previous chapter
3 The Embourgeoisement of the Beast
next chapter

The Embourgeoisement of the Beast

Daumier captured the new configuration of bourgeois and beast in 1839 in a series of twelve drawings he made for Le Charivari. "A Day in the Life of a Bachelor" is a day that revolves around pets. The appropriately named M. Coquelet awakens early each morning to the touching spectacle of his cat, Minette, and his dog, Azor, fighting over who will receive the first paternal kiss. By eight o'clock Coquelet has tidied his apartment and pauses by his window to refresh himself with nature, to listen to the song not of the [wild] nightingale (the caption includes but strikes out the adjective) but of the caged canary. This young rooster Coquelet stays single, the caption tells us, out of selfishness and is content to share his frugal breakfast with Azor and Minette. Self-centered and antisocial, Coquelet and Azor spend the day out in Paris in a parade of rejections—of women, children, and the poor—that affirms the perverse importance of his pet. Coquelet refuses a beggar's plea for money as he buys a treat for Azor: "What would you have me do, my dear man? This animal has only me; but you, you have all the world." Later, with Azor's help he cheats a friend at dominoes. Coquelet's day ends as it begins, in his comfortable bachelor's bed with his dog and cat, "a portrait of the single life."1

In defining the pet, bourgeois petkeepers during the nineteenth century drew on themes similar to those Daumier mocked. But they used a different medium and evoked more profound effects. Daumier's caricatures in pen and ink displayed petkeeping's egocentric character while bourgeois petkeepers employed the characteristics of pets to point to the discomforts of modern life, the problems of modernity that made pet-keeping such a striking response to the age.

A vocabulary of modernity accumulated within bourgeois petkeeping culture that differed from categories of the ancien régime. As we will see,


the bourgeois imagination clashed with the bureaucratic language of the previous century over issues associated with a tax on dogs. French lawmakers sought in the tax of 1855 and in subsequent legislation to define pets using categories of function, outmoded concepts from the eighteenth century. To the bureaucratic mind a pet was a luxury, a useless taxable item. Parisian petkeepers, however, insisted on their own definition of a pet as an essential champion of domestic sentiment and warmth.

Bourgeois ideas about the place of animals in contemporary life shaped a newly popular genre of literature also. Histories of animals and petkeeping explained that the dog was an artifact that changed as people did. Many authors suggested that the history of the dog paralleled the history of the world, culminating in modem times in Paris by withdrawal into a private phantasmagoric realm.

Petkeeping came to express bourgeois modernity in many significant ways. We can read the process in the evolution of the dog tax in France into a battle of wills between bureaucrats and ordinary people. Bourgeois' insistence on their own understanding of nineteenth-century needs resulted in reluctant legal acceptance of the modern notion of the pet, the concession of new categories of meaning. Nineteenth-century petkeeping becomes then not just an example of bourgeois life as in Daumier's critique but the invention of a medium, a means of communication: it was the way bourgeois talked about themselves.2

The bureaucratic imagination cast backward for models and precedents to the eighteenth century when reforming ministers of the crown first proposed a tax on dogs. The measure was suggested in 1770 as a means of increasing the food supply. A census confirmed officials' suspicions about the inordinate number of dogs in France. Four million of these hungry animals were counted. If two dogs ate the bread that might go to one person then, in the harrowing arithmetic of the age, dogs were consuming one-sixth of the French population. To reduce the number of these beasts and ensure that only the rich could afford the luxury of a dog, an enormous tax of 6 livres per dog was proposed. As with so many eighteenth-century reforms however, the dog tax remained as a proposal; in 1788 thirteen cahiers de doléances (lists of grievances), from all three estates, demanded its institution.3


Food alone was not at stake. The dogs of the poor, authorities claimed, were a health hazard. They spread rabies—for Nicolas-Toussaint Le Moyne, called Des Essarts, lawyer and author of many books on law, here was the most pressing problem. Rabies was believed to develop typically among dirty and hungry animals, so day laborers "and other people who can scarcely feed themselves" should not be allowed to own dogs, Des Essarts urged. Sébasfien Mercier, too, objected to the number of dogs kept by the poor of Paris. "All of these animals, in too great a number, contribute neither to the health nor the repose of the city," he suggested in Le Tableau de Paris. Dogs ate bread that should have nourished children; they dirtied the stairwells, disturbed the neighbors, and caused disease.4

Among the rich, pet dogs were equally useless, though their owners were better able to tolerate their perniciousness. The eighteenth century was "a kind of Golden Age for dogs, or at least for ladies' lap-dogs," one historian observes. Women cared more for their pets than for their husbands and lovers, according to misogynist satires: "Step on the paw of a little dog," Mercier complained, "and you have lost the esteem of the woman; she may pretend otherwise, but she wilt never forgive you." In the expansive sexuality of the age, little dogs were playthings in a salubrious sense. Donald Posner's monograph on Watteau's painting La Toilette makes clear the nature of the pleasure to be had from a pet. Eighteenth-century pornography dwelt on the same theme.5 But while the scène galante remained an important motif in nineteenth-century imagery, the French Victorian century can be said to have begun in 1790 with the burning of these little dogs (called lexicons )at the place de Grève, "for a crime that morality prevents us from naming."6

The bureaucratic authors of the 1855 tax on dogs thought in terms of these same ancien régime categories. Two classes of dogs were recognized: useful ones and useless ones, working dogs and luxury dogs. Utility was defined in economic terms. The purpose of the tax was to limit dog ownership to those for whom it was a means of making a living, shepherds and blind people and the like, and to those with the means to care properly for a pet. Echoing eighteenth-century terms, officials blamed sway dogs for the incidence of human rabies. A telling point in the 1840s when the law was first debated in the Chambre des députés was Malthusian: a rising dog population reduced the amount of food


available for human consumption.7 So dogs integral to the economy of the working classes were to be taxed minimally, but dogs of no economic value were to be made expensive, so that only the rich could maintain them. The midcentury pet was by definition a luxury, reserved as the privilege of a small class, a matter of consumption. The tax was meant as a sumptuary law, hailed as such by the recently formed (1845) Parisian Société protectrice des animaux.8 In contrast, as part of the system of production, the public function of the working dog was sanctioned.

Guidelines were set by the law to enforce the bureaucratic understanding of dog ownership. Communes were directed to establish a tariff often francs or fewer for luxury dogs and one franc or more for working dogs.9 The luxury tax was directed against poor people's dogs in a system that recognized "rich" and "poor," "useful" and "useless," but ignored the distinctive categories of modern bourgeois life.

The tax on dogs shows the tenacity of eighteenth-century structures of thought. Of even greater interest is the way in which ordinary bourgeois individuals undermined these structures. The tax on dogs became a text in which a narrative of bourgeois and petit-bourgeois life was inscribed. Its openness lent itself to competing representations; its shifting authority encoded ordinary attitudes to the bourgeois experience. For if the central bureaucracy formally issued the tax, the town hall was where it was constructed and interpreted. Official representation of dog owners described a simple world of luxury and industry. But declarations by dog owners made at Parisian town halls charted a more complicated story of modern life.

We can observe the bourgeoisification of the law in the construction of the tax rolls (état-matrice ), in the confrontations between tax assessors and pet owners, and occasionally in the assessors' encounters with the taxable items themselves. The tax was annual, and between 1 October and the following 15 January, all dog owners were obliged to declare formally at their city. halls the number and type of dog they owned. Then, from 15 through 31 January, tax officials drew up a master list of taxable people (état-matrice des personnes imposables ). The following table is a translation of the état-matrice. Note that one section transcribed the dog owners' declarations while two other sections verified and commented


Table 1. Master List of Taxable Dog Owners


Taxpayers' Declarations

Facts Established by the Mayor and Tax Assessors


Names and Addresses of Taxpayers

Date of Declarations

Number of Dogs Declared

Number of Dogs as of January 1

Observations of the Mayor and Tax Assessors


1st category

2d category

1st category

2d category

The Commissioner of Direct Taxation, having stipulated various increases in the tax owed for dogs who are not declared or for otherwise incomplete or inexact declarations, directs these observations toward a clarification of the data in columns 6 and 7.

