It was just two centuries ago that the children’s book, Cato, or Interesting Adventures of A Dog of Sentiment was published in London. And "Cato" the dog followed "Felissa," who happened to have been a "Kitten of Sentiment." Both books were in print during the Regency and they make a charming pair of stories with which a Regency author might like to furnish the bookshelves of a children’s nursery in an upcoming romance novel.
A brief sketch of Cato and Felissa . . .
Cato, or Interesting Adventures of a Dog of Sentiment: Interspersed with Many Amiable Examples and Real Anecdotes, was published by the noted publisher of children’s books, John Harris, at the Corner of St. Paul’s Churchyard. Harris had also published The Butterfly’s Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast in 1807, among many other popular children’s stories. However, unlike The Butterfly’s Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast, the story of Cato was not intended solely for lighthearted amusement. It did convey a moral lesson to children, as had its predecessor, the tale of the kitten of sentiment, Felissa, also published by John Harris. In fact, the story of Cato seems to have been published as a kind of sequel to that of Felissa, in order to capitalize on the success of that first book.
Felissa, or; The Life and Opinions of a Kitten of Sentiment, was first published by John Harris, in 1811. This story of the adventures in the life of a pretty little kitten as she grows to adulthood is believed to have been written by a Mrs. Elizabeth Ludlow, about whom nothing is know beyond her name. Harris had discovered that stories which revolved around young animals were very popular with children, and perhaps, more importantly, with their parents. These animal tales were subtlety disguised morality stories which imparted important lessons to children. Harris may well have engaged Mrs. Ludlow to write such a story for him. And what child could resist a story about a pretty and cuddly little kitten?
Felissa, the kitten, was an aristocrat among cats. According to her, she was descended from the famous Puss in Boots and a royal Persian blue. Though she ends up as the only survivor of her mother’s first litter of kittens, Felissa enjoys a very happy and carefree kittenhood in the castle of the Earl of Glamorgan. The Earl is a kind widower who loves cats and treats those in his care very well. Most of the other human members of the Earl’s household are also very kind to Felissa and her parents. Once Felissa is ready to leave her mother, the Earl gives her as a gift to his grand-daughter, Lady Louisa. Unfortunately for Felissa, once day Louisa decides to dress up her kitten.When Louisa pinned the garment closed, the pin stuck poor Felissa in the back. Startled and in pain, Felissa clawed Louisa’s face and was subsequently ejected from the household. The pampered little kitten thus embarked on a series of mis-adventures which showed her the hard realities of life. Eventually, Felissa finds a new mistress who loves and cares for her and her story comes to a happy and contented end.
Five years later, though Felissa, or; The Life and Opinions of a Kitten of Sentiment was still in print, John Harris seems to have wanted to expand his offerings in that genre, probably to keep up with the competition by other publishers of children’s’ books. Therefore, in 1816, he published Cato, or Interesting Adventures of a Dog of Sentiment: Interspersed with Many Amiable Examples and Real Anecdotes. The story is similar in tone and organization to another children’s story what was published by another publisher the previous year, about a young donkey. The Adventures of a Donkey is a charming tale that follows the life of an animal from birth, though a series of adventures and mis-adventures, into a happy adulthood. Having seen how successful the story of Jemmy the donkey was, Harris may well have wanted to get another, similar story from his own publishing house into print. But instead of a kitten, this new story was about a puppy, but, like little Felissa, was "a Dog of Sentiment." In the Introduction, Cato relates that, having heard much about Felissa, he feels that his own story has equal merit and that he must relate it for the amusement and edification of his juvenile readers.
However, unlike the aristocratic and pampered kitten, Felissa, Cato is a mixed breed pup who is born into more middle-class, but comfortable circumstances. Henry, the young son of the family to whom his mother belonged. became his master, and the pair were very happy together. However, while on a visit to London, Cato becomes separated from Henry while the two were out on an errand. Cato could not find his way home, and spent a few miserable nights on the streets, hungry and cold. He was taken in by a series of well-meaning people. However, none of them were able to care for him for very long and he would find himself alone and hungry on the streets again. Just as some young boys are planning to drown him, he is saved by Emily, a tender-hearted young woman who takes him home. Her kind family takes him in and he once again has a safe and happy home. In time, his new mistress happens to meet Henry, Cato’s original owner. Henry recognizes his old friend and is overjoyed to know he is still alive, since he had thought him dead. However, Henry also sees how much Cato loves Emily. Therefore, he agrees that Cato should continue to live with Emily, unless, for some reason, she is no longer able to care for him. In that event, Henry makes clear he would be very happy to have Cato return to live with him. The story comes to and end with a growing friendship between Henry and Emily, and Cato’s joy in knowing that he will share his happy life with the two people he loves best in the world.
Cato, or Interesting Adventures of a Dog of Sentiment proved to be just as popular as had its predecessor, the story of Felissa, or; The Life and Opinions of a Kitten of Sentiment. This new story about Cato, the puppy, sold very well, and remained in print throughout the Regency. In fact, both Felissa and Cato could be found on the bookshelves in many nurseries during that period. Both books remained so popular that they were reprinted several times, right through the end of the nineteenth century. Each story provided a number of examples intended to encourage children to treat animals with care and kindness. Cato’s story was not just about his mis-adventures, but also includes a number of tales about how other animals were treated in various situations. All of these anecdotes reinforce the principal message of the story, that all animals should be treated with consideration and kindness.
Regency Authors seeking actually period materials which can be used to teach children to be sensitive to the proper care and treatment of animals might find the stories of Cato and Felissa a perfect starting point. Stories they will not have to fabricate, since they were actually in print and available during the Regency. In both stories, the point is made more than once that only ignorant and weak people abuse animals. Intelligent people with true hearts would never consider causing harm to an innocent animal, and will usually take steps to stop such treatment, should they witness it. A youngster in a Regency romance novel, having read either one or both of these stories might instantly fly at someone they see abusing an animal because they think it is the right thing to do. But what might be the consequences? Perhaps a child accuses the villain of stupidity or cowardice in front of others, because they saw them mistreating an animal? Might that put the child in danger from that same villain? Or, perhaps the hero, a widower, hears his young daughter weeping in the nursery, and rushes in, assuming her governess has been mistreating her, only to discover she has been reading aloud the story of Felissa or Cato? Might that be the spark that ultimately leads the two to romance?