ABOUT CATS - PHYSIOLOGICAL-MORAL NOTES
BY DOCTOR GIOVANNI RAJBERTI
PUBLISHED BY GIUSEPPE BERNARDOM OF GIO.
This Operetta is placed under the protection of the applicable laws.
To Count Julio Litta Visconti Arese, Knight of the Order of Jerusalem, member of the Bologna Philharmonic Musical Academy, splendid scholar and protector of the fine arts,
this joke by the the respectful author
D. D. D.
The divine Rafael had three distinct ways of painting and I, modestly imitating him, would understand that I have at least two, since writers and poetmasters, from poor to bad, are still painters. I therefore warn, for the benefit of those wanting to know, that my second way begins with the present brochure, which I will briefly give the philosophical reasons for. This is indispensable in a century that wants to be clear in everything, even in the purpose of the useless books that are usually written either for fame, vanity or from the goad of hunger.
My first teacher or, to continue the analogy, my Perugino was unfortunately that old heathen of Orazio Fiacco, at whose school I learned only the malice and art of small rascals. He taught me nothing less than satire, one might say the most immoral and anti-Christian type of writing; the buffoonish and arrogant satire which dares to judge the tastes of the beautiful world, and to scoff at the adorable whims of fashion. Putting on airs behind those fallacious precepts, I rashly posed myself to write and publish my meagre opinion on everything, to strike without risk, and to make Don Quixote for the truth, that most ungrateful of the Dulcineas, and in defence of common sense, which is the more ridiculous and clumsy servant Sancho Pancia. [Dulcinea: the name given by Don Quixote to a coarse peasant girl whom he imagines to be a beautiful lady and falls in love with]
But there was worse to come. With his habit of calling people by their proper name, Horace started me on the easy and slippery slope of candidly mentioning Tizio, Cajo, Sempronio: individual satire, I will say no more! to which I was led only by bad example, an excess of innocence and good faith. And because of excessive credulity, my imagination never warned me of the possible consequences of those involuntary enormities; all the more since it never saw the popular sympathies, the protection of Augustus, nor the benefits of Maecenas, nor the delightful villa in Tivoli where he spent half of the year being a bit of an epicurean, fooling his neighbours, and above all, his abandoned lovers. Oh, the fates! with the changed conditions of the times I found myself, without realizing it, entangled in very grievous quarrels with the third and the fourth, and the antipathies, the hatreds, the denigrations, the discredit and the sad exile that followed; not to mention consumption, the daughter of remorse, that strips my flesh and devours me. Things to make a tragedy in Martellian verse. [Martellian : the metric form originated by Pier Iacopo Martelli.]
However, it must be agreed that the ailments contributed less than the time and place. For a somewhat lively writer, the birth in countries of a morality so bleak and severe as to be horrified at the idea of a playful little satire[*] is a very serious disaster. How differently these matters are treated across the Alps! There the parties gleefully hector each other and pour a cornucopia of ridicule on each other; nor is there any person so highly placed that the most pygmy of journalists doesn’t know how to get under his nose with jibes; and from the unbridled parody of the more vaunted literary works through to the small caricatures of the "Musée Philipon" there is a continuous mockery of men and things. But no-one is offended by such publications, everyone laughs, above all those who are victims of those strokes of pen or pencil because in the end it’s just another way of getting their name heard and rising to fame. But here with us who imitate all things French, up to the inevitable "pardon", we don’t know how to forgive those who try to give us a little importance by spreading our name in verse or prose. Oh, this blessed race of Lombards is difficult and finicky! It is hard to comprehend that Parini and Porta haven’t managed to make it more manageable and pretty.
[*I think it is appropriate here to report some thoughts of the illustrious editor of the Polytechnic regarding satire.
