Oscar Wilde.

Lady Windermere's fan, and The importance of being Earnest online

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exercised the right to make his own pedigrees to suit his own
fancy. This seems to have been the condition of things for
many years, and while there were a few honest men who would
stick to the truth, the great majority either made their pedigrees
to suit themselves or employed some "expert" to make them for
them. The confusion which ensued was most perplexing, and
the slipshod manner in which editors and writers on the horse
did their work was most discouraging. Whatever was found in
print on a crossroads blacksmith shop door was taken as authen-
tic, because it was in print.

In 1829 Mr. John S. Skinner, of Baltimore, Maryland, com-
menced the publication of a monthly magazine, entitled "77/ e
American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine,'^ and as it really
"filled along-felt want," it received a very encouraging support.
As its name indicated its field, it at once became the authority on
sporting events and the receptacle of a great amount of valuable
correspondence on the horses of the day, as well as the earlier race
horses. Mr. Skinner was industrious in collecting material for
his magazine, but unfortunately be published whatever was sent
to him relating to the horse, and just as it was sent. If a com-
munication was well written, no difference how many errors of
fact it might contain, it never seemed to occur to Mr. Skinner to
use his blue pencil. Pedigrees were sent in, amounting to many
thousands, during his ownership, with fictitious and untruthful


remote extensions, and published without any possibility of trac-
ing the different crosses to a known , or responsible source or
name. H'^re was the opportunity of a lifetime to "fix up" the
pedigrees C'f stallions to suit the public demand and the fees
sought by their owners, send them to Mr. Skinner, and have
them duly spread before the public in all their dishonest finery.
The early volumes are very rich in the accumulations of pedi-
grees, such as they are, and hence very valuable. The magazine
received less and less attention from its proprietor each succeed-
ing year and finally it was transferred to the Spirit of the Times,
of New York, and died after an existence of some fifteen years.

Mr. Cadwallader R. Golden, of New York, commenced the
publication of another sporting magazine, that was of very great
merit, and did much to correct some of the errors that abounded
in Mr. Skinner's publication. In the controversies which natu-
rally sprang up he had greatly the advantage of his adversary, for
he knew horse history and Mr. Skinner did not. Mr. Golden was
a man of marked ability, and over the signature of "An Old
Turfman" he made himself famous as a writer. He hated a
fraud and wherever he saw one he did not hesitate to hit it. His
publication was a large and expensive one, racing was then under
the periodical interdict of public opinion, and after about two or
three years, and greatly to the loss and misfortune of the truths
of horse history, the publication was discontinued. The weekly
press had no representative in the field of ''horse literature and
sporting subjects" until early in the thirties, when the Spirit of
the Times was founded by William T. Porter. The conception
of a weekly paper devoted to all kinds of sports, such as hunting,
fishing, racing, gaming, etc., was not only new in this country,
but it was brilliant. Mr. Porter was not only a gentleman in his
appearance and manners, but he had fine social qualities and was
a writer of ability and polish. Such a personage would naturally
gather about him friends and correspondents that were congenial,
and very soon 7%e Sjnrit of the Times became noted as the organ
of a great body of educated men who loved sport and enjoyed
wit. It was the only publication of its kind on the continent,
and it soon obtained a very wide circulation. Mr. Porter knew
very little of horses, either theoretically or practically, but ho
was a ready adapter and wrote some fine descriptions of famous
racing contests. His habits were sportive rather than indus-
trious, hence he left nothing behind him of value to his friend?


