Three facts about Edward Lear’s cat Foss that might interest you

Edward Lear was a Victorian artist and humorist. He was also an author and poet and is today mostly known for his literary nonsense and poetry, especially his limericks which he popularised. He lived in England and in San Remo, Italy. He died, aged 75, on 29th of January 1888 in San Remo.

In 1873, he adopted a striped tomcat as a kitten, who he named Foss . The first rather bizarre and interesting fact which comes from Dr Desmond Morris’s book Cat World is that Lear’s servant, Giorgio, cut off the end of the cat’s tail because he was superstitious. He believed that this would stop the animal from straying if he left the tail in the house. Judging by his servant’s name, Lear must have been living in Italy at the time.

Foss – Edward Lear’s cat. Drawing by Edward Lear. These drawings should be in the public domain by now. If not please tell me in a comment. The collage is by PoC.

The second interesting fact is that Mr Lear was a very considerate and thoughtful cat guardian. He may have had a greater knowledge about cat welfare than people gave him credit for. This is because when he moved to his new home in San Remo, he instructed his architect to design his new house as an exact replica of his old one. He was concerned about his cat’s comfort and did not want to disturb Foss’s routines and habits. Comment: I’ve recently written about elderly cats and how they can become stressed when their environment is disturbed. It seems that in respect of knowledge of domestic cats behaviour, Edward Lear was before his time. He had plenty of money too as to be able to build a replica of his home.

The third interesting fact is that when Foss died in 1887 he was buried in a grave in Lear’s Italian garden. The grave was topped by a large tombstone in which the engraving stated that Foss had died at the age of 31. Lear had exaggerated his cat’s lifespan and we don’t know why. He even confirmed the exaggerated age in a letter in which he wrote, “Whoever has known me for 30 years has known that for all that time my cat Foss has been part of my solitary life”.

The truth is that Foss died at the age of 14. Lear died two months later at the age of 76. It is suggested that he had become a little bit senile and got his dates mixed up.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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