Friday, 8 April 2016

…but satisfaction brought her back

Originator of the gothic genre with his novel The Castel of Otranto, Horace Walpole, was also an avid cat-fancier. His favourite companion was a tabby named Selima who was sadly discovered one day in 1747 to have drowned in a goldfish bowl, presumably while trying to extract her prey. To console his loss, the earl commissioned a poet friend to eulogise the cat’s death with an ode, which is really quite amazing and includes a warning clause for the morbidly curious:
From hence, ye beauties, undeceived,
Know, one false step is ne’er retrieved,
And be with caution bold.
Not all that tempts your wandering eyes
And heedless hearts, is lawful prize—
Nor all that glisters, gold.

That tribute, however, was the last for beloved Selima. Painters captured her imagined final moments, mesmerised by the tantalising fish, including artist William Blake, who illustrated a publication of the ode. Private loss had quickly become public and wakes for felines became quite common afterwards.