Cumberleylaude, a ‘gourmet cat’ the author invented after a dinner party with a young friend, is belatedly but is added to Old Possum’s famous menagerie.
In Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, TS Eliot wrote Mystery Cat, in Macavity, an Original Conjuring Cat, in Mr Mistoffelees, and a Curious Cat, in the Rum Tum Tugger.
Now it turns out that he also dreamed up a Gourmet Cat, in Cumberleylaude, the feline star of a previously unpublished cat poem who has a taste for “salmon, duck, or expensive French wines”.
The poem, which appeared for the first time in this week’s Sunday Times and which will also be part of a new edition of the author’s writings out later this week from Faber & Faber, was included in a thank-you letter from Eliot to Anthony Laude, a 20-year-old who lived in Cambridge.
Laude had invited the poet to dinner after they got into correspondence, and Eliot replied thanking him, as well as singing the praises of “Cumberley, a particularly fastidious eater without a doubt, but dignified and beautiful cat” whose “character struck me so forcefully that I felt I had to write a few words in honour of him”.
Running to three verses of six lines, the poem opens: “The gourmet cat was of course Cumberleylaude, / Who did very little to earn his dinner and board.” Instead, “this culinary lout” is served “good food” by local “haunts”.
“With care he chooses his place to dine, / And dresses accordingly, if he has time,” writes Eliot. “The best is only fit for the best he opines, / When he wants salmon, or duck, or expensive French wines.”
The letter and poem were found slipped into a book following Laude’s death in 2003. They were sold on eBay in 2006, according to the Sunday Times, which revealed that Eliot also kept a carbon copy of the poem.
Andrew Lloyd Webber, who was made aware of the poem’s existence in 2008, was asked by the paper if Cumberleylaude might appear in future versions of his musical adaptation of Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. “We hope that Cats will return to Broadway next year – so who knows?” Lloyd Webber said.