the deer be chased a little till he be heated, the dog will go nigh to single him out, though the whole herd also be chased. The above named gentleman also affirmed that he could easily distinguish whether his hound were in chase of a hare or a fox by their way of holding up their noses higher than ordinary when they pursue a fox, whose scent is more strong. Of the Determinate Nature of Effluviums from Boyle’s Life and Works, by T Birch 1772. Vol. iii. p.695 In the late 17th Century Boyle uses “Bloodhound” in preference to any alternative, such as “Talbot”, and explains the phrase “make a Bloodhound”, which, unexplained could easily lead to further confusion between use and breed or type. A young bloodhound is not a “made” Bloodhound until it has been trained. What were bloodhounds like? CAIUS’ PICTURE OF THE ENGLISH BLOODHOUND in plate 3 is as far as I know the earliest (pre-1563) picture which actually has the purpose of showing what a bloodhound looks like. Coupled with the associated text in Topsell, it gives an impression unmatched by any other source, telling us about the colours, size, and relationship to other similar hounds, as well as showing us shape and conformation. When we read the description of the Bloodhound in Caius, that they were great dogs with large lips and long ears, it is easy to conjure up a picture of the modern animal. The description of the Talbot-like hound in Markham is also one we can relate to, but the round, big, thick head and short nose make us realise that this is something a bit different. It is the more agile pack hounds which should have the narrower skulls and longer muzzles. Turbervile also describes the qualities a scent hound should have, and says of the head that it “is more to bee esteemed when it is long, than when it is short snowted” - here presumably following Du Fouilloux. The picture of the English Bloodhound doesn’t look like the modern animal, but there is a a reasonably long head, and the ears, though shorter and higher than those of the modern Bloodhound are quite long. The lip doesn’t look large, though there is a suggestion of hanging flews, and other versions of the picture I’ve seen do seem to have a slightly squarer lip. Notably also the top of the skull is flat, rather than rounded, and at the back of the skull there is a tight curve, suggesting a slightly pointed occiput. There are also illustrations in Turbervile, mostly cribbed from Du Fouilloux. In the black hound above, supposed to depict the St Hubert one notices that in spite of Du Fouilloux’ description it is not at all short legged. Comparing it with other pictures of hounds throughout the book, it is apparent that the artist has simply taken his standard way of drawing a hound, coloured it black. It is little different from the picture of the Baux or Greffier, which du Fouilloux specifically says was not of the type of the St Hubert. One has to say that art in those days was not photographic, and that the image of the dog is probably somewhat conventionalised. One notices that the head is rounded, not peaked, the lips no larger than those of a modern foxhound, probably less so, the set-on of the ears is high, and they are not especially long. The picture of the Limier (from Turbervile), above, shows similar qualities, and one notices that the nose appears to be short and uprising, as in Markham’s description. Nevertheless, in view of Turbervile’s habit of translating “limier” by “bloodhound”, one must acknowledge that the representation must have been, to him and his readers, not too outrageous as a stylized picture of a bloodhound. Nevertheless, the purpose of the picture is not to show what a bloodhound was like, and we may assume a degree of inaccuracy was tolerable. In all these cases we are relying on the competence of the artist; the picture of the sleuth hound on page 12 is poor, that of the Swiss original even more so, and gives one little confidence. These pictures come from the mid 16th century, while the Bloodhound, we can be confident, goes back to before 1300. A genuine French Medieval picture of a Limier (P19) shows an obviously heavy dog, with square lips, but a relatively short muzzle and a rounded head with a high stop, and ears high set, and by modern standards, lacking length. It is some way from being a bloodhound. It seems most likely that the dogs exported to England in the period after 1066 were of this sort. The ‘English Bloodhound’ of 1563 shows considerable. difference, and we do not know how much it owed to imports from the Continent, and how much to native stock. The advice Markham gives for a huntsman to build up his kennel by crossing different sizes of hound from different parts of the country suggests much further scope for change in the 17th century. It is worth noting in passing, that in spite of references to hanging flews, long ears, and dewlaps “like bulls” (in Shakespeare’s description of the Spartan hounds in A Midsummernight’s Dream), early descriptions do not mention loose skins or wrinkle! From the Bloodhounds in Britain in the 16th century, our modern Bloodhounds have descended. When they began to exhibit the changes which certainly distinguish our hounds from the Bloodhound and the Talbot and the Sleuth-hound of remoter times we do not appear to know, but change they did. We appear to have lost a number of colour and coat patterns which were once characteristic of the Bloodhound; Again, when this happened I do not know but I know of no reference to white or spotted bloodhounds (as distinct from Talbots) after the 17th century. By the time we get to Dignity and Impudence 1839, we have, in Grafton, something which still shows a broad, rather rounded and peakless skull, short of lip by modern standards, but with long ears. They may be set on