or to the world except the mere fact that he was the founder of
the first si3orting paper in this countr3^ In course of time the
paper with all its belongings became the property of John
Richards, the former pressman, and Mr. Porter had to look for a
living wherever he could find it. Mr. George Wilkes then took
him under his wing, and started a new sporting paper called
Porter^s Spirit of the Times. The use of this name carried
with it the support of a good many friends, but as he was not
able to write anything, practically, for the new paper, from its
very commencement in September, 1856, it failed to yield any
support to Mr. Porter, and not much to Mr. Wilkes and his
partners. Litigation arose and Mr. Wilkes finally withdrcAV from
Porter's Spirit of the Times^ and started }filhes' Spirit of the
the Times in September, 1859. We then had three sporting
papers all claiming to be the original and only legitimate Spirit
of the Times. Among their readers they were distinguished as
the Old Spirit., Porter'^s Spirit, and Wilkes' Spirit. The
circulation of the Old Spirit was largely in the Southern
States, and the war destroyed it, in 1861. Porter's Spirit hav-
ing but little money and still less brains, died about the same
time. This left Mr. Wilkes in open possession of the field, and
his remarkably trenchant articles on the conduct of the war
gave Wilkes' Spirit of the Times a very wide circulation, even
among those who cared nothing for sporting matters. At the
same time he was fortunate in securing the services of Mr.
Charles J. Foster, an able writer on horse subjects, and a very
industrious and capable man in managing and discussing affairs
connected with the horse. Some years later, Mr. Wilkes dropped
his own name from the title of his paper, and not long afterward
he added twenty-five or thirty years to its age by changing the
numbers so as to cover the period of the original Spirit of the
limes founded by William T. Porter. The old sporting publica-
tions, one and all, maintained the view, so far as they ever had
any view to maintain, that all that was of any value in the
American horse, for whatever purpose, had come down to us
from the Arabian through the English race horse. Their value,
therefore, consists wholly in the naked statistics which they con-

The first attempt made in this country, in the direction of
publishing a stud book of American race horses, was the product
of Patrick Nesbitt Edgar, an eccentric and apparently not well-


balanced Irishman, who was a resident of North Carolina. This
book, which purported to be a "first" volume, was very remarka-
ble in many respects, two or three of which I will enumerate.
The prevailing absence of dates and all means by which the truth
or falsity of a pedigree could be determined; the astounding
number of crosses given, even to the immediate descendants of
imported sires; the multitude of animals never heard of before
nor since, with pedigrees extended a dozen crosses; the absence
of many animals that everybody had heard of. This book had
been in print about thirty years before I ever saw it, and the first
impression it made on my mind was that the author was "clean
daft." At the same time, through all his work there was a
"method in his madness," going to show the care he had taken to
exclude or suppress any little fact that might lead to detection
and exposure. As an illustration of his methods I will take the
following pedigree, at random, as given by him and copied,
literally, by Mr. Bruce, following the particular form of the

CENTAUR, b. h. foaled 1767, bred by ; owned in Vir-
ginia, got by imported Stirling (Evans') (foaled 1762).

1st dam by imp. Aristotle (imported 1764).

2d dam by imp. Dotterel.

3d dam by imp. David (imported 1763).

4th dam by imp. Eanter (imported 1762).

5th dam by imp. Othello (imported 1755).

6th dam by imp. Childers (imported 1761).

7th dam an imported, thoroughbred mare.
Now, what do we know about this pedigree that has been in-
dorsed and published, just as here stated, by two stud-book
makers? They do not pretend to know by whom he was bred,
nor do they know in what part of Virginia he was owned, but
they assume to know perfectly well each cross in his pedigree
and that his seventh dam was an imported, thoroughbred mare.
The dates of importations in parentheses in the foregoing have
been placed there by myself for the sake of the exhibit. The
horse Dotterel, the original of that name and by the same reputed
sire, never left England, audit is probable this Dotterel is mythi-
cal. Now, let us analyze this pedigree by the aid of the search-
light of dates. Ranter, imported 1762, might have had a filly to
his credit in 1763. This filly at two years old might have been
bred to David and produced a filly in 1766. This filly at two


