Man or Horse?


Hand-Tinted 1831 Etching of "Rob Roy" after George Henry Laporte (LEO Design)

When I acquired this English print, a hand-tinted etching of Rob Roy from 1832, I was unsure if the title referred to the man or the horse.  (And I still am.)  After two hours of research, I have decided to present the two options—and leave it up to you, gentle reader.  

The historical figure, Robert MacGregor (1671-1734), known as Rob Roy, was a cattle rustler, brigand and hustler who would shake-down other farmers for "protection money."  Over the centuries, Rob Roy's thuggish reputation has evolved into a heroic Robin Hood type, in part thanks to Sir Walter Scott's 1817 novel Rob Roy (which manipulated the facts to craft a more compelling novel).  Film versions have, likewise, served to lionize the historic outlaw.  While this print, shown above, could be presenting a "spruced-up" depiction of MacGregor, the man (in film or in paintings) was more often portrayed in rugged Highland garb.  The man in the print does not strike me as an authentic Rob Roy.

Rob Roy has also been a popular name for horses.  Perhaps this etching depicts the animal, not the man.  In Anna Sewell's groundbreaking novel, Black Beauty (1877), a black horse named Rob Roy must be shot when he breaks his leg attempting to clear a jump.  His rider, George Gordon, also dies in the accident, having broken his neck.  The popular novel, which uses the horse, Black Beauty, as its narrator, was extremely important in shaping Victorian popular opinion about the poor treatment of animals—especially work horses—and spurred legislation to improve their conditions.  But Black Beauty was published some 35 years after this etching was printed.  Perhaps it is another horse named Rob Roy or, perhaps, there was a famous horse named Rob Roy who provided inspiration for the character in Anna Sewell"s novel.

After two hours of digging, I have decided to leave my curiosity unresolved.  Whether the print honors the man or the horse, it is equally handsome.  Click on the photo above to learn more about it.


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