English Fairy Tales (Joseph Jacobs)

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Whittington and His Cat

Reading time: 5 minutes. Word count: 900 words.

So even though Dick Whittington's cat was not magical, did not talk, had no remarkable qualities, it turns out to have played the same role in this legend that a magical object would normally play in a fairy tale!

One morning, early, Mr Fitzwarren had just come to his counting-house and seated himself at the desk, to count over the cash, and settle the business for the day, when somebody came tap, tap, at the door. 'Who's there?' said Mr Fitzwarren. 'A friend,' answered the other; 'I come to bring you good news of your ship Unicorn.' The merchant, bustling up in such a hurry that he forgot his gout, opened the door, and who should he see waiting but the captain and factor, with a cabinet of jewels and a bill of lading; when he looked at this the merchant lifted up his eyes and thanked Heaven for sending him such a prosperous voyage.

They then told the story of the cat, and showed the rich present that the king and queen had sent for her to poor Dick. As soon as the merchant heard this, he called out to his servants:'Go send him in, and tell him of his fame; Pray call him Mr Whittington by name.'

Mr Fitzwarren now showed himself to be a good man; for when some of his servants said so great a treasure was too much for him, he answered: 'God forbid I should deprive him of the value of a single penny; it is his own, and he shall have it to a farthing.' He then sent for Dick, who at that time was scouring pots for the cook, and was quite dirty. He would have excused himself from coming into the counting-house, saying, 'The room is swept, and my shoes are dirty and full of hob-nails.' But the merchant ordered him to come in.

Mr Fitzwarren ordered a chair to be set for him, and so he began to think they were making game of him, and at the same time said to them: 'Do not play tricks with a poor simple boy, but let me go down again, if you please, to my work.' 'Indeed, Mr Whittington,' said the merchant, 'we are all quite in earnest with you, and I most heartily rejoice in the news that these gentlemen have brought you; for the captain has sold your cat to the King of Barbary, and brought you in return for her more riches than I possess in the whole world; and I wish you may long enjoy them!' Mr Fitzwarren then told the men to open the great treasure they had brought with them, and said: 'Mr Whittington has nothing to do but to put it in some place of safety.'

Poor Dick hardly knew how to behave himself for joy. He begged his master to take what part of it he pleased, since he owed it all to his kindness. 'No, no,' answered Mr Fitzwarren, 'this is all your own; and I have no doubt but you will use it well.' Dick next asked his mistress, and then Miss Alice, to accept a part of his good fortune; but they would not, and at the same time told him they felt great joy at his good success. But this poor fellow was too kind-hearted to keep it all to himself; so he made a present to the captain, the mate, and the rest of Mr Fitzwarren's servants; and even to the ill-natured old cook.

After this Mr Fitzwarren advised him to send for a proper tailor, and get himself dressed like a gentleman; and told him he was welcome to live in his house till he could provide himself with a better. When Whittington's face was washed, his hair curled, his hat cocked, and he was dressed in a nice suit of clothes, he was as handsome and genteel as any young man who visited at Mr Fitzwarren's; so that Miss Alice, who had once been so kind to him, and thought of him with pity, now looked upon him as fit to be her sweetheart; and the more so, no doubt, because Whittington was now always thinking what he could do to oblige her, and making her the prettiest presents that could be.

Mr Fitzwarren soon saw their love for each other, and proposed to join them in marriage; and to this they both readily agreed. A day for the wedding was soon fixed; and they were attended to church by the Lord Mayor, the court of aldermen, the sheriffs, and a great number of the richest merchants in London, whom they afterwards treated with a very rich feast. History tells us that Mr Whittington and his lady lived in great splendour, and were very happy. They had several children. He was Sheriff of London, thrice Lord Mayor, and received the honour of knighthood by Henry V. He entertained this king and his queen at dinner, after his conquest of France, so grandly, that the king said: 'Never had prince such a subject'; when Sir Richard heard this, he said: 'Never had subject such a prince.' The figure of Sir Richard Whittington with his cat in his arms, carved in stone, was to be seen till the year 1780 over the archway of the old prison at Newgate, which he built for criminals.

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • where was Dick when the good news arrived of his new wealth?
  • what are the first things that he did with his new-found wealth?
  • what kind of life did Dick (Richard) Whittington lead after he became a wealthy man?

Source: English Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs (1890). Weblink.

Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:52 PM