(col. 2)







Abraham (Isidore), Signy

1 January 1857




Inexact declaration [with respect to function of dogs]

Autoine (Pierre), Signy


No declaration made

Isaac (Nicolas), peddler, Signy

2 January 1857



L'Homme (Louis), Saint-Fargeau


No declaration made—omitted to make one

Norbert (Jean), wood merchant, Signy

10 January 1857



Has previously made an incomplete declaration







Source: Ministère des Finances, Bulletin des contributions directes et du cadastre (Paris, 1855), 220. This table was presented as an example in a collection of government documents on direct taxation.


on the owners' statements to bureaucrats: the whole is a document of official anxieties overlaid by bourgeois concerns.10

The categories seemed clear enough to the early authors of the tax. Category one included all dogs for "pleasure" (chiens d'agrément ) and hunting while category two identified the useful dogs: "Dogs used to guide the blind, to guard herds and flocks, dwellings, stores, workshops, etc.," and, much more ambiguously, "in general, all those that do not fall into the preceding category."11

The authors of the tax had envisaged a simple process of categorization. On the basis of an interview between dog owner and tax assessor every dog in France would find its place, in category one as a luxury dog, or in category two as a working beast. Hopes in Paris ran even higher. In 1855 the prefect of the Seine advised his mayors that, in Paris, all dogs were luxury dogs ipso facto and only the highest tax rate was applicable.12 But correspondence between the prefecture and the town halls and the latter and the taxpayers recorded the reluctant adjustments the bureaucracy made to the realities of petkeeping in Paris. It was only a matter of months before it was recognized that working dogs existed in Paris. Guard dogs and guide dogs were subject to the low rate, after all, in 1856, the first year of tax collection.13 But real confusion set in and a mass of paperwork resulted when officials came to defining what indeed was the distinction between a working dog and a pet.

The office of the prefect of Paris repeatedly warned mayors to have dog owners questioned precisely as to the type of dogs owned and "principally about the uses to which they are put."14 From the correspondence emerges the increasing difficulty, bureaucrats had in determining in which category a dog should belong. In 1859 the profession of the owner was included in the evaluation of the dog.15 And during the following decades more factors were brought under consideration. The Conseil d'Etat issued literally dozens of decrees on the subject of pets. By 1887 there were fifteen subcategories that defined dogs whose owners were liable for the luxury tax; perhaps the most baroque sub-category was the thirteenth, whereby, "A dog living with a deaf person who alerts that person when a stranger comes to the door must be taxed at the high rate since that kind of dog cannot properly be considered a guard dog."16


A dog was a pet rather than a worker if it accompanied its master on walks, if it was allowed to wander freely within a home, or if it was allowed to play with children. A dog "habitually confined in a house that was situated in a built-up area of a city, when that house is enclosed on all sides and when it contains neither large store or shop" was a pet, as was the dog "of small size that by its nature cannot be understood as being intended exclusively to guard a house." As the law imagined, a dog must be deemed a pet if its state of health or age rendered it useless, and if it was constantly in the living quarters of a house, or "though serving as a guard dog is also admitted inside apartments or offices."17

Elsewhere in France such unexpectedly difficult distinctions were disregarded for a time, quite in opposition to the intent of the law, as some experts continued to argue. Until 1867 when the minister of the interior "expressed anew the view that it was not according to breed but solely according to use" that a dog should be classified, in many communes dogs were sorted out on the basis of size. Little dogs were placed in the first category and large ones in the second. Jurisprudence followed pragmatism. Only small dogs could be considered as having "un car-actère d'agrément," according to judgments published in the late 1850s and early 1860s.18

