Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Mr. Gales' Dog

I am reading again Sara (Mrs. Roger) Pryor's memoirs, Reminiscences of Peace and War. Mrs. Pryor begins by describing Washington City, as Washington DC was known then, as she knew it in the 1850s. It is a wonderful social history, and I wish I knew whether she and the Maurys knew each other then. Matthew Fontaine Maury moved his family to the Naval Observatory in 1842. His daugher Betty, of course, would have been only 15 in 1850, so it is unlikely she and Mrs. Pryor would have known each other socially. Nonetheless, the descriptions of Washington, both the physical city and the social scene, are interesting for the perspectives they provide.

I offer the following from page 4.

"If one's s steps tended to the neighborhood of 7th and D streets, nothing was more probable than a meeting with one of Washington's most noted citizens, -- the superb mastiff of Mr. Gales, the veteran editor of the National Intelligencer, as the dog gravely bore in a large basket the mail for the office. No attendant was needed by this fine animal. He was fully competent to protect his master's private and official correspondence.

"He had been taught to express stern disapprobation of Democrats; so if a pleasant walk with him was desired, it was expedient for members of that party to perjure themselves and at once announce: 'I am an "Old-Line Whig," old man,' and the dog's tail would wag a cordial welcome."

Now that extract struck a chord with me. I have just lost my wonderful golden retriever Adam to old age. I have no doubt Adam could have done all that Mr. Gales' dog is said to have done, even down to understanding that the term "Old-Line Whig" was cause to smile and wag his tail.