Most terrier people likely know that it was Jerome Klapka Jerome (he was originally Jerome Clapp Jerome but later changed his middle name to Klapka) who wrote, “Fox-terriers are born with about four times as much original sin in them as other dogs are,” but they may not know much about the man, or why he wrote what he did about Fox Terriers.
Some who are fans of Connie Willis’ comic time-travel novel will be familiar with our post title, To Say Nothing of the Dog, and serious bibliophiles will recognize Jerome as the popular Victorian era author of Three Men in a Boat, or Idle Fellow, both of which made the author successful. Indeed, Jerome still has so many fans that nearly 100 years after his death, “Jeromians” from around the world meet up on the Jerome K Jerome Society website to honor the writer they regard as one of the great comic masterpieces of the English language. Given his quote about the Fox Terrier, it’s hard to disagree.
The society’s website is where we found footage of the man, himself. He has the persona of a well traveled man. In truth, he loved to investigate new ideas and experiences. He was a pioneer of skiing in the Alps, and was a frequent visitor of the United States and Russia. He had interesting friends which included H. G. Wells with whom Jerome invented a tabletop game called, Little Wars.
Perhaps you could tell from the footage that Jerome was a relaxed, confident man, but this belies early misfortune. Family setbacks necessitated him leaving leave school at fourteen, and that departure lead to work in different capacities, including acting. He once said, “I have played every part in Hamlet except Ophelia.” With little sign of fame and fortune, however, Jerome left the theatre at the age of twenty-one. He tried journalism, but most of his works were rejected. That lead to stabs at being a schoolteacher, packer and solicitor’s clerk, and it was only after he stumbled across a poem by the American poet, Henry Wordsworth Longfellow, that he decided to take a different approach to his writing. It worked.
Jerome’s most famous work, Three Men in a Boat (subtitled: To Say nothing of the dog), was a blockbuster in its day. It sold more than a million copies worldwide in its first 20 years and turned the Thames into a popular tourist attraction. In fact, boat registrations on the Thames leapt from 8,000 to 12,000 in the year following the publication.
In the story, Jerome himself serves as the narrator. He is on an outing with two real life friends – men in twilight of their bachelorhoods – with whom he often takes boating excursions. The dog along for the ride, a Fox Terrier named, “Montmorency,” is fictional, but Jerome later admitted that the terrier was “developed out of that area of inner consciousness which, in all Englishmen, contains an element of the dog.” The book has endured because it’s funny, a comedic gem that has never been out of print since it was first published in 1889. Though it was originally commissioned as a travel book for people who liked to boat on the Thames, it became an account of a holiday taken by three young hypochondriacs and a dog with deep misgivings about water, but whose ambition in life was to get in the way, worm his way into where he wasn’t wanted, and frustrate the hapless people around him.
We have found several photos of Jerome sitting with a terrier, but scant information about the dog. The photo shows up frequently, but captions always read, “Jerome pictured with the dog he made famous in Three Men in a Boat.
Another photo we come across is of him standing with a dog at his feet. This image is always described as a photograph of Jerome K Jerome with his dog taken circa 1885.
The image suggests to us that the author did, indeed, own a terrier of his own, but to our frustration, never more than that.
Three Men in a Boat was eventually made into a BBC comedy movie in 1975 starring Tim Curry, Michael Palin, and Stephen Moore. Palin’s appearance came as he was establishing his post-Monty Python career, and critics felt that the film had “glints of Python-like silliness throughout.”
Image from a Book Review of ‘Three Men In A Boat’ by