Posts Tagged ‘Grip the Raven’

The Nubian Giraffe, by Jacques-Laurent Agasse (c.1827), depicts one of the three giraffes sent to Europe by Mehmet Ali Pasha. This one was received by George IV in London. The gentleman shown in the top hat is Edward Cross, operator of the menagerie at Exeter Exchange and then Royal Surrey Gardens. Also shown are the giraffe's Egyptian attendants, and, in the background, the Egyptian cows that supplied the young giraffe with milk.

The Nubian Giraffe, by Jacques-Laurent Agasse (c.1827), depicts one of the three giraffes sent to Europe by Mehmet Ali Pasha. This one was received by George IV in London. The Egyptian cows in the background supplied the young giraffe with milk.

In my last two posts, I wrote about Charles Dickens and his pet raven, Grip. Upon Grip’s death in 1841, Charles Dickens couldn’t bear to part with his beloved pet so he had him stuffed and mounted in a glass case to display in his study. Dickens was one of many Brits caught up in the pet preservation craze popularized by King George IV of England (1762-1830).

George IV is credited with establishing a private zoo at the Sandpit Gate at the Windsor Great Park at Windsor Castle. His menagerie consisted of such exotics as “wapiti, sambur, zebus, gnus, quaggas,…’corine’ antelopes, llamas, wild swine, emus, ostriches, parrots, and waterfowl. There was also an ‘enormous tortoise.'” (1) The showpiece of his collection, however, was a female Nubian giraffe, or “cameleopard,” as it was sometimes called. A diplomatic gift from Mehmit Ali, Pasha of Egypt, this young specimen arrived in London on August 11, 1827, along with several cows that provided her with milk. The gift giraffe was only 18 months old yet ten and a half feet in height. She was the first giraffe ever seen in England. Till she arrived, “there was a general belief that descriptions of the giraffe were partly fabulous.” (2)

The State of the Giraffe, 1829, a caricature print by William Heath, showing George IV and Lady Conyngham trying to lift the giraffe by pulley

The State of the Giraffe, 1829, a caricature print by William Heath, showing George IV and Lady Conyngham trying to lift the giraffe by pulley

From the beginning, there was trouble. An artist commissioned to paint the giraffe’s portrait noticed that her lower limbs seemed deformed from injuries. Investigation revealed that, on part of her journey from Senaar to Cairo, she was borne on the back of a camel, the wounds being caused because her legs were lashed together under the camel’s body. (1) At Windsor Castle, she was much doted on and continued to live on cow’s milk. After two years, though, she became very debilitated from those early wounds and exercise became painful and hard.  Someone came up with a plan to keep her moving. A gigantic triangle on wheels was constructed in which “the creature was somehow secured each day and trundled round her paddock, the hooves just touching the ground.” (1)

Despite the kind treatment, giraffes are accustomed to the warm, open savannahs of Africa, not the cold and wet confines of a British zoo. Two years after her arrival on the continent, the giraffe died, having only grown 18 inches while in captivity. It is said that King George IV had been obsessed with his giraffe and was distraught over her death. He commissioned the taxidermist John Gould to stuff his recently deceased pet giraffe.

 The stuffer to the Zoological Society, Mr. Gould, has had the performing of his duty…Soon after the giraffe expired, De Ville, the modellist, was ordered down to Windsor, by His Majesty, and took a cast of the animal. From this cast a wooden form was manufactured, on which the skin of the animal is now placed, and which preserves its beauty in an extraordinary degree.

The Times, April 15, 1830

Pet preservation is still alive and well in the twenty-first century – stuffed is out, though, and freeze-dried is in.


(1) Kisling, Vernon N. From Zoo and Aquarium History.
(2) Thomas, William John: White, William: Doran, John; Turle, Henry Frederick. Notes and Queries.

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The Eldest Children of Charles Dickens with Pet Raven Grip by Daniel Maclise, 1941

The Eldest Children of Charles Dickens with Their Pet Raven "Grip" by Daniel Maclise, 1841

In yesterday’s post , I mentioned Grip the Raven, author Charles Dickens’ pet bird that was the inspiration for Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, “The Raven.” Dickens’ children loved the bird Grip although he did bite their ankles. At his children’s request, Dickens included Grip as a character in one of his books, Barnaby Rudge (1841). Dickens had three pet ravens, all named Grip. Grip I died in 1841, possibly because he ate lead chips scraped off a wall being repainted at the Dickens home. Dickens had the bird preserved and mounted in a glass case for display in his study. After Dickens’ death, a Poe collector acquired Grip I and donated him to the Free Library of Philadelphia where it remains today.

Dickens was saddened by Grip’s death. On March 12, 1841, he wrote the following letter to his friend, Daniel Maclise, who provided illustrations for his books and portraits of Dickens and his family, including the one on the left here featuring the eldest four of Dickens’ nine children: Charley, Mamie, Katey, and Walter. Dickens wrote:

 Mr. Dear Maclise,

Charles DickensYou will be greatly shocked and grieved to hear that the Raven is no more… On the clock striking twelve he appeared slightly agitated, but he soon recovered, walked twice or thrice along the coach-house, stopped to bark, staggered, exclaimed “Halloa old girl!” (his favorite expression) and died. The children seem rather glad of it. He bit their ankles but that was play…”

You might well ask why Grip the Raven is part of an Edgar Allan Poe Collection in Philadelphia. Toward the end of his life, Poe was a paid literary critic. In this role, he reviewed Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge, in which Grip the Raven plays a part. When Grip makes his first noise in the book, one of the characters says, “What was that — tapping at the door?” The answer is “‘Tis someone knocking softly at the shutter.” Poe’s criticism of Barnaby Rudge was that, although he liked the book overall, he felt that the raven’s “croaking might have been prophetically heard in the course of the drama.”

Four years later, Poe published his most famous work, the poem  “The Raven,” which gave the raven a more central role. It features a tapping and talking raven who flies into a man’s room and perches on a bust of Pallas Athena. Dickens’ raven could speak many words and had many comic turns, including the popping of a champagne cork, but Poe emphasized the bird’s darker “devil-bird”qualities. His bird spoke only one word, “Nevermore.” Poe’s raven may have represented a messenger from hell or the after-life, mirroring the gloom and foreshadowing the doom of the troubled narrator who misses his beloved Lenore.

  The Raven

verse 1

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door-
                Only this, and nothing more….”

verse 3

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”- here I opened wide the door;-
                Darkness there, and nothing more.

verse 4

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mienof lord or lady, perched above my chamber door-
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door-
                Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

1884 Illustration from "The Raven" by Gustave Dore

1884 Illustration from "The Raven" by Gustave Dore

verse 5
Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore.
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore-
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
                Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”
Edgar Allan Poe

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