Oscar Wilde.

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

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another pretentious book in Avhich he maintained that the trot-
ting horse Dexter was a "thoroughbred." With these tAVO
shining lights in the learned professions writing books on the
horse and pronouncing this family or that individual "thorough-
bred" without knoAving the meaning of the term, Ave should not
deal too severely Avith uneducated men for following their exam-


pie. The minister and the lawyer evidently had always heard
the term "thoroughbred" applied to what men considered the
best, and when they were discussing their favorites which they
considered the best, they naturally called them "thoroughbreds"
without knowing what they were saying. This was more than
twenty years ago, and was really the popular conception of the
meaning of the term at that time. Not one man in a thousand
then knew that the term had any other meaning than the in-
dividual superiority of the animal, and that it applied only to the
pedigree, or concentration of blood in the veins of the animal,
was quite foreign to the jDopular conception. After the found-
ing of Wallace's Monthly the light began to dawn on this as well
as on many other questions, and to-day the true meaning of the
term is very generally understood.

To constitute a "thoroughbred". of whatever variety or species
the animal must possess a certain number of uncontaminated
crosses of his own breed, and this applies to all kinds of domestic
animals that are bred for special uses or qualities. There is no
law determining the number of these uncontaminated crosses,
except the law of usage. The cattle men, I think, were the first
to establish a rule on this subject, in this country, and they did
it on enlightened and scientific jarinciples. It was found in ex-
perience that the danger of atavism, or throwing back to some
undesirable ancestor, was diminished in the ratio of the number
of pure crosses through which the animal was descended. At
two crosses it was found that there were many reversions to some
type outside of the breed; at three crosses there were not so
many; at four there were very few, and at five reversions had
practically disappeared. While some required another cross the
majority drove the stake at the fifth generation, proclaiming
thereby that an animal bred through five uncontaminated gen-
erations of ancestors was free from the dangers of reversion, and
hence was "thoroughly bred." This is the formula and this is
the principle, and it applies with equal propriety to the colt, the'
calf, the pig, the puppy, the chick, or the birdling. In this;.
phrase "thoroughly bred" Ave have the origin, reason and mean-
ing of the term "thoroughbred." The formula of this rule, if
tabulated, would show two parents: next, four grandparents;
next eight great-grandparents; next sixteen ancestors and next
thirty-two, making in all sixty-two ancestors, all of which must
be "thoroughly bred." This rule of breeding is not limited to

484 THE HOUSE of amebic a.

the running horse alone, but applies to all the varieties of our
domestic animals; and whenever the point is reached at which
the danger of reversion has been overcome the animal is "thor-
oughly bred," and the term "thoroughbred" applied just as
properly to one kind of domestic animal as to another.

The question here arises as to whether the American Trotting
Horse can be so thoroughly bred as to be entitled to be ranked as
a thoroughbred trotter? This question is already affirmatively
answered when we say the rule "applies to all the varieties of
our domestic animals." This is the general fact, but the trot-
ting horse has a qualification, already determined, that serves as
a fixed starting point in giving him rank. The standard as
originally adopted and honestly administered Avas the mighty
engine that wrought the revolution in breeding the trotter.
It fixed a certain qualification that had to be complied with be-
fore an animal could be admitted to standard rank, and tliat
qualification was in brief to either perform or produce a per-
former that could cover a mile in 2:30. It excluded no strains
of blood, but it admitted the animals only that had fully demon-
strated the ability to trot or to produce trotters. The standard
is now antiquated, and far behind the speed of the trotters, which
is a clear demonstration of the wisdom of its construction and
adoption, but to this topic I will refer at another place more at
length. With the standard, then, and the unmistakable evidence
it furnished of the possession of what we Avill call "trotting
.blood," we have a more definite and satisfactory starting point
than can be claimed for any kind or variety of domestic animal.
With this demonstrated ability to trot fully established, we can
commence to count the generations of standard animals in a trot-
ting pedigree, and if we find five generations of ancestors, with
every animal standard bred, Ave can safely and intelligently say
the animal is "thoroughly bred" as a trotting horse. With these
sixty-two progenitors all legally established as standard animals,
who will say this is not a thoroughbred trotting horse? He is not
only thoroughbred, but he is more distinctly and completely
thoroughbred than any other domestic animal, because the fifth
generation of his ancestors, and the fourth and the third and the
second and the first have all proved that they are either trotters
or the producers of trotters. No other breed has ever been
established on so good a foundation, for they have fairly won
their initial honors by what they have done. But this is one


