Friday, 21 November 2008

Famous Fox Terriers No. 1; Thomas Hardy's Dog

I was interested to read recently that the author Thomas Hardy owned a very mischievious fox terrier called Wessex (or Wessie for short). Related to Caesar, Edward VII's terrier, he was bought by Hardy's second wife, Florence, for security at their house in Dorchester, Max Gate.

Many of the biographies on Hardy comment on the terrier's foul temper and his distinct lack of table manners or discipline. His crimes include shredding the trouser legs of several guests, 3 nips at the postman, terrorising the servants and taking a chunk from the leg of author and champion of good causes, John Galsworthy. Wessex did have one or two favourites though and these included T E Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), a close friend of the Hardys.

When Florence first brought him home in 1913 Hardy initially took a dislike to the dog and was recorded by their cook, Mrs Stanley, as saying to his wife "two things that you have brought into this house that I dislike are the dog Wessex and Mrs Stanley's child". Later he seems to have changed his mind and became very attached to Wessex, taking him for car rides, giving him an eiderdown to lie on in his study and feeding him goose and plum pudding at Christmas until he was sick.

Wessex is often mentioned in letters from Florence to their friends: in 1924 to she writes to E M Forster: "By the way Wessie has been clipped by the vet: his mouth well tied with tape, and myself gripping his collar and terribly alarmed. He nearly burst with rage, but looks much improved."

In another letter, this time to Rebekah Owen, she wrote: "Wessie sends his love. He is really a good dog - but all of his kind are fighters - more or less. My husband actually kisses him every night before he is carried off to bed. Perhaps he won't always fight. Today he met a curly brown water spaniel and had a great frolic with him. But he hates smooth haired fox terriers because one attacked him once - one with a black face. And he hates black faces."

J M Barrie, dramatist and novelist, reports that Hardy once showed him a letter from a company that had presented him with a radio. Apparently they were initially delighted to find out that he liked it, only to be disheartened to learn from another source that the radio was in fact bought for Wessex.

Once, Barrie and Hardy took Wessex to a dress rehearsal by the Hardy Players for a local production of "Tess". He was well behaved until the time came for one of his favourite radio programmes "Children's Hour". He howled and kicked up such a fuss that Hardy had to take him home. Hardy was also known to get up early in the morning just to turn the radio on for Wessex's listening pleasure.

Sir John Squire says this about one of his visits to Hardy: "Once as we were leaving the dining room Wessex leapt up and and began to tug at his trouser leg. "What on earth's up" I asked. "Oh", said Hardy, "he won't let me leave the room until he's had a few minutes of the wireless". He turned on the machine and we sat down again, while the dog, on his haunches, with his tongue hanging out, delighted in his daily dose of Bach. "Mind you", added Hardy, as we rose again, "he doesn't like the talks!""
Lady Cynthia Asquith described Wessex as "the most despotic dog guests have ever suffered under". On a visit to the Hardy's home in Dorset, Max Gate, with J M Barrie, she says "Wessex was especially uninhibited at dinner time, most of which he spent not under, but on, the table, walking about unchecked, and contesting every single forkful of food on its way from my plate to my mouth".

After his death in 1926 Hardy wrote 2 poems about him, "Dead 'Wessex' the Dog of the Household" and "A Popular Personage at Home".

Hardy recorded his death in his notebook on 27th December: "Our famous dog Wessex died at half past six in the evening. 13 years of age." The following day he writes "Wx buried" and "Wx sleeps outside the house for the first time for 13 years".
In a letter to his friends, the Granville Barkers, he says "We miss him greatly, but he was in such misery with swelling and paralysis that it was a relief when a kind breath of chloroform administered in his sleep by 2 good-natured Doctors (not vets) made his sleep an endless one - A dog of such strong character required human doctors!"

Hardy's wife Florence was also very upset, writing in a letter to Sydney Cockerell "Of course he was merely a dog, and not a good dog always, but thousands (actually thousands) of afternoons and evenings I would have been alone but for him, and had always him to speak to. But I mustn't write about him and I hope no one will ask me about him or mention his name".

Wessex was buried in the pet cemetary in the gardens of Max Gate. Hardy designed the headstone himself and his original drawings are annotated "Portland Stone. Edges and back may be left rough- letters to be cut deep". It is said that they still reside with Grassby Stonemasons, the local firm of monumental masons who executed the design which reads:

"The Famous Dog Wessex
Aug 1913-27 Dec 1926
Faithful, Unflinching."

Wessex's grave


Anonymous said...

really enjoyed your post on wessex and look forward to more about the famous wires.

ellen in maine

amy said...

Well, I'm new at this and I wrote my comment, but then needed to sign up. So I'm not sure if I'll need to rewrite it or not. The short of it is that I enjoyed your little history of a WFT. Thomas Hardy's dog. Reads just like typical terrier!
How is Jackson?
Be Well, Amy


just stumbled into your blog and love it. we have lakeland terriers so we're practically related!! will be back to see what you're blogging about!! :)

Anonymous said...

Great post, I loved the poetry too. Wessex sounded quite a character, and not very well disciplined either!

Agatha and Archie said...

What a lovely post..PL2 is a little leaky reading it.....We think he sounds like a great kid....Love Agatha and Archie 2 very little naughty wires perhaps very much like Wessex

Poopsie aka Blue said...

Glad to see you got this article out, as really enjoyed reading it.
Am a Hardy fan but didn't know about WFT Wessex till you told me about him when we met up.
He was quite a character!
Loved the old photo's too.


Eric said...

That was the bestest post...did Jackson help? Tee hee! Wessex seems um..sort of familiar..must of been a looooooong past relative.

Wiry wags, Eric who hates dogs with black faces too and would love to walk on the dining room table at mealtimes.


How I enjoyed this post, what a great read. I live not far from where Barrie was born. My dad had a smooth fox terrier as a boy 70 years ago and still talks about him frequently, I'd love to have met Wessex! :0)

dearprudence said...

i'm afraid it has taken me forever to get back to you :(

i have NOT finished the very last episode of upstairs downstairs but that is all. i have seen every episode in its entirety. i have watched each one dozens of times but that last one, i can't seem to finish. i can't bear to part completely with my friends and i know what happens and i do not want to see it. so sad. i am far too attached.

and as far as how i found it? it always came on pbs at strange hours and it looked interesting. and one day my dad bought the box set for my mom for christmas and we watched it as a family and became very attached. i moved away to go to college and found the box set again at a movie rental close out sale and have watched nothing since then. my family has always introduced me to older, historical programs. upstairs downstairs, all creatures great and small, bleak house, 1940s house, etc. those are some of my favorites.

my favorite is all creatures great and small but i can't find those for more than a million dollars.

this is the cutest idea for a blog. i love it. i think fox terriers are the cutest, sweetest doggies. and i love seeing old photos of them being owned by famous authors. fabulous.

Unknown said...

What a wonderful post!
Wessex sounds like atypical terrier, and the attitude to grooming familiar!!
Also the way he wormed his way into the hearts and home of those around him!

Louise @ EdwynUK

Angela said...

This is GREAT! I have read a few books on dogs and their famous/historical owners. Love this one.