Frank Buckland wanted to save—and eat—as many animals as possible

T1171881204Edward White at The Paris Review:

In the Buckland household, oddness was next to godliness. Drawing room tables were decorated with lizard feces and clumps of lava from Mount Etna; instead of hobbyhorses, the children had the corpses of dead crocodiles to ride around on; they learned to distinguish between types of animal urine by taste alone. Francis took his father’s gleeful, childlike curiosity about the wondrous variety of life on earth and magnified it into a philosophy for living, and the core of a defiantly strange personality. At his boarding school, he shared his room with rats, an owl, a buzzard, a magpie, and a racoon, and he became popular for providing feasts for the other boys with grilled trout and field mice poached from the land of a neighboring farmer. As a student at Oxford, his menagerie took a turn for the exotic: an eagle, a jackal, a pariah dog, marmots, guinea pigs, snakes, a chameleon, a monkey, and a bear came under his care, some sharing his rooms. The bear and the monkey, in particular, were prone to roaming, and on several occasions Francis had to charge across plush college quadrangles in pursuit of them. It earned him local celebrity, but somehow avoided irking the dons.

Buckland’s interest in wildlife was obviously sincere, but his brood also helped him to deflect scrutiny and cover deficiencies. His father, after all, had achieved great academic success, and there was pressure on Francis to follow in the old man’s shoes. But he struggled constantly in his studies: his time at Oxford was four years of stress, failed exams, and running to stand still. What he lacked in academic sharpness he made up for with zeal and an outsize personality.

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