degree higher and embraces one generation more than the for-
mula usually prescribed as necessary to constitute the rank of
thoroughbred. Five "generations of ancestors" do not include
the representative product of those generations. The product
would be the sixth generation, which is one more than the gen-
erally accepted usage requires. An animal representing five
generations of standard trotting blood, complete and without
contamination, is "thoroughly bred" and is justly entitled to be
classified as a "thoroughbred trotting horse." At this point of
breeding it is considered that the danger of reversion is practi-
cally eliminated, and hence this distinctive classification. At the
time of this Avriting (1897) there should be, in this country, quite
a number of youngsters fully entitled to rank as thoroughbreds.

All intelligent breeders have long been aiming at this point,
not merely for the name "thoroughbred," but for the greater
certainty of uniformity in producing what they want — the
ability to perform; and the quality of these thoroughbred trotters
must be determined by the ability to perform and the quality of
each and every one of the ancestors. If each and every one of
the four or five generations of ancestors was able to go out and
win himself or herself, there could hardly be a doubt that the
colt could do the same, but some of those ancestors may be in the
standard merely from reflected honors, which are good, but not
a crucial test of superiority in the individual. There is nothing
like the animal that "has gone out and done it" himself, over
and over again, and when we sit down to the study and compari-
son of pedigrees in the thoroughbred rank we find great differ-
ences in the quality of the lines of descent. The reflected honors
of an uncle or an aunt are of much less value than the honor of
a direct ancestor. Whiler the blood of all the ancestors is tested
blood, the individuals may not all have been tested, and hence
are less certain in transmitting the true trotting instinct. While
the standard has done wonders in teaching the true art of breed-
ing, like all other human devices it has its imperfections. Jnst
like the runner, the trotter may be strictly thoroughbred, and
yet in taking after some of the imperfections of one or more of
his ancestors, he may be of but little value as a performer. This
truth has been verifled in a thousand experiences in the runner, and
it is just as liable to be verified in the trotter. Hence the supreme
importance of looking well to the qualities and capacities of
every animal in the inheritance.


At the very inception of the idea that the trotting horse could
be bred and developed into a breed, an opinion prevailed every-
where that it conld not be done. The theory that speed at the
trot came from speed at the gallop was universally held and
advocated. In 18G8 I made a tour among the breeders and
horsemen of Tennessee and Kentucky, for the purpose of gather-
ing information about both runners and trotters. Those States
were then beginning to pull themselves together after the war.
At General Harding's, among others, I was shown a large, heavy-
boned colt, and the General remarked that if he did not make a.
race horse he would make a capital stallion to take to the West
and breed on trotting mares. At Balie Peyton's I was shown a
great big, coarse horse that had run some races and won in very
slow time, and that was unsound at many points. lie was over
sixteen hands high, and had very bad limbs. Mr; Peyton re-
marked that ''he was too big for a race horse, but he would do
well in the West as a trotting sire." This was the remark every-
where as applied to big colts that couldn't run. About the same
time Mr. Joseph Cairn Simpson, then in the employ of a sport-
ing paper in New York, as an editorial writer, expressed his
sorrow that Hambletonian did not have a thoroughbred cross,
close up, and his opinion that such a cross Avould have made him
a much greater sire. Thus, East and West, North and South, the
opinion prevailed everywhere that the v/ay to breed the trotter was
to go to the runner. This universal belief, wholly without founda-
tion, soon generated the cry, "more running blood in the trotter,"
and the instincts of all the rogues in the country were quickened to
make their pedigrees conform to the popular belief of what was best.
This resulted in a period of fictitious claims, for when a man had a
colt out of a mare of unknown breeding the rule was to say, "dam
thoroughbred," and if the owner was unusually conscientious
and knew the breeding for one or two crosses, he would give them
correctly, but seldom failed to tack on two or three thoroughbred
crosses that were wholly fictitious. After all my years of experi-
ence with the pedigrees of horses, it is my deliberate and candid
opinion that no word in the English langwage has been so much
abused as the word "thoroughbred." It has been the medium
of more deceptions and downright falsehoods than any other
word in the vocabulary. For many years it was the word above
all other words that the unscrupulous jockey employed to defraud
his inexperienced victim. And if tl:ere had been no strong hand


