Authors & Dogs

The Librarian Collection

Authors & Dogs

The Librarian Collection

Great literature is a great source of inspiration for us at Mungo & Maud, particularly when it came to creating the smart and neat Librarian Collection.

So what is it that inspires great writers? Well, often it's their dogs or cats. Faithful companions and muses, these creatures had a noteworthy impact on their literary master’s work...

Lord Byron – In 1803, when the poet was around 15 years old, Lord Byron was given a Newfoundland he called Boatswain. Byron had many dogs in his lifetime but described Botswain as his “firmest friend”. Tragically the dog contracted rabies and died 5 years later. It is said that during the dog’s sickness, Byron wiped away the Botswain’s infected saliva with his own hands and personally nursed the dog without fear of becoming infected. Upon the dog’s death, Byron composed the poem Epitaph To A Dog, including the lines “the poor Dog, in life the firmest friend, / The first to welcome, foremost to defend, / Whose honest heart is still his Masters own”. This poem is carved on the dog’s tomb at Byron’s estate Newstead Abbey, with an introduction by Byron’s friend, John Hobhouse, “Near this spot / are deposited the Remains of one / who possessed Beauty without Vanity, / Strength without Insolence, / Courage without Ferocity, / and all the Virtues of Man without his Vices”. Byron wished to be buried alongside the dog after his own death, but this wish was never fulfilled and Botswain’s tomb is larger than Byron’s own.

Anton Chekhov – The Russian playwright and short-story writer had two dachshunds, Bromine (a male) and Quinine (a female). Although lazy and potbellied, Quinine was his favourite. Chekhov wrote of them that “The former is dexterous and lithe, polite and sensitive. The latter is clumsy, fat, lazy and sly… They both love to weep from an excess of feelings.” The author’s family recounted that “every evening Quinine would come up to Anton, put her front paws on his knees and look into his eyes devotedly.” The writer featured dogs in a number of his works, including The Lady With The Dog and Kashtanka – a novel narrated from the point of view of a dachshund mix.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning – A cocker spaniel called Flush was a favoured friend of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. "He & I are inseparable companions," wrote the English poet of her dog, "and I have vowed him my perpetual society in exchange for his devotion." The dog offered companionship to Barrett Browning when confined to her sickbed. Flush was dognapped three times, and Barrett Browning had to pay heavy ransom for his return, which was a common occurrence for dog owners of the genteel classes in Victorian London. He is immortalised as the subject of her poems To Flush, My Dog and Flush or Faunus.

Virginia Woolf – Also greatly inspired by Flush, Virginia Woolf crafted Flush: A Biography, a cross genre, light-hearted blend of fiction and nonfiction narrated from the viewpoint of Barret Browning’s dog. Woolf wrote to a friend of the story that while reading the love letters of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, she found that "the figure of their dog made me laugh so I couldn't resist making him a Life". A dog to Woolf, “somehow represents the private side of life – the play side". Woolf’s first published essay was an obituary for her family's dog and the writer also had her own cocker spaniel, Pinka.

Thomas Hardy – A white fox terrier called Wessex (or Wessie for short) was seen by Thomas Hardy as able to do no wrong. Named after the semi-fictional region of West England where the writer set many of his novels Wessex was a relation of Caesar, Edward VII’s terrier. By all accounts, he was a snappy and aggressive dog. Wessex would cause a scene if not allowed to listen to his favourite radio programmes and attack the legs of strangers visiting Hardy’s home, often ripping their trousers. Lady Cynthia Asquith described him as "the most despotic dog guests have ever suffered under" who would contest “every single forkful of food on its way from my plate to my mouth" as he walked atop the dinner table during meals. The postman was bitten three times and on one occasion retaliated by kicking out two of the dog’s teeth. Despite all this, Hardy grew very attached to the dog and composed two poems in his honour upon his death, Dead 'Wessex' the Dog of the Household and A Popular Personage at Home.

Ernest Hemingway – Cats are almost synonymous with Ernest Hemingway’s legacy and they feature throughout his later writings. It’s said to be a six-toed (polydactyl) cat called Snow White that started it all. Snow White was a gift from sea captain, Stanley Dexter, in the 1930s. Polydactyl cats (often called “mitten cats” because they appear to have a thumb), were favoured by sailors as their extra toes gave them better balance at sea, enhancing their performance as mousers. As Hemingway wrote, “one cat just leads to another,” and he went on to adopt more cats and breed even more polydactyl kittens. There are still forty to fifty cats living at his home (now museum) in Key West, Florida, half of which are polydactyl and many are likely direct descendants of Snow White.

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