Previously on Beware the Cat: One Christmas, four friends are arguing about whether animals can talk. The argument passes to the cleric Mr Streamer. He has a story to tell…
Mr Streamer is a character in all senses of the word. The first paragraph of his story completely threw me at first. It seemed to be a lengthy discussion of how Aldersgate in London became called “Aldersgate” and that is exactly what it is. The only relevance to the rest of the story is that the roof of Aldersgate is the setting for a meeting of some cats.
The point of this paragraph is that it is a joke. The joke being that Mr Streamer tends to go off on tangents, loves to display his learning (mea culpa) and is often wrong (likewise). This actually a relatively tame rambling from Mr Streamer – later in the story he goes off on a bad psychedelic trip having taken mind/hearing expanding drugs (no, I’m not making this up).
Aldersgate and the printer’s house mentioned are real places. The printers house was apparently the home of a famous printer called John Day. The general area north of St Paul’s Cathedral was known for its printers and booksellers.
Aldersgate no longer physically exists but the area is still a ward in the City of London*.
Just to recap:
Layer 1: framing narrative spoken by Baldwin
Layer 2: main narrative spoken by Streamer
Baldwin splits this narrative into three major sections (‘orations’) that define the structure of the book. I’ve further subdivided them into individual stories.
*[for those who don’t know already: the City of London is not the metropolis/major city called ‘London’ but just that bit of it that was once enclosed by medieval/Roman walls. These days it is the financial district of London and retains its only special local governance. The other gate names mentioned below exist in the names of streets, districts and even tube stations]
THE FIRST PART OF MR STREAMERS ORATION
I was lodged, as I have often been, at a friend’s house of mine, standing at Saint Martin’s Lane end. The house was hanged partly upon the town wall next to what is called Aldersgate – which is named after either someone called Aldrich, or else after “elders”, that is to say, the older men of the city, which built, as bishops did Bishops’ Gate.Or perhaps named after elder trees which grow as they do in the gardens now there about, in much the same way that Moorgate took the name of the field next to it, which had been a moor. Or maybe because it is the most ancient gate of the cities, was named in respect of the other, as Newgate, called the Elder gate. Or else in the same way that Ludgate takes the name of Lud, who built it, so many will say that Aleredus built it, but they are deceived, for he and his wife Algag built Aldgate, which therefore takes the name, as Cripplegate does of a cripple, who begged so much in his life (and note the the silver weather cock which he stole from St Paul’s steeple) that after his death they named the gate after him.
But whatever way Aldersgate got its name, at my friend’s house, which (as I said) stands so near that it is over it, I stay often, and that for a variety of reason; sometimes for lack of other lodging, and sometimes such as when my Greek Alphabets were in printing, to see that the book has been corrected. Sure it is a shame for all young men, if they be no more studious in languages (and the world is now come to that pass) that if he can put a little Latin, and handle a racket and a pair of dice, he shall sooner obtain any living then the best learned in a whole cities. This is cause that learning is now so despised.
While I lay at my friends house, I was lodged in a chamber hard by a printing house, which had a fair bay window opening into the garden, which is almost as high as Saint Anne Church top which stands thereby. At the other end of the printing house, as you enter in, is a side door and three or four steps which go up to the roof of the gate.
It is there, at the roof of the gate that the bodies of men who have been quartered (which is a loathly and abominable sight) are hung on poles. I call it abominable, because it is not only against nature, but against Scripture : for God commanded by Moses that after the sun went down, all such as had been hanged or otherwise put to death should be buried ; but if the sun saw them the next day his wrath should come upon them and plague them, as he has done this and many other realms for the like transgression. I marvel where men might have learned this custom, or for what cause they do it, unless it is to feed and please devils. For sure I believe there are some spirits, such as Misanthrope or Melochitus, who lived by the savour of men’s blood. These spirits after their sacrifice failed, in which men were slain and offered to them, put into butcherly heathen tyrants hands to mangle and boil Christian transgressors, and to set up their quarters for them to feed upon. Therefore I will counsel all men to bury or burn all executed, and refrain from making such abominable bodies sacrifices, as I have often seen, for ravens, or rather devils, feeding upon them in the roof of the gate. There also every night many cats assembled, and made such a noise that I could not sleep for them.
One time as I was sitting by the fire with people of the house, I told them what a noise, and what a wailing the cats had made there the night before. From ten o’clock till one they had howled, so that I could neither sleep nor study because of them.
By means of this introduction we fell into conversation about cats, with some people of the house affirming as I do now (but I was against it then) that cats had understanding. For confirmation one of the servants of the house told this story…