Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) is the great English novelist and poet who wrote Far From the Madding Crowd and other fine novels. He loved cats.
He was so passionate about his first cat that when he died he refused to adopt another saying, “Never another pet for me! Let your place all vacant be”. He stuck to his word into old age when he was given a Persian cat with orange eyes. He could not resist and adored Cobby who loyally remained by his side at his death. But then Cobby disappeared as if spirited away. No one knew what had happened to him. This was a mystery until another author made a remarkable suggestion as to how Cobby disappeared.
It was somewhat decided that Hardy’s ashes should be buried in Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey. You can see his gravestone there today. I believe it was updated recently. But his heart was to be buried at St. Michael’s church in the village of Stinsford near Dorchester because he had given his heart to the village metaphorically speaking.
While Hardy’s corpse was lying at his house, a doctor removed it. It was carefully wrapped in a tea towel and placed in a biscuit tin where it was left beside the body. Cobby was there and it was dinner time. He smelled the biscuit tin and picked up the scent of meat, raw meat which he decided he fancied. He managed to open the tin and devoured most of Hardy’s heart leaving a few valves and tough bits.
The undertaker arrived the following day to collect the heart as arranged for burial at St. Michael’s church. He opened the tin and saw the few scraps of heart left over from Cobby’s diner. He instantly decided on a brave move. And I have to say that it is a decision that I would never have made notwithstanding it was an incredibly tricky moment. He strangled Cobby and placed his body in the biscuit tin.
The tin was placed in an urn for the ceremony. No one knew that it contained Hardy’s cat who’d mysteriously disappeared. It was a bit larger than planned because it had to contain the biscuit tin but no explanation was given and the ceremony proceeded as planned.
Inside the urn was Hardy’s heart but it happened to be mashed up and inside his dead cat’s stomach. Hardy’s cat had indeed stolen his heart (literally).
The grave is still there in good condition in the churchyard as you can see from the photograph.