to take the improper and dishonest use of the word by the throat
there would be no breed of trotters, and the whole business of
breeding and developing the trotting horse would be to-day just
where it was thirty years ago. The old, threadbare stock argu-
ment was in everybody's mouth, to the effect that ''Messenger
was an English thoroughbred and he founded a family of trotters,
hence any other English thoroughbred could do the same thing
under the same circumstances." When this ancient formula
was submitted to the test it was found to be fatally unsound at
both ends, as has been shown in another chapter. Messenger
was found to be far short of being thoroughbred in his inherit-
ance; forty other English thoroughbreds had been in competition
with him and bred upon the same mares, yet no other English
thoroughbred, in the experiences of a hundred and fifty years,
ever founded a family of trotters. The two ablest advocates of
"more running blood in the trotter" that this country has pro-
duced, Mr. Charles J. Foster and Mr. Joseph Cairn Simpson, when
challenged to produce an English thoroughbred horse that had
founded a family of trotters, conceded the whole contention by
naming Bishop's Hambletonian and Mambrino, both sons of
Messenger and the principal channels through which Messenger
had founded his family of trotters. This knocked all the noise
out of the famous formula, and instead of the braying of an ass
we have heard nothing since on this subject but an occasional
and very feeble squeak of a mouse.

In the earlier portion of the period when the American Trotter
was beginning to assume the shape and character of a breed, the
term "thoroughbred," meaning English racing blood, was ad-
hered to with astonishing tenacity, as an indispensable element
in the breeding of the trotter. A few men of clear and independ-
ent minds commenced to study the question in the light of ex-
periences, and they were not long in reaching the truth; but, as a
rule, the less a man knew of the question, whether a breeder or
a writer, the more blatant and vocifei'ous he was in maintaining
that all trotters were dependent for their speed on the blood of
the "thoroughbred English race horse." When Maud S. made
her four-year-old record and astonished the world, the acclama-
tions of this class went up in tremendous volume pointing to the
Boston blood of her grandam as the element that did it. Now,
it never has been shown, and it never can be shown, that there
was a single drop of Boston's blood in her veins. Besides all


this, Boston was not a thoroughbred horse, for neither his sire
nor his grandam was thoroughbred. A curious phase of the in-
terest attached to the mere word "thoroughbred" was brought
out by a Catholic priest, in New Jersey, in a very cranky and
ill-natured letter addressed to the editor of Wallace's Monthly
protesting against the frequent use of the term '"running-bred"
instead of "thoroughbred." Priests are generally educated men,
but this poor man struck out into a field where he was entirely ig-
norant. A horse with two or three immediate and direct running
crosses may be properly and truthfully called "running bred,"
because that blood predominates in his veins, but to be justly
and truthfully called "thoroughly bred" he must have at least
five direct and distinct crosses, and each and every one of them
pure and without any contamination from any other blood. As
an illustration of what results from this definition of the word
"thoroughbred," we may take the very cream of our old Ameri-
can racing families and not one in fifty is "thoroughly bred."
American Eclipse was far short of being thoroughbred, even if
we admit that Messenger was thoroughbred. Timoleon, the
greatest son of Sir Archy, had an impossible and untruthful
pedigree on the side of his dam. His great son Boston was short
and deficient on both sides, and with these taints how could he
get the great blind horse Lexington and make him a thorough-
bred? These horses were distinctively "running bred," but not
technically "thoroughbred." It is not to be presumed the priest
was angry because I preferred not to use a word that conveyed
an untruth and to use one that told the exact truth, for he was
not qualified to judge which was true and which was not true,
but like hundreds of others he feared the value of his property
might be affected by the refusal to apply the term "thorough-
bred" to some supposable cross in some of his pedigrees.

