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Doris Lessing's On Cats

"Knowing cats, a lifetime of cats, what is left is a sediment of sorrow, quite different from that due to humans: compounded of pain for their helplessness, of guilt on behalf of us all" -- Doris Lessing, "Rufus the Survivor"

Dear friends and readers,

The admiral and I were away this past week -- in NYC and I've written a travel piece on our time there on Ellen&Jim Have A Blog, Two  Three nights & days in Manhattan. While riding on a train or car or (once) bus from place to place, I read books, each time one shoved into my handbag for when I was walking. One of them had me laughing aloud and at times close to tears. It really moved more than many professedly seriously emotional or comic books have in a long time: Doris Lessing's On Cats.  It might not attract much attention --- like her Martha Quest series, or the once stunning Golden Notebook -- or the profound Good Terrorist, or her memoirs, African stories, not to omit her journals and science fiction, not have much of a following. But On Cats is very good.


bothbrightbabieskittens

Here our two are when they were kittens, 4 years ago: the ginger tabby (marmalade, orange) cat is the boy, Ian who I wish we'd called Little Snuffy; the tortoiseshell with green eyes (not blue) is the girl, Clarissa, who should have been called Marianne because of her passion for dead leaves. Lessing made me remember continually how much my two cats are alive personalities with feelings and thoughts as valid as my own -- they just can't specify them -- and how it's my responsibility not to take advantage of my power over them (except of course when it's a case of their nuzzling a wire, pawing at the computers, or when we must must take them to Vet).

The book requires a tough, not sentimental mind. The opening section is a relentless dreadful recounting of how cats are still or once were treated in South Africa on a farm. Basically drowned or shot, just ruthlessly destroyed, sometimes en masse. The adult cats would have so many kittens. This opening is meant to be distressing to us. Meant to bring home to us how people really are indifferent to animals, and some more than others, and among these more is still the cat. Today the Admiral drove himself and me to a Sondheim musical (wonderfully well done, A Little Night Music by Sondheim at Castleton festival), and I was reading the thin biography of Eliza Hancock [Hastings] de Feuillide Austen.  Carelessly the author, Deirdre LeFaye reprints a story Tysoe Saul Hancock, Eliza's legal father sent her about a cat which Warren Hastings, Eliza's biological father wanted her to have:

"The Governor, your Godfather, desired me to send a very fine white Persian Cat of mine to you as a present from Him, which I would have done with Pleasure, but your Cousin Stanhope having quarreled with a Gentleman who lived at an house next to mine & the Cat having strayed into His House, this Gentleman or some of his People shot Her; I suppose to b revenged on Mr Stanhope" (p. 37)

This friend killed the cat because it was expensive. The cat was bred to be expensive and then killed because of this. Could it be the person spited was Hancock himself? or Hastings?

I've read again and again of people taking out their resentments on other people by killing a cherished cat or dog. Conan Doyle has a cruel Sherlock Holmes story where a tyrannical jealous husband destroys his wife's beloved dog.

There is a very cruel 18th century poem by Thomas Gray where he is reveling in the death of a "favourite" cat.  Is it all made up? Is he reveling in the death of this poor cat? glad it got more than its comeuppance in trying to catch a fish? or was it a favorite and he couldn't save it?  And there's the :"light" misogyny too.

But see Johnson and Hodge: "Hodge is a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed."

Lessing frames her book this way in order to shock us, make us feel how disgusting it is to kill animals this way. She has some suggestive words alluding to the heaps of animals massacred this way.  Lessing's mother is deeply distraught after one such killing but she does it. The father turns white. They also kill cats by mistake (!) and the mother weeps. We also see the cats kill small animals and birds swoop down and carry small cats away to eat them presumably.

