Oscar Wilde.

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

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velopment in a series of generations and by always breeding to
the fastest, but the increase of size can hardly be accounted for
as the result of climatic causes — but we are getting away from
the thought before us. When the Virginia planter found he had
a handsome balance in London, subject to his draft, he at once
ordered his factor to send him over the best racing stallion he
could find. The action of one planter stirred up half a dozen
others who felt they could not aiford to be behind in the matter
of improvement, but more especially that they could not afford
to be behind in the finish at the fall and spring race meetings of
the future. These importations went on continuously for about
twelve years, and until they were interrupted by the excited rela-
tions and feelings between the colonies and the mother country
and the preparations for the War of the Eevolution, which was
then imminent. After the close of the Revolution a perfect
avalanche of race horses was poured upon us, some of which were
good, but a great majority of them were never heard of after
their arrival, on the race course or elsewhere. But up to the close
of the century they had not succeeded in exterminating the
pacer — the saddle horse of a hundred generations.

As a specimen of how absurdly a man can talk and even write
on subjects of Avhich he knows nothing, I cannot refrain from
giving the following from what an Englishman had to say in
1796 about the horses and horsemanship of Virginia:

"The horses in common use in Virginia are all of a light description, chiefly
adapted for the saddle; some of them are handsome, but are for the most
part spoiled by the false gaits which they are taught. The Virginians are
wretched horsemen, as indeed are all the Americans I have met with, excepting


«ome few in the neighborLood of New York. They ride with their toes ju?t
under the horse's nose, and their stirrup straps Jef c extremely long, and the sad-
dle being put three or four inches on the mane. As for the management of the
reins, it is what they have no conception of. A trot is odious to them, and
they express the utmost astonishment at a person who can like that uneasy
gait, as they call it. The favorite gaits which all their horses are taught are
a pace and a wrack. In the first the animal moves his two feet on one side at
the same time and gets on with a sort of a shuffling motion, being unable to
spring from the ground on these two feet, as in a trot. We should call this an
unnatural gait, as none of our horses would ever move in that manner without
-a rider; but the Americans insist upon it that it is otherwise, because many of
their colts pace as soon as born. These kind of horses are called "natural
pacers" and it is a matter of the utmost diflSculty to make them move in any
other manner. But it is not one horse in five hundred that would pace without
being taught,"

There can hardly be a doubt that our English friend in his
* 'Travels Through the States" noted and wrote down just what
he thought he saw, and when he saw anything that he never had
seen in England, he was ready to either deny its existence alto-
gether or to insist that there was some mistake about it. Poor
man, he could not understand how there could be anything out-
side of England that could not be found in England. His
vision, mental and physical, seems to have been restricted to the
shores of his own island home, and he was probably a descendant
of a very good man we once heard of. As you sail up the Firth
of Clyde you pass an island of three or four miles in extent,
called Cumbrae. At the head of ecclesiastical affairs in the
island was a very pious man, some generations back, and every
Sunday morning he prayed that the Lord would bless the "king-
dom of Cumbrae and the adjacent islands of Great Britain and
Ireland." The author of "Travels Through the States" was
evidently one of the very numerous descendants of this good
man, as they are scattered all over England, and as I am a strong
believer in the laws of heredity, I can hardly avoid this conclu-
sion. Indeed, some of the numerous tribe, tracing their genealogv
through many generations back to "The kingdom of Cumbrae,"
have found their way across the water, and at another place I
will pay my respects to them. But to return to our traveler:
there can be no doubt about his never having seen a pacer in
England, for the last one had disappeared before his day, unless
an occasional one might have been found in the old province of
GalloAvay, in the southern part of Scotland. If he had known


