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.

March 18, 2014

March 18, 1840

William Cosmo Monkhouse (March 18,  1840  to July  20, 1901), was a Victorian poet and art critic. Posterity can render harsh reversals in reputation. Sometimes these turnabouts turn out to undervalue real genius, but not in the case of Monkhouse. Still we get a glimpse into the minds of our great grandparents in glancing at the work of someone like Monkhouse. 

One of his critical books was titled Pictures by William Etty: With Descriptions and a Biographical Sketch of the Painter (1874). Monkhouse's biographical essay introduces the paintings of this artist who specialized in a kitsch nudity. In his essay Monkhouse mentions that Etty's first models, 
when he was a youth of 18 years. were  cats.

THE uncle on whom the would-be artist's hopes were fixed was a gold lace merchant, one of the firm of Bodley, Etty, and Bodley, of Lornbard Street. We know not what reason he had to expect that this uncle, a city merchant, should answer his eminently unpractical expectations. To abet his taking leave of the trade to which he was bound, to throw away the advantage of seven years of labour, to try to make an artist out of a skilled printer, appears, at first sight, to be the last thing which a prudent uncle and merchant would do, especially as a great part of the cost of the hazardous experiment would fall upon him. But Etty's faith was as strong as his hope, and he seems to have trusted in his uncle's sympathy and generosity with the same firm simplicity as he did in his own talents, and he was to be disappointed in neither. He had worked seven years underground making for the little spot of light in the distance, and now he had reached the open air was he to doubt that there would be a hand to guide him on his appointed journey. Such a fear as this does not seem to have come near him.

He had to write more than once, however, before he got the wished-for answer, bidding him to come up to town, where "those three benevolent individuals," as he calls his uncle, and brother, and Mr. T. Bodley, "united hand in hand to second my (his) aspiring and ardent wishes." To try his talents his uncle set him to draw his favourite cats, which he did in crayons so faithfully that his reputation in Lombard Street was soon established.

And no doubt it would be fun to read his study of Tenniel, The Life and Work of Sir John Tenniel, R. I. (1901). Monkhouse also contributed to the new Dictionary of National Biography. 

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