CHAPTER XXV. THE SPORTING SPANIEL
I. THE SPANIEL FAMILY.—The Spaniel family is without any doubt one of the most important of the many groups which are included in the canine race, not only on account of its undoubted antiquity, and, compared with other families, its well authenticated lineage, but also because of its many branches and subdivisions, ranging in size from the majestic and massive Clumbers to the diminutive toys which we are accustomed to associate with fair ladies' laps and gaily-decked pens at our big dog shows.
Moreover, the different varieties of Setters undoubtedly derive their origin from the same parent stock, since we find them described by the earlier sporting writers as “setting” or “crouching” Spaniels, in contradistinction to the “finding” or “springing” Spaniel, who flushed the game he found without setting or pointing it. As time went on, the setting variety was, no doubt, bred larger and longer in the leg, with a view to increased pace; but the Spaniel-like head and coat still remain to prove the near connection between the two breeds.
All the different varieties of Spaniels, both sporting and toy, have, with the exception of the Clumber and the Irish Water Spaniel (who is not, despite his name, a true Spaniel at all), a common origin, though at a very early date we find them divided into two groups—viz., Land and Water Spaniels, and these two were kept distinct, and bred to develop those points which were most essential for their different spheres of work. The earliest mention of Spaniels to be found in English literature is contained in the celebrated “Master of Game,” the work of Edward Plantagenet, second Duke of York, and Master of Game to his uncle, Henry IV., to whom the work is dedicated. It was written between the years 1406 and 1413, and although none of the MSS., of which some sixteen are in existence, is dated, this date can be fairly accurately fixed, as the author was appointed Master of Game in the former and killed at Agincourt in the latter year. His chapter on Spaniels, however, is mainly a translation from the equally celebrated “Livre de Chasse,” of Gaston Comte de Foix, generally known as Gaston Phoebus, which was written in 1387, so that we may safely assume that Spaniels were well known, and habitually used as aids to the chase both in France and England, as early as the middle of the fourteenth century.
In the eighteenth and early part of the nineteenth century the Spaniel was described by many writers on sporting subjects; but there is a great similarity in most of these accounts, each author apparently having been content to repeat in almost identical language what had been said upon the subject by his predecessors, without importing any originality or opinions of his own. Many of these works, notwithstanding this defect, are very interesting to the student of Spaniel lore, and the perusal of Blaine's Rural Sports, Taplin's Sporting Dictionary and Rural Repository, Scott's Sportsman's Repository, and Needham'sComplete Sportsman, can be recommended to all who wish to study the history of the development of the various modern breeds. The works of the French writers, De Cominck, De Cherville, Blaze, and Megnin, are well worth reading, while of late years the subject has been treated very fully by such British writers as the late J. H. Walsh (“Stonehenge"), Mr. Vero Shaw, Mr. Rawdon Lee, Colonel Claude Cane, and Mr. C. A. Phillips.
Nearly all of the early writers, both French and English, are agreed that the breed came originally from Spain, and we may assume that such early authorities as Gaston Phoebus, Edward Plantagenet, and Dr. Caius had good reasons for telling us that these dogs were called Spaniels because they came from Spain.
The following distinct breeds or varieties are recognised by the Kennel Club: (1) Irish Water Spaniels; (2) Water Spaniels other than Irish; (3) Clumber Spaniels; (4) Sussex Spaniels; (5) Field Spaniels; (6) English Springers; (7) Welsh Springers; (8) Cocker Spaniels. Each of these varieties differs considerably from the others, and each has its own special advocates and admirers, as well as its own particular sphere of work for which it is best fitted, though almost any Spaniel can be made into a general utility dog, which is, perhaps, one of the main reasons for the popularity of the breed.
II. THE IRISH WATER SPANIEL.—There is only one breed of dog known in these days by the name of Irish Water Spaniel, but if we are to trust the writers of no longer ago than half a century there were at one time two, if not three, breeds of Water Spaniels peculiar to the Emerald Isle. These were the Tweed Water Spaniel, the Northern Water Spaniel, and the Southern Water Spaniel, the last of these being the progenitors of our modern strains.