THE HISTORY OF DICK WHITTINGTON AND HIS CAT
: Types Of Children's Literature
In the reign of the famous King Edward the Third, there was
a little boy called Dick Whittington, whose father and mother died
when he was very young, so that he remembered nothing at all about
them, and was left a dirty little fellow running about a country village.
As poor Dick was not old enough to work, he was in a sorry plight. He
got but little for his dinner, and sometime
nothing at all for his
breakfast, for the people who lived in the village were very poor
themselves, and could spare him little more than the parings of potatoes,
and now and then a hard crust.
For all this, Dick Whittington was a very sharp boy, and was always
listening to what every one talked about.
On Sundays he never failed to get near the farmers, as they sat talking
on the tombstones in the churchyard before the parson was come; and
once a week you might be sure to see little Dick leaning against the
signpost of the village alehouse, where people stopped to drink as they
came from the next market town; and whenever the barber's shop door was
open Dick listened to all the news he told his customers.
In this manner Dick heard of the great city called London; how
the people who lived there were all fine gentlemen and ladies;
that there were singing and music in it all day long; and that the
streets were paved all over with gold.
One day a wagoner, with a large wagon and eight horses, all with
bells at their heads, drove through the village while Dick was
lounging near his favorite signpost. The thought immediately
struck him that it must be going to the fine town of London; and
taking courage he asked the wagoner to let him walk with him by
the side of the wagon. The man, hearing from poor Dick that he
had no parents, and seeing by his ragged condition that he could
not be worse off, told him he might go if he would; so they set off
Dick got safe to London; and so eager was he to see the fine streets
paved all over with gold that he ran as fast as his legs would carry
him through several streets, expecting every moment to come to
those that were all paved with gold, for Dick had three times seen
a guinea in his own village, and observed what a great deal of money
it brought in change; so he imagined he had only to take up some
little bits of the pavement to have as much money as he desired.
Poor Dick ran till he was tired, and at last, finding it grow dark,
and that whichever way he turned he saw nothing but dirt instead
of gold, he sat down in a dark corner and cried himself asleep.
Little Dick remained all night in the streets; and next morning,
finding himself very hungry, he got up and walked about, asking
those he met to give him a halfpenny to keep him from starving; but
nobody stayed to answer him, and only two or three gave him anything,
so that the poor boy was soon in the most miserable condition.
Being almost starved to death, he laid himself down at the door of
one Mr. Fitzwarren, a great, rich merchant. Here he was soon
perceived by the cook-maid, who was an ill-tempered creature, and
happened just then to be very busy dressing dinner for her master
and mistress; so, seeing poor Dick, she called out, "What business
have you there, you lazy rogue? There is nothing else but beggars;
if you do not take yourself away, we will see how you will
like a sousing of some dishwater I have here that is hot enough to
make you caper."
Just at this time Mr. Fitzwarren himself came home from the city
to dinner, and, seeing a dirty, ragged boy lying at the door, said to
him, "Why do you lie there, my lad? You seem old enough to
work. I fear you must be somewhat idle." '"No, indeed, sir," says
Whittington, "that is not true, for I would work with all my heart,
but I know nobody, and I believe I am very sick for want of food."
"Poor fellow!" answered Mr. Fitzwarren.
Dick now tried to rise, but was obliged to lie down again, being
too weak to stand, for he had not eaten anything for three days,
and was no longer able to run about and beg a halfpenny of people
in the street; so the kind merchant ordered that he should be taken
into his house, and have a good dinner immediately, and that
he should be kept to do what dirty work he was able for the
Little Dick would have lived very happily in this worthy family
had it not been for the crabbed cook, who was finding fault and
scolding him from morning till night, and was withal so fond of
roasting and basting that, when the spit was out of her hands, she
would be at basting poor Dick's head and shoulders with a broom,
or anything else that happened to fall in her way, till at last her
ill usage of him was told to Miss Alice, Mr. Fitzwarren's daughter,
who asked the ill-tempered creature if she was not ashamed to use
a little friendless boy so cruelly; and added she would certainly be
turned away if she did not treat him with more kindness.
But though the cook was so ill-tempered, Mr. Fitzwarren's footman
was quite the contrary. He had lived in the family many years,
was rather elderly, and had once a little boy of his own, who died
when about the age of Whittington, so that he could not but feel
compassion for the poor boy.
As the footman was very fond of reading, he used generally in
the evening to entertain his fellow servants, when they had done
their work, with some amusing book. The pleasure our little hero
took in hearing him made him very much desire to learn to read,
too; so the next time the good-natured footman gave him a halfpenny,
he bought a hornbook with it; and, with a little of his help,
Dick soon learned his letters, and afterwards to read.
