Oscar Wilde.

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

. (page 3 of 61)
Online LibraryOscar WildeLady Windermere's fan, and The importance of being Earnest → online text (page 3 of 61)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


have been greatly improved. The many efforts to improve the
American race horse by introducing fresh infusions of Saracenic
blood Avill receive due attention, especially as they have nearly all
been made within the newspaper period, and their uniform and
complete failure will not be new to American horsemen.

"When we reach the horses of the colonial period, we are in a
field that never has been explored and cannot be expected to yield
a very rich harvest. Here and there I have been able to pick up
a detached paragraph from some contemporaneous writer, and
occasionally a record, or an advertisement, from which, in most
cases, I have been able to construct a fair and truthful outline
and description of the horses of the different colonies, down to
the Revolutionary war. The collection of the material has re-
quired great patience and great labor, but it has not been an irk-
some task, for many things have been brought to light of great
interest to the student of horse history. The knowledge of the
colonial horse in his character and action, that may be gathered
from the chapters devoted to his description and history, I flatter
myself, will not only be interesting as something new, but will
throw a strong light on the lineage of the two-minute trotter and
pacer.

The colonists of Virginia were subjected for a number of years
to great suffering, privation, and want. They were badly selected
and many of them were improvident and never trained to habits
of industry and thrift. There were quite too many "penniless



10 THE HORSE OF AMERICA.

gentlemen's sons" among tliem, who had been sent out with the
hope that the change might improve their habits and their
morals. They were too proud to work, and when they were driven
to it by necessity they didn't know how. After suffering untold
hardships for a succession of years, those that survived learned
to adapt themselves to their environment and to make their own
way in the world. Their first supply of domestic animals w«re
all consumed as food, embracing horses, cattle, swine, and goats,
and everything had thus been consumed except one venerable
female swine, as reported by a board of examiners. Their second
supply of horses, cattle, swine, and goats was more carefully
guarded, and from them in greater part came the countless deni-
zens of the barnyard.

There were several shipments of horses at different times, by
the proprietors in London, down till about 1620 and possibly
later, but they do not seem to have increased very rapidly, for in
1646 all the horses in the colony were estimated at about two
hundred of both sexes. This estimate was probably too low, for
ten years after this the exportation of mares was forbidden by
legislative enactment, and eleven years later this restriction was
removed, and both sexes could then be exported. From this
legislation and from writers who visited the colony we learn that
horses were very plenty, and they are described as of excellent
quality, hardy and strong, but under size. It was the custom in
Virginia, and indeed in all the other colonies at that period and
for long afterward, to brand their young horses and turn them
out to hustle for their own living. They increased with wonder-
ful rapidity and great numbers became as wild and as wary of
the habitation and sight of man as the deer of the forest. About
the close of the seventeenth century the chasing and capture of
wild horses in Virginia became a legitimate and not always an
unprofitable sport, for an animal caught without a brand became
the unquestioned property of his captor. It is a noteworthy fact
that off the coast of Virginia the island of Chincoteagne has
been occupied for probably two hundred years by large bands of
wild horses. They are still there, and not till within the last few
decades have there been any efforts made to domesticate some
selections from them. They are of all colors, but quite uniform
in size, not averaging much over thirteen hands, with clean limbs,
and many of therii are pacers. There is only one way to account
for them in that location, and that is, that they were originally a



GENERAL VIEW OF THE FIELD. 11

band of Virginia wild horses that wandered or was chased out
onto this sandy peninsula, and while there some great storm set
the mysterious ocean currents at work and cut off their retreat by
converting a peninsula into an island, and there they have lived
and multiplied ever since.

