The Honorable Mrs. Neville Lytton on Dog Shows

While exhibiting my niches at the 2015 National Dog Show near Philadelphia, I was reminded of a book by The Honorable Mrs. Neville Lytton, Toy Dogs and Their Ancestors, published in 1911. Mrs. Lytton is much better known as Lady Wentworth: breeder of Arabian horses, owner of Crabbet Stud (which she inherited through a messy legal process), author of The Horse of the Desert, The Authentic Arabian, and Thoroughbred Racing Stock, among other books about horses. She was also the great granddaughter of Lord Byron.

Mrs. Lytton was an authority on toy spaniels, as well, exhibiting them at shows and judging various toy breeds. So as I watched the exhibitors at The National Dog Show head into the rings with excitement and anticipation and out of the rings with overt joy or masked disappointment or resignation, I thought of her book on toy dogs. It contains chapters on showing, exhibitors, judges and clubs and a series of cartoons illustrating exhibitors behaving badly among themselves, to judges and even the dogs: that is the dogs of others.

I remembered the cartoons as amusing overstatements of the

god contest

“The Judging gave universal satisfaction.”
From Toy Dogs and their Ancestors.

aforementioned bad behavior and sought out the book. One cartoon is a series of scenes commencing with a smiling, rotund (no doubt avuncular) judge. In every scene he is accosted by a different well-dressed lady, each cajoling or demanding that the blue ribbon be awarded to her. The judge loses a bit of weight and becomes more haggard as the scenes progress until he is little more than skin and bones, his clothes nearly falling off him in the final scene.

Well, such things might be possible. One of The National Dog Show officials (who, I hate to mention, looked a bit more haggard each day) did say that with each day of the four-day show there were increasingly “more fires to put out.” But that’s to be expected at any large scale gathering and it seems that we today might be behaving a bit better than the dog fanciers during the Edwardian days of Mrs. Lytton.

What I saw at the show was a great deal of love and caring towards the dogs and camaraderie among the exhibitors. Of course there are always little foibles among both dogs and exhibitors, which was aptly captured by Mrs. Neville in Toy Dogs and their Ancestors under the heading of “The Verb ‘To Show’ as Conjugated by Fanciers.” She creates 24 conjugations expressing the viewpoints of both exhibitors and dogs.

She begins simply with an “Infinitive Mood” in an “Indefinite (and very uncertain) tense…To show.” Her “Present Participle… Showing,” is dashed against her “Past Participle…Disqualified by the Kennel Club.”

There is “Present Active… I show, Thou judgest, He gets first prize, She protests, We make a row, Ye get into hot water, They complain to the Secretary, It (the dog) has a fit.” The “Past Unpleasant” tense contains “I waited (to show in my class), She trod on its tail” and “It barked incessantly.”

The “Retrospective Unsatisfactory” is conjugated as, “I have shown (and lost), Thou hast gone without lunch, He has mislaid his catalog, She has been caught without a ticket, We have run short of cash, Ye have caught cold, They have missed their last train home, It has not been a success.”

Dog portrait

Lady Lyttonʼs Champion Windfall from Toy Dogs and their Ancestors.

The dog’s point of view includes a past tense, “I took first prize (whatever that  may be), Thou wert astonished, He said I showed beautifully, She kissed me, We made quite a sensation, They were nowhere, Ye offered a whole heap of money, It was all published in the newspapers.” In “The Cantankerous Puppy Tense… I shall not allow myself to be washed, Thou shalt not smuggle me in the train without paying for me, He shall examine my teeth at his peril, She shall not touch my tail on any consideration, We shall not catch the judge’s eye if I can help it, Ye shall not stop my barking, They shall on no account know that I am sound.” And there is the “Obstructive… I shall sit down in the ring, Thou shalt coax me in vain, He might as well talk to the wind, She shall pull my head off, for all I care, We shall obstruct the traffic delightfully, Ye shall intimidate me to no purpose, They shall be kept waiting for hours, It will be great fun.” And so it was!

This article, in a slightly different version, first appeared in Middleburg Life, in the column “Then & There. © Richard Hooper