Oscar Wilde.

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

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the Christian era. If we were able to reconstruct the original
line of the migration of the early English horses, we would, prob-
ably, first find them in ''the land of Togarmah" starting to
market at Tyre, where they were exchanged for supplies needed
in iVrmenia. There they were put on board one of the great
''ships of Tarshish," and when they next toached the land it was
at one of the ports at the southwestern portiou of England, where
they were exchanged for tin and other products of the mines.

In addition to the argument furnished by this known course of
trade between nations and peoples, in prehistoric times, we have
an additional one in the natuivil perpetuation of racial qualities,
extending through many centuries. In reply to some questions
submitted to a friend of mine who was born in Western Persia,
educated in this country, and then returned to the land of his
nativity, I have replies to my questions bearing date of July,
1896. He is located at Oroomiah, not far from the modern line
between Persia and Turkey, and in what may be considered the
very center of ancient Armenia. He is not skilled in horse lore,
but he uses horses a great deal and is a very intelligent observer.
He says that the Persian horses have been greatly overrated and
that the country is full of very ordinary horses. He says that
they are all colors, with bays probably predominating. There is
a great variety of mixed greys, shading into white, and a few that
are dappled. Then there are chestnuts, sorrels, "mouse-color"
(duns), and not many blacks. They are small, as a rule, and a
harness of small size from this country has to be cut down for
them. From this I infer that they are generally under fourteen
hands. On the whole the horses are nicely shaped, have slender,
clean limbs, small ears, and carry the head and tail well up. As a
rule they are great stumblers. With regard to gaits he says that
stress is laid on a rapid walk — a half walk and half trot. In this
country we would call it the "running walk" that may be kept
up for days in succession. In speaking of the pace, my corre-
spondent says: "There are some horses trained to pace, while
some pick it up naturally, that is, are born pacers. The greater
number are natural pacers. Now and then one will find a rapid
pacer, but commonly the pace is a five or six miles an hour gait.
There are some that single-foot naturally, and from birth."

He then says horses are not bred with any care. They are turned
loose in herds and the breeding is such as would naturally occur.

It will be observed that my Persian friend speaks of the differ-


ent colors "of grey, shading into white," which suggests a possi-
ble descent from the famous breed of white Nissaan horses kept
by the great Darius and other Medo-Persian monarchs for racing
purposes. But the striking feature in this description of the
horses of Persia, or more properly, of ancient Armenia, of this
day, is the fact that they are of the same size and colpr and
habits of action as the horses of Britain when first visited by the
Eomans, as well as when they were more minutely described
twelve hundred years later, and as they were at the beginning of
the seventeenth century, and as they still were at the middle of
the eighteenth century. As evidence on these points reference
is made to the chapters on horses of the colonial period that will
follow in their place. In ancient Armenia, as with all pastoral
people of the early ages, horses were turned out to run in herds
and literally left to Mr, Darwin's law of "natural selection and
the survival of the fittest." So it was in Britain to a great ex-
tent, until the eighteenth century, and so it was in the American
colonies until fifty years later; hence the same types and charac-
teristics prevailed and were perpetuated in all these countries.

It is sad to contemplate the present debased and semi-barbarous
condition of the descendants of a great people who for centuries "
stood first among all the nations of the earth in commercial en-
terprise, in learning, and in the arts. The banishment of the
Saracens from Spain in the beginning of the seventeenth century
of our era was in fact the banishment of the descendants of the
Phoenicians who first colonized Spain. The architectural struc-
tures which they left behind them, and which for their marvelous
beauty have challenged the admiration of the world, were not
the work of nomads and barbarians. They were the flashes of
the old PhcBnician taste and genius as exemplified by the de-
scendants of the men whom Hiram sent to construct and decorate
the buildings of Solomon. The Alhambra and some other struc-
tures in Spain are all that we have to remind us of the genius
and grandeur of Phoenicia. Whatever may have been the char-
acter and attainments of the descendants of the colonists at the
time, the change from idolatry to Islamism was a bad one.
Wherever, throughout the world, the teachings of the "Prophet"
have been accepted, whole nations have become intolerant, mur-
derous and brutalized, and the modern Phoenicians are no excep-
tion. They have now lost their identity in the follies and crimes,
of Islamism and we can have no sympathy for them.