The colonial horses of Virginia were of all colors and all very
small in size, as we would class them in our day. An examina-
tion of a great many advertisements of ''Strayed," "Taken up,"
etc., of the period of about 1750, clearly establishes the fact that
at that time the average height was a small fraction over thirteen
hands and one inch. More were described as just thirteen hands
than any other size, and they were nearly all between thirteen
and fourteen. From this same advertising source I was able to
glean conclusive evidence as to their habits of action, and found
that just two-thirds of them were natural pacers and one-third
natural trotters. Thus for more than a hundred years they had
retained the peculiarities of their English ancestors in the reign
of James I., in color, size, and gait. This in no way differs from
the description of the Chincoteague Island ponies of to-day. As
early as 1(J86 a law was enacted that all stallions less than thir-
teen and a half hands high found running at large should be
forfeited; but this, like Henry VIII. 'slaws in the same direction,
had failed to increase the average size of the horses. From the
indomitable passion for horse-racing which prevailed universally
among the colonists, we may safely conclude that some animals
were carefully selected and coupled with a view to the speed of
the progeny, both at the gallop and at the pace, but the great
mass were allowed to roam at large, and under such conditions
no variety or tribe of horses has ever improved in size, or indeed
in any other quality.

The early horses of the Dutch colony of New Netherlands,
afterward New York, were brought from Utrecht in Holland.
As we would look at them to-day, they were small, but they were
larger and better, and brought higher prices than the English
horses of the Eastern colonies or than the Swedish on the AVest.
It was conceded, however, that for the saddle they were not so
good as the New England horses, and hence it may be inferred
that they Avere not pacers. It is very evident, however, that the
two breeds were soon mixed, as the saddle was then the universal
means of travel, whether for long or short distances. During
the time of the Revolutionary war a large accumulation of data



12 THE HORSE OF AMERICA.

bearing on the size and action of the horses of that period goes;
to show that the average size had then increased to fourteen
hands and one inch, and in gait fifteen both jjaced and trotted,
nine trotted only, and seven paced only. It is not pretended
that these data represent the horses of the early colonial period,
but only of the period above indicated. Strains of larger breeds,
had been introduced, but the little New England pacer had made
his mark on the habits of action.

In 1G05, the next year after the Dutch had surrendered the
country to the English, Governor Nicolls established a race-course
on Hempstead Plains and offered prizes for the fleetest runners,
and his successors kept up annual meetings on that course for
many years. This was the first official and regularly organized
race-course that we have any trace of in this country. These
meetings seem to have been Avell supported from the very first by
both town and country, and as the people were then jDractically
all Dutch, it is a fair inference that the horses engaged in the
races were Dutch horses. This was before the English race horse
had reached the character of a breed, and a hundred years before
the first of that breed was imported into Xew York. From this,
beginning many tracks were constructed or improvised in and
about the city, upon which racing at all forms and at all gaits has
been carried on to the present day. When honestly conducted
the sport has always been favorably received by reputable people;
but at successive periods it has degenerated into a mere carnival
of gambling that placed it under a ban.

The horses of the New England colonies fill a very important
place in the horse history of the country. This is especially true
of a remarkable tribe of swift pacers, produced in Rhode Island
and known throughout the whole country as the "Narragansett
Pacers." To the description of these a special chapter will be
devoted. The first horses imported into Xew England reached
Boston harbor in 1629 and were sent direct from England by the
proprietary company in London. The same year a small consign-
ment reached Salem. The next year about sixty head were
shipped to the plantation, but many of them were lost on the
voyage. In 1G35 two Dutch ships landed at Salem with twenty-
seven mares and three stallions, and were sold there at remuner-
ative prices. Other shipments followed, no doubt, that have not
been noted. In 1G40 the colonists seem to have been supplied
with all the horses they needed, for that year they shipped a



GENERAL VIEAV OF THE FIELD. 13

■cargo of eighty head to the Barbadoes. From these importations
into Boston and Salem, all the New England colonists received
their supplies. The field specially gleaned to determine the size
and gaits of the Massachusetts horses covered the years 1756-59,
from which it appears that the average height was then fourteen
hands and one inch; and as to gait, just three-fourths were
pacers and one-fourth trotters. In comparing this average size
with the Virginians of the same period we find that the Massa-
chusetts horses were about one hand higher, which would
indicate the influence of the early Dutch blood. Besides this
we must make some allowance for a possible different habit of
estimating size.

