Johann Sebastian Muller, Illustrations to 'Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat' by Thomas Gray, etching


British Museum

British Museum
London, United Kingdom

This double page spread comes from a publication comprising six poems by Thomas Gray (1716-71). Each is illustrated with engravings after designs by Richard Bentley (1708-82). An 'Explanation of the prints' by Horace Walpole follows. Gray was reluctant to be seen to be promoting his own work and this volume appeared only after a great deal of persuasion on the part of Walpole, a long-standing friend.Robert Dodsley (1703-64) was the leading bookseller of the day and his shop in Pall Mall was a centre for the publication of poetry. He also co-published Johnson's Dictionary (1755), and the first translations of Voltaire and Rousseau; he ran four periodicals as well as partly owning others; his Oeconomy of Human Life, a collection of moral precepts, was the best-selling book of the eighteenth century.Bentley's designs are delightfully inventive and perfectly embody the rococo taste for chinoiserie. On the left two cats fish from pagodas on either side of a large mouse trap. The moment before Selina meets her end is framed by a river god and Fate cutting the thread of life. Below mice rejoice. Above the poem two cat pall-bearers with black crepe ribbons round their hats frame the scene of Selina's last moments as she flounders in the fish bowl. At the end of the poem a tailpiece shows Charon rowing the cat across the Styx to where a slavering Cerberus awaits her.

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  • Title: Johann Sebastian Muller, Illustrations to 'Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat' by Thomas Gray, etching
  • Date Created: 1753/1753
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 373.00mm (volume); Width: 273.00mm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: etching; letterpress
  • Registration number: 1868,0711.6-30
  • Production place: Published in London
  • Producer: Print made by M. Print made by . After . Published by
  • Material: paper
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum