Monday 27 September 2010

How to Keep Pet Squirrels

Yes, you get it all here, my friends. On attempting to digitise an article on the notorious Seven Dials slum, and its menageries, I find it actually contains a (penny-a-word?) digression on keeping squirrels as pets. It seems an ill-advised idea to me, but ....

Squirrels there are, by dozens too: I wonder people don't make pets of squirrels more frequently. To be successful with these little animals, and tame them completely, they should be procured very young directly from the nest, when possible. Once, when a boy, I had a squirrel so very tame that it would run after me and caper about me, never more happy than when on my shoulder. In cold weather it would like to creep between my boot and the trouser, and there go to sleep. A felonious cat killed my pet at last. Here, indeed, lies one difficulty. With uncaged squirrels they fall a prey to cats. I have had many squirrel pets since, but never one quite so tame; and when they bite, they do it with a purpose. Their teeth, like those of other rodent or gnawing animals, are chisel-like. Through the thickest leather they go with a clean cut, so that gloves are no protection. Nay, it is surprising to see how easily a squirrel can bite through a thick plank of wood, or even a thin piece of metal, if only it can get a small edge into its mouth to begin upon. That is an indispensable condition ; a squirrel cannot gnaw on a perfectly flat surface: hence the philosophy of binding the edges of a squirrel-cage with metal.
    I once had two squirrels, Dick and Peter by name. They had a round-about cage, into which they might go for their amusement when they pleased, but in which they were never confined. On the contrary, they used to run about my bed-room, just wherever they pleased; so what I am going to relate must have been done for sheer amusement. One morning, waking from my night's rest, I heard a strange grating noise, like that of a rat working on timber. Directing my eyes to the cage of Dick and Peter, I saw the table on which it rested covered with small wood chips, and a hole established in the wooden side of the cage, through which the two squirrels were briskly skipping. Having found out a rough surface on the timber, convenient to begin working upon, they had improved on the occasion, and perforated a hole. Here I may remark, that to be gnawing away hard substances is occasionally more than amusement or mischief either to a rodent animal. Unlike the teeth of you or me, their teeth are continually growing, and if not proportionately worn away by contact with hard bodies, the consequences would be injurious to the animal, perhaps fatal. In the anatomical museum of the Royal College of Surgeons there is a curious specimen, illustrative of what I write. The skull of a rodent animal is seen, in which, owing to the loss of an upper tooth, the corresponding lower tooth has grown, out of all proportion, long, having turned circularly over the animal's upper lip, and (if I truly remember) even begun to perforate the skull. Moral. Let your pet squirrels crack their own nuts, my young squirrel fanciers, and don't, out of any presumed kindness, offer them the kernels. Nut-cracking does them good : their teeth would grow too long else. Give them a fig or a date now and then; they like that sort of food ; but what is strange, they don't like any of the out-of-the-way sort of kernels, such as those of Brazil nuts, almonds, and so forth. Tea leaves they have a great partiality to. My poor Dick was clever enough to lift up the lid of a tea-pot with his paws, and help himself.


  1. These articles are so unwittingly hysterical. Can you tell me a bit more about them? They are written so well. I love the Victorian writing style. If employed in the 21st century it is immediatly humorous almost regardless of the subject..

  2. The Leisure Hour was, essentially, a popular magazine for a middle-class family to read (or, perhaps, working class aspiring to better themselves). I quote "This marked shift away from the drearier and heavily didactic religious magazines for children was also illustrated by the Leisure Hour, a hugely successful twopence family weekly first appearing in 1852. The Leisure Hour was also published by the RTS and illustrates the more general move in the 1840s by religious as well as secular publishers towards cheap literature containing secular material written with a Christian tone. The RTS achieved this in the Leisure Hour with the kind of variety copied by the dedicated children's magazines of the 1850s and 1860s: the journal contained only a smattering of religious material and promulgated its moral mission through fictional stories and biographies of the virtuous and wise, essays on wholesome recreations, and poetry, puzzles and illustrations. Indeed, the Leisure Hour reflected and helped define the broader literary genres that from the 1850s were considered appropriate for achieving a serial with a moral tone." (source ... it was rather religious in tone, which led to a good deal of moralising and pomposity, typical of the literature of the period. But it also included many pieces on London life and topography, and one suspects that writers often padded out their material - stories on one's pet squirrels included.

  3. It's probably also fair to note that the clash between very formal prose construction and the subject matter might not be unintentional. All the material in the magazine is written this way, but I think the Victorians were not humourless, and it's not impossible the author was rather enjoying himself with this (dare I say, not necessarily factual) embellishment.

  4. Thanks for the advice the other day Lee - twitter is done!

    All the best