years old might have been bred to Dotterel and produced a filly
in 1769. This filly at two years old might have been bred to
Aristotle and produced a filly in 1772. This filly, at two years
old, might have bred to Ev^ans' Stirling (or Starling), and pro-
duced the colt Centaur in 1775 — Mit he was foaled in 1767. Not
once in a million times would this succession of possibilities
occur, but if they did occur in this case the pedigree of Centaur
still remains absolutely impossible, for four generations of horses
cannot be crowded into five years. This exhibit fairly illustrates
the character of Mr. Edgar's work, and being right on the border
line between the ''native" race horse and the modern "thorough-
bred"we see just how they compressed the breeding of eight gener-
ations into the space of fifteen or sixteen years. If we were to
compare the English with the American methods of manufactur-
ing pedigrees, it would be hard to determine which was the more
shamefully dishonest. Mr. Edgar was fiercely dissatisfied with
the indifference of horsemen to his enterprise, and with the lack
of support which they rendered him. He went forward with his
second volume and professed to have completed it, but announced
that it should never be put in type until the horsemen of the
country should assist and support him. In the event of their
failing to do so he threatened to sink his manuscript twenty feet
deep in the center of the Dismal Swamp, where no mortal would
ever find it. The second volume never appeared, and it is to be
hoped he carried out his threat.

For the second attempt at compiling a stud book of American
Eace Horses I must, myself, plead guilty. Some time in the "fif-
ties" I came into posssesion oi a number of volumes of the "old"
Spirit of the Times, Skinner's American Turf Register, three
or four volumes of the "English Stud Book" and a large number of
volumes of the English SiJorting Magazine. As I was then dab-
bling slightly around the edges of "horse literature," I found
this little nucleus of a library very convenient, but very unsatis-
factory in answering questions that came to me, and which an
•official position seemed to require that I should be able to answer.
AVhen asked for the pedigrees of other domestic animals I could
take down the Herd Books of the different leading breeds and
give precise information, but when asked about the pedigree of a
horse, unless he was greatly distinguished as a racer, days of solid
labor might be expended on the one question and then not dis-
cover the information sought. It was, perhaps, ten years after


this time before I ever saw or heard of the misbegotten and fool-
ish compilation of pedigrees made by Edgar. For some years
this labor of compilation was prosecuted at odd hours, for my
own personal use and satisfaction, and without the remotest pur-
pose of ever publishing a stud book. As I plodded my way
along, finding what I supposed to be a fact here a^id another
there, and often conflicting, I found myself invariably accepting
what was longest as a pedigree, as this feature seemed to be evi-
dence not only of completeness, but of truthfulness at the same
time. As my gleanings grew in volume my interest in what I
was doing became more absorbing and intense, and when I had com-
pleted the search of every page and paragraph of my published
sources of information, up to the close of the year 1839, I found I
had enough matter for a large volume. About this time I came
into possession of a copy of "Edgar's Stud Book" — and I was
greatly perplexed to know what to do with it. The copyright
was dead and it contained a good many unimportant and utterly
unknown things that I had not met with in all my gleanings.
Under these circumstances and considering the fact that it
abounded in the crudest uncertainties, to call them by no harsher
name, I concluded to use his work in all cases where I did not
have a pedigree from other sources, to cut off all imaginary ex-
tensions and to insert his name, in every case, as the source of in-
formation and responsibility. The work then went to press and
the first volume of "Wallace's American Stud Book" made its ap-
Dcarance in 1871. The time and labor expended on the first
volume made me quite familiar with the leading performers of
the several generations embraced therein, and the work on the
second volume went forward with more ease and rapidity, and in
1871 I had completed the gleaning of all publications relating to
the race horse, up to the close of 1870.

This second volume, being about the size of the first, was com-
pleted and put in due form for the compositor, but never was
published. The reason why it was never published may not be
without interest to the student of horse genealogy, and I will, in
a few words, state that reason. Side by side with the progress
of the second volume of the runners, I was carrying forward a care-
ful investigation of the lineage of the early trotters and their pro-
genitors. As there were no trotting records giving pedigrees, I
was compelled to go back to the breeders as the only source of
reliable information. When I obtained this from intelligent and


