Oscar Wilde.

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

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times called him away into Virginia, and, in speaking of the
great distance of one parish from another, he uses the following

" To remedy this (the distance), as the whole province, between the moun-
tains, two hundred miles up, and the sea, is all a champaign, and without
stones, they have plenty of a small sort of horses, the best in the world, like
the little Scotch Galloways; and 'tis no extraordinary journey to ride from
sixty to seventy miles or more in a day. I have often, but upon larger pacing
horses, rode fifty, nay, sixty miles a day, even here in New England, where
the roads are rough, stony and uneven."

The reverend gentleman seems to assume that his readers knew
the Scotch Galloways were pacers, and with this explanation his
observations are very plain. He makes no distinction between
the Virginia horse and his congener of Rhode Island except that
of size, in which the latter had the advantage. In speaking of
the products of Ehode Island he says:

" The produce of this colony is principally butter and cheese, fat cattle, wool,
and fine horses, which are exported to all parts of English America. They are
remarkable for tieetness and swift pacing; and I ham seen some of them pace
a mile in a little more than two minutes, and a good deal less than three. "

When I first read this sentence in the reverend doctor's book
I confess I was not prepared to accept it in any other light
than that of a wild enthusiast, who knew but little of the force
of the language he used. To talk about horses pacing, a hun-
dred and fifty years ago, in a little more than two minutes and a


good deal less than three, appeared to be simply monstrous.
The language evidently means, according to all fair rules of con-
struction, that the mile was performed nearer two minutes than
three, or in other words, considerably below two minutes and
thirty seconds. I doubt not my readers will hesitate, and per-
haps refuse, to accept such a performance, just as I did my-
self till I had carefully Aveighed not only the character of the
author of the statement, but the circumstances that seemed to
support it. If the learned divine had known no more of the
world and its ways than many of his profession, 1 would have
concluded he was not a competent judge of speed; but he was a
man of affairs, and knew perfectly well just what he was saying.
The question naturally arises here as to what opportunities or
facilities the doctor had for timing those pacers of a hundred
and fifty years ago. In a note appended to the above extract by
Mr. Updike, the editor of the work, I find the following:

" The breed of horses called Narra^ausett pacers, once so celebrated for
fleetness, endurance and speed, has become extinct. These horses were highly
valued for the saddle, and transported the rider with great pleasantness and
sureness of foot. The pure bloods could not trot at all. Formerly they had
pace-races. Little Neck Beach, in South Kingston, of one mile in length, was
the race course. A silver tankard was the prize, and high bets were otherwise
made on speed. Some of these prize tankards were remaining a few years ago.
Traditions respecting the swiftness of these horses are almost incredible.

The facts stated by Mr. Updike in this note are corroborated
from other sources, and may be accepted as true. These were
the opportunities and facilities the doctor had for holding his
watch, and nobody will doubt they were sufficient to enable him
to be a competent witness. In connection with this subject, and
as another footnote, Mr. Updike introduces a letter from Mr. I.
T. Hazard, which brings out another very curious fact in the his-
tory of the pacer. The Hazard family was very eminent in
Ehode Island, and many of its members have occupied positions
of high honor and responsibility for several generations. The
date of the letter is not given, and we may infer it may have
been written fifty years ago, or perhaps more. Mr. Hazard says:

" Within ten years one of my aged neighbors, Enoch Lewis, since deceased,
informed me he had been to Virginia as one of the riding boys, to return a
similar visit of the Virginians in that section, in a contest on the turf; and that
such visits were common with the racing sportsmen of Narragansett and
Virginia, when he was a boy. Like the old English country gentlemen, from


