CHAPTER V. THE NEWFOUNDLAND

The dogs which take their name from the island of Newfoundland appeal to all lovers of animals, romance, and beauty. A Newfoundland formed the subject of perhaps the most popular picture painted by Sir Edwin Landseer; a monument was erected by Byron over the grave of his Newfoundland in proximity to the place where the poet himself hoped to be buried, at Newstead Abbey, and the inscription on his monument contains the lines so frequently quoted:

  “But the poor dog in life the firmest friend, 
   The first to welcome, foremost to defend, 
   Whose honest heart is still his master's own, 
   Who labours, fights, lives, breathes for him alone.

   To mark a friend's remains these stones arise: 
   I never knew but one, and here he lies.”

Robert Burns, also, in his poem, “The Twa Dogs,” written in 1786, refers to a Newfoundland as being an aristocrat among dogs. Doubtless, other breeds of dogs have been the subjects of popular pictures and have had their praises sung by poets, but the Newfoundlands have yet a further honour, unique amongst dogs, in being the subject for a postage stamp of their native land. All these distinctions and honours have not been conferred without reason for no breed of dogs has greater claim to the title of friend of man, and it has become famous for its known readiness and ability to save persons in danger, especially from drowning. It is strong and courageous in the water, and on land a properly trained Newfoundland is an ideal companion and guard. Innumerable are the accounts of Newfoundlands having proved their devotion to their owners, and of the many lives saved by them in river and sea; and when Sir Edwin Landseer selected one of the breed as the subject of his picture entitled, “A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society,” he was justified not only by the sentiment attaching to this remarkable race of dogs, but also by the deeds by which Newfoundlands have made good their claim to such great distinction, and the popular recognition of this, no doubt, in some degree added to the great esteem in which this painting has always been held.

The picture was painted in 1838, and, as almost everyone knows, represents a white and black Newfoundland. The dog portrayed was typical of the breed, and after a lapse of over seventy years, the painting has now the added value of enabling us to make a comparison with specimens of the breed as it exists to-day. Such a comparison will show that among the best dogs now living are some which might have been the model for this picture. It is true that in the interval the white and black Newfoundlands have been coarser, heavier, higher on the legs, with an expression denoting excitability quite foreign to the true breed, but these departures from Newfoundland character are passing away—it is to be hoped for good. The breed is rapidly returning to the type which Landseer's picture represents—a dog of great beauty, dignity, and benevolence of character, showing in its eyes an almost human pathos.

Some twenty-five to thirty years ago there was considerable discussion among owners of Newfoundlands in this country as to the proper colour of the true breed, and there were many persons who claimed, as some still claim, that the black variety is the only true variety, and that the white and black colouring indicates a cross-breed. Again Landseer's picture is of value, because, in the first place, we may be almost certain that he would have selected for such a picture a typical dog of the breed, and, secondly, because the picture shows, nearly half a century prior to the discussion, a white and black dog, typical in nearly every respect, except colour, of the black Newfoundland. There is no appearance of cross-breeding in Landseer's dog; on the contrary, he reveals all the characteristics of a thoroughbred. Seventy years ago, therefore, the white and black variety may be fairly considered to have been established, and it is worthy of mention here that “Idstone” quoted an article written in 1819 stating that back in the eighteenth century Newfoundlands were large, rough-coated, liver and white dogs. It is clear, also, that in 1832 Newfoundlands in British North America were of various colours. Additional evidence, too, is provided, in the fact that when selecting the type of head for their postage stamp the Government of Newfoundland chose the Landseer dog. Therefore, there are very strong arguments against the claim that the true variety is essentially black.

However that may be, there are now two established varieties, the black and the white and black. There are also bronze-coloured dogs, but they are rare and are not favoured. It is stated, however, that puppies of that colour are generally the most promising in all other respects.