Friday, 31 July 2015

The Salon Digest

As I head for a theatrical jaunt to London, do enjoy a look back at the week just passed!

Music Monday: François-Hippolyte Barthélémon
Some relaxing melodies to soothe!

1759 - The Wonderful Year
A year of victories from the pen of Antoine Vanner.

A Modern Girl’s Guide to Historical Living
Join Miranda Reading for a turn around the garden!

Tragedy Personified
Sarah Siddons plays Lady Macbeth.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Tragedy Personified: Sarah Siddons

The term "showbiz legend" is much bandied about these days when it comes to the world of entertainment, sometimes with less reason than others. Sarah Siddons, the first lady of the Georgian stage, was truly deserving of that lofty title. From humble beginnings she rose to the pinnacle of her craft, leaving her adoring fans gripped with Siddons fever as they flocked to her performances in droves. Famed as a tragedian, she will forever be associated with one particular role, that of Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth.

Sarah Siddons as Lady Macbeth by Henry George Harlow, 1814
Sarah Siddons as Lady Macbeth by Henry George Harlow, 1814

When the celebrated Mrs Siddons played the lady of Dunsinane for the first time on 2nd February 1785, she was just 29 years old. With her tall, commanding figure and strikingly handsome looks Siddons made an instant and lasting impact; she would return to the role multiple times over the four decades that followed, making the part entirely her own. 

The majestic actress was known for the passion and fervour of her performances, bringing a deep understanding to each role as she practised the method of her day. Theatrical legend has it that, so intense was her portrayal and so blazing the look in her eyes, swooning ladies in the audience had to be carried from the theatre in order to recover their composure. The essayist, William Hazlitt, famously wrote that Siddons was "tragedy personified", a sentiment with which her fans certainly agreed. 

In fact, away from the stage her life contained tragedy enough to inspire a thousand such performances. Her marriage to William Siddons ended in separation and five of their seven children predeceased their mother. She channelled her unhappiness into performances of startling intensity, focusing particularly on the famous hand washing scene. Siddons broke with tradition by setting down Lady Macbeth's candle to instead concentrate on repeated, hypnotising motions as she washed the blood from her hands again and again.

Sarah Siddons by Thomas Gainsborough, 1785
Sarah Siddons by Thomas Gainsborough, 1785

In her essay, Remarks on the Character of Lady Macbeth, Siddons shares her thoughts on the role and the reasoning behind her own stylistic choices. She displays a rich understanding of Lady Macbeth, whom she considers to be "made by ambition, but not by nature, a perfectly savage creature". The essay makes for fascinating reading, offering deep insight into this most remarkable actress and the way in which she approached her roles. 

Georgian theatre is occasionally depicted as an almost ridiculous place, with overblown performances and overheated thespians but in Remarks on the Character of Lady Macbeth we are privy to share what would appear to be a modern approach to the text, with Siddons examining dialogue, movement and psychology in her efforts to inhabit the role.

After a long and celebrated career, Sarah Siddons gave her farewell performance in the role that she had made her own at the Covent Garden Theatre on 29th June 1812. The reaction of the audience to the sleepwalking scene was so rapturous that they gave an ovation that seemed as though it might never end, forcing the curtain down. After a short delay in which the adoring applause continued, the curtains opened again to show Sarah sitting on stage in her own clothes, no longer in character. Once the crowds finally fell silent she gave a farewell speech of almost ten minutes in length, the actress as overcome with emotion as the audience who adored her.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

A Modern Girl’s Guide to Historical Living

Miranda Reading is a constant delight on Twitter, where she share her fabulous tales as Basbleuette. I am so excited to welcome her to the salon today to share her Modern Girl's Guide to Historical Living!


