William Safire and His Dog

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3 min read
nytimes / CC
William Safire

William Safire, who passed away yesterday at the age of 79, is perhaps best known as the genius who penned the words “nattering nabobs of negativism.” OK, maybe he’s only most famous for that among English majors. In truth, he is best known as being a pioneering conservative pundit.

Here at The PETA Files, we are longtime fans of his “On Language” column in the New York Times Magazine, where he once wrote about the history of vegetarian diets and even gave kudos to the “charmingly crotchety” Donald Watson for inventing the word “vegan.”

You had to admire the man’s way with words. In turn, he admired others’ way with words, most notably in his book, Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History.

In William Safire’s memory, we are posting an excerpt from a speech from that book by 19th century Senator George Graham Vest. In his introduction to the speech—which is actually then-prosecutor Vest’s closing statement* at the trial of a man accused of killing his neighbor’s dog—Safire warns, “If there has ever been a good dog in your life, read this with a handkerchief handy ….”

Gentlemen of the Jury: The best friend a man has in the world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter that he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name may become traitors to their faith. …

The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog. A man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer. He will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounter with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings, and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens.

If fortune drives the master forth, an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him, to guard him against danger, to fight against his enemies. And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes his master in its embrace and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by the graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad, but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even in death.

If William Safire had dogs, I imagine their heads are between their paws as I write this. Our thoughts are with them and Safire’s family.

Written by Alisa Mullins

*Not surprisingly, he won the case.

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