Horace Walpole's Cat

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Thames & Hudson, 2009 - History - 79 pages
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This delightful compendium focuses on one of the best-loved poems in the English language, but in the process it takes the reader on an engaging romp through the literary, intellectual, and cultural world of the eighteenth century. It brings alive a host of engaging characters: Horace Walpole himself (one of the great letter writers of all time, wit, raconteur; the curmudgeonly Dr. Johnson (who nevertheless had “a very fine cat indeed”) and his sometimes recalcitrant biographer James Boswell; and a cast of “handsome cats,” including Selima and Zama.

In February 1747, Selima the tabby fell into a Chinese blue and white porcelain tub in Walpole's house in London's Mayfair and never returned to dry land. The poem by Thomas Gray, “Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold-fishes,” was written as her mock epitaph.

Here is the true history of the event, and a look at the sparkling social and cultural life of the period. It is beautifully illustrated with Richard Bentley's original series of designs for the poem, William Blake's wonderful watercolors of some fifty years later, and the unpublished color illustrations produced in the 1940s by the noted children's book illustrator Kathleen Hale, of Orlando the Marmalade Cat fame.

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Review: Horace Walpole's Cat

User Review  - Charles Dee Mitchell - Goodreads

Frayling's book is literary nerdism of a very high order. In writing about Thomas Gray's elegy to Horace Walpole's cat Selima, who drowned going after goldfish in a Chinese porcelain bowl, he is able ... Read full review


Richard Bendey

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About the author (2009)

Sir Christopher Frayling is the author of numerous books, including Ken Adam Designs the Movies.

Largely unrecognized during his lifetime, William Blake (1757-1827) was a visionary English poet, painter, and printmaker. His wide-ranging influence can be seen in genres from from theology and literature to popular music and graphic novels.

Kathleen Hale was born and raised in Wisconsin. She graduated from Harvard in 2010. This is her first novel.

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