English poet Robert Southey (1774-1843) accomplished a number of interesting things during his lifetime: he was Poet Laureate of England; he was the first to print the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears (seriously!); he wrote a biography of Lord Nelson that's still considered the standard; he was a good friend of fellow poets Coleridge and Robert Lovell, and took in their wives and children after Lovell died and Coleridge took a powder.
That's just the short list, so you can gather that this was a fellow with a generous and inquiring spirit. So you won't be surprised to learn that Southey really liked cats. And I'm thrilled to learn that he christened one of his feline family "The Zombi."
Which is another one on the list of Best Cat Names Ever.
He wrote a letter to his friend Grosvenor Bedford about acquiring and naming The Zombi; it's in his collected letters, and I'll give you a digest of it.
April 3 1821
Now to a more important subject. (He's just gotten word the King liked one of his recent pieces, but eh, moving on - Curator) You were duly apprised towards the end of the year of Othello's death. Since that lamented event this house was cat-less, till on Saturday, March 24., Mrs. Calvert, knowing how grievously we were annoyed by rats, offered me what she described as a fine full-grown black cat, who was moreover a tom. She gave him an excellent character in all points but one, which was that he was a most expert pigeon-catcher; and as they had a pigeon house, this propensity rendered it necessary to pass sentence upon him either of transportation or of death. Moved by compassion (his colour and his tomship also being taken into consideration), I consented to give him an asylum, and on the evening of that day here he came in a sack. . . .When the sack was opened, the kitchen door, which leads into the passage, was open also, and the cat disappeared . . .Food, therefore, was placed where he would be likely to find it in the night; and at the unanimous desire of the children, I took upon myself the charge of providing him with a name, for it is not proper that a cat should remain without one. Taking into consideration his complexion, as well as his sex . . .it presently occurred to me that the Zombi would be an appellation equally appropriate and more dignified. The Zombi, therefore, he was named.
* * *
The Zombi promptly showed his gratitude by hiding in the basement and screaming his head off in the wee hours of Sunday morning, for no reason anyone in the house could figure out, upon which Southey closes his letter with the questions:
* * *
1. Had he seen the devil?
2. Was he making love to himself?
3. Was he engaged in single combat with himself?
4. Was he attempting to raise the devil by invocation?
5. Had he heard me sing, and was he attempting (vainly) to imitate it?
These queries, you will perceive, all proceed upon the supposition that it was the Zombi who made the noise. But I have further to ask,—
6. Was it the devil?
7. Was it Jeffery ? (an unhappy imp, apparently - Curator)
8. Were either of these personages tormenting the Zombi?
I have only to add that from that time to this he continues in the same obstinate retirement, and to assure you that I remain, Mr. Bedford,
With the highest consideration, Yours as ever,
Southey never did find out! Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, John Wood
Warter, ed. (London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, & Roberts, 1856) pp.
241 - 23