whom they were descended, they were a horse-racing, fox-hunting, feasting

This paragraph from Mr. Hazard's pen has been the subject of
very deliberate consideration. The first promptings of my judg-
ment were to doubt and reject it, especially on account of the
absence of date to the letter, and of the remote period in which
Mr. Enoch Lewis must have visited Virginia. Another ques-
tion, as to why we have not this information from any other
source except Mr. Hazard, presented itself with no inconsiderable
force. After viewing the matter in all its bearings I am
forced to concede that it is likely to be true. These visits must
have taken place before the Revolution, and from the construc-
tion we are able to place upon the dates, this was not impossible.
It is a fact that I do not hesitate to announce that before the
Eevolution racing in all its forms was more universally indulged
in as an amusement than it ever has been since. This was be-
fore the days of newspapers, and all we can possibly know of the
sporting events of that period we must gather up from the de-
tached fragments that have come down to us by tradition.
There was a strong bond of sympathy and friendship between the
followers of Dr. McSparran in Khode Island, surrounded as they
were by Puritans, and their co-religionists in Virginia. They
were accustomed to maritime life, and had abundance of vessels
fitted up for the shipment of horses and other live stock to
foreign ports. To take a number of their fastest pacers on board
one of their sloops and sail for Virginia would not have been con-
sidered much of an adventure. These visits were not only occa-
sions of pleasure and festivity, with the incidental profits of win-
ning purses and bets, but they were a most successful means of
advertising the Narragansett pacer; and through these means
alone the market was opened, as Dr. McSparran expresses it, in
all parts of British America. When we consider the widesjDread
fame of these Rhode Island horses, and that there were no other
means by which they could have achieved it, except by their
actual performances, we are forced to the conclusion that they
were carried long distances, and in many directions, for purely
sporting purposes. That these visits would result in the transfer
of a good number of the best and fastest horses from Narragan-
sett to Virginia would be a natural sequence, and thus, in after
years, we might look for a strong infusion of Narragansett blood
in the Virginian pacing-horse.


It apjDears to be a law of our civilization that each generation
produces somebody who, out of pure love for the curious and
forgotten, devotes the best years of his life to hunting up old
things that have well-nigh slipped away from the memory of
man. In this class Mr. John F. "Watson stands conspicuous
in what he has done for Philadelphia and New York. In 1830
he published a work entitled "Annals of Philadelphia and Penn-
sylvania," in two volumes, and among all the antiquated manners
and habits that he again brings to our knowledge, he has some-
thing to say about the horse of an early day:

"The late very aged T. Matlack, Esq., was passionately fond of races
in his youth. He told me of his remembrances about Race Street. In
his early days the woods were in commons, having several straggling forest
trees still remaining there, and the circular course ranging through those trees.
He said all genteel horses were pacers. A trotting-horse was deemed a base
breed. These Race Street races were mostly pace-races. His father and
others kept pacing stallions for propagating the breed."

Mr. Watson further remarks, on the same subject: "Thomas
Bradford, Esq., in telling me of the recollections of the races,
says he was told that the earliest races Avere scrub and pace-races
on the ground now used as Race Street."

The Eev. Israel Acrelius, for many years pastor of the Swedish
church of Philadelphia, wrote a book early in the last century,
under the title, "History of New Sweden," which has been trans-
lated into English. In describing the country and people, in
their habits and amusements, he thus speaks of the horse:

" The horses are real ponies, and are seldom found over thirteen hands
high. He who has a good riding horse never employs him for draught, which
is also the less necessary, as journeys, for the most i>art, are made on horse-
back. It must be the result of this, more than to any particular breed in the
horses, that the country excels in fast horses, so that horse races are often
made for very high stakes."

It will be noted that Mr. Acrelius does not say that these races
were pacing-races; but when his remark is taken in connection
with what Mr. Matlack said about the pacers, and when it is con-
sidered that he is speaking of the speed of the saddle horses as
such, we can easily understand, his true meaning. Incur turf
history I supposed I was getting well back when I reached
the great race between Galloway's Selim and Old England, in
1767, but here we find that race was comparatively modern, and
that the pacers antedated the gallopers by many, many years.


In 1832 Mr. Watson did the same service for New York that
he had done for Philadelphia, and published his "Annals of New
York," in which we find the piece of horse history embodied
in the extract printed on pages 126 and 127, to which the reader
will please turn.

