Victorian London - Entertainment and Recreation - Zoo's and Menageries - The menagerie in front of the National Gallery



    It is much to be regretted that, whilst the poorest classes in Paris can visit the splendid collection of animals in the Jardin des Plantes for nothing, the same orders in London have but limited means of studying natural history devoid of expense. It may be, in some cases, that they have not availed themselves of the opportunities afforded them; for whilst we are well aware, upon popular authority, that the Lions at the Tower are publicly washed every 1st of April, very few persons appear, in reality, to have attended this interesting spectacle. It is true that, now and then, a view may be obtained of the bears and monkeys in the Regent's Park - we mean the bona fide animals -when they are at the tops of their poles, by climbing the fence when nobody is looking, but this is  transient and unsatisfactory. And at the Surrey Zoological Gardens even this chance is cut off. We have often tried to see something, despite of the tenterhooks on the palings and the people on the path, but could never discern anything beyond the dome of St. Peter's and part of the castle of St. Angelo. A little boy once informed us, that, by going a long way round, and crossing a forbidden enclosure, a surreptitious view might be obtained of some old cages and the back of the Alpine dog-kennel, but we can only state this upon hearsay. We have never yet made the attempt, although one of these fine days we intend so doing.
Looking to these facts, every well-regulated mind must have hailed the first appearance of the interesting collection we are about to notice, it first made its appearance some years back in the Waterloo Bridge-road, and perhaps at that time ought not to have been classed amongst the exhibitions strictly gratuitous, inasmuch as to those living on the northern shores of the Thames, the outlay of one halfpenny was absolutely imperative before they could arrive at it from the Strand, unless the somewhat circuitous route of Fleet street, Blackfriars' Bridge, and Stamford-street, was preferred to the nearer and dearer one. And even in its present situation, when the visitor has arrived at the desired spot, he may be drawn into incurring further expense by the solicitations of the showman, unless he keeps his senses on the alert, and dodges him round the menagerie, always contriving to put the collection between himself and the proprietor, when he will be enabled to see a great deal, free of any cost The menagerie is situated at the edge of the pavement in front of the National Gallery - another gratuitous exhibition on a large scale, which has however been described several times in different works. It can be approached either from the east or from the west, but towards the south a large parallelogram of ground is inclosed by the supporters of another gratuitous exhibition of equal interest,- the " Society for the out-of-door display of Theatrical Cartoons," which are thrown open to public view in direct opposition to the Royal Academy. Permission to exhibit a design is readily obtained by payment of a small sum to any respectable bill-sticker who may belong to the hanging committee thereof. In the interior of the square, an ingenious workman has been for some time erecting what is apparently a very tall stone chimney, and his solitary perseverance has gained him the admiration of all who have been acquainted with him since he commenced his labours, which is now some time back. What else goes on within this large enclosure is not popularly understood, being known only to the cabmen on each aide, who, when elevated on their boxes are enabled to look over the palings; but they appear averse to giving any decided information upon the subject. We believe, however, that the greater part of it will be appropriated to the terminus of the Aerial Ship; and that what remains of the area will be planted as a tea-garden and skittle-ground for the recreation of members of the College of Physicians during the reading of any long paper.
The menagerie may he likened in form to a wire safe upon wheels, with its various contents animated, and accompanied, as the contents of safes generally are, by mice and rats. It is not advisable to walk up to it at once without there are other spectators, necause, under those circumstances, you cannot get off very well without paying; but when three or four persons are assembled about it, you may approach without fear of expense.
The inmates of this menagerie are rather more remarkable for harmony than rarity, chiefly consisting of cats, pigeons, mice, owls, rabbits, rats, and small birds, which awaken the most interesting associations, - some of pies, others of curries, and the remainder of guns, mouse-traps, and sudden deaths. If imprisonment be considered a state of misery, we can see how misery makes us acquainted with strange bed-fellows in all the inmates of this menagerie, with the exception of a blinking old cat much inclined to drowsiness, who is allowed to go out upon parole on the top of the cage. The only member of this establishment who does not appear to enter into the general hilarity, is a sedate old owl, constantly upon one of the upper perches. He is evidently of retiring habits, and has the air of a gentleman imprisoned for debt, wino does not choose to associate with his companions. In consequence of this, a number of upstart young birds are constantly playing off practical jokes upon him. There are two rats also, peculiarly indolent, and averse to moving about, which they never do until stirred up with a lath, poked between the wires by the keeper of the establishment.
The proprietor has named his collection "The Happy Family," and is perpetually speaking of his having had the honour of exhibiting his menagerie before Her Most Gracious Majesty. This first turned the public attention to his exhibition, and now it is regarded as the stepping-stone to very important results. Firstly, that by intermingling the breed it is possible he may be able to rear some flying cats, who would be most useful in protecting buds and newly sown seed from birds, presuming always that their natural habits are left unchanged: secondly, that this scheme might be carried out to horses, who, being provided with wings, would soon cut out all the aerial machines in the manner of Pegasus of old. And thirdly, that by associating such opposite natures together, his secret may be carried into domestic life, so that wives may live upon friendly terms with their husbands' sisters, mothers-in-law with grown-up daughters, and governesses be treated with becoming courtesy by the servants, (such as the rats in the show exhibit to the ringdoves,) when all living in time same house.
The possibility of these plans being brought to perfection renders the establishment well worthy of a visit from all lovers of social institutions.

Punch, Jan.-Jun. 1843