Excogitat callidus felis dolum.
At GALEOPHILE, Street of the Cats, at the Sign of the Tomcat.
AN VI, (1798.)
[Year 6 of the Republican calendar.]
Epistle Dedicated to Cens R**, D**, B**, H**. .
Friends, with a half-smile,
Applaud for a moment
The Cat, a product of my relaxation:
Printed, so you may read it
With the same sensation!
I offer you without flattery
This little pleasantry.
So deign to accept my Cat.
Your sure and delicate taste
Can give testimonial,
To this simple trifle
And will make it immortal.
Paris, this day, 28th Pluviose, Year 6.
[Fifth month of the republican calendar (from January 20 or 21 to February 18 or 19)]
I speak in this booklet of the natural cat: I have studied it well, examined it well; I am giving the result of my own observations. If it is not favourable to the cat, I should not be reproached for it; if my portrait of the cat is not flattering, I have, at least, traced it with an impartial brush; I held the scales with a firm and sure hand. I weighed the cat very exactly; I put his faults and his vices in one tray, and his good qualities in the other. It is not my fault, if the vices weigh more than the virtues. I counted, I calculated, I checked; and I give here the exact product.
Citizen G *** D *** read ,at various meetings of the Free Society of Sciences, Letters and Arts of Paris, sitting at the National Palace of the Louvre, a poem in seven songs on the cat: the cat of history , fable, nature, opinion, etc. The reading of the song of the natural cat, made at the public meeting of the same society, on 9 Nivose year 6, was met with well-deserved applause. This poem is written with taste, wit and finesse; the details are varied and pleasant; the colour is brilliant; difficulties are overcome with great skill. It must however be admitted that the citizen D *** is a panegyrist and orator, rather than a serious historian, and is faithful to the character and qualities of the cat: he even makes an apotheosis of it. It is a shame that so great a talent, that such fine and delicate thoughts, and such charming details, are lavished to celebrate a hypocrite, an in ingrate, a traitor, a frank scoundrel. The poet paints the cat in the most seductive and advantageous colours; he transforms all its faults, all the vices of his hero, into brilliant and useful qualities. What art is not spared to make such a perverse and wicked animal lovable! It is indeed the case to agree with Boileau,
There is no serpent, no odious monster,
Who, by the art of imitation, cannot please the eyes:
Who with a delicate brush, with pleasant artifice
Turns a most dreadful object into a lovable object.
I have always recognized that the core of the cat's character was cunning, deceit, wickedness, theft and cruelty. He is also lazy, a sleeper, when he is not spurred on by his natural malice. He likes his ease, a soft bed, a comfortable seat. Voluptuous, sybarite, timid, fearful; he fears water, rain, cold; spread with pleasure in the sun and by the fire. You can consult Buffon, Bomare, etc.
Nina, a pretty little female dog, sweet, good, cheerful, lively, alert and frank, lives daily with Poupon, a big Angola cat, one of the most beautiful. With a benign, serious, imposing air, he is the most cunning of pretenders, the most subtle of hypocrites. Their games always end in painfully for nice Nina; the traitor Poupon makes him feel the attack of his claws: such is the outcome of their races, their games. In the midst of gaiety and madness, Poupon remembers his character and proves it. On the one hand, candour, petulance, frankness and abandonment; on the other, mistrust, worry, malignity, revenge and cruelty. Who could believe that, under that long, soft, silky coat of dazzling whiteness, lodges a treacherous, atrocious heart? That the exterior is false! how deceptive looks are! How many pretty, elegant coquettes, hidden and disguised by beautiful wigs of blond or black, perfectly resembling the sweet but treacherous Poupon!
I promised tender Nina to avenge her for all the cuffs she received from her barbarian commensal. Nina, with movements of her tail, with eloquent looks and a soft and persuasive voice, thanked me, and at the same time made me understand she is so good as to moderate revenge and to spare her cruel friend. It is according to this promise that I undertook to make the cat known as it deserves it: my portrayal of it is faithful. Perhaps a droplet of gall fell on my palette without my noticing it, and mingled a little with the true and natural colour that I had deposited there. This accident happened without my involvement, and my brush is not at fault. The truth is my motto.
I dare to hope that the cantor of the cat will do me justice, and will not be sorry for my enterprise. He is too rich to not allow me to collect a few ears of corn forgotten in a harvest as abundant as his, and which he neglected to collect. The rich man must let the poor glean in the midst of his fertile domains and, without jealousy, see him take away a small bundle which would add nothing to his wealth, and would be lost in the midst of his immense granaries, filled with a precious harvest.
This little poem was read in a literary assembly on 24 Pluviose of the year 6.
Note. The notes will be found after the poem.
