This section is from the book "A History And Description Of The Modern Dogs Of Great Britain And Ireland. (Sporting Division)", by Rawdon Briggs Lee. Also available from Amazon: A History and Description of the Modern Dogs of Great Britain and Ireland: Sporting Division.
UNLESS some very considerable change takes place, it is extremely likely that the harrier will not survive very many generations, at any rate in this country. His type has not been strictly defined for years, he has varied much in height, and has lately been crossed with the foxhound to such an extent as to further endanger his extinction. Moreover, several packs of harriers have recently taken to deer and stag hunting, and thus are still further losing their identity.
Years ago much hare hunting was done on foot, and hounds were bred for this purpose, to find their own hare by questing and hunting her through all her windings and ringings, with a care that the modern foxhound-harrier, with his dash and go, would not take pains to bestow. The latter is almost as fast and keen as the true foxhound; he has, like him, to be fleet enough to get out of the way of careless riders, and give a sharp and merry burst, rather than a careful hunting run. Most hounds now kill their hare in from half an hour to an hour, and no wonder that they can do so when sometimes they have a turn with the fox, and perhaps oftener a chase with the "carted deer." The latter almost a necessity, because a mistaken and ill-judged legislation has caused hares to become very scarce in some districts, where a few years ago they were plentiful.
The harrier is quite as old a hound as any other. Caius calls him Leverarius, and the Book of St. Albans mentions the hare as a beast of chase in the same list as the fox, the deer, and the wild boar. Still, perhaps, as with most harriers to-day, those of Dame Berners' time would be as much at home with the timorous hare as with the cunning fox or the fleeter red deer. Some modern writers have gone so far as to say that such a thing as a true harrier, one without any dash of foxhound blood in him, is not to be found. Beckford wrote of the harrier as a cross-bred hound, and his own were bred between the large slow hunting southern hound and the beagle. They were fast enough, had all the alacrity desirable, and would hunt the coldest scent. These attributes, added to their plodding perseverance, gave them a distinctive character, which, as already hinted, has well nigh departed. Still, all the harriers of sixty or seventy years ago were not so slow and careful as Beckford's undoubtedly were, for there were complaints that in 1825, the Kirkham, Lancashire, hounds were too fast for the hares they hunted. These, however, were big hounds, and not unlike the Penistone of to-day.
There are masters of harriers whose pride is still in the purity of their strains, though maybe, at some time or other, a point or two has been stretched for the infusion of new blood to maintain the size and standard required. Not very long ago sundry letters appeared in the Field on the matter, resulting from certain awards at a recent dog show. In one case, Mr. Allen-Jefferys, Hythe, near Southampton, who owns a pack of black and tan harriers, which originally came from Sir Talbot Constable, with which he now hunts the deer, complained that he was beaten by half bred foxhounds. Possibly this was so, but the winners were neater all round, and smarter than the black and tans, and thus more suitable for the show ring and the bench. Owing to a scarcity of hares in his country, Mr. Jefferys' harriers have been entered to "deer," and now may be found in the table of stag-hounds.
I confess myself rather disappointed with Mr. Jefferys' black and tans, as they were not so good in either feet or ribs as I expected to find them. Sir Talbot Constable began to breed such hounds as these about thirty-five years ago, by crossing beagles with St. Huberts, and then breeding in and in. This being so, Mr. Jefferys may well find the puppies difficult to rear, as he says they are. He is endeavouring to perpetuate and harden the strain by crossing with a so called smooth coated Welsh harrier, black, or black and tan in colour. Mr. Jefferys claims for his hounds that they are one of the few packs of harriers without any admixture of foxhound blood, but what they lose in this respect they gain in another, for underneath them there lurks some of the bloodhound nature, and I am told they are excellent at carefully working out a cold scent, and that they take "rating" badly. However, they are interesting hounds, evidently about 18½ inches, and I believe that they received quite their due when in the ring at Peterborough in 1891, and at Bath the following year. Not long ago I came across one of Mr. Jefferys' strain in the Oxenholme kennels, an old hound of excellent shape and form, beautiful in type, but not quite so clean in front as he had been when in his prime.
The Lancashire chaps have always been very partial to harriers, and the Holcombe have for long been a noted pack. They are required big and active in the district, and although they win prizes as harriers, I consider that their height, 22 inches, should quite put them out of the category of hare hounds. The Rossendale Harriers, also 22 inches, claim to be pure harriers, but, like other Lancashire hounds, they are big ones. Mr. Sperling's 18-inch harriers, that hunt from Lamerton, near Tavistock, are more my idea of what a harrier should be. I remember, both at Peterborough and Exeter shows, seeing a few couple of lovely hounds from the Seavington Hunt, and shown by Mr. Langdon. Rosebud and Rapture especially took my fancy - a couple of "hare pie" bitches, with character enough for anything, without any lumber about them, and minus the thick, heavy bone of the foxhound. I was told the master had twenty couples at home quite as good, his hounds averaging about 19½ inches at the shoulder.
Mr. Webber had some pretty harriers at the same Exeter show, at which hounds formed certainly the feature. I need scarcely say that harriers like the Seavington caught the judge's eye at Peterborough, though they were hardly used that year when the Brookside beat them. The latter is one of the oldest harrier packs in the country, and it is said that it has hunted round about Rottingdean, near Brighton, for over 120 years. The present master, Mr. Steyning Beard, has a lot of hounds that it would be difficult to equal, as their success both in the field and in the ring will testify. There is in existence a painting of a pied hare that was killed on Lewes Downs by the Brookside harriers in 1771.