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)
Themes: Manners and Conversation, Superstition
Genres: Humorous, Periodical