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Squatting plump on an unsuspected cat in your chair!! George Cruikshank [1800]. Lewis Walpole Library, Image ID lwlpr09721 Call Number 800.00.00.176+

The Lewis Walpole Library provides endless amusement, and searching by subject yields some fun. People have had curious relationships with domestic pets for a centuries, and thank goodness cats invented the interwebs so we could get real perspective on this.

Quite aside from the minor domestic comedy of this engraving (I dislike the dark of winter and take my fun where I can), we can learn a lot. The domestic comedy itself helps remind us that while the people of the past saw the world differently, they were as foolish, bawdy and rude (or more so) than we are.

From a material culture perspective, we have (among many things):

  • a geometrically-patterned floor covering, probably a carpet but possibly painted.
  • floor-length curtains
  • looking glasses, paired
  • a slip-covered easy chair, matching the curtains and the cat’s cushion
  • two candles (only two!)
  • glasses with the characteristic straight temple pieces that end in loops
  • a colored open robe over a white muslin petticoat
  • a young gentleman in trousers, an old gentleman in breeches

I can imagine this depicting Emma and Mr Knightley (after their marriage) at home after dinner with her father and their young son: Mr Woodhouse in his nightcap and banyan, reading; Mr Knightley upset by the cat, while the Spaniel barks at the excitement.  All in all, highly satisfying.