If you’re a Regency era aficionado, the mere mention of this week’s word evokes an immediate image.
To the education of her daughters Lady Bertram paid not the smallest attention. She had not time for such cares. She was a woman who spent her days in sitting, nicely dressed, on a sofa, doing some long piece of needlework, of little use and no beauty, thinking more of her pug than her children, but very indulgent to the latter when it did not put herself to inconvenience, guided in everything important by Sir Thomas, and in smaller concerns by her sister.
~Mansfield Park, Chapter 2
A Dutch pug; a kind of lap-dog, formerly much in vogue.
I admit that most Pugs I have ever encountered were overweight and overindulged in every sense of the world, with owners very much like Lady Bertram (and not all of them female, mind you). As with those I know with Pugs, Lady Bertram is never far from her beloved. When her husband, Sir Thomas, returns from his trip to the Caribbean, she is excited to see him. Although she moves Pug a bit, he is not displaced by much.
By not one of the circle was he listened to with such unbroken, unalloyed enjoyment as by his wife, who was really extremely happy to see him, and whose feelings were so warmed by his sudden arrival as to place her nearer agitation than she had been for the last twenty years. She had been almost fluttered for a few minutes, and still remained so sensibly animated as to put away her work, move Pug from her side, and give all her attention and all the rest of her sofa to her husband.
~Mansfield Park, Chapter 19
Mary Wollstonecraft has one of the best quotes about little dogs – and for my purposes I am going to assume she is speaking of Pugs – that I have ever come across in her book, In A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). Although her statement says more about the owner than the dog. She groused:
I have been desired to observe the pretty tricks of a lap-dog, that my perverse fate forced me to travel with. Is it surprising that such a tasteless being should rather caress this dog than her children? Or, that she should prefer the rant of flattery to the simple accents of sincerity?
The Pug is considered one of the oldest breeds in the world, documented by none other than Confucius (known as Lo-Sze in Chinese) in 551 BC. According to Georgian England’s Top Dogs, they were valued for their “small size, short coat, and their Prince Mark – three wrinkles on the forehead and a vertical bar form a marking that repeats the Chinese character for Prince.” By the early 16th century, direct trade to China brought notice of the noble Pug to Europe; they were said to have arrived in England via the Glorious Revolution of William and Mary in 1688. Unfortunately, they became the
indolent discriminating discerning lady’s accessory du jour, along with an African American page boy. As such, the popularity of the Pug as fashion statement slowly declined as the 19th century, hopefully as sensibility progressed.
But never fear! The Pug was down but not out. Queen Victoria is credited with bringing back the popularity of the breed: she kept thirty-six over the course of her reign. The first Pugs arrived in America by the end of the Civil War, and were one of the fifteen recognized breeds of the American Kennel Club in 1885. Not bad for a dog that essentially warmed laps, tickled toes, and “photo” bombed paintings of ladies.
In my family we have a silly saying: if you can kill the dog by stepping on it, it’s not the pet for us. This likely says more about us than the appropriateness of tiny dogs. William Hogarth would no doubt reprimand our temerity, as well as stoutly disagree that Pugs were only for the ladies. He was the proud owner of several, likened their blunt faces and mannerisms to his own, and, according to Rivaat Zarlif of Sartle, had “the little gargoyles show up in lots of paintings as satirical jabs at pompous characters in his paintings.”
- Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.
- Learn about all the four-footed furry friends of the Georgian Era at Georgian England’s Top Dogs.
- Read a very thorough yet concise history of the Pug at Pugminded.
- Laugh like I did at the brief and funny The Painter and His Pug at Sartle.