“Very often those sold as tame, especially by men in the street, are simply stupefied by opium or some other drug.” Cassell’s Book of Sports and Pastimes (1896) on the buying of pet squirrels.
In a section regarding “Home Pets”, the writer (“LEWIS WRIGHT, AUTHOR OF THE ILLUSTRATED BOOK OF POULTRY”) sings the praises of squirrels as pets, and in passing makes the mind-blowing comment about casual trafficking in drugged squirrels; a comment that opens up a whole new vista of Victorian weirdness. There were men standing around on street corners, selling doped-up squirrels to passing boys? The mind boggles. In the next Victorian drama I see, in the street scenes I’d like there to be authentic shady sellers of totally monged squirrels. The squirrel pictured is of course a native British red squirrel; a century or so on from the publication of Cassell’s Book of Sports and Pastimes red squirrels have almost been driven to extinction by the alien greys.
No, not the ones with the anal probes.
“THE Squirrel makes a beautiful and engaging pet when moderately tame… there is something irresistibly attractive in the way it sits up to eat its food. No animal is so pretty in its ways, and this accounts for its being such a favourite. A squirrel can generally be obtained at a good bird shop for from three to ten shillings, according to its beauty and the abundance of fur, a good-tailed one being worth a great deal more than one poorly furnished… It is useless buying an old squirrel, as it will either remain savage and vicious, or what is quite as likely, pine away and die. It is not much use trying to get a tame one, as it will be nearly as shy with a new owner, and very often those sold as tame, especially by men in the street, are simply stupefied by opium or some other drug. It is far more satisfactory to look out simply for a young and healthy animal… It is often of great service to smear the hands now and then with a drop or two of oil of aniseed, most small animals being very fond of the smell.”
I got a serious case of semantic satiation while I was writing this post. The word “squirrel” first started to seem weird, and then meaningless.
Squirrel, squirrel, squirrel, squirrel, squirrel, squirrel, squirrel, squirrel…