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Stories Before 1850. 0179B: Anon., The Dog of Knowledge

Author: Anon.
Title: The Dog of Knowledge; or, Memoirs of Bob, the Spotted Terrier: Supposed to be written by Himself ... By the Author of Dick the Little Poney
Cat. Number: 0179B
Date: 1801
1st Edition: 1801
Pub. Place: London
Publisher: J. Harris (Successor to E. Newbery), at the Juvenile Library, Corner of St. Paul's Churchyard
Price: 2s 6d
Pages: 1 vol., xii + 183pp. and three pages of advertisements
Size: 13 x 8 cm
Illustrations: Engraved frontispiece and vignette on title-page
Note: Bound with 0179A

Images of all pages of this book

Page 102 of item 0179B

Introductory essay

The Dog of Knowledge, along with Dick the Little Poney (0178, 0179A) which was by the same author and with which it is bound, is part of a tradition of animal stories well established in British children's literature by the end of the eighteenth century. The Hockliffe Collection contains several other examples - see for instance Dorothy Kilner's The Life and Perambulation of a Mouse (1784: 0159), E. Smyth's The History of Tabby (0218), Elizabeth Sandham's The Adventures of Poor Puss (1809: 0204), Mary Pilkington's Marvellous Adventures; or, the vicissitudes of a cat (1802: 0197) and Cato, or Interesting Adventures of A Dog of Sentiment (1816: 0082). The preface to the first edition of Dick the Little Poney might be acknowledging this fact in asserting the difference between this book and a 'horse of knowledge, which some years ago instructed or amused so many of the human race' - a reference, perhaps, to an earlier book on the same theme. (Alternatively, the 'horse of knowledge' referred to might be a circus act of the kind popular in the early nineteenth century.) The opening lines of The Dog of Knowledge certainly allude to the burgeoning tradition of animal stories. 'The love of fame seems natural to everything that breathes', it begins, 'Else how can we account for several sad dogs of the human race, of both sexes, publishing their disgraceful memoirs' (pp.1-2).

Bob, the eponymous 'Dog of Knowledge', was born as the runt of a litter in the household of a nobleman. A servant was ordered to drown the dog, but he chose to tease a beggar who had been soliciting alms by donating the puppy to him. The beggar accepted the gift and looked after Bob. This beggar had descended from a respectable farming family, but had fallen on hard times due to his poaching proclivities. His life-story ushers into the text the first outburst of social critique of which Sarah Trimmer was to complain in her Guardian of Education: she thought the book 'in some instances too satirical', which made the work rather unsuitable for children (Trimmer 1802-1806: I, 327). Trimmer, the arch-conservative, might have been offended by the attack on the game laws which occurs as early as chapter two. The narrator criticises their severity, or rather the extent to which a tyrannical landlord can abuse them, as he tells of how the beggar was menaced with prosection for his poaching, and his family threatened with eviction, forcing him to flee. Away from home, he contracted a fever, and was consigned to a hospital by the 'selfish humanity' of the parish-officers, so that he was ever after 'an incurable cripple ... no longer able to work' (pp.16-17). He is forced to part with Bob when an inn-keeper demands the dog as payment for not telling the nobleman of the whereabouts of the beggar.

The examination of the corrupt manners of society continues with a description of Bob's next master - a professional beggar who buys the dog from the inn-keeper. This man pretends to be either a veteran of the army or navy, for he had briefly been in both before deserting, and he uses props such as a fake wooden-leg, a sling or a uniform to wheedle alms from passers-by (p.23ff). He also trains Bob to steal items for him, to spell out names using playing cards with letters printed on the reverse, and to dance, fence and perform gymnastics. Such an education, teaching physical as well as mental accomplishments, Bob asserts, is superior to that afforded to most human children - 'the young of human kind are cramped in all their corporeal energies by a false and effeminate system of education, equally destructive of private happiness and public utility' (p.36). The charlatan beggar exhibits Bob at various fairs as a 'dog of knowledge', that is to say one capable of performing tricks, such as playing cards and spelling out names. He soon attracts a great deal of notice, and he is taken to perform in various towns, at a university and, eventually, in London. The beggar-turned-impresario becomes rich, but just as he is planning a tour of the provinces, he is recognised as a deserter from the navy and press-ganged. The propriety of the press-gang, Bob insists, 'I never could comprehend, in a country where man are free, and where it would be more politic to allure them to their duty by rewards, than to enthral them by force' (p.62).