It is hardly possible to be mistaken in assuming that Eip Yan
Dam's letter was written to some person in Philadelphia, and that
Mr. Watson saw it there. I would give a great deal for the sight of
it; and if it has been preserved in any of the public libraries of that
city, either in type or in manuscript form, I have good hopes of yet
inspecting it. In one point of view it is of exceeding value, and
that is its date. It is fully established by this letter that, as
early as 1711, the Narragansetts were not only established as a
breed or family, but that their fame was already widespread.
This, of necessity, carries us back into the latter part of the
seventeenth century, when their exceptional characteristics were
first developed, or began to manifest themselves. In reaching
that period we are so near the first importations of horses to the
colonies that it is no violence to either history or good sense to
conclude that the original Narragansett was one among the very
earliest importations. This plays iiavoc with some Ehode Island
traditions, as will be seen below; but with 1711 fixed as a point
when the breed was famous, traditions must stand aside.

While on this matter of dates, it may not be unprofitable to
compare the advent of the Narragansett with the well-known
epochs in horse history. Every schoolboy knows that the Darley
Arabian and the Godolphin Arabian, say twenty years after, were
the great founders of the English race horse. The Narragansetts
had reached the very highest pinnacle of fame before the Darley
Arabian was foaled. Darley Arabian reached England about the
same year that Eip Van Dam's Narragansett jumped over the
side of the sloop and swam ashore, and this was eighty years be-
fore there was an attempt at publishing an English stud book.
When Janus and Othello, and Traveller, and Fearnaught, the
great founders of the American race horse, first reached Virginia,
they found the Narragansett pacer had been there more than a
generation before. On the point of antiquity, therefore, the
Narragansett is older than what we designate as the thorough-
bred race horse, and if he has a lineal descendant living to-day
the pacer has a longer line of speed inheritance, at his gait, than
the galloper.


The only attempt at a description of this breed that I have
met with is that given by Cooper, the novelist, in a footnote to
"The Last of the Mohicans." This note may be accepted as
history, so far as it goes, and pretends to be history; but I am
not prepared to admit that all the breed were sorrels. This
color, no doubt, prevailed in those specimens that Mr. Cooper
had seen or heard of, but I think all colors prevailed, as in
other breeds. He says:

" In the State of Rhode Island there is a bay called Narragansett, so named
for a strong tribe of Indians that formerly dwelt on its banks. Accident, or
one of those unaccountable freaks which nature sometimes plays in the animal
world, gave rise to a breed of horses which were once well known in America
by the name of Narragansetts. They were small, commonly of the color
called sorrel in America, and distinguished by their habit of pacing. Horses
of this race were, and still are, in much request as saddle-horses, on account
of their hardiness, and the ease of their movements. As they were also sure
of foot, the Narragansetts were much sought for by females who were obliged
to travel over the roots and holes in the new countries."

Without having a minute description of so much as a single in-
dividual of the race, I can only infer, from general descriptions,
as to what their family peculiarities of form and shape may have
been. It is fully established that they were very compact and
hardy horses, and that they were not large; perhaps averaging
about fourteen and a quarter hands in height. I have met with
no intimation that they were stylish or handsome, and we think
it is safe to conclude that they were plain in their form, and low
in their carriage. From my conceptions of the horse I think
one of the better-shaped Caiaadian pacers, of fifteen hands or
thereabouts, might be accepted as a fair representative of the
Narragansett of a hundred and fifty years ago. He was fleet,
hardy, docile, and sure-footed, but not beautiful, and it is reason-
able to suppose that the lack of style and beauty was one of the
leading causes of his becoming extinct in the land of his nativity.

