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  • Writer's pictureKirk Jenkins

Shakespeare's One Dog Role, from the Daily Courier

From the Louisville Daily Courier, November 13, 1855

Your dog is a much injured animal. If a swindler be detected; if a rascal be sent to the penitentiary; if a cut-purse be caught; if a monster murder some honest man; if a political demagogue deceive the fools that trusted in him; if some one in high places stoop to a dirty action; if a miscreant achieve your confidence and then betray it; if a dolt stumble from irremediable blindness of understanding; if a shameless scamp break his parents’ hearts and squander away their means; if a heartless scoundrel prove false to innocence, and make the fountains of a once bright heart all dark and bitter, immediately, forsooth, he is called ‘a dog.’ Now your dog is an honest, well-behaved, virtuous, grateful, sagacious animal, and deserves no such obloquy. The race is a sturdy, but polite, Democracy; and, in the name of every honest dog, we protest against the unmerited odium so unjustly cast upon them.

If dogs have a republic of letters many a ‘distinguished dog’ must figure quite largely in romance and history. Ever since we have read of Druid, that dog of dogs, in Critchton, we have felt an admiration of the whole canine race. Then too, there is (Two Gentlemen of Verona) Launce’s dog, Crab, the ‘sourest natured dog alive,’ whom honest Launce gave to Olivia, his master’s mistress, instead of the little dog (or little squirrel, as he called it,) his master sent; ‘for,’ argued Launce quite logically, ‘my dog is ten times as big, and therefore the gift the greater.’ Who that has read Scott’s Ivanhoe has forgotten the sagacious dogs of Cedric the Savon, following the witless Wamba and the honest Garth so faithfully and awaiting so patiently, amid Saxon wassail and feasting, for their accustomed share? Or the two noble dogs of the jolly friar of Robin Hood, who so fiercely resented the rude assault of the ‘black knight’ upon the godfriar’s woodland cell. Who does not recollect the noble hounds who tended with such much delity and untiring affection the wayward steps of the fair ‘Lady of the Lake,’ the sweet high-hearted daughter of the Douglas? Scott had the right kind of heart; he could love an ‘honest dog.’ The talented Cooper, though a ‘sorry dog’ himself in some things, could yet love a good dog; witness the noble ‘Bravo.’ Who has not heard of the faithful dog, who, when his master perished with cold, still remained with him, mourning his loss and howling piteously. Byron had his favorite dog; and did not disdain to weep his loss, whilst he poured forth his lamentations in verse. Campbell also had his dog, of which he was passionately fond. Washington, we are told, had his canine favorites. Frederick the Great, we believe, buried three dogs, which were great favorites with him immediately before ‘Sans Souci,’ where their tombs still remain. Who that remembered (and whoever forgot it that read it) that inimitable scene in Oliver Twist, in which the miserable Sykes hangs himself from the chimney in attempting to escape from the London rabble, does not also recollect his poor dog, who, though his master was hated and despised by all the world, followed his master to the parapet of the house, and howled his lamentable dirge over the depraved and unfortunate! In parts of Egypt dogs are worshiped as divinities. In Constantinople they are residents of certain quarters which they never leave, and are frequently feasted by good Mussulmen.

And well do they deserve all kindness. They are the only true and honest friends. Caress or beat them, and in health or sickness they are still the same affectionate, mute friends. They are no time-servers. They are even intelligent. Let your countenance be darkened by unpleasant feelings, and they will look up quietly and wistfully in your face; but let the cloud pass away, and they will fondle on you and play a thousand gambols. In death they will howl their wild dirge over your grave! thus manifesting even to the last that tender solicitude and love which is born of an instinct within them, superior to reason, because it has about it nothing of selfishness.

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