fairly low, taking account of the fact that the dog has them ‘pricked’ in the picture, but, like those of the Bloodhound on the cover of this booklet, are set higher than those of the modern hound. But we are certainly well on the way to the modern breed, and it is likely that there was more variation in type at the beginning of the nineteenth century than there is now. Plate This Medieval Limer shows impressive depth of lip, but a short rounded head and short ears Conclusion WHAT I HAVE AIMED AT IN THIS STUDY has not really been to say anything new, but to try to make a beginning in getting the early history of the Bloodhound onto a firm and clear footing, by naming the sources on which my conclusions are based, and making clear what inferences I am drawing from what evidence. Where I have made assumptions which are not supported by evidence, I hope they have been reasonable ones. If I had discovered anything which radically changed our picture of the Bloodhound’s history, I would have certainly proclaimed it. What emerges from my sources, which I suspect are the same as theirs, is a picture broadly similar to that given by the writers of Bloodhound books (Brey and Reed, etc.) As regards the Sleuth-hound and Talbot, I can find nothing to support the idea that either was an earlier breed from which the Bloodhound developed. Both of them are breeds with which the Bloodhound is sometimes compared, and at others to some degree identified. The Talbot definitely appears to be a later name. On the St Hubert hound the books generally agree that the “true” St Hubert died out on the Continent in the late 19th Century, but state that it was one of the ancestors of the bloodhound, or that “it is likely that the St Hubert hound was involved at some time.” [Lowe (1981)]. Fair enough, though up until Turbervile, no early reference to the Bloodhound gives any support to the idea, and Turbervile, when properly related to Du Fouilloux, simply gives us the information that St Hubert hounds made good leashhounds in France, and that leash-hounds in England could also be called Bloodhounds. The connection is pretty remote, and it is apparent that from the period from 1300 onwards the St Hubert and the Bloodhound each had chequered and independent histories. One thing that emerges very clearly from sources is the distinction between the limer, or leash hound, and the rache or running hound in early times. In pictures from Medieval times the limer, or ‘limier’ in France, is almost always shown as a larger, heavier dog than the pack hounds, though the latter must have been quite substantial animals, to number the hart and wild boar among their quarry. We may assume that this difference held true of the Bloodhound and the rache, and that the rache continued in use, losing its name, in England and then in Scotland, in the course of time, but diversifying with appropriate mixing into such breeds as the foxhound, harrier, staghound, buckhound etc. It is clear from writers such as Markham and Cox that there were many kinds and local variations among hounds, both large and small in the 17th century. The numbers of bloodhounds must always have been small; in the long run, though, the breed held to its name and use. It is sometimes said that the Bloodhound is the original hound from which all other scent hounds developed. It seems much more likely that the rache forms the basis of our modern breeds. In fact, given that the rache is recorded in English about three and a half centuries before the bloodhound, it is highly possible that the bloodhound itself developed from the rache, say in the period between 1000, and 1300. Writers on dog breeds love to claim the maximum importance, and the maximum antiquity, for their breed. They do this by widening the scope of what their breed’s name refers to, making it more inclusive as they go back in history, and prehistory. In the case of the Bloodhound, ‘Bloodhound’ comes to mean ‘large scent-hound’, so that we lose sight of the question of when and how ‘large scent hound’ (or hounds) became the Bloodhound. This is not intended to consider the modern history of the Bloodhound, the chief source for which, for the Bloodhound book writers, seems to have been, directly or indirectly, Brough. It is nevertheless something I cannot resist commenting on that the FCI standard for the Bloodhound is the standard for the Chien de St Hubert, with “Bloodhound” relegated to brackets afterwards, and it is given as a Belgian breed! The Chien de St Hubert, it seems likely, was a Belgian Breed, the Bloodhound certainly is a British one, and what we unequivocally have here, in America, and on the Continent, is the Bloodhound. The process by which it was hijacked, when FCI standards were being drawn up, without the involvement of the Kennel Club, is probably worth a separate study. A study such as this is an ongoing affair, and can never make a claim to completeness. No doubt there are other sources in existence but unknown which could supply interesting and relevant information. Something could very well appear which would radically challenge some of the conclusions I have drawn. However the corpus of Medieval and Renaissance writing surviving to modern times, though finite, is very large. Combing it for scattered references to the Bloodhound would be enormously time-consuming even if I had ready access to the texts. As Jesse says: they who have ever sought for accurate and original sources of information on any subject, are well aware how little the result is adequate, in many cases, to the amount of time and drudgery bestowed. In the event of any of his readers being kindly disposed to point out to the writer any historical information he has overlooked, or not had access to, it will be received with grateful thanks.