Had the book kept this up I could not have gone on, but this is only a few pages at the opening which now and again are alluded to when Lessing describes or refers to how she sees cats carelessly damaged and badly treated by their owners when she is an adult living in London. She implies that her love for cats began when she saw them so mistreated, that it was a reactive kind of emotional defiance. In this early section she tells of one beloved cat whom she slept with as a girl.
As opposed to everything else I've read so far (including Temple Grandin's Animals in Translation) Lessing frankly takes into account the views of many people and their behavior first and the cat's place (so to speak) in the animal order.

As the book moves on it becomes a marvel of a text. She begins to tell of individual cats she's known and owned. It's still for the strong stomached. Cats live tragic lives. When I told the Admiral this, he denied it, saying they lack a tragic flaw. I said well maybe they don't come up to Aristotleian tragedy, but it's tragic enough.

ClaryandIanasBabiesonCattreeblog
As kittens, trying out their cat tree

Cats2012
In their same cat tree today

What she does is enter into the presence of the cat the way she might a human being. She tries to keep this realistic by referring to herself now and again as watching the cat. But watching the cat would not enable us to enter its feelings and implied thoughts the way she does. The vividness is a trick of style. The language is kept simple and concretely descriptive at all times.

A long sequence is about two cats she had for years. Black cat and grey cat. So  touching. They had names but she doesn't use them. She confesses that she changes her cat's names from time to time. Grey cat arrived in her home first, and so was the dominant cat. She tells of how she was led to neuter the poor creature and implies (rightly) in my view that we violate them when we do this, wrongly change their natures.  We are driven to it to stop kittening. She does not mince words on how hard it is on the cat and shows the hypocrisy of people who insist how good it is for the cat. She would not be fooled by whatever is said on behalf of de-clawing them. She acknowledges their dislike of the cat basket once they associate it with going to the Vet and how the Vet does the less pleasant things (shots, pills, and yes operations) when we are out of the room.

She did not neuter black cat so black cat repeatedly became a mother. It was a satisfying experience for black cat, and black cat took on many responsibilities teaching her kittens to eat, to use their litter box, and to tell danger from non-danger. At one point black cat came near death and did want to die when very sick. It's the story of how Lessing fought that cat to bring it back to feeling life and then wanting to live and how black cat in the process displaced grey cat's places in the flat and her bed and for a while was dominant over grey cat.

Interspersed are stories of wild cats, feral cats, abandoned cats. She tells of a mixed Siamese whom she describes with loving attention to her beauty and character. She made me rightly begin again to feel for animals who are locked out of the owner's house during the day or night. I was inuring myself to people doing this because it's easier than condemning a neighbor in my mind. But I know it's cruel. I hear them crying. One of my neighbors calls his cat "Alley Cat" as if that gives him license not to be a good friend-owner.

And again and gain the dis-valuing of cats emerges. One story: a cat lived on the stairway of her building; no one would take her in. She miaowed and miaowed; sometimes people would offer her food; they would take her in briefly, but she wanted to go out again and they had not litter box. Then one day she was gone. The superintendent killed her because in a brief fit of illness she dirtied his stairs. It was bad enough he said having to clean after people. That cat was helpless against him.

In all her stories, she makes clear how these creatures are cats, not babies, not people, lovable and loving friends who are cats. And how individual they are.

The closing stories are the most moving of all "Rufus the Survivor" is about a cat who has a bad home. He is mistreated. He is shut out during the day; he is too thin; it's clear he is sometimes hit. He is cowed and has learnt to be a sycophant. It's a story of how slowly he insinuates himself into Lessing's home and gradually ever so gradually gets first her to allow him to stay, and then to stay for a while, and hen to live there. How he has to maneuver to get grey and black cat to accept him. How she takes him to the doctor for his ills and how he does not like it ever. Gradually he becomes braver and more confident and leaves the house to make friends. He even probably visits his ex-owner. She worries about this, but it seems the ex-owner does not try to keep Rufus. Rufus learns to show love and allow others to love him.