"Satire is an examination of conscience for the whole society; it is a reaction of the principle of good against the principle of evil; it is sometimes the only repression that can be counter to the victorious vice; it is a salt that prevents corruption; society cannot be said to be fully corrupt, except when vice can earn the plaudits of the vulgar in peace, and flaunt itself as the master of knowing how to live. Satire purifies and squeezes into short lines the difficult interpretations, the long-winded histories, and the endless repetitions of private slander. What for years and years formed the pasture of a thousand monotonous, insipid, cowardly murmurs, suddenly concentrates in a lively and sparkling form and, like a burning rocket ploughing the air it attracts all eyes; but that flame feeds on the very air which all the people breathe to lives. It has already been noted that the audacity of Satire is one of the signs of the mental superiority of a nation. The Goths and Algerians were never as famous for their comedy as the bourgeois of Athens and Paris. Ariosto and Macchiavelli were excellent ridiculers of the neighbour at a time when great sinners paid tax and bought the forgiveness of poets. Between the century of Bibiena and Goldoni there is the seventeenth century, an empty and slack century that did not have the strength to laugh at itself. Mighty England is the home of caricature, every day a legion of newspapers gives an inexorable mirror of public and private life; Sheridan accomplished the work by putting the same slander into comedy. The most illustrious writers of the century, Walter Scott, Byron, Goethe, Manzoni, are all character painters, or, let's say, satirical writers. . . Beginning with Dante, who was the ideal of slander, the Florentines dominated Italy with the frightening publicity of a satire that was intended from one end of the Peninsula to the other. But after Duke Cosmo taught them to always speak well of everything, Florence, despite the golden dialect, no longer held the scepter of the Italian letters etc. ". Polytechnic, Vol. I, p. 267.]
But this is said only to show the characteristic differences from people to people; it does not prevent me from being sincerely repentant of my youthful follies, and determined to repair them by changing palette or style at all. For it seems to me that this can be achieved by doing the diametric opposite of what I have done up till now. Bitter as gall until now, but henceforth sweet as manna. First rough and hard like a rusty latch, but now easy and flowing like soap in hot water. The indiscreet censures will be followed by high praise; the daredevil who found everything reprehensible and bad will not cease to say how good and beautiful everything is. For example, glorify an imbecile? Fine, I say! Reward a prank? Good, I say! Write a book without common sense? I say sublime, incomparable! In short, praise a lot and always praise, here is the programme of my future literary life in two phrases.
However, reflecting maturely, even in this project so plain and natural in theory, the practical act has obstacles and can meet the most bitter criticism. And look what happens to almost all things that are easier in appearance; we know from Aesop that even leading a donkey to market is impossible to do in a way that satisfies everyone's opinion. So I ask who or what must I praise in my books? Should I praise virtue and above all make it triumph? This is undertaken by comedy and scenic stage utopias. Should I praise vice? the lofty novelists are already busy with this. Should I flatter powerful characters? nobody will save me from the accusation of cowardice. Should I applaud the rich? This brings the inevitable accusation of a freeloader. If I start to commend men of talent they will call me a fanatic. If I dedicate my pen to glamourising the unleashed tenors who sing to the heavens, the prima donnas will be furious along with the supporting actors who are called to the honour of the proscenium, and this would usurp not only the mission but also the special language of journalism. Oh, I ask the court, what do you think I should do? I will praise the beasts, precisely those with four feet and a tail, and thus I will avoid every envy, every rivalry, every suspicion of ulterior motive.
From among those I chose the cat. Firstly because it is very well known, common to all climates, scattered throughout all houses, accessible to the most humble conditions right up to the high-ranking damsel at the castle, and to the literate. Then there will be the very rare case that everyone reading it will be competent judges of the truths I proclaim, and it will be heard from all sides: “It’s as though he studied my cat. - Our kitten is just like that. - The tabby cat we ate last winter did exactly that."
So, in this pamhlet, I offer you the panegyric of the cat, which is truly such, consisting of a completely rhetorical discourse, written according to Aristotle's rules, with its formal beginning, with its confirmation, with the motion of affections, and all the other small stuff of so called eloquence. And if its title did not appear clear and frank on the front page, it was, I tell you in confidence, to not seem overly frivolous. Being so, it is allowed to even the most serious and indigestible writers, but this does not seem so. The words physiological and moral notes sound like miles of varied and firm philosophy, and they are modestly promoters of a hearty meal to the curiosity of the learned. Whoever starts well is halfway through the work, and whoever knows how to invent a deceitful frontispiece, realise that you have composed the best and most difficult part of your book.
