Myth-busting the Grand Duke's Grey Ghost

Ok, we've all read about Karl August of Sachsen-Weimar and his connection to the Weimarner right? You know, the Grand Duke, that fancy-pants European nobleman, friend of Goethe, who liked his schnapps a bit too much, and, according to most Weim histories, more or less created the grey ghost and shared the breed with his fancy-pants friends?

Ya, that guy (check out those pants!)

Ok, so tell me this: why is it that despite years of on-again, off-again research into the Duke have I been unable to find one, single, solitary piece of solid evidence that proves he even knew what a Weimaraner was, let alone created it from scratch?

Sure I've read all the stuff published by Weimaraner enthusiasts. They are nearly unanimous in their assertion that the Weim came from the court of the Grand Duke. They point to paintings that seem to show the old guy out hunting, with dogs of all kinds prancing around the game fields of his estates. Any dog in these illustrations that is short haired and lighter in colour is immediately "identified" as a Weim. And they write that "it is said that the Grand Duke..." or "according to tradition, Karl August"...yada yada yada. Yet no one provides anything more than a sort of "I heard it from a guy who knew a guy that had a friend who heard..." sort of thing.

Now, the few mentions I can find of the Grand Duke that were written by men who tried to get to the bottom of the story turn out to be completely opposite to what most people believe. Guys like Robert Herber and Dr. Kleeman, renowned experts who lived and breathed this kind of stuff, concluded that:

"the hunting activity of the Dukes of Weimar had nothing to do with the existance of the Weimaraner" (Kleeman)

and

"hunting writers of the Royal Court of Weimar never mentioned the Weimaraner, which they by all means would have done for patriotic reasons." (Herber).

Herber even goes on to say that: "I have been in touch with the Hofmarschallamt and the Hofjagdamt in Weimar, who had found nothing concerning the Weimaraner despite thorough searching through their files. The name was probably brought into existence because the Weimaraner first occurred in large numbers in Weimar and was bred there. Even Diezel says nothing about the Weimaraner in 1873. (Herber, Deutsch Waidwerk No 22, September 1, 1939)

And I too have tried, in vain, to find any mention of Weimaraners in writings about the Grand Duke by people not connected to the breed. I've poured over a couple of Duke biographies and found nada, zippo, zitch about Weimaraners in them. Recently, I noticed that there is a new biography on the market. Written by Volker Ebersbach, it seems to be mainly about the Duke's connection to Goethe. On the cover is a beautiful painting of the Duke with a longhaired brown and white dog laying beside him...definitely NOT a Weim!

So, if Karl August did have a hand in creating the Weimaraner and if he did, as some "authorities" claim strive to keep it among the nobles of Weimar, why, oh why would he have his painting done showing him with a dog that is surely NOT a Weim?

Does anyone have this book...or access to it at a local library or book shop? I would love to know if the author makes any mention of the Weimaraner in it.

And while we are at it, can anyone tell me how the dogs in this illustration of the Grand Duke, Goethe and Corena Schroeter can be mistaken for Weims?


There are plenty of other illustrations of the man, some of them feature dogs. In NONE of them, is there clear evidence that the dogs are Weimaraners.

What gives? Is the whole Grand Duke thing just wishful thinking? Is it all a bunch of hokum?

Does anyone have any information they can point me to that clearly establishes a link between the Weimaraner and the Grand Duke?

Or should we considered this myth busted and follow Christopher Hitchens's advice?

“That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”
― Christopher Hitchens

5 comments:

  1. Academically, an argument from silence is the weakest.

    If you haven't found a connection, consider it agnostic. You'd have to find someplace where he journaled: "Saw one of those new grey dogs Hans is always going on about; ugly as sin. What is the world coming to?" before you can call it busted.

    You can't make an argument from silence based on the art, either. Remember that very little illustration at that time had anything to do with capturing a true moment. Having himself painted with a favorite munsterlander (maybe?)-type dog doesn't mean he didn't have other dogs in the house.

    The park illustration looks very deliberately composed, which probably means it was a political statement about who he liked to hang out with and how terribly intelligent he was and how much he enjoyed the bucolic "woods" (with groomed path and bench, natch) with his interesting and intelligent friends. Who knows if the whippet-types ever existed; they could be the 19th-century version of "photoshopped in" to draw further attention to the person in the center of the picture.

    They're not evidence that he didn't have early proto-Weims in the house, any more than they ARE evidence that he bred whippets.

    So I think at this point you're stuck with an interesting hole in the information, but you can't draw too many conclusions from it.

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  2. The real issue for me is not so much my inability to find a connection. It is about those who claim that there IS a connection yet provide no evidence to support their claims.

    Consider this from Weimaraner Ways : "The Grand Duke Carl August certainly played an important role in breeding and establishing Weimaraners as the special prerogative of the German aristocracy".

    What is this statement based on? It is in complete opposition to the positions of Herber and Kleeman, arguably the most knowledgeable experts in Germany in the early days of the breed. One would expect there to be a pretty big smoking gun proving them wrong.

    But where is it? What is the source that confirms the author's claims? If they have evidence of any kind, why is it not presented?

    It seems to me that there are only two answers: 1. Evidence that the Duke played an important role in the breeding of Weimaraners is so scare, or so highly secret, that only anointed authors of weim bibles and literary detectives have access to it or 2. The whole Grand Duke connection is a crock.

    Which answer would Occam choose?

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  3. The kennels of the Dukes of Saxe Weimar were said to contain more than a thousand dogs of all types. Given that the folks most likely to know the breakdown of the hunting dogs in those kennels, the gamekeepers, would have largely been illiterate at this time - it's not surprising that there is a paucity of written information. Is there any written evidence that he owned this brown and white dog?

    Oral history may not be as reliable as written history, but then again it may be. Until there is definitive proof that the Duke did not have Weimeraners among those 1100 dogs, then claiming he didn't is just stirring the pot - something Dr. Kleeman, at least, loved to do.

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  4. Really?

    You are actually invoking the prove a n├ęgative gambit?

    Really?

    I just had diner with Santa Clause. Until there is definitive proof that I did NOT have diner with Santa Clause, Anyone who says I didn,t is just stirring the pot!

    the burden of proof is on the one making the claim, not on the one asking for proof. Some claim the Duke or dukes, depending on which way the wind is blowing, had a thousand dogs, that their kennel keepers were illiterate, that they somehow developed the weim...

    to those claimants, I say, show me the evidence!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Really?

    You are actually invoking the prove a n├ęgative gambit?

    Really?

    I just had diner with Santa Clause. Until there is definitive proof that I did NOT have diner with Santa Clause, Anyone who says I didn,t is just stirring the pot!

    the burden of proof is on the one making the claim, not on the one asking for proof. Some claim the Duke or dukes, depending on which way the wind is blowing, had a thousand dogs, that their kennel keepers were illiterate, that they somehow developed the weim...

    to those claimants, I say, show me the evidence!

    ReplyDelete