Bob is taken from his master when he is press-ganged, and a soldier takes our hero into his possession. Soon after Bob accompanies his new owner's regiment to Jamaica where he sees 'many apparently human beings, who were doomed to the severest daily toil; while task-masters urged them on with whips, when fainting Nature began to flag'. Bob is disgusted by slavery, and congratulates himself on being born a dog, 'and not a negro, as these poor creatures are called'. He speculates, with heavy irony, that they cannot be human-beings, for 'Man surely could never tyrannize over his fellow-man without compunction, nor dare to injure him with impunity' (pp.70-71). His master dies of a tropical fever, and Bob passes into the hands of an officer who returns with him to Britain. There Bob is given to a young lady, a coquette we soon discover, whom the officer had been courting. This lady is much criticised by Bob for her affectations, lack of candor and her dissipated life. An entire chapter repeats a section of her journal, where she describes a stay in Southampton and the Isle of Wight. Anxious about young readers picking up bad habits, presumably, the author has italicised all the mis-spelled and ungrammatical words (begins p.96).

A fire in this lady home provides the opportunity for Bob to be stolen. The kidnapper is intent on killing the dog and selling his hide. Only Bob's supplicating expression saves his life, and he passes into the possession of an unprincipled lawyer. The lawyer presents Bob to one of his clients, Squire Allworthy, a Gloucestershire gentleman. Here Bob is trained to be a hunting dog, and he grows to love his new life. He saves his master when Squire Allworthy's coach falls into a disused mine, and this episode, rather in the manner of Jack London's The Call of the Wild (1903), Eric Knight's Lassie Come-Home (1940) or, in some respects, Mary Martha Sherwood's The Little Woodman, and his Dog Cæsar (0214), provides the most gripping section of the book.

The final chapter, justified on the basis that Squire Allworthy enjoyed reading such things to his household, contains several anecdotes of particularly noteworthy dogs. One story takes place in the midst of the French Revolution, 'A few days before the overthrow of the dreadful Robespierre' (p.163). It takes an uncompromisingly anti-Jacobin stance. Although it contains no directly political comments, its horror of, contempt for, the Revolution is manifest throughout the setting employed for what is actually a fairly familiar narrative. Robespierre, the reader learns in passing, is 'the iron scourge of a tyrant', and delights in the suffering he inflicts. Property is seized without regard for law, and many innocent men and women are imprisoned in 'a living tomb' (p.164). 'Monsieur R.' is one such guiltless victim of the Revolution. He has been condemned to death by the Revolutionary tribunal, and his family has fled to avoid the same fate. His dog remains loyal however, and though shut out of its master's prison, it waits for him at the gate and constantly seeks to gain admittance. At last the gaoler's compassion gets the better of his fear of being though complicit in the amelioration of the suffering of an enemy of Robespierre, and the dog is allowed to see its master. It returns every day and provides some solace to the wretched prisoner. At last Monsieur R. is to be executed, but his dog will not leave his master while he lives, nor after his death. He keeps his master company until the final moment of his life, then guards the corpse, and finally the grave. It even chews through the cords with which the gaoler tries to restrain it. The dog refuses food, and its last act before it dies is to dig itself towards its master's body. Many other forms of cultural expression employed the Revolution as a back-drop in the 1790s and early 1800s, but this was not a technique much used in children's literature. Presumably children's authors were reluctant to introduce their readers to politics in this way. The force of the strictures against Jacobinism in The Dog of Knowledge is therefore very surprising, and represents a highly unusual incursion of political matter into children's literature.

Sarah Trimmer was correct when she called The Dog of Knowledge a very satirical book. It attacks slavery, the press-gang, the game laws and a number of other institutions. Although these were reasonably frequent targets for attack in fiction designed for adults, such social critique is unusual in children's literature. Perhaps this is what confused Trimmer over the intended audience of the book: 'If we had not learnt from the dedication, and from the prefactory advertisement,' she wrote, 'that this Book was written for young people, we should have ranked it among Novels'. In view of its satirical tendencies, it is perhaps surprising that Trimmer was happy to praise the work. She applauded it for its 'animated and spirited language' and observed that it 'furnishes many useful hints for the conduct of human life'. It was better than most novels, she concluded, for 'it is entirely free from the faults which render those books so dangerous', namely 'of giving romantic representations of human nature and filling the young mind with false ideas of love and conjugal happiness'(Trimmer 1802-1806: I, 327-28). The fact that dogs do not marry, it seems, saved The Dog of Knowledge from Trimmer's ire.

Trimmer, Sarah, The Guardian of Education, A Periodical Work, London: J. Hatchard, 1802-1806

Trimmer, Sarah, The Guardian of Education, A Periodical Work, London: J. Hatchard, 1802-1806