Cats in the 19th Century (Part 12-Cats in Literature-Edward Lear’s Foss)

Edward Lear and Foss his catEdward Lear (1812-1888), known for writing The Owl and the Pussy Cat, came from a large family, the 20th of 21 children.   His father had been well off but lost his money in stocks and the family became impoverished.   When he was 15, he started selling sketches to shopkeepers for “bread and cheese”.  Two years later he became well-known for his drawings at the London Zoo, and by age 19, he had compiled a monograph on parrots which was recognized as the first of its kind.   From the age of 15 to 25, Lear suffered from depression, asthma and bronchitis as well as epilepsy. 

In 1873, he met the kitten, Foss.  Edward Lear’s Foss was a tabby who had had his tail shortened by the servants in the belief that it would keep him from straying away. As Foss aged, he came to have a rotund body and with his shortened tail was deemed an unattractive cat.  Even so, Lear loved his cat and made many drawings of him.  

Edward Lear's Foss the cat

When it became necessary for Lear to move, he requested the architects design an exact duplicate of his former abode so that Foss would not be upset by the relocation.   At the age of 17, Foss died in November, 1887.  Lear devotedly buried him in his Italian garden at San Remo with a large tombstone to commemorate his life.  Lear himself died only two months later in January, 1888.  

He has many friends, lay men and clerical,
Old Foss is the name of his cat;
His body is perfectly spherical,
He weareth a runcible hat.

Edward Lear's Foss the cat

Foss, Edward Lear's cat

Foss sleeping

Foss Dancing


The Owl and the Pussy-Cat


The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea

   In a beautiful pea-green boat,

They took some honey, and plenty of money,

   Wrapped up in a five-pound note.

The Owl looked up to the stars above,

   And sang to a small guitar,

“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,

    What a beautiful Pussy you are,

         You are,

         You are!

What a beautiful Pussy you are!”



Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl!  Edward Lear Owl and the Pussy Cat Foss

   How charmingly sweet you sing!

O let us be married! too long we have tarried:

   But what shall we do for a ring?”

They sailed away, for a year and a day,

   To the land where the Bong-Tree grows

And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood

   With a ring at the end of his nose,

             His nose,

             His nose,

   With a ring at the end of his nose.



“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling

   Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.”

So they took it away, and were married next day

   By the Turkey who lives on the hill.

They dined on mince, and slices of quince,

   Which they ate with a runcible spoon;   

And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,

   They danced by the light of the moon,

             The moon,

             The moon,

They danced by the light of the moon.

Want to know more about the cat in literature, art and history? Then Revered and Reviled is the book for  you. Now available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. 

Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Cat, cat history, cats

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  1. Oh, how nice! I “met” Foss as “C” in Lear’s A Children’s Nonsense Alphabet… but didn’t know the story of the cat nor his real name! Thanks!

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