Categorization of French dogs became so tricky that in 1886 ultimate responsibility for this task was placed in the capable hands of the commissioner of direct taxation. In Paris that transition of power into the hands of the authorities in charge of direct taxes was effected in 1855 by Georges Haussmann. As the prefect explained to his mayors, the tax collectors in charge of indirect taxes lacked sufficient knowledge of the inhabitants to establish the états-matrices. Under the supervision of the commissioner of direct taxation, the Parisian tax assessors were charged with door-to-door investigations, meant to be more accurate but the difficulties of which were initially underestimated. In 1856 Haussmarm characteristically claimed to have obviated all confusion. "In order that any uncertainty that may yet exist in the classification of dogs be entirely dissipated," he wrote in a memo to tax officials, "I have given instructions to the tax assessors that by aiding them in their investigations . . . will allow the états - matrices (the establishment of which they are specially in charge of) to be drawn up without any hesitation whatsoever."19


A series of caricatures by Cham published in Le Charivari belied this vision of bureaucratic ease. Bewildered tax assessors found themselves presented with bald-faced lies, a dog disguised ineffectively as a cat, for instance, a feline-type tail stitched over its own. As the ingenious dog owner explained: "This a dog! But, no, monsieur: it's a cat. Notice, rather, the tail. Well, perhaps there may have been dogs in his family—it's what may give him some resemblance [to a dog] but, to be sure, it's a cat."20

Of course, it was in an individual's best interest to lie about pets. And at least one-third, possibly one-half, of all dog owners at any one time outmaneuvered the tax assessor. But even optimists like Haussmann realized that the difficulties in tax collection went beyond the self-interest of citizens. "Be certain," he urged tax officials, "that very specific questions are asked when those making declarations about dogs first present themselves." All in good faith, dog owners were apt to make a false or incomplete statement.21

At issue was the meaning of utility. To bureaucrats, only working dogs were useful. For bourgeois pet owners, affect and defense against the onslaughts of modem life were essential functions of the dog. Decrees from the Conseil d'Etat were thought to settle matters to the benefit of the law, but the official dual definition of a dog—useful or useless—was a feeble attempt to contain modernity within bureaucratic bounds. Dog owners' statements in the form of claims and counterclaims elicited accommodating legislation that slipped ordinary bourgeois views of utility into the legal understanding of the pet. A closer look at those views brings us closer to the changing categories of experience neatly webbed within nineteenth-century petkeeping.

As canophiles responded to the tax, their views developed into an apology for the bourgeois dog and, coincidentally, for the bourgeois home. The sentimentalized canine we know today was given its full development in works that linked him inextricably with family life. We read of the Gordon setter who goes shopping with his mistress and the dog who meets the mailman, who "takes the Petit Journal [the newspaper], and letters if there are any, and triumphantly carries them to his master." Fans of 1950s family situation comedies will recognize the supporting characters of the genre and readers of canophile literature


today—one thinks notably of J. R. Ackerley—will note some familiar themes.22

As the multifunctional family beast took shape in the bourgeois imagination, it vehemently contradicted the bureaucratic notion of the useless dog. Decrees ruling that a canine could be either pet or guard dog but not both went against the grain of the bourgeois experience and angered canophile authors. Writing when the official definition ora pet comprised five subcategories, Jean Robert dismissed the rulings. When was a guard dog not a guard dog? In the legal mind, when it went for a walk with its master or wandered around the apartment or played with the children. "To let children ride on its back, instead of biting or threatening them, is to act in a manner unbecoming to any serious dog," this spokesperson for the family pet wrote, mockingly. A guard dog wasn't allowed to grow old: "'Your old servant isn't good for anything anymore; you'll have to kill it, poor devil, or you'll be taxed more.' Good intentions are a luxury, and we place a surtax on pity," he more caustically continued.23