In considering the causes which resulted in what we may call
the dispersal of the Narragansett pacers, and their extinction in
the seat of their early fame, we must be governed by what is
reasonable and philosophical in the industrial interests of the
people, rather than look for some great overwhelming disaster,
like an earthquake, that ingulfed them in a night. In speaking
of this dispersal, and the causes which led to it, Mr. Hazard says:


"One of the causes of the loss of that famous breed here was the great
demand for tbem in Cuba, when that island began to cultivate sugar exten-
sively. The planters became suddenly rich, and wanted the pacing-horse for
themselves and their wives and daughters to ride, faster than we could supply
them, and sent an agent to this country to purchase them on such terms as he
could, but to purchase them at all events. I have heard my father say he
knew the agent very well, and he made his home at the Rowland Brown
House, at Tower Hill, where he commenced purchasing and shipping until ail
the good ones were sent off. He never let a good one escape him. This, and
the fact that they were not so well adapted to draught as other horses, was
the cause of their being neglected, and I believe the breed is now extinct in
this section. My father described the motion of this horse as differing from
others in that his backbone moved through the air in a straight line, without
inclining the rider from side to side, as the common racker or pacer of the
present day. Hence it was very easy; and being of great power of endurance,
they would perform a journey of a hundred miles in a day, without injury to
themselves or rider."

We can understand very well how an enormous and unexpected
demand from Cuba, without restriction as to price, should re-
duce the numbers of the breed very materially. But it is a poor
compliment to the intelligence and thrift of the good people of
Narragansett to say that, because there was a lively demand,
they killed the goose that laid the golden egg every day. It is a
slander upon that Yankee smartness which is proverbial to con-
clude that they deprived themselves of the means of supplying a
market that was making thcim all rich. We must, therefore,
look for other causes that were more potent in producing so
marked a result.

After more than a hundred years of faithful service, of great
popularity, and of profitable returns to their breeders, the little
Narragansetts began to disappear, just as their ancestors had dis-
appeared a century earlier. Ehode Island was no longer a
frontier settlement, but had grown into a rich and prosperous
State. Mere bridle paths through the woods had developed into
broad, smooth highways, and wheeled vehicles had taken the
place of the saddle. Under these changed conditions, the little
pacer was no longer desirable or even tolerable as a harness horse,
and he was su^Dplanted by a larger and more stylish type of horse,
better suited to the particular kind of work required of him.
This was simply the "survival of the fittest," considering the
nature of the services required of the animal. The average
height of the Narragansett was not over fourteen hands and one
inch. His neck was not long, even for his size; he dropped


rapidly on the croup, and his carriage was low, with nothing of
elegance or style in his appearance. His mane and tail were
heavy, his hind legs were crooked, his limbs and feet were of the
very best, but aside from his great speed and the smoothness of
his movements under the saddle, there was nothing very desira-
ble or attractive about him. In a contest with a type of the har-
ness horse, at least one hand higher, of high carriage and elegant
appearance, there could only be one result, and that soon decided.

As in England, so in this country, the blood of the running
horse soon worked the extermination of the pacer; not becatise it
was stronger in reproducing itself, perhaps, but because it had
the skill and fancy of the breeder enlisted in selecting and mat-
ing so as to make the expunging process complete. Only a few
years ago a pacing horse could hardly be found in any of the
older settled portions of the country, especially where running
blood had become fashionable. He was literally banished to the
frontiers of Canada, Indiana, Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee,
and especially in the latter two States, where his blood is still
appreciated and preserved for the luxurious saddle gaits which
it alone transmits. In many individual cases he has shown won-
derful power in meeting and overcoming antagonistic elements,
but with the tide of running blood all against him, it was only a
question of time as to how soon he would be totally submerged.

