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Some Particulars Concerning A Lion

We have a great respect for lions in the abstract. In common with
most other people, we have heard and read of many instances of
their bravery and generosity. We have duly admired that heroic
self-denial and charming philanthropy which prompts them never to
eat people except when they are hungry, and we have been deeply
impressed with a becoming sense of the politeness they are said to
display towards unmarried ladies of a certain state. All natural
histories teem with anecdotes illustrative of their excellent
qualities; and one old spelling-book in particular recounts a
touching instance of an old lion, of high moral dignity and stern
principle, who felt it his imperative duty to devour a young man
who had contracted a habit of swearing, as a striking example to
the rising generation.

All this is extremely pleasant to reflect upon, and, indeed, says a
very great deal in favour of lions as a mass. We are bound to
state, however, that such individual lions as we have happened to
fall in with have not put forth any very striking characteristics,
and have not acted up to the chivalrous character assigned them by
their chroniclers. We never saw a lion in what is called his
natural state, certainly; that is to say, we have never met a lion
out walking in a forest, or crouching in his lair under a tropical
sun, waiting till his dinner should happen to come by, hot from the
baker's. But we have seen some under the influence of captivity,
and the pressure of misfortune; and we must say that they appeared
to us very apathetic, heavy-headed fellows.

The lion at the Zoological Gardens, for instance. He is all very
well; he has an undeniable mane, and looks very fierce; but, Lord
bless us! what of that? The lions of the fashionable world look
just as ferocious, and are the most harmless creatures breathing.
A box-lobby lion or a Regent-street animal will put on a most
terrible aspect, and roar, fearfully, if you affront him; but he
will never bite, and, if you offer to attack him manfully, will
fairly turn tail and sneak off. Doubtless these creatures roam
about sometimes in herds, and, if they meet any especially meek-
looking and peaceably-disposed fellow, will endeavour to frighten
him; but the faintest show of a vigorous resistance is sufficient
to scare them even then. These are pleasant characteristics,
whereas we make it matter of distinct charge against the Zoological
lion and his brethren at the fairs, that they are sleepy, dreamy,
sluggish quadrupeds.

We do not remember to have ever seen one of them perfectly awake,
except at feeding-time. In every respect we uphold the biped lions
against their four-footed namesakes, and we boldly challenge
controversy upon the subject.

With these opinions it may be easily imagined that our curiosity
and interest were very much excited the other day, when a lady of
our acquaintance called on us and resolutely declined to accept our
refusal of her invitation to an evening party; 'for,' said she, 'I
have got a lion coming.' We at once retracted our plea of a prior
engagement, and became as anxious to go, as we had previously been
to stay away.

We went early, and posted ourselves in an eligible part of the
drawing-room, from whence we could hope to obtain a full view of
the interesting animal. Two or three hours passed, the quadrilles
began, the room filled; but no lion appeared. The lady of the
house became inconsolable,--for it is one of the peculiar
privileges of these lions to make solemn appointments and never
keep them,--when all of a sudden there came a tremendous double rap
at the street-door, and the master of the house, after gliding out
(unobserved as he flattered himself) to peep over the banisters,
came into the room, rubbing his hands together with great glee, and
cried out in a very important voice, 'My dear, Mr.--(naming the
lion) has this moment arrived.'

Upon this, all eyes were turned towards the door, and we observed
several young ladies, who had been laughing and conversing
previously with great gaiety and good humour, grow extremely quiet
and sentimental; while some young gentlemen, who had been cutting
great figures in the facetious and small-talk way, suddenly sank
very obviously in the estimation of the company, and were looked
upon with great coldness and indifference. Even the young man who
had been ordered from the music shop to play the pianoforte was
visibly affected, and struck several false notes in the excess of
his excitement.

All this time there was a great talking outside, more than once
accompanied by a loud laugh, and a cry of 'Oh! capital! excellent!'
from which we inferred that the lion was jocose, and that these
exclamations were occasioned by the transports of his keeper and
our host. Nor were we deceived; for when the lion at last
appeared, we overheard his keeper, who was a little prim man,
whisper to several gentlemen of his acquaintance, with uplifted
hands, and every expression of half-suppressed admiration, that--
(naming the lion again) was in SUCH cue to-night!

The lion was a literary one. Of course, there were a vast number
of people present who had admired his roarings, and were anxious to
be introduced to him; and very pleasant it was to see them brought
up for the purpose, and to observe the patient dignity with which
he received all their patting and caressing. This brought forcibly
to our mind what we had so often witnessed at country fairs, where
the other lions are compelled to go through as many forms of
courtesy as they chance to be acquainted with, just as often as
admiring parties happen to drop in upon them.

While the lion was exhibiting in this way, his keeper was not idle,
for he mingled among the crowd, and spread his praises most
industriously. To one gentleman he whispered some very choice
thing that the noble animal had said in the very act of coming up-
stairs, which, of course, rendered the mental effort still more
astonishing; to another he murmured a hasty account of a grand
dinner that had taken place the day before, where twenty-seven
gentlemen had got up all at once to demand an extra cheer for the
lion; and to the ladies he made sundry promises of interceding to
procure the majestic brute's sign-manual for their albums. Then,
there were little private consultations in different corners,
relative to the personal appearance and stature of the lion;
whether he was shorter than they had expected to see him, or
taller, or thinner, or fatter, or younger, or older; whether he was
like his portrait, or unlike it; and whether the particular shade
of his eyes was black, or blue, or hazel, or green, or yellow, or
mixture. At all these consultations the keeper assisted; and, in
short, the lion was the sole and single subject of discussion till
they sat him down to whist, and then the people relapsed into their
old topics of conversation--themselves and each other.

We must confess that we looked forward with no slight impatience to
the announcement of supper; for if you wish to see a tame lion
under particularly favourable circumstances, feeding-time is the
period of all others to pitch upon. We were therefore very much
delighted to observe a sensation among the guests, which we well
knew how to interpret, and immediately afterwards to behold the
lion escorting the lady of the house down-stairs. We offered our
arm to an elderly female of our acquaintance, who--dear old soul!--
is the very best person that ever lived, to lead down to any meal;
for, be the room ever so small, or the party ever so large, she is
sure, by some intuitive perception of the eligible, to push and
pull herself and conductor close to the best dishes on the table;--
we say we offered our arm to this elderly female, and, descending
the stairs shortly after the lion, were fortunate enough to obtain
a seat nearly opposite him.

Of course the keeper was there already. He had planted himself at
precisely that distance from his charge which afforded him a decent
pretext for raising his voice, when he addressed him, to so loud a
key, as could not fail to attract the attention of the whole
company, and immediately began to apply himself seriously to the
task of bringing the lion out, and putting him through the whole of
his manoeuvres. Such flashes of wit as he elicited from the lion!
First of all, they began to make puns upon a salt-cellar, and then
upon the breast of a fowl, and then upon the trifle; but the best
jokes of all were decidedly on the lobster salad, upon which latter
subject the lion came out most vigorously, and, in the opinion of
the most competent authorities, quite outshone himself. This is a
very excellent mode of shining in society, and is founded, we
humbly conceive, upon the classic model of the dialogues between
Mr. Punch and his friend the proprietor, wherein the latter takes
all the up-hill work, and is content to pioneer to the jokes and
repartees of Mr. P. himself, who never fails to gain great credit
and excite much laughter thereby. Whatever it be founded on,
however, we recommend it to all lions, present and to come; for in
this instance it succeeded to admiration, and perfectly dazzled the
whole body of hearers.

When the salt-cellar, and the fowl's breast, and the trifle, and
the lobster salad were all exhausted, and could not afford
standing-room for another solitary witticism, the keeper performed
that very dangerous feat which is still done with some of the
caravan lions, although in one instance it terminated fatally, of
putting his head in the animal's mouth, and placing himself
entirely at its mercy. Boswell frequently presents a melancholy
instance of the lamentable results of this achievement, and other
keepers and jackals have been terribly lacerated for their daring.
It is due to our lion to state, that he condescended to be trifled
with, in the most gentle manner, and finally went home with the
showman in a hack cab: perfectly peaceable, but slightly fuddled.

Being in a contemplative mood, we were led to make some reflections
upon the character and conduct of this genus of lions as we walked
homewards, and we were not long in arriving at the conclusion that
our former impression in their favour was very much strengthened
and confirmed by what we had recently seen. While the other lions
receive company and compliments in a sullen, moody, not to say
snarling manner, these appear flattered by the attentions that are
paid them; while those conceal themselves to the utmost of their
power from the vulgar gaze, these court the popular eye, and,
unlike their brethren, whom nothing short of compulsion will move
to exertion, are ever ready to display their acquirements to the
wondering throng. We have known bears of undoubted ability who,
when the expectations of a large audience have been wound up to the
utmost pitch, have peremptorily refused to dance; well-taught
monkeys, who have unaccountably objected to exhibit on the slack
wire; and elephants of unquestioned genius, who have suddenly
declined to turn the barrel-organ; but we never once knew or heard
of a biped lion, literary or otherwise,--and we state it as a fact
which is highly creditable to the whole species,--who, occasion
offering, did not seize with avidity on any opportunity which was
afforded him, of performing to his heart's content on the first
violin.

Charles Dickens

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