Grace under Pressure: A Modern Girl’s Guide to Historical Living
By Miranda Reading, King’s College London (@basbleuette)

By day, I’m researching my D.Phil at King’s College London. By night, I have a secret life, which makes even the most hard-bitten academic bite through their pencil. Yes, dear reader, I’m a historical re-enactor. The traditional reaction from academic historians is often similar to that experienced when confessing to a secret fondness for naughtiness with sheep. ‘But it’s not realistic!’ they cry. ‘It’s all about dressing up and drinking ale and no one ever dies during battle re-enactment!’ Death in the pursuit of making history has a glorious lineage (just ask Richard II, General James Wolfe or Admiral Horatio Nelson) but modern health and safety, like the Geneva Convention, tends to frown on shooting the French. Thankfully, as a woman of the eighteenth century, my preoccupation tends to be with ballrooms not bullets and no one has, as yet, died from executing a particularly difficult minuet - although hoop-related injury was one of the reasons that led to their banishment from Bath Assembly Rooms for country-dances in the mid-eighteenth century. So, in the spirit of true confession, my name is Lydia and I’m the Duchess of Richmond.

Re-enactment is a very British tradition and you can (to coin a phrase) be whoever you want to be, an Elizabethan lady or maid at Kentwell Hall, a Cavalier or Roundhead with the Sealed Knot or a Corporal in the Home Guard at the Severn Valley Railway 1940’s weekend. We Brits, it seems, can’t get enough of spending our weekends as someone else and it’s a reflection of both an interest in and a desire to understand more about our past. Most re-enactors put a huge amount of work into ensuring historical accuracy in their dress, manner and actions. In the popular American Civil War re-enactment world, some Confederate soldiers march barefoot, forage off the land and starve themselves to attain a correct post-1863 style authentic leanness of look, earning themselves the soubriquet ‘hardcores’ for their dedication. The rest of us - I really can’t give up my hairdryer at a house party - are FARBS (noun) or Farbies, standing for ‘Far Be It From Authentic’ for not always going the whole hog. The world of re-enactment can occasionally go too far and as I said above, no one really wants to shoot the French. At least no more than a flesh wound.

My own forays into re-enactment came through my study of historic dance of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, such as the minuet, contra-danse, cotillions and quadrilles. I wanted to be able to learn and perform the dances, as well as just reading about them. I quickly discovered that my skills could be practised at so-called ‘Playford’ balls (after The English Dancing Master by John Playford, one of the first commercially-produced dance manuals in 1651). So, with my somewhat reluctant husband in tow, off to Bath I went to dance at the Bath Minuet Society Georgian Ball and I’ve been an enthusiast ever since. Such was my desire to really try to experience the past that I branched off into doing my own events. I attend two or three public re-enactments each year and also organise two private balls and an annual four-day Regency House party, which this year celebrates its tenth anniversary.

Immersing yourself in this manner is not just a way to add some interest to your weekend if adultery and morris-dancing are unavailable. As a historian, re-enacting helps to connect you with the past via your research as you strive to make the event as authentic as you can manage. It encourages genuine scholarly research into matters such as patterns of speech, dance, social customs, etiquette, costume, food and other material preoccupations. There are many rich archival collections covering the eighteenth and nineteenth century and from the letters scribbled so long ago a wealth of detail about the day-to-day business of public sociability can be ascertained, transported into a modern day re-enactment and experienced first-hand. 

For a 21st century female, just putting on an eighteenth or nineteenth century dress changes the way you move. You soon realise that you can’t stride out like a modern liberated woman in her trousers, sit with your legs crossed or apart, eat much whilst wearing stays or easily pass through a doorway without banging your hair or your hoops. This physical restriction can make you appreciate how confining many of the fashions of the past were. Gentlemen didn’t have it much easier – my husband has often complained about how hot it is to wear three layers of clothing to dance in the height of summer or when he has to dance in the heeled shoes and heavy periwigs of the eighteenth century. Your research will suddenly come to life both materially and physically, as you clothe yourself correctly and use the speech, physicality, movement and manners of the part you are playing.