"More running blood in the trotter" was a "fad" that has
been completely extinguishedby all the experiences of later years.
It was a freak that never had any foundation either in nature or
in reason. No animal can transmit to his posterity qualities and
capacities which he has not inherited, or which he does not
possess by acquirement. This is a rule which seems to be per-
fectly plain to the comprehension of everybody, and in observa-
tion and experience it proves itself true every day of the year.
To breed a horse that can go fast at the trotting or pacing gait
we must go to the horse and the blood that has gone fast at one or


the other of these gaits. It seems like a needless work to
expend an}' time or space on what is self-evident in all human ex-
periences. A few years ago I offered a money reward, of sufficient
amount to justify some labor in a search, to any one who would
report to me any thoroughbred running horse, with the proofs,
that had ever made a trotting record of a mile in three minutes,
and there was no response. Some years later I renewed the
offer, doubling the amount of the former offer, and still there
came no response. I regret now that I did not make the offer
for a mile in four minutes instead of three, for I very much
doubt whether there ever was a thoroughbred horse able to trot
a mile in four minutes. What is the use, then, of giving further
attention to the consideration of the value of thoroughbred run-
ning blood in the trotter?

But after conceding that the instinct to stick to the trot and
the step of the trotter must come from the trotter, the advocates
of "more running blood in the trotter" plant all their heavy
guns on the proposition that running blood is needed to give the
trotter more courage, endurance, and heauty of form. In all
the past years we have had so many grand panegyrics on the will
power and undying courage of the "courser of the desert" that
they have become threadbare and have an "ancient and fish-like
smell," and we would prefer to exchange them for something
more recent and practical. When we go to a race meeting and
see so many contests at various distances less than a mile, a few at
something over a mile, and all these merely single dashes, we
naturally and justly conclude that the distance of ground to be
covered in each contest is adjusted to the courage and stamina
of the racers. I cannot conceive of any fairer criterion by which
to determine the measure of gameness and pluck of running
horses than simply to consider the distance chosen, and that for a
single dash. Trainers and owners know just where each horse will
quit, if hard pressed, and they will not enter him in any distance
beyond the point where they know his courage will fail. "With
the data of distances for these single dashes already fixed for
the accommodation of horses with different degrees of staying
qualities, and after making a liberal allowance for age and lack
of condition, we seem to have a solid foundation for a safe con-
clusion that the crucial test of the speed of the average race
horse fails him before he reaches the first mile-post.