When the plantation was made at Hartford, Connecticut, in
1G3G, the planters brought their horses and other domestic animals
with them. In 1G53 the General Court, at New Haven, made
provision for keeping public saddle horses for hire, and all horses
had to be branded. After passing over a period of more than a
hundred and twenty years we find that in 1776 the average size
of the Connecticut horse was thirteen hands and three inches,
thus ranging below the other New England colonies. At that
period it is found that the ratio of pacers and trotters was as
fifteen pacers, or trotters and pacers, to four that trotted only.
The very interesting experience of two English travelers,
mounted on Connecticut pacers, in 1769, and their enthusiasm
about their superlative qualities, will be found in its place.

The colony of Rhode Island was planted in 1636 by Roger Will-
iams and his followers, and eleven years later they obtained their
charter. Their supply of horses came wholly from the colony of
Massachusetts, and in a short time the new plantation became
greatly distinguished for the superiority and speed of its pacers.
From the official report of the colony for 1690, we learn that
horses constituted their leading item of exports, and that they
were shipping horses to all the colonies of the seaboard. At that
early day the fame of the Narragansett pacer extended through
all the English colonies, and probably also through the French
plantations on the St. Lawrence. All trade with Canada was
strictly prohibited, but in the then condition of the borders how
could such regulation be enforced, if a Frenchman, with a bale
of peltry, wanted to exchange it for a Narragansett? Freed
from the Puritan restrictions of New England, of that day, the
Rhode Islanders developed the speed of their pacers by racing



14 THE IIOKSE OF AMERICA.

them, and thus the hest and fastest of all New England were
collected there. In 17G8 the average height of the Narragansetts
was fourteen hands and one inch, which shows them to have been
about three and a quarter inches higher than the Virginia horses
of the same period. They Avere not all pacers, for out of thirty-
five there were eight that did not pace, and some others that
both trotted and paced. A full account of these famous pacers
will be found in the chapter on the Colonial Horse History of
New England, and that on The American Pacer and his Relations
to the American Trotter.

William Penn did not visit his princely gift from Charles II.
until 1683, and it was then under the government of the Duke of
York. In giving a description of things as he found them he
remarks: "The horses are not very handsome, but good," and
this is all he says of them. Knowing that Pennsylvania, in the
early part of this century, jDroduced larger and heavier horses
than any other portion of the country, it was a great surprise to
me to find the undoubted j)roof that a hundred years earlier she
had produced the smallest and the lightest horses of any of the
colonies. In the first half of the last century the average size of
the horses of Eastern Pennsylvania was thirteen hands one and
a quarter inches, and they Avere remarkably uniform in size. This
was one-quarter inch below the average of the Virginians. Of
the twenty-eight animals examined as to gait, twenty-four of
them were natural pacers, three both paced and trotted, and a
single one trotted only. Finding these two facts of uniformity
of size and uniformity of gait together, we are prepared for
another fact that follows, viz., in Philadelphia the pacers were
more popular and fashionable than in any other city, so far as we
can learn, and they were selected with great care and bred for
their speed, and that speed was highly tested on the race-course.
They Avere breeding for speed without much regard to size, and
hence the uniformity.

It has not been discovered that the colonists of Ncav Jersey
made any direct importations of horses from England. Their
original supplies Avere obtained from New York on the one side
and Pennsylvania on the other. From these sources, therefore,
Ave can form a correct estimate of the size and gaits of the Jersey
horses, Avithout going into particular investigation. The only
object, then, in referring to this colony is to prove that before
1748 all kinds of racing had become so common in the colony as



GENEEAL VIEAV OF THE FIELD. 15

to be a nuisance. Consequently the legislative authority passed
an act in 1748 for the suppression of "Running, Pacing and
Trotting Eaces. " This was in strict harmony with the well-known
condition of things in Philadelphia and vicinity very early in
the century. If there had been no pacing races there would
have been no legislation suppressing them.