THE GALEID (a), OR THE NATURAL CAT
(a) In Greek, GALE means CAT,
Oh muses, support my daring,
You virgins of Pindus and Parnassus,
I undertake to sing of the cat,
His customs, his loves, his finesse,
His hatred for mouse and rat,
His ferocity, his suppleness,
His evil character: (1)
A subject both pleasant and grotesque.
But, without denying his tortures,
Without having any tablature,
I will sketch my hero,
The cat, that child of nature;
I will limit all my work to this.
For I cherish sweet laziness:
Over-long poems are tedious,
And they cause me much sadness:
But a short work makes me happy,
The tomcat is truly
A tyrant in marriage,
Is jealous as a sultan
Within his menage,
Behaving like Artaban
Towards neighbourhood cats;
Declaring cruel war on them
If they covet his wives,
Paying court like the muscadins
He declares loving intentions:
Not that he loves his wife -
He beats her and curses her.
[Muscadins: mobs of young men, dandies, who were the street fighters in the French Revolution]
Pursuing goals single-mindedly,
And neglecting nothing below,
Leaving nothing to chance,
Indulgence and good nature
Has given all creatures,
The desire to reproduce
For the sake of the common good,
Yet pleasure alone should drive us.
But the cat’s ferocity
Always pushes him into harm;
Ravished by discerning tastes,
His love affairs become battles.
If he can, this terrible husband,
Consumed by lustful fury,
Surprises and grabs his companion,
And proves his brutal love to her:
Climbing on her back, stamping his feet,
Biting her, clawing her, scratching her:
There are long meows,
The roaring of lions,
The yelping of foxes,
And the hissing of serpents.
What a noisy symphony!
What agonizing harmony!
All cats make love in this way.
How cruel is their nature!
They are miniature tigers.
Let’s say bluntly, however
That, in the those of their coupling,
Stirs the spouses beyond return,
And makes their union final.
The cat loves freedom, (3)
Claims a great naturalist:
In fact he does much more;
He is a stubborn demagogue,
Unruly, savage, selfish;
Doing as he wishes;
Unrestrained, lawlessly living on plunder;
And, if he is not closely watched,
He raids the kitchen.
He’s attracted to evil,
And robbery pleases him.
His claws are made for seizing;
And his paws shaped for flight. (4)
If he falls headlong from the roof
He arches his flexible back,
Immune to falling from heights,
He seems carried on wings
So elastic is he
That he needs no parachute;
So proud of its lightness,
He fears neither wind nor tumble. (5)
He’s a model, we’re told
Of cleanliness, he conceals
With care and with zeal,
His bodily wastes.
But not from natural cleanliness;
It is from cunning and malice.
What I say is not critical,
This is the very true story
From an immortal Latin author,
Who never lies; finally
From Pliny the naturalist,
Brilliant painter, great colourist,
Profound, high-strung historian,
Of matters or this earth:
He says cats are careful
To strongly scratch the earth
To cover their faeces:
(Latin hates paraphrases,
And it pays no attention,
To employing euphemism.)
They therefore hide the result,
The strong, striking, scents,
That announces their presence. (6)
This is only the truth,
They are clean through mistrust,
Not a taste for propriety.
This detail will hurt Themire; (a)
His disdain, his simpering air,
All finally seem to predict it to me.
Granted: but I thought I should write it down.
Born a hunter, even a poacher,
The cat makes his ambush:
On the lookout he takes the game;
It is not a boaster. (7)
(a) Little mistress with vapours, simpering, disdainful, and very perfumed.
Under feudal rule,
When, through excess of injustice,
We have lord and vassals,
If the cat, through caprice,
Hunts for his own benefit,
A most brutal gamekeeper
With his rifle, is guilty
An agent of suzerainty.
A dead person! what a nice offering,
This product of feudalism!
We recall many treacherous accounts
In memory of the cat,
Which nobody could doubt,
But they’d take too long to recount.
Picky, caustic literary censors,
Will they dare to deny me?
The facts are certain, authentic.
I will provide a witness;
The good Jean de la Fontaine,
Who in such a fertile vein
Described to us faithfully
Painted for us so pleasantly
The tricks of these hypocrites,
Of these flattering chattemites.
Rodilard, general of cats,
The famous destroyer of rats,
Played dead, hanging by his paw,
Upside down like a chandelier.
Lightning rumbles, rolls and explodes:
Get away from there, rats and mice!
Rodilard saw them, rushed forward and fell:
Ah! you are all going to be caught!
His belly will be your grave!
Still fear Master tomcat:
He deceives you and whitens his coat;
Flee from his flour-dusted form!
To death, unfortunate people,
Whose prudence has left you! (8)
The cat, frank archipatelin,
Listened as a hypocrite
To the weasel and little rabbit.
