On Bipeds & Brutes

National Museum of Animals & Society Blog

Lap-dog Poetry

Mexican lapdog

Image via Wikipedia

Our last two posts on the NMAS blog focused on the ever eccentric and inspiring poet Margaret Cavendish (1623 – 1673) and canines in historical portraits. Both fluttering away in my thoughts, they eventually brought to mind the genre of lap-dog poetry that erupted in the 1600’s and 1700’s across Europe and in America too.

As a way to express one’s emotions about, devotion to, or love for their companion canine, Europeans took to the pen (or quill and ink!) with vigor and generated incredibly sincere prose. This was largely due to a societal shift in thinking about animals. The Enlightenment spurred people to consider non-humans and their pain, happiness, individuality, and personalities.

Here are a few poems – some happy, some not so much – for your enjoyment.

Epitaph On A Favourite Lapdog

I never barked when out of season;
I never bit without a reason;
I ne’er insulted weaker brother;
Nor wrong’d by force nor fraud another.
Though brutes are plac’d a rank below,
Happy for man could he say so!

— Thomas Blacklock (Scottish, 1721-1791)

On the Death of a Lady’s Dog

Thou, happy creature, art secure
From all the troubles we endure.

— Unknown (Virginia Gazette, 1775)

An Elegy on a Lap-dog

Shock’s fate I mourn; poor Shock is now no more,
Ye Muses mourn, ye chamber-maids deplore.
Unhappy Shock! yet more unhappy fair,
Doom’d to survive thy joy and only care!
Thy wretched fingers now no more shall deck,
And tie the fav’rite ribbon round his neck;
No more thy hand shall smooth his glossy hair,
And comb the wavings of his pendent ear.
Yet cease thy flowing grief, forsaken maid;
All mortal pleasures in a moment fade:
Our surest hope is in an hour destroy’d,
And love, best gift of heav’n, not long enjoy’d.

Methinks I see her frantic with despair,
Her streaming eyes, wrung hands, and flowing hair
Her Mechlen pinners rent the floor bestrow,
And her torn fan gives real signs of woe.
Hence Superstition, that tormenting guest,
That haunts with fancied fears the coward breast;
No dread events upon his fate attend,
Stream eyes no more, no more thy tresses rend.
Tho’ certain omens oft forewarn a state,
And dying lions show the monarch’s fate;
Why should such fears bid Celia’s sorrow rise?
For when a lap-dog falls no lover dies.

Cease, Celia, cease; restrain thy flowing tears,
Some warmer passion will dispel thy cares.
In man you’ll find a more substantial bliss,
More grateful toying, and a sweeter kiss.

He’s dead. Oh lay him gently in the ground!
And may his tomb be by this verse renown’d.
Here Shock, the pride of all his kind, is laid;
Who fawn’d like man, but ne’er like man betray’d.

— John Gay (English, 1685 – 1732)


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