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.
The dog, of which this slight sketch attempts to treat, is one for which Great Britain has been famous since the advent of the Romans, who conveyed large numbers to Italy. Sir Wm. Jardine says, "it may be doubted whether there were in Britain two races of broad-mouthed dogs during the Roman era; it seems to us there was but one, and in that case the bulldog was the animal in question."Claudian, the Latin poet (who died 408), mentions the English bulldog, and distinguishes him from all other dogs, as being able to pull down a bull. Joanes Ulizious unmistakably describes the ancient bulldog in these words, "Occulis ita lippis et detortis, labris et malis adeo sordidis et pene dentibus apparent; ut advenes mera monstra videantur: at quanto deformiores es fere meliores estimantur." From this period, there is ample evidence of the dissemination of this breed of dogs over the Continent, and this was much assisted by the fact of so important a town as Bordeaux having been in the hands of the English from the 12th to the 14th Century, and the Court of King Edward, with its attendant English sports of bull and bear baiting, having been held there for about eleven years.
In about the year 1556 great numbers of English bulldogs were introduced into Spain and the Island of Cuba, by Phillip II., for the purposes of the arena, and their decendants are to be found, (but in very limited numbers) to this day, with all the physical and mental qualities described by Dr. Caius, of Cambridge, in the year 1576. The doctor heads his article "Ban-dogge," and says: "This kind of dogge, called a Mastyre or Bandogge, is vast, huge, stubborne, ougly, and eager; of a heavy and burthenous body) and therefore of but little swiftnesse; terrible and frightful to beholde, and more fearce and fell than any Arcadian curre, (notwithstanding they are sayd to have their generation from the violent Lyon.) They are serviceable against the Foxe and Badger, to drive wild and tame swyne, to bayte and take the bull by the ear, when occasion so requireth, one dogge or two at the utmost sufficient for that purpose, be the bull never so monstrous, never so fearce, never so furious, never so stearne, never so untameable: For it is a kind of dogge capable of courage, violent and valiant, striking could feare into the hearts of men, but standing in fear of no man, insomuch that no weapon will make him shrink or abridge his boldness."
There are various pictures in existence of the dog, as described by Dr. Caius, and all are more or less identical with the ancient bulldog of Britain, now better known through my importation of them as the Spanish bulldog. The most accurate representation is an oil painting on oak panel in my possession, by A. Hondius, bearing date 1585. This was painted within nine years of the time when Dr. Caius published his article, and may be fairly said to offer a faithful illustration of the same. The picture represents two bulldogs attacking a wild boar in the bed of a shallow stream. The dogs are respectively red, with a black muzzle, and white with brindle ear patches, rose ears, long fine tails, (termed "tyger tails," in the article on the bulldog in the Cynographia Brittannica, published 1800,) and from the relative size of the dogs and the wild boar - which might have been painted from life but yesterday - the dogs must have weighed from 1001b. to 1201b. The red dog is represented as having a firm grip of the left ear of the boar, and the white dog is rushing in on the other side. I have also in my possession an engraving from a picture by Hondius showing the head of a bulldog, who, with dogs of another breed, are about to attack a bear.
The description by Caius, and the illustrations by Hondius, are also well supported by the "Master of the Game," who not only describes the great size and tenacity of the ancient bulldog, but also the most common colour, viz., white with dark patches about the ears.
Richardson, who saw two or three specimens, thus wrote upon the Spanish bulldogs in the early part of the present century. "His head is of prodigious size, even apparently too large in proportion to his body; his eyes are placed very far apart, his upper lip pendulous, the ear is small and not perfectly pendulous, being erect at the root, but the tip falling over, colour usually tawny or light rufous; the under jaw is also undershot, and I do not think I can give my readers a better idea of the dog than by describing him as a gigantic bulldog." He then goes on to say: "Col. H. Smith conceives this race to have been identical with the broad-mouthed dogs for which Britain was celebrated during the Roman era; and certainly as this race answers to ancient description far better than our common bulldog, I am disposed fully to concur with him."
In Russia and Germany the ancient bulldog is almost extinct; and in France but very few remain, the modern English fashion for small or toy bulldogs having crossed the channel, and the result of the pairing of the manufactured toy with the original stock has been the almost total extinction of the latter in its purity. During the reign of the Commune many of the ancient bulldogs were obtained from Bordeaux and Spain for the purposes of the arena, but, from paucity of numbers and the dangerous nature of their employment, but few were left alive. Bordeaux, from the time it was occupied by the English up to within a very few years, was the great centre from which emanated the purest of ancient bulldogs, and the dogue de Bordeaux was at one time well known all over the Continent, but now, owing to the stringency of the laws, the breed has practically died out, and it is only in Spain where the remnants of this historical race can be found, and is known as the perro de presa.
In that country the bulldog is still used as he was in England in the reign of King John (a.d. 1200), and as described by Dr. Caius, to catch and hold a bull, who, in an immense arena, unfettered by rope or chain, or disarmed by balled horns, rushes at dog or man with the ferocity of a tiger, and is only pinned and held by the immense power, wonderful activity, and terrible determination so well described by Caius. In such a combat as this it is needless to point out that the toy dog at present cherished by a few as the English bulldog is, notwithstanding he is frequently possessed of unflinching courage, quite incapable of the part assigned him by Claudian and the subsequent writers; indeed, the dwarfed body and limbs would not only prevent his ever being able to catch an active and unfettered bull, but would also deprive him of the ability to make good his escape should he feel so disposed, whilst the absurd, excessive, and unnatural shortness of face would render a firm and lasting hold almost an impossibility.