Mary Wellesley at The London Review of Books:
The keeping of exotic animals has, at times, interlocked with larger political agendas. During the Interregnum, Hyde Park and other royal parks were sold off for the good of the Commonwealth; theatres and bear pits were closed down. The Royal Menagerie in St James’s Park fell into disuse, and Oliver Cromwell’s wife kept a dairy there. After the Restoration, Charles II set about renovating St James’s Park, filling it with parrots, partridges, pheasants and rabbits, as well as guinea fowl, monkeys and ‘the handsomest deer’. To keep the park full of such deer, he decreed that two of the handsomest be sent to London with every returning East India Company ship. During the reign of James I, there had been concern that the animals in St James’s Park should not be visible to the public; the king decreed that his elephant should not be seen and that the menagerie’s camels should be shielded from ‘the vulgar gaze’. Under Charles II, some visitors were permitted access; exploring the renovated menagerie in 1663, the traveller Peter Mundy remarked on the ‘cassawarwa, a strange fowle somewhat lesser than an estridge … a shee bustard’ and also some ‘outlandish geese’.
A relentless desire to anthropomorphise runs down the years in Grigson’s book. After visiting the menagerie at Exeter Change in London, Byron wrote of a ‘hippopotamus, like Lord L.L. [Liverpool, the prime minister] in the face’, and an ‘Ursine Sloth’ that had ‘the very voice and manner of my valet’. But the capacity for seeing human traits in animals came hand in hand with a capacity for seeing animal traits in humans.