Imagine the scene … high summer last year … too high, in fact, to do much serious sightseeing, and there’s always serious sightseeing to do in London. But me and my companion gave it up, for an hour or so, and instead we went to pay homage to Hodge The Cat.
What cat blog has not discussed Hodge the Cat? Not many, so now it’s my turn. First off, what a great location: it’s immediately north of Fleet Street, between Fetter Lane and Shoe Lane, but it’s so quiet, you’d never think it was in the middle of one of the most densely populated cities in the western hemisphere. And here’s a view of charming little Gough Square itself, you can see how beautifully Hodge is catered to, even now, hundreds of years after his death. Those wooden chairs that gather around him are really comfortable, too.
His oysters are still there for him to claw at (oysters were cheap back then). And he’s still sitting on Dr Johnson’s book … it’s only when you walk all the way round that you can see his plinth is definitely a book, from this angle it’s very clear.
He still gets his milk delivered, too – lots of it (okay, so this was sitting on the doorstep of some nearby offices, but it could have been for Hodge).
Hodge was the cat of Dr Samuel Johnson, the famous man of letters (which sums it up, really, today he’d be a web pundit, without a doubt) of the eighteenth century. Even if you don’t know of him directly, you’ve probably heard of one of his best-known sayings: “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”. He didn’t write directly about Hodge himself, we only know of the beautiful mog because of Boswell (the Watson to Johnson’s Sherlock, really) who said: ” I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat: for whom he himself used to go out and buy oysters, lest the servants having that trouble should take a dislike to the poor creature. I am, unluckily, one of those who have an antipathy to a cat, so that I am uneasy when in the room with one; and I own, I frequently suffered a good deal from the presence of this same Hodge. I recollect him one day scrambling up Dr. Johnson’s breast, apparently with much satisfaction, while my friend smiling and half-whistling, rubbed down his back, and pulled him by the tail; and when I observed he was a fine cat, saying, “Why yes, Sir, but I have had cats whom I liked better than this;” and then as if perceiving Hodge to be out of countenance, adding, “but he is a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed.”
The statue itself was only unveiled in 1997, and apparently the sculptor Jon Bickley made it the right height for adults to hug. He knew! He really did. I do wonder why Hodge was chosen, since Johnson says he liked other cats of his better – but I wonder if he was teasing? Or embarrassed to be showing such affection?
Whatever the truth, Hodge is A Very Fine Cat indeed, just as the plaque tells us, and in the city which provides all that life can offer, the companionship of cats is an essential part of it all.