When the trotter starts out for his summer's campaign he has no


choice as to the length of his races, and he is not looking about for
single dashes of four, five, six or seven furlongs, but enters the field
boldly and throws down the glove to all the best strains of trot-
ting and pacing blood. Every race will be mile heats, best two
in tliree or three in five, and it often requires six, seven or eight
heats before the victor is declared. This experience is repeated,
week after week, during the whole season. Such a weekly ex-
perience as this, continued through twenty consecutive weeks,
would probably destroy the best and stoutest running horse now
living. This is the test to which the trotter is subjected, and
no man can say it lacks in severity in determining his qualities
as a race horse, in his stamina, his courage and his gameness.
In touching this point I will here take the liberty of entering my
protest against what I consider the unnecessary severity of this
test. We want all these tests, and from the standpoint of the
breeder we cannot progress without them, but we want them to
stop short of injury to the animal. When a contest is drawn out
to six, eight or ten heats, it not only becomes cruel as a sport,
but it is liable to inflict irreparable injury to the soundness of
the animal. Unsoundness, either external or internal, is liable to
result from all such abuses. This is a dominant fact, and while
we may not be able to see the injury with the eye, we are likely
to see the evil results in the progeny. Animals of the kind most
likely to be subjected to this over-severity of test are the hope
of the future as producers, and by all means wise and j)ossible we
should seek to preserve them in their pristine soundness and
vigor. As breeders we cannot afford to let them go without
development and test, neither can we afford to impair or destroy
their producing qualities, in the test. This can be done only by
shortening the race; not the distance of ground, but the number
of heats that can be trotted. With an inflexible rule that not
more than five heats should be trotted in any race, and that at
the conclusion of the fifth heat the money should be divided ac-
cording to th3 places of the contestants, I would not be particular
as to v/hether the race was for the best two in three, or the best
three in five. The invariable results have been that in long-
drawn-out contests of many heats there have been bargains and
combinations for or against certain horses, and all managed by
and in the interest of the so-called "speculators." If this were
done the combinations of the gamblers would be checkmated,
the cruelty of the sport would be eliminated, and our best horses


would come through the campaigns ready and fit to propagate
their species.

In breeding for a particular j)urpose or qualification all experi-
ence goes to show that the elements entering into the new crea-
ture must he carefully selected as jjossessing the quality that we
seek to propagate. Nobody would think of breeding a running
mare to a trotting horse if he was seeking to breed a running
colt. No thoughtful and intelligent man would think of breed-
ing a running horse upon a trotting mare if he were seeking to
breed a trotting colt. The runner to the runner and the trotter
to the trotter has been demonstrated ten thousand times as the
right way. The cross-bred or half-and-half-bred animal may be
something of a trotter or something of a runner, doing neither
well; and this uncertainty never can become a certainty as to
which it may be till you try him. The evil of half-and-half
breeding does not cease with the life of the animal, for the divi-
sion in his own inheritance will manifest itself in his progeny for
generations, or till it is bred out. But, strange as it may seem,
there are still a few old men living who, from pride of opinion ad-
vanced in their younger days, still maintain that trotting speed
mustcome from the "thoroughbred" and "point with pride" to the
great horse Palo Alto as the complete illustration of their belief.
In relation to the breeding of Palo Alto I will here tell a little
story, premising that I neither accept it as true nor reject it as
false, for I know nothing about it. The late Mr. AVilliam II.
Wilson, of Cynthiana, Kentucky, was in many respects a remark-
able man. He was full of energy and push, and his brain seemed
to teem with formidable ideas, chiefly relating to his prospects,
and the management of his own business. He was intelligent in
horse matters, and very well informed on local horse history. He
did a great deal of work for me in the way of straightening out
tangled skeins, and in tracing obscure pedigrees. In this way I
came to know Mr. Wilson very well, and as I never found him
wrong on these questions I came to place great confidence in his
word and his judgment in all pedigree matters that he had in-
vestigated. Some time about 1889, probably, he asked me to in-
vestigate the pedigree of Dame Winnie, the dam of Palo Alto,
for, he said, he had every reason to believe she was not by Planet,
but by a trotting-bred horse that he named, but that name has
escaped me. I replied that I had not time then, but I would
think about it. Some months afterward he was again in my


office and he again urged the investigation. My reply was that
there were some very upright and honest men in Kentucky as
well as some great rogues, and if I were to undertake to investi-
gate this pedigree the rogues could get forty men, if so many
were necessary, for a bottle of whisky or a half-dollar a head,
who could remember just what it was necessary to remember,
and forget just what it was necessary to forget in order to prove
that the mare was by Planet. I recalled my experience with
suborned evidence in the past, and knew just what I might,
expect in the future, and so I had concluded to make no more
investigations in certain portions of Kentucky until I had an

Online LibraryOscar WildeLady Windermere's fan, and The importance of being Earnest → online text (page 51 of 61)