The Arabian, the horse of romance — The horse naturally foreign to Arabia —
Superiority of the camel for all Arabian needs — Scarcity of horses in Arabia
in Mohammed's time — Various preposterous traditions of Arab horseman-
ship — The Prophet's mythical mares — Mohammed not in any sense a
horseman — Early English Arabians — the Markham Arabian — The alleged
Royal Mares — The Darley Arabian — The Godolphin Aral)ian — The Prince
of Wales' Arabian race horses — Mr. Blunt's pilgrimage to the Euphrates —
His purchases of so-called Arabians — Deyr as a great horse market where
everything is thoroughbred — Failure of Mr. Blunt's experiments — Various
Arabian horses brought to America — Horses sent to our Presidents — Dis-
astrous experiments of A. Keene Richards — Tendency of Arab romancing
from Ben Hur.

Admiration always leads to exaggeration. This is true in
most of the relations of life, but in our admiration of the horse it
becomes greatly intensified, so greatly indeed that in magnifying
his excellent qualities we find ourselves telling downright false-
hoods about him before we know it. This "amiable weakness,"
as we might call it, is true of our everyday life and our everyday
horses; but when we come to the horse that is the universal ideal
of perfection, everybody seems to lay aside all the restraints of
truth in extolling the superiority of his qualities. The "Arabian
horse" is the ideal horse of all the world. He is the "gold
standard" in all horsedom, with the one important distinction
that the one is real and the other is mythical. Not one so-called
horseman in a million ever saw a genuine Arabian horse, nor any
of the descendants of one; and in all the discussions of the past
three hundred and fifty years it has never been shown in a single
instance that a horse from Arabia, with an authenticated pedi-
gree and tracing as such, has ever been of any value, either as a
race horse or as a progenitor of race horses. The superior quali-
ties of "the Arabian horse," like the superior qualities of "The
Arabian Nights," are purely works of the imagination. There
is just as much truth in the stories of Sindbad the Sailor and


Aladdin's Lamp as there is in most of the literature relating to
the Arabian liorse.

I am fully satisfied that these views of the Arabian horse will
not meet with a ready acceptance by the vast majority of tli&
horsemen of this or atiy other country, but my reasons for pre-
senting them will become apparent as the discussion progresses.
They sjnash too many idols and dispel too many chimeras'of the
brain to be readily accepted. It takes the average man a long
time to get clear of the prejudices in which he was born, and the
first question that will be asked by the doubter is, "Why could
not Arabia have supported a race of indigenous wild horses, as
well as any other country?" Because the horse, wild or tame,
has never learned to dig a well forty feet deep, nor to draw water
after it is dug. Neither has he learned to lay up a store in time
of plenty against a time of famine. The horse could not live in
Arabia without the care of man. And, second, "Why were all the
civilized and semi-civilized 7iations west of Asia supplied with
horses a thousand years before Arabia, when so near the original
habitat of the horse?" It is the first law of our nature to supply
ourselves with what we need. The camel always has been a
necessity to the Arab, not only to carry him and his burdens, but
to furnish nourishment and sustenance to him and his family.
The camel is adapted to the country and the country to the
camel, and no other created animal can fill that place. He is,
literally, "the ship of the desert." The horse in Arabia is a
luxury that can be indulged in only by the rich; hence his owner-
ship is practically restricted to the chiefs of tribes. He is never
used except for display and war. Palgrave, in speaking specially
of the Nejd tribe, says: "A horse is by no means an article of
everyday possession, or of ordinary or working use. No genuine
Arab would ever dream of mounting his horse for a mere peace-
ful journey, whether for a short or a long distance."

