Sunday, December 14, 2008


Curiouser and Curiouser

Just in time for the Christmas -- it's the newest Collins Library book!

This time around I'm reprinting the essays of eccentric Victorian naturalist and surgeon Frank Buckland -- that's him, administering medicine to a sick porpoise -- and a snippet from my preface will give you a sense of the fellow:

Whenever a mysterious oddity arrived in Victorian London, readers knew there was one man they could rely on being at scene: Frank Buckland. A barrel-chested surgeon chomping an ever-present cigar, Buckland was one of the most outsized eccentrics of his time—a naturalist who seriously proposed kangaroo and yak ranching in England, and a raconteur whose London home was filled with a freakish array of stuffed animals and grinning skulls, and an all-too-alive menagerie of bickering meerkats, otters, scorpions, and a gang of monkeys who snatched food off visitors' dinner plates.

Not that his guests were too sorry to miss dinner, since Buckland was also famous as a man who'd eat anything—except earwigs. ("Horribly bitter," he explained.) Fried rotten porpoise, he found, tasted "like a broiled lamp wick." His odd palate was only matched by that of his father, an equally eccentric geologist and respected theologian. When the elder Buckland was shown a miraculous cathedral where "martyr's blood" accumulated on the stones, the old man dipped his finger in the puddle and tasted it. "I can tell you what it is," he announced to the horrified faithful—"It is bat urine."
Much of his work has been out of print for a century, so I've culled and abridged thousand of pages of his published essays into a brief collection titled Curious Men.

McSweeney's now has Buckland's essay on mummies up, including this anecdote about Liverpool sailors trying to hoodwink a showman into buying the mummies they'd smuggled into the country:

To make him more desirous of obtaining the curiosities, my friends found out where his show was situated, and for two or three evenings remained smoking their cigars about the show, and paid boys and idle people they found about the place a small fee to go to the door of the show and ask to "see the wonderful mummies which had just arrived."

"We have not got them yet, sir" was the showman's answer.

"What? Not got the mummies! Never heard such a thing. No mummies! Can't possibly go into the show," said the visitors.

The fact of so many people coming, night after night, so quickened the showman's appetite that he made a higher bid of several hundred pounds, which offer, foolishly, not being accepted, the owners brought the mummies up to London.

The last thing I heard of them was from my friend, who told me that he had left his mummies at his lodgings while he went on another voyage; when he returned, he found his landlord had got into trouble, and had pawned the mummies for £10 at some pawnbroker's by the Docks. Reader, if you are very anxious to have them, there may still be a chance of getting the mummies cheap.

Incidentally: for those who have pondered joining the McSweeney's Book Release Club, memberships currently kick off with this book, and upcoming releases include an Art Spiegelman collection and the latest Dave and Toph Eggers book of absolutely accurate science from Dr. and Mr. Doris Haggis-on-Whey.

How can you go wrong? You cannot go wrong.

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?