Grippeminaud, that good hermit,
That deceitful and disloyal devotee,
Meditated like a saint upon evil,
And by a very equivocal speech
Both animals were deceived,
Acting deaf, he grabbed and he crunched them. .
Raminagrobis showed well
The devious and oblique path,
From a judge as perverse as unjust,
Both litigants were eaten alike. (9)
[Archipatelin: Person who flatters a lot to achieve his ends]
By the gloomy mood embittered,
By all this horrid gibberish,
A supporter of the cat would say
“These scratches need avenging!”
I painted the character of the cat,
its spirit, and bloodthirsty taste;
I sketched the whole tableau
With a faithful brush,
The cat, in times of barbarism! (10)
To the credulous Egyptian
Was an object of idolatry.
But their cult proves nothing:
It was just raillery;
From ignorance or mockery
They revered the cat
Just as they worshipped Pet,
The cat, most prone to doing wrong,
Always keeps its character:
Nothing can make it change;
No kindness can commit him
To gentle gratitude. (11)
[Pet: God of farts.]
When he runs to slide inside the bed,
He is there to hatch revenge
Upon his master; taking his place
Not to be caressed -
He’s not that fond of kindness -
And not to warm the bed.
What is his goal? To suffocate him.
Hey! how, dare you! You protest,
How dare you portray his thus?
But it’s very true to life.
Criticize me, you have the right,
I’m telling you the truth,
I’m using my freedom,
If I portray him as a hypocrite
Savouring the evil he meditates,
I would artfully bring together
His velvet paws, quite charming,
Shrewd eyes and serious bearing,
His cunning air, his wheedling voice,
Long tail and humble demeanour,
Yet he’s a leopard in miniature,
Uneasy and mistrustful.
Ears small, fur silvery -
Unmarked, polished, satiny;
Round eyes and sweet face,
And leonine claws concealed.
Smooth movements in soft, fluffy
Coat as snug as ermine,
And extremely sharp hearing; (12)
Gazing into the sparkling shadows, (13)
Approaching uncertainly, wary,
With supple silvery whiskers,
Around a sweetly positioned nose.
You have just sketched the cat,
And here is a faithful portrait:
As he is the perfect model
Of a hypocrite and an ingrate -
Those are his natural colours.
That wild, exasperated monster,
The deceitful politician Richelieu,
Bloodthirsty as a tiger,
So despotic was that minister,
He wanted to be worshipped as a king.
That author of public miseries,
Grand Master and Head of the Galleries
(Where we should have chained him),
To heat up and to urge himself
To vengeance and to violence,
He played with his kittens -
Less cruel than his eminence -
Enjoying their playful antics.
You, his innocent victims,
Magnanimous, august Manes,
From Thou, Cinq-Mars, Montmorency,
Evet cat scratch punishes him,
And avenge you for his crimes. (14)
In the middle of a flowery grove,
The cat is never moved
By sweet-sounding symphonies,
Or by tuneful harmonies;
The concerts of those melodies
Only rouse him to barbarity;
The most delicious euphony
Can’t calm his feline fury.
Deaf to these, his heart is iron;
He hates the aerial denizens; (15)
Or, if his heart bursts with joy,
He’s thinking of his singing prey;
Staring with his sparkling eyes
At the little hopping birds,
Fluttering and cavorting.
He lays down, and crawls, he twitches,
And in a rush leaps forwards.
The more imprudent birds
Fall, and die beneath
The paw of this villainous beast
Who shreds with his sharp teeth. (16)
The inconsolable turtledove,
And plaintive Philomele,
With t sad sighs and moans,
Lament their cruel loss.
What tenderness! And what torments!
Ah! how maternal their complaints!
Fierce lions would be moved;
But the cat, hard-hearted, pitiless,
Hears their lamentable cries,
And is not moved, is not surprised;
And his inexorable fury
Makes him even more guilty.
He persecutes his rivals and his friends,
The birds, the dogs, his companions;
Clawing one, strangling the other, (17)
Commiting all evil in cold blood,
This pious hypocrite, this good apostle.
Cats, ferocious animals,
Violating the laws of nature;
The father tomcat,
The mother she-cat:
Will both devour their children. (18)
The cat, with his sly demeanour,
Deceive the people of mouse-kind,
He nurses an eternal hatred,
Wages eternal war against them.
That poor little animal
Which causes no-one any harm,
Destroying stale old poetry,
And ancient genealogies,
Without scandal or commotion,
Silently, under cover of the night.
Frugal, it lives on little, does no damage
Except toa reeking piece of cheese
That already hurts the sense of smell.
It causes no great expense,
And with rancid bacon is content,
It eats nothing dainty,
Feeding on the simple crumbs
Caught falling from the plates.
It does not attack the ham -
Too rich, too extensive
To provide him subsistence;
It prefers a simpler dish.
