Some Famous Cats

The English poet Matthew Arnold (1822-88) immortalized his Persian cat, Atossa, in his 1882 poem ‘Poor Matthias’, about the death of his canary. In the poem, Arnold recalls how his old cat would sit motionless for hours beside the canary’s cage, never attempting to attack it, but never abandoning the hope that one day the bird would fall into her clutches.

When its owner died in 1963, Brownie, of San Diego, California, became one of the richest cats in the world, inheriting US $415,000 (£217,000 at today’s rates) under the terms of the will.

According to at least two websites, this Californian Spangled cat was bought for the record sum of US $24,000 (£12,500 today; about £15,000 then) in January 1987, and eleven years later, in February 1998, became the new record holder as the world’s most expensive cat.

Selima was a cat owned by the English writer Horace Walpole. With his friend, the poet Thomas Gray (1716-71), famous for his long poem Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, Walpole made the Grand Tour of Europe in 1747, during which his beloved cat drowned in a goldfish bowl. To commemorate this sad event, Gray wrote a poem, ‘Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes’, which gave to the language the (slightly misquoted) expression, ‘All that glitters is not gold.’ Confusingly, the poet describes Selima as a tortoiseshell and a tabby.

A white cat that was a favourite pet of the British detective-story writer Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957). He features in two of her poems, ‘For Timothy’ and ‘War Cat’.

This cat was born aboard the Royal Navy ship HMS Reliance in 1799 near the Cape of Good Hope and was adopted by Matthew Flinders (1774-1814), the ship’s assistant surgeon. Flinders would go on to become one of the leading explorers and surveyors of his age. Trim accompanied his master in his circumnavigation of Australia, and, when Flinders was detained, after a shipwreck, by the French in Mauritius, shared his captivity. The explorer described his much-loved cat as ‘one of the finest animals I ever saw … [his] robe was a clear jet black, with the exception of his four feet, which seemed to have been dipped in snow, and his under lip, which rivalled them in whiteness. He had also a white star on his breast.’ In 1995 a statue of Trim was erected in Sydney, paid for by public subscription.

A black-and-white cat belonging to the English soldier Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton (1573-1624), during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James VI and I. When the Earl was imprisoned, under sentence of death, in the Tower of London for treason, Trixie, faithful to her master, decided to keep him company. It is said that during the two years of his incarceration she made her way across London and descended to his cell via the chimney, though Southampton’s wife may have helped her with her travels. The Earl was so impressed with the cat’s loyalty that before his release he commissioned a portrait of himself and his beloved pet together in his cell.

Excerpt from Cats’ Miscellany by Lesley O’Mara (2005)


1 Response to “Some Famous Cats”

  1. 1 Tina April 8, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    Another famous cat is that one Edgar Allen Poe wrote about torturing or killing – I have been totally turned off to his art since then.

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