Fisher, Catherine Maria (DNB00)

FISHER, CATHERINE MARIA (d. 1767), afterwards Norris, generally known as Kitty Fisher, courtesan, seems to have been of German origin, since her name is frequently spelt Fischer, and once by Sir Joshua Reynolds Fisscher. She became the second wife of John Norris of Hempsted Manor, Benenden, Kent, sometime M.P. for Rye. Her later life, in which she devoted herself to building up her husband's dilapidated fortunes, was in striking contrast with her previous career, which was sufficiently notorious. Ensign (afterwards Lieutenant-general) Anthony George Martin (d. 1800) is said to have introduced her into public life. In London she was known as a daring horsewoman, and also credited with the possession of beauty and wit. A satire in verse, 'Kitty's Stream, or the Noblemen turned Fishermen. A comic Satire addressed to the Gentlemen in the interest of the celebrated Miss K___y F____r. By Rigdum Funnidos,' 1759, 4to, of which a copy, with manuscript notes by the Rev. John Mitford, is in the British Museum, says that her parentage was 'low and mean,' that she was a milliner, and had neither sense nor wit, but only impudence. Other tracts concerning her, mentioned in the 'Gentleman's Magazine,' 1760, are 'An odd Letter on a most interesting subject to Miss K. F__h_r,' 6d., Williams; 'Miss K. F___'s Miscellany,' 1s., Ranger (in verse): and 'Elegy to K. F__h_r.' A further satire on her among the satirical tracts in the king's library at the British Museum is 'Horse and Away to St. James's Park on a Trip for the Noontide Air. Who rides fastest, Miss Kitty Fisher or her gay gallant?' It is a single page, and claims to have been written and printed at Strawberry Hill. Mme. d'Arblay states (Memoirs, i. 66) that Bet Flint once took Kitty Fisher to see Dr. Johnson, but he was not at home, to her great regret. She died at Bath, and at her own request was placed in the coffin in her best dress. This gave rise to 'An Elegy on Kitty Fisher lying in state at Bath' (query same as the elegy previously mentioned?), an undated broadside with music assigned to Mr. Harrington. She was buried at Benenden. The Benenden registers give the date of her burial as 23 March 1767. It has been attempted to associate her with folklore in the expressions, 'My eye, Kitty Fisher,' and in a rhyme beginning 'Lucy Locket lost her pocket, Kitty Fisher found it.' Her chief claim to recognition is that Sir Joshua Reynolds more than once painted her portrait. Several paintings of her by him seem to be in existence. One was in 1865 in the possession of John Tollemache, M.P., of Peckforton, Cheshire. Others were in 1867 lent to the National Portrait Gallery by the Earl of Morley and by Lord Crewe. The last is doubtless that concerning which in Sir Joshua's diary, under the date April 1774, is the entry, 'Mr. Crewe for Kitty Fisher's portrait, 52l. 10s.' This is curious, however, in being seven years after Mrs. Norris's death. Mitford says in his manuscript notes before mentioned that a portrait by Sir Joshua is 'at Field-marshal Grosvenor's, Ararat House, Richmond,' and one is gone to America. Two portraits, one representing her as Cleopatra dissolving the pearls, are engraved. In the 'Public Advertiser' of 30 March 1759 is an appeal to the public, signed C. Fisher, against 'the baseness of little scribblers and scurvy malevolence.' After complaining that she has been 'abused in public papers, exposed in print-shops,' &c., she cautions the public against some threatened memoirs, which will have no foundation in truth. The character of Kitty Willis in Mrs. Cowley's 'The Belle's Stratagem' is taken from Kitty Fisher. Hone's 'Every-day Book' says in error that 'she became Duchess of Bolton,' and Cunningham's 'Handbook to London' states that she lived in Carrington Street, Mayfair.

J. K.