The cat sacrifices it to his anger,
For the sole pleasure of doing ill.
Committing needless slaughter,
And leaves it without eating it.
The cat abounds in cunning tricks;
He is an infernal spirit
Profound in his maliciousness
For doing and for causing harm.
He bites and scratches when he plays,
And is craft in his gaiety.
I made a close examination:
He is made for evil things.
You are a terrible critic;
According to your observations,
The cat is very reprehensible;
You still criticize his actions,
Without any modifications:
Do you believe that you are infallible?
No, my mind is just confused.
Come on, I have investigations
Into services the cat provides.
He predicts, by scrubbing his head,
Wind, snow, cold, rain, and tempest,
And announces approaching warming,
We believe, by the creature’s timely warning;
That it’s an animated barometer. (19)
Finally, the cat is praiseworthy.
By rapid twitching movements,
Its tail announces its anger:
A prelude from the panther
To his dreadful roaring.
Sometimes, for his amusement,
He uses it like a toy,
Goes round in circles, it passes the time.
Often still, to annoy us,
He imitates the sound of a spinning wheel,
He grumbles a psalmody
A lugubrious melody,
Till we yawn and fall asleep.
If he wants to passionately lick
The hand of the person who pleases him,
His rough, ungrateful tongue
Scrapes, wears and tears the skin: (20)
A veritable scourge.
He is the emblem of the coquette;
And I'll prove it right now.
Don't go shouting anathema -
You will end up in agreement.
A woman of feminine courtesy
Has a heart full of treachery;
She hides her feelings,
Deceives her lovers in turn,
She feigns her caresses,
And she loves only riches,
She mocks zealous attentions,
Laughs at the hearts she has hurt.
The cat is a coquette par excellence;
A coquette is its quintessence.
They are both cautious creatures;
And they share a resemblance,
The cat, famous thief,
Steals with great skill.
So beware of his ruses,
For he combines with finesse,
The most skilful of tricksters.
Even his name is ominous,
It appears in every clever adage.
Should a silly girl, by chance,
Allow herself be fooled,
There is this mocking adage:
“She let the cat go after the cheese.”
“Don't wake the sleeping cat,”
For might do you ill.
And “A scalded cat fears even cold water,”
The thief loiters, to kill stealthily,
“Like the cat does to the mouse.”
Of these verses I fear we can say,
“They’re a cat’s breakfast,” a mess. (a)
And “At night-time all cats are grey.”
And “She’s as amorous as a she-cat.”
And “Giving the cat by the paw.” (b)
“They fight like dogs and cats.”
When we pay our debts in dribs and drabs
We pay them “in cats and rats.” (c)
Maybe you sing hoarse ariettas?
You are making” cats music.”
And to give someone the blame
We “throw the cat at their legs.”
If you purchase a “cat in a bag,”
It’s a rash purchase, a pig in a poke.
And now, for fear of censure,,
I have save for the last course:
“To the cat!” – he has stolen the cat (d)
And will now close this list. (21)
So here are my latest result:
Fear both the she-cat and the tom;
Both have claws on their paws.
Nothing is nastier than the cat
Whose character I have portrayed.
And here I end my career as a poet.
(a) = a dog’s breakfast
(b) = Presenting a thing by the most difficult place.
(c) = pay in small amounts
(d) = stolen the cash, run off with the kitty
I composed these weak lines
When France showed finesse
To the English universe,
Showed cunning and villainy.
You of the great nation
Soldiers, sail towards Albion;
Humiliate his arrogance;
On his crimes take vengeance;
March, run, you brave soldiers.
A hero leads you into battle:
He will lead you to victory.
Run, fly, follow his footsteps;
Your names, in the temple of glory,
Will survive your passing,
(1) I am going to give here a sketch of the cat: it is taken from the Natural History of the immortal Buffon. He will prove that I did not slander the wild cat, not even the domestic one. The cat has twenty-six teeth, twelve incisors, four canines, and ten molars, four of which are above and six below. He has five toes on the front feet, and four on the back. The cat is an unfaithful servant. Although cats, especially when they are young, are kind, they have at the same time an innate malice, a false character, a hypocritical face, a decided penchant for plunder, a perverse nature, as age increases still further, that training only masks. This animal appears to care only for itself, to love only conditionally, and to lend itself to relationships only to abuse them: in a word, it is less a friend of man thana familiar through self-interest and habit.
(2) Boileau, in the 6th satire, on Les Embarrassment of Paris, thus vents his bad humour against the cats which interrupted his sleep:
And what an annoying demon, through the night entire
Gathers cats from all the gutters to here?
In vain I jump out of bed, full of confusion and fear,
I think that, with them, all hell has come here.
One caterwauls, like a furious tiger,
Another rolls his voice like a child that cries .