El Magnifico is a hero's story. As the cat grows older, he gets cancer, and in order to have more years of life Lessing must amputate one of his legs. He cannot of course understand this. He assumes that she has utterly betrayed him not just in taking him to the Vet, but allowing this terrifically painful thing to be done. Ever after he has the worst troubles going to his litter box just outside the house (in a garden or yard), going up and down stairs, climbing things. But she cannot explain she is giving him more life.

We see her interact with the cats and how the two species influence one another. This is very like what is found in Jane Goodall's studies as well as Montgomery's Walking with Apes on Goodall, Fossey, and Gildikas.

Lessing's beautiful final words on El Magnifico and her life with cats speak for themselves:

   When he was a young cat I would wake to find him awake and then, seeing that I was, he would walk up the bed, lie down on my shoulder, put his paws around my neck, lay his furry cheek against my cheek, and give that deep sigh of content you hear from a young child when he is at last lifted up into loving arms. And I heard myself sigh in response. Then he purred and purred, until he was asleep in my arms.
     What a luxury a cat is, the moments of shocking and startling pleasure in a day, the feel of the beast, the soft sleekness under your palm, the warmth when you wake on a cold night, the grace and charm even in a quite ordinary workaday puss. Cat walks across your room, and in that lonely stalk you see leopard or even panther, or it turns its head to acknowledge you and the yellow blaze of those eyes tells you what an exotic visitor you have here, in this household friend, the cat who purrs as you stroke, or rub his chin, or scratch his head. The room below my bedroom has a bed, but it
is a high bed, and a ramp of piled cushions and blankets lets him easily get up and down off it. His range is now the living room, with trips to the kitchen and the little flat roof outside it, and to the floor above, where the dirt box waits for him on
the landing.
   He likes to be brushed slowly all over, and carefully, for the fur on the side where his front paw used to be gets rough and knotted. He likes to be kneaded and massaged, and to have his spine rubbed down, neck to tail, with my hand held hard. I wash his ears for him, and his eyes, for one paw does not do as good a job as two. And he licks my hand, which for a moment or two does become a paw, so that I can rub it over the eye on the side he can't reach, again and again, for his spit, like ours, is healing and keeps the eye healthy.
    Sometimes, if he has lain too long on the sofa he can get down off it only with difficulty because he has stiffened up, the way I do, from sitting still, and then he does not even hobble, but crawls painfully, letting out a frustrated miaow, to his other place, where the radiator heat will loosen his old bones.
    He is not doing badly, this old cat, with his three legs, and people coming into the room stop and exclaim, What a magnificent cat! - but when he gets up and hobbles away they are silent, particularly if they have seen him as a young cat step proudly out of a room, or lying on top of the basket - where he can no longer jump up - his two paws crossed negligently in front of him, his tail flowing down, his calm, deep eyes.
     When you sit close to a cat you know well, and put your hand on him, trying to adjust to the rhythms of his life, so different from yours, sometimes he will lift his head and greet you with a soft sound different from all his other sounds, acknowledging that he knows you are trying to enter his existence. He looks at you with those eyes of his that continually adjust to changes in light, you look at him, your hand resting lightly ... If a cat has nightmares then he must also dream as pleasantly and interestingly as we do. Perhaps his dreams could take him to places I know in dreams, but I have never met him there.
   I dream of cats often, cats and kittens too, and I have responsibilities for them, for dreams of cats are always reminders of duty. The cats need feeding, or need shelter. If our dream worlds are not the same, cats and humans, or seem not to be, then when he sleeps where does he travel? He likes it when we sit quietly together. It is not an easy thing, though. No good sitting down by him when I am rushed, or thinking about what I should be doing in the house or garden or of what I should write. Long ago, when he was a kitten, I learned that this was a cat who demanded your full attention, for he knew when my mind wandered, and it was no use stroking him mechanically, my thoughts elsewhere, let alone taking up a book to read. The moment I was no longer with him, completely thinking of him, then he walked off. When I sit down to be with him, it means slowing myself down, getting rid of the fret and the urgency. When I do this - and he must be in the right mood too, not in pain or restless - then he subtly lets me know he understands I am trying to reach him, reach cat,
essence of cat, finding the best of him. Human and cat, we try to transcend what separates us.