reputable people I accepted the information and stood by it as
the truth; and when I came to compare it with the representa-
tions of pedigree made in advertisements of some stallion scion
of the family, the truth began to dawn upon me that advertise-
ments, whether in newspapers or on crossroads blacksmith-shop
doors, with scarcely an exception, were made up of statements
that were utterly false and fictitious. They were made up for
the single purpose of securing patronage, and generally traced in
different directions to famous and well-known horses. The ficti-
tious extensions of stallion advertisements have served as the
basis for the fictitious extensions of families and tribes. When I
came to compare the extensions of trotting pedigrees with run-
ning pedigrees, I could not discover that the one was any more
or less reliable than the other. They rested on precisely the
same basis of stallion pedigrees, and no difference whether they
appeared in Mr. Skinner's Ttirf Register or in a big poster, there
was no censorship, and they were both in type — and whatever
was in type was generally supposed to be worthy of belief. In
one respect the pedigrees of running horses are more reliable
than the early advertisements of trotting horses, particularly
with those that raced, for they were required to give the sire and
dam when they were entered in races, and a failure to comply
with this rule was penalized. The sires, therefore, are generally
right, but unfortunately the rule did not require the dam to be
named and definitely specified, hence any one of a dozen un-
named mares by a given horse could be represented in after years
as the dam of that particular horse. Here commenced the
trouble in the unnamed and untraced mares that never have
been nor ever can be identified. On a careful and sorrowful
review of my work of many years I found that I had been work-
ing on a wrong basis from the start. Instead of discovering and
arranging a great many valuable truths, as I supposed, I had de-
voted years to perpetuating thousands and thousands of fictions
in these unknown, unnamed, and unidentified dams. This is the
reason the second volume of "Wallace's American Stud Book"
never was published. The only benefit I ever derived from the
work was in its educational aspects. The work made me familiar
with the early running-horse history of this country and of Eng-
land, and taught me what so many horsemen should learn — that
a truth is always better than a lie. The more carefully and thor-
oughly I went into the origin, lineage and history of what we


may call the modem race horse, the more evident it became to
my mind that the great mass of the running horses of our own
generation are carrying, in their pedigrees, the frauds and fic-
tions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, to say nothing
of the innumerable deceptions and tricks of our own century.
To accept and propagate these untruths is simply to, in a man-
ner, indorse them, and an attempt to eliminate them would in-
voke the clamors of a continent. Hence, more than twenty years
ago, I washed my hands of all responsibility for the pedigrees of
English race horses, and turned my attention to establishing the
lineage of the American trotter, on sure foundations, and build-
ing him up into a breed.

The third attempt at compiling the pedigrees of running-bred
horses was made by Mr. Sanders D. Bruce, of New York, and as
it followed Edgar and Wallace, it was made up chiefly of what he
found in these works. The conscienceless fictions of Edgar were
accepted without hesitation or remorse, and the central aim
seemed to be to make every pedigree as long as possible, whether
true or false. No fictitious stallion advertisement was ever too
absurd to serve as a basis for the pedigrees of all his kindred.
Mr. Bruce accepted everything and rejected nothing, and it is
not probable he ever investigated a pedigree in his life. His
rule of action seems to have been to please his customers, and to
rcrupulously avoid all public discussions of pedigrees. This was
the politic course to pursue, for any attempt to defend the mon-
strosities it contained would have wiped it out of existence very
quickly. Bruce's Stud Book seems to have been supported by a
few individuals, from the beginning, as a kind of eleemosynary
institution, and it is not likely it will ever rise above that condi-

The substantial correctness of the generations extending
back for a period of sixty or eighty years, and in some cases
even a little further, is a very valuable contribution to our store
of knowledge in this department of industry, but, unfortunately,
the generations beyond those that may be classed as recent very
largely rest upon foundations that are fictitious and fraudu-

These fictions and frauds are so general and common in
the remote extensions on the female side of the j^edigree that
when we find a string of ten or perhaps twenty dams and not one


of them Darned, known or identified until we strike the twenty-
first, and she described as "thoroughbred, imported mare," we
know that this is the work of the professional "pedigree maker,"
and not more than once in a hundred times will we be mistaken.
This is alike true of both English and American pedigrees of
race horses. The modern crosses are comparatively honest, but
the remote extensions, through the maternal lines, in both coun-
tries are chiefly the products of a venal imagination.

