Dalmatians Are Best

by Susan on Monday, February 6, 2012

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Tombstone of Eugene O'Neill's Dalmatian

“I have always held that most dogs are good… Some dogs, of course, are better than others. Dalmatians, naturally, as everyone knows, are best.”


Eugene O’Neill, The Last Will and Testament of Silverdene Emblem O’Neill, 1940


On December 17, 1940, Silverdene Emblem, beloved Dalmatian of Eugene and Carlotta O’Neill, died at Tao House, their home in California. A week later, Eugene wrote a tribute to their Dal in the form of a last will and testament, imagining that Blemie, as he was known, had left this text in the mind of his master before he died. Blemie’s master was a gifted human (he had won the Nobel Prize for literature only four years before) and capable of transcribing Blemie’s words with absolute fidelity.

Anyone who is mourning a Dalmatian, or any dog for that matter, will be moved and charmed by this short work, which elicits smiles as well as tears. Blemie is aware of his superiority as a canine and when he proclaims that dogs “are wiser than men,” human readers will nod in recognition of this irrefutable truth. Noting how many people have loved him, Blemie succumbs to the doggie predisposition to overstate the obvious: “Perhaps it is vain of me to boast when I am so near death, which returns all beasts and vanities to dust, but I have always been an extremely lovable dog.”

Blemie goes on to proclaim that “no dog has ever had a happier life.” He reflects on the inevitability of death, imagines what paradise may be like, and welcomes, above all, the peace that death will bring him. A sensitive soul, Blemie certainly understands that such gloomy thoughts will leave his Master, and especially his Mistress, broken-hearted, and he next sets out to cheer them up.

In the final section of The Last Will and Testament Blemie turns to the future and asks his Mistress, “for love of me” to have another dog in her life now that he is gone. And not, of course, just any dog, even though he considers that “most dogs are good.” Blemie is for a moment nearly as self-absorbed and egocentric as any human when he declares that “Dalmatians, naturally, as everyone knows, are best.” Blemie’s shameless claim is surely meant to bring a smile to his Mistress’s lips and a twinkle to her eye.

The complete version of The Last Will and Testament of Silverdene Emblem O’Neill is available online at: http://www.eoneill.com/texts/blemie/contents.htm.

A word of warning: In 1999, Adrienne Yorinks published a book entitled The Last Will and Testament of an Extremely Distinguished Dog (New York: Henry Holt and Company). Eugene O’Neill is given as the author, with Yorinks listed as illustrator. The book is filled with photos of Yorink’s quilts and a Border Collie.

Yorinks presents an incomplete version of O’Neill’s text. She has cut out nearly one-fifth of the original, eliminating, among other things, every mention of Dalmatians and all Blemie’s personal memories. There is no indication whatsoever in the book or on the blurb that the text has been abridged. What is left is an uninspiring and flavorless version of O’Neill’s work. Do not make the mistake, as I did, of purchasing this volume, which is still in print.

We find Yorinks’s use of O’Neill deplorable and dishonest, to say the least, and join Blemie in the sorrowful wail he most certainly sent from his grave at its publication.

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