PEDRO was that lusus naturae, a prosperous donkey; and though, like the lives of most prosperous people, his history contains nothing very remarkable as a biography, it deserves to be told, if only to show what may be made of one of the race who did not get all his brains beaten out of him. That there was, once upon a time, in England, a donkey who was well treated and well trained, is in itself so remarkable a circumstance that the results ought to be known far and wide ; and Pedro did so much to recover the lost character of his race that perhaps his story, also, may bespeak a little kindness for the unlucky creatures who are the only animals treated with almost inveterate cruelty in England, which is certainly the donkey's Pandemonium.
The wretched little animals we see shambling along in their carts, under blows from short bludgeon sticks, falling thick and fast, as if their masters thought their backs were made of boards, have been brought to this decrepit state by starvation and cruelty. How many hundred generations, I wonder, can it have taken to degenerate the beautiful wild ass of the desert into the modern donkey ? The Hungarian traveller who penetrated, two years ago, into Central Asia, saw them in troops on those wonderful deserts of Turkistan, in all their wild beauty and freedom, coming within sight in closed-up squadrons, like a charge of cavalry, and then wheeling away in a long-stretching gallop, till they were lost in the far-away desert horizon. These desert donkeys would rather scorn their cousins in the costermongers' carts.
But all over the East a tame donkey is not necessarily the miserable creature he is with us. Just because he is not ridiculous. Those stately Easterns, somehow, see nothing at all funny about him. To be miserable and ridiculous is certainly rather a hard fate, and I believe the poor donkeys are miserable because they are ridiculous, and that most of the blows they get mean nothing but the scorn and contempt of their drivers. Whether it be a half-tipsy costermonger, or a half-civilized country-boy, he always scorns the patient little beast who is the world's nickname for all that is ridiculous.
No doubt it is a satisfaction to a semi-savage to have something to thump, but he would be more sparing of hard blows if be was not so alive to the ridicule of his little steed and of himself for driving it. He does not habitually thrash his horse; it would not seem natural to do so, as it does a donkey, for even the most wretched broken-down dog-horse is only supposed to be pitiable, never absurd. If anything could raise the load of ridicule from the poor donkeys' backs, half their troubles would be over, that is, half the thumps and blows would never come. So H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, as president of a donkey show, did more for the wretched little creatures than has ever been done before; but a few pats on the back, though from an Heir-apparent, cannot do much towards reversing whole centuries of laughter.
But why are donkeys ridiculous ? and Pedro's story must wait while we go into that profound question. Why, all over Europe, have we only one stock symbol for absurdity, and that a donkey ? (To be sure, a goose sometimes shares the odium of the comparison, but only in slighter cases.) But the donkey's long ears,—his pretty, sensitive long ears,— stand as the world-worn joke for all that is foolish. And why should he be ridiculous in the West, and thought a steed for a royal pageant still in the stately East? The tall white ass might have brayed long and loud under the very nose of Haroun Alraschid, pacing below him to the mosques, and no smile would part the lips of the Faithful: but imagine the effect upon a Western crowd. I am afraid that is just it— there is no doubt of it—the donkeys have done it themselves : their braying has been their bane. That long-drawn, discordant, unearthly way of expressing their feelings has been too much for Western ears. Those melancholy nasal notes with which he ends, and which, every time one hears it, makes one hate the donkey who has done it, have stamped him for ever as the ridiculous donkey.
And what is the remedy ? Of course, the practical way of looking at it is, that their well-wishers should induce them to give up this horrible noise for a few hundred generations, till they have recovered the prestige which they must certainly have brought with them. from the East. And it could be done if the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals like to try, but it must be upon a large scale. Like so many other things, it is a Chinese discovery. Huc, in his account of his travels in Tartary, tells how, riding day after day with some mandarins, he was kept awake by a nightly serenade of braying from his friends' donkeys. The mandarins promised it should be stopped. The night came and went, and Huc slept, and so he hoped did the donkeys; at all events, there was no more braying. At last he asked the Chinamen how they had stopped them, and the next night they showed him. There stood the donkeys, done up for the night, every one with a stone tied on to the end of his tail. Then the mandarins explained their remedy. No donkey brays without stiffening his tail almost straight in a line from his back, so that if they could not do that they could not bray. How many generations, according to Darwin, would it take to make them forget their brays ? for the more one thinks of it, the clearer it becomes, that donkeys, like a great many other persons, have only to hold their tongues to be everything that is estimable and respectable.
But what can be done for them ? Would a Re-restoration to respect Society do anything for them, or will his Royal Highness's pats on the back do them any permanent good in their trouble; .and, if so, will he make them annual ? Or has laughter done its worst, and is their case quite desperate, and must they be to the end of time first laughed at, then scorned, then beaten till they are stupid, and then beaten because they are stupid ? Poor little donkeys ! I am afraid so; and all that can be done for the race is to rescue a solitary individual now and then, and try what care and kindness may make of him. But success is not always to be expected, for passive resistance having become the creed of the donkeys, of course it takes the form of what their tormentors call obstinacy, and when it has become hereditary, I am afraid all the training in the world won't get it out of them. A case of this kind occurred near Cheltenham, not long ago. Shocked at the cruelty with which they were treated, a benevolent gentleman, who had his theories about donkeys as well as about many other subjects, determined that he would bring up a young donkey as a proof of what might be done to improve the race. A little one was bought, and kept up in a stable for two or three years, and groomed and fed, and treated as much like a horse as possible, except that it never went out of the stable. It was a beautiful creature, and at last it was supposed to be time to show to the world what a donkey it was, and then came the dreadful blow. The whole system had broken down; the donkey would not come out of the stable, and nothing would ever make him. What that donkey's feelings were can never be told. Of course, his sensations were those of a snail being pulled out of its shell. What became of that donkey was. never known. The best that can be hoped is, that the benevolent gentleman let him live in his shell. But the hero of our story, Pedro, was a donkey who really did get a chance of showing what donkeys are made of; and the history of what he did, and how he did it, is written for the encouragement of those who would like to have Pedros of their own.
Pedro, however, was not quite a fair specimen of successful donkey-cultivation in England, because, though descended from a long array of obscure English donkeys on three sides of his family, he had for one grandfather an Andalusian donkey, so Pedro had a pedigree; and, as those grand Spanish dons of olden days had, as every one knows, blue blood in their veins, I dare say Pedro's blood was blue too, for the Andalusians are the grandees amongst the Spanish donkeys. It was at the end of the Peninsular war that this illustrious grandfather came over to England. He, and a she-donkey (who, however, was not the grandmother), were brought over by an officer, and happily settled in Norfolk. Pedro was born about forty years ago. Perhaps his beauty saved him from the usual hard fate of his kind, for he seems to have been well treated from his birth, and he was, no doubt, the prettiest of all creatures, as a young donkey, a little woolly monster, with slender legs and large head, and frisky ways, as if there was no trouble before him—always in store for donkeys; but Pedro first emerges into history, tamed and broken in, and already the owner of a brown gig. He was rising five when he was sold by the innkeeper who had trained him, and became the property (brown gig and all) of the ladies who owned him all the rest of his life. He and his gig had been intended for an invalid, and it had been built on purpose for him. A low, little carriage for two, brown without and blue within; the harness bright with brass, and white netted earcaps for high days and holidays, made up the list of Pedro's equipage and equipment. He was himself a most beautiful fellow, standing a hand higher than common English donkeys, with a fine crest, carrying his head well up; his colour, a pretty shade of fawn when young, which changed into the usual neutral-tinted grey as he got older.
His eyes were large and quick, and very beautiful, and down his back and across his withers, showing very conspicuously, was the mysterious black cross which is found upon dun horses sometimes, and always upon donkeys, (the first sketch of the elaborate zebra striping). He was regularly clipped once a month through the summer, but he had his coat on in winter, as he hardly ever went out, and had nothing to do but enjoy himself in a comfortable stable. He had a perfect mouth, and though very high-spirited, was very gentle, far more so than any pony up to half as much as he was would have been. Nobody could say he was obstinate, but any one who drove him found pretty soon that he had his own plan for doing things, and it certainly was impossible to alter his views on one or two subjects about which he had quite made up his mind. Part of his programme for getting through a hilly country was to get to the bottom of every hill as hard as ever he could. Having full confidence in his own legs, he went off from the top of the hill at a swinging trot all the way down, as fast as he could put his feet to the ground, leaving horses and carts, and carriages, and everything that was on the road, behind him. Once fairly off on one of his rushes down-hill, nobody could pull him up, but he allowed himself to be guided as cleverly as possible out of the way of things. His ladies, having fine old-fashioned North-country nerves, did not think so seriously of this plan of Pedro's as many people would have done, but he astonished lookers-on so much, that one day a man, having watched their career down a Welsh hill, spoke to them when they got to the bottom, saying, " Don't you think, ladies, it is very presumptuous to drive in the way you are doing ?" So then they were obliged to say it was Pedro, and that they could not help it. However Pedro had, like most rash people, his fits of extreme discretion, and showed, at what he considered the right time and place, a perfectly exaggerated sense of what he thought was due to proper caution.