When we consider the immeasurable superiority of the camel
to the horse in meeting the wants and necessities of the Arab,
we will not be surprised at the immense herds of the former and
the small numbers of the latter that are bred and reared in that
country. A camel can go four days without water, and under
stress, it is said, a good one can cover the distance of two hun-
dred miles in twenty-four hours. The camel and the country
are suited to each other, while the horse is an exotic, and has no
part in any industrial interest except raiding and robbery. My


attention was first called to this unexpected smallness in the
numbers of Arabian horses in the seventh century, two hundred
and sixty years after the introduction of the original stock from
Cappadocia. The flight of Mohammed from his enemies in
Mecca to Medina took place a.d. 622. There, setting up as a
Prophet, and as holding communications with Heaven, he soon
gathered around him a number who believed in his divine in-
spiration. Understanding the habits and instincts of his follow-
ers, he soon found he must give them something to do. He
called them about him, mounted a camel, and at their head he
was successful in plundering two or three caravans, which greatly
enraged his old enemies at Mecca. Whether the anger of his
enemies was kindled anew because some of the plunder belonged
in Mecca, or whether he merely deprived- the Meccans of the op-
portunity of doing the plundering themselves, the historian fails
to make clear. Whichever may have been the underlying reason,
it led to war. In the first campaign of the Meccans and in the
first battle fought, they far outnumbered the followers of the
Prophet. There were some camels in Mohammed's train, but no
horses. He did not lead the battle himself, but remained in his
tent and promised .his followers that all who fell in battle would
be forthwith admitted into Paradise. They believed the promise,
as millions and millions have believed it since; it inspired them
with a recklessness of life, and they were completely victorious.
The result of this victory was the capture of one hundred and
fifteen camels and fourteen horses, besides the entire camp of the
enemy. In the battle of the next year (a. d. 625) between the
same parties, the forces were much increased on both sides. Sir
William Muir, the historian, informs us that Mohammed had but
two horses in his army, one of which he mounted himself and
took command of his forces. This battle was not decisive. In
subsequent raids he captured many enemies and traded his female
captives for horses with the surrounding tribes, so far as he was
able to obtain them. The next year he had an army of three
thousand men and thirty-six horses, while the enemy had an
army of three thousand men, of whom two hundred were cavalry,
but there was no fighting. The fame of Mohammed as a suc-
cessful and relentless pillager and destroyer had now spread far
and wide, and as a means of escape the chiefs of the larger por-
tion of the tribes of Arabia hastened to tender their allegiance
and obey his commands. Prom this forward, therefore, we must


consider Mohammed as the representative of the whole of Arabia,
in both its religious and military power. The next year his old
enemies, the citizens of Mecca, surrendered the sacred city to
him without a blow, and thus Islam ism became a mighty power
in the world.

It is evident from many sources other than the history of
Mohammed that horses have always been a very sparse produc-
tion in Arabia. Burckhardt, the famous traveler in the East,
journeyed very extensively in Arabia about 1814, and he gives
the result of his observations on this point of numbers as follows:
"In all the journey from Mecca to Medina, between the moun-
tains and the sea, a distance of at least two hundred and sixty
miles, I do not believe that two hundred horses could be found,
and the same proportion of numbers may be remarked all along
the Red Sea." This is in strict conformity with the observations
of other writers, the reasons for which have already been given.

Time out of mind, everybody has heard of the insuperable
difficulty of prevailing upon an Arab to part with his genuine,
high-caste mare for either love or money. He will exjsatiate, as
the story goes, upon "the beauty and graces of his mare as the
light of his household and the joy and playmate of his children,
and above all as she is royally bred he cannot, as a good Moslem,
disobey the injunctions of the Prophet not to sell such mares, but
to keep them forever that their descendants may enrich the
children of the faithful to all generations." If you ask him
more particularly about her lines of descent, he will give you fifty
or a hundred generations and land you safely on the name of the
particular one of the five mares of the Prophet from which she is
descended. To illustrate the sham of all this Major Upton's ex-
perience, in purchasing horses in Arabia for the East India
service, may be cited. It is evident the major understands his
dealers and they understand him. He says: "In the desert we
never heard of Mohammed's mares, nor was his name ever men-
tioned in any way as connected with the Arabian horse." He
says there is no restriction nor difficulty in buying as many mares
as you want, in any part of Arabia. This disposes of the tricky
pretenses of the Arab horse dealer when he is negotiating a sale
to a man without Arabian experience.