(3) The cat, although living in our houses and becoming domesticated, is so passionate about freedom that, when it has lost its freedom, all other feelings give way to the desire to regain it. The tamest cat is not any more enslaved; he does only what he wants, and no lure can keep him in a place from which he wants to get away. BUFFON.
(4) Everyone can observe several small nuances of their character, their cunning, and their winding gait: they always walk silently, noiselessly, their claws withdrawn between their toes. The use of their claws, as well as those of the tiger, depends on a particular mechanism: they are never worn out by the friction of walking, because the animal can conceal them and withdraw them by the contraction of the muscles attached to them, and only brings them out when he wants to use them to strike, to tear, and to prevent himself from slipping. BUFFON.
(5) A cat, falling from a great height, usually lands on its paws, although its paws were first turned skywards and it seemed likely to fall on its back. This singular effect depends on the fact that, in the instant of the fall, these animals bend their body, their spine, and make a mechanical movement, as if to hold themselves back; which results in a sort of half-turn in mid-air, which returns their body to is centre of gravity, and causes them to fall on their feet.
I have sometimes witnessed these unexpected falls, and I have attentively watched the movements and posture of the cat during the fall. He always falls plumb on his feet and remains motionless for a moment as if stunned; but, soon after, he gets up and runs very lightly. The less skilful cats, or the heavier ones, or those who fall in a more headlong manner, get off with a good blow to the jaw and a few broken teeth; but no cat remains dead where it falls, that’s why people usually say a cat has a charmed life. It is a constant that they are very hardy, very vivacious, and have more sinew and resilience than other animals which live longer.
(6) Pliny, that sublime historian of nature, who died a victim of his ardent love for the sciences and the arts, expresses himself thus when speaking of the so-called cleanliness of cats: "They scratch the earth, cover their excrement with it, knowing that the odour can betray them: Excrementa sua, effossa obruunt terra, intelligent odorem suum indicem sui esse. Liv. X.
Joachim du Bellay, who died in Paris in 1560, at the age of thirty-seven, is very well known for his naive, natural and ingenious French poems. This poet deplores the death of Belaud, his little grey cat, in a piece written in an easy style, filled with grace and pleasure. Sanadon translated this pretty trifle in charming Latin verses: these two pieces are worthy of each other and painted by an easy and graceful brush. Latin and French diminutives add new charms, and a tone of cuteness that is very popular. According to du Bellay himself, not all cats care for cleanliness. Let's hear him talk about his dear Belaud and so clean and so sober:
Belaud was not the sort of feline,
Who prowled about both day and night,
To his appetite enslaved:
But for his mealtimes he would wait,
And he ate with great sobriety,
For he was not prone to gluttony.
Also it was not his nature
To defecate just anywhere,
Like so many others make their soil
Where’er they like and leave places spoiled.
Belaud, was a well-bred creature,
And sometimes, if constrained by nature
To perform a less-than-proper act,
But through propriety, in fact,
Beneath the ashes he concealed
That which he was constrained to yield.
(7) The cat, without being trained, becomes a very skilful hunter by itself, but its disposition, its hatred of constraint, make it incapable of sustained training. Its great hunting skill consist of patience and cunning: it remains motionless to spy on weak animals, and rarely misses its mark. After playing with its prey for a long time, it kills them, and often without any necessity, even when he is well fed: the cat in general has a taste for destruction. BOMARE.
(8) The fable of the Cat and the Old Rat should be read in La Fontaine: it is a perfect model of narration; it is an animated, picturesque portrayal which gives great pleasure.
(9) The fable of the Cat, the Weasel and the little Rabbit ends in a very tragic manner. What a great painter is La Fontaine! He knows so well the characters of the different animals which he puts on the stage, and that he makes them act and speak! Let's listen to him:
A cat living like a devout hermit,
A cat making a humble face,
A holy man of cats, well furred, large and fat.
An expert referee on all cases
Grippeminaud said to them, "My children, come near,
Come closer, I’m deaf, due to my advancing years
Both then approached him, with nothing to fear.
As soon as he saw the contestants come close,
Grippeminaud - good apostle – played out his ruse,
Threw his claws to both sides in one single move,
And made the litigants agree by crunching them both!
(10) Everyone knows that the cat was revered as a god by the Egyptians, and that whoever killed one, either deliberately or inadvertently, was severely punished. If one died of natural causes, the whole household mourned; they shave their eyebrows, eyelashes; they embalmed the cat and buried it with all the honours of elevation to divine status. We have seen elsewhere people more affected by the death of their cat than by the losses of a neighbouring family ruined by a fire, and pushing this madness to the point of having epitaphs engraved and placed on the graves of their cats. BOMARE. You will find at the end of the notes the funeral oration of widow Rose’s cat.
