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loves: you win if you guessed "pets" and "museums". Also books, art history, travel, British punk, Korean kimchi, bindis, martinis, and other things TBD. I will always make it very clear if a post is sponsored in any way. Drop me a line at thepetmuseum AT gmail.com !

Monday, May 19, 2014

cats in a letter of 1822

Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849) was an Anglo-Irish writer of prolific output and advanced views.  In those days past, when letters were the sole source of long distance communication, the knack of a well written letter was a good social grace to have.  Her letters must have been a particular pleasure to get and to read, if the tidbit offered below is typical.  Please note that while the cat she first discusses is subject to experiment, she is not at all sorry to see it rescued.  (Again, advanced views.)


I have been four days resolving to get up half an hour earlier that I might have time to tell you, my dear Lucy, the history of a cat of Joanna and Agnes Baillie's.

You may, perhaps, have heard the name of a celebrated Mr. Brodie, who wrote on Poisons, and whose papers on this subject are to be found in the Transactions of the Royal Society, and reviewed in the Edinburgh Review, in 1811. (Curator's note: I think she's writing about this Brodie.) He brought some of the Woorara poison, with which the natives poison their arrows and destroy their victims. It was his theory that this poison destroys by affecting the nervous system only, and that after a certain time its effects on the nerves would cease as the effects of intoxicating liquors cease, and that the patient might recover, if the lungs could be kept in play, if respiration were not suspended during the trance or partial death in which the patient lies. To prove the truth of this by experiment he fell to work upon a cat; he pricked the cat with the point of a lancet dipped in Woorara. It was some minutes before the animal became convulsed, and then it lay, to all appearance, dead. Mr. Brodie applied a tube to its mouth, and blew air into it from time to time; after lying some hours apparently lifeless it recovered, shook itself and went about its own affairs as usual. This was tried several times, much to the satisfaction of the philosophical spectators, but not quite to the satisfaction of poor puss, who grew very thin and looked so wretched that Dr. Baillie's son, then a boy, took compassion on this poor subject of experiment, and begged Mr. Brodie would let him carry off the cat. With or without consent, he did carry her off, and brought her to his aunts, Joanna and Agnes Baillie. (Curator's note:  Joanna Baillie was a playright.) Then puss's prosperous days began. Agnes made a soft bed for her in her own room, and by night and day she was the happiest of cats; she was called Woorara, which in time shortened into Woory. I wish I could wind up Woory's history by assuring you that she was the most attached and grateful of cats, but truth forbids. A few weeks after her arrival at Hampstead she marched off and never was heard of more. It is supposed that she took to evil courses: tasted the blood and bones of her neighbours' chickens, and fell at last a sacrifice to the vengeance of a cook-maid.

After this cat's departure Agnes took to heart a kitten, who was very fond of her. This kitten, the first night she slept in her room, on wakening in the morning looked up from the hearth at Agnes, who was lying awake, but with her eyes half-shut, and marked all puss's motions; after looking some instants, puss jumped up on the bed, crept softly forward and put her paw, with its glove on, upon one of Miss Baillie's eyelids and pushed it gently up; Miss Baillie looked at her fixedly, and puss, as if satisfied that her eyes were there and safe, went back to her station on the hearth and never troubled herself more about the matter. . .
From The Life and Letters of Maria Edgeworth, vol. 2 Letter 25, 
http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Life_And_Letters_Of_Maria_Edgeworth/Volume_2/Letter_25 (retrieved 5/18/2014). Available under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

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