Christopher smart

The naming of cats

All sorts of animals have been kept as pets over the centuries. We know of sparrows in Catullus and John Skelton. There is a badger with a collar in a fresco by Signorelli – probably not much more biddable than the lobster Gerard de Nerval supposedly took for walks in Paris. The word ‘puss’ seems not to have referred to cats before the late 19th century but to hares, either a pet one (William Cowper had three, of whom Puss was sweet-natured and Tiney ‘the surliest of his kind’), or one being hunted in Surtees. Dogs always occupied a special place, with names and a position in the household. Cats

A cat’s-eye view of 18th-century social history

Jeoffry is, by now, one of the best-known cats in literary history. And unlike the Cheshire Cat, Mr Mistoffelees, Orlando, The Cat That Walked By Himself, Gobbolino or Behemoth in The Master and Margarita, he really existed. Protagonist of the most anthologised section of the mad poet Christopher Smart’s Jubilate Agno, the eccentrically spelled ginger tom now takes a fresh lease of fictionalised life in this jeu d’esprit. Oliver Soden’s ‘biography’ of Jeoffry takes its most obvious bearings from another novelised animal biography, Virginia Woolf’s life of Elizabeth Barrett-Browning’s cocker spaniel, Flush. It is, if you’ll forgive me, a pretty feline performance. It’s at once a sly introduction to Christopher