Some modern writers make mention of a tradition that still
prevails among some tribes as to the origin of the Arabian horse,
and it is to the effect that their best horses came originally from


Yemen. This tradition is met with in Arabia Deserta, a long
"way from Arabia Felix, of which Yemen is a portion. While
this tradition is of no possible value as evidence, it is suggestive
of what might be unearthed in that strange country. The people
were not nomadic, but agricultural and commercial, and the cities
were rich. The people were well advanced in the arts and com-
forts of civilized life, and in their cities they had many beautiful
temples and palaces. Such a people would of necessity produce
learned men who would leave records of their national history
behind them, and especially that of such an event as the conver-
sion of the whole people to Christianity. Possibly the researches
of scholarly men may yet bring to light more of the facts con-
nected with the embassy from the Emperor Constantius and
the introduction of the Oappadocian horses into Yemen, as re-
lated in the preceding chapters.

There are many other traditions, so called, that are burnished
up and brought out whenever the crafty dealer finds he has a
Richards from America, or a Blunt from England, Avith his mind
already made up that all the best horses of the world have come
from Arabia. To such a customer, with his mind already at high
tension in search for the longest pedigree and the purest blood,
the dealer casts his hook in something like the form following:

"When King Solomon had completed the temple he turned his
attention to supplying his army with horses and chariots. He
searched every nation that had horses for sale and would have
none but the very best that the Avorld could produce. He spent
much of his time in admiring his beautiful horses, and one day
he Avas so thoroughly absorbed that the hour of prayer passed
Avithout his observing it. He felt that this neglect to pray at the
proper time Avas a great sin, and that his horses had led him into
it. He did not hesitate longer, but he at once ordered all his
horses to be turned loose to the public. Some of my ancestors
succeeded in securing six of these mares, and from these six
mares all the good horses of Arabia are descended."

Other dealers are a little more modest in their claims for the
antiquity of the pedigrees of their horses, and generously knock
off about sixteen hundred years, being content to trace to the
mares of the Prophet instead of the mares of Solomon. This
still leaves them with a pedigree only about twelve hundred years
long, which beats our modern romancers in making stud books.
In order to test and select the mares that were worthy of becom-


ing the dams of the best horses, as the story goes, the Prophet
shut up a herd of mares, in plain sight of water, and kept them
there till they were almost famisiied with thirst; and then at a
signal they were all released at once, and when rushing headlong
to the water the trumpet sounds, and notwithstanding their
sufferings they turn and align themselves up in military' order.
In this test of obedience and discipline, it is said, only five of the
mares obeyed the signal (some say only three) and thus the mares
that obeyed, notwithstanding their sufferings, became justly en-
titled to the distinctive and honored name of "The Prophet's
Mares." Another story is told of the particular markings which,
in the Prophet's estimation, indicated the best horses. By one
authority he always selected a black horse with a white "fore-
head," and some white mark or marks on his upper lip. An-
other authority says he always chose a bay horse with a bald face
and four white legs, and so we might go on till we had embraced
every color and every combination of marks, and we would then
find that each "authority" had a horse to sell corresponding with
the Prophet's preferences. Now the fact is that Mohammed was
neither a horseman nor a horse breeder, and the whole tenor of
history goes to show that he neither knew nor cared very much
about horses. In his first pilgrimage to Mecca, after the battles
referred to above, the privilege for which was secured by negotia-
tion, a hundred horsemen, it is said, were started and kept one
day's journey in advance of the main body of pilgrims. The
great numbers following Mohammed on this pilgrimage admon-
ished his old enemies of Mecca of the futility of attempting to
resist his power longer, and they fled from the city during the
continuance of the ceremonies, A year or two later he sum-
moned all the tribes of Northern and Eastern Arabia to follow him
again to Mecca, and they had too lively a sense of their own safety
to disobey. Due time was given for preparation, the rendezvous
was at Medina, and a vast host from all Northern and Western
Arabia congregated there for a purpose that might be to fight,
or it might be to pray. Mohammed mounted his camel and the
word was passed, "On to Mecca. " As against such a multitude
the Meccans saw that resistance was hopeless, and the city was
surredenred without either side striking a blow. Arrayed in great
splendor and mounted on his camel, the Prophet made the req-
uisite number of circuits round the holy place and then entered
and ordered, all the idols -that had been set up there to be de-


