Saturday, November 3, 2012

"A very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed...."

by Grace Elliot

To Hodge.

"…a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed."
Dr Samuel Johnson.

Hodge- appropriately sitting on a dictionary!

Lexicographer and writer, Dr Johnson, was a cat lover. It was whilst he was in residence at 17 Gough Square, London, that he owned his most well-known cat, Hodge. To this day a statue of Hodge, appropriately seated on a dictionary, forms part of a memorial to the great man, at the far end of the square where he once lived. 

Indeed, such was Johnson's love of cats that the diarist and biographer, James Boswell, thought to record it. 
"Nor would it be just….to omit the fondness which he [Johnson] shewed for animals which he had taken under his protection."

This kindness extended to visiting the fish market in person, in order to select the best oysters for his cat since Johnson didn’t want to put the servants out and cause resentment against Hodge.
"I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat: for whom he himself used to go out and buy oysters, lest the servants having that trouble should take a dislike to the poor creature."
Boswell must indeed have been a firm friend and admirer of Johnson, since he himself disliked cats and was most probably allergic to them. 
"I am, unluckily one of those who have an antipathy to a cat, so that I am uneasy when in the room with one; and I own, frequently suffered a good deal from the presence of this same Hodge."

 Johnson, however was unstinting in his affection for his feline companions, as Boswell goes on to record.
"I recollect him [Hodge] one day scrambling up Dr Johnson's breast, apparently with much satisfaction, while my friend smiling and half-whistling, rubbed down his back and pulled him by the tail." 

The plinth of Hodge's statue.
Poor Boswell seems to have at least made an effort to fit in with his cat-loving friend as this excerpt recounts.

"When I observed he was a fine cat….[Johnson] saying 'Why yes, Sir, but I have had cats better than this.' And then as if perceiving Hodge to be out of countenance, adding, 'but he is a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed.' "

And the final words go to Percival Stockdale in this excerpt from his elegy on the death of Johnson's favourite cat:

 Shall not his [Hodge] worth a poem fill,
Whonever thought, nor uttered ill;
Who, by his master when caressed
Warmly his gratitude expressed;
And never failed his thanks to purr,
Whene'er he stroaked his sable furr [sic]?
The general conduct if we trace
Of our articulating race,
Hodge's example we shall fine
A keen reproof of human kind.
He lived in town, yet ne'er got drunk,
Nor spent one farthing on a punk;
He never filched a single graot,
Nor bilked a taylor of a coat;
His garb when first he drew his breath
His dress through life, his shroud in death.

Hodge - with his favourite snack, an oyster.
Post written by Grace Elliot.
Grace lives near London, where she works as a veterinarian. By night, Grace writes historical romance, much to the delight of her five cats - all vying for lap space. Her debut novel, ‘A Dead Man’s Debt’ was described as “historical romance at its best”, by The Romance Reviews.
To find out more about Grace and her novels, please visit:
Or her blog: Fall In Love With History

Click for link.


  1. Nice post. I wonder if he was as useless a mouser as our lot? :)

    1. Interesting thought - you can never tell! It seems to me Hodge had his paws well and truly under the table - mousing optional.

  2. To say nothing of the inimitable John Keats

    To Mrs Reynolds's Cat

    Cat! who hast passed thy grand climacteric,
    How many mice and rats hast in thy days
    Destroyed? How many tit-bits stolen? Gaze
    With those bright languid segments green, and prick
    Those velvet ears - but prithee do not stick
    Thy latent talons in me, and up-raise
    Thy gentle mew, and tell me all thy frays
    Of fish and mice, and rats and tender chick.
    Nay, look not down, nor lick thy dainty wrists -
    For all thy wheezy asthma, and for all
    Thy tail's tip is nicked off, and though the fists
    Of many a maid have given thee many a maul,
    Still is that fur as soft as when the lists
    In youth thou enteredst on glass-bottled wall

    1. Let's hope that this is a trend - loving cats and being a literary genius *winks* - thank you so much for bringing this lovely poem to my attention, it bears further investigation.
      Grace x

  3. Oysters were of course relatively cheap and not the luxury items of today. But you all knew that, didn't you!

    1. Oysters are actually nutritionally poor for cats. I researched it once for an article for the Vet Times. I'd need to look up the whys and wherefores but basically a cat fed on a majority oyster diet is not going to be a well puss for long.
      Grace x


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