In 2015, the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo has been a focal point for re-enactment. I hosted a ‘Duchess of Richmond’s Ball’ in June and I wasn’t the only would-be Duchess filling a ballroom during those weeks with many events held nationwide. The ball was many months in the planning, even for a relatively small group of thirty of us. The easiest past was a venue and we chose to have an outdoor ball in my own suburban garden with a marquee on stand-by in case of rain. Those who criticise the cost of such events or who are dazzled by the aristocratic excesses of the eighteenth century can often forget that public sociability does not have to be on a grand scale or take place in a stately home. Gathering together as friends in an inn or a private house was the motor that drove the growth of subscription Assembly Rooms from the early eighteenth century. This is demonstrated as the event begins and the guests arrive as their historic persona. I perform introductions in the correct manner and guests chatter about historic matters of the particular day and mind their manners, adopting the formal politeness which the eighteenth century elevated to an art.

Participation and imagination is key to a good re-enactment event in both demeanour and appearance. My guests dress as authentically as they can. Unlike some in the dance fraternity, I won’t criticise if someone uses a fabric or colour out of period. Not everyone has the budget or the time to make things perfectly authentic and it’s important to remember that re-enactment is supposed to encourage people to study history, not scare them off by criticizing their trimmings or hats! Many of the guests make their own outfits and, for those with the ability to sew, there are a variety of period patterns and online resources such as Colonial Williamsburg to offer help and advice. If you can’t sew, there are many period seamstresses, such as Marion May or Mrs Papendick. Such costumiers have become more numerous over recent years as interest in historic dance and re-enactment has increased.

Turning to the programme of dances, researching historical paper dance notations is one of the more interesting tasks. I research dances from notations at archives such as the British Library or Cecil Sharp House in London and also note their music or match them with well-known music from the period the particular ball is set in. Most dance historians recreating dances may tweak them slightly to fit in a step or a pattern or set them to different tunes much as a dancing master of the period would have done, adjusting to local tastes and capabilities.  Using these methods, historians such as Chris and Ellis Rogers have done much to make dance re-enactment more popular and accessible. Every ball needs music and you may be fortunate enough to engage a group of period musicians, such as the wonderful Green Ginger. There are also many recordings available, some of which will include notations. 

Historic dance does, of course, have to be learnt. My own method, as I’m dealing with a smallish group of people, who are reasonably experienced in the basic figures and patterns is to walk through the basic terminology and steps at the start of the ball and then to call the dances as they are performed, providing a reassuring vocal presence for the nervous or the new. Of course, nobody is perfect and like poor Mr Collins at the Netherfield Ball plenty of people go wrong, especially after imbibing some punch! However, this usually adds to the experience.

No ball is complete without supper! I’m fortunate to have the help of my chef, Oleg Knippov, who when not engaged in playing a fiery Russian exile is a lecturer at a British university. His interest is in historic cooking, researching, replicating or reviving recipes. His cheat is to use modern ovens and cooking equipment, although he would be perfectly capable of using a spit and an open fire. Our banquet consisted of spiced honey chicken, salmon-en-croute with hardboiled eggs, poached salmon, salamagundi, celeriac remoulade, chicken liver pate, cheeses, cold meats and a variety of desserts including syllabub, pineapple sorbet, Eton-mess ice cream, apple and honey cake, sherry trifle, mincemeat cake, shortbread and scones. After the ball, at around 10pm, we were treated to a white soup, beloved of all Regency hostesses, which is a light chicken and almond broth. We also produced period punches and cordials, such as a spiced blackcurrant cup and a strawberry punch. All of the dishes he produced came from recipes popular in 1815. So it was that after a fine time eating, dancing and socialising, flaming torches lit the shadows, before carriages – well, cars and trains – removed the guests back to modern life, until our next foray. 

As the recent Austenland film demonstrated, there is more and more interest in re-enacting the past and enjoying the romantic aspect of dandies and duchesses. Re-enactment can be legitimately criticised in that people often opt to play ‘nice’ characters, who don’t get dirty and wear pretty dresses and this can make us forget that for many people, the past was, as Hobbes famously described in Leviathan whilst musing  about the State of Nature, ‘nasty, brutish and short’. But for all this, I remain a firm defender of the pastime, which has improved my abilities as a scholar and hopefully enhanced my understanding of the periods of history that interest us. And let us not forget, it’s all jolly good fun – by far the best way to drink champagne is when it has been handed to you by a footman. Critics may sneer, but historical re-enactment of all kinds is here to stay, helped along by a dedicated band committed to bringing the past to life. I hope that every time I lace up my dancing shoes that in some small way, I contribute to this noble cause. As the American Declaration of Independence said in 1776 ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’. What indeed, could make anyone happier, than the pursuit of the pleasures of our ancestors?

This post copyright © Miranda Reading, 2015.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

1759 – “The Wonderful Year”

It is an honour and a privilege to welcome Antoine Vanner to the salon today to discuss 1759, a most remarkable year. Antoine has been a friend to the blog from its earliest days and I am thrilled to share his wonderful work with you!


When I was twelve I found in our local library a leather-bound “Children’s History of the World” in two volumes, each about two and a half inches thick. They dated from the 1890s (the summit of human progress might have been assumed to be Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee) and by being unashamedly British in outlook would probably arouse the indignation of any politically-correct educationalist today. But I loved them! I spent my school summer-holidays of 1958 reading them cover-to-cover and starting all over again when I got to the end. Several episodes still linger in the memory for the vividness of the writing, notably the Roman tactic of boarding in the naval battles of the First Punic War, the Diet of Worms and the Dutch Revolt (the “Sea Beggars” received especially sympathetic treatment). Knowing that the books dated from the 1890s I was however surprised by the chapter entitled “The First World War.”

The description was indeed an accurate one, for the Seven Years War of 1756 – 1763, was the first to be fought on a global scale. It was longer indeed that seven years, for hostilities had opened between Britain and Britain in North America in 1754, triggered by an incident in Pennsylvania involving a 22-year old officer called George Washington. Two years later the conflict took on an even wider European dimension. The British-led alliance included Prussia, Portugal and the smaller German states, including Hanover, and was opposed by a French alliance with the Austrian Empire, Spain, Sweden and Saxony. Russia was initially allied with Austria but changed sides halfway through. Vast in geographical scope, it was a war in which, in Thomas Babington Macaulay’s phrase, European enmities ensured that “black men fought on the coast of Coromandel and red men scalped each other by the great lakes of North America.”  

The consequences of this war are still with us today – not least as regards the status of Canada – and it confirmed Britain as a world power. A constant reminder of this today is "Heart of Oak, the official march of Britain’s Royal Navy, of the Royal Canadian Navy and of the Royal New Zealand Navy. "Heart of Oak" started however as the most successful popular song of its time, not only because of its memorable tune but for the robust and confident humour of the lyrics. The title refers to the strongest wood at the centre of the oak, from which Britain’s sailing navy was constructed. The words were written by the greatest actor of his time, David Garrick, and the music was composed by a Dr. William Boyce. Its first public performance was on New Year’s Day 1760, in the Theatre Royal in London’s Drury Lane. It was sung by Samuel Thomas Champnes, one of Handel's soloists, and was part of a pantomime written by Garrick entitled "Harlequin's Invasion". 
The Battle of Quiberon Bay, 21 November 1759: the Day After by Richard Wright. (National Maritime Museum, Greenwich)
The Battle of Quiberon Bay, 21 November 1759: the Day After by Richard Wright. (National Maritime Museum, Greenwich)
Giving “Johnny Foreigner” a bloody nose has always been popular in Britain – especially if he happens to be French – and “Heart of Oak” commemorated a quick sequence of unprecedented triumphs which satisfied this liking to the limit. The opening stanza is an uncompromising statement of pride:
Come, cheer up, my lads, 'tis to glory we steer,
To add something more to this wonderful year;
To honour we call you, as freemen not slaves,
For who are so free as the sons of the waves?

And the chorus kicks in:

Heart of Oak are our ships,
Jolly Tars are our men,
We always are ready: Steady, boys, Steady!
We'll fight and we'll conquer again and again!