(11) La Fontaine, in one of his fables, makes the rat speak to the cat in this way, and this rat is a connoisseur, an excellent physiognomist:
And me, resumed the rat, do you think I forget
Your nature? What treaty
Can the cat be forced to recognise?
(12) In the fable of the Cochet, the Cat and the Mouse, La Fontaine draws a very similar portrait of the cat:
One, sweet, benign, and graceful .....
Without him (the Cockerel) I would have got to know
That animal that seemed so sweet,
He is velvet-furred like us, he has a patterned coat,
A long tail, a humble countenance looks so meek,
He has a modest gaze, and yet a glittering eye.
My son, said the mouse, that soft creature is a cat,
Who, beneath his hypocritical visage,
Bears only malice towards all mouse-kind,
When it comes to cats, they feast upon us mice.
(13) The eyes of the cat are so soaked in light at night, that they then appear very bright and luminous. Pliny the naturalist had already observed this: The eyes of nocturnal birds, as well as those of cats, shine and radiate so much in the darkness that one cannot look at them: Nocturnorum animalium, veluti felium, in tenebris fulgent radiantque oculi , ut contueri non sit. Liv. XI.
(14) Armand Duplessis Richelieu, born in Paris in 1586, died in the same city on December 4, 1642. He was consecrated bishop of Lucon, in 1607 in Rome. He deceived the Pope, maintaining that he was twenty-four years old although he was only twenty-two. Paul V, having known this, said: This young bishop has intelligence, but he will one day be a great deceiver. This prediction was perfectly fulfilled. Richelieu was deceitful, cruel, despotic, poetic, voluptuous, and theological. Ambitious, he sacrificed everything to his ambitions: this passion tormented him and made him bloodthirsty. He had Chalais, Marillac, Montmorenci, Cinq-Mars, de Thou, etc. beheaded, etc. etc. In favour of this minister, the king created the office of grand master, chief and superintendent of navigation and commerce of France, in place of that of admiral, made vacant by the resignation of the Duke of Montmorenci. Richelieu reigned like a king, while the monarch vegetated like a big child, becoming just a mannequin. These two characters were diametrically opposed, but as extremes attract each other, they each shared common faults and vices: both were deceitful, severe, cruel, devoted to jealousy and touchiness; one out of pride, the other out of weakness. Richelieu always had several kittens in his bedroom, to enjoy the pleasure of seeing them play together, and to play with them himself. What taste, what occupation, what recreation for a priest, a bishop, a cardinal, a general, a prime minister, and rival of his own master! Moralist philosophers, define the human heart, probe its tortuous folds, illuminate its inextricable labyrinth; explained its movements and feelings; give us a graduated scale of its changes, its alterations.
(15) Although Belaud was gentle, friendly, and a good companion, he did not like music, and became cruel like other cats. We must believe du Bellay who confided in us in these verses:
Belaud was almost always well-behaved,
And rarely were his acts depraved,
He did just a few things that displeased -
Such as when he ate a vintage cheese,
Or my linnet and my chaffinch killed,
When they annoyed him with their trills.
Belaud, however, was not a wild cat, but a homebody, spoiled and softened by society, by his master’s caresses; moreover he had been mutilated [castrated] by the refined cruelty of man; he could not hope for posterity:
He did not prowl at night to howl
Like those monstrous tomcats, squalling,
In their horrid caterwauling;
But now that little tomcat fine
Will never found a family line.
And for Belaud, it is sad indeed,
That you’ll not perpetuate your breed.
(16) With what silence, with what lightness the cats rush and leap on the birds! with what agility they rush at the rats they see in the darkness! Feles quidem quo silentio, quam levibus vestigiis obrepunt avibus! quam occulte speculatae in musculos exsiliunt! Pliny, liv. X.
(17) I have witnessed several times what I am saying in these verses. How many young people have wept for their canary, their sparrow, kidnapped and strangled by a treacherous and cruel cat! Let us listen to the good La Fontaine; he quotes an instance of this in his fable of the Cat and the Two Sparrows:
Little neighbourhood Sparrow are you trying to eat mine?
Not if this Cat can help it! “ and the Cat joined the fray,
Quickly crunched up the stranger and, surprised, he did say,
“Such exquisite flavour, that Sparrow, such savour,”
And reflecting on this he consumed his friend too.
(18) A clever man, reading these verses in my manuscript, told me that the fact was false, and that I slandered cats. I replied that I was certain of the fact; but, in order to have nothing to reproach myself with, I consulted Bomare's dictionary, in which I read these words: Females hide to give birth, because males are liable to devour their offspring ... These same mothers sometimes become cruel, denatured, and devour their own young. So I did not invent a calumny against cats: it is not even gossiping; on the contrary, it is an incontestable truth, and one finds it recorded in several very widespread and very reliable works. I was therefore right to call them eaters of their children, real paedophages. See BUFFON and BOMARE.
