Cats in books
A lovely friend gave me a farewell gift. She couldn’t have picked anything better really.
Cats in Books: A Celebration of Cat Illustration through the Ages by Rodney Dale. It’s a thin book but chock full of the most splendid illustrations of felines. I immediately wondered if there was evidence of the origin of LOLCats. Was there an illustration from the tombs of ancient Egypt, for example, that would locate LOLCats further back in history than being a marginal illustration in a 14th Century Book of Hours (British Library MS Stowe 17)?
Didn’t find anything but interesting stuff I did find out was:
- the first cat show was held at the Crystal Palace in London’s Hyde Park in 1871 and from this point, cat breeding and showing became popular. The first American cat show was in 1895 and held in NYC’s Madison Square Garden.
- over the last 100 years or so, cat illustrations started to appear in stories for children and adults. As the cat became more domesticated, books and illustrations showed kitty doing human things or accompanying humans on adventures (Dick Whittington, Puss in Boots, Orlando the Marmalade Cat, Cheshire Cat in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland).
- Old Foss was apparently a huge thing in the late-19th Century. Old Foss was the creation of Edward Lear, drawing master to Queen Victoria (does Queen Elizabeth have a “drawing master”?) and was one huge tabby. Lear wrote nonsensical verse and the Book of Nonsense (1846). He penned the Owl and the Pussycat, published in 1871.
- the feline was revered in Ancient Egypt we know but it was also forbidden to export cats and so the domestic (Egyptian) cat or Felis Caffra did not make its appearance in Britain until the Medieval Period. After spreading from the Mediterranean, kitty cats lived mainly on ships chasing after rodents. In fact, ships had a special crew member – the ship’s cat.
- Madame Henriette Ronner (1821-1902) was a famous artist in Amsterdam who spent her life supporting her invalid husband by painting portraits and animals. The kitties who posed for her were very comfortable – they reclined on cushions in glass cages.
- a favourite nursery tale in the 19th Century was Dame Trot and her Comical Cat.
Here are some of illustrations from the book:
The first illustration is from Dick Whittington and shows Alderman Fitzwarren offering his servants the chance to send some possession on his merchant ship off to trade in the East. Dick selects his cat. The second illustration shows witches’ cats drawn by Reverend Miles Gale (1647-1721).