Books May 2016
A review of Menagerie: The History of Exotic Animals in England by Caroline Grigson.
John Philip Kemble was London’s leading Shakespearean actor in the early decades of the nineteenth century. Once, on his way home from a night of revelry, a thoroughly inebriated Kemble was seized by an irresistible urge to ride a rhino. The obvious place to fulfill his wish was at the city’s famous menagerie, the Exeter Change, in the Strand. When his request was turned down by a sleepy keeper—it was 4:15 in the morning—he demanded to see the owner, Stephen Polito, at once, which prompted this exchange:
Kemble: Mr. Polito, I presume. [Polito bowed.] You know me, I presume?
Polito: Very well, Sir. You are Mr. Kemble, of Drury Lane Theatre.
Kemble: Right, good Polito! Sir, I am seized with an unaccountable, an uncontrollable fancy. You have a rhinoceros?
Polito: Yes, Sir.
Kemble: My desire is to have a ride on its back.
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