(19) Everyone knows this singular rubbing of the cat; and when he runs his paw over his ears and rubs the top of his head, it is said he predicts a change of weather, that is to say rain: this announcement or prediction is never misleading. He also seems to predict the cold when he turns his back to the fire. This sensitivity of the cat perhaps comes from the fact that it is easily electrified. In the dark, when you rub it with your hand, especially against the grain, you see sparks flying from it. This same electrical quality makes its guts suitable for making excellent strings for various musical instruments.
Furriers dress the cat's skin, and make various furs from it. In Switzerland, a great deal of attention is paid to the skin of the wild cat, prepared with the hair, to envelop limbs attacked by the most obstinate and stubborn cases of rheumatism and sciatica; and often they are cured.
The cat likes perfumes, and is happy to be picked up and caressed by people who wear them. The smell of plants called nepeta, cat-thyme, and catnip, affects him so strongly, so deliciously, that he seems transported with pleasure. He passionately loves this plant, and makes a thousand contortions, stroking it and rolling in it; he eats it with pleasure. BOMARE and BUFFON.
(20) Pliny did not forget to mention the cat’s rough tongue, which, covered with sharp points similar to a file, grazes the skin of man while licking it: Lingua felibus imbricatae asperitatis, ac liae similis, attenuansque lambendo cutem hominis. Liv. XI. The epithet imbricatae is not idle or useless here; it expresses precisely the true form and quality of the cat’s tongue; it looks and rasps like a file: the single word “imbricatae” expresses all of that.
(21) I am going to give a few more proverbs which involve the cat; with the exception of the first five, I have translated these from Italian:
Tirer les marrons du feu avec la patte du chat. - Pull the chestnuts out of the fire with the cat's paw. – expose someone to risk to take advantage of their simplicity
А bon chat bon rat. - А good cat, good rat – deceit against deceit.
Une potre de chat. - A cat hotpot.
Il n'y a pas de quoi fouetter un chat. – No reason to whip the cat. - nothing to get worked up about.
Vendre chat en poche. - Sell a cat in a pocket. – Conclude a deal without seeing the merchandise you are buying (buy a pig in a poke).
Un chat couve ici - A cat is brooding here.
Tomber sur ses pieds comme le chat. - Fall on his feet like a cat.
Il fait le chat mort. - He plays the dead cat. – discordant.
Faire comme la chatte de Masino, qui fermoit les yeux pour ne pas voir passer les souris. - Do like Masino's cat, who closed her eyes so as not to see the mice pass by. - There is no worse blind man than the one who does not want to see.
Les souris dansent ou il n'y a pas de chat. - Mice dance where there is no cat. – While the cat’s away the mice will play.
Aller au lard par le chat. – Going to the cat for lard. - Used to keep rats and other rodents away from dwellings, the domestic cat feeds itself and does not get fat, therefore, cat lard is a rare and expensive thing.
Ce n'est pas la faute du chat si la servante est bete. - It's not the cat's fault that the maid is stupid – don’t blame the cat for the maid’s breakages.
Appeler une chatte une chatte. - Call a cat a cat – Name things for what they are.
Avoir un oeil fixe sur la poele, et l'autre sur le chat. - Have one eye fixed on the stove, and the other on the cat.
Le chat ne s'approche pas de la marmite qui bout. - The cat does not approach the boiling pot.
Tant va le chat au lard, qu'il y laisse ses griffes. (Tanto va la gatta al lardo che ci lascia lo zampino) - The cat goes to the lard so much that it leaves its claws there. – temptation or complacency can bring costly punishment. [Rooted in rural and peasant Italy when cats might sneak into the kitchens in search of forbidden things to eat. Lard on a chopping board tempts the cat to stretch out its paw to steal some, but if the housewife was in the act of using a cleaver to chop the lard, any mistiming could cost the cat its paw.]
Ne trouver ni chien ni chat. - Find neither dog nor cat. – Find no-one/nothing there.
Tout chat veut une sonnette. - Every cat wants a doorbell.
Cervelle de chat. – Brain of a cat – stupid.
Il a mange de la cervelle de chat. – To do something stupid. [Avair magne dal zarvel ed’gat]
Comme un sac de chat. - Like a bag of cat. – like a bunch of cats. [Come un sacco di gatti]
Celui qui ne rit point est de la nature des chats.- He who does not laugh has the nature of a cat.
Dieu me garde du chat, qui me leche d'abord, et m'egratigne ensuite! - God keep me from the cat, that licks me first, and then scratches me!
Chat qui n'est pas jaloux ne prend jamais de souris. – A cat that isn’t jealous never catches a mouse.
Chat gante n'a jamais pris de rat. – A gloved cat never takes a rat.