But there is another strong reason that made me choose the cat as the first subject of my praise. The destinies of this beast, which have been both the worst and most fortunate of all, were always for me a very significant and fruitful fact of applications. What an evil animal! What a profound dissembler and bitchy traitor that scratches you immediately after your caress it! It is unrivalled in indocility and obstinacy, selfish, as apathetic as a brainless thing regarding everything that does not concern his interest; its brain conceerned with malice and for every kind of perfidy (pity me if by force of habit I say a few bad things, at of creatures); greedy like a sybarite; idle by profession; born thief, and thief for the sole pleasure of stealing; cowardly with the strong, very cruel and bloodthirsty with the weak; to be encyclopaedic in wickedness all he needs is the gift of speech. And yet, he is beneficial, charished, lavishely nurtured. But for what virtues? for a little cleanliness of its the person and gentleness of manners, and some skills in mouse hunting. Yet many other infinitely more useful and good beasts are very poorly fed, overburdened with work and beatings. This social injustice reminds me of those completely perverse and despicable dandies that for an elegant dress and some veneer of amiability, and a lot of dexterity in hunting on the side, the homage of women becomes important, they are coveted in society, they become the idols of the beautiful sex and masters in other people's homes. They are merely cats to me, nothing more nor less; but I am certainly wrong, because the whole world agrees to call them lions.
Here, however, I would not want the subtle and malicious critics to discover a contradiction between what I just wrote about the cat, and what will be read about him later, in praising him. So I say that if the contradiction ever existed, it would be an excellent thing: because nothing is more frequent, common and natural to men than contradicting oneself in fact as in words. Now, if high art lies in grasping nature in its most varied and pleasant accidents, here I would have written, without realizing it, a wonderful page. Perhaps this is why some books prettily mottled with all colours and full of absurdities are so much in vogue: how much nature in those masterpieces of art! But in my case it will be found that there is no contradiction when an important distinction is made. The things I am now saying are not yet the book, but the preface, which is normally not read by anyone, except the most loyal friends and the curious. This is therefore a family chat between intimate parties in the evening, when the heart is freely opened and the most atrocious slander is exercised, which is usually even less than the bare truth. Next comes the book, also made for all the uninitiated who understand nothing of the things of the world: and there, since the assumption is to praise, one must be impudently a liar like a biographical article or an obituary, inventing virtues that never existed, and turning virtues into vices.
But, with regard to contradicting myself, a scruple arises. I launched a few words at frivolous books with a serious appearance, and I would not want you to agree with me too much on the frivolity of mine. It would be a bad concession. Authors, I seem to have mentioned elsewhere, are never modest unless they are contradicted; in this they resemble beautiful ladies when they say: "I am old, I am ugly". The least that can be answered is an "oh indeed, I know very well that she is joking!" Woe to you if by a wandering mind and a habit of agreeing with everything you came out with the usual words: "she’s right". So my book is far from frivolous. It would be if I praised my cat individually, although even in this case it would serve as an all-Italian example of the nineteenth century, when the death of Domenico Balestreri's cat was laid out in every possible metre by the poets of the whole peninsula, and made a large volume to boast of the immortal Arcadia. But I deal with the species: you understand? And any species is always very important, even more now in this era of Zoology, which judges that animals can never be studied enough, and which introduces anyone who collects lizards, or knows how to describe the horns of snails, or go hunting for butterflies, or stick a fly on the pin into the temple of Glory. In order to show you how important even a humble species of creature is compared to the proudest human individuality, I must briefly announce to you a philosophical truth of the highest degree. The world, examined on a large scale, moves and progresses not so much for some sensational, local and temporary events, as for the continuity and universality of the most peaceful, minute, common habits and tendencies of life. For example, a good or bad customs system revives or temporarily makes trade in one or more nations go bad, but cosmopolitan trade is eternally fueled and driven by avarice, gluttony, indulgence, luxury, the desire for new things, and from other motives that are in the heart of all mankind. One hundred Colberts would not be worth the least of these passions of the nameless masses. However extensive the sphere of action of a conqueror or a legislator, the earth is at least ten times larger than the space where its influence can reach, and nine tenths are excluded or immune. And more, those famous reforms, or political revolutions, or phases of civilization or whatever, attributed to the individual genius, were certainly predisposed by the maturity of the times, that is, by the opinion and will of the masses; and they would probably have happened even without the appearance of a given man, more slowly, yes, but with less violence and shock. The cat does nothing more than free us from mice, for which purpose there are not enough traps no poisoned morsels. But he does this well, not helped by favourable circumstances, for he always does this,and he does this the whole world over. Woe to him if he stopped eating rats! we would perhaps be reduced to eating them ourselves. Sesostri, Ciro and Alessandro are very remote and indifferent historical traditions for us; if they had never existed, we would have been equally happy and happy. The same will be said of recent personages by distant posterity "whom time will call ancient"; in fact, most men will never even know their names. But the cat is forever, and everywhere, and for everyone. Since the world has been here, and as long as it lasts, man has always opposed and will always pit the friendly cat against the enemy mouse. Now, add up its benefits, multiply them by time and space, and they will add up the immense number of drops of water that form the sea, and you will find that humanity owes much more gratitude to the cat species than to any single individual of that species. Therefore, I’ll let others celebrate the glories of Charles V or Napoleon, and I will try to deal with praising the cat. Nor do I fear the hint of frivolity because to consider things with a true humanitarian eye, to know how to philosophically refer the microcosm to the macrocosm, I would also consider a booklet that taught the art of catching jumping fleas very important ....
And here I stop and rest; the sublime flights of philosophy have the virtue of tiring terribly. So go, my book, good or bad, reasonable or absurd or whatever you want, go and wander as much as you can. Say hello to all the distant friends and prove to them that I am still alive as a man, and not yet perfectly dead as a writer. Above all, I recommend you announce yourself as expected in many houses of precious knowledge done by me on the 17th and 18th of last September on board the "Castore", which took us to the seventh Congress of Italian scholars. It was a moving sight to see about two hundred passers-by, who ran from Genoa to Naples at the speed of twelve miles per hour, for the sublime purpose of advancing science. That if by chance science had only remained quiet in its place, those of us who experienced her at leisure and educated in resignation will never forget that magnificent sea, that pure sky, those pleasant islands, those delightful coasts, that splendid sun, that full moon, that good wine, that much laughing and singing, that bivouac all night on deck, and especially that sublime fraternity (Italian, of course) established by science and seasickness. In the meantime the things which were contributed by perhaps a dozen Venetian, Lombard, Piedmontese ladies, some of whom were beautiful, all witty and kind, and animators of that scene so memorable in our cold and monotonous life. To anyone who asked me what it was to beget my muse, I replied: a cat. And as soon as I returned home home, I gave the finishing touches to my job. I therefore recommend it to old and new friends, and if in indulgence they find it equal to the topic it deals with, they will then be able to tell me which creature I should first celebrate after the cat.