ClaryonDadsLap (1)blog
Clary on the Admiral's lap

Sylvia

Comments

( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
misssylviadrake
Jul. 15th, 2012 05:23 am (UTC)
austen avoids cats
From Aneilka:

"Austen doesn't mention cats in the books at least. James Austen
once wrote a memorable poem (and was it Cassandra Austen Snr. who wrote a response on Tyger the cat's behalf???) Cats are almost conspicuous by their absence. They would have provided such useful "Noises Off" in Northanger Abbey or as a metaphor for Mrs. Norris in relation to Pug. Augusta Elton could so easily have favoured a pedigree kitten and Elinor might have derived comfort from watching the determined antics of a plain tabby at a time of crisis. No cat
graces the pages of P&P despite the fact that a pair of feline green eyes might have made an interesting counterpoint for Caroline Bingley.

I say "one single cat" because a pair of cats do manage to creep into s&s. But they are a highly metaphorical pair of cats that have no more fur than a part of speech, being simply a word that Mrs. Jennings uses to describe how she and the colonel will "sit and gape at each other as dull as two cats". Not a phrase to impress Doris Lessing, I fear.

Austen avoids cats. Austen avoids cats, America and royalty.

Also:

Are you SURE Doris Lessing isn't slightly sentimental about cats? I find it highly improbable that one could anthropomorphise one's way through a number of feline lives without stooping to a touch of sentimentality here and there. I hasten to add I have not read the book. I must also add that here in Australia there is a huge anti-cat culture. Domestic cats here can kill up to 40 small native marsupials and birds per week and feral colonies living on the edge of the bush (= wild countryside) can damage the native ecology substantially."
misssylviadrake
Jul. 15th, 2012 05:24 am (UTC)
austen avoids cats
Yes James Austen, Jane's older brother wrote a poem on a cat who ate part of a meal intended for him. He was a humane sensitive man whose nature was stunted by his wife.

Jane Austen does remark on a small kitten she sees running up and down the stairs in their lodging house in Bath.

E.M.

Edited at 2012-07-15 11:00 am (UTC)
misssylviadrake
Jul. 15th, 2012 10:40 am (UTC)
Thank you soooooooooooooooooooooo much Ellen, my dearest for this splendid post. Farideh

I loved writing it. In defense of cats :). The point is they are worthy creatures, as worthy as any including us. Sylvia

Edited at 2012-07-15 10:51 am (UTC)
misssylviadrake
Jul. 15th, 2012 10:55 am (UTC)
Tragic lives
"And whooooo recommended it to you! Me and Ron Dunning. Glad to hear you had such a good New York visit, we're having an exciting Alaska trip. And cats do live tragic lives." Diana B.

Ron said that and it's true you and he had mentioned it. But I had forgotten and really came to the book on my own. No matter. Ron suggested we need not anthropomorphize cats to see their individual lives, and if they are useful to us as say animals who attack insects, rats, mice, they are also companions and we are useful to them. Sylvia
misssylviadrake
Jul. 15th, 2012 08:02 pm (UTC)
Thomas Gray's Ode illustrated
Ellen, Probably you have seen Blake's amazing illustrations to Gray's "Ode" on Selima; if not you might have a look at Irene Tayler's volume or the exquisite Trianon Press volume edited by Geoffrey Keynes. Both include Blake's illustrations for a number of Gray's poems. I believe they may also be available at the Blake Archive.

Far outside C18, but you might also seek a copy of the collection of essays by H.P. Lovecraft called Something About Cats; I suspect you would enjoy the essay that gives the collection its title.

