On being over-fond of animals

I was recently rather amused by a chapter in an 18th-century advice manual for women, entitled ‘On being over-fond of animals’. This anti-pet diatribe comes from a 1756 publication called The Wife, which also features charmingly-named chapters such as ‘The danger of living in the same house with any Relation of the Husband’s’, ‘Sleeping in different Beds’, and ‘The great indiscretion of taking too much notice of the unmeaning, or transient gallantries of a Husband’.

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‘On being over-fond of animals’ rails against what the author sees as the excessive fondness of well-to-do women for their pets.

‘Among all the various foibles of which the softer sex are but too justly accus’d, I know of none more preposterous than the immoderate fondness shewn to monkeys, dogs, and other animals; – creatures which were not made to be caress’d, and have no higher claim from nature than barely not to be abus’d or mercilessly treated.

‘Yet the privileges, the immunities, the indulgences which they enjoy under some mistresses, are such as are far from being granted to servants of the human species – a monkey may tear to pieces a fine brussels [lace] head-dress, and be prais’d for his wit, while the poor chamber-maid has a slap on the face, is call’d oaf, awkward monster, and a thousand such like names, if not turn’d out of door [fired], only for having stuck a pin awry, or misplacing a curl’.

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‘Henrietta Child’ – Francis Cotes (1726-70)

Not least among the pet-owning woman’s enormities is the fact that her pet will prevent her from fulfilling the wifely duty of listening to her husband:

‘But in how odd a light must the husband of that woman appear, who, while he is entertaining her perhaps on some important affairs, instead of answering him, is all the time playing with her lap-dog, and after he has been talking for half an hour altogether, cries out, ‘What did you say, my dear – I protest I did not hear you’ – on which he is oblig’d to repeat all he has been speaking, and ’tis very likely with as little success as before’.

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‘Portrait of a lady with her dog’ – Francois Hubert Drouais (1727-75)

Worst of all, the author disapproves of a pet sharing the marital bed, recounting an anecdote which implies that a wife’s insistence on co-sleeping with a beloved pet will inevitably lead to adultery on the part of the husband.

‘…he made many remonstrances to his lady on the inconvenience of lying three in a bed; but all he could urge on that subject was ineffectual, she would not consent to be separated one moment from her dear [dog]; on which he resolved to sleep in another chamber, and accordingly did so, where, ’tis more than whisper’d, he prevail’d on the chamber-maid to supply her lady’s place’.

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‘Lady Mary Fox’ – Pompeo Batoni (1767)

Further reading

Anon., The Wife (1756)

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3 Comments

  1. Excellent! – ‘The Wife’ sounds as though it should be re-published and would undoubtedly be a best-seller. I’m particularly with the bloke who would rather seek solace from the chamber maid than share a bed with the moggy/pooch/goldish or whatever. And it seems little has changed – you only have to see some of the ***p on Facebook or Google+. Don’t get me wrong – I like animals – but get a life! I await your post on ‘The great indiscretion of taking too much notice of the unmeaning, or transient gallantries of a Husband’ with bated breath.

    • caeciliajane@gmail.com

      Haha! Your comment made me laugh. I am a fond pet-owner myself, but letting them sleep in the bed seems to be an American innovation so far as I can tell.

      I actually hadn’t planned to do a post on the Gallantries chapter, but perhaps I will. Currently I’m working on what I hope will be a series on prostitution in Georgian London, starting with Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies, which I recommend if you have not yet read it.

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