The horses of the colony of Maryland would necessarily partake
of the characteristics of Virginia and Pennsylvania, from which
she jirobably received her supply. There seems to be no evidence
of direct importation. This colony was really the first, in point
of time, to legislate for the suppression of pacing races. In 1747,
one year before New Jersey, an act was passed forbidding pacing
races in certain locations at certain times, and the avowed object
was the protection of the Friends in holding their yearly meetings.
Here, then, we have historic evidence that the three colonies of
Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Virginia had frequent pacing
races, and legislative evidence that Maryland and New Jersey
had quite too many pacing races, early in the last century. It
follows, then, that the other colonies indulged their sporting
fancies in pacing races also.

The colonies of North and South Carolina obtained their supply
of horses from Virginia, and they possessed the same character-
istics as the parent stock. The first permanent settlement in
North Carolina was in 1653, but before this it had become the
refuge of Quakers and others fleeing from the proscriptions that
prevailed in Virginia against all who did not conform to the
English church. Sonth Carolina received her charter in 1G63, at
a time when horses were beginning to run wild in Virginia. In
1747 thirty horses were advertised in which the size was given,
and the average is within a small fraction of thirteen and a half
hands high, and in this number two were given as fifteen hands,
which was a very large borse for that day. The gait is given in
only twelve cases — ten of which were pacers, one paced and trotted,
and one trotted only.

The chapter on the "Early Horse History of Canada" is very
brief. It was not till the year 1665 that the first horses were
brought over from France, and as they came from ancient Picardy,
right across the Channel from England, it is reasonable to assume
that they partook of the same characteristics as the English horses,
and that many of them were pacers. Another theory of the
origin of the Canadian pacer is the probability of clandestine trad-



16 THE HORSE OF AMERICA.

ing with the New Englanders. Among the many impossible
stories about the breeding of Old Tippoo, the greatest sire of
Canada, the truth seems to come to the surface at last, and there
can be no reasonable doubt that he was got by "Scape Goat."
However much or little dependence can be placed upon many of
the claims of fast pacing stallions coming from Canada, it must
be conceded that some of these claims seem to be well founded,
and that the pacing element has been greatly strengthened by
blood from the other side of the border.

The most striking fact in the history of the pacing habit of
action is its great antiquity. The average Englishman of to-day
and the average American of twenty years ago have been united
in insisting with the greatest vehemence that the pace is not a
natural but an acquired gait, resulting from some injury or mal-
formation. One of the great leaders on that side of the discus-
sion called it "structural incongruity" arising from the breeding
of the "thoroughbred" horse on the "slab-sided" mares of the
West and South, and thought the idea was unanswerable, but
never cited any instances to prove it. Now, the truth is, the
earliest unquestioned evidence we have that horses paced is that
furnished by the chisel of Phidias when he sculptured the horses
on the frieze of the Parthenon at Athens, and that is two
thousand three hundred and thirty-three years old. From the
period when the sons of Japheth turned their attention to horse-
breeding on the fruitful plains and valleys in the regions of the
mountains of Ararat down to this culmination of Greek art, I
have not been able to find any contemporaneous evidence of
the existence of the lateral habit of action; but as we knoAv it
existed more than two thousand years ago, we are justified
in concluding that among the original bands of horses, in their
original habitat, pacers as Avell as trotters abounded. From the
erection of the Parthenon in Athens, the occupation of Britain
by the Eomans, and through all the centuries down to the plan-
tation of the colonies in this country, we have mountains of indis-
putable evidence of the antiquity of the pacer. In its j^lace this
topic will be quite fully discussed.

The relation which the pacer bears to the American Trotting
Horse has for twenty-five years been a topic of much senseless
discussion. In the historical sketch which served as an introduc-
tion to the first volume of the "American Trotting Register," the
attention of the breeding public was first called to this question.