Tom
misssylviadrake
Jul. 15th, 2012 08:03 pm (UTC)
Thomas Gray's Ode illustrated
Blake devoted six pages to illustrations of this ode and seemed to have a great deal of fun with it:

http://www.blakearchive.org/exist/blake/archive/object.xq?objectid=but335.1.wc.07&java=yes

Any recommendations for Irene Tayler's scholarship are always good ones, by the way.

Jim R

Edited at 2012-07-15 08:03 pm (UTC)
misssylviadrake
Jul. 15th, 2012 08:04 pm (UTC)
Thomas Gray's Ode illustrated
I should have mentioned that the reproductions in Tayler's volume (except for the frontispiece) are b/w, but the Keynes edition is glorious color. Jim is correct--the commentary in Tayler's volume is excellent. It is also good to seek out Richard Bentley's illustrations for Gray's poems, for the fascinating contrasts with Blake's. They are available in Loftus Jestin's (sp?)
The Answer to the Lyre, (which seems to be buried somewhere in my study, so I can't check my accuracy right off).
Thanks to Jim for the link to the Blake Archive.
Tom
misssylviadrake
Jul. 15th, 2012 09:03 pm (UTC)
Thank you to Tom and Jim R. I'll keep the Lovecraft volume in mind. While written in a simple style, Lessing's book is a serious defense of cats by which I mean she wants to counter a tendency among different groups of people or individuals to destroy a cat or cats without thinking about it. She is arguing for seeing them as having a life that is valuable. So naturally passages in the 18th century which showed a tendency not to value a cat came to mind

I've wondered about attitudes towards animals in the 18th century and know these were changing to valuing animals as living creatures with feelings and thoughts. There was a review of a book on attitudes towards animals, specifically apes in an ECS not that long ago. The best cogent or clear information on how apes were regarded in the 18th century I've read is in Jane Goodall's magisterial book on chimps (a full study after 45 years). What is simply around us a lot (and cats are ubiquitous in the US, the UK and other places I"ve lived) we don't write histories of; yet I'd like to know more about the domestic cat and how it was treated.

Edited at 2012-07-15 09:03 pm (UTC)
misssylviadrake
Jul. 16th, 2012 12:14 am (UTC)
Blake's illustrations of Gray's Ode
Blake's illustrations of the poem very much humanizes these cats. They regularly look more like people dressed like cats than cats -- perhaps anticipating Broadway by about 150 years -- and in at least one image we have a very human-looking cat dressed like a woman who is looking upon her reflection in the lake. Her reflection is of a human woman. One is tempted to ask if Blake thought all women were cats deep inside or if all cats were women deep inside.

It's very hard to see these illustrations without laughing a bit, and it doesn't help at all that the fish are often rather human looking too, but perhaps we can forgive him as to my knowledge Blake was no more a cat or pet owner than Gray (not that I recall -- I'm waiting for a rebuttal from Blake Records now). Of course Blake did believe that every thing that lived was holy, and asked us to consider the possibility that every sparrow that cuts the airy way is an immense world of delight. Even fleas had intelligences of sorts. Rather nasty looking ones too. My first reaction would be to say that Blake believed he was working out his visionary perception of the work of the Poetic Genius in the world, but the context of changing attitudes towards animals at the time could undoubtedly play an interesting role in Blake's thought too.

Jim R
misssylviadrake
Jul. 16th, 2012 12:14 am (UTC)
18h century cats
You might want to keep in mind Samuel Johnson's cat, Hodge, and Christopher Smart's cat, Jeoffrey. Tom
misssylviadrake
Jul. 16th, 2012 12:19 am (UTC)
Cowper's The Retired Cat
Thank you again, Jim R, and Tom, there is also Cowper's "The Retired Cat:"


"The Retired Cat"

A poet's Cat, sedate and grave
As poet well could wish to have,
Was much addicted to inquire
For nooks to which she might retire,
And where, secure as mouse in chink,
She might repose, or sit and think.

