Tag Archives: Rabies

AAH New Voices Conference 2011


Theme: Madness & Revolt

Talk Time: 20 Minutes

Title: The Dog Days: Canine Class Contagions and Political Parodies in Victorian Visual Culture

 “The pattern of public response to rabies outbreaks demonstrated the extent to which the disease existed in the realm of rhetoric. The first alert was ordinarily sounded by the press, rather than by medical authorities or government officials, and it was often couched in terms that seemed calculated to inspire and exasperate fear”

Ritvo, Harriet, The Animal Estate: The English and Other Creatures in the Victorian Age, Cambridge, U.K.; Harvard University Press, 1987, Pg. 171.

In Victorian Britain rabies and hydrophobia, its then human counterpart, provoked a myriad of reactions in both academic fields and the public sphere.

Amidst these reactions grew a sense of magnitude to the disease which vastly surpassed the objective realities- a growth constructed and propagated through representations of dogs parodied in the popular media of the time, as highlighted in the above quote.

This paper aims to explore this sensation of Victorian visual parodies of canine madness through an exploration of the press’s representations of mad dogs- Proposing that the conceptual construction of the rabid dog became used as a conduit for social and political commentary.

This shall include a heavy focus on class anxieties; exploring middle class fears that rabies had the ability to infect and corrupt, not only the body, but also the integrity and class of society, demonstrating representations of this in visual media.

The paper shall then progress to look at the mad dog’s representation, and prompting of, criticisms of the legal system- through the visual analysis of encounters between dogs and mockingly inept and overwhelmed Police Officers turned Dog Catchers.

The paper will end on the exploration of why rabies and the madness of dogs prompted such swift interaction and embellishment from the Press, and such a public unrest, proposing media parody as a form of revolt.

Cave Canem, Or Dog(berry) Law, Punch (London, England), Saturday, September 14, 1867; pg. 106.

Cave Canem, Or Dog(berry) Law, Punch (London, England), Saturday, September 14, 1867; pg. 106.

Heads and Tails

T. Landseer, The Dog Bill Committee, 1844, Print on Paper, Private Collection.

A little excerpt I thought I’d share from Punch-

Heads and Tails

The uncertainty manifested by the Head of Departments as to the execution of the order enjoining the muzzling of all dogs in the Metropolis on the 31st inst., has naturally excited a great deal of commotion in canine circles, and a representative meeting was accordingly held yesterday afternoon in a field adjoining the Dog’s Home, at Battersea, to deal with the subject.

A St.-Bernard, who took a first prize at the last Dog Show, having been unanimously voted to the Chair, was greeted with a prolonged wagging of tails and said:—He felt he need hardly enter upon the circumstances which had occasioned the present meeting. There had been a good deal of talk, one way and the other, about their species of late, and probably owing to the Mansion House move in favour of the Pasteur System, and an isolated case or two of Hydrophobia—(growls)—the usual scare had got up, and as a consequence, the Authorities had decreed that they were all to be muzzled for six months. Personally, he was indifferent to the manner, and if his owners chose to strap up his face in a leathern or wire cage whenever he took his quiet and sober walks abroad, he could only suppose that in subjecting him to the humiliation, they could not help themselves. Still, though sedate himself, he could well enter into the feelings of his more frisky and lively brethren who felt the restraint keenly, and he thought, as there seemed to be no one capable of putting the order in force, that an opportunity was certainly presented of asking the HOME SECRETARY whether, under the circumstances, it wouldn’t be wiser, to reconsider the matter altogether, and revoke the order while there was yet time to do it.

[Barks of approval, and prolonged wagging of tails.

A Drawing-room Pug, who spoke with some difficulty, owing to chronic indigestion, said that of course if the order were in force it couldn’t possibly apply to him, as he took only exercise in a carriage round the Park, perched up on a feather cushion, with a piece of blue ribbon round his neck. As to the common class of dogs who went about on foot, he really didn’t see why they should object to being muzzled. The order didn’t touch him, and he didn’t care.


A Bloodhound said, that to hear a mere show dog, who was out of it himself, express his opinion in that cool fashion, made his blood boil. The very thought of a muzzle almost sent him off his head. How could he, he should like to know, follow up a trail and catch a murderer by the throat, if he couldn’t use his teeth? (Barks of approval.) All he could say was, that whether the order was passed or not, he wouldn’t advice any policeman who values his calves to come meddling with him.

[Much wagging of tails.

A Punch and Judy Dog, who was warmly greeted, said he should like to know whether the Authorities meant to clap a muzzle on him, and expected him to go through his performance (pert of which, as they probably knew, consisted in catching hold of Punch’s nose) under impossible conditions? If so, it would be nothing more or less than putting a complete gag on him, and he might as well retire from the business altogether. He felt strongly on the subject, for he spoke not only for himself, but on behalf of his artistic friends who preformed at Music Halls and elsewhere, and who certainly could not be expected to climb up chairs, wear cocked hats, and jump through paper moons with their heads banged up in wire or leather in accordance with a degrading police regulation. (Growls.) All he could say was, the if Mr. Matthews ignored their petition, he might as well consign them to the Lethal Chamber at once. But her trusted matters would not come to pass as that.

[Loud barks of approval.

A Blind Man’s Dog wanted to know how he was to get through his business, and be expected to collect pence holding a tin-pot in his mouth, if he had a muzzle on? The thing was preposterous.

A Scotch Terrier wished to ask the Chairman if it was true that a Member of Parliament had absolutely proposed the muzzling of cats.

[Wagging of tails indicative of much merriment.

A Dachshund replied that he was glad to say it was. He said he was “glad to say” it was, because such a proposition amounted to a reductio ad absurdum of the whole question. If these manifestly inferior domestic animals were to come in for the muzzle, they would be wanting to apply it next to the rats and mice. This made thoughtful people, who see they don’t know where to stop its use, naturally ask what made them begin it. For his own part he had never come across anybody who had been bitten by a dog.

A Westmoreland Collie owned that, when he first came up to London he certainly did catch hold of a postman or two by the leg, but he added it was done out of pure fun, and that he hadn’t a touch of rabies about him. He would propose that a deputation be appointed by the Meeting to wait in the HOME SECRETARY, and ask him, seeing that a hitch had occurred in carrying it into execution, to reconsider his order.

[Barks of approval.

The Chairman the put the Motion to the Meeting, and it was carried unanimously, upon which, amidst a prolonged wagging of tails in manifestation of satisfaction, and a general chorus of barking in approval, the proceedings came to an end.

Punch, or the London Charivari, August 3rd, 1889, p. 53.