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WHY THE COLLIE?
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February 4, 2018
 
 
All are architects of Fate,
Working in these walls of Time;
Some with massive deeds and great,
Some with ornaments of rhyme.
Nothing useless is, or low;
Each thing in its place is best;
And what seems but idle show
Strengthens and supports the rest.
For the structure that we raise,
Time is with materials filled;
Our to-days and yesterdays
Are the blocks with which we build.
Truly shape and fashion these;
Leave no yawning gaps between;
Think not, because no man sees,
Such things will remain unseen.
In the elder days of Art,
Builders wrought with greatest care
Each minute and unseen part;
For the Gods see everywhere.
Let us do our work as well,
Both the unseen and the seen;
Make the house, where Gods may dwell,
Beautiful, entire, and clean.
Else our lives are incomplete,
Standing in these walls of Time,
Broken stairways, where the feet
Stumble as they seek to climb.
Build to-day, then, strong and sure,
With a firm and ample base;
And ascending and secure
Shall to-morrow find its place.
Thus alone can we attain
To those turrets, where the eye
Sees the world as one vast plain,
And one boundless reach of sky.

Henry Wadesworth Longfellow’s beautiful poem ,which dictates the rules of a well done job, recalls to mind  the men of whom we are going to talk about, ‘The  Architects  of Fate’, the Builders of the Breed. When the selection of the collies passed over to the breeders, they were given the merit of making the collie, which had been indispensable at work, into the most beautiful of show dogs, without ever disclaiming its roots, and without ever losing its  shepherd’s soul.

Not everyone was a breeder in the real sense of the word, but everyone possessed the qualities of those who give light to the passions of men, and with their work, indicate the way to them: modesty, creativity, imagination, curiosity and foresight. Besides love and generosity towards the breed, led them to work together for the same purpose, and they made the second half of the 19th century and the first years of the 20th century the golden age of the collie.

In just a few years, the collie breed had reached enormous popularity, both in its homeland and abroad, and so many breeders came to be that it would be impossible to talk of all of them individually. It is enough to think, that in the first two volumes of the ‘English Stud Book’, until 1874, 108 sheep dogs and Scotch collies were registered. A remarkable number if you think that the first dog show had been held only fifteen years before.

Notwithstanding the distances and the difficulty in communicating, the many passionate dog-lovers  slowly started to organize themselves; thus the first Collie Clubs were created, of which the members were well-prepared and experienced men, and of absolute morality.

Reading the adventures of these first  breeders and of their dogs, one must keep in mind, in order to avoid misunderstandings, that often during that period, the dogs changed names when they changed owners and they acquired a prefix of their new masters. Luckily today things are different, and dogs now keep the same name for their whole life.

Another reflection arises after reading the first volumes of the  ‘English Stud Book’, and  that is that, most of the dogs belonged to people who lived in the counties of Lancashire, Warwickshire, Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire. The breeders of whom we will talk about all lived near Birmingham and in the area of Lancashire and Liverpool, which was, not by chance, the region which had  benefitted mostly from the Industrial Revolution during the Victorian Age. This  geographical closeness made exchanges of dogs and ideas easier, and turned that region into the cradle of the breed.

The few essential notions we will give about these men are not enough to give the just merit of their commitment, but our intention is to remember them and not to write a biography about them. We have a lot to learn from them, not only  about breeding terms. Their  work should be studied with great attention by all those who aspire to deal with the collie, because they have traced the blood lines on which we work today.

The period of which we are going to deal with, is, above all, the beginning of the dog shows up to the First World War. The breeders of that time, together with their dogs, represent the history of our race. Their  lives and their work show that it was a time when all those passionate about collies worked together, learning and teaching, exchanging information, advice, suggestions and criticism, in an agreeable, friendly atmosphere. They were all part of  a community which worked for the same purpose. Queen Victoria was the soul  of the time, and  the inspirer of all those who, in any field, contributed to reforming life, customs, morality and the culture of the society itself. It was the time of Charles Dickens, of Oscar Wilde and of Robert Louis Stevenson. It was  the time in which fantasy was beginning to triumph over a rampant mediocrity, and in which consciences finally  freed themselves from the spectres that had kept them chained for centuries. The time in which Charles Dickens unhinged the boundaries imposed by science, marginalizing the intervention of God in the Creation. It was the time in which Alfred Tennyson rediscovered the hero Homer, who thought himself to be all-powerful under the walls of Troy; a man weakened by spending time inexorably. It was also the time of the Collie; the triumph of a breed which had its roots in mythical  places and time, in the stories and legends that Walter Scott had narrated; a dog, which, through the centuries had lived in close contact to man, thus, turning itself into a work tool  and a life companion. It was an a success, because that was the time in which man was getting closer to nature  and to his creatures. He observed them with respect  and he appreciated their help. It was the time in which the dog entered fully into the family with a precise role and with its dignity.

Today, a century later, there have been many changes in the dog’s world. Today  we look at  the future of our breed  with quite a few regrets. Today the  time of heroes is over, and we continue to cultivate our love for this noble animal. There remains nothing else than to look behind  and try to be worthy of  our past. Let’s say that history celebrates heroes, however, it quickly forgets the merchants and improvisers.