Composing poetry to deceased beloved companion cats was a trend of the times. Just as Johnson had mourned the death of Hodge, Bentham and many others would mourn the deaths of their beloved companion cats. The following are some examples from the London Magazine of 1733, but interestingly enough these poems are anonymous, probably because the authors were concerned that they might be ridiculed as Moncrif had been.
The Poet’s Lamentation for the Loss of His Cat, Which He Used to Call His Muse
Oppressed with grief,
In heavy strains I mourn
The partner of my studies from me torn
How shall I sing?
What numbers shall I choose?
For in my favorite cat I’ve lost my muse….
In acts obscene she never took delight
No catterwawls disturbed our sleep by night…
She never thirsted for the chicken’s blood;
Her teeth she only used to chew her food;
Harmless as satires which her master writes,
A foe to scratching,
And unused to bites.
She in the study was my constantinate;
There we together many evenings sat.
Whene’er I felt my tower fancy fail,
I stroked her head, her ears, her back and tail;
And, as I stroked, improved my dying song
From the sweet notes of her melodious tongue.
Her purrs and mews so evenly kept time,
She purred in metre and she mewed with rhyme.
My cat is gone, ab!
Never to return
Now in my study all the tedious night,
Alone I sit, and unassisted write;
Look often around
And view the numerous labors….. ;
Those quires of words arrayed in pompous rhyme;
Which brav’d the jaws of all devouring time
Now undefended and unwatched by cats,
Are doomed a victim to the teeth of rats.
(Anon., 1733 p.579)
Here lies beneath this verdant hill
Tom, a favorite cat
Who when alive, did never spill
The blood of mouse or rat,
Yet many a bird and many a nest
His cruel claws befit
The partridge too could find not rest,
Nor escaped the leveret.
For callow young he fought the filed,
And often made a feast,
While fluttering round, the dam beheld,
And mourned the sad repast…
Ye pretty songsters, clap the wing,
Let every partner know;
Let every wood and valley ring,
The death of Tom your foe.
Now build your nests, now hatch your young,
And whistle to and fro;
Let every hill and dale return
The death of Tom your foe.
But mourn his death, ye vermin kind,
And shriek, ye mice and rats,
For such a friend ye ne’er shall find
In all the race of cats.
(Anon., 1769, p.48)
An Epitaph on A Favorite Cat Named Blewet
Here lies entombed poor honest Blewet
Poor honest Blewet, Pray who’s that
Some tippling poet? No, a cat….
It was a loving, lovely creature
Compleat in every grace and feature.
What gooseberry eyes, and what velvet fur!
Ye gods what a melodious pur!….
When on patrole about the house,
What cat less pus-illanimous?
But a description yet would suit his
person, and parts, for subject new ‘tis requires, a cat-alogue of beauties.
To tell in brief his worth and mien,
But death, whose never erring dart
makes dogs, and cats, and men to part,
Our friend to realms of silence bore,
And honest Blewet purs no more….
In dismal discords all agree.
To moan this sad cat-astrophe
A cat whom merit thus indears,
Demands a cat-aract of tears.
(Anon., 1775, p.654-55)
William Stukeley, a famous antiquarian of the time, had a cat named Tit. He loved his cat so much that when she died, he wrote a heartfelt eulogy for her. “The creature had a sense so far superior to her kind; had such inimitable ways of testifying her love to her master and mistress, that she was as a companion, especially so to me…From the admirable endowments of the cat I took a great liking to her, which gave me so much pleasure, without trouble. Her death I grieved for exceedingly.” (Piggott, 1985, p.124) When the gardener buried her under a mulberry tree in Stukeley’s garden, Stukeley refused to go anywhere near it, stating, “I never cared to come near that delightful place; nor so much as to look toward it.” (Ibid)
In 1747, Horace Walpole’s (1717-97) cat, Selima, drowned in a large Chinese porcelain goldfish tank. Walpole was distraught and his friend and poet Thomas Gray, with whom he had spent much time traveling, wrote an elegy for the poor goldfish loving cat. The poem became a well loved sensation and important enough to be one of the not very prolific poet’s only 13 poems published in his lifetime. Ironically, it certainly was not a serendipidous discovery for his cat to slip and fall into the goldfish tank. He coined the word serendipity which offered a lesson to those thinking all that glitters is gold.
Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes
T’was 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 purred 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 Tyiian hue
Through richest purple to the view
Betrayed a gold gleam.
The hapless nymph with wonder saw:
A whisker first and then a claw,
With many an ardent wish,
She stretched in vain to reach the prize.
What female hear can gold despise?
What cat’s averse to fish?
Presumptuous maid! With looks intent
Again she stretched, again she bent,
Nor knew the gulf between.
(Malignant fate sat by, and smiled)
The slippery verge her feet beguiled,
She tumbled headlong in.
Eight times emerging from the flood
She mewed to every watery god,
Some speedy aid to send.
No dolphin came, no Nereid stirred;
Nor cruel Tom, nor Susan heard.
A favourite has no friend!
Even hence, ye beauties undeceived,
Know, one false step is ne’er retrieved,
And be with caution bold.
Not all that tempts your wandering eyes
And headless hearts is lawful prize;
Nor all that glistens gold.
Piggott, Stuart. (1985). William Stukeley, an eighteenth century antiquary, Thames and Hudson, New York p.124.