Georgian Cats

While cats were not as popular as dogs in the Georgian and Regency eras, they had their admirers. Famous cat owners included Dr. Johnson, Marie Antoinette, and Horace Walpole. Cats were the subjects of artists and poets of this period. As mousers, they were employed by the Royal Mail post offices and on both merchant and Royal Navy ships. One cat even left his mark on the sport of horse racing. Let us delve into the tales of these cats.

The Angora Breed

Tourists who traveled in Turkey brought exotic longhaired cats to France. The Angora derives their breed name from the Turkish capital Ankora. An Angora has a long slender body and a semi-long silky coat that is longest on the neck and tail with short fur on the face. In the 18th century, Louis XV as well Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were great admirers of this ethereal breed. Louis XVI owned a white Angora that came to his bedroom every morming and was allowed to play on top of the Royal Council Table. Many paintings from this period show Angoras. In England, Angoras were known as French cats until the middle of the 19th century.

The Angora has a long history in France A black Angora named Lucifer was one of many cats that belonged to Cardinal Richelieu in the 17th century.

Beppo


One of five cats that the poet Lord Byron (1788-1824) owned.

Grimalkin

Grimalkin was the Godolphin Arabian's beloved companion cat. High strung horses often develop an attachment to another animal that helps them to feel calm. The Godolphin Arabian (1724-1753) was one of the foundation stallions of the Thoroughbred racehorse. The stallion was imported to England from France in 1729 by Mr. Edward Coke. The horse had probably come to France as tribute to the King of France by the Bey of Tunis.

Hodge


Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) lived at number 17 Gough Square, London, for eleven years, from 1748 to 1759, while he compiled his famous dictionary. His beloved cat Hodge kept him company while he worked. Dr. Johnson wrote this definition of the cat in his Dictionary of the English Language: "A domestick animal that catches mice, commonly reckoned by naturalists the lowest order of the leonine species." In his book The Life of Samuel Johnson of 1799, James Boswell wrote, "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. . . . I recollect [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; and when I observed he was a fine cat, saying 'why yes, Sir, but I have had cats whom I liked 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.'
When Hodge was dying, Dr. Johnson went out to find some valerian (a plant very similar to catnip) to make his last hours as pleasant as possible. Poet, Percival Stockdale wrote An Elegy on the Death of Dr Johnson's Favourite Cat, from which we learn that Hodge was a black cat ...
Who, by his master when caressed
Warmly his gratitude expressed;
And never failed his thanks to purr
Whene'er he stroked his sable fur.

Selima, a cat that belonged to Horace Walpole, was immortalized by Thomas Gray in the poem "Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat Drowned in a Tub of Goldfish."

"Domestic Cat" by Thomas Bewick, 1790
In his A General History of Quadrupeds published in 1807, the skilled wood engraver Thomas Bewick (1753-1828) described four types of cats, while thirty-six types of dogs were listed. Even if dogs were more popular, a number of artists included cats in their work in this period. Joseph Wright of Derby, famous for his studies of light amid darkness, painted Two Girls Dressing a Kitten by Candlelight, c.1768/70.

Artist Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) was known for including dogs in his work but he also drew and painted cats.

The Lambeth potteries produced little tin-glazed ceramic hand warmers in the shape of a curled up cat. Staffordshire potteries produced pairs of mantle figurines. The majority were dogs but some cats were made.


While only a privledged few cats enjoyed the status of beloved pet, the writer Daniel Defoe pointed out that virtually every English hosehold kept a cat as a mouser.

Enjoy books about cats in art:
Metropolitan Cats - Cats of the Metropolitan Museum of Art by John P. O'Neill
Cats in the Louvre by Frederic Vitoux
Cats in Art by Stefano Zuffi

Cat trivia:
100 Cats Who Changed Civilization by Sam Stall

Black Cats 2012 Wall Calendar
365 Cats Desk Calendar 2012



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