Saturday, October 1, 2022


Peter Meilaender recalls a story I remember and then reflects on the meaning of loyalty:
.... Based on a true story, Greyfriars Bobby tells of a Skye terrier, Bobby, whose master, a poor shepherd named Auld Jock, was released from work and went to the city of Edinburgh, where he quickly fell ill and died. The grieving Bobby then snuck into Greyfriars Kirkyard, where Auld Jock was buried, to watch over the grave. Despite one challenge after another—attempts to reclaim him by his actual owner, the farmer for whom Auld Jock had worked; repeated efforts to expel him from the kirkyard, where no dogs are allowed; a mean-spirited plan to seize him for not having a proper license; and even getting locked inside the grounds of Edinburgh Castle one night, high above the city on Castle Rock—the faithful Bobby returns night after night.

The handsome and good-tempered terrier is happy enough to play with the poor children of the city’s tenements, whose hearts he quickly wins, and to be fed by the kind and sagacious innkeeper, Mr. Traill. But Bobby is unwilling to sleep anywhere but on Auld Jock’s grave. Eventually his loyalty is rewarded when the city’s Lord Provost gives him a license, a collar, and the run of the city, and Lady Burdett-Coutts erects a statue in his honor across from Greyfriars. ....

Loyalty is, by and large, a good thing, but we do not always admire it. One can be loyal to wicked people or false gods, can wrong one person out of loyalty to another, can fail to see when loyalty is leading one astray. In order to admire acts of loyalty, we want them to be combined with a certain kind of good judgment. Indeed, this might make it even more puzzling that we would admire the loyalty of a dog, which is incapable of such judgment. .... The dog’s loyalty really is blind. ....

If we sense that a pure and unreserved loyalty seems to belong to another and better world, so too do we sense that only those capable of loyalty will ever attain to that world. Committing one’s self in love and fidelity involves a risk, a risk of getting things wrong. But without that commitment, Bobby’s perfect loyalty, for which we long, remains out of reach. ....
When in Edinburgh I visited that graveyard and the statue.

Peter C. Meilaender, "Man’s Best Friend: Lessons in Loyalty from Greyfriars Bobby," The Dispatch, Oct. 1, 2022.

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