Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) was a poet, essayist, literary critic and lexicographer. He is known for writing ‘A Dictionary of the English Language’, which took him 9 years, whilst he lived in Gough Square.
Dr Johnson had a love of animals and took in strays, with one of them a cat that he was very fond of, that he named ‘Hodge’! He bought oysters for his cat, which today are an expensive food for the well-to-do, but in the 18th century oysters were plentiful around the coasts of England and so cheap that they were a staple food of the poor.
Hodge was remembered in various forms, from biographical mentions during Johnson’s life to poems written about the cat. On his death, Hodge’s life was celebrated in ‘An Elegy on The Death of Dr Johnson’s Favourite Cat’ by Percival Stockdale (published 1778). In this poem the phrase “sable furr” indicates that Hodge was a black cat; also, the fact that Stockdale was Johnson’s neighbour from 1769 onwards suggests that Hodge was alive at that time.
Today Hodge is remembered by a statue in Gough Square (unveiled in 1997), outside Dr Johnson’s house. The statue shows Hodge sitting next to a pair of empty oyster shells atop a copy of Johnson’s famous dictionary, with the inscription “a very fine cat indeed”. It has become customary for visitors that walk past the statue to place coins in the oyster shells as tokens of good luck!
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