Hounds in the Old Days
(Editors note: Prior to the 1780's, the author using the book "Essays on Hunting" (1781) as reference)
However the book "Of Englishe Dogges
", published in 1576, refers to imports of French Hounds as early as the 14th Century, possibly the Grand Bleu de Gascogne, forefather to the Basset Bleu de Gascogne.
So, as it is was with early Basset (Hound) terminology, there seems there was also confusion as to what was a Beagle, and when referring to Beagles, early authors on the subject may have included what, in fact, was a Basset (Hound).
Hounds in the Old Days also makes references to La Venerie
, published in 1561, and a number of references to the St. Huberts Hound:
... The Count de Couteulx de Canteleu says that the St. Huberts were celebrated as far back as the eighth century, when they were known as Flemish hounds — St. Hubert's Monastery, the home of the breed, being in the Ardennes...
Below we have quoted relevant sections from the book relating to "small" Beagles and Basset (Hounds). The whole chapter can be read online - see sidebar.
It is necessary to be careful in dealing with early references to the beagle, since hounds were known as "beagles" which bear no resemblance to the small hound used for hunting hare and rabbit. When mentioned by old writers, they are sometimes distinguished as "little beagles".
These little hounds were not much used in old days in England. They appear to be of foreign origin. Mr. Rawdon Lee mentions a sixteenth century print by Johannes Stradanus, of Bruges, which shows small hounds killing rabbits, and this is one of the earliest evidences of the use of these hounds for sport. (Editors note: The print in question seems to show a larger hound than the Basset (or Beagle) hunting rabbits).
… … Small beagles are clearly referred to in the following passages in Essays on Hunting
"There is yet another sort in great favour with small gentry, because they eat but little. These, as their noses are very tender and not far from the ground, I have often seen to make tolerable sport, but without great care they are fiirting and maggoty [capricious] and very apt to chaunt and chatter on any or no occasion. A rabbit, mouse or weasel will please them instead of lawful game; and in truth it is seldom thev understand their business or performing their office with judgment or discretion.
There were beagles both rough and smooth, and each kind had their admirers. The rough were held the better of the two, as the smooth, though usually "deep hung, thick lipped and large nostrilled," were often so "soft, solid and bad quartered as to be shoulder-shook and crippled " after the first season of work. Also the smooth beagle had the unpardonable fault of "crooked legs like the terrier or right [true] Bath turnspit".
This last remark seems to point to the Basset (Hound), but there is no evidence to show that this continental breed was known in England at this period.
Daniel, in his Rural Sports (1801), mentions the pack kept by a Colonel Hardy; "the Cry, consisting of ten or eleven couple, were always carried to and from the field in a large pair of panniers, slung across a horse; small, as they were, they would keep a hare at all her shifts to escape them, and often worry her to death."
… … William Taplin, in his Sporting Dictionary (1803), says a brace or two of small pied or tan hounds, called beagles, were in former clays used by coursers to "pick and chop" the trail of a hare to her form, whence they moved her for the greyhounds
Packs of such hounds were, he says, kept by country gentlemen, who were at pains to have them perfectly even. They were generally well matched, not over 11 inches high, and ran so well together that they might be covered by a sheet. They were "slow but sure"; like the large Southern Hound, which would hunt a hare for six hours or more, they wore down their quarrys steady persistence.
A famous pack of small beagles was that owned by Mr. Crane in the 1850's. These hounds were all about 9 inches high, and, it is said, showed excellent sport over, it is to be supposed, open, unfenced country.
The modern taste is for much larger hounds. No pack of under 14 inches will show good sport and account for their hares. In strongly fenced or in fen country the hounds should be 15 or 16 inches high; the latter being the maximum height recognised by the Harrier and Beagle Stud Book.
Beagle and Rabbit by William Smith
… … William Smith's picture of ''Beagle and Rabbit,'' … … appeared in Vol. 59 of the Sporting Magazine ; it is no doubt a representative example of the beagles used at that period, the eighteen twenties.