GENERAL VIEAV OF THE FIELD. 17

in a form that was somewhat tentative, and much less didactic
than my judgment suggested, but it served as an introduction to
the study of the question which it foreshadowed. From this
initial paragraph grew the discussion that has been going on ever
since, much of which has been the merest jargon. The essential
oneness of the trot and the pace has been clearly demonstrated by
thousands of experiences. The trotting inheritance that pro-
duces the fast trotter also produces the fast pacer; and the pacing
inheritance that produces the fast pacer also produces the fast
trotter. The trotting-bred John R. Gentry, with his pacing
record of a mile in two minutes and one-half a second, is but a
single instance of very many of the same character. The fastest
harness racers in the world are the pacers, and it seems to make
no difference whether the inheritance of speed comes from the
trotter or the pacer. The subject of the pacer in his diversified
historical relations to the American trotter Avill be found in dif-
ferent portions of this work, and all tending to show the signifi-
cant fact that he is again rapidly attaining the position of honor
among the equine race which he maintained for so many centuries
in the far-distant past.

Early in this century the American Saddle Horse, the real
saddle horse of all time, past and present, began to vanish from
sight. Improved roads and wheeled vehicles superseded him, in
great measure, long before the days of railroads. For business
and travel he was the sole dependence of our forefathers for two
hundred years, and in point of health it is a great misfortune
that he has gone so completely out of use. The liorse that cannot
take the "saddle gaits" and carry his rider without discomfort or
fatigue is not a saddle horse. Springing up and down at every
revolution of the horse is not riding for pleasure, but to avoid
punishment and a torpid liver. In the chapter devoted to his
description, origin, and breeding, it Avill be clearly shown that he
is indebted to his pacing ancestry of the past centuries for his
saddle gaits. As the mere matter of great speed cuts no figure in
tlie qualifications of a saddle horse there is a wide field here for
the production of style and beauty in the breeder's art. The aims
of a goodly number of intelligent breeders are now moving in this
direction, and with the foundations so well laid as they now are,
we can look forward to a grand superstructure. As the breeder
of speed at the trot goes to the horse that can do it himself, and
as the breeder of speed at the gallop goes to the horse that can



18 THE HOESE OF AMERICA.

beat all the others, so the breeder of the saddler will go to the
handsomest and best of all his tribe, and when we reach the horse
that is perfect in symmetry, style, quality, and disposition, he will
be a saddle horse and no questions will be asked about what par-
ticular combinations of blood he may possess. He will be strictly
eclectic, with the one exception of the inheritance of gait, and he
will be the result of wise choosing in his size and structure, and
of skillful handling in his disposition and manners.

The Wild Horse of the plains and pampas of North and South
America was at one time an object of great interest and curiosity
with all our people. No schoolboy of sixty or seventy years ago
knew any lesson in his geography so well as the one which pic-
tured and described the millions of wild horses that roamed over
the Western plains. In the field of imagination and exaggerated
fiction he was a fairly good second to the Arabian — both arrant
humbugs, at least so far as their merits have been tested. In the
past, the question has sometimes been asked, tentatively,
whether the horse may not have been indigenous on this conti-
nent? The paleontologists have undertaken to answer this ques-
tion in the affirmative and have produced the bones of what they
call the horse to prove it. This "horse" is scant fifteen inches
high and he has three, four or five toes on each foot. These toes
resemble "claws" more than anything else. They tell us these
little animals flourished over two millions of years before man was
placed on the earth, and that they are now found imbedded in
the solid rock, say two hundred feet below the general surface.
The outline drawing of horses on works supposed to have been
erected by a prehistoric and lost race, and also the linguistic ques-
tion as to whether any of the oldest Indian tribes had any word
representing the horse, will be fully considered, with that pre-
sented by the paleontologists, in the chapter devoted to the AViLd
Horse. Too much prominence has been given to the horses of
Cortez in his conquest of Mexico, as the progenitors of the Amer-
ican wild horse. He had very few horses in his command, and it
is very doubtful whether any of them escaped the slaughter of
battle and found a home in the wilderness. The horses in the
army of the unfortunate Ferdinand De Soto, that were aban-
doned on the confines of Texas, after his death, became the joro-



Online LibraryOscar WildeLady Windermere's fan, and The importance of being Earnest → online text (page 3 of 61)