I know not where she caught the trick,---
Nature perhaps herself had cast her
In such a mould philosophique,
Or else she learn'd it of her Master.
Sometimes ascending, debonnair,
An apple-tree, or lofty pear,
Lodged with convenience in the fork,
She watch'd the gardener at his work;
Sometimes her ease and solace sought
In an old empty watering-pot,
There wanting nothing, save a fan,
To seem some nymph in her sedan
Apparell'd in exactest sort,
And ready to be borne to court.

But love of change it seems has place
Not only in our wiser race,
Cats also feel, as well as we,
That passion's force, and so did she.
Her climbing, she began to find,
Exposed her too much to the wind,
And the old utensil of tin
Was cold and comfortless within:
She therefore wish'd instead of those
Some place of more serene repose,
Where neither cold might come, nor air
Too rudely wanton with her hair,
And sought it in the likeliest mode
Within her master's snug abode.

A drawer, it chanced, at bottom lined
With linen of the softest kind,
With such as merchants introduce
From India, for the ladies' use,
A drawer impending o'er the rest,
Half open in the topmost chest,
Of depth enough, and none to spare,
Invited her to slumber there;
Puss with delight beyond expression
Survey'd the scene and took possession.
Recumbent at her ease ere long,
And lull'd by her own humdrum song,
She left the cares of life behind,
And slept as she would sleep her last,
When in came, housewifely inclined,
The chambermaid, and shut it fast,
By no malignity impell'd,
But all unconscious whom it held.

Awaken'd by the shock, cried Puss,
"Was ever cat attended thus!
The open drawer was left, I see,
Merely to prove a nest for me,
For soon as I was well composed
Then came the maid, and it was closed.
How smooth these 'kerchiefs and how sweet!
Oh what a delicate retreat!
I will resign myself to rest
Till Sol declining in the west
Shall call to supper, when, no doubt,
Susan will come and let me out."

The evening came, the sun descended,
And puss remain'd still unattended.
The night roll'd tardily away,
(With her indeed 'twas never day;)
The sprightly morn her course renew'd,
The evening grey again ensued,
And puss came into mind no more
Than if entomb'd the day before.
With hunger pinch'd, and pinch'd for room,
She now presaged approaching doom,
Nor slept a single wink or purr'd,
Conscious of jeopardy incurr'd.

That night, by chance, the poet watching,
Heard an inexplicable scratching;
His noble heart went pit-a-pat,
And to himself he said---"What's that?"
He drew the curtain at his side,
And forth he peep'd, but nothing spied;
Yet, by his ear directed, guess'd
Something imprison'd in the chest,
And, doubtful what, with prudent care
Resolved it should continue there.
At length, a voice which well he knew,
A long and melancholy mew,
Saluting his poetic ears,
Consoled him, and dispell'd his fears;
He left his bed, he trod the floor,
He 'gan in haste the drawers explore,
The lowest first, and without stop
The rest in order to the top;
For 'tis a truth well known to most,
That whatsoever thing is lost,
We seek it, ere it come to light,
In every cranny but the right.
Forth skipp'd the cat, not now replete
As erst with airy self-conceit,
Nor in her own fond apprehension
A theme for all the world's attention,
But modest, sober, cured of all
Her notions hyperbolical,
And wishing for a place of rest
Any thing rather than a chest.
Then stepp'd the poet into bed
With this reflection in his head:


MORAL.

Beware of too sublime a sense
Of your own worth and consequence.
The man who dreams himself so great,
And his importance of such weight,
That all around in all that's done
Must move and act for Him alone,
Will learn in school of tribulation
The folly of his expectation.



