The setting is fine and lavish: a stately home, the furnishings of fine lineage. Exquisite china, polished silver, an excellent cellar: the perfect elements for an extravagant dining experience. Your hosts, the father and later the son, are the most perfect of hosts: witty, urbane, educated, they tantalize and enthrall with rejoinder and anecdote.
Then there’s the meal itself, a presentation worthy of a truly great showman. Perhaps the company is shocked silent, staring at the flesh with puzzlement and terror, gastronomic rebellion threatening even at the thought, let alone the taste, of what is offered. But our hosts simply laugh heartily, spear a succulent morsel and consume what the other diners would consider inconsumable, with relish.
Francis Trevelyan Buckland (also not eating)
If what they say is true, that you are what you eat, then the Bucklands - father William Buckland and son, Francis Trevelyan Buckland - must have been composed of some very, well, ‘interesting’ stuff. Eating was more than just a predilection of the Bucklands: it was closer to an oral obsession.
In fact, compared to other extreme ‘individuals’, the Bucklands stand way out, more than anything for the audacity and surrealism of their diets. It would be easy to discount them as neurotics who, say, only ate foods of a certain color, or who took "scientific" dietary regimens of dubious repute to extremes but the Bucklands, you see, weren't any of that. It's just best to say that the Bucklands had unusual tastes.
Like the best of the British eccentrics, the Bucklands look quite respectable when viewed via the blinders of the Royal register or Who's Who. Between the two of them, they were responsible for London's drains, deduced that glaciers had at one time covered Britain, put gas lighting in Oxford, and were geologists of no mean repute.
But it was in the area of eating that they truly divert.
William Buckland, for instance, said that until he ate a bluebottle fly, mole had been the most disgusting thing he had consumed.
A lot of things had passed the learned lips of William Buckland and his son Francis Trevelyan. So much so that it is a wonder that the zoos of England during their lives (the early and middle 1800’s) didn’t warily count their lions, zebra, elks, snakes, and emus each and every night, praying that another species hadn’t been gastronomically rendered extinct by this dynasty
Why the Bucklands chose to indulge these rather tasty indulgences is pure conjecture. Oh, sure, they both had some rather elaborate mechanisms to explain their bizarre mastication. William Buckland, the father, for instance was the organizer of the Society for the Acclimatization of Animals in the United Kingdoms - which, aside from giving the very Avengers like acronym A.A.U.K. - gave him, and sometime thereafter his son, a wonderful excuse of importing new species to Britain to ease the food crisis to dine on such things as kangaroo, sea-slug, porpoise head, rhinoceros, earwigs, and (yes, you may shudder) a puppy.
Without blowing the joke, rest assured that aside from one documented incident, the Buckland’s reserved their tastes to species other than their own, but that by no means limits their weirdness factor. Besides trying just about everything that waddled, slithered, trotted, hopped, crawled or any other form of locomotion, the Bucklands also had opinions about what they consumed.His son also had his opinions, reserving horseflesh as one of the more disgusting things to have passed his lips. Though, as quoted Catherine Caufield’s indispensable The Emperor of the United States of America and other Magnificent British Eccentrics and the follow up, The Man Who Ate Bluebottles, he stated that, while not tasty, horses could easily be put towards other handy uses: “People who wish to have relics kept of favorite horses should have their ears preserved. They make nice holders for spills; the hoofs also make good inkstands; and the tails mounted on a stick as an excellent thing to kill flies.”
Francis Trevelyan was also a fan of living animals ... though considering his diet it is safe to assume that when they joined the choir invisible there wasn’t much left to bury. At one point, he had African mongooses, a South African river hog, a jackal, a raccoon, an eagle, a buzzard, and a bear. Walkies much have been quite the experience ....
To give an example of what the Buckland estate must have been like, a relative reported stumbling over a soft object at the foot of the stairs one night. Upon further examination, she was rather amazed to discover it was a dead baby hippopotamus. About her discovery, Francis could only scold: “You should be more careful. You might have damaged it. Hippopotamuses don’t grow on trees, you know!”
Even on his deathbed, the younger Buckland’s thoughts were on exotic fauna: a sentiment that must have brought the spirits of many an animal some consternation: “I think I shall see a great many curious animals.” And consume them, no doubt, with great spectral enthusiasm.
The senior Buckland’s knowledge of the animal kingdom often allowed him to perform some quite amazing Sherlockian analyses, though on two distinct ones must have sincerely ennobled him to the Catholic Church: while on honeymoon, Mr. and Mrs. Buckland visited a local shrine where, it was said, resided the bones of Saint Rosalia. One look was all it took for Buckland to loudly proclaim: “Those are the bones of a goat!”
Saint Rosalia (goat bones not shown)
Much later, both Bucklands were present at another miracle, the blood of a saint that were supposed to be appear fresh each morning on the floor of a cathedral. One sniff, one taste, was all it took for the elder to bellow out, “Bat urine!"
It's safe to say that wherever William Buckland went after shaking himself free of this mortal coil it could never have been hot enough for the Pope.
The consummation of this quick look at the lives, and diet, of the remarkable Bucklands has to conclude with a story about the elder: the plates are empty, the wine is almost gone, the sherbet is a fading memory, cigars are looming ... the meal is just about done.
But one last treat, one last morsel: one day William Buckland visited Edward Harcout, the Archbishop of York and an esoteric collector of some renown. Seems this Harcourt had been present during the Revolution and had managed to acquire a great prize, a trophy he kept in a special little velvet-lined case.
Shown this prize, Buckland could not resist: “I’ve eaten a great many things, but never the heart of a king” and with that he snatched up the embalmed heart of Louis XIV and swallowed it.
Louis XIV (shown not eaten)