Ye Olde English Bulldog

This 1916 dog breed profile looks at bulldog history and description from several expert Bulldog books.

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Dog World December 2016 I am asked to launch the Yuletide number of this new kennel paper with a few hurried words on the history and description of the old English Bulldog. To do so in the space allotted and in the time is not without its difficulties, as much can be said on the subject. Nothing, however, will add much to what has already been written by those able commentators of the past who have delved into the history of this interesting breed, and recorded the same so entertainingly. And no description I can give would take the place of The Standard of the breed, which was compiled years ago by some of the brightest men of the age in which they lived, and who have handed down to the fancier of the present a monument of the breed in the form of a written standard. This, supplemented with the few words I can add, and the impressions of others, will, I think, give an insight, at least, to this interesting breed.

The origin of the Bulldog is enshrouded in some mystery. Many there are who think that the Bulldog, like “Topsy” in Mrs. Stowe’s immortal work, “Just grow’d up.” Whilst others, who have written on the subject, ascribes the origin of the dog to an inheritance from the Caesars, who left on England’s shores the Roman Dogs of War, which they unleashed when they came over for the conquest. However this may be, it is ably treated by that gentleman and scholar, H. St. John Cooper of Brighton, England, in his admirable work “Bulldogs and Bulldog Men.” Another gentleman who has written on the subject, quite extensively and learnedly, “Show Bulldogs,” both of which should be referred to by the embryo fancier anxious to secure knowledge and information of the breed. 
But it is from Herbert Compton’s interesting work “Twentieth Century Dog” that I will take the liberty of quoting his impressions of the bulldog, after an exhaustive search into the history of the dog and the fancy, feeding that it will put before the reader in a few words a new point of view and from “an outsider” who is able to view all the fads and foibles of its devotees. 
“The British Bulldog” says Mr. Compton, “alphabetically and appropriately heads the list of the twentieth century dogs. PRIMUS canis primus sit—let the first dog be first. For amongst my contributors the national dog has claimed the most devoted enthusiasts XXX Hound and terrier, field dog and fireside dog, must all make way for this Cromwell of his kind, to whom peer and plebian fancier are alike attracted. A halo of sentiment seems to hang about the bulldog, and creates an universal enthusiasm, whilst the creature himself exercises a fascination that passes the comprehension of those who do not happen to come under his spell. He is a democrat amongst dogs, who can win an extraordinary affection from classes not prone to wear their hearts on their sleeves, and at the same time command admiration and respect from the more exclusive, to whom his cosmopolitan popularity would be objectionable were he other than he is. The King has his bulldog; so has Bill Sikes; and the dog is established as a prime favorite in all the 4amt of society that stretches between the first estate in the realm and the poor estate.”

“Of the bulldog it is sufficient to say that he probably traces his pedigree back to the same root, as the mastiff, being a younger branch of that breed, whose claim to length of lineage is reputed second to none in the canine families of England. On the other hand it is asserted that the Mastiff derives its antiquity from the Bulldog XXX. Its ancient lineage however, does not imply blue blood on the part of the class in whose hands it remained for years, and until a very recent date it has always been a bourgeois animal. In the days of the Stuarts, who fondled spaniels, the bulldog was the butcher’s dog, and used for baiting bulls. One ingenious authority contends—on the same principle I suppose that a coursed hare eats sweetest—that the flesh of the baited bull ate more tender than that of those who were quietly pole—axed in cold blood, and that a preliminary baiting was a professional process which all good butchers observed who paid strict attention to their business.”   
Needless to say that “bull baiting” and “pole-axing” has been discontinued in recent years, to the great benefit of the dog, and the peace of mind of the fancy. But occasionally some of the fanciers of the breed are quietly pole-axed, to remind them, I suppose, of the former polite associations of the breed and that some of them still survive. But if this is all that survives it speaks eloquently for the breed which could survive and triumph over the taint of the associations it was coupled with in years gone by.   

“When one turns to The Standard” continues Mr. Compton, in concluding his article on the subject, “and cons” mouth, face, stop, skull, eyes, ears, chest, neck, shoulders, body, roachback, forelegs, hindlegs, size, coat, tail and general appearance” and furthermore finds these sufficiently explicit details subdivided into over fifty supplementary “properties,” each carrying with it a value of from one to five points in a total of one hundred. This is a dissection with a vengeance—this weighing up the hundredweight by the pound. With so much to argue over, what wonder that the bulldog has come to be a study in itself.”

Excerpted from Dog World magazine, December 1916, Vol. 1, No. 12.



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