There are some foundation truths in the history and develop-
ment of the English and American race horse — for they are both
one in blood — to which I must briefly advert before dismissing
this topic. In announcing the conclusions which I have reached,
I am fully conscious that I will come in contact with pre-con-
ceived opinions that have been very prevalent, if not universal,
for at least two centuries.

1. "There were race horses in England that had been racing and
breeding for centuries before the first Saracenic horse was
brought there, and it was not an uncommon thing for the native
to beat the exotic, when he first arrived. There had been racing
in America, by what we will call the native stock — but they were
all English and Dutch— for about one hundred years before the
first English race horse reached this country.

2. These horses had been selected with care and bred for cen-
turies with more or less intelligence, with the single purpose of
increasing their speed. During those centuries there were not
so many writers on biology, heredity, etc., as we have now, but
the old aphorism, "Like begets like" — a complete epitome of all
science on this subject — was just as well known and as universally
believed a thousand years ago as it is to-day. We may, there-
fore, safely conclude that at the close of the sixteenth century
there were many native English horses, descended from lines and
tribes that had been selected, raced and bred for generations,
that were fully the equals of the best of the exotics, that were
brought in about that time.

3. The native stock of England at the close of the sixteenth
century, was the stock from which the American colonies re-
ceived their first supplies, except the few brought from Utrecht,
in Holland, to the Dutch colonists in New York. When brought
across the Atlantic, especially in Virginia, no time was lost in con-
tinuing their development as race horses, which was carried for-


ward for nearly one hundred years before the first English race
horse was imported for their improvement. Their regular racing
was at all distances, up to four miles.

4. On this basis of the native English blood, common to both
countries, the breed of English and American race horses was
built up. The foreign elements brought into England were
chiefly from the Barbary States and from Turkey. This exotic
blood certainly had a very marked effect upon the horse stock of
Britain, but it cannot be said, with certainty, that it increased
the speed of the race horse. All the experiences of the past
hundred years with these foreign strains have gone to show that
instead of increasing the speed they have retarded it.

5. The list of the foundation stock of the English race horse as
given by Mr. AVeatherby, in the first volume of the English Stud
Book, and reproduced in the preceding chapter, is worthy of very
careful study, especially by those who seem to think that the
English race horse is descended, without admixture, from the
Arabian horse. The striking feature of that list is the overwhelm-
ing preponderance of other blood than the Arabian, even if we
accept all that is called Arabian as genuine. Mr. Darley's horse,
called an Arabian, and Lord Godolphiu's horse, called an Arabian,
count for more than all the others put together, in the make-up
of the English race horse. Mr. Darley's horse came from a region
remote from Arabia and where a thousand good horses are bred
for one in Arabia, and should be called a Turk. Lord Godol-
phin's horse — "the great unknown" — will ever remain unknoAvn.
He seems to have been traced to France, and, after studying his
portraiture, it is probable he was a French horse.

6. Taking this list of foundation stock and viewing it from the
standpoint of the greatest lenity and liberality that a sound and
careful Judgment can accord, we find that the inheritance of
Arabian blood in the veins of the English race horse, if there was
any such inheritance at all, was strictly infinitesimal. This
historical fact in the foundation of the race horse, showing the
inutility of Arabian blood, whether genuine or spurious, has
been fully confirmed in great multitudes of trials, in both nations,
during the past hundred years. In no case has it been a benefit,
but always a detriment.

7. The race horse has been bred through centuries for the
single purpose of speed. Through all his generations he has


been the product of the brains, judgment and skill of his success-
ive masters. Parents were selected that could go out and win
the prizes from their fellows. The next generation was not only
the product of running parents, but parents that were from run-
ning families. Thus grew up the pedigree of the race horse

Online LibraryOscar WildeLady Windermere's fan, and The importance of being Earnest → online text (page 12 of 61)