A Grateful Little Owl: 1880s


the little owl 1508

The Little Owl, Albrecht Durer, 1508, Albertina, Vienna

A Grateful Little Owl.

“The dining-room opened on a little courtyard under the Trinta dei Monti steps, transformed by me into a sort of infirmary and convalescent home for my various animals. Among them was a darling little owl, a direct descendant from the owl of Minerva. I had found it in the Campagna with a broken wing half dead of hunger. Its wing healed, I had twice taken it back where I had found it and set it free, twice it had flown back to my carriage to perch on my shoulder, it would not hear of our parting. Since then the little owl was sitting on her perch in the corner of the dining-room, looking lovingly at me with her golden eyes. She had even given up sleeping in the day in order not to lose sight of me. When I used to stroke her soft little person she would half close her eyes with delight and nibble gently at my lips with her tiny, sharp beak, as near to a kiss as an owl can get, Among the patients admitted to the dining-room was a very excitable young Russian lady, who was giving me lots of trouble. Would you believe it, this lady got so jealous of the owl, she used to glare at the little bird so savagely, that I had to give strict orders to Anna never to leave these two alone in the room. One day on coming in for luncheon, Anna told me that the Russian lady had just called with a dead mouse wrapped in paper. She had caught it in her room, she felt sure the owl would like it for breakfast. The owl knew better after having bitten off its head, owl fashion, she refused to eat it. I took it to the English chemist; it contained enough arsenic to kill a cat.”

The Story of San Michele, Axel Munthe, 1929: pp. 431-432

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  It is, Mrs Daffodil is reliably informed, one of the days of the “International Festival of Owls.” Mrs Daffodil is fond of the night-flying creatures despite (or perhaps because of) their folkloric reputation as an Omen of Death. And, like Mrs Daffodil, they are so helpful in keeping down vermin.

Axel Munthe, while he was an admirable doctor, is perhaps best known for his skill as a raconteur and for being a passionate advocate of animal rights. His passions also ran to the ladies; he seems to have fascinated a largish swath of the English aristocracy as well as at least one of the crowned heads of Europe. Plus a Russian lady and a little owl.

Mrs Daffodil has previously written of a pair of pet owls. You will find the first section of the two-part story here.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

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