Dick Whittington was a very little boy when his father and mother died; so
little, indeed, that he never knew them, nor the place where he was born. He
strolled about the country as ragged as a colt, till he met with a wagoner who
was going to London, and who gave him leave to walk all the way by the side of
his wagon without paying anything for his passage. This pleased little
Whittington very much, as he wanted to see London sadly, for he had heard that
the streets were paved with gold, and he was willing to get a bushel of it; but
how great was his disappointment, poor boy! when he saw the streets covered with
dirt instead of gold, and found himself in a strange place, without a friend,
without food, and without money.
Though the wagoner was so charitable as to let him walk up by the side of the
wagon for nothing, he took care not to know him when he came to town, and the
poor boy was, in a little time, so cold and hungry that he wished himself in a
good kitchen and by a warm fire in the country.
In his distress he asked charity of several people, and one of them bid him
"Go to work for an idle rogue." "That I will," said Whittington, "with all my
heart; I will work for you if you will let me."
The man, who thought this savoured of wit and impertinence (though the poor
lad intended only to show his readiness to work), gave him a blow with a stick
which broke his head so that the blood ran down. In this situation, and fainting
for want of food, he laid himself down at the door of one Mr. Fitzwarren, a
merchant, where the cook saw him, and, being an ill-natured hussy, ordered him
to go about his business or she would scald him. At this time Mr. Fitzwarren
came from the Exchange, and began also to scold at the poor boy, bidding him to
go to work.
Whittington answered that he should be glad to work if anybody would employ
him, and that he should be able if he could get some victuals to eat, for he had
had nothing for three days, and he was a poor country boy, and knew nobody, and
nobody would employ him.
He then endeavoured to get up, but he was so very weak that he fell down
again, which excited so much compassion in the merchant that he ordered the
servants to take him in and give him some meat and drink, and let him help the
cook to do any dirty work that she had to set him about. People are too apt to
reproach those who beg with being idle, but give themselves no concern to put
them in the way of getting business to do, or con- sidering whether they are
able to do it, which is not charity.
But we return to Whittington, who could have lived happy in this worthy
family had he not been bumped about by the cross cook, who must be always
roasting and basting, or when the spit was idle employed her hands upon poor
Whittington! At last Miss Alice, his master's daughter, was informed of it, and
then she took compassion on the poor boy, and made the servants treat him
Besides the crossness of the cook, Whittington had another difficulty to get
over before he could be happy. He had, by order of his master, a flock-bed
placed for him in a garret, where there was a number of rats and mice that often
ran over the poor boy's nose and disturbed him in his sleep. After some time,
however, a gentleman who came to his master's house gave Whittington a penny for
brushing his shoes. This he put into his pocket, being determined to lay it out
to the best advantage; and the next day, seeing a woman in the street with a cat
under her arm, he ran up to know the price of it. The woman (as the cat was a
good mouser) asked a deal of money for it, but on Whittington's telling her he
had but a penny in the world, and that he wanted a cat sadly, she let him have
This cat Whittington concealed in the garret, for fear she should be beat
about by his mortal enemy the cook, and here she soon killed or frightened away
the rats and mice, so that the poor boy could now sleep as sound as a top.
Soon after this the merchant, who had a ship ready to sail, called for his
servants, as his custom was, in order that each of them might venture something
to try their luck; and whatever they sent was to pay neither freight nor custom,
for he thought justly that God Almighty would bless him the more for his
readiness to let the poor partake of his fortune.
All the servants appeared but poor Whittington, who, having neither money nor
goods, could not think of sending anything to try his luck; but his good friend
Miss Alice, thinking his poverty kept him away, ordered him to be called.
She then offered to lay down something for him, but the merchant told his
daughter that would not do, it must be something of his own. Upon which poor
Whittington said he had nothing but a cat which he bought for a penny that was
given him. "Fetch thy cat, boy," said the merchant, "and send her." Whittington
brought poor puss and delivered her to the captain, with tears in his eyes, for
he said he should now be disturbed by the rats and mice as much as ever. All the
company laughed at the adventure but Miss Alice, who pitied the poor boy, and
gave him something to buy another cat.
While puss was beating the billows at sea, poor Whittington was severely
beaten at home by his tyrannical mistress the cook, who used him so cruelly, and
made such game of him for sending his cat to sea, that at last the poor boy
determined to run away from his place, and having packed up the few things he
had, he set out very early in the morning on All-Hallows day. He traveled as far
as Holloway, and there sat down on a stone to consider what course he should
take; but while he was thus ruminating, Bow bells, of which there were only six,
began to ring; and he thought their sounds addressed him in this manner:
"Turn again, Whittington, Thrice Lord Mayor of London."
"Lord Mayor of London!" said he to himself, "what would not one endure to be
Lord Mayor of London, and ride in such a fine coach? Well, I'll go back again,
and bear all the pummelling and ill-usage of Cicely rather than miss the
opportunity of being Lord Mayor!" So home he went, and happily got into the
house and about his business before Mrs. Cicely made her appearance.
We must now follow Miss Puss to the coast of Africa. How perilous are voyages
at sea, how uncertain the winds and the waves, and how many accidents attend a
The ship that had the cat on board was long beaten at sea, and at last, by
contrary winds, driven on a part of the coast of Barbary which was inhabited by
Moors unknown to the English. These people received our countrymen with
civility, and therefore the captain, in order to trade with them, showed them
the patterns of the goods he had on board, and sent some of them to the King of
the country, who was so well pleased that he sent for the captain and the factor
to come to his palace, which was about a mile from the sea. Here they were
placed, according to 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 many dishes; but no sooner were
the dishes put down but an amazing number of rats and mice came from all
quarters and devoured all the meat in an instant.
The factor, in surprise, turned round to the nobles and asked if these vermin
were not offensive. "Oh! yes," said they, "very offensive; and the King would
give half his treasure to be freed of them, for they not only destroy his
dinner, as you see, but they assault him in his chamber, and even in bed, so
that he is obliged to be watched while he is sleeping, for fear of them."
The factor jumped for joy; he remembered poor Whittington and his cat, and
told the King he had a creature on board the ship that would despatch all these
vermin immediately. The King's heart heaved so high at the joy which this news
gave him that his turban dropped off his head. "Bring this creature to me," said
he; "vermin are dreadful in a court, and if she will perform what you say I will
load your ship with gold and jewels in exchange for her." The factor, who knew
his business, took this opportunity to set forth the merits of Miss Puss. He
told his Majesty that it would be inconvenient to part with her, as, when she
was gone, the rats and mice might destroy the goods in the ship--but to oblige
his Majesty he would fetch her. "Run, run," said the Queen; "I am impatient to
see the dear creature."
Away flew the factor, while another dinner was providing, and returned with
the cat just as the rats and mice were devouring that also. He immediately put
down Miss Puss, who killed a great number of them.
The King rejoiced greatly to see his old enemies destroyed by so small a
creature, and the Queen was highly pleased, and desired the cat might be brought
near that she might look at her. Upon which the factor called "Pussy, pussy,
pussy!" and she came to him. He then presented her to the Queen, who started
back, and was afraid to touch a creature who had made such havoc among the rats
and mice; however, when the factor stroked the cat and called "Pussy, pussy!"
the Queen also touched her and cried "Putty, putty!" for she had not learned
He then put her down on the Queen's lap, where she, purring, played with her
Majesty's hand, and then sang herself to sleep.
The King, having seen the exploits of Miss Puss, and being informed that her
kittens would stock the whole country, bargained with the captain and factor for
the whole ship's cargo, and then gave them ten times as much for the cat as all
the rest amounted to. On which, taking leave of their Majesties and other great
personages at court, they sailed with a fair wind for England, whither we must
now attend them.
The morn had scarcely dawned when Mr. Fitzwarren arose to count over the cash
and settle the business for that day. He had just entered the counting-house,
and seated himself at the desk, when somebody came, tap, tap, at the door.