To their owners, the guard duties of bourgeois dogs were inseparable from duties of an affective nature and bound up with private life. The functions overlapped. Alexis Godin, editor of an animal protection journal, explained in the year the tax was enacted that a dog "does not stop being an object of pleasure even though he makes himself more or less useful. " As canophiles would argue, he noted, "the apartment dog, the same one who shares a bed with his master or mistress, is for them a useful guardian as much as if not more than if he were set loose or chained in the courtyard." The largest as well as the smallest dog might be cast in these roles. A dog of any breed could be an object of affection. "One might say," Robert explained, "that in general [the dog] is so amiable that it is always a pleasure to own." Hunting dogs, for instance, made delightful pets, he insisted. "A Pont-Audemer spaniel is perfectly at home on a rug; there are pointers who strike a very good figure in a salon." And all dogs were guard dogs, Robert optimistically detailed, "the tiny terrier as well as the mastiff; they may, for example, fulfill the office of guardian, if not by flying at an intruder's throat then at least by sounding the alarm."24


As bureaucrats splintered an outdated legalism to fit contemporary reality, insisting on a legal and expensive distinction between useful working dogs and (inessential) pets, other distinctions increasingly formed the basis of ordinary bourgeois categorization. Deliberate class articulations took the foreground. As Laure Desvernays explained to the petit-bourgeois readers of the series of Little Handbooks for the Home, an essential function of the bourgeois pet was guard duty. In these times when "ruffians have proven themselves capable of any audacity," she asked in her contribution on the well-run household, "what more important service may we demand of our dogs than to defend our homes and ourselves?" The dog dependably recognized class enemies: "He guards discriminately, almost never failing to nip at the heels of poorly dressed strangers whom he suspects of criminal intent."25

The bourgeois dog stood guard not only against class enemies. The family pet presented an interface between the home and the outside world and maintained the isolation of the family unit as effectively as architectural "strategies of isolation."26 AS locks, peepholes, later doorbells did, in the bourgeois imagination, the family dog functioned as a statement of privacy and control. "The dog immediately recognizes those friends of the household he must always make welcome," and those he was bound to rebuff, we are told. The dog knew friend from foe—as a family retainer might, in the pretensions of another age; "He has an unshakable authority. . .. We may enter with confidence if he indicates, by his affability, that we have his support. Presented by him, we will be welcome."27

The pet dog guarded the morals of petits rentiers —individuals of small but independent means—who "without the pleasure they find at home or on a walk with these docile and faithful companions" would ruin their health, waste their time and resources, and sink into iniquity at cabarets.28 The dog trained the children in an ethical life. The dog had "the gift of exciting sentiments of good, of humanity, of love among children," suggested one canophile.29 The pet signaled the alienation of the family from public life yet performed what was perhaps its most important duty as guardian of the soul. In a heartless world, these sources repeatedly suggest, utility no longer differed from affect. Consider the


following statement that began Alfred Barbou's authoritative account of the French dog:

We turn now to the role the dog plays within the home. Good to all those who approach him, always ready to defend the weak, and the children, friend of the house and recognizing only the friends of the house, he plays a large part in family life. Often he proves himself not only a supporter, but a consoler. More than any human being, the dog is able to give his master, after the most dreadful misfortune, brief moments of joy.30

Barbou touched on the isolation of the individual within the family home. We can make the same distinction here between intimacy and privacy that a reviewer notes in discussing architecture and the domestic interior in nineteenth-century London, Paris, and Vienna. "An architecture of flats that was designed to protect the privacy of the family from the outside world did not at the same time foster family intimacy." The family apartment kept parents separate from children, and the family from servants.31 We can read petkeeping culture as a comment on this architecture of distance and as an even more telling parallel statement of modernist withdrawal.

"The caressing regard of a dog, the sweet touch of a cat, the rhythmic modulations of a bird in a cage, the triumphant trills of a canary, have they not, on occasion, chased away our melancholic thoughts?" asked Laure Desvernays, adding, "we have good reason . . . to surround ourselves with animals." The presence of pets made an apartment come alive: "If it were not animated by the presence of animals, dogs, cats, birds, every house would be somewhat like Sleeping Beauty's castle. The presence of 'our animal friends' in our apartments, our gardens, adds an invigorating note."32 Though later chapters explore petkeeping culture's domestic interior per se, note here the mixture of dead interior and affective animal, of disappointing humans and rewarding canines: "The grief and sadness of a dog in the absence of his master and its exuberant joy at the master's return, are truly startling"—in a world otherwise still.33

Petkeeping culture existed quietly within the history of private life on an everyday level. Not every home had a dog, of course. But for the same cluster of reasons, perhaps, that within high culture the prostitute


became an icon of nineteenth-century Paris, so the canine, on a more banal plane, projected a set of representations of the bourgeois experience. Prostitution has existed in other times and places, but the selling of women's bodies took on harsher meaning in a culture uneasy with the effects of commercial capitalism and aware on a metahistorical level of its own alienation. Pets, too, belonged to the age. The tax on dogs disturbed the growing importance of the home as a place of essential emotional retreat and in the 1860s, 1870s, and 1880s displayed the experience of ordinary dog owners themselves.

Other sources plotted the same narrative of bourgeois life, using canine history as their guide. In the burgeoning field of canine literature, the history of human society was linked, "intimately," as some canophiles liked to emphasize, with the history of the dog.34 From the dawn of history through the Middle Ages, the dog was a practical companion, necessary for human beings' survival on an elemental level. Only in modern times, in urban society, did the dog begin to lose that function to become, in the nineteenth century, essential primarily for people's emotional life.

Borrowing heavily from Alphonse Toussenel's Esprit des bêtes, Dr. Portanier (a veterinarian from Nice who wrote also about rabies) in a lecture published in 1889 suggested that the history of the dog was indistinguishable from that of early human society. In the beginning of our common history, dog and man hunted together. The canine was an essential auxiliary to man in his primitive fight for survival in a hostile world. "Alone and isolated, in the midst of nature . . . how else would mankind have survived, and more than that gained mastery over his world?"35

The same theme was expressed as panoramically by Oscar Honoré in 1863 in Le Coeur des bêtes. Imagine, he suggested, with what joy the first human beings realized that with the dog, the hunting of large game was successful. Dominion was assured: "The dog is probably the first conquest of man, and it is thanks to him that man has conquered some tens of other species of animals without which there would be today neither city, nor road, nor nation, nor maybe mankind itself on the earth."36

The dog made civilization possible for, after a while, the dog became a shepherd. Humankind moved into a pastoral mode of existence, and


continued progress was assured: "Without the dog, no herds; without herds, no sustenance, no clothing, no time to waste, consequently, no astronomical observations, no science, no industry. It is the dog who has given leisure to man." Aurélien Scholl, quoting the naturalist Georges Cuvier, described the domestication of the dog as "the most useful and most remarkable of conquests, 'perhaps essential to the establishment of society.'"37

In prehistoric times man and dogs were allies, "unable to live without each other," but once the survival of the human species was assured, "the role of the dog was wiped out." With the advent of the arts and sciences, Henri Lautard explained in 1909, "the influence of the dog on the progress of civilization became more and more secondary." Nonetheless, canine and human remained close. In the Middle Ages, Lautard noted, we find, "the dog . . . very involved in feudal society, either in the great hunts where he takes his place beside the falcon, or in the life of the chateau where he enlivens, a bit, its heavy monotony."38 According to Pierre Mégnin in an exhaustive history of the dog that appeared in 1877, in the Middle Ages the dog was still a practical animal. In his summary Mégnin explained, "From the time of its domestication until the point where we are in this history, the dog has been an unceasingly useful animal, an indefatigable auxiliary to man in hunting, or a faithful guardian of his flocks." The greyhound was the only dog "admitted into intimacy" and could not be considered exclusively a luxury dog, since it was used for hunting as well. But in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in courtly and urban culture a taste developed for new species of dogs, little apartment dogs, while "small landowners and rural bourgeois who had begun to free themselves from noble tutelage" introduced new breeds of recreational hunting dogs.39 With the advent of the bourgeoisie, these historians noted, came the bourgeois dog.

The dog appears in these accounts as a form of culture, whose essence changed as society did. But though the writers agreed on the dog's role in the past, they differed as to what it had become in the nineteenth-century world. Some critics suggested that in the modem world no one needed a dog; it should be destroyed. Nicolas Fétu, for instance, in his Requête à roes concitoyens pour l'extinction de la race canine à Dijon, reviewed the familiar approving history of the dog but concluded that now it was


obsolete: "What needs to be decided is whether, in the fullness of civilization (en pleine civilisation ) the dog retained its raison d'être, and what were the consequences of its conservation in the midst of us."40

The hunting dog had lost its place: "Modern man, for seizing prey and feeding himself, has no need anymore for the help of the dog." The guard dog was useless in the modern policed city. So too was the butcher's dog that had had its place "in the beginning of things" but in the modern city was extraneous. Pets, especially, had no place in modern life.41 Later Fétu clarified his views: it was the modern city that held no place for dogs, the city of Dijon where he lived, but his argument applied to any city like it, "a supervised city, where industry flourishes, with a modern police force, where the funeral cortege of a poor person is always accompanied by some old comrade." He added: "If the fate of civilization still depended on the presence of the dog, we would indeed despair of the intelligence and heart of man!"42

Such condemnations of the modern dog were troubling but in their one-sidedness rare and countered by influential canophiles such as Marshal Vaillant, Napoleon III's minister of the household, whose defense of dogs in the form of a letter to Fétu appeared in journals. The Soci-été protectrice des animaux reprinted Vaillant's response in full in its monthly bulletin of July 1866 and in part in subsequent issues throughout the remainder of the century. After a brief history of famous dogs and their notable deeds, Vaillant introduced testimony from his own family pet:

Your fury would direct itself even to the dog who is here, resting against the hand that writes to you, fixing his eyes on mine and letting me read in them the indignation that moves me against you! Scold this monsieur, he seems to say to me, scold him well; tell him how I love you, how we love each other! how I love),our sister, your niece, all those who are dear to you; tell him how I watch over you at every instant of the day and night.43

For Vaillant and other canophiles, the dog was necessary for emotional survival, for the protection of the private realm of family and self. Canine historians of this sort liked to emphasize the voluntary nature of the dog's liaison with humankind throughout the centuries. "The dog himself," wrote Aurélien Scholl in 1897 in his introduction to the baron de Vaux's Notre Ami le chien, "I scarcely doubt, took the initiative in his


own domestication." We can imagine, he added, "the first caress of the dog, placing his wet nose timidly on the hand of his master, or licking it. We may imagine him following, hesitatingly, his benefactor in the street, half fearful at first, but encouraged little by little and finally adopting the habit of accompanying him to the fields and identifying himself to a certain degree with his life."44

Animals could live without human beings, but not the reverse.45 Dogs willingly followed people throughout all the periods of history, and in the modern world, dogs became bourgeois. Of course, some dogs remained workers, "so many masters! so many different [fortunes], those who give pleasure, and others who work!" Does the classification of dogs not follow that of our own world, asked A. L. A. Fée, "may we not make categories of dogs as we make social categories: patrician dogs and plebeian, bourgeois dogs and proletarian, rich dogs and poor."46 A census of dogs provided by dog tax returns indicated to Alfred Barbou in 1883 that "working-class neighborhoods" contained working dogs, and "rich neighborhoods," pets.47 The following chapters concern themselves more fully with the life of the bourgeois dog. The dog-care book, for instance, provided a wealth of information about the intimacies of a deliberately bourgeois fantasy—how to travel by rail with one's dog; how to groom and dress it; how, in occasional circumstances, to mate it (buy beach costumes in shops along the Palais-Royal—a wedding is nice but unnecessary). Here we are concerned with ordinary bourgeois percepfons of the trajectory of bourgeois history as it unfolded in the history of the dog and as it found expression, on an even broader level, in the new language of petkeeping.

