Dickens' Cat: Forever By His Side

Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Dec. 18 2012 9:00 AM

How Charles Dickens Kept a Beloved Cat Alive

The Vault is Slate's new history blog. Like us on Facebook; follow us on Twitter @slatevault; find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

Taxidermy was all the rage in the Victorian era, when Charles Dickens penned some of the literature’s finest novels. While Dickens was in high demand around the world for his dramatic public readings, he loved to be at home in England with his cats, one of whom was rumored to snuff out his master’s candle for a little attention.

Dickens once asked, “What greater gift than the love of a cat?” Four decades after his death, Mary Dickens reflected on various feline members of the Dickens family in her book, Charles Dickens, by His Eldest Daughter. She spent several pages on the antics of a deaf cat who exhibited exclusive devotion to her father. “He was always with his master, and used to follow him about the garden and sit with him while he was writing,” she wrote.

Advertisement

Understandably distraught when his beloved cat Bob died in 1862, the writer was eager to keep a visual memory on his desk. One of Bob’s paws was promptly stuffed and adhered to an ivory blade, which was engraved “C.D. In Memory of Bob 1862.”

Little is known about the letter opener, but renowned British taxidermist Rowland Ward has written that the preservation of departed pets was popular during this time: “An animal that has been a faithful friend and companion to man during its lifetime, may in this way claim a fuller recompense in death than mere burial and subsequent oblivion.” 

The letter opener is now in the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature at the New York Public Library.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 21 2014 8:00 AM An Astronaut’s Guided Video Tour of Earth
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.