the history of the horses of his own country he would have known
that from the time of King John down to that of James I., the
pacer was the most popular and fashionable horse in England,
and that the nobility and gentry used no other kind for the sad-
dle. He was always of "a mean stature," but he was compact,
hardy and strong, and could carry his burden a long journey in a
day with great ease and comfort to his rider. In the reign of
Elizabeth, he was kept separate from others, and bred as a breed
on account of his easy, gliding motion, which he transmitted to
his progeny. At the time of the plantation of the English colo-
nies in this country the pacers were very numerous, and as they
were just the type of horse suited to wilderness life, a very large
proportion of those selected were pacers. The pacers our traveler
;saw in Virginia were the lineal descendants of the original Eng-
lish stock brought over by the adventurers, and the awkward rid-
ing charged upon the Virginians, with some evident exaggera-
tions, was wisely and sensibly adapted to the action of the horses
they were riding. The criticism of the long stirrups is wholly
unjust, as they are just the right length for the "military" seat,
<and nobody in this country when mounted on a real saddle horse
would ever think of taking any other. The Englishman, when
mounted on his "bonesetter," is compelled to have his stirrups
.short so that he can rise and fall with every revolution the horse
makes on the trot to save himself from being shaken to death.
This up and down, up and down, tilt-hammer seat, if it can be
called "a seat" at all, is one of the most ungraceful things,
especially for a lady, that can be conceived of in all the displays
•of good and bad equestrianism. The English have been com-
pelled to adopt it because they have no trained saddle horses,
.and a lot of brainless imitators about our American cities have
followed them because "it is English, you know." If the Eng-
lish had pacers and horses trained to the "saddle gaits," they
never would have anything else, and the tilt-hammer "seat"
would disappear from Kotten Kow and everywhere else.



Settlement of New Amsterdam — Horses from Curacjoa — Prices of Dutch and
English horses — Van der Doncli's description and size of horses — Horses
to be branded — Stallions under fourteen hands not to run at large —
Esopus horse — Surrender to the English, 1664 — First organized racing —
Dutch horses capable of improvement in speed — First advertised Sub-
scription Plate — First restriction, contestants must "be bred in America "
— Great racing and heavy betting — First importations of English running
horses — Half-breds to the front — True foundation of American pedigrees
— Half bushel of dollars on a side — Resolutions of the Continental Congress
against racing — Withdrawal of Mr. James De Lancey — Pacing and trot-
ting contests everywhere — Rip Van Dam's horse and his cost.

For several years after Henry Hudson, an Englishman in the
employ of the Dutch, discovered the harbor of New York and
the great river which took his name, in the year 1609, there is-
uncertainty and doubt as to the nature of the settlement. For a
time it seems to have been merely a trading post, occupied only
by those in the employment of the company that owned it, and
without many of the elements requisite to make up a permanent
colony. At Fort Orange (Albany) and at Esopus (Kingston),
the conditions were the same as at New Amsterdam, as New
York was then named. The first party of immigrants that seemed
to have the elements of permanent colonization about it arrived
in 1625, and consisted of six families and several single men,
making in all forty-five persons, with furniture, utensils, etc.,
and one hundred and three head of cattle. Doubtless some of
these "cattle" were horses, and the general instead of the specific
term was used in enumerating them. Very little is known of the
early horse history of the New Netherlands, as the whole region
was then named; there can be no doubt, however, that they in-
creased and multiplied. Sometime, probably about 1643, a cargo
or two of horses were brought up from Cura9oa and Azuba, in
the Dutch West Indies, but the climatic change was too great for
them, and they did not do well, being specially subject to diseases


from which the Dutch horses seemed to have complete immunity.
In 1647, Isaac Allerton, as agent, was authorized to sell twenty
or twenty-five of these horses to Virginia, and whether the
authorities were able thus to get clear of a bad investment does
not appear from the existing records. In a report to the home
company, made in 1650, I find the following prices were given at
that time: A young mare with second foal, one hundred and
fifty florins; stallion, four or five years old, one hundred and
thirty florins; milch cow, one hundred florins. The same report
makes a comparison by giving the prices of New England horses,
as follows: A good mare one hundred to one hundred and twenty
florins; stallion, one hundred florins; milch cow, sixty to seventy
florins. Neither horses nor cows were then allowed to be shipped
•out of the province without permission of the council.

