For a man who spent his life in New York City, George Templeton Strong had a strong affinity for animals. His affection for his pet black squirrel was touching, and he wrote with sympathy about the cleanliness of his son’s pet rat.
“After eating, and after being touched (for the creature is half-tamed and lets itself be caressed), it invariably goes through with a course of ceremonial ablution, wetting its paws and washing or scratching itself all over. If touched during that process, it bites like a demon.” When he hears that Strasbourg has been shelled by the Prussian army, he writes, “Myriads of martyred geese are avenged at last.”
Mostly, though, animals and their behavior were a metaphor for the human behavior he saw around him. A few examples:
“Between walking, reading, and smoking, I contrived to exist, and a toad of meditative habits and a turn for minute philosophy and geological pursuits on a small scale probably exists much after the same fashion in his rock parlor a hundred feet under ground.” 9.21.1840
“Our venerable board is tied hand and foot by the enchantments of a mythical Frenchman in Chicago. It’s stated by physiologists, I believe, that if you put a bird of the goose species on a table and draw a charcoal line slowly and solemnly on the board before it, the animal is powerless to cross the barrier and will stand still till it dies of starvation and idiocy. But Heaven forbid I should compare Betts and Ogden to a goose.” 2.2. 1858
“I think these porcine communities incline to run out of the Union merely because they think we want to keep them in. One should never pull a pig in the direction one wants it to travel.” 11.17.1860
“We had an audience with Lincoln ... He seems to me clear-headed and sound-hearted, though his laugh is the laugh of a yahoo, with a wrinkling of the nose that suggests affinity with the tapir and other pachyderms; and his grammar is weak.” 10.23.1861
“Cameron looked like a hybrid between Reineke Fuchs and some large chilly batrachian reptile...” 1.29.1862
“McClellan’s repose is doubtless majestic, but if a couchant lion postpone his spring too long, people will begin wondering whether he is not a stuffed specimen after all.” 10.23.1862
“Certain well-meaning friends of mine in Wall Street help depress public opinion and raise gold by going about bleating like forlorn desolate stray lambs.” 6.9.1864
“If the people should endorse them [resolutions of the Democratic convention] next November, the country is not worth saving ... I will emigrate and become a citizen of some community of gregarious blue baboons in South Africa.” 9.2.1864
“[A] wholesome fear and dread of Butler underlies all the rebel and Copperhead denunciation of his corruption and abuse of power. It is quite natural that rats should hold terriers unconstitutional and scandalous.” 11.6.1864
“The Raleigh Progress and the Charleston Mercury publish remarkable editorials. Their sound is as the dying howl of a suppressed ram-cat with a shattered spine.” 2.17.1865
“As between Jeff Davis and his peers, I believe myself quite impartial, like the spectator of the fight between skunk and rattlesnake.” 3.23.1865
“I found the church already packed, and made my way up the crowded south aisle as certain mollusca bore into sandstone.” 4.11.1865
“[T]he Italian Minister ... looked like a green and gold scarabaeus on its hind legs.” 4.19.1865
“To Columbia College Commencement ... the efforts of the poets to be smart and funny would have given a cassowary dyspepsia.” 6.28.1865
“It’s so long since I have attended upon any large fashionable gathering that I felt like an owl in daylight.” 1.7.1866
“The Rev. Beverley is certainly the meekest and softest and least masculine of male mankind. Were a sea anemone or a jellyfish endowed with the faculty of speech, it would talk as he does.” 3.23.1866
“Wagner writes like an ‘intoxified’ pig, Berlioz like a tipsy chimpanzee.” 12.15.1866
“The Lamento [by Liszt] was expressed by dreary phrases on the celli and double basses that seemed suggestive of a cow in a strange lane seeking an abducted calf and seeking it in vain.” 3.9.1867
“To my amazement, [Hamilton] Fish got up and objected that ‘the board ought to be first consulted’ ... He was our special Remora or sucking fish, and seemed likely to retard our progress effectually.” 3.8.1869
“My qualifications for the position will doubtless be the subject of newspaper criticism ... For example, ‘The president of this association is a Wall Street lawyer named Strong, who knows as much about music as a cow does of conic sections.’” 1.25.1870
“An investigating committee uncovers a most nasty mess of corruption in the custom house, with ‘Colonel’ Frank Howe seemingly ensconced in it, like a burrowing coprophagous beetle.” 1.9.1872
“I hope and believe that Grant is rather pachydermatous. Were he in the least sensitive, he would be stung to death by the envenomed proboscises of this swarm of minute black flies, like the World and the Sun.” 9.16.1872
“He [William Hurlbut] is among the very few human creatures whom I loathe, as a gaudily-colored and fetid bug.” 9.18.1872
“He [John Jay Cisco] knows no more of church music than a cow and cares no more for it than a cat...” 5.7.1874
“Ellie knows how to entertain. People seemed to enjoy themselves and talked like ten square miles of tropical forest full of parrots and parroquets.” 2.3.1875
On September 4, 1857, Strong set up his own saltwater aquarium, and ever since then he had a particular fascination with sea anemones.
“One day last week,” he wrote on Friday, June 25, 1875, “I had a woeful day of headache, nausea, and malaise, which left me as weak as a sea anemone at low water. Since then, there has been no improvement.” These were the last words of his diary.
Want more Strong? Follow @StrongsCivilWar on Twitter, where I tweet his diary from 1860 to 1865.