Friday, November 13, 2009

Tabby cat humiliation

Horace Walpole's Cat (a book, by Christopher Frayling)

After the test today (about which I will make no predictions, except to say I am cautiously optimistic) I hit the bookstore on the way home, and this gorgeous book was my present to myself, as a reward for the last three weeks of work. Yes, I miss my kitties, Boris and Natasha. So sue me.

I don't use the word "gorgeous" lightly. This is a handsome book, with excellent production values (is that the phrase I'm looking for?). The conceit is slight, but charming. Paraphrasing the jacket cover:

"One day in February 1747 Horace Walpole's cat Selima fell into a large Chinese porcelain goldfish tub and drowned. Walpole was naturally upset and his close friend Thomas Gray wrote a (gently mocking) elegy to console him, ending with the famous moral lesson All that glisters is not gold . Gray's much-loved poem conferred immortality on the unfortunate Selima.

Christopher Frayling has made her fate the focus of a piece of literary research that involves Walpole, Gray, Richard Bentley, Doctor Johnson, cat-lovers Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Christopher Smart, cat-hater James Boswell, William Blake and finally Kathleen Hale (of Orlando the marmalade cat fame). All contribute to this book of charm and erudition lightly worn, that adds seriously to our appreciation of 18th century, and our understanding of people and their household animals.

With 32 illustrations, 15 in colour, by Richard Bentley (1753), William Blake (1797) and Kathleen Hale's drawings, created in 1944 and published here for the first time".

What's not to love?


Thomas Gray. 1716–1771

On a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes

TWAS on a lofty vase's side,
Where China's gayest art had dyed
The azure flowers that blow;
Demurest of the tabby kind,
The pensive Selima reclined,
Gazed on the lake below.

Her conscious tail her joy declared;
The fair round face, the snowy beard,
The velvet of her paws,
Her coat, that with the tortoise vies,
Her ears of jet, and emerald eyes,
She saw; and purr'd applause.

Still had she gazed; but 'midst the tide
Two angel forms were seen to glide,
The Genii of the stream:
Their scaly armour's Tyrian hue
Thro' richest purple to the view
Betray'd a golden gleam.

The hapless Nymph with wonder saw:
A whisker first and then a claw,
With many an ardent wish,
She stretch'd in vain to reach the prize.
What female heart can gold despise?
What Cat 's averse to fish?

Presumptuous Maid! with looks intent
Again she stretch'd, again she bent,
Nor knew the gulf between.
(Malignant Fate sat by, and smiled.)
The slipp'ry verge her feet beguiled,
She tumbled headlong in.

Eight times emerging from the flood
She mew'd to ev'ry wat'ry god,
Some speedy aid to send.
No Dolphin came, no Nereid stirr'd:
Nor cruel Tom, nor Susan heard.
A Fav'rite has no friend!

From hence, ye Beauties, undeceived,
Know, one false step is ne'er retrieved,
And be with caution bold.
Not all that tempts your wand'ring eyes
And heedless hearts, is lawful prize;
Nor all that glisters, gold.

1 comment:

Heathen Altarboy said...

And when your projector's not high enough to fill the screen properly, Horace Walpole's cat book will be the perfect wedge. Wonderful!