Adrien Van der Donck wrote a description of New Netherlands
which was published 1656, in which he speaks of the horse stock
as follows:

" The horses are of the proper breed for husbandry, having been brought
from Utrecht for that purpose; and this stock has not diminished in size or
quality. There are also horses of the English breed which are lighter, not so
good for agricultural use, but fit for the saddle. These do not cost as much as
the Netherlands breed and are easily obtained."

From a large number of facts collected for the years 1777 and
1778 the horses then averaged about fourteen hands and one inch,
and when compared with earlier data it is evident they had in-
creased in height. In the gaits of those advertised, fifteen both
paced and trotted, nine trotted only, and seven paced only. As
this was in the period of the Revolution, and right in the center
of hostilities, some allowance should be made for horses from
other colonies.

The people of this colony, like those of all the others, branded
their horses and turned them out to seek their own living in the
summer season, and this resulted in many losses, and oftentimes
in much bad feeling. The Dutch were not accustomed, in the
"old country," to building fences around their crops high enough
and strong enough to keep out all the droves and herds of animals
running at large. In the line of improvement and increase of
size in their horses, they provided that all stallions running at
large, of two "years and nine months old, must be fourteen hands
high or be castrated. This law was in force in 1734, and no doubt


was effective. Among the many laws for the suppression of vice
of different kinds, I find one prohibiting horse racing on Sun-
day, and from tliis we might infer that it was not forbidden on
other days of the week.

In old newspapers, advertisements, etc., we sometimes come
across "Esopus Horses, Esopus Mares," and, for years, I was not
able to tell what this term meant. The locality of Kingston was
originally called Esopus, and in that neighborhood there were
several farmers who bred horses largely, at an early day in the
history of the colony, and the locality became famous for the
character and quality of the horses produced there. They were
of the best and purest Dutch blood, and for what we would call
"all-purpose horses" their fame was very wide in that day. Hence
I infer that the term "Esopus" was used to indicate what was
considered the best type of Dutch horses. There is danger of
going astray in the meaning of the term "Dutch horses," as in
later times it was applied to the great, massive draft horses of
Pennsylvania. They were better "for agricultural purposes," as
Van der Donck puts it, than the Connecticut horses, because they
were larger and stronger, but they were sprightly and active and
some of them could run very well. They had a fine reputation
in the adjoining colonies.

New Amsterdam, and consequently all the plantations in New
Netherlands, surrendered to Colonel Nicolls, commanding the
British forces, August 27, 1664. Colonel Nicolls remained as
governor of the colony three or four years and until he was suc-
ceeded by Governor Lovelace. Among his early official acts,.
Governor Nicolls laid out a race course on Hempstead Plains,,
and named it Newmarket, after the famous course in England.
No engineering or grading was necessary, as nature had already
made a perfect course without stick or stone or other obstruction.
The first race was run 1665, and although it was a long distance
from the city, the presence of the governor gave the occasion
prestige and there was a great gathering of the gentry from town,
and the farmers of Long Island. These meetings were kept up
annually by the appointment of succeeding governors, and after
a time they were held twice a year, spring and fall. There are
some very important facts about these races that are not known
and probably never will be known, namely, who were the nomina-
tors and what breed of horses were entered in these contests.
With these two essential facts left out the value of the informa-


tion is greatly impaired. As it is known, however, that there
were but two breeds or types of horses that could have been en-
gaged in these contests, it becomes a matter of interest to reach
a conclusion as to which were the victors. Mr. John Austin
Stevens has done some very excellent work on this part of the
horse history of New York, but I cannot agree with him in his
characterization of the Dutch horses as being Flemish. They
did not come from Flanders, but from Utrecht. They were not
great unwieldy brutes, such as we would associate with Flanders,
but hardy, compact animals that could make their way in the
wilderness. Although larger, it does not follow that they could
not run as fast or even faster than the New England ponies. All
breeds of horses were very much smaller two hundred years ago
than they are now. These races were instituted, evidently, for
the improvement of the breed of horses in the colony, and the
great majority of these horses were the descendants of the original
stock brought from Utrecht. We must, therefore, conclude that
they were not slow, heavy, unwieldy animals with no action, as
the language of Mr. Stevens would seem to imply, but capable
of improvement in the direction of speed. No doubt there were
very many New England horses in the colony, "lighter and bet-
ter adapted to the saddle," but neither the interests nor the pride
of the old Dutch settlers would have permitted them to support
racing for a period of more than eighty years, unless the early
Utrecht blood was represented. Besides this, the weights car-
ried, one hundred and forty pounds, and the distance, gener-
ally two-mile heats, were conditions that were strongly against
the New Englanders, even if they were lighter of foot. With
these two breeds in the field, we may accept it as an inevitable
sequence that the superior qualities of the one would very soon
be engrafted on the other, and by this process of breeding, a bet-
ter type would be produced than either of the originals. This
first step was only a prelude to the next, and that again to the
next, until the common, plain lesson was thoroughly learned,
that if a running horse was wanted the way to get him was to
breed to a running horse that had proved he was a running horse.
The improvement became very wide and general, and occasionally
an animal was produced with such phenomenal speed that he
was barred from stakes and purses. On this foundation, and
this alone, the running turf was built up and continued for about


eighty years, with occasional intervals, when the gamblers made
it so nasty that no decent people would go near it.

The first subscription plate race of which we have any trace is
to be found in the New York Gazette, of September 27, 1736, of
which the advertisement is given below. The course indicated
is believed to have been on the Church Farm, west of Broadway,
and not far from where the Astor House now stands. There
is no account of what horses won, and all we know is just what is
in the advertisement.

"On Wednesday, tbe 13tli of October next, will be run for, on tlie course
at New York, a plate of twenty pounds' value, by any horse, mare or gelding,
earring ten stone (saddle and bridle included), the best of three heats, two
miles each heat. Horses intended to run for the plate are to be entered the
■day before the race, with Francis Child, on Fresh Water Hill, paying a half
pistole each, or at the post on the day of running, paying a pistole. And the
next day being the 14th, will be run for, on the same course, by all or any of
the horses that started for the twenty-pound plate (the winning horse excepted)
the entrance money, on the conditions above. Proper judges will be named
to determine any disputes that may arise. All persons on horseback or in
chairs, coming into the field (the subscribers and winning horse only excepted)
are to pay sixpence each to the owner of the grounds."

Passing on to 1747 we find a duplication of the foregoing for
the plate race of that year, with some variations. Entries are
restricted to animals that never won a plate before "on this
island," and a horse named Parrot is not permitted to compete.
This race was advertised to take place on the Church Farm.
The next that I will notice is the advertisement of this same
stake for 1751, M^hen the weight was reduced to eight stone, and
in addition to the usual exclusion of previous winners, we have
for the first time a restriction of the entries to animals "bred in
America.''^ At the May meeting at Hempstead Plains, the year
following, 1752, the entries are again restricted to animals "bred
in America." From this, then, we are able to fix the precise period
when English Race Horses were first brought to this colony. At
this time there were two or three other courses on Manhattan
Island, besides several noted speeding grounds on the roads and
elsewhere, for the trotters and the pacers, of which no advertise-
ments appear, and consequently no notice was taken by the news-
paper press.

