Going down to the underground

‘But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ Alice remarked

‘Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the Cat; ‘we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’

‘How do you know I’m mad?’ said Alice.

‘You must be,’ said the Cat, ‘or you wouldn’t have come here.’

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Most researchers will be familiar with the phrase “down the research rabbit hole”. For those who are not, let me explain from the start that it describes an experience, rather than an educational procedure or method. The idea draws, of course, on Alice in Wonderland. Alice followed the White Rabbit (oh my ears and whiskers!), who owned a large watch (the watch is important) down the rabbit hole. After falling in darkness for ages she ended up in a place where none of the usual rules applied and time appeared to stop. Everything Alice found was fascinating, but it was also BLOODY ANNOYING AND DISTRACTING. No sooner had one mouse in a teapot faded from the scene than a caterpillar with a hookah or a queen with a flamingo for a croquet mallet would turn up. And it appeared to go on for ever.

What follows is a description of one such experience. 

Galloway Nags


Here is an image of Galloway horses, or Galloway nags, that has circulated, in a limited fashion, on the internet. The fact that use of this image is so limited is interesting in itself, since it may be indicative of how little the horses are known today. It is important as it is one of the few images of the Galloway type, which was deemed “extinct”, or at least “decayed”, or absorbed into other breeds such as the Clydesdale, by the time this image was produced. Thereby hangs a tale – when was it produced, and by whom? Which work is it in? Spoiler alert: I still don’t know, dammit.

A bit of internet detective work suggests that this image first became publicly available when published on a website called Falling Angels, Lost Highways, belonging to Brian Moffat. It was published in a blog post about the Galloway as the horse of choice of the border reivers (which is very likely true, though no specific primary documentary evidence supports this).

The image was published along with the text that accompanied it in the source, which Brian Moffat cited as Oliver Goldsmith’s Natural History, since he’d apparently found it in his own copy of that book. He did, however, point out that the text appeared to be later than Goldsmith’s original work, but not how much later, nor who might have written it. Readers will search in vain for either the image or the text in Goldsmith’s early editions: it is not there. However, sharp-witted equine history researchers with an interest in unusual horse breeds will immediately spot the source of the text on the Falling Angels, Lost Highways page  as William Youatt, the prolific nineteenth century author of animal husbandry texts:

A horse between thirteen and fourteen hands in height is called a GALLOWAY, from a beautiful breed of little horses once found in the south of Scotland, on the shore of the Solway Firth, but now sadly degenerated, and almost lost, through the attempts of the farmer to obtain a larger kind, and better adapted for the purposes of agriculture. There is a tradition in that country, that the breed is of Spanish extraction, some horses having escaped from one of the vessels of the Grand Armada, that was wrecked on the neighbouring coast. This district, however, so early as the time of Edward I, supplied that monarch with a great number of horses. The pure galloway was said to be nearly fourteen hands high, and sometimes more; of a bright bay, or brown, with black legs, small head and neck, and peculiarly deep and clean legs. Its qualities were speed, stoutness, and sure footedness over a very rugged and mountainous country.

This text can be found in numerous editions of Youatt’s work. (I took my version from William Youatt, The Horse, with a Treatise of Draft (London: Chapman and Hall, 1843), 102.) The bit about the Armada isn’t true either, but that’s a whole other rabbit warren. Like the work of his predecessor Gervase Markham some centuries earlier, Youatt’s work was popular, ran to multiple editions and was widely cited, indeed, plagiarised. Tracking down every edition of Youatt, and every other text that may have used his work, with or without authorisation, is a major research undertaking in itself. However, it is interesting that Google Books, which contains several editions of his work, does not appear to include any edition with that image in it. Searching for the image, as indicated above, only results in a handful of hits, some of which appear to have used the Falling Angels, Lost Highways website as source, as they too attribute it to Goldsmith.

Goldsmith’s work was also frequently reused by later authors. I have an undated edition of his Natural History “by Henry Innes” which is described on the title page as Goldsmith’s Natural History, with notes from all the popular treatises that have been issued since the time of Goldsmith collected with the utmost care: combining a mass of information and reference, forming a complete vade-mecum of modern discovery in the science which it illtstrates [sic]. Mr Innes was clearly proud of his collection of bits and pieces, a scrapbooking approach to producing popular science texts which is fairly typical of the time.

Convinced, however, that the attribution to Goldsmith on the Falling Angels, Lost Highways website was incorrect (never assume, folks!), and that the quote and image must be in some edition of Youatt, I set out to find it. I had no success despite accessing numerous editions of his work. The text yes, the image, no. The historiography of the Galloway is elusive and fractured at the best of times. It was deeply irritating to come so close to a drawing said to be of the Galloway, and yet still remain apparently so far away.

By this time there were two of us searching for the elusive image, myself, and my husband. With his analytical skills honed over a long career in IT, he found it more quickly than I would ever have done. It is in an edition of Oliver Goldsmith, another mash-up version that includes samples from other texts. It dates to 1858 and was published by Blackie and Son of Glasgow and Edinburgh.  

The editor of this version had decided to include chunky “footnotes” of text by other authors, which were often much longer than the main text itself. The publisher also had an unusual way of referencing these additional authors. The footnote number 1 appeared at the start of each section by an author, thus:

With the source, or name of the author and the volume title appearing at the end of the section of text, thus:

So far, so good. That clarified things a bit, and I found the Youatt, or apparent Youatt section, with its reference to the Galloway and the image, very easily. It begins with a bit of interesting nationalism which precedes the actual breed descriptions themselves:

This is not in my version of Youatt. I have gone so far as to discover that it is in The British Cyclopaedia of the Arts and Sciences, Including Treatises on the Various Branches of Natural and Experimental Philosophy, the Useful and Fine Arts, Mathematics, Commerce, &c · Volume 2, by Charles Frederick Partington, published in 1835, which appears to include Youatt’s work on horse breeds.

I have not checked in every accessible edition of Youatt, though, having too many caterpillars with hookahs following me around already, and no, I don’t need another flamingo, thanks.

However, whoever the author of this section might be, they go on to say: “We proceed to notice a little more particularly some of the more prominent kinds of British horses. In doing so, we shall chiefly follow the ‘Treatise on the Horse,’ published in the Library of Useful Knowledge”. This is the Youatt volume, but since it doesn’t specify which one, I’m still no further on. However, I do some double-checking just to be sure, by cross-checking entries between the Goldsmith volume and my own edition of Youatt.

In the Goldsmith compendium, as I call it, the description of the coach horse which follows is near enough that of Youatt:

In Youatt from 1843 we have the very similar: “This animal in external appearance is as different from what he was fifty years ago as it is possible to conceive. The clumsy -barrelled, cloddy-shouldered, round-legged, black family horse – neither a coach nor a dray-horse, but something between both – as fat as an ox — but, with all his pride and prancing when he first starts not equal to more than six miles an hour, and knocking-up with one hard day’s work, is no more seen ; and we have, instead of him , an animal as tall, deep -chested, rising in the withers, slanting in the shoulders, flat in the legs, with far more strength, and with treble the speed”.

And so I continue reading the giant footnote, which is clearly mostly Youatt, reminding myself that it is a footnote and not the main text, going through the various breed descriptions, until that section appears to come to an end, with a snarky and uncalled for comment on the horses of Ulster:

And a new section follows, preceded by the 1 we have previously come to note:

So this should be the start of a new author, and a new text. But wait – there is no attribution at the end of the previous section of footnote!!! Certainly no reference to Youatt. So this is why Brian Moffat and anyone else who read it didn’t realise it was in fact Youatt. Curiouser and bloody curiouser, said Alice, kicking the White Rabbit in the arse, setting light to the caterpillar and twisting the flamingo’s neck into a knot. (No imaginary animals were harmed during the making of this blog and I especially love caterpillars, particularly hawk moth caterpillars, as long as they aren’t irritatingly pompous and don’t have hookahs.) Alice takes a long coffee break, and the caffeine makes her even more irritable and sweary. It’s a good job Alice no longer smokes, as she would be a 60 a day gal with nicotine-stained fingers and a voice like motorbike tyres skidding on gravel.

The end of the section that follows the uncredited “Youatt” section attributes it to one J. Stewart:

A search for J. Stewart follows, “just in case”. His work also ran to several editions, some of which were illustrated, and others not. Not one viewed so far has yet yielded references to Galloways, or indeed to horse breeds in general. That was not the purpose of his volume. Nope, the image is almost certainly from an edition of Youatt; but which one?

And so, the researcher pops her head above ground to take a quick breath and a look at the beautiful scenery where lots of people are simply relaxing and there’s not a single book in sight. Then plunges down the rabbit hole again, grabbing at volumes along the way as they fly past in the space-time continuum, appearing, disappearing and morphing into sparkly three-horned unicorns and giant, sniggering toads. The researcher finally lands with a thud in a pile of torn-up, wet, blackened paper with mystic scribblings and enigmatic phrases that disappear as soon as you look at them. Waiting patiently (with lots to tell) are a large white rabbit, a caterpillar and a flamingo. Hello friends, I’ve really, really missed you!

(Copyright Miriam A. Bibby 2021, wondering if it will end up in a compendium that foxes researchers in 2121)