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.
Sir John Everett Millais, an admiring student of the breed, pointed out the interesting fact that the finest type of Basset exists in, the western districts of France that is, in the districts where the larger French hounds are to be found and that as you go east the breed diminishes to a smaller variety, gradually merging into the Dachshund. It is from the Basset of La Vendee that most of our English specimens are derived.
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-Inferieur, 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 one of the most noted cynologists and sportsmen France has ever produced. 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.
The Lane hound is decidedly of a plainer type, weak in colour, lighter in bone, and noticeably longer on the leg, the head broader and somewhat flat, with shorter ears. The Couteulx strain is generally a fine rich tricolour, sometimes flecked with black or brown, with good legs and splendid feet, soft and supple in coat and skin, the head long and lean, with magnificent pendulous ears finely folded and velvety ; the muzzle square, with heavy flews, and the dark eye not prominent but showing a good deal of haw.
The true type is carefully preserved in La Vendee, but much variety of colour and character is met with in other departments of France. Some, closely resembling the Dachshund, are black and tan natives of the Vosges while many are grey, and some white, with grey and yellow markings. These are rejected by English admirers of the Basset-hound, who are consistent in their preference for the white with black and tan.
|The Smooth Bitch Sandringham Dido by Col. Annand's Viola.
Property of Her Majesty Queen Alexandra
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 resonant, 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.
During the years of his naturalisation with us his calling has undergone various changes, and it is to be feared that if he is bred only for pace the old distinguishing characteristics will be lost, and his quaint and patrician appearance will suffer deterioration. His peculiar formation prevents him from being a very speedy or an especially active hound, and, indeed, when it is a question of negotiating a stiff fence or a steep bank he has often to be helped. It is extremely doubtful whether an alteration in this direction would tend to any improvement in the breed.
|The late Sir John Everett Millais' Model
from a drawing by C. Burton Barber (1879)
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, his debut taking place at Wolverhampton in 1875. Later owners and breeders of prominence were Mr. G. Krehl, Mrs. Stokes and Mrs. Mabel Tottie. At one time Mrs. Tottie owned the finest kennel of both rough and smooth Bassets in the British Isles. She considered the rough variety more delicate than the smooth an opinion which is not commonly shared.
|Mrs. Tottie's Smooth Basset-Hound Dog Ch. Louis Le Beau.
Photograph by A. Homer, Settle
As with most imported breeds, the Bassethound 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.
The hounds originally imported were somewhat smaller than those of today. Sir John Millais' historic couple, Model and Garenne, were considered the best of their time. Their measurements and weights were as follows:
Editors note: The same table also appears in Cassell's Illustrated Book of The Dog, published in 1881
|Height at shoulder
|Length of nose to set on tail
|Length of tail
|Girth of chest
|Girth of loin
|Girth of head
|Girth of forearm
|Length from occiput to tip of nose
|Girth of muzzle midway between eyes and tip of nose
|Length of ears from tip to tip
|Height from ground, forefeet
|Note: Lbs to kg to nearest 10g. Inch to cm to nearest 0,5cm. Conversion by basset.no.
These measurements are all smaller than would apply to a typical hound at the present time, but it may be stated that the forelegs of the smooth Basset should not be longer than five to six inches from elbow to foot, the girth of chest, 24 inches to 25 inches, height at the shoulder, 12 inches, the ears from tip to tip 22 inches, and the length from the point of the nose to the tip of the tail from 44 inches to 50 inches.
In referring to some of the early examples of the Basset-hound in France, Sir John Millais wrote that "it might be interesting to note from a breeder's point of view the gradual development of this hound to modern times from the mating of Fino de Paris and Trouvette, over a quarter of a century ago." Sir John's carefully compiled pedigrees of his dogs are too long for quotation, but Fino de Paris was taken as the principal factor in the line of descent, and by inbreeding to this type the Champions Forester, Psyche, Paris, Xena, Xitta, Isola, Bowman, and many other specimens of high quality were produced.
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. When the pioneers who had done so much to establish the Basset retired the present writer endeavoured to continue their work.
I bred my hounds from the purest strain only, and was successful in those which I brought out, striving always towards improvement.
|Mr J.W. Proctor's Smooth Basset-Hound Bitch Ch. Queen of the Geisha.
Photograph by T. Fall.
I was most careful in selecting those of the best type, with sound straight legs and good feet, eliminating all that did not possess distinct qualifications for sport and exhibition, and with most satisfactory results, the Champions Paris and Xena never having "been beaten in competition. Xena, indeed, was the winner outright of the twenty-five guinea challenge bowl three times in succession, winning one each for the three successive owners, myself, Mrs. Walsh, and Mr. Stark, representing eighteen consecutive wins without a set back - a feat rarely surpassed.
To these followed many good dogs, including Queen of the Geisha (bred by Mr. Stark), who rose to premier honours on the death of Ch. Xena. Queen was almost as good as Xena, but failed somewhat in hind quarters, which were too stilty, but her head and ears were the most perfect yet produced. At the present time the smooth dog hound taking the foremost place in the estimation 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, ranks as the most perfect of her kind.
|Mrs. Tottie's rough-coated Basset-Hound dog Ch. Puritan.
Photograph by A. Horner, Settle
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. I have myself imported several from France, but have found them less hardy than their velvety relatives, and not so staunch or painstaking in their work, and for packs they do not appear to be generally liked. 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
Some beautiful specimens of the rough Basset have from time to time been sent to exhibition from the Sandringham kennels. His Majesty the King 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 Blood-hound'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 d 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 hindquarters 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."