The song was a sensational popular success and it must have been splendid fun to join a whole audience belting it out in a packed theatre. But what did the “Wonderful Year” mentioned refer to? The clue is in the date of the song’s premiere, January 1st 1760, for it looks back on the events of the preceding months and 1759 had been the “Year of Victories”.  The sequence of these victories by land and by sea ran as follows:

1st August 1759: At Minden, in Central Germany, an Anglo-German army smashes a French army, leading the French Chief Minister, the Duc de Choiseul, to say afterwards "I blush when I speak of our army. I simply cannot get it into my head, much less into my heart…

18th and 19th August:  In the Battle of Lagos, off the Portuguese coast, the Royal Navy decisively defeats a French fleet attempting to pass from the Mediterranean to the French Atlantic coast to join naval units gathering there to support an invasion force intended for Britain.

13th September 1759: British attempts to capture Quebec, the centre of French power in North America, culminate in a 15-minute battle on “The Plains of Abraham” outside the city following a stealthy amphibious landing and a surprise approach via an “impossible” route. The French evacuate the city and never regained the initiative. French Canada is effectively lost forever.

20th November 1759:  In the Battle of Quiberon Bay the French naval forces gathered to cover the intended invasion of Britain were smashed by a Royal Navy fleet commanded by Sir Edward Hawke. The locale was on the French Atlantic coast, near St.Nazaire, where rocks and shoals were as great a hazard as the enemy. Hawke nevertheless took his force close inshore in appalling weather and inflicted a crushing defeat that ended all French hopes of invasion.

The last verse of “Heart of Oak” reflects not just pride in these victories but confidence in the future:

We still make them feel and we still make them flee,
And drub them ashore as we drub them at sea,
Then cheer up me lads with one heart let us sing,
Our soldiers and sailors, our statesmen and king!

The confidence was not misplaced. Another triumph followed three weeks after the premiere:

22nd January 1760: At Wandiwash (today known as Vandavasi, in Tamil Nadu) in the main French army in India was comprehensively beaten by a British force. French ambitions in India were dealt a blow from which they never recovered and the battle confirmed Britain as the new power on the sub-continent.

Nor was this the end of major British victories. On 14th August 1762 Havana in Cuba was captured from the Spanish, who also lost Manilla in the Philippines on 10th October 1762.

The war was ended by the Treaties of Paris and of Hubertusburg in early 1763.  Both Britain and France returned much of the territory they had captured. (A great “What If?” of history is what the consequences would have been of Britain retaining Havana and Manilla). There was a major exception however: France was so keen to regain the sugar islands of the Caribbean which it has lost to Britain during the war that it was willing to cede all of its territory in mainland North America in return for getting them back. These tiny sugar-producing islands were regarded of immeasurably greater economic value than Canada, described memorably by Voltaire as "Quelques arpents de neige - Some acres of snow". The decision was as short-sighted as the later Russian sale of Alaska.

Today, at any major national occasion at which the Royal Navy is represented, “Heart of Oak” still inspires pride. And one of the middle verses sums up a sentiment not dead even today:

We ne'er see our foes but we wish them to stay,
They never see us but they wish us away;
If they run, why we follow, and run them ashore,
For if they won't fight us, what can we do more?

Thank you, David Garrick and William Boyce!

About the Author

Antoine Vanner has lived long-term in eight countries and has travelled extensively in every continent except Antarctica. He has particularly relished his exposure to developing countries where there are few certainties as regards security or social stability. This gave him a particular interest in situations of moral ambiguity, as is reflected in his adventure novels set in the Late-Victorian Era.

Visit him at

Written content of this post copyright © Antoine Vanner, 2015.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Musical Monday: François-Hippolyte Barthélémon

François-Hippolyte Barthélémon (Bordeaux, France, 27th July 1741 – Christ Church, Sussex, England, 20th July 1808) 

To ease you into the week, here is a little something by Barthélémon; you can read of his remarkable life by clicking here.

Friday, 24 July 2015

The Salon Digest

I am off for a theatrical jaunt to London this weekend, but I hope you will find something in the selection below to entertain!

Give a Man a Good Ship and He Can Do Extraordinary Things
The seafaring Katherine Bone takes us aboard HMS Victory.

Alessandro Besozzi, Oboist
The beautiful music of an Italian master...