By the end of the century legal and moral attempts to contain dog ownership within the categories of the ancien régime had clearly failed. More and more people owned dogs as the years progressed. "Undoubtedly the taste for dogs is expanding," wrote Jean Robert in 1888. "Today," he explained, "in spite of the tax, [hostile] concierges, and the exiguity of apartments, almost everyone has a dog, if not several." Le Petit Moniteur universel noted in 1876 that in Paris there was one dog for every twelve humans.48

A good many of these dogs escaped the fiscal census. In the 1840s it had been estimated that there were 100,000 dogs in Paris and 3 million in France.49 Officially these figures were not reached until the 1880s and


1890s respectively. In 1856, the first year of tax collection in Paris, 75,286 dogs were declared. But the rate of increase in the number of dogs during the Third Republic based on official figures alone is nonetheless impressive. Between 1872 and 1885 the number of dogs in France increased by 450,000: in 1872 a tax was paid on 2,240,000 dogs, and in 1885 on 2,690,000 dogs; by 1896 that number had become a little more than 3 million. In the Department of the Seine (which includes Paris), in the four years between 1888 and 1892 when a total of 131,395 dogs were registered, 8,000 dogs were added to the rolls of taxable items. The impossibility of reducing the numbers of dogs was generally conceded by bureaucrats.50

As we have seen, the dog tax was the subject of much debate in the 1860s, 1870s, and 1880s, debate that reshaped the century's understanding of the place of pets in modern life. Although many health officials continued to believe that, if properly enforced, the tax would reduce the number of dogs, others came to recognize the quixotic nature of this goal. As one public health official complained, dogs could not be taxed away for "the dog has become someone with whom we must reckon."51 Another official explained that, in general, police measures against dogs were unenforceable. The minister of the interior might direct his prefects to execute such and such a measure, and the latter might successfully prevail on his subprefects to order the mayors to enforce it, but no amount of persuasion could prevail on the local police; "They do nothing, being careful not to appear lacking in consideration for those dogs who are so influential and well thought of in their commune."52

Contemporary explanations for the failure to limit dog ownership focused on the status of the dog, on its new personality. In later caricatures, Daumier conceded that the tax itself conveyed a new status on the dog. "There, now you have become a citizen," one proud owner remarked to his pet in a print published in 1856 by Le Charivari. Another scene in the same series on the tax and family life showed an owner commissioning an artist to paint his dog's portrait: "Now he's one of the family, he needs his picture too" (figure 3).53 The argument ora doctoral thesis published in 1907 dwelt on the conceptual contradictions involved in considering as sumptuary the tax on dogs. The opinion of the law notwithstanding, the author argued, a pet is not a luxury.54


Figure 3. Honoré Daumier, caricature of artist painting a dog's portrait: "
Now he's one of the family, he needs his picture too." From Le Charivari, 1856
(by permission of the Houghton Library, Harvard University).

By 1907 the point was obvious. Luxury and pet ownership were now contingent themes. The definition of a pet had changed. Its indispensability was acknowledged and the old categories of function could not be maintained. The dog, useless when considered in light of its productivity, had become an essential household figure--a "love machine," a machine à aimer, in nineteenth-century terms.55 Ensconced within the family, the dog had become an affective end in itself. Not so much a replacement person, a metaphor, but an adjunct, a dream image was constructed in the shape of the family pet, as the next chapters detail.


previous chapter
3 The Embourgeoisement of the Beast
next chapter