Horace Walpole's Cat
written by Christopher Frayling
Thames and Hudson | ISBN 9780500514917
Hardback – 80 pages
Member’s price: $35.96
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One day in February 1747 Horace Walpole’s cat Selima fell into a large Chinese porcelain goldfish tub and drowned. Walpole was naturally upset (though he actually preferred dogs) and his friend the poet Thomas Gray wrote an elegy to console him. The Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes is one of the best loved poems in the English language, and it conferred immortality upon the unfortunate Selima. Christopher Frayling has made her fate the focus of a piece of literary research that involves Walpole himself (author, connoisseur, one of the richest men in the country), Thomas Gray (sensitive but reticent genius), Richard Bentley (gifted dilettante), Dr Johnson, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Christopher Smart (cat-lovers), James Boswell (cat-hater), William Blake and Kathleen Hale (of Orlando the Marmalade Cat fame). All contribute to this beautifully produced book of charm and erudition lightly worn. The illustrations centre on three sets of designs inspired by the poem: Richard Bentley’s Rococo Gothic images of 1753; William Blake’s watercolours, commissioned in 1797; and Kathleen Hale’s drawings, created in 1944 but never published. The large format adds further enjoyment to the designs and images.