Around 1880, a little white mixed-breed dog sat patiently in John Hawley Clarke’s photographic studio on Canal Street, between Chartres Street and Exchange Place. His mismatched features reflect diverse heritage: a Chihuahua’s eyes look out from a bearlike face with tippy ears on a spaniel’s rough-coated body. He is not beautiful in the physical sense, but his world-weary gaze conveys a sense of dignity and wise old age that compels the viewer to look into his eyes. Looking at his nearly 140-year-old portrait, I understand what prompted the grief-stricken owner to write about her dog’s unusual gaze, which “looked at me so wistful and so wise. Trying to know.” This is Mat.
For many years, Mat was journalist Eliza Jane Nicholson’s steadfast confidant and companion. Through good times and bad, Mat was there for Eliza Jane, who wrote under the pen name Pearl Rivers. Her poem “Only a Dog,” written after Mat’s death, in 1885, memorializes the canine friend whose name was her child’s first word.
I first learned of Mat soon after I began working at THNOC in January 1998. A colleague had shown me Mat’s collar and a brooch made from one of his front paws. However, it is Mat’s photographic image, not his disconsolate owner’s grisly keepsake, that conveys to me his inner spirit and preserves this faithful little dog’s memory for posterity.
Citation 1: 
ca. 1880; albumin photoprint mounted on board
Citation 2: 
by John Hawley Clarke
Accession #: 
1981.369.65, gift of Mrs. Ashton Fischer and Mrs. Carl Corbin
M. L. Eichhorn, Senior Reference Associate