Il ne faut pas apprendre aux chats a grimper. – No need to teach a cat to climb.
Quand le chat est present, les rats sont tranquilles. - When the cat is present, the rats are quiet.
Plus voleur qu'un chat. – More of a thief than a cat.
Un chat tartesien. - A tartesian cat. -???
I will end with this proverb that I translated from Arabic: We hired a cat, and he pooped in the flour.
I would add that the year 1797 (old style) was very fatal and very deadly for the cat species. A contagious, epidemic, or rather epizootic disease, carried off a large number of them in Paris, throughout France, in Italy, in Sweden, Denmark, Turkey, etc.
The funeral oration of the cat, which I translated, and which I publish today, is incontestable proof that I am not guilty of partiality towards the cat. It was composed and performed by the cat's mistress, the widow Rose: it can be found in the collection entitled “Admiranda rerum admirabilium Encomia.” Nimegue Edition, 1677, page 653.
Rose complains bitterly of jealous death who has suddenly taken the most beautiful of cats from her, which favourable fortune had given her to console her in her solitude. She ingenuously admits that the death of her husband did not cost her so many tears, although he behaved very gently with her, and he vigorously discharged the duties of a husband. Her cat entertained her in a thousand ways: she did not have its tail cut off, so that it gave her more pleasure. She praises the noble origin of her cat. He was lighter than an arrow, softer than an ermine, more biting than all dogs. He despised small, thin small rats, but doggedly pursued those who were fat and plump. Rose asserts that her cat was endowed with so many good qualities, all equally perfect, that she could never discern which one must have pre-eminence. The Italians, the Spaniards, the French, even the Tartesians, had not possessed any cat which could compete with it in chastity, in fidelity. Although she often left all her provisions to the discretion of her cat, she never found that he had stolen the smallest part. She would have preferred to lose all her chickens and all her geese than lose her beloved cat. He was extremely clean: he hid his waste so carefully that it was impossible to notice it. Rose sorrowfully mourns the loss she has suffered of her beloved cat. She wished she had known of his illness: she would have paid all expenses, made any sacrifice, to save him, even if it reduced her to the poverty of Codrus, Irus, or Diogense. She never considered selling it, not even for the largest sums. Her neighbours borrowed him from her every night, each in turn, so that he would hunt down the rats that devastated their homes. The rats had no crueller enemy, no more terrible scourge to fear; he was their greatest destroyer. Rose, in the outpouring of her pain, her heart oppressed by sobs, addresses her cat, and asks him how she would be able to mark her gratitude to an animal which had rendered such remarkable services. She decides to erect a superb monument to him to contain his cherished remains. Finally, she affectionately thanks all the women who have abandoned their distaffs, spindles, cleaning, everything, in order to so eagerly attend the funeral of such an accomplished and pleasant cat.
This is how this funeral prayer ended, more durable than monuments of marble and brass. Happy cat! Your glory only lacks your name: Rose forgot to pronounce it. You are therefore the Unknown God.
After reading this brilliant panegyric, cat lovers will puff up and prevail. I am not opposed to it; but I ask for their impartiality that they deign to at least take a look at the following two anecdotes, taken from the Scandalous Chronicle of the Mouse Eaters. I guarantee their authenticity.
I entered a young woman's house one morning and found her pale, dumbfounded, trembling, quite confused. What has happened? I asked. - My little cat has just jumped on my neck; she was furious and wanted to strangle me. I had great difficulty in getting rid of her, I am still choking with fear. - Then I saw the cat under the bed. Her eyes were wild and blazing. I told the mistress to be reassured, and promised her that I would get rid of it, and executed it promptly and with precaution. This cat had been brought up with gentleness; she was the delight of her mistress, and such was the reward for all the care given it! What ingratitude! O cats, how perverse you are!
A man worthy of belief recently told me that, in Mortain, a cat had strangled an old miser who slept alone in his apartment. As he did not appear at his usual time, they entered his house and found him dead in his bed, with apparent signs of having been strangled. At first there were suspicions about a servant. But someone, having caught sight of a cat with flaming eyes hidden in a corner, immediately suspected that this animal was the murderer; and to convince the most incredulous of this, he tied a rope to the wrist of the dead man, made everyone leave, and shook the rope, making the arm and body move. Suddenly the cat swore, uttered horrible meows, rushed at the corpse and clung furiously and relentlessly to its throat. There was no longer any doubt as to the real murderer; they seized the murderer, who was punished by death, for his crime of homicide. Let us draw the curtain on these dismal scenes; they are too distressing, and wither the soul. Besides, there is no one who has not heard the story of some tragic event that has happened through the innate cruelty of cats.
Moutonnet, J-J - The Galeid, or the Natural Cat, a Poem (1798) (French, PDF)