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A Scene At Abbotsford
From "The Keepsake" page 261, Frederic Mansel Reynolds - 1829

A Scene At Abbotsford


Tun general idea of this spirited representation of animals and ancient armour is taken from a small apartment, at Abbotsford, near Melrose; which, from the peculiar tastes of the owner, as an admirer of animals and a collector of antiquities, often exhibits similar scenes.

The large dog, which forms the principal figure in the group, is the portrait of a very fine animal of the rare species called the deer, or sometimes the wolf, greyhound. The race was carefully preserved by the late MacDonnell of Glengarry, whose zeal for preserving the sports and manners of the ancient Highlanders, will be long remembered amidst his native mountains. In order to prevent that degeneracy which always attends breeding animals in-and-in, as it is expressed by agriculturists, Glengarry was in the habit of crossing the breed of the highland greyhound, with the blood-hound from Cuba, and the Spanish sheep-dog ; renowned for its size, strength, and courage. Maida, which was the name of the dog in question, was of this last breed, his sire being a dog from the Pyrenees, of the largest size, and his dam, a very fine highland greyhound. While in his prime, he was perhaps as perfect a beauty of his kind as ever was seen ; and from his size, aspect, and symmetry of form, recalled to mind the noble dogs which Scneiders has represented in close conflict with the bear or wolf, and not less of the alans whom Chaucer has introduced around the car of the king of Thrace:

“ ————— grete as any steer,
To hunten at the lion or the bear.”

After having been distinguished in several deer chases, Maida was, as an especial token of regard, presented by Glengarry to Sir Walter Scott, with whom he lived many years, and whom he seldom quitted. ‘As Maida always attended his master when travelling, he was, when in a strange town, usually surrolmded by a crowd of amateurs, whose curiosity he indulged with great patience until it began to be troublesome, when a single short bark gave warning that he must be urged no further. Perhaps, however, the most remarkable proof of his peculiar size was, that persons accustomed to tracking, which is still common in Ettrick Forest, used to mistake the marks of his feet for the traces of some wild animal escaped from a caravan, not supposing it possible that they could have been imprinted by the paws of a dog.

The colour of this splendid specimen of the Ossianic dog, was black and white, regularly and beautifully marked. His hair was rough and shaggy on the ridge of the neck, which he could raise, when excited, like a lion’s mane.

In his habits, Maida was attached and faithful; much under his master’s command, but an excellent watch-dog, and very dangerous to suspected persons at suspicious hours: on all other occasions he was gentle both to men and animals, lmtil he became aged, when his temper was more capricious. The picture was done when he was in the last stage of canine old age, which probably was the sooner brought on by hard exercise and fatigue; for it was his delight to go out with the ordinary greyhounds of the low country, and, notwithstanding his size and weight, he could turn and sometimes take a hare. He was as sagacious as he was high-spirited and beautiful, and had some odd habits peculiar to himself. One of the most whimsical was a peculiar aversion to artists of every description. His noble appearance had occasioned his being repeatedly drawn or painted, until, not liking the constraint which attended this operation, he never could endure to see a pencil and paper produced without making an effort to escape, and giving marked signs of displeasure if attempts were used to compel him to remain.

When Mr. Landseer saw Maida, he was in the last stage of weakness and debility, as the artist has admirably expressed in his fading eye and extenuated limbs. He died about six weeks afterwards, and lies buried at the gate which he long watched, under a stone bearing the following inscription, which, to the astonishment of all who knew the author, contains only one sin against prosody, as the lines themselves will testify. They are placed round a figure of the dog in stone, cut by Mr. Jolm Smith, of Melrose, whose natural talents might have distinguished him had he been regularly educated to the art.

Malda, tu marmorea donnis sub imagine Maids:
Ad januam domini- Sit tibi terra levis!

The armour and military weapons are characteristic of the antiquarian humour of the owner of the mansion, who, as Burns describes a similar collection, The hawks are the gratuitous donation of Mr. Landseer, whose imagination conferred them on a scene where he judged they would be appropriate; as that of the artist liberally added a flock of sheep to attend the shepherdess in the Vicar of Wakefield’s family picture. The other dog represented in the picture is a deerhound, the property of the artist, and given to him by the Duke of Athol.

It only remains to be added, that the painting, which, as a piece of art, has attracted much and deserved praise, was the property of the Duke of Bedford, and presented by his Grace to the Right Honoiuable William Adam, Lord Chief Commissioner of the Jury Court in Scotland, whose property it now is. In the principal figure especially, it would be diflicult to point out a finer exemplification of age and its consequences acting upon an animal of such beauty and strength. It would afford excellent hints for a painting of Argus at the gate of Ulysses, which was probably an animal of the same appearance and habits.

See also
Sir Walter Scott and his Hounds
(by Steve Tillotson, November 2012)

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