Though the Ancestry of the Basset Hound, dates back well before William Shakespeare, these United States of America would probably still be a British Colony, if it were not for the French government, in their giving of ships, arms, money, men and a Basset Hound, in helping to secure our freedoms. Most people associate The Statue of Liberty as the gift from the French peoples when in reality, about one hundred years earlier, the French gift was one of aid in our American Revolution!
At our time in revolution, against over regulation, tyranny and religious freedoms, the government of France, came to our aid, as too, the British were their enemy. A bond was created in the form of a treaty and as such, much was shared between the two countries. From arms to culture, the French gave aid and comfort in our time of need. The Marquis de Lafayette, became the highest ranking officer under George Washington, in the Continental Army. The Marquis de Lafayette knew that Washington’s needs included his love for hunting dogs; particularly, hound dogs. During Washington’s reign of power as the President of the United States, he had no less than seven hound dogs and one Basset hound, for his comfort. If not for the French, the Basset Hound may still be then only found in Europe but since its inception to us, it is found in many a home, as both a wonderful pet and hunting dog to those in the sport.
One of the first mentions of a Basset Hound can be found within the script of William Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, (1595), Act IV, Scene 1. “ ears that sweep away the morning dew; Crook-knee’d, and dew-lapp’d like Thessalian bulls; Slow in pursuit, but match’d in mouth like bells…” Pretty much sums up the appearance of a Basset Hound! Long sweeping ears on the ground with crooked knees and bellowing like that of a raging bull, would be the restoration of this ole English to anew but I have yet to understand why these “ Crook-knee’d, and dew-lapp’d like Thessalian bulls” are “Slow in pursuit,” unless they were chasing , maybe a deer? My Basset Hounds are as fast as a rabbit and as stubborn as a mule! Maybe at the time of this writing 1595-1596, Will’s hounds were just being selective on what they wanted to do!
The name Basset, derived from the French word bas, meaning “low,” coupled with the suffix -et, meaning even lower, gives both a description to the hounds appearance and sound. The long legged Basset, a cross breed, was, at that time, not yet derived, until Washington was given his French gift. Washington was a known breeder of hounds at the time. The cousin to the Basset Hound is the Bloodhound, as both have excellent smell perception. For this reason it is said that hound dogs listen with their noses, not their ears as “have nose, will travel” is the name of the day, everyday! From the scripts of Shakespeare’s works to one of the White Houses first dogs to the President, the Ancestry of the Basset Hound, is a truly remarkable journey from across the waters to the land of the free, as Bassets are sweet, gentle and behaved as long as their noses do not hear something afar.