This section is from the book "British Dogs: Their Varieties, History, Characteristics, Breeding, Management, And Exhibition", by Hugh Dalziel. Also available from Amazon: British Dogs.
At what date in the history of the human race ladies took to caressing small dogs I do not know, but the fashion is a very old one, and has been a very general one, if not universal, among nations at all advanced in civilisation.
The fashion only changes in the selection of the reigning favourite, and caprice ordains that the bandy-legged dachshund, lolling in the lap of luxury yesterday, may, by the fickle goddess, be to-day dethroned in favour of that natty little dandy, the Yorkshire terrier, who, in his turn, struts his brief span of power upon the stage, most tyranically governing the mistress who lavishes the exuberance of her affections upon him, till he again has to give place to some aspiring and successful rival.
In this country, at the present day, we see the taste for dogs of all kinds more developed and indulged in than, probably, at any previous period in the world's history; and the number of varieties of toy dogs is now so increased, and the tastes shown in their selection as lap dogs so varied, that it would be difficult indeed to ascribe to any one breed an ascendancy over the others in that most enviable position so many of them occupy in the affections of the ladies.
Toy spaniels, of one kind or another, seem to be the oldest of our ladies' favourites. Dr. Caius, 1576, calls him the "Spaniell gentle, or the comforter, a chamber companion, a pleasant playfellow, a pretty worme, generally called Canis delicatus," and adds, "These puppies the smaller they be the more pleasure they provoke, as more meet playfellows for mincing mistresses to bear in their bosoms, to keepe company withal in their chambers, to succour with sleep in bed, and nourish with meat at board, to lay in their laps and lick their lips as they ride in their waggons; and good reason it should bo so, for coarseness with fineness hath no fellowship, but featness with neatness hath neighbourhood enough."
Jessop, in his "Researches into the History of the British Dog," gives the above quotation, but ascribes it, and the severe censure on the ladies for the lavishness with which they caressed their pets, - which the learned doctor, who was a great moraliser, did not omit, - to Harrison, writer of the description given in Hollingshead's "History," edition, 1585; quite overlooking the words of Harrison himself, who says, "How-beit the learned doctor Caius, in his Latin treatise upon (sic) "Gesner de canibus Anglicis," bringeth them [that is, English dogs] all into three sorts, - that is, the gentle kind serving the game, the homely kind for sundrie uses, and the currish kind meet for many toies, - for my part I can say no more of them than he hath done already, wherefore, I will here set down only a sum of that which he hath written of their names and natures."
The italics are mine, as I wish to emphasise Harrison's words for a reason which will presently disclose itself. Harrison admittedly merely quoted Caius, and, by inference, I should say from the Latin text in which Caius's book on English dogs was originally written; although Abraham Fleming's English translation of Caius's book, * printed in London,. 1576, two years before the death of Caius, was open to him.
Now, according to Fleming, the description of the toy spaniel given by Caius runs, "these puppies the smaller they be the more pleasure they provoke;" but in Harrison's quotation, after the words "the smaller they be," the following important words appear, "and, thereto, if they have an hole in the fore parts of their heads the better are they accepted."
Whether Fleming overlooked and omitted this sentence in his translation, or Harrison interpolated it, I am unable to say; but it is just possible that Caius himself had omitted the mention of this point of importance, and that Harrison supplied the omission from his own knowledge of the fashionable toys of the period. Be that as it may, "the hole in the fore part of the head," which we now call "the stop," is eminently a characteristic of our modern toy spaniels, and it goes far to prove that the toys of Queen Elizabeth's time were true spaniels, and not Maltese dogs, as Harrison says, inaccurately quoting Caius, who gives Callemachus as his authority for calling them Meliteos, and giving Malta as the place where they had their principal beginning.
Caius, throughout his book, more fully describes the character of each breed than the differences in their physical features, of which he only gives us glimpses; and in inveighing against some of the practices of the "dainty dames" who indulged in luxury these "pretty, proper, and fyne" "instruments of folly," charged both the ladies and their dogs as Sybaritical; and as strict accuracy is not so marked a feature in Caius's book as a readiness on the part of the writer to be content with hearsay evidence, even on points which the most gullible might be expected to question, it is probable, I think, that the natural association of ideas had more to do with his favouring the ascription of Malta as the original home of those pets than any proof he had in favour of it.
I am disposed to think that not only is this special feature the indentation, or stop, in the forehead strong presumptive evidence in favour of the toy dogs of that time being true spaniels, but also that that presumption receives powerful corroborative support in Dr. Caius's remarks on the colours of spaniels in general, when he describes them thus, "the most part of their skins are white, and if they be marked with any spots they are commonly red, and somewhat great therewithall, the hairs not growing in such thickness but that the mixture of them may be easily perceived. Others, some of them, be reddish and blackish, but of that sort there be but a few."
* "Engliahe Dogges, by Johannes Caius, done into English, by Abraham Fleming, 1576," a reprint of which, exact in every particular, is now published at 170, Strand.
Now, although the latter is written of spaniels in general, I see no reason against, but every reason for, taking it as applying to his spaniel delicatus with equal force as to the varieties used in the pursuit of game; and, if I am right, we had the colours of our two great varieties of toy spaniels recognised and described more than 300 years ago.
That, at the present day, dogs have been considerably modified there can be no doubt; ideas of what constitutes beauty changes, and dogs, like ladies' bonnets, have to be made to suit the prevailing fashion, although some people seem, by persistent dinning into the ears of the unthinking, to achieve ephemeral success in making or adopting a dog, and then bringing fashion to smile upon it, much to their own benefit, both in praise and profit.
The old name of the spaniel gentle "The Comforter" is still preserved in use by old fashioned folks. When a child, I had a red and white toy spaniel which my seniors versed in dog matters, called a "Comforter," it was a pure Blenheim, and it or its parents had been obtained from Blenheim Palace. "Trifle" stands out in my memory as a bright and sprightly playfellow, good in all the points of a Blenheim, but that by modern fanciers he would have been voted too long nosed.
The name "Comforter" was an expressive one, when we consider the belief that obtained with our ancesters, that by the dog being borne in the bosom of afflicted persons, the patient was comforted, and often cured, the disease passing out of the human frame into that of the dog.
Further remarks on toy spaniels will be more conveniently, and with greater appropriateness, made in considering the two popular varieties - the Blenheim and the King Charles spaniel.