thanks british library (PD)
William James Stillman (American, 1828-1901) was one of those 19th-century Renaissance men who did many things well. An artistic talent who became a major journalist and war correspondent, he also served as US Ambassador to Rome, roomed with Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and at one point unsuccessfully applied to take over the excavations at Knossos, Crete.
Among other works, late in life he wrote an article on his pet squirrels Billy and Hans. Expanded and revised, it became a book after his death - a gentle and charming one, with an introduction that holds a heartfelt plea for our thoughtful care of our fellow creatures.
Today I'm offering you a bit from the first chapter of "Billy and Hans," in which Stillman acquires his friend Billy as a baby.
In my favourite summer resort at the lower edge of the Black Forest, the quaint old town of Laufenburg, a farmer's boy one day brought me a young squirrel for sale. He was a tiny creature, probably not yet weaned, a variation on the ordinary type of the European squirrel, dark grey instead of the usual red, and with black tail and ears, so that at first, as he contented himself with drinking his milk and sleeping, I was not sure that he was not a dormouse. But examination of the paws, with their delicate anatomy, so marvellously like the human hand in their flexibility and handiness, and the graceful curl of his tail, settled the question of genus; and mindfulof my boyhood and a beloved pet of the American species of his genus, I bought him and named him Billy.
From the first moment that he became my companion he gave me his entire confidence, and accepted his domestication without the least indication that he considered it captivity. There is generally a short stage of mute rebellion in wild creatures before they come to accept us entirely as their friends—a longing for freedom which makes precautions against escape necessary. This never appeared in Billy; he came to me for his bread and milk, and slept in my pocket, from the first, and enjoyed being caressed as completely as if he had been born under my roof.
No other animal is so clean in its personal habits as the squirrel, when in health; and Billy soon left the basket which cradled his infancy, and habitually slept under a fold of my bed-cover, sometimes making his way to my pillow and sleeping by my cheek; and he never knew what a cage was except when travelling, and even then for the most part he slept in my pocket, in which he went with me to the table d'hote, and when invited out sat on the edge of the table and ate his bit of bread with a decorum that made him the admiration of all the children in the hotel, so that he accompanied me in all my journeys. He acquired a passion for tea, sweet and warm, and to my indulgence of this taste I fear I owe his early loss. He would, when placed on the breakfast table, rush to my cup and plunge his nose in when it was hot enough to scald him. This peculiar taste I could never account for.
He had full liberty to roam in my room; but his favourite resort was my work-table when I was at work; and when his diet became nuts he used to hide them among my books, and then come to hunt them out again, like a child with its toys. I sometimes found my typewriter stopped, and discovered a hazel nut in the works. . . .
- Stillman, W. James. (1914). Billy and Hans, my squirrel friends: a true history. Portland, Me.: T. B. Mosher. 3-6.