It is only a quarter of a century ago that the first volume of
"Wallace's American Trotting Register" was published, and then
began the great task of bringing order out of chaos. In a his-
torical introduction to that work, I inserted the following:

" So many pacing horses have got fast trotters, so many pacing mares have
produced fast trotters, and so many pacers have themselves become fast trotters,
and little or nothing known of their breeding, that I confess to a degree of .
embarrassment, from which no philosophy relieves me. If the facts were
limited to a few individual cases we could ignore the phenomena altogether,
but, while they are by no means universal, they are too common and apparent
to be thus easily disposed of. I am not aware that any writer has ever brought
this question to the attention of the public; much less, attempted its discussion
and explanation. Indeed, it is possible that the observations of others may not
sustain me in the prominence given these phenomena, but all will concede
there are some cases coming under this head that are unexplained, and per-
haps unexplainable. It is probable trotters from this pacing origin, and that
appear to trot, only because their progenitors paced, will not prove reliable
producers of trotters. Such an animal being in a great degree phenomenal,
should not be too highly prized in the stud, till he has proved himself a trot-
ting sire as well as a trotter."


This very comprehensive little paragraph, put modestly and
tentatively rather than positively, contained a germ of thought
that is to-day exerting a very wide influence. So far as my knowl-
edge goes, this was the first time in which the public attention had
ever been called to the intimate relations between speed at the
pace and speed at the trot. Some laiighed at it as not practical,
others sneered at it as a theoretical abstraction, a few gave it some-
thought, while the writers who never think left it severely alone.
It required the cumulative experiences of nearly ten years before
horsemen generally began to think about it, and then ten more
before the germ had matured itself in the minds of all intelligent
men who were able to divest themselves of their earlier preju-
dices. The great primary truth now stands out in high relief
that the pace and the trot are simply two forms of one and the
same gait, that lies midway between the walk and the gallop.
At last the truth, dimly foreshadowed in the paragraph above, is
received and accepted, in some form or other, almost if not quite
universally. This fact and its acceptance are now shown in all the
recorded experiences of racing, and especially in the origin and
habits of action of many of the heads of trotting and pacing,
families, to which the reader is referred.

At the beginning of Chapter XIII. I have labored to make
l^lain the proposition that the pace and the trot are simply two-
forms of one and the same gait. This is evident from the fact
that this gait, in one form or the other, is the intermediate link be-
tween the walk and the gallop, and this is true among nearly»all
quadrupeds. I have also there shown, and I think beyond cavil,
that the mechanism of the pace and the trot is the same, and
especially in the fact that in both forms two legs are used as one
leg. That is, if the two legs on the same side move together, we
call it the pace, and if the diagonal legs move together we call it
the trot. The rhythm is the same and the sound is the same,
and by the ear no man can tell whether the movement is at the
lateral or diagonal motion. In all the varieties of steps that a
horse may be taught, and in all the methods of progression that
he may naturally adopt, there is no step or movement in which
he uses two legs as one except in the pace or the trot. From the
place, therefore, which these two forms of the gait hold, indiffer-
ently, in animal movement, between the walk and the gallop;
from the unity of action and result in the use of the same mech-
anism, and from the wide disparity between the mechanism of


this gait and that of all other gaits in the action of the horse, we
must conclude that the pace and the trot are one and the same

Another evidence of the unity of the two forms of the trot is
to be found in the great numbers of pacers that have been
■changed over to trotters and the astonishing readiness with which
they took to the new form of action. To go back no further
than the records sustain us, we find that the converted pacer
Pelham was the first horse that ever trotted in 2:28. This was
in 1849, and four years later the converted pacer Highland
Maid trotted in 2:27. Twenty years later, Occident, another,
trotted in 2:16f. These were champions of their day, and when
we come a little nearer we find that Maud S. was a pacer and
Sunol was a pacer, although neither of them ever paced in jjublic,
and the fact that they ever paced at all was held as a kind of
"home secret." Since the days of Pelham, literally thousands
of horses have been changed from pacers to trotters, and some
hundreds have been changed from trotters to pacers successfully.
Then there are quite a number, like Jay-Eye-See, 2:10 trotting
and 2:06^ pacing, that have made fast records at both gaits.

At one time the pacing horse Blue Bull stood at the head of
all sires of trotters in this country, and it is not known or be-

Online LibraryOscar WildeLady Windermere's fan, and The importance of being Earnest → online text (page 20 of 61)