If a hill looked too perpendicular for Pedro's plan, his ladies had only to get out of the gig to make an entire change in the proceedings. He then seemed suddenly impressed with the fact that a hill was so serious a thing that it was only to be got down with much circumspection. He required them both to hold him one on each side of his head, and even then he would hardly put one foot before the other, going very gently, holding his little gig back very carefully, and putting his feet to the ground as if every footfall was a peril.
Pedro had also his views about going up a hill, and when he thought it looked steep, would pull up at the foot to suggest that his ladies should help him by getting out and walking; and as he was quite a spoiled darling, he was generally indulged in his whim. He always set off from a door with a good deal of prancing, curveting about like a small war-horse, in a most ridiculous way, and looking very handsome. He was as fast as a good pony, and much more enduring. He would go thirty to forty miles a-day for some days together easily, and once went over fifty miles, from Norfolk to within two miles of Cambridge, in one day; but then he was very tired; and when he had gone over forty miles, he perhaps thought there was a mistake, for he had never been taken so far before. He pulled up quite suddenly, but he was wonderfully sensitive to the voice (he was never whipped), and a few coaxing words cheered him up, so he trotted bravely on for another two miles, and then pulled up as suddenly as before, and after that the only terms upon which he would go on at all were, that his master should walk before him every step of the way. And in that fashion he got to his journey's end, and astonished an incredulous inn-keeper, who would not believe that any donkey ever travelled fifty miles a-day. The next morning Pedro was as prancing as ever, and went away as fresh as possible for another thirty miles, which he did by four o'clock; and the next day's journey, of also thirty miles, brought him and his master to London. He never shied in his life, and even London was not too much for his nerve, though he had never seen anything like the crowded streets before, but he .trotted gallantly, with his head well up, going right .through the City, and getting along as fast as ever he could, as he always did if he found himself in a crowd, omnibus drivers looking down and chaffing the plucky donkey and his master. For six weeks Pedro and his equipage appeared every now and then in the parks. In the height of a London season Pedro went to show himself off day after day bravely, amongst all the fine spirited horses, upon what he evidently considered pretty equal terms. He was not the donkey to be outdone by any of the splendid horses trotting before him and behind him, and insisted on holding his own with the best of them. The park-keepers soon knew him, and always looked a welcome to Pedro, as he turned in, and stepped proudly out, keeping well up in the stream of carriages. After that Pedro took his ladies for some pleasant wanderings along the southern coast, a journey of six hundred miles in all by the time they got back to Norfolk: (a previous journey had been over six hundred miles).
Another summer saw them fairly launched on a long exploring tour to the west: Pedro, and his ladies, and his brown and blue gig. For three months of long summer days they wandered on and on, just where their fancy took them, often not knowing, when they started in the morning, where they would find themselves at night. All their luggage was packed under the seat, and Pedro had his bag there too, well filled with cakes and bread for his luncheon, which he ate walking up a hill, or resting in some shady English lane. He liked to be tempted up-hill by flowers gathered as they went along from the hedges. A spray of wild roses was his great delight, or a bunch of scarlet rose berries held out to him, as be followed his mistresses as they walked on before him, for he never wanted to be led.
In this pleasant gipsy fashion they went along always westward, till at last they had got as far west as they could go. They had gone all the way from Norfolk to St. Davids, and then they wandered on up and down Welsh hills and dales, and at last turned homewards. Pedro was as fresh after his eight hundred miles when he got home, as if he had never been anywhere. Of course he excited some amusement and much astonishment upon his journeys amongst the ostlers, to whose care, however, his ladies were too kind altogether to trust him, or he would certainly not have escaped some of the cruelty, probably in the form of practical jokes, to which his being born a donkey was sure to make him liable. So they looked well after Pedro at the hotels where they put him up, and never left him without seeing his corn before him, and the ostlers propitiated and bound over to treat him well, though he was but a donkey; and he left no doubt about that, for be invariably gave way to his feelings in a long and sonorous bray when he heard the voices, or even steps of his mistresses coming near the stables He was never known to commit himself in this dreadful way in harness, which was very lucky, and a great encouragement to popularising donkeys; it had been part of his breaking-in, and he had been taught not to do it. It would have been so embarrassing if his education had been imperfect in this respect Imagine a bray from a brown gig in the park! He was not much given to braying at any time, except over his suppers in inn-yards; when he saw his friends coming to him in his own home paddock, he showed his pleasure by a few gasping, hysterical noises—the right things to begin a bray with; but he was generally considerate enough not to finish it, and then he would run up, and rest his velvet nose upon their shoulders while they fed him with carrots, or else the soft nose dived into their pockets to see if his own cakes and apples were there. He was eccentric in his notions of what was good, like shabbier donkeys, who, getting a scrambling livelihood in the hedges and ditches, eat the leaves and weeds instead of the grass, and are popularly supposed to prefer thistles to either.