:stroyed, and his followers then shouted, "Allah is Allah, and
Mohammed is his Prophet!" Tlius he became master of all
Arabia — and woe to the Christian or the Jew who stood in his
way. Two years afterward he died, and there is nothing in his
life or history to indicate that he ever owned a horse or that he
ever mounted one, except on a single occasion. In the ten short
years of his public life he had something more important on hand
than to determine how to breed horses.

In studying the Arabian horse in the light of what he has done
and what he has failed to do, we are indebted to English writers
for little snatches of experiences extending back for a period of
about two hundred and fifty years. The earliest English writer
who has had anything to say about the Arabian horse was the
Duke of Newcastle, who seems to have known a great deal about
the various types and breeds of horses of his day. During the
period of the Commonwealth it appears he devoted his time, in
the Netherlands, to training horses in the manege of that day.
Erom his experience in this employment he became an expert in
the form, structure, and docility of the different kinds of horses
that he handled. When Charles II. was brought back and placed
upon the throne, the duke also came to his own, and being a
personal friend of the king he became his counselor and adviser
in all matters relating to the improvement of the horses of the
realm. In 1667 the duke published his famous book upon the
horse, in which he speaks right out on any and every question that
he touches. There can be no doubt that he knew more about
horses and horse history than any man of his day. In speaking
of the Arabian horse he says: "I never saw but one of these
horses, which Mr. John Markham, a merchant, brought over, and
said he was a right Arabian. He was a bay, but a little horse,
and no rarity for shape, for I have seen many English horses far
finer. Mr. Markham sold him to King James for five hundred
pounds, and being trained up for a course (race), when he came
to run every horse beat him."

It is generally held that this Markham Arabian was the first of
that breed ever brought to England, and this seems to be estab-
lished by the fact that historians antedating his arrival make no
mention of any Arabian horse before this one, and those follow-
ing always speak of this horse as the first. In speaking of the
jjowers of endurance of the Arabian horse, the duke says: "They
talk they will ride fourscore miles in a day and never draw the


bridle. When I was young I could have bought a nag for ten
pounds that would have done as much very easily." The duke's
masterful knowledge of the subject, as well as his special official
relations to the king, gave him control of whatever was done or
attempted in the direction of improving the racing stock of Eng-
land. Tradition informs us that "King Charles II. sent abroad
the master of the horse to procure a number of foreign horses
and mares for breeding, and the mares brought over by him (as also
many of their produce) have since been called Royal Mares."
It is very doubtful whether any such importation was ever made.
The question has been discussed, from time to time and even
recently, but nobody has ever yet discovered who was "Master of
the Horse," to what country he was sent or what the character of
the mares he brought home, or where he got them. The fair
presumption is that these "Eoyal Mares" were myths and that
they were created merely for the purpose of putting a finish on
certain very uncertii,iu pedigrees, just as a trotting-horse man
would finish a pedigree that he knew nothing about by saying,
"out of a thoroughbred mare." As a matter of course it has
always been assumed that these "Royal Mares" were of distinc-
tively pure Arabian blood. But, if we admit that such an im-
portation was really made, Ave must consider that it was made
under the direction and control of the Duke of Newcastle, the
king's mentor in all horse affairs, and this is sufficient proof that
there was no Arabian blood about the "Royal Mares." As the
size of the English race horse and especially his weight of bone

Online LibraryOscar WildeLady Windermere's fan, and The importance of being Earnest → online text (page 7 of 61)