Bounce: The Devoted Great Dane of Alexander Pope
Mimi Matthews shares a tale of one man and his dog.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Bounce: The Devoted Great Dane of Alexander Pope

It's my pleasure to welcome Mimi Matthews and her tale of Pope's faithful hound, Bounce. 


Bounce: The Devoted Great Dane of Alexander Pope

“Histories are more full of examples of the fidelity of dogs than of friends.” -Alexander Pope, 1709.
Alexander Pope and Bounce  by Jonathon Richardson
Alexander Pope and Bounce by Jonathon Richardson
Alexander Pope, famed 18th century poet and satirist, was a lover of dogs all of his life.  He preferred large dogs as his writing occasionally provoked threats of violence from those he attacked with his acerbic wit.  Frail and stricken at a young age with a form of tuberculosis that had affected his spine, he was incapable of defending himself in an actual physical altercation and depended on his canine guardians to protect him.
His favorite dog was a giant, female Great Dane by the name of Bounce.  Pope was a small man, only four feet six inches tall, and when he stood facing Bounce, they nearly met eye to eye.  Any other dog so large might have overpowered such a diminutive master, but Bounce was extremely well-mannered.  She was also, despite her size, the ideal dog for a writer.  While Pope worked, Bounce lay quietly at his feet.  While Pope entertained, Bounce socialized with the guests and happily received their every attention.  And when Pope went for walks, Bounce accompanied him (as did a pair of loaded pistols).
A View of Alexander Pope's Villa, Twickenham, on the Banks of the Thames, 1759.  by Samuel Scott, RA
A View of Alexander Pope’s Villa, Twickenham, on the Banks of the Thames by Samuel Scott (1759).
Bounce was even featured in one of Pope’s poems, Bounce to Fop: An Heroic Epistle from a Dog at Twickenham to a Dog at Court.  Written as if Bounce is addressing a spaniel named Fop, it is a satire of courtiers and court life.

Bounce to Fop

To thee, sweet Fop, these Lines I send,
Who, tho’ no Spaniel, am a Friend.
Tho, once my Tail in wanton play,
Now frisking this, and then that way,
Chanc’d, with a Touch of just the Tip,
To hurt your Lady-lap-dog-ship;
Yet thence to think I’d bite your Head off!
Sure Bounce is one you never read of.

FOP! you can dance, and make a Leg,
Can fetch and carry, cringe and beg,
And (what’s the Top of all your Tricks)
Can stoop to pick up Strings and Sticks.
We Country Dogs love nobler Sport,
And scorn the Pranks of Dogs at Court.
Fye, naughty Fop! where e’er you come
To f—t and p—ss about the Room,
To lay your Head in every Lap,
And, when they think not of you — snap!
The worst that Envy, or that Spite
E’er said of me, is, I can bite:
That sturdy Vagrants, Rogues in Rags,
Who poke at me, can make no Brags;
And that to towze such Things as flutter,
To honest Bounce is Bread and Butter.

While you, and every courtly Fop,
Fawn on the Devil for a Chop,
I’ve the Humanity to hate
A Butcher, tho’ he brings me Meat;
And let me tell you, have a Nose,
(Whatever stinking Fops suppose)
That under Cloth of Gold or Tissue,
Can smell a Plaister, or an Issue.

Your pilf’ring Lord, with simple Pride,
May wear a Pick-lock at his Side;
My Master wants no Key of State,
For Bounce can keep his House and Gate.

When all such Dogs have had their Days,
As knavish Pams, and fawning Trays;
When pamper’d Cupids, bestly Veni’s,
And motly, squinting Harvequini’s,
Shall lick no more their Lady’s Br—,
But die of Looseness, Claps, or Itch;
Fair Thames from either ecchoing Shoare
Shall hear, and dread my manly Roar.

See Bounce, like Berecynthia, crown’d
With thund’ring Offspring all around,
Beneath, beside me, and a top,
A hundred Sons! and not one Fop.

(Full text of Bounce to Fop HERE.)

