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The graceful and elegant Mrs. Bouncer

The graceful and elegant Mrs. Bouncer

Dickens had a special fondness for Mrs. Bouncer, who belonged to his daughter Mamie. A Pomeranian, sometimes called a Spitz in the 19th century, she was by far the smallest of the Gad’s Hill dogs. Essentially, she was a miniature Spitz, with the typical pointed ears and curled tail, but, Mamie said, just “a tiny ball of white fluffy fur” when she arrived.

Dickens loved watching her, “so preposterously small,” yet “assuming great airs” among the huge mastiffs, bloodhounds, Newfoundlands, and St. Bernards surrounding her.

He thought about her when he was away, even dreamed of her. “In my mind’s eye I behold ‘Mrs. Bouncer,’” he wrote to his daughter, “still with some traces of anxiety on her faithful countenance, balancing herself a little unequally on her forelegs, pricking up her ears with her head on one side, and slightly opening her intellectual nostrils. I send my loving and respectful duty to her.”

My favorite Mrs. Bouncer story involves two other dogs, Gypsy and Fosco. Gypsy, a mongrel, was temporarily being cared for at Gad’s Hill. Since she wasn’t allowed in the drawing room, she spent her days dozing on a rug outside it. Fosco, a clever poodle, was invited with his master to Gad’s Hill drawing room expressly to display his tricks.

As soon as Fosco began his performance, Mrs. Bouncer trotted out to Gypsy and escorted her into the drawing room, as much as to say, Mamie writes, “If strange dogs are to be made much of, surely the dogs in the house may be at least permitted to enter the room.” Mrs. Bouncer sat with her back to Fosco throughout his performance, “the picture of offended dignity.” Once he’d left the house she escorted Gypsy back to her rug.

Mrs. Bouncer, who outlived Dickens, had a long and happy life. When the end came, several of her admirers felt compelled to write poems to her memory. Among these was Ellen Ternan, who shared some of Mrs. Bouncer’s qualities and of whom Dickens was also inordinately fond. According to Dickens scholar Michael Slater, Ellen penned a verse that began with these lines:

We miss your soft and dainty step,
Your bright eye’s loving gaze,
Your pretty head, your graceful mien,
Your thousand winning ways . . .