This famous cat, belonging to lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-84), is memorialised outside his former home in Gough Square.

Johnson was known for his fondness of this particular cat – his biographer James Boswell, reports, for example: “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.”

According to Boswell, Johnson told him that while he had had finer cats, Hodge – who is believed to have been a black cat – was a “very fine cat indeed”. Such was the cat’s renown that poet Percival Stockdale wrote an Elegy on The Death of Dr Johnson’s Favourite Cat.

This statue to Hodge was erected in 1966 by then Lord Mayor of London, Sir Roger Cook. The work of Jon Bickley (who apparently modelled Hodge on his own cat Thomas Henry), it depicts Hodge sitting on top of Johnson’s famous (and massive) dictionary and next to some empty oyster shells (the latter a reference to Johnson’s habit of feeding oysters to Hodge – while this wasn’t unusual, Johnson’s going out himself to fetch them himself – lest his servants resent Hodge – was).

The monument, which has Hodge looking towards his former home, features a plaque which has Johnson’s quote about Hodge – “a very fine cat indeed” – as well as his famous quote about the city in which they lived – “Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life, for there is in London all that life can afford.”

Dr Johnson’s former house and workplace at number 17 Gough Square, where he lived for 11 years, is now a museum.

 

In contrast to some of the grand homes we’ve featured as part of this series (and there are many more that we haven’t, meaning we might have a future series solely dedicated to them!), comes the rather more humble City home of lexicographer and renowned wit Samuel Johnson.

Gough-SquareThe brick townhouse at 17 Gough Square – which lies between Fleet Street and Holborn – was actually built in the late 17th century (before the Hanoverian accession) for wool merchant Richard Gough.

Johnson – who apparently had at least 17 different London residences – didn’t move in here as a tenant until 1748 and stayed for more than a decade until 1759 (seven years after the death of his wife – for more on Johnson, see our earlier ‘Famous Londoners’ post). It was during his tenancy here that he compiled his famous text, A Dictionary of the English Language. The first comprehensive English language dictionary, it was published in 1755.

The four level property, which is now a museum and has been set up as it was in Johnson’s day, was used by the writer as a residence as well as a workplace and the top floor garret is where six copyists worked transcribing the entries for the dictionary.

As well as the rather spectacular staircase, the property features furnishings from the period as well as portraits, prints and other Johnson-related memorabilia. There is a plaque which was placed on the exterior of the property by the Royal Society of Arts in 1876.

After Johnson vacated the premises, the property was used for various purposes including as a small hotel, B&B and a printer’s workshop. It had fallen into disrepair by the early twentieth century but was saved by MP Cecil Harmsworth who restored it and opened it to the public in 1914 (the small curator’s house was built after this). The house was damaged during World War II bombings – when it was used as a canteen by fireman – but survived. It is now operated by a charitable trust.

Outside the house in Gough Square is a statue of Johnson’s cat Hodge (see our earlier post here) and the property is only a short walk from the historic pub Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese (see our earlier post here).

WHERE: Dr Johnson’s House, 17 Gough Square (nearest Tube station Chancery Lane, Temple, Farringdon and Blackfriars);  WHEN: 11am to 5.30pm (May to September); COST: £4.50 adults/£1.50 children (5-17 years)/£3.50 concession/£10 family; WEBSITE: www.drjohnsonshouse.org

Where is it?…#45

September 28, 2012


The latest in the series in which we ask you to identify where in London this picture was taken and what it’s of. If you think you can identify this picture, leave a comment below. We’ll reveal the answer early next week. Good luck!

Congrats to Mike, Debbie, Janet, and Zoe (on Facebook), this is indeed the back of the statue of Hodge the cat in Gough Square in the City of London, just outside Dr Johnson’s House at No 17. One of the cats of the famed lexicographer, Dr Samuel Johnson, Hodge had his own moment of stardom in James Boswell’s Life of Johnson in which Dr Johnson is heard remarking that he’s had better cats than Hodge before, apparently in response to Hodge’s reaction, stating that he was “a very fine; a very fine cat indeed” (Johnson was apparently unusual for his love of cats; Boswell did not suffer the same love). This bronze statue of Hodge, by sculptor Jon Bickley and placed here in 1997, has Hodge sitting on a copy of Dr Johnson’s famous dictionary and beside him is some empty oyster shells, referring to Dr Johnson’s habit of buying oysters for his cats to eat. For more on Dr Johnson’s House (where Dr Johnson lived from 1747-59), see www.drjohnsonshouse.org.