Federick, Prince of Wales, 1735
Frederick, Prince of Wales, 1735.
by Jacopo Amigoni
(Royal Trust Collection)
Bounce did have “thund’ring Offspring all around,” most celebrated of which was the pup that Alexander Pope gave as a gift to the Prince of Wales (who was one of Bounce’s great admirers).  The pup came with a collar inscribed with Pope’s legendary lines:
I am His Highness’ Dog at Kew; Pray tell me Sir, whose Dog are you?”
But Bounce was much more than a literary muse.  One night, she actually saved Alexander Pope’s life.
In the evenings after Pope retired to bed, it was Bounce’s habit to remain downstairs in front of the fire, soaking up the heat from the dying embers.  On one particular evening, however, everything changed.  Earlier that day, Alexander Pope had hired a new valet.  Bounce took an abnormal dislike to the man and, that night, after the valet helped Pope into bed, Bounce abandoned the fireplace, crept up into her master’s bedroom, and crawled under the bed to sleep.  Pope was awakened much later by the sound of someone in his room.  When he peered out from behind his bed curtains, he saw the dark figure of a man approaching with a knife in his hand.
Physically incapable of defending himself, Pope could do nothing but scream for help.  Hearing the cries of her master, Bounce charged out from under the bed and knocked the assailant to the ground.  She held him there, barking until the rest of the household was awakened.  The armed intruder turned out to be none other than Pope’s new valet, who had intended to kill Pope, rob him, and flee into the night before his crime was detected.
A chamber dog with a gilded collar, Brandenburg (Germany), 1705 by Johann Christof Merck
Chamber Dog with a Gilded Collar by Johann Christof Merck, 1705.
(Ancestor of the modern Great Dane – of a type similar to Bounce)
Because of the loyalty and bravery of Bounce, Alexander Pope was unharmed.  Today, Pope is generally acknowledged as one of the greatest poets of the English language.  Even those unfamiliar with his larger works, like his mock epic The Rape of the Lock, know such sayings as: “To err is human; to forgive, divine” and “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”
Bounce died while in the care of John Boyle, 5th Earl of Orrery.  Alexander Pope wrote to Lord Orrery after her death on the 10th of April, 1744.  His letter read, in part:
“I dread to enquire into the particulars of the Fate of Bounce.  Perhaps you conceald them, as Heav’n often does Unhappy Events, in pity to the Survivors, or not to hasten on my End by Sorrow.  I doubt not how much Bounce was lamented: They might say as the Athenians did to Arcite, in Chaucer,
Ah Arcite! gentle Knight! Why would’st though die,
When though had’st Gold enough, and Emilye?

Ah Bounce! ah gentle Beast! why wouldst thou dye, 
When thou hadst Meat enough and Orrery?”

According to multiple biographers, the above couplet (published posthumously and known now as Lines on Bounce) was the last that Alexander Pope ever wrote.  He died less than two months later on the 30th of May, 1744.  I cannot help but feel that the news of Bounce’s death did, in fact, hasten on his “End by Sorrow.”
Alexander Pope,Brass Memorial Plate, St. Mary's, Twickenham.
Alexander Pope,Brass Memorial Plate, St. Mary’s, Twickenham.
Thus concludes another of my Friday features on Animals in Literature and History. To learn more about Great Danes like Bounce or to adopt a Great Dane of your own, I encourage you to visit the following sites:
(*Author’s Note: According to some biographers, Alexander Pope had at least four successive dogs named Bounce.  The Bounce in this article, however, is the female Bounce whose pup was given to the Prince of Wales in 1738 and who died in 1744.)

Works Referenced or Cited in this Article
Stall, Sam. 100 Dogs Who Changed Civilization: History’s Most Influential Canines. Philadelphia: Quirk, 2007.

Author Biography: 

Mimi Matthews is an author of contemporary and historical romance.  She is a member of Romance Writers of America and The Beau Monde and is currently under contract with a New York literary agency.  In her other life, she is an attorney with both a Juris Doctor and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature.  She resides in Northern California with her family – which includes an Andalusian dressage horse, a Sheltie, and two Siamese cats.


If you enjoyed this post, Mimi posts articles on the subject of animals in literature and history every week at!

Written content of this post copyright © Mimi Matthews, 2015.