Horace Walpole once asked his friend Thomas Gray to write an epitaph for his cat Selima, who had recently drowned in a large Goldfish Tub. Gray responded by composing a Horatian ode, noting in a letter that it was "rather too long for an epitaph."
This autograph fair copy of his "Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes" dates to ca. 1757, the same year that Gray was offered (but declined) the Poet Laureateship. The poem tells the story of "the hapless nymph" who "stretched in vain to reach the prize" of two goldfishes, and drowned as a consequence. The poem first appeared anonymously, and is one of only 14 poems that Gray published during his lifetime.
Walpole was so pleased with his friend's effort that he affixed a label with the first stanza of the poem to the pedestal of the ill-fated porcelain tub, which is still on view in the Great Cloyster at Walpole's "little Gothic Castle," Strawberry Hill.
A 1757 fair copy of Thomas Gray's poem "On the death of a favourite cat drown'd in a china-tub of gold-fishes" (MA 3389)
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For more information about the Goldfish Tub at Strawberry Hill, click here.
The Leon Levy Foundation is generously underwriting a major project to upgrade catalog records for the Morgan's collection of literary and historical manuscripts. The project is the most substantive effort to date to improve primary research information on a portion of this large and highly important collection.