Saturday, March 07, 2015

Literature's Top Dog!

In a year that features some important anniversaries, a very special one was marked last weekend. It was the 200th anniversary of the publication of Guy Mannering, the 1815 novel by Walter Scott, which tells the story of Harry Bertram, the son of a laird, who is kidnapped by smugglers. The book, a rip-roaring historical novel set in the late 18th century was a huge success and sold out on the day of publication. Amongst a host of characters is a farmer called Dandie Dinmont who owns a number of terriers either called Mustard or Pepper depending on their colour.

In the two hundred years since the book was published the Dandie Dinmont terrier has become an established and now an endangered breed of dog. It’s antecedents if not its name go back to before the publication of Guy Mannering; Sir Walter Scott was a good friend of the 4th Duke of Buccleuch and there are paintings of both the 3rd Duke and Duchess with dogs that resemble a Dandie Dinmont. In one, by Gainsborough dated 1771, the 3rd Duke is holding a terrier and in another by Reynolds the Duchess is painted with the same dog.

The Gainsborough portrait created some discussion over the breed of the dog. Several people
claimed it was the earliest depiction of an otterhound or an Old English sheepdog but experts dismissed this. One wrote: “I
t is a large, rough Scotch terrier with all the look of a Dandie. The dog is no taller than an Irish terrier, for we put one alongside a tall man in just the pose in the picture, and the top of his clean head was as high as the head of the Duke's dog, shaggy coat and all.”

Sir Walter is recorded as having given presents of dandies to various friends and one of these was Old Pepper, whom he gave to the 4th Duke of Buccleuch. This dog was the founder of the Dandie Dinmont dynasty of today, siring Old Ginger, the ancestor of all modern Dandie Dinmont terriers.

These days the Dandie Dinmont is an endangered breed with only 300 puppies born worldwide last year. Walter Scott commended the breed for its vermin-killing abilities, its loyalty and its intelligence. As a working dog it was popular in the 19th century but when vermin-killing dogs were no longer in demand its popularity waned. From personal experience I can confirm that these lovely dogs make great pets. They have strong personalities, they are loyal, clever and very cuddly! It would be a pity if the breed was to die out and we would lose not only a very special dog but also a part of our literary heritage. 

6 comments:

Ki Pha said...

I want one of these Dandies! And I do hope they stay here for a long time because it would absolutely be horrible to lose such an historic breed.

girlygirlhoosier52 said...

Always enjoy seeing these dogs at the American Kennel Show on tv. They are so sweet looking! And I just love how their name rolls off the tongue!

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

I must say, the Dandy Dimonts do look very appealing. I love the picture of the man cuddling his dog.

I read many of Walter Scoot's books as a teenager. I've often thought that they'd be more popular now if a sympathetic editor pruned them by about a quarter. There's an awful lot of description to plough through before you get some action!

Nicola Cornick said...

Aren't they cute, Ki Pha! I agree it would be a aterrible shame to lose the breed, both in itself and for its historical associations. I love that they have such a great connection to literature!

Nicola Cornick said...

They did an interview about Dandies at Crufts this week. It is a great name, isn't it! I think Jospehine Tey wrote a mystery with a female character called Dandie Dinmont in it.

Elizabeth, I'm with you! I read Walter Scott a while ago and whilst I enjoyed the romance of it in the broad sense I wished the books weren't so long winded! It puts me off re-reading them which is a shame.

Judith said...

How to make Dandies popular again: make a movie in which one very appealing member of the breed is prominently featured. In fact, wouldn't it be great if someone made a film of Guy Mannering! It sounds like a great adventure story (with all the boring parts removed!) I read several Scott novels in my teens, but never did read that one.