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The Spectator No. 538 [on gastronomic antipathies]

1712

by Joseph Addison (1672 - 1719)

Demonstrating the English periodical essay’s origins in clubbable conversation, and recurring concern with ‘good taste’, Addison describes friends discussing their food aversions over the dinner table.

This timeless small-talk then moves onto discussion of the (then apparently common) phobia of cats. One man claims to have fainted at the sight of a cat on a pub sign, leading to ‘a general Silence, which I would not advise anyone to interpret in his own Behalf’. The essay’s theme thus meanders associatively onto polite ways of dealing with speakers who exaggerate; Addison’s social observation and moderation shown at its lightly instructive best.

Related recommendation: Rebecca West’s ‘Why My Mother Was Frightened of Cats’ (1956, pub.2010)

Origin: Britain

Themes: Manners and Conversation, Superstition

Genres: Humorous, Periodical

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