The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

January 27, 2012

January 27, 1720

Samuel Foote (January 27, 1720 to October 21, 1777) was a English dramatist and actor during a heyday of both those professions. His plays seem to have all been comedies of a satirical slant. We see this in his The Nabob, which, we read, was first performed at the Haymarket Theatre on June 29, 1772. The plot involves someone who made a lot of money in India and then wants to buy his way into society. Our excerpt is a scene wherein fun is made of antiquarians, a profession which has really disappeared now but once engrossed gentlemen of means and involved their collecting physical bits of history and speculating about it. I can't resist including this bit of satire from The Nabob, which builds up to our main excerpt. The interesting thing is that the author is poking fun at intellectuals themselves, which laudable ambition is all too rare today.

[The secretary of The Antiquarian Society, begins a meeting by listing some recently acquired items] 

A pair of nutcrackers, presented by Harry the Eighth to Anna Bullen the eve of their nuptials, the wood supposed to be walnut.

First Antiquarian: Which proves, that before the reformation walnut trees were planted in England.
A cork-screw presented by Sir John Falstaff  to Harry the Fifth, with a tobacco stopper of Sir Walter Raleigh's, made of the stern of the ship in  which he first compassed the globe; given to the Society [of Antiquarians] by a clergyman from the North Riding of  Yorkshire.
A serious collection, in regular and undoubted succession, of all the tickets of Islington Turnpike, from its first institution to the twentieth of May.

Ant[iquarian]: Preserve them with care, as thev may hereafter serve to illustrate that part of the English History.

...A wooden medal of Shakespeare, made from the mulberry tree he planted himself; with a Queen Anne's farthing from the Manager of Drury Lane Playhouse.

...[Then Sir Matthew Mite, the Nabob,  is announced]

(Enter Sir Matthew Mite, preceded by four Blacks;
first Black bearing a large book; second, a green chamber pot; third, some lava from the mountain Vesuvius ; fourth, a box. Sir Matthew takes his seat.
[The] Secretary receives the first present, and reads the label.)

Sec:  Purchased of the Abbe Montini at Naples for  five hundred pounds, an illegible manuscript in Latin, containing the twelve books of Livy, supposed  to be lost.

Mite: This invaluable treasure was very near falling into the hands of the Pope, who designed to deposit it in the Vatican Library, and I rescued it from idolatrous hands.

Ant: A pious, learned, and laudable purchase!

[receives the second present, and reads tbe label]  A sarcophagus, or Roman urn, dug from the temple " of Concord."

Mite. Supposed to have held the dust of Marc Antony's coachman.

[receives tbe third present, and reads.] A large piece of the lava, thrown from the Vesuvian  volcano, at the last great eruption.

Mite. By a chymical analysis, it will be easy to discover the constituent parts of this mass; which, by properly preparing it, will make it no difficult task to propogate burning mountains in England, if encouraged by premiums.

Mite. Gentlemen! not contended with collecting, for the use of my country, these inestimable relics, with a large catalogue of petrefactions, bones, beetles, and butterflies, contained in that box,  (pointing to tbe present borne by the fourth black.) I have likewise laboured  for the advancement of national knowledge. For which end, permit me to clear up some doubts relative to a material and interesting point in the English history. Let others toil to illumine the dark annals of Greece, or of Rome; my searches are sacred only to the service of Britain!
The point I mean to clear up, is an error crept into the life of that illustrious magistrate, the great Whittington, and his no less eminent Cat: And in this disquisition four material points are in question, 

1st. Did Whittington ever exist? 
2d. Was Whittington Lord-Mayor of London? 
3d. Was he really possessed of a Cat?
4th. Was that cat the source of his wealth? 

That Whittington lived, no doubt can be made; that he was Lord Mayor of London is equally true; but as to his Cat, that, gentlemen, is the gordian knot to untie. And here, gentleman, be it permitted me to define what a Cat is. A Cat is a domestic, whiskered, four-footed animal, whose employment is catching of mice; but let Puss have been ever so subtle, let Puss have been ever so successful, to what could Puss' captures amount! no tanner can curry the skin of a mouse, no family make a meal of the meat; consequently, no Cat could give Whittington his wealth. ...

1 Ant. What a fund of learning!
2 Ant. Amazing acuteness of erudition! 
This discussion of a cat is a topical reference, poking fun at an actual dissertation delivered by Sir Samuel Pegge, in December 1771, to the Society of Antiquarians.

No comments: