Monday, 1 June 2009
While sniffing around the back streets of London in search of obscure books, Lord Bassington-Bassington stumbled upon this print from 1881. The print clearly shows notable forerunners of the Bassington-Bassington family, and diligent genealogical study has revealed their identity.
This is not only a saga of canine achievement and failure, but also of how many of humanity’s ideas are borrowed – or even stolen – from their four-footed companions.
Ortega Y Basset
To the far left can be seen Spanish Philosopher Ortega Y Basset. Ortega Y Basset has since been eclipsed by his near-namesake, Ortega Y Gasset, who stole all his ideas. Y Basset, outraged by this, sued Y Gasset, but fared badly in court.
Y Basset’s testimony, which went something like “woof woof howl ahroooo!” was not taken seriously by the judge. It probably did not help his case either that Y Basset, in a fit of despair, chewed up his lawyer’s expensive leather briefcase. The case was eventually dismissed by the court.
After giving up on philosophy, Y Basset started La Basserie, a Barcelona-based restaurant dedicated to his culinary novelties. The Basserie’s signature dish was chicken sashimi, a dish which proved badly suited to the Mediterranean climate and gained the local nickname “Salmonella Surprise”. The dish did not only spell the end of the Basserie, but also of Y Basset himself.
Despite dying a broken Hound, Y Basset is fondly remembered today as a forerunner of Caninism.
Winthrope "Bassie" Bassington-Smythe
Number two from the left is Winthrope Bassington-Smythe, or “Bassie” to his friends at the famous Drones Club of London.
Bassington-Smythe was originally offered the starring role of a TV series, which was to bear his name. But when it turned out that Bassie wasn’t very good at jumping down into wells to rescue drowning children, he was substituted with a collie (a female, none the less!) and the show renamed “Lassie”.
This defeat nearly broke Bassie’s spirit, and when he later lost the audition to become the face of Hush Puppies he became very depressed, his ears drooping to new levels.
Bassie later moved to Latin America, where he tried to establish himself as a dance teacher. But while trying to show his new dance, the “Bassie Nova” to a small group of students, Bassie tripped over his ears and broke his neck.
Hans B.K. Günther, "Bassen-Günther"
The hound emerging from the door, clasping a strange phrenological instrument, is Hans B.K. Günther. Founder of the Jena-based Institut für Bassenforschung, Günther gained the nickname “Bassen-Günther” for his insistence on the racial superiority of the pure-blooded Basset Hound. While the Basset is clearly a distinctive race, with its own charming quirks, “Bassen-Günther” took this notion to extremes, pioneering the slogan “If it ist not ein Basset Hound, it ist just ein Dog”. His mania for racial purity might be the reason that certain Bassets today have health complaints.
Günther’s theory that Viking “Dragon head” ships were really “Basset head” ships gained a following among certain Nordic romanticists and right-wing crackpots, but wasn’t taken seriously by scholars. Günther dealt with lack of acceptance by claiming that academia was dominated by Beagles: Superficially similar to Basset Hounds, but entirely different in essence. Günther eventually decided that Beagles were not canines at all, but shape-shifting beings from Sirius, the “Dog star”, who turned into Germans when nobody was watching, and conversely that all Germans were really Beagles.
“Bassen-Günther” ended his life in Switzerland, in a quiet sanatorium. And like Ortega Y Basset, “Bassen-Günther” saw his ideas stolen by a human.
Bazzyli Bassinski, a.k.a. Muhammad Bassad
Born in the Polish hamlet of Lwoof (close to Lvov), Bazzyli Bassinski was originally determined to become a Catholic priest, but was disappointed to learn that the teachings of the Church hold that canines do not go to heaven. Bassinski’s crisis of faith led him to study various religions, and in Alhazred & Sons, a dusty bookshop in Damascus, he came across a book of tafsir (Qu’ranic exegesis) by the medieval Islamic scholar Abu al-Qasim Mahmud ibn Umar al-Zamakhshari.
Al-Zamakshari’s insistence that animals who are loved by human beings will live in the hereafter led Bassinski to embrace Islam, taking the name Muhammad Bassad. Bassad thereafter became a prolific calligraphist, dipping his long ears in ink to use as a pen.
Like so many others of the Bassington line, Muhammad Bassad saw his ideas copied by a human: In his case, Muhammad Asad. But Asad, always trying to emulate the perfect manners of the Prophet, paid his tribute to Bassad, albeit in an oblique way (perhaps owing to the sad prejudices many Muslims harbour against canines). In Asad’s wonderful translation of the Qu’ran, the second footnote to the eighty-first surah is an obvious tribute to Muhammad Bassad.
To the far right can be seen Lord Bassingstoke, responsible for convincing Ernest Shackleton’s first polar expedition to use dog sleds pulled by Bassets. This stupendously stupid idea caused such unimaginable tragedy (several upstanding members of the Basset community had to amputate their ears) that this expedition has been excised from all history books.
Lord Bassingstoke, now the laughing stock of the world, retreated to a small mansion outside of London to write a series of travel books. Sales of titles such as “To Bassmania and Back,” “Bassel – the Swiss Capital” and “To the Bassporous Strait Without a Jacket” were hindered by many reviewers’ (correct) claims that the author could not have visited the places he wrote about.
Further humiliated, Lord Bassingstoke died penniless and alone, after trying an old family recipe for chicken sashimi.
To the extreme left in the picture can be clearly seen forebears of Lady Mju, who already then clearly showed a certain ambivalence towards the Bassington-Bassington-family’s tendency to have bizarre ideas.
Help in identifying them would be appreciated.