The poet and the kitten, 1871
A little scene from 150 years ago
(Hello, this is Histories, a weekly email exploring first-hand accounts from the corners of history… Do please share this with fellow history fans and subscribe to receive it in your inbox for free.)
I heard her mew a piteous long time till I could bear it no longer…
I’m ashamed to confess that last week – the point at which Histories reached being a year old – I missed my first episode, due to the demands of moving house that day. And as we hurtle towards Christmas too, I haven’t had time to dig as deeply in the archives as I would like, so this week and next forgive me (or thank me) for some briefer entries. After that, for the last one of the year, I have a jolly incident to recount which brings us back to artist Benjamin Haydon one last time.
This week, then, a very short but charming vignette from the journals of Gerard Manley Hopkins (yes, another priest, but a Roman Catholic one this time). Hopkins (1844–1889) was a hugely innovative poet of striking style, but whose talents were only properly acknowledged in the early 20th century. I’m sure I’ll find reasons to come back to him another time, so won’t dwell here on the details of his life. He kept a detailed journal from 1862 to 1875, sometimes in a typical diary form but often ranging into more general musings rather than the details of his life.1
Exactly 150 years ago today, he wrote one of the former type, a little scene which suggests his kindness…
Dec. 17-18 at night — Rescued a little kitten that was perched in the sill of the round window at the sink over the gasjet and dared not jump down. I heard her mew a piteous long time till I could bear it no longer; but I make a note of it because of her gratitude after I had taken her down, which made her follow me about and at each turn of the stairs as I went down leading her to the kitchen run back a few steps and try to get up to lick me through the banisters from the flight above.
(On the theme of cats, my friend Paul has started writing about his encounters with them across the globe, and if you still need a Christmas present for the cat lover in your life, do track down his book Amazing Cats, which I helped with – available at Amazon.)