top of page

Basset history

So, is it true? Did Lafayette really give 2 basset hounds to George Washington?

The very famous British Basset - FRED

William Shakespeare

(THÉSÉE: Scene V)

A Midsummer Night's Dream

French star - Télé Z

The encyclopedia description of the Basset Hound is:

"The Basset Hound is a short-legged breed of dog of the hound family. They are scent hounds, bred to hunt by scent. Their sense of smell for tracking is second only to that of the Bloodhound. The name Basset derives from the French word "bas" meaning "low".

I will not go into all the technical details about bassets - there are more than plenty of excellent books covering the subject. Just a few facts that I found interesting.

Firstly, everyone seems agreed on the fact that Bassets are French, even though they travelled to the UK and the US where they became very popular at different times. Their first use was in hunting rabbits and hare. Being scent hounds they just trail their victims and don't actually kill them.

Once, in a field meeting in France, they were described as "paramedics" ! They smell the blood of the injured animal and follow that trail till they find them. The reason their ears are so long is that they drag along the ground and this helps bring up the scents to their noses. 

In France there are two distinct breeds: the Basset Hound and the Basset Artésien Normand; in other countries they do not distinguish between the two breeds. 

The origins of the Basset Hound go back to the middle ages but they probably did not have exactly the same appearance as today. They started becoming popular in the latter part of the 19th century.


William Shakespeare himself even described what sounds very much like a basset hound in A Midsummer Night's Dream, in the words of Theseus :

My hounds are bred out of the Spartan kind,
So flew'd, so sanded, and their heads are hung
With 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,
Each under each. A cry more tuneable
Was never holla'd to, nor cheer'd with horn,
In Crete, in Sparta, nor in Thessaly:
Judge when you hear. 

Time magazine featured the Basset Hound in 1928 and some people think that this is what made the Basset Hound popular in the United States. I think that Fred Basset did a lot for making the breed popular in the UK, back in 1963 when Graham "gave birth" to Fred his world famous comic strip in a national newspaper.

I have often heard said that it was the Marquis de Lafayette who introduced Basset Hounds to America, offering them as a gift to George Washington. I have just read a very detailed biography on the life of Lafayette and did not see any mention of this. Ah well, I learnt plenty of other interesting things whilst reading the book, anyway. 

There have been several famous Basset Hounds around the world and some connections with famous people, too. Here are just a few of them that I know about :

Droopy Dog, originally created in 1943 by Tex Avery; US 

Fred Basset, comic strip created in 1963 by Graham; UK 

Rosebud the Basselope, from Berke Breathed's comic strip "Bloom County"; US

Bassets in films :

Lafayette, in the 1970 Disney Film "The Aristocats"; US 

Fred, in the 1977 film "Smokey and the Bandit"; US

Gabriel, in Ghost in the Shell 2 : Innocence (directed by Mamoru Oshii. Gabriel is his own dog and features in many of his films) ; US/Japan

TV Bassets :

Sherlock, on The Steve Allen Show (sung to by Elvis P in person!) on July 1st 1956; US

Flash, in the Dukes of Hazzard, 1980's; US

Cleo, The People's Choice; US 

Dog, in the Columbo series; US

Quincy, from Coach; US

Sammy, from That's so Raven; US

Socrates, in Judging Amy; US

Ari, from Karen et Ari; France

Heinrich, (a German series) ; Germany 

Some famous Basset Hound owners (past and present):

Queen Alexandra (wife of Edward VII) - Bijou UK; Harry Anderson - Floyd; Bob Hope - Recession; Clint Eastwood - Sidney; Candice Bergen - Dickles; Marilyn Monroe & Arthur Miller - Hugo; Rex Harrison - Homer; Anson Williams - Beau; Sara Cox - Snoop; 

and not forgetting those whose bassets' names I do not know : Jean-Pierre Coff (French TV cuisine); Richard Dean Anderson (McGyver); Jake Plummer (Denver Broncos); James Earl Jones; Alton Brown; Truman Capote. Xaviera Hollander (The Happy Hooker !). 

I'm sure there are plenty more .....

bottom of page