Tuesday, 4 September 2007

A cat's map of the bed

There's a nice post on the excellent Strange Maps blog. This one uses a cat's map of how a bed is laid out as a jumping-off point for interesting facts about cats and a list of famous cats. I'm mentioning it here to allow some blatant pedantry. In the list of famous cats, we see the line:

The Master’s Cat: belonged to Charles Dickens, and would snuff his reading candle to get attention

But let me tell you this, dear reader: In the context of candles, 'snuff' is decidedly not a synonym for 'extinguish': snuffing was actually the process of trimming the wick of a candle, something that had to be done every twenty minutes or so before the invention of the modern self-snuffing wick, which magically shrinks as the wax burns away so that at any given time there are just a few milimetres of wick showing. Prior to this, the wick remained its original length as the candle burned and would eventually flop down onto the table or shelf if left unattended, which was an important factor in so many old buildings catching fire so often. Unless, of course, Dickens's cat was clever enough to nibble the wick to length as a way of getting attention. Now that would be a great cat...

(O'Dea, W.T., 1958, The Social History of Lighting, Routledge & Kegan Paul)

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