Regency Bicentennial:   The Dog Follows the Cat of Sentiment

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?

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About Kathryn Kane

Historian with a particular interest the English Regency era.   An avid reader of novels set in that time, holding strong opinions on the historical accuracy to be found in said novels.
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17 Responses to Regency Bicentennial:   The Dog Follows the Cat of Sentiment

  1. Wonderful! just what I need for my Charity School series, not so much the WIP, though I can mention the books now I’m past 1811, but definitely for the next planned one. Three little boys and one little girl going for villains is definitely something I can see. Watch out, villain; Sebastian, Philemon, Eglamour and Lucy are on your case!

    • Kathryn Kane says:

      Children typically have such true and honest hearts, and so little concept of danger, that they will often fly to the defense of a helpless creature with no thought for themselves, unlike some adults. I think such actions on the part of your young characters are laudable, and will set up a story with real heart! Please do post a link here once it is published.

      Regards,

      Kat

      • Been in trouble often enough when I was a child over that …. like it’s sensible for an 8 year old skinny little girl to go for two 12 year old bullies … no sense at all. However, I was reinforced by the owner of the cat involved … never learned not to wade in. Thing is, bullying types are often so surprised they back off.

  2. Summer says:

    My current heroine has an unusual attachment to animals and I’d have loved to put some of these in her childhood, but she was born too late. Fortunately animal fables weren’t new to the time but apparently there was some controversy about having talking animals in children’s stories. I was particularly amused by the preface in Trimmer’s Fabulous Histories that emphasized that people cannot actually understand the conversations of birds and this is not real. Of course, with the heroine at 18 still insisting that you can, maybe they had a point… at least until she starts teaching people how.

    • Kathryn Kane says:

      Unless your heroine was born in the 20th century, there is no reason that she cannot know about Felissa, the kitten, Jemmy, the donkey, or Cato, the dog. All of those stories remained in print though most of the nineteenth century. Many copies of those books were printed, so it is always possible to find one or more of them on a fictional bookshelf, in a fictional nursery, a legacy of children from an earlier time.

      There was most definitely some controversy over stories in which animals spoke, either among themselves, or with humans. Some parents believed such stories would severely frighten their children. Though Sarah Trimmer was a dedicated teacher, I find her something of a wet blanket, as she seems to have had no sense of whimsy and was a prosaic realist.

      Regards,

      Kat

      • Summer says:

        That would be born too early.

        • Kathryn Kane says:

          Ah, that makes more sense! However, in that case, you still have at least one option of which I am aware. The Life and Perambulations of a Mouse was published in 1784, and it also deals with issues around kindness to animals. In fact, it may have been the first children’s story to do that. Though it was published as “By A Lady,” the author was a woman named Dorothy Kilner.

          You can learn more about her here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothy_Kilner

          There are some digital copies of The Life and Perambulations of a Mouse online, though none of them is the 1784 edition. You can find them here:
          http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1904

          https://archive.org/details/lifeandperambula01904gut

          https://books.google.com/books?id=6YY6AQAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=The+Life+and+Perambulations+of+a+Mouse&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjIpLrh2YzPAhXK2B4KHU41C54Q6AEIHjAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

          Regards,

          Kat

          • Summer says:

            Thank you and yes, I did find that one through your link to Jemmy. I haven’t got a chance to read much of it but an early line caught me right away, about the girl who thought it very pretty to be afraid of anything, which is very much something my heroine would stifle a snark at.

            I’m halfway through Fabulous Histories and I agree Trimmer’s pretty heavy handed. But that suits my purpose in establishing an education against which some studied rebellion might be in order… that said, there are some good and relevant-to-my-characters moments in it.

            The really bizarrely-well-suited find was the primer Cobwebs to Catch Flies. Kindness to spiders I’d intended to be one of my heroine’s weirder streaks, but there’s apparently a precedent for it, and lots and lots of people would have used it to learn to read. Who knew?

            • Kathryn Kane says:

              Sounds like you have some good period resources on which to base your story.

              You are right, spiders have had a long and varied history in the world of superstition. Even today, I know several people who will not kill one they find in their house, but will carefully transport it outside.

              =^..^=

              • Summer says:

                Oh, shoot! I’d heard that and didn’t think to consider whether there might be superstitions within the period of writing. I better watch my metaphors here.

              • Heyer uses the term ‘to swallow a spider’ which I believe means to be totally ruined. Not sure when the superstition of not harming spiders came in, eating a live spider rolled in butter was a medieval sore throat cure. EEEW.

              • Summer says:

                Spiders symbolized wealth in ancient Egypt so I assume that the policy on spiders varies greatly throughout the ages if their purported good luck is that old.

                I’ve also found in my search a number of things regarding the medicinal uses of spiders and their webs, but rolling a live spider in butter has got to top them all! It sounds horrific for everyone involved. I’m also pretty sure it will not work due to the difficulty of buttering the spider while keeping it alive. Uuuuuuugh!!!

              • Surprisingly a spider web on a deep cut does actually work, as I had occasion to find out once when out of first aid kit. I picked a new looking web.

              • Summer says:

                Not surprised, actually, the trap-part of the web is sticky. I’m impressed you were able to find enough of it to cover a cut though! It’s really a pretty incredible fiber, we’ve never been able to manufacture something so light and strong.

                (In any case it sure beats swallowing a spider, either literally for medical reasons or metaphorically as the recipient of bad luck.)

  3. chasbaz says:

    Here is another person who would never harm a spider!

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