About this time Miss Alice was going out one morning for a walk,
and the footman happening to be out of the way, little Dick, who
had received from Mr. Fitzwarren a neat suit of clothes to go to
church on Sundays, was ordered to put them on, and walk behind
her. As they walked along, Miss Alice, seeing a poor woman with
one child in her arms and another at her back, pulled out her
purse, and gave her some money; and, as she was putting it again
into her pocket, she dropped it on the ground, and walked on.
Luckily Dick, who was behind, saw what she had done, picked it up,
and immediately presented it to her.
Besides the ill-humor of the cook, which now, however, was somewhat
mended, Whittington had another hardship to get over. This
was, that his bed, which was made of flock, was placed in a garret,
where there were so many holes in the floor and walls that he never
went to bed without being awakened in his sleep by great numbers of
rats and mice, which generally ran over his face, and made such a
noise that he sometimes thought the walls were tumbling down about
One day a gentleman who paid a visit to Mr. Fitzwarren happened
to have dirtied his shoes, and begged they might be cleaned.
Dick took great pains to make them shine, and the gentleman gave
him a penny. This he resolved to lay out in buying a cat, if possible;
and the next day, seeing a little girl with a cat under her
arm, he went up to her, and asked if she would let him have it for
a penny, to which the girl replied she would with all her heart,
for her mother had more cats than she could maintain, adding
that the one she had was an excellent mouser.
This cat Whittington hid in the garret, always taking care to carry
her a part of his dinner; and in a short time he had no further
disturbance from the rats and mice, but slept as sound as a top.
Soon after this the merchant, who had a ship ready to sail, richly
laden, and thinking it but just that all his servants should have some
chance for good luck as well as himself, called them into the parlor,
and asked them what commodity they chose to send.
All mentioned something they were willing to venture, but poor
Whittington, who, having no money nor goods, could send nothing
at all, for which reason he did not come in with the rest; but Miss
Alice, guessing what was the matter, ordered him to be called, and
offered to lay down some money for him from her own purse; but
this, the merchant observed, would not do, for it must be something
of his own.
Upon this, poor Dick said he had nothing but a cat, which he
bought for a penny that was given him.
"Fetch thy cat, boy," says Mr. Fitzwarren, "and let her go."
Whittington brought poor puss, and delivered her to the captain
with tears in his eyes, for he said, "He should now again be kept
awake all night by the rats and mice."
All the company laughed at the oddity of Whittington's adventure; and
Miss Alice, who felt the greatest pity for the poor boy, gave him some
halfpence to buy another cat.
This, and several other marks of kindness shown him by Miss
Alice, made the ill-tempered cook so jealous of the favors the poor
boy received that she began to use him more cruelly than ever, and
constantly made game of him for sending his cat to sea, asking him
if he thought it would sell for as much money as would buy a
At last the unhappy little fellow, being unable to bear this
treatment any longer, determined to run away from his place. He
accordingly packed up the few things that belonged to him, and set
out very early in the morning on Allhallow Day, which is the
first of November. He traveled as far as Holloway, and there sat
down on a stone, which to this day is called Whittington's Stone,
and began to consider what course he should take.
While he was thus thinking what he could do, Bow Bells, of which
there were then only six, began to ring, and it seemed to him that
their sounds addressed him in this manner--
"Turn again, Whitlington,
Lord mayor of London."
"Lord mayor of London!" says he to himself. "Why, to be
sure, I would bear anything to be lord mayor of London, and ride in
a fine coach! Well, I will go back, and think nothing of all the
cuffing and scolding of old Cicely, if I am at last to be lord mayor
So back went Dick, and got into the house, and set about his
business before Cicely came downstairs.
The ship, with the cat on board, was long beaten about at sea,
and was at last driven by contrary winds on a part of the coast of
Barbary, inhabited by Moors that were unknown to the English.
The natives in this country came in great numbers, out of curiosity,
to see the people on board, who were all of so different a color from
themselves, and treated them with great civility, and, as they became
better acquainted, showed marks of eagerness to purchase the fine
things with which the ship was laden.
The captain, seeing this, sent patterns of the choicest articles he
had to the king of the country, who was so much pleased with
them that he sent for the captain and his chief mate to the palace.
Here they were placed, as is the custom of the country, on rich
carpets flowered with gold and silver; and, the king and queen being
seated at the upper end of the room, dinner was brought in, which
consisted of the greatest rarities. No sooner, however, were all the
dishes set before the company than an amazing number of rats
and mice rushed in, and helped themselves plentifully from every
dish, scattering pieces of flesh and gravy all about the room.