"Who's there?" said Mr. Fitzwarren. "A friend," answered the other. "What friend
can come at this unseasonable time?" "A real friend is never unseasonable,"
answered the other. "I come to bring you good news of your ship Unicorn." The
merchant bustled up in such a hurry that he forgot his gout; instantly opened
the door, and who should be seen waiting but the captain and factor, with a
cabinet of jewels, and a bill of lading, for which the merchant lifted up his
eyes and thanked heaven for sending him such a prosperous voyage. Then they told
him the adventures of the cat, and showed him the cabinet of jewels which they
had brought for Mr. Whittington. Upon which he cried out with great earnestness,
but not in the most poetical manner:
"Go, send him in, and tell him of his fame,
And call him Mr. Whittington by name."
It is not our business to animadvert upon these lines; we are not critics,
but historians. It is sufficient for us that they are the words of Mr.
Fitzwarren; and though it is beside our purpose, and perhaps not in our power to
prove him a good poet, we shall soon convince the reader that he was a good man,
which was a much better character; for when some who were present told him that
this treasure was too much for such a poor boy as Whittington, he said: "God
forbid that I should deprive him of a penny; it is his own, and he shall have it
to a farthing." He then ordered Mr. Whittington in, who was at this time
cleaning the kitchen and would have excused himself from going into the
counting-house, saying the room was swept and his shoes were dirty and full of
hob-nails. The merchant, however, made him come in, and ordered a chair to be
set for him. Upon which, thinking they intended to make sport of him, as had
been too often the case in the kitchen, he besought his master not to mock a
poor simple fellow, who intended them no harm, but let him go about his
business. The merchant, taking him by the hand, said: "Indeed, Mr. Whittington,
I am in earnest with you, and sent for you to congratulate you on your great
success. Your cat has procured you more money than I am worth in the world, and
may you long enjoy it and be happy!"
At length, being shown the treasure, and convinced by them that all of it
belonged to him, he fell upon his knees and thanked the Almighty for his
providential care of such a poor and miserable creature. He then laid all the
treasure at his master's feet, who refused to take any part of it, but told him
he heartily rejoiced at his prosperity, and hoped the wealth he had acquired
would be a comfort to him, and would make him happy. He then applied to his
mistress, and to his good friend Miss Alice, who refused to take any part of the
money, but told him she heartily rejoiced at his good success, and wished him
all imaginable felicity. He then gratified the captain, factor, and the ship's
crew for the care they had taken of his cargo. He likewise distributed presents
to all the servants in the house, not forgetting even his old enemy the cook,
though she little deserved it.
After this Mr. Fitzwarren advised Mr. Whittington to send for the necessary
people and dress himself like a gentleman, and made him the offer of his house
to live in till he could provide himself with a better.
Now it came to pass when Mr. Whittington's face was washed, his hair curled,
and he dressed in a rich suit of clothes, that he turned out a genteel young
fellow; and, as wealth contributes much to give a man confidence, he in a little
time dropped that sheepish behaviour which was principally occasioned by a
depression of spirits, and soon grew a sprightly and good companion, insomuch
that Miss Alice, who had formerly pitied him, now fell in love with him.
When her father perceived they had this good liking for each other he
proposed a match between them, to which both parties cheerfully consented, and
the Lord Mayor, Court of Aldermen, Sheriffs, the Company of Stationers, the
Royal Academy of Arts, and a number of eminent merchants attended the ceremony,
and were elegantly treated at an entertainment made for that purpose.
History further relates that they lived very happy, had several children, and
died at a good old age. Mr. Whittington served as Sheriff of London and was
three times Lord Mayor. In the last year of his mayoralty he entertained King
Henry V and his Queen, after his conquest of France, upon which occasion the
King, in consideration of Whittington's merit, said: "Never had prince such a
subject"; which being told to Whittington at the table, he replied: "Never had
subject such a king." His Majesty, out of respect to his good character,
conferred the honour of knighthood on him soon after.
Sir Richard many years before his death constantly fed a great number of poor
citizens, built a church and a college to it, with a yearly allowance for poor
scholars, and near it erected a hospital.
He also built Newgate for criminals, and gave liberally to St. Bartholomew's
Hospital and other public charities.
From Andrew Lang's The Blue Fairy Book, published 1889