"THE CAT BY THE FIRE" is an essay in
Leigh Hunt's London Journal,the entry dated November 26, 1834. This English literary critic and poet writes about Samuel Johnson's cat, and how Johnson shopped himself for the cat's food.
Johnson, according to Leigh Hunt, "was desirous of being a Christian philosopher; and accordingly he went out, and bought food for his hungry cat, because his poor negro was too proud to do it, and there was nobody else in the way whom he had a right to ask. What must anybody that saw him have thought, as he turned up Bolt Court! But doubtless he went as secretly as possible—that is to say, if he considered the thing at all. His friend Garrick could not have done as much ! He was too grand, and on the great " stage " of life. Goldsmith could; but he would hardly have thought of it. Beauclerc might; but he would have thought it necessary to excuse it with a jest or a wager, or some such thing. Sir Joshua Reynolds, with his fashionable, fine-lady-painting hand, would certainly have shrunk from it. Burke would have reasoned himself into its propriety, but he would have reasoned himself out again. Gibbon ! Imagine its being put into the head of Gibbon! He....would have started with all the horror of a gentleman-usher ; and he would have rung the bell for the cook's-deputy's-underassistant-errand-boy...[to shop for the cat food.]"
This passage is interesting for the light it casts on attitudes to dignity and cats and daily chores. And of course we get glimpses of literary life in London in the 19th century.