But Pedro's taste for flowers was very refined, he never lost an opportunity of eating roses, and would slip into a garden if he saw any in the cleverest way, and even when he was being driven out would snap off every rose as he passed it, till he had got a mouthful, and then fling his heels up, and gallop away. An artificial rose in his mistress's cap tempted him one day to bite it gently from her head as she was standing near him.
Pedro's whims were endless, and very often inconvenient. For sometimes, with all his day's work before him, in the midst of a journey he would suddenly refuse to eat anything at all. It was no use trying to make him. The corn was put into his mouth, and his nose was held, but he dropped it all out; he would not be crammed. So one day, when this had happened, on the long Welsh journey, and it was quite necessary that Pedro should start, his ladies went out into the market at Cambridge and bought a quantity of carrots. He ate them all, and seemed very happy and contented. The next night he would neither touch corn or carrots, so he had a loaf of bread bought for him, and he enjoyed it extremely ; but the day after he was tired of that, too, and then, like the spoiled child he was, he was fed with rich cake, and he was delighted. And the next day he took to his hay and corn again like a reasonable donkey. But petted as Pedro was, all the care that was taken of him did not suffice to keep him safe from the abuse and cruelty which is the lot of his unlucky race. One evening, when he had somehow strayed out of his paddock, and was quietly browsing in the lane near his field, three gentlemen coming home from coursing came up with him, and for amusement, as they said (a donkey being always fair game), galloped him before them, lashing him on with their hunting-whips. They kept this up for three miles, till Pedro fell. He was found near the place the next morning, and brought home.
The man who brought him said that the three gentlemen had ridden up to the door of his cottage, and told him to go and look for Pedro, and take care of him that night, and find out where he belonged to, and take him home the next day. The man was bribed not to tell their names. That cruel gallop had done him some permanent harm.
It was supposed that he was injured in some way internally, for though apparently quite sound, he was never the same creature again. His spirit seemed somehow broken; he never got lazy over his work, and would go any distance he was wanted to, but he seemed dull and heavy, and there was no more prancing and curveting at the door when poor Pedro set off.
After that, too, a village child, true to its hereditary instincts of donkey cruelty, in throwing things at Pedro, dashed out one of his beautiful eyes with a brickbat. So the poor fellow, in spite of all the care that was taken of him, came in for his share of the brutality to which the poor, patient creatures seem doomed. A few years ago, Pedro migrated to ——, with the rest of the household gods of his master's family. On board the steamer on his voyage to Hull, he beguiled the time by picking pockets on deck— practising upon the passengers the feats he had performed with such applause on his master's pocket, and innocent of the fact that it was petty larceny on other people's. For two years Pedro trotted his brown gig about the roads and lanes, and in that " horsey " county he ought, at all events, to have been appreciated ; but his life was to fall a victim to that long trouble of the donkeys—ridicule. His Yorkshire groom could not bear up against the village raillery upon being groom to a donkey, so Pedro did not live very long. His ladies were very ill, and could not attend to him ; they had not seen him for some time, when one day a message came to say he was not well. He was found so ill that he was too weak to rise, though he tried to get on his legs when he heard his master's voice. He had not eaten anything for days, and was quite exhausted; when some of his favourite rice-pudding was put before him he ate it greedily, but he was too weak then to recover, and soon afterwards died. To the last he turned to look at his master, when he came up to him. He was not quite thirty when he died, his ladies having had him for five-and-twenty years ; so it is no wonder that as they look up at his picture over the chimneypiece and tell his story, they speak of him tenderly and regretfully, as they always do,—as their poor, dear Pedro!
Who first laughed at donkeys? Did some small wit, hundreds of years ago, invest the long ears or the longer bray with an atmosphere of ridicule? The joke, whatever it was, must have been a good one, for we have kept it up for two thousand years, as Aesop's fables show, and the poor donkeys have been born into a world of blows and abuse ever since. Nothing can help them, laughter has done its worst; not all the pats from all the Princes in Christendom could take the ban off them now. But, like all martyrdoms, theirs too has a moral, and is it not, to take care what we laugh at? for we soon despise what we ridicule, and then, by a subtle law of our nature, contempt almost inevitably turns to cruelty.