* * *
When no man becomes famous for a powerful individuality of character or ingenuity, I feel unwittingly led to reflect on which creature he most resembles. And this by virtue of a conviction that true originality is the exclusive gift of animals, while men, from the greatest to the least, are always imitators. All are tipped from nature and placed under the yoke of convention, they have studies to force themselves into, necessary examples to comply with, pre-established ways to follow. In short they only imitate and copy, and the worst is that they usually only manage bad and petty copies due to the uncertainties of the criterion and the perpetual conflict of their opposing passions. But animals, guided by instinct alone and at the mercy of their natural skills, have very pronounced, strong, constant clothes and costumes, they are eternally equal to themselves by their own and innate virtue, without models, without prejudices, without aberrations of education. The poets, philosophers, and scholars of all nations, indeed all nations en masse, bear witness to this truth: since from the similitudes of the epics to the proverbs of the plebs it is a continuous comparison of men to beasts as imitations to originals. If we are too late, they call us oxen; if filthy and fat, pigs; if rude and wild, bears; if ignorant, donkeys. Whoever repeats the speeches of others is a parrot; whoever copies the actions of others is a monkey; whoever exercises a little wear and tear to relieve the desperate is a leech. Do you suffer from absetmindedness? you are a tawny owl. Are you a man of many colours? you are a chameleon. Are you smart? such a fox! Are you voracious? such a wolf! You are such a mole, if you don't see things clearly! Oh what a mule you are if you are stubborn-minded! Oh what an owl, if you abhor the light of truth! The angry and vindictive woman is a viper, the fickle one is a butterfly, the flatterer is an owl, and those who fall under her grimaces say they are blackbirds.
But here, some will observe, it is only a question of vicious qualities. Oh, it is precisely in the virtues that man is sovereignly bestial, so that the highest praise, indeed flattery, means that he imitates any creature well. Force with generosity (and even without) has its eternal model in the lion. Faithfulness and friendship have the inevitable comparison with dogs, which for innumerable centuries has been the thought of all Arcadian chisels. Tender lovers call themselves doves; sublime wits, eagles; good poets, swans. Whoever has sharpened the mind’s eye is compared to the lynx; the meek man honours himself with the title of lamb; one who makes savings for future needs is called provident like the ant: even the eclectic is a bee that sucks the best from each flower. In short, I respect whoever knows how to find a single individual who, for better or for worse, does not resemble at least three or four animals. On the contrary, it is reasonable to believe that man calls himself king of animals for the reason that he knows how to epitomise in himself some of the many virtues scattered throughout the animal kingdom. But such an encyclopedic attitude is precisely that which takes away from the human species all pride of originality. It seems to me therefore that anyone who wants to aspire to such praise should be reduced to imitating only one type, I mean only one creature, in order to at least succeed in something marked and definable. Nor would I want to conclude from this that we cannot be reptiles or hawks, sheep or wolves, rabbits or lions, according to the dictates of prudence! Admittedly in special opportunities we hoard the sublime and various lessons of all living nature, but I say that in the ordinary phases of life it is necessary to conform to a single model. And what will this be? If it is true that the goal of every human must be wisdom and happiness, our type wants to be the cat because the cat is the wisest of all beasts and, by necessary consequence the happiest, as we learned at school: happiness derives from wisdom alone. And this is what I am going to show if you honor me with your kind attention. That if the clear-sighted seem to have too much evidence of my assumption to need proof, let them witness the solemn claim of the cat's reputation, unfairly insulted by rancid prejudices and superficial observations. This work will not be unworthy of our philosophical century, fully intended to eradicate old errors, to appreciate the merits and image, to repair the ingratitude of past generations with their marble monuments, and all this in the light of a modern insightful criticism that, like a telescope, enlarges the small and diminishes the large, depending on which end you look through.
And you, oh graceful and benign soul, make my words fruitful, put yourself before my mind in the multifaceted exercise of your talents, in the arduous tests of your prudence, in the sweet ecstasies of your leisure, so inspired by the new knowledge of the theme, I do a work worthy of the epoque, and very worthy of Italian literature.
Animals are either in a state of freedom or fall under the power of man. In the first case, they are subject to a thousand privations and dangers for lack of food, for the inclemency of seasons, for deadly wars with other species. And if they come into the domain of man, even those who by serving man’s comforts and pleasures are kept alive and flourishing pay for the benefits of his protection with the inevitable hardships of slavery.
Parrot, you enjoy the fame of high intelligence for the virtue of repeating words without understanding them, just like most men who say things for the sole reason of having heard them said, and they opine, and fanaticize, and fight for principles whose meaning they never deigned to examine. You will therefore be bought at a high price, admired, cherished, treated with almonds, candy and sweet pastries, but all this in a cage, or a lifetime tied to a pole, the function of your sublime wings less than useless.
Monