Farmer Short’s Dog Porter: A Tale

Philip Foner’s introduction:

These lines were written to be recited before the Headstrong Club of Lewes, England. They were first published in the Pennsylvania Magazine of July, 1775, and were preceded by a foreword in which Paine stated: “The following story, ridiculous as it is, is a fact. A farmer at New Shoreham, near Brighthelmstone, in England, having voted at an election for a Member of Parliament, contrary to the pleasure of three neighboring justices, they took revenge upon his dog, which they caused to be hung, for starting a hare upon the road. The piece has been very little seen, never published, nor any copies taken.”

THREE Justices (so says my tale)

Once met upon the public weal.

For learning, law, and parts profound,

Their fame was spread the county round;

Each by his wondrous art could tell

Of things as strange as Sydrophel;

Or by the help of sturdy ale,

So cleverly could tell a tale,

That half the gaping standers by

Would laugh aloud. The rest would cry.

Or by the help of nobler wine,

Would knotty points so nice define,

That in an instant right was wrong,

Yet did not hold that station long,

For while they talk’d of wrong and right,

The question vanish’d out of sight.

Each knew by practise where to turn

To every powerful page in Burn,

And could by help of note and book

Talk law like Littleton and Coke.

Each knew by instinct when and where

A farmer caught or kill’d a hare;

Could tell if any man had got

One hundred pounds per ann. or not;

Or what was greater, could divine

If it was only ninety-nine.

For when the hundred wanted one,

They took away the owner’s gun.

Knew by the leering of an eye

If girls had lost their chastity,

And if they had not-would divine

Some way to make their virtue shine.

These learned brothers being assembled,

(At which the county feared and trembled),

A warrant sent to bring before ’em,

One Farmer Shorty who dwelt at Shoreham,

Upon a great and heavy charge,

Which we shall here relate at large,

That those who were not there may read,

In after days, the mighty deed:


“That he, the ’foresaid Farmer Short,

Being by the devil moved, had not

One hundred pounds per annum got;

That having not (in form likewise)

The fear of God before his eyes,

By force and arms did keep and cherish,

Within the aforesaid town and parish,

Against the statute so provided,

A dog. And there the dog abided.

That he, this dog, did then and there

Pursue, and take, and kill a hare;

Which treason was, or some such thing,


The constable was bid to jog,

And bring the farmer-not the dog.

But fortune, whose perpetual wheel

Grinds disappointment sharp as steel,

On purpose to attack the pride

Of those who over others ride,

So nicely brought the matter round,

That Farmer Short could not be found,

Which plunged the bench in so much doubt

They knew not what to go about.

But after pondering pro and con,

And mighty reasonings thereupon,

They found, on opening of the laws,

That he, the dog aforesaid, was

By being privy to the fact,

Within the meaning of the act,

And since the master had withdrawn,

And was the Lord knows whither gone,

They judged it right, and good in law,

That he, the dog, should answer for

Such crimes as they by proof could show,

Were acted by himself and Co.

The constable again was sent,

To bring the dog; or dread the event.

Poor Porter, right before the door,

Was guarding of his master’s store;

And as the constable approach’d him,

He caught him by the leg and broach’d him;

Poor Porter thought (if dogs can think)

He came to steal his master’s chink.

The man, by virtue of his staff,

Bid people help; not stand and laugh;

On which a mighty rout began;

Some blamed the dog, and some the man.

Some said he had no business there,

Some said he had business everywhere.

At length the constable prevail’d,

And those who would not help were jaiPd;

And taking Porter by the collar,

Commanded all the guards to follow.

The justices received the felon,

With greater form than I can tell on,

And quitting now their wine and punch,

Began upon him all at once.

At length a curious quibble rose,

How far the law could interpose,

For it was proved, and rightly too,

That he, the dog, did not pursue

The hare, with any ill intent,

But only followed by the scent;

And she, the hare, by running hard,

Thro’ hedge and ditch, without regard,

Plunged in a pond, and there was drown’d,

And by a neighboring justice found;

Wherefore, though he the hare annoy’d,

It can’t be said that he destroy’d;

It even can’t be proved he beat her,

And “to destroy” must mean “to eat her.”

Did you e’er see a gamester struck,

With all the symptoms of ill luck ?

Or mark the visage which appears,

When even Hope herself despairs?

So look’d the bench, and every brother

Sad pictures drew of one another;

Till one more learned than the rest

Rose up, and thus the court address’d:

“Why, Gentlemen, I’ll tell ye how,

Ye may clear up this matter now,

For I am of opinion strong

The dog deserves, and should be hung.

I’ll prove it by as plain a case,

As is the nose upon your face.

“Now if, suppose, a man, or so,

Should be obliged, or not, to go

About, or not about, a case,

To this, or that, or t’ other place!

And if another man, for fun,

Should fire a pistol (viz.) a gun,

And he, the first, by knowing not

That he, the second man, had shot,

Should undesign’dly meet the bullet,

Against the throat (in Greek) the gullet,

And get such mischief by the hit

As should unsense him of his wit,

And if that, after that he died,

D’ye think the other may n’t be tried?

Most sure he must, and hang’d, because

He fired his gun against the laws:

For ’t is a case most clear and plain,

Had A not shot, B had not been slain:

So had the dog not chased the hare,

She never had been drown’d-that’s clear.”

This logic, rhetoric, and wit,

So nicely did the matter hit,

That Porter, though unheard, was cast,

And in a halter breathed his last.

The justices adjourned to dine,

And whet their logic up with wine.