From about 1760 up to the time when the Revolutionary strug-
gle began to engross and absorb all thought and all action, racing


received a tremendous impetus, not only in this colony but in
others. Ten or twelve years before this a very iew rich men in
Maryland, Virginia and South Carolina commenced importing
English running-bred horses with great success, and Mr. James
De Lancey and other rich men of this colony were only a year or
two behind them. This fancy grew and spread until a great many
breeders and planters of the richer class had imported stock of
their own, while their less wealthy neighbors were well supplied
Avith half-breds. These half-breds were, for a short time, classed
by themselves and purses were offered and run for, restricted to
this class. After experimenting with animals bred in this way it
was found that not a few of them were able to hold their own in
any company. Mr. Morris' mare Strumpet was only half-bred,
but she was able to beat many of the imported animals, as well
as the full-breds that started against her. From this it would
appear that breeding for speed for a hundred years had produced
results in this country as well as in England. These experiments
led many owners of old-fashioned stock to try it, and right there
is where thousands and thousands of our best old American pedi-
grees end. The decade from 1750 to 17G0 witnessed a complete
transformation from the old methods to the new, from the old blood
to the new, and more than all from the old managers to the new.
During the next decade, from 1760 to 1770, the new blood came
out in great strength, and the saturnalia of horse racing grew
more and more furious. Purses of a hundred dollars, as in the
olden time, sprang up to ten times that sum, and matches were
made for sums that were fabulous in that day. One match, be-
tween Mr. Delaney of Maryland and Mr. De Lancey of New
York, specified the consideration on each side as a half bushel
of silver Mexican dollars, and the Marylander had the satisfaction
of carrying home a bushel of silver dollars. The great struggle,
in New York, for supremacy on the turf was between the De
Lancey family and the Morris family. These two families had
been bitter political rivals for years, and when they met on the
turf it was for "blood." The De Lanceys were Tories and the
Morrises were Whigs, and this intensified the feeling that had so
long existed between them. When the Continental Congress
adopted that remarkable resolution, advising the people to ab-
stain from horse racing, cock fighting, gambling and some other
more slight offenses, on the grounds of "economy," in view of
the approaching conflict with the mother country, the effect was


thrilling and electrical. Every man who loved his home and his
country obeyed it. True, as I have said, it was drawn in the
form of advice and in the interests of "economy," but there was
but one great evil, one great prodigality at which it was aimed,
and that was the gambling connected with horse racing. It was
well aimed and struck the bull's eye. It came in the midst of
preparations for the greatest race meetings ever then projected,
but everything was dropped and there it lay through all the years
of the bloody struggle and until peace again smiled upon a land
of free men. Before avowed hostilities commenced, Mr. James
De Lancey, one of the first and largest importers and breeders of
his day, sold out every animal of the horse kind that he pos-
sessed and retired to England. Thus, as the colonial period
drew to its close, the brave little colonial horse that had weath-
ered the storms of a hundred winters and carried his master in
safety and comfort through all that time, is superseded by an-
other race, and no one has ever attempted to write even so much
as his epitaph.

As the contests of speed considered, up to this point, have all
been at the running gait, I must not close my review of this
colony without giving some attention to the pacers and the trot-
ters. At these gaits all sources of information are almost hope-
lessly barren of facts and incidents. We know that the running
horses of the colonial period were the saddle horses of the coun-
try, and we know that the best and most fashionable saddle-
horses were pacers. When we connect these two facts and place
them alongside of the pacing and trotting experiences of Penn-
sylvania and New Jersey, we have no difficulty in reaching the
safe conclusion that the same conditions would produce the same
results as in those two States. Pacing and trotting contests
were just as frequent and as exciting in this colony as in any
other, but they were sustained chiefly by road-house keepers
and butchers, and were never advertised. Matches were made
one hour and decided on the road in the next. In the "Annals of
New York," compiled and published in 1832, by John E. Watson,
we find the following curious, but very valuable, scrap of horse

" Some twenty or thirty years before the Revolution, the steeds most prized
for the saddle were pacers, since so odious deemed. To this end the breed was
propagated with much care. Tlie Narragansett pacers of Rhode Island were in
such repute that they were sent for, at much trouble and expense, by some few


who were choice in their selections. It may amuse the present generation to

Online LibraryOscar WildeLady Windermere's fan, and The importance of being Earnest → online text (page 14 of 61)