"The tragic feline belonged to Horace Walpole. Promising his friend a poem of 'condolence', Gray was anxious to get things right: 'it would be a sensible satisfaction to me ... to know for certain, who it is I lament. I knew Zara and Selima, (Selima, was it? or Fatima) or rather I knew them both together; for I cannot justly say which was which ... one's handsome cat is always the cat one likes best; or, if one be alive and the other dead, it is usually the latter that is the handsomest' ( Correspondence , 1:271). This combination of levity and sententiousness (being a 'Favourite' is precarious) found its way into the poem. It was completed between c. 22 February (the date of this letter) and 1 March, when Gray sent it to Walpole. The heroicomical note is struck from the outset, and Selima is Helen of Troy, Eve in Paradise and Pope's Belinda, emblems of pride and beauty awaiting their fall. Roger Lonsdale compares her with Virgil's reckless Camilla ( Aeneid , 11:759-804), the Volscian queen killed while she is distracted by a warrior's glittering armour - the episode had been moralized by Addison in Spectator , 15 as showing woman's love for 'everything that is showy and superficial'. Gray's poem was first printed in Dodsley's Collection of Poems (1748), 2:267-9, and was lightly revised for 1753 ".
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