Chapter XXVI: The Basset Hound
The Basset was not familiarly known to British sportsmen before 1863, in which year specimens of the breed were seen at the first exhibition of dogs held in Paris, and caused general curiosity and admiration among English visitors. In France, however, this hound has been used for generations, much as we use our Spaniel, as a finder of game in covert, and it has long been a popular sporting dog in Russia and Germany. In early times it was chiefly to be found in Artois and Flanders, where it is supposed to have had its origin; but the home of the better type of Basset is now chiefly in La Vendee, in which department some remarkably fine strains have been produced.
There are three main strains of the French Basset; the Lane, the Couteulx, and the Griffon. The Griffon Basset is a hound with a hard bristly coat, and short, crooked legs. It has never found great favour here. The Lane hounds are derived from the kennels of M. Lane, of Franqueville, Baos, Seine-Inferieure, and are also very little appreciated in this country. They are a lemon and white variety, with "torse" or bent legs. The Couteulx hounds were a type bred up into a strain by Comte le Couteulx de Canteleu. They were tricolour, with straight, short legs, of sounder constitution than other strains, with the make generally of a more agile hound, and in the pedigree of the best Bassets owned in this country fifteen years ago, when the breed was in considerable demand, Comte de Couteulx's strain was prominent and always sought for.
With careful selection and judicious breeding we have now produced a beautiful hound of fine smooth coat, and a rich admixture of markings, with a head of noble character and the best of legs and feet. Their short, twinkling legs make our Bassets more suitable for covert hunting than for hunting hares in the open, to which latter purpose they have frequently been adapted with some success. Their note is esonant, with wonderful power for so small a dog, and in tone it resembles the voice of the Bloodhound.
The Basset-hound is usually very good tempered and not inclined to be quarrelsome with his kennel mates; but he is wilful, and loves to roam apart in search of game, and is not very amenable to discipline when alone. On the other hand, he works admirably with his companions in the pack, when he is most painstaking and indefatigable. Endowed with remarkable powers of scent, he will hunt a drag with keen intelligence.
There are now several packs of Bassets kept in England, and they show very fair sport after the hares; but it is not their natural vocation, and their massive build is against the possibility of their becoming popular as harriers. The general custom is to follow them on foot, although occasionally some sportsmen use ponies. Their pace, however, hardly warrants the latter expedient. On the Continent, where big game is more common than with us, the employment of the Basset is varied. He is a valuable help in the tracking of boar, wolf, and deer, and he is also frequently engaged in the lighter pastimes of pheasant and partridge shooting.
The Earl of Onslow and the late Sir John Everett Millais were among the earliest importers of the breed into England. They both had recourse to the kennels of Count Couteulx. Sir John Millais' Model was the first Basset-hound exhibited at an English dog show, at Wolverhampton in 1875. Later owners and breeders of prominence were Mr. G. Krehl, Mrs. Stokes, Mrs. C. C. Ellis and Mrs. Mabel Tottie.
As with most imported breeds, the Basset-hound when first exhibited was required to undergo a probationary period as a foreign dog in the variety class at the principal shows. It was not until 1880 that a class was provided for it by the Kennel Club.
It is to be regretted that owners of this beautiful hound are not more numerous. Admirable specimens are still to be seen at the leading exhibitions, but the breed is greatly in need of encouragement. At the present time the smooth dog hound taking the foremost place in the estimate of our most capable judges is Mr. W. W. M. White's Ch. Loo-Loo-Loo, bred by Mrs. Tottie, by Ch. Louis Le Beau out of Sibella. Mr. Croxton Smith's Waverer is also a dog of remarkably fine type. Among bitch hounds Sandringham Dido, the favourite of Her Majesty the Queen (Editors note: Queen Alexandra, consort of Edward VII
), ranks as the most perfect of her kind.
The rough or Griffon-Basset, introduced into England at a later date than the smooth, has failed for some reason to receive great attention. In type it resembles the shaggy Otterhound, and as at present favoured it is larger and higher on the leg than the smooth variety. Their colouring is less distinct, and they seem generally to be lemon and white, grey and sandy red. Their note is not so rich as that of the smooth variety. In France the rough and the smooth Bassets are not regarded as of the same race, but here some breeders have crossed the two varieties, with indifferent consequences.
Some beautiful specimens of the rough Basset have from time to time been sent to exhibition from the Sandringham kennels. His Majesty the King (Editors note: Edward VII), has always given affectionate attention to this breed, and has taken several first prizes at the leading shows, latterly with Sandringham Bobs, bred in the home kennels by Sandringham Babil ex Saracenesca.
Perhaps the most explicit description of the perfect Basset-hound is still that compiled twenty-five years ago by Sir John Millais. It is at least sufficiently comprehensive and exact to serve as a guide:
- The Basset, for its size, has more bone, perhaps, than nearly any other dog.
- The skull should be peaked like that of the Bloodhound, with the same dignity and expression, the nose black (although some of my own have white about theirs), and well flewed. For the size of the hound I think the teeth are extremely small. However, as they are not intended to destroy life, this is probably the reason.
- The ears should hang like the Bloodhound's, and are like the softest velvet drapery.
- The eyes are a deep brown, and are brimful of affection and intelligence. They are pretty deeply set, and should show a considerable haw. A Basset is one of those hounds incapable of having a wicked eye.
- The neck is long, but of great power; and in the Basset a jambes torses the flews extend very nearly down to the chest. The chest is more expansive than even in the Bulldog, and should in the Bassets
a jambes torses be not more than two inches from the ground. In the case of the Bassets a jambes demi-torses and jambes droites, being generally lighter, their chests do not, of course, come so low.
- The shoulders are of great power, and terminate in the crooked feet of the Basset, which appear to be a mass of joints. The back and ribs are strong, and the former of great length.
- The stern is carried gaily, like that of hounds in general, and when the hound is on the scent of game this portion of his body gets extremely animated, and tells me, in my own hounds, when they have struck a fresh or a cold scent, and I even know when the foremost hound will give tongue.
- The hind-quarters are very strong and muscular, the muscles standing rigidly out down to the hocks.
- The skin is soft in the smooth haired dogs, and like that of any other hound, but in the rough variety it is like that of the Otterhound's.
- Colour, of course, is a matter of fancy, although I infinitely prefer the tricolour, which has a tan head and a black and white body.