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Lions and dogs: Apropos of a Tolstoy story.

Tolstoy's very short story, "The Lion and the Dog" ("[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]"), from the Second Russian Book for Reading, has long been one of the most popular works of Russian children's literature. Even in this short note, we can quote the piece in its entirety:
   Wild animals were on display in London where admission was paid in
   money or in dogs and cats that would be fed to the wild animals.

   One man wanted to see the animals, so he snatched up a dog off the
   street and brought it to the menagerie. They let him in, but the
   dog was taken and thrown into the lion's cage to be eaten.

   The little dog tucked its tail between its legs and nestled up to
   the corner of the cage. The lion walked up to it and sniffed it.

   The little dog lay on its back, raised its paws, and started to wag
   its tail.

   The lion touched it with its paw and turned it over.

   The little dog leapt up and stood before the lion on its hind legs.

   The lion looked at the little dog, turned its head from side to
   side, and did not touch it.

   When the keeper threw the lion some meat, the lion tore off a piece
   and left it for the dog.

   In the evening, when the lion lay down to sleep, the dog lay next
   to him and placed its head on the lion's paw.

   From that day on, the dog lived in the same cage with the lion. The
   lion did not touch the dog; it ate food, slept alongside it, and
   sometimes played with it.

   One day a nobleman came to the menagerie and recognized his dog. He
   said that the dog was his and asked the keeper to give it back to

   The keeper wanted to give it back, but as soon as they started to
   call the dog to take it from the cage, the lion raised its hackles
   and growled.

   Thus the lion and the dog lived a whole year in the same cage. In a
   year the dog grew sick and died. The lion stopped eating, but would
   sniff and lick the dog, and touch it with its paw.

   When it understood that the dog had died, it suddenly jumped up,
   raised its hackles, began to whip its flanks with its tail, flung
   itself against the wall of the cage, and began to gnaw at the bars
   and floor.

   The whole day he thrashed about and dashed around the cage and
   roared. Then he lay near the dead dog and grew silent. The keeper
   wanted to remove the dead dog, but the lion would not let anyone
   near it.

   The keeper thought that the lion would forget its grief if it were
   given another dog, and he let a live dog into the cage; but the
   lion instantly tore it to pieces. Then he folded the dead dog in
   his paws and lay that way five days.

   On the sixth day the lion died. (PSS 21: 165-166)

The text's subtitle, "a true story" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), probably refers to London as the place where the events took place. By underscoring the non-fictional character of the work, Tolstoy sought to intensify its effect on the reader.

The source of "The Lion and the Dog" is well known: It is the story "Le lion et l'epagneul" from the French compilation of children's reading, La morale en action, ou Choix de faits memorables et d'anecdotes instructives, which is in the Yasnaya Polyana library holdings. Edited by L. P. Berenger (1749-1822) and E. Guibaud (1711-1794), this collection was first published in 1783. It was extremely popular in France until the middle of the nineteenth century and was republished many times.

There have not yet been any detailed comparisons of Tolstoy's text and the French source. (1) It has not even been noted that, at the time when Tolstoy was composing "The Lion and the Dog," the plot had already had a long history in Europe as well as in Russia. This history was surely unknown to Tolstoy, but it is remarkable from a literary-historical point of view.

The original plot was informed by several real events, all similar to one another. French traveler Jean Mocquet (1575-1616?), discussing his visit to the royal palace in Morocco, wrote:
   I went to glance at the lions being held in a large structure
   without a roof, where one had to go up some steps. Among other
   things I saw a rather remarkable scene. A dog had at one point been
   thrown to the lions as food, and the eldest among them, to whom the
   other lions yielded, took the dog as if it intended to tear it to
   pieces. However, before doing this he thought of playing with it a
   little, and it so happened that the dog, fawning upon the lion and
   as if acknowledging his might, began to bite gently at a scab on
   the lion's neck, which gave the lion such pleasure that not only
   did he not harm the dog but even protected it from the other lions.

Mocquet not only conveys the story but goes on to derive a moral lesson from it: "This example shows how great are the fruits of submission and obedience to those who stand above us and how noble and magnanimous is the lion among other beasts" (186-188).

Appearing initially in Paris in 1617, Mocquet's book gained widespread fame. It was republished in France in 1645 and 1665 and translated into Dutch, German, and English. Meanwhile, the tale of friendship between the king of beasts and his would-be victim evolved independently. (2) It became the point of reference in the history of the plot, directly or indirectly influencing all subsequent adaptations.

In the eighteenth century the plot begins to be developed with a specifically European orientation. In France it is mentioned in connection with the family estate of the princes of Conde where, according to historians, in 1718 the Duchess of Berry observed an adult lion playing with a dog which had nourished him when he had been a cub. It is possible that one of these tales about animals was used by the author of the first specifically literary text on the theme, Swedish statesman and diplomat Count C. G. Tessin (1695-1770), who from 1739-1742 was ambassador in Paris. Tessin's work, however, clearly reveals traces of his reading of Mocquet.

Over the course of several years, Tessin was governor to the future Gustaf III, to whom he addressed his didactic book Letters of an Old Man to a Young Prince (En aldre mans breftill en stadigare prins, 1753), soon translated into German, English, and French. The story of the lion and the dog, supposedly known to Tessin by way of an unnamed witness, is summarized in a letter to Gustav from June 27, 1752. He gives his work the flavor of an apologue based on real events and thus having maximal educational effect. The content is as such: A cruel little troublemaker throws a dog into a lion's cage, hoping "to be amused" and "to gain much pleasure from observing how the lion would greedily gobble up its innocent prey." However, the lion treats the dog as a fellow unfortunate, condemned, like him, to live life in confinement. The grateful dog looks upon the king of beasts as its master and takes an "oath of loyalty to its sovereign." Their union is founded on magnanimity on the one hand and obedience and gratitude on the other. They live in peace and harmony until one day the hungry dog crosses all permissible bounds and is the first to pounce on the food that has been brought. In a burst of indignation the lion kills the dog, but then grows remorseful and, "in despair and rage, letting out a terrifying roar," condemns itself to death by starvation.

"Can a real event of this nature, like Aesop's fables, be put to the use of our education?" asks the author, who then proposes an interpretation of his story. Tessin interprets his apologue as a lesson not only to monarchs, on whom "it is incumbent every moment to show mercy and justice to his subjects," but also to subjects who are obligated to maintain "gratitude, subordination, and obedience to their sovereign" (228-229).

It is unknown whether the Marquise du Deffand (1697-1780) read Tessin's apologue, but in a letter to Voltaire dated March 14, 1764, she retells another version of the Chantilly legend, creating on this basis a fable:

You are delightful in any genre! Why do you spurn the fable? Allow me to offer you a topic. In Chantilly there was a lion. Mongrels were thrown to him which otherwise would have been thrown into a river. He killed them all. Only one small dog that was pregnant won his mercy. The lion licked and caressed her and shared his food with her. When the dog had her litter, the lion did not harm her little family. And I do not know what became of it [the litter], but it happened once that the watchdogs came up to the cage and started to bark at the lion. The little dog joined them and started to attack the lion. The punishment was instantaneous: The lion strangled her, but quickly grew remorseful. He would not eat the dog, but lay beside it and, it seemed, was overcome by deep sorrow. It was hoped that a new interest would console him, but the lion mercilessly strangled all the dogs that were given to him. Does it not seem to you that from this (completely true) event one could extract a great number of moral conclusions regarding ingratitude, the need to love, or at least to have company? The regret of the lion that punished its (admittedly ungrateful) friend will undoubtedly give you many ideas. (du Deffand 286)

Voltaire's response on March 21 testifies to the wide dissemination of the anecdote told by du Deffand, though her prompting met with no reaction. The writer informed her that he knew this story to be absolutely exceptional, but still not on par with the famous story of Androcles (287).

Meanwhile, there developed an English version of the plot which was also based on a local legend. It seems that it was first recorded by the author of A Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster (1720).

The British sentimentalist Henry Brooke proposed a literary reworking of the story in his pedagogical novel The Fool of Quality (1761-1770). This work played a key role in the subsequent development of the plot. Brooke's version drew from parts of the French legend recorded by the Marquise du Deffand. His familiarity with Tessin's apologue is also beyond doubt. In this way, Brooke's text provided a certain synthesis of the earlier tradition, while the plot scheme acquired maximal completeness.

In one of the episodes of The Fool of Quality, in which the action takes place at the end of the seventeenth century, the young hero Harry and his "governor" Mr. Fenton go to see a huge lion and a small dog which have drawn people's attention. The keeper tells in detail the story of the animals: The dog was thrown into the lion's cage as food, but the lion did not touch its frightened victim, showed interest in it, and shared food with it. Thus began a friendship "consisting of all possible affection and tenderness on the part of the lion, and of the utmost confidence and boldness on the part of the dog; insomuch that he would lay himself down to sleep, within the fangs and under the jaws of his terrible patron." After a certain period of time the former owner of the spaniel comes to demand its return, but the keeper appeals to him not to part the "loving friends" and proposes sarcastically that, otherwise, the owner take the dog himself. In the end the owner is forced to abandon his intention (246-251).

Brooke and Tessin's plot schemes are similar. In the British author's version one finds certain features characteristic of his predecessor. Thus at the moment of its appearance in the cage, Brooke has the dog seek "mercy" from the "lordly brute" "in supplicatory attitudes," acknowledging the lion's "superior power." In addition, the lion is occasionally named a "brute" and "patron." Yet despite this, Brooke's version has a polemical resonance with regard to Tessin's. Instead of an apologue concerning lord and subject, before us is a touching story of an amazing friendship between two "natural" creatures whose relationship would seem to contradict their very nature. Allegorical personages acting according to certain universal societal laws, but then fatally departing from them, are replaced by animals, each with a unique personality. The little spaniel is scatterbrained and playful, amusing in its audacity and pretensions, but trustful at the same time. The lion in turn displays not ferocity, as one would expect, but good-naturedness, patience, and lenience. The narrative is dramatic; it contains vivid details and even modifies the denouement.

New in terms of content, Brooke's story required a new interpretation. "How comes it," Harry asks Mr. Fenton, "that creatures not endued with reason or conscience shall yet, in the affections that are peculiarly called humane, exceed even most of the human species?" In response, Mr. Fenton reflects on the primacy of "instinct" (the natural inclination to do good associated with a divine principle in the world) over human reason (252-254).

Brooke's version of the story acquired its canonical form in an abridged journal publication under the characteristic title, "A Singular Instance of Affection between Brutes" (1770). "A Singular Instance" contained only the plot, from the meeting of the personages up to their death, while everything dealing with the impressions and considerations of the main heroes of the novel was omitted (25-26).

True to the spirit of the times, Brooke's reworking of the story spread to the literature of morals and science in other European countries. It first appeared in Russia by German mediation when, in 1785, a translation of Georg Christian Raffs Naturgeschichte fur Kinder (1778) was published. In the eighteenth century this was a popular scholarly handbook both in Europe and in Russia. In the author's words, the works of Buffon and Linnaeus served as the book's basis (Pa[??][??] vi). Indeed, Raff clearly relies on Buffon's Histoire naturelle in the beginning of his section, "The Lion." However, he takes his "examples of the lion's magnanimity and [gratitude]" from other sources as well (Pa[??][??] 111).

Russian readers became acquainted with Brooke's text in its entirety in 1788, after the publication of the collection Useful and Pleasant Reading for the Youth and Any Age, compiled by Moscow University graduate, translator, and proofreader for the university press, Yakov I. Blagodarov (1764-1833). Blagodarov identifies his book as being one of those which "serve to instill in young readers necessary and useful knowledge, to educate their hearts, and to instruct them in virtue." The story of friendship between the lion and the dog comes as part of "A Natural Story about Lions," translated from J. H. Campe's journal Der Kinderfreund.

"A Natural Story" is presented as a conversation between children and a certain Mr. Papillon. In Mr. Papillon's story, the personal views of Harry and his governor and the communications between the keeper and the narrator, which are separate fragments in the novel, are all unified into a single story. In every other respect, Blagodarov reproduced Brooke's text faithfully and completely. The only exception is the substitution of "a beautiful, little black Bolognese dog" for the original "little, pretty black spaniel" which goes back to the 1771 German publication of The Fool of Quality. The product of an imperfect translation, the substitution unintentionally strengthened the contrast between the animals. This substitution was maintained in other Russian versions in the eighteenth century.

Blagodarov omits the conclusions of Brooke's heroes. It is the children who attach a moral value to what they have heard by commiserating with the keeper and his family and by condemning the "hateful man" who threw the dog into the cage (BTiaronapoB 46-47). But even more important to Campe's interpretation is the scientific commentary on the plot. Where the young skeptic Karl doubts the credibility of the story, Papillon suggests: "Quite the opposite [...] the lion is magnanimous in its bravery, noble in its anger, by nature sensitive. Buffon, a great, well-known expert on nature, says that [the lion] often spurned little enemies, despised offences and pardoned their insulting audacities [...] gave life to those condemned to death, protected those who rendered him some good, and shared his prey with them" (45-46).

A complete translation into Russian of Berenger and Guibaud's La morale appeared in 1790 under the title [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. The translator was M. M. Vysheslavtsev (1757/8-1830s). The story in question was included in the collection under the title, "The Lion and the Bolognese Dog, or the Marvelous Actions of Sympathy" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]).

Vysheslavtsev conveys the content of the French original with maximal accuracy. At the same time, though, he makes a very important, interpretive addition--a lengthy commentary (beginning on page 125) exceeding the actual plot and referring to the moment when a "close friendship" between the heroes is born.

In Campe's version, translated by Blagodarov, the London tale acquired a scientific explanation and was included in a series of similar examples of the lion's magnanimity and sensitivity, thus losing its fantastic quality. Vysheslavtsev underscores, namely, its uniqueness and mysteriousness, proposing simultaneously a key to understanding the story. This key is the theory, developed in his annotation, on sympathy:

"It happens, albeit rarely, in like manner [i.e., like an unexpected friendship between animals--A.K.] even among people. Sometimes during a first meeting, when they are still unfamiliar with one another, they feel a strong inclination towards one another which often continues with great continuity to the end of their lives. Learned people call this incomprehensible action of nature sympathy." (126; italics in original)

This is followed by a long quotation from C. M. Wieland, almost completely reproducing the Russian translation of the first section of his Sympathien.

Sympathy, or "affinity between souls," was one of the prevailing concepts among Sentimentalists, including the translator of the story. In Wieland and in Vysheslavtsev it emerges as a psychological phenomenon and, what is especially important, as a philosophical idea. The context here concerns the pre-existence of souls that recognize one another on earth in their bodily incarnation: "How blissful is the state [...] when sympathetic souls find one another! [...] How sweet the surprise of these kindred souls at their mutual discovery! [...] Their hearts are attuned to pleasant unanimity. [...] How easily they understand one another! [...] They seem like two halves joined by friendship into a single soul" (BepaH^e 126-127; italics are Vysheslavtsev's). These and similar judgments anticipating the idea of the androgyne, so critical to the Romantic conception of love, are accompanied by pronouncements on the topic (no less popular among the Romantics) of the memory of a divine homeplace, where the union of these "sympathetic souls" originates. According to Wieland, sympathy begets a spiritual intimacy between people. Vysheslavtsev lends a universal quality to the idea of spiritual affinity, projecting it onto the relationships between his personages.

It is important to note that these considerations do not sum up the history but are present at its beginning: The events described should be understood in light of the proposed interpretation. The very title of the story hints at such a reading, for it is separated into two parts: the event ("The Lion and the Bolognese Dog") and the explanation ("The Marvelous Actions of Sympathy").

At the end of the eighteenth century there was a new development in the plot. In 1788 a one-year-old lion, brought up in the company of a gundog, was brought from Senegal to the menagerie at Versailles. The lion wound up in France together with one of the dog's puppies. Bernardin de Saint-Pierre (1737-1814) wrote in 1792 about the animals' friendship, which presented "one of the most touching spectacles that only nature is capable of bestowing on the philosophical mind" (639-641, 645). At Saint-Pierre's initiative, the menagerie was moved a year later to the Botanical Garden in Paris, and a year after that the librarian of the Museum of Natural History, G. Toscan, published an expanded variation of the tale, borrowing from his predecessor the idea of society's beneficial influence on the most savage nature. We learn from Toscan's brochure, which combines facts with the already existing literary topoi, about the death of the lion's friend, his sufferings, the unsuccessful attempts of the attendants to replace the dead dog with a live one that is mercilessly strangled by the lion, and about how time slightly alleviated the lion's grief but did not completely efface his sorrow. The author exclaims: "O instinctive propensities of nature! [...] May your memory be sacred to people as a monument to pure and selfless friendship!" (Toscan 38).

With a reference to Toscan, the story of the Parisian friends was included by the editors of a posthumous edition of Buffon's Histoire naturelle as yet one more confirmation of the extraordinary qualities of the king of beasts about which the great naturalist had written. According to this publication, the Parisian lion subsequently had another canine friend he lived with during the last years of the eighteenth century.

P. Blanchard, a French writer who was popular even in Russia, included a new version of the story of the Senegal lion and his companion in his Le Buffon de la jeunesse. Here he uses all the well-known devices in his reworking of the theme. Dedicating his story to recent events in Paris, Blanchard nevertheless structures it using Brooke's foundation (e.g., a description of the animals' first meeting, the birth of their "perfect friendship," etc.), supplemented with details from Buffon. In essence, the traditional plot merely received a new topographical reference. Other "leonine" texts were created in similar fashion at this time.

In 1817, N. I. Grech, already famous at this time as a publisher and litterateur, visited the menagerie at the Botanical Garden. He wrote of his impressions in an essay in Son of the Fatherland ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]):

In a lion's cage we see a little dog. Several years ago one mischievous lad threw the dog in there to enjoy the sight of the lion tearing it to pieces. But this time the human heart did not divine the lion's. The menacing lion pounced on the poor creature, which had huddled up in fear in the corner of the cage, but suddenly felt pity, and began to caress the dog rather than bite it to death. Little by little, the dog got used to its powerful neighbor, started to play with the lion and share its food. After a period of time the dog died. The lion began to languish and ceased to eat anything until it was given its current companion. And this dog quickly got used to the lion. It plays with the lion, tugs at its mane and ears. The lion is amused by the dog, and only on occasion, growing tired of it, throws the dog aside. A strange game of nature!" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] 65-66)

Clearly, the development of the plot over the course of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century was interpreted in different directions, be they socio-political, moral, scientific, philosophical or psychological. The story was read even as an entertaining anecdote. What unifies the majority of the versions examined is the greater or lesser orientation towards moral edification, as well as the invariable anthropomorphism of the personages. Against this backdrop one discerns the originality of Tolstoy's interpretation.

The main features of this translation-reworking of "Le lion et l'epagneul" are brevity and simplicity, the deliberate artlessness of the exposition bordering on solecism, and repetitions. The narration is distinctly objective, contrasting with the drama of the events described. Tolstoy completely eschews any moralizing commentaries and interpretations. Moreover, he consistently removes any epithets betraying the original's emotion and judgment, remaining in the position of an outside observer and depicting nothing more than the animals' actions. Sidestepping direct psychologizing, Tolstoy eschews even the projection in the original of human feelings and relationships onto the personages (e.g., the reference to "close friendship") and the attempts to penetrate their consciousness (as when the lion "thinks" that the dog is only sleeping). (3)

On top of all this, the short text from Berenger and Guibaud's reader is reduced to half its length in Tolstoy. The narration, in essence, amounts to the mere recording of events. The richness and pace of the plot is accentuated by the new graphical form of the text which is divided into small paragraph-episodes. The laconism of the text maximally engages the imagination of the reader who is called upon to come to his own conclusions and to see the heroes' suffering behind their sparsely described behavior.

The many references in European literature and journalism of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century--from Balzac's Splendeurs et miseres des courtisanes (1847) to Nekrasov's "Dead Lake" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 1851) and Sasha Chorny's Micky the Fox Terrier's Diary ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 1924-27)--speak to the widespread fame of the plot. It is telling that in all these examples juxtapositions and references to the plot are given without additional explanation. Moreover, it is practically impossible for the reader or commentator to determine which "leonine" text the author had in mind. Undoubtedly, at some point the plot turned into a locus communis of European culture. For a few generations of Russian readers, however, the touching story of two animals' friendship was inseparably linked to the name of one author alone, Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy.

Works Cited


Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, J. H. "Memoire sur la necessite de joindre une menagerie au Jardin des Plantes." CBuvres completes. Vol. 12. Paris, 1818.


Brooke, H. The Fool of Quality, or, the History of Henry Earl of Moreland. Vol. 4. London, 1769.

--, "A Singular Instance of Affection between Brutes, from Mr. Brooke's Fool of Quality." The London Magazine, or Gentleman's Monthly Intelligencer 39 (1770): 25-26.

Delacroix, J. V. "Aventure heureuse d'un petit Chien." Le Porte-feuille du physicien, ou Recueil amusant & instructif des actions & des moiurs des animaux. Paris, 1780.


Du Deffand, Marie de Vichy-Chamrond and Mathurin Francois Adolphe de Lescure. Correspondance complete de la Marquise du Deffand avec ses Amis, le President Henault, Montesquieu, dAlembert, Voltaire, Horace Walpole. Vol. 1. Paris, 1865.


Mocquet, Jean. Voyages en Afrique, Asie, Indes orientales et occidentales. Rouen, 1645.


Tessin, K. G. Lettres au Prince Royal de Suede. Vol. 1. Paris, 1755.


Toscan, G. Histoire du Lion de la Menagerie du Museum national d'histoire naturelle, et de son Chien. Paris, 1795.


All non-Russian sources, with the exception of English, are translated from the original Russian of the article.

(1.) Tolstoy's commentator, V. S. Spiridonov, laconically characterized the story as being a "translation close to the original" (PSS 21: 639).

(2.) See Delacroix ("Aventure" 168-170; "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" is a translation into Russian.

(3.) The only trace of the original in this regard is the phrase, "When it understood that the dog had died [...]."

Alexander Karpov

Saint Petersburg State University

(Translated and edited by David Houston)
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Title Annotation:Research Notes; 'The Lion and the Dog' by Leo Tolstoy
Author:Karpov, Alexander
Publication:Tolstoy Studies Journal
Article Type:Critical essay
Date:Jan 1, 2012
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