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In and Out of the Knickknackatorium

by Joyce Meggett

Thursday 25 March 1753


My dear Brother,

Please accept my kindest greetings and forgive their brevity, as I must make a confession and my candle is growing small.

Being grateful to have got this position and in no wise eager to be turned out from it, it was with considerable reluctance I have disobeyed the instructions of Sir Alfred Sims with regard to the disposition of the dodo.

As you will discover when circumstances at last permit you to visit me and your affectionate sister-in-law and nieces, a preserved specimen is a perishable object much like man, and not to be held as a trifle. Our dodo has been rotting away in silence these last sixty years, not through the fault of tainted air alone but in consequence of the mites and small beetles that inhabit it, making a miniature feast on all occasions nor troubling to restrain their appetency for the sake of Lent.

So it was Sir Alfred ordered me to put the bird to the fire.

Now I have no doubt it was very wrong of me to act against his wishes. He is, after all, both the Museum’s Curator of Birds and Mammals and a member of the Royal Society. What is more, if he should find me out, I am like to have no choice but to take Abbie and the girls back to Bramley Farm to crowd in with you and all your merry brood. He was most tolerant of the incident with the hedgehog, allowing me to keep my place when the young buck I prevented from maltreating that small creature proved to be the son of His Grace the bishop of Hull, but I cannot presume to trespass upon Sir Alfred’s good graces a second time.

But what if our dodo is all that remains? Not merely the last specimen held in any collection, although I am ignorant of any other. I have a greater fear. What torments me is the thought that there should be no other dodos anywhere, living or preserved. I know you will regard it as a blasphemy to harbour such a thought, let alone give it expression, and that the Almighty would not be so prodigal with his creation to permit ‘extinction’ as I have heard it called, but the worry gnaws at me.

In the nine months I have had a place here, I have grown fond of the creature, its grotesque looks and coat of parasites notwithstanding, and I could not bear to burn it like some latter-day witch. I have heard it said that in its native habitat it was too gentle ever to defend its own life or even flee. It is no matter of indifference to me that those who will come after us would have only renderings to show them what the marvellous bird looked like. Future ages might then regard it as we do the griffin, or the manticore.

Should anything happen to me before your longed-for visit, Abbie will see my bequest safely into your hands.

My thanks to you and Evelyn for the bushel of new potatoes.

Your devoted brother,

Alan Turpie

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[Author's note] “Knickknackatorium” is a variation of an archaic word referring to a museum or collection of curiosities.

Copyright © 2019 by Joyce Meggett

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