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“A very fine cat indeed”. The bronze statue of Hodge the cat, Samuel Johnson’s most treasured companion

David Goran

Samuel Johnson was an English writer who made lasting contributions to English literature. He has been described as “arguably the most distinguished man of letters in English history.” He is also the subject of the most famous single biographical work in the whole of literature, James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson.

Samuel Johnson and Hodge. Images by - Wikipedia, Public Domain, David Skinner.Flickr. CC BY 2.0

Samuel Johnson and Hodge. Images by: Wikipedia/Public Domain, David Skinner/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

 

The bronze statue of Hodge. Images by- pelican.Flickr.CC BY-SA 2.0, Jim Linwood.Flickr. CC BY 2.0

The bronze statue of Hodge. Images by: pelican/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0, Jim Linwood/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Hodge was one of Johnson’s cats, his treasured companion. The name “Hodge” is a variation of Roger and was a traditional name for an English countryman. Hodge was a black cat who really loved oysters. In the 18th century, oysters were plentiful around the coasts of England and so cheap that they were a staple food of the poor. Boswell also noted how Johnson went out to purchase valerian (a plant that cats like, similar to catnip) to ease Hodge’s suffering as death approached.

The courtyard of Gough Square. Image by-Elliot Brown. Flickr. CC BY 2.0

The courtyard of Gough Square. Image by: Elliot Brown/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

 

Hodge with a red ribbon. Image by - Matt Brown.Flickr. CC BY 2.0

Hodge with a red ribbon. Image by: Matt Brown/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Today Hodge is remembered by a bronze statue made by sculptor Jon Bickley and unveiled by the Lord Mayor of the City of London in 1997. It is located outside Johnson’s house at Number 17 Gough Square, where he lived from 1748 to 1759. The statue shows Hodge sitting next to a pair of empty oyster shells atop a copy of Johnson’s famous dictionary, inscribed with the words “a very fine cat indeed.” Visitors place coins in the oyster shells as tokens of good luck. To mark special occasions, a pink or red piece of counsel’s ribbon may be seen tied to one of the oyster shells or around Hodge’s neck.

The poet Percival Stockdale wrote An elegy on the Death of Dr Johnson's Favourite Cat. Image by- Julie Mac. Flickr.CC BY 2.0

The poet Percival Stockdale wrote An elegy on the death of Dr. Johnson’s Favorite Cat. Image by: Julie Mac/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

 

Hodge also apperas in Samuel Beckett's early dramatic fragment Human Wishes. Image by- Matt Brown. Flickr. CC BY 2.0

Hodge also appears in Samuel Beckett’s early dramatic fragment Human Wishes. Image by: Matt Brown/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Boswell paints Johnson as a character with a seemingly boundless generosity and optimism for humankind. Beside his beliefs concerning humanity, he really loved his cats.”I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat”, Boswell wrote.