Thursday, February 9, 2012

Benjamin Franklin, Squirrel Lover

Benjamin Franklin has to be considered one of the greatest figures in American history. He was a publisher, inventor, diplomat, advocate for religious freedom, abolitionist... and a squirrel lover!

On one of his diplomatic journeys from the colonies to Great Britain, Franklin brought with him a gray squirrel, which he gave as a gift to Georgiana Shipley, the young daughter of one of his friends. The squirrel, named Mungo, became a beloved pet and companion of the girl and her family.

A few years later, Mungo got out of the house and was killed by a shepherd's dog. When Ben Franklin heard of the loss, he wrote a letter of condolence to Ms. Shipley in which he lamented the untimely death of Mungo, noting that "few squirrels were better accomplished; for he had a good education, had traveled far, and seen much of the world." Franklin also included in this letter an epitaph to the squirrel. The epitaph is not only a moving tribute to Mungo, but also a thoughtful meditation on the dangers and costs facing those who desire greater freedom.

On the Loss of an American Squirrel, Who, Escaping From His Cage, Was Killed by a Shepherd's Dog (1772)

Alas: poor Mungo!
Happy wert thou, hadst thou known
Thy own felicity.
Remote from the fierce bald eagle,
Tyrant of thy native woods,
Thou hadst nought to fear from his piercing talons,
Nor from the murdering gun
of the thoughtless sportsman.
Safe in thy wired castle,
Grimalkin never could annoy thee.
Daily wert thou fed with the choicest viands,
By the fair hand of an indulgent mistress;
But, discontented,
Thou wouldst have more freedom.
Too soon, alas! didst thou obtain it;
And wandering,
Thou art fallen by the fangs of wanton, cruel Ranger!

Learn hence,
Ye who blindly seek more liberty,
Whether subject, son, squirrels or daughters,
That apparent restraint may be real protection,
Yielding peace and plenty
With security.


  1. Was it really a good deet to bring the grey squirrels to Europe? I say NO, because the greys bring the death to the reds with illlness and displaysment. We are worry about our red sqirrels.

    greeting from central Europe

  2. I agree with you that bringing the American gray squirrels to Europe has had terrible, tragic consequences that nobody in Ben Franklin's time could have anticipated. I also am very worried about the fate of the red squirrels in Europe, especially in the United Kingdom where they are almost extinct. I know that there are some people who believe that the answer is to kill gray squirrels wherever they are found in Europe. I disagree, but I do hope that the grays can be prevented from spreading to other areas where the red squirrels are still plentiful.