- The Case of the Blunt-Davenport Correspondence
- The Case of the Blunt-Davenport Correspondence Part II: A Shoddy Affair
- I would have written sooner, but… Further in the Case of the Blunt-Davenport Correspondence
Copyright 1991 by Charles Craver
published in the Sept 1991 Arabian Visions
Used by permission of Charles Craver
In the August issue, the “Baker Street” series contained an article by Debra and Jerald Dirks presenting an exchange of three letters dating from 1906 and 1907 between Lady Anne Blunt of England and Homer Davenport of the U.S. Commentary on these letters was reserved to the present writer for this issue of Arabian Visions.
In these letters, as in others, communications between Lady Anne Blunt and Homer Davenport were cordial and provided a reasoning exchange of thought. Lady Anne starts in an apologetic mode because the fact is that in prior correspondence with Spencer Borden, and before she knew anything on the subject other than gossip and hearsay, she had made some comments about the Davenport importation. These comments were not in themselves so bad, but they were used selectively by Borden to create a red hot controversy in the American Arabian horse community.
In a letter which we do not have, Davenport obviously had contacted her on the subject directly, and her reply to him begins this series of correspondence.
The differences between Lady Anne Blunt and Homer Davenport were really misunderstandings, and rather easily resolved. Beyond that there were considerable shared observations about the Arabian horse and experiences in Arabian travel. Lady Anne observed that Davenport’s travel experience confirmed her observation of the difficulty of travel in Arabia, and she commented on Davenport’s good fortune in having the sponsorship of the Turkish government, personal pluck, and a favorable season for desert travel, in that the Anazah were relatively accessible to contact by travelers in the heat of the summer. Lady Anne and Davenport discuss the role of a prominent sheikh, “Hashem Bey,” in Arabian desert politics. It is observed by Lady Anne that Davenport’s use of the word “chubby” corresponds to what she gives as the Arabic word “shabba,” meaning suitable to breed from.
Lady Anne points out that Davenport’s report that only 600 of the 6000 horses he was told of in the desert were in the “chubby” or “shabba” category confirms her observation of the need for caution in making purchased of horses in the desert. Lady Anne indicates her suspicion of Arabs as big as fifteen hands, and indicates that this height is an exception in the desert and in her own stud. Davenport confirms her observation, saying that among the Arabs, the best horses are from 14:2 to 14:3 hands high.
A number of other letters have been preserved from Lady Anne concerning Homer Davenport. Her tone is invariably polite and positive. The final item of action from her on the subject occurred when she translated and authenticated the pedigree of Davenport’s mare *Urfah 40, so that this mare and her son, *Euphrates 36, would be acceptable to the Jockey Club for registration in its stud book.
The letter in this series from Homer Davenport to Lady Anne Blunt is typical of his attitude towards her. In this letter and in other commentary of record, he obviously felt great respect for her as a person and as a breeder of Arabian horses. He quietly addresses several points upon which he feels there are misunderstandings, and makes a comment which can be used as explanation for much of the success of his trip to Arabia:
“I don’t believe that I was misled, or had misrepresentations made to me by any of the men around me, as owing to the Irade from the Sultan, and the three strong personal letters which I carried from President Roosevelt, they accorded me every honor…”
If these two people could have kept their exchanges of thought to each other they would have gotten along fine, and Arabian history of the era would have been more simple. Both of them from time to time said things to other people which would have been better unsaid. Lady Anne was jealous of her reputation as an unique expert on the Arabian horse, and she appeared to have had an underlying conviction later shared by her daughter, Judith, that no horses but her horses were real Arabians. Homer Davenport had foibles, too. He was an old-fashioned newspaperman who painted his thoughts with a broad brush, and there was decidedly a bit of P.T. Barnum in his soul. He was inclined to speak of his own horses in superlatives. Most of what he said was factual, but there was a measure of what we consider to be hype. All this came out in a series of interviews published in the New York Times about his importation of horses. Anne Noel Blunt’s lady-like teeth were obviously set on edge.
Several other pioneer American breeders of the time took the occasion to stake out their individual territory in the Arabian horse scene. They each had their own horses to promote: The Randolph Huntington group, who wanted to breed larger, Mu’niqi-type horses, felt that theirs were the only worthwhile kind of Arabians, and they had a further ax to grind with Davenport, probably based on personal conflict between him and Randolph Huntington. Davenport had adversely caricatured Huntington’s relative and benefactor, Collis P. Huntington, in public newspaper cartoons, and had published an article which was unfavorable towards the Huntington horses.
Another breeder, Spencer Borden, was a major customer of Lady Anne and Wilfrid Blunt, from whose Crabbet stud he had imported most of his horses. Borden was an “establishment” sort of person who appears to have felt that he had bought his Arabians from the best Arabian stud in the world, and he did not take kindly to the notion that some newspaperman could go to Arabia and come back with real Arabian horses that were competitive with what he had bought in England. Typically, Borden remained in the background of controversy, but he was a strong and persistent influence against the establishment of the Davenport bloodlines in America.
With this explosive combination of personalities, American Arabian breeding became complicated. There were newspaper exchanges, challenges for competition, horse-show disputes, bitter letters. The Jockey Club and even the USDA and Congress became involved.
Final resolution began with the establishment of the Arabian Horse Club of America, but the influence of the controversy between those early breeders has continued over time, although, of course, weakened, which is appropriate for something of no substance to begin with.
Some of the arguments from those early days still turn up now and then, usually as snide remarks from one side or another. Thus Raswan published an article called “Blunt vs. Davenport Arabians.” Lady Wentworth (Judith Blunt Lytton) makes disparaging remarks about the Davenport horses. Even now, one of Lady Anne Blunt’s current biographers cannot write about the Davenport importation without negative asides that are contrary to her own written remarks to Davenport and others. Some breeding programs are even influenced on the basis of the arguments that started in 1906 and followed the continuity from Spencer Borden through W.R. Brown, Judith Lytton, H.H. Reese, and Reese’s ideological heirs.
Too bad. Homer Davenport and Lady Anne Blunt got along fine, and they seemed to be in good agreement about horses. Without “friends” to stir up trouble between them and between them and and others, they each had a contribution to make a beautiful breed of horse. This occurred despite all the unnecessary help. Many feel that both the Blunt and Davenport Arabian bloodlines reach their peak expressions of Arabian beauty when combined with each other, and the fact is that much of the best of the Blunt heritage is found primarily in combination with the bloodlines that Homer Davenport brought from Arabia in 1906.