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Hodge and his lexicographer

Sunday, 18 September, 2016

On this day in 1709, Samuel Johnson was born. The poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer spent nine years writing his Dictionary of the English Language, which was published in 1755 and continues to enlighten and amuse: “Oats: a grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.”

The drudgery of lexicography was alleviated somewhat by Hodge, a cat the good doctor loved, and his friend and biographer James Boswell found Johnson’s relationship with Hodge so important that he preserved it for posterity:

“I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat; for whom he himself used to go out and buy oysters, lest the servants, having that trouble, should take dislike to the poor creature. I am, unluckily one of those who have an antipathy to a cat, so that I am uneasy when in the room with one; and I own, I frequently suffered a good deal from the presences of this same Hodge. I recollect him one day scrambling up Dr. Johnson’s breast, apparently with much satisfaction, while my friend smiling and half-whistling, rubbed down his back, and pulled him by the tail; and when I observed he was a fine cat, saying why, yes, Sir, but I have had cats whom I liked better than this; and then as if perceiving Hodge to be out of countenance, adding, but he is a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed.”

Hodge is remembered by a bronze statue outside the house at 17 Gough Square in London he shared with Johnson and Barber, Johnson’s black manservant and heir. The statue shows the cat sitting next to a pair of empty oyster shells atop a copy of Johnson’s dictionary, with the inscription “a very fine cat indeed”.

Hodge


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