Sylvia

Edited at 2012-07-16 12:20 am (UTC)
misssylviadrake
Jul. 16th, 2012 10:59 am (UTC)
Bentley's illustrations
Bentley's illusrations on Gray's Ode are on the Thomas Gray Archive
(sadly only in b/w):

<http://www.thomasgray.org/cgi-bin/view.cgi?collection=primary&edition=1753&page=u7>
<http://www.thomasgray.org/cgi-bin/view.cgi?collection=primary&edition=1753&page=5>

Best wishes,

Alexander.
misssylviadrake
Jul. 16th, 2012 10:59 am (UTC)
Bentley's illustrations
One thing I notice about these illustrations as a whole group: how thin the cats are and mangy-looking. We are looking at cats who are all outdoor cats (as I put it, I'm not sure what is the nomenclature for the different behaviors of a cat). They have to fight for their own food, and they don't look nicely brushed or particularly sleek or comfortable; the hair stands up prickly-like.

I don't have any big drawings to hand, but Victorian cats are far chubbier sleeker, the profile or outline looking very much like a cat in a US household today.

Compare the Bentley illustration to Marcus Stone's cat (Aunt Stanbury's cat is on the lower right hand side seen from the back) for Anthony Trollope's _He Knew He Was Right_:

http://www.jimandellen.org/trollope/pictures.HKHWR.html

and this modern cat in silverpoint by Susan LaMonte of a cat (either it's long-haired or her coat needs brushing) sleeping in the sun:

http://www.susanlamont.com/cody.html

As we continue to interact with cats, and force on them neutering and our ways of life, we do change the subtle directions of its evolution.

Sylvia
misssylviadrake
Jul. 16th, 2012 03:56 pm (UTC)
Self-advertisement: for a discussion c18 attitudes toward cats, see my article “Oysters for Hodge, or Ordering Society, Writing Biography, and Feeding the Cat,” Journal of Eighteenth-Century Studies 33:4 (2010): 631-645.

Lisa Berglund
misssylviadrake
Jul. 17th, 2012 05:21 am (UTC)
Stockdale's elegy on Hodge
Ellen --

Thanks for reminding me. A very fine cat indeed.

> One of my favorite "cat" passages in the 18th century is that
> of Boswell describing Johnson informing the person he's with
> that Hodge is a "very good cat" indeed all the while having
> Hodge on his lap while he pets him.

I suppose you know Percival Stockdale's Elegy on Hodge?

An Elegy on The Death of Dr Johnson's Favourite Cat

Let not the honest muse disdain
For Hodge to wake the plaintive strain.
Shall poets prostitute their lays
In offering venal Statesmen praise;
By them shall flowers Parnassian bloom
Around the tyrant's gaudy tomb;
And shall not Hodge's memory claim
Of innocence the candid fame;
Shall not his worth a poem fill,
Who never thought, nor uttered ill;
Who by his manner when caressed
Warmly his gratitude expressed;
And never failed his thanks to purr
Whene'er he stroaked his sable furr?
The general conduct if we trace
Of our articulating race,
Hodge's, example we shall find
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 groat,
Nor bilked a taylor of a coat;
His garb when first he drew his breath
His dress through life, his shroud in death.
Of human speech to have the power,
To move on two legs, not on four;
To view with unobstructed eye
The verdant field, the azure sky
Favoured by luxury to wear
The velvet gown, the golden glare -
--If honour from these gifts we claim,
Chartres had too severe a fame.
But wouldst though, son of Adam, learn
Praise from thy noblest powers to earn;
Dost thou, with generous pride aspire
Thy nature's glory to acquire?
Then in thy life exert the man,
With moral deed adorn the span;
Let virtue in they bosom lodge;
Or wish thou hadst been born a Hodge.

-- Russ
misssylviadrake
Jul. 17th, 2012 05:22 am (UTC)
Dear Russ,

I didn't know it so thank you. Tomorrow I'll write on C18-l about the oyster story -- how Johnson went out and bought oysters for Hodge lest if he ask Frank and Frank resent it Frank should take out this resentment on the helpless cat.

Dickens's Sam in Pickwick Papers points out that "oysters and poverty" go together so perhaps the oysters were also cheap.

Ellen
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )

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