The captain, extremely astonished, asked if these vermin were not
"Oh, yes," said they, "very offensive; and the king would give
half his treasure to be free of them, for they not only destroy his
dinner, but they disturb him even in his chamber, so that he is
obliged to be watched while he sleeps."
The captain, who was ready to jump for joy, remembering poor
Whittington's hard case, and the cat he had entrusted to his care, told
him he had a creature on board his ship that would kill them all.
The king was still more overjoyed than the captain. "Bring this
creature to me," says he; "and if she can really perform what you
say I will load your ship with wedges of gold in exchange for her."
Away flew the captain, while another dinner was providing, to
the ship, and, taking puss under his arm, returned to the palace in
time to see the table covered with rats and mice, and the second
dinner in a fair way to meet with the same fate as the first.
The cat, at sight of them, did not wait for bidding, but sprang
from the captain's arms, and in a few moments laid the greatest part
of the rats and mice dead at her feet, while the rest, in the greatest
fright imaginable, scampered away to their holes.
The king, having seen and considered of the wonderful exploits
of Mrs. Puss, and being informed she would soon have young ones,
which might in time destroy all the rats and mice in the country,
bargained with the captain for his whole ship's cargo, and afterwards
agreed to give a prodigious quantity of wedges of gold, of still
greater value, for the cat, with which, after taking leave of their
Majesties, and other great personages belonging to the court, he,
with all his ship's company, set sail, with a fair wind, and, after a
happy voyage, arrived safely in the port of London.
One morning Mr. Fitzwarren had just entered his counting-house,
and was going to seat himself at the desk, when who should arrive
but the captain and mate of the merchant ship, the _Unicorn,_ just
arrived from the coast of Barbary, and followed by several men,
bringing with them a prodigious quantity of wedges of gold that had
been paid by the king of Barbary in exchange for the merchandise,
and also in exchange for Mrs. Puss. Mr. Fitzwarren, the instant he
heard the news, ordered Whittington to be called, and, having desired
him to be seated, said, "Mr. Whittington, most heartily do I rejoice
in the news these gentlemen have brought you, for the captain has
sold your cat to the king of Barbary, and brought you in return
more riches than I possess in the whole world; and may you long
Mr. Fitzwarren then desired the men to open the immense treasure
they had brought, and added that Mr. Whittington had now nothing
to do but to put it in some place of safety.
Poor Dick could scarce contain himself for joy. He begged his
master to take what part of it he pleased, since to his kindness he
was indebted for the whole. "No, no, this wealth is all your own,
and justly so," answered Mr. Fitzwarren; "and I have no doubt you
will use it generously."
Whittington, however, was too kind-hearted to keep all himself;
and accordingly made a handsome present to the captain, the mate,
and every one of the ship's company, and afterwards to his excellent
friend the footman, and the rest of Mr. Fitzwarren's servants, not
even excepting crabbed old Cicely.
After this, Mr. Fitzwarren advised him to send for tradespeople,
and get himself dressed as became a gentleman, and made him the
offer of his house to live in till he could provide himself with a
When Mr. Whittington's face was washed, his hair curled, his
hat cocked, and he was dressed in a fashionable suit of clothes, he
appeared as handsome and genteel as any young man who visited
at Mr. Fitzwarren's; so that Miss Alice, who had formerly thought
of him with compassion, now considered him as fit to be her lover;
and the more so, no doubt, because Mr. Whittington was constantly
thinking what he could do to oblige her, and making her the prettiest
Mr. Fitzwarren, perceiving their affection for each other, proposed
to unite them in marriage, to which, without difficulty, they each
consented; and accordingly 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 wealthiest merchants
in London; and the ceremony was succeeded by a most elegant
entertainment and splendid ball.
History tells us that the said Mr. Whittington and his lady lived
in great splendor, and were very happy; that they had several children;
that he was sheriff of London in the year 1340, and several
times afterwards lord mayor; that in the last year of his mayoralty
he entertained King Henry the Fifth on his return from the battle
of Agincourt. And sometime afterwards, going with an address
from the city on one of his Majesty's victories, he received the honor
Sir Richard Whittington constantly fed great numbers of the poor.
He built a church and college to it, with a yearly allowance to poor
scholars, and near it erected a hospital.
The effigy of Sir Richard Whittington was to be seen, with his cat
in his arms, carved in stone, over the archway of the late prison of
Newgate that went across Newgate Street.