Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Boris vs. Hodge


I promise not to turn this into a cat blog, but I felt I had to mention that things feel slightly weird at home because we just got out first ever cat, Boris (below). He's very nervous and very big, and enjoys nipping the hand if he feels liberties have been taken. I think, when he stops being so scared and hiding underneath the sofa, he could end up developing a tremendous, Johnsonian personality.

But what of Johnson's cats? His most famous cat is Hodge (pictured above in statue-form at Johnson's House in Gough Square), whom I mentioned in an earlier post. And you'll no doubt recall Johnson's tactless remark to Boswell that he'd had 'cats whom I liked better than this', which was quickly qualified with: 'but he is a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed'. So who were Johnson's other cats? We don't know their names, but as Dr Graham Nicholls says in his excellent pamphlet, Dr Johnson's Cats: 'one of them makes its mark on Johnsonian biography when Johnson objected to his wife [Tetty] beating it because she was setting a bad example to the maids'!

He seems to have owned Hodge in the late 1760s. The name is a version of Roger and is a traditional name for a countryman, so Nicholls speculates that Johnson perhaps brought him back as a kitten from one of his many trips to the country. When the cat was close to death, such was Johnson's tenderness, he went out and found it valerian (a plant similar to catnip) to make his last hours as comfortable as possible

In case you wondered, our cat is named after another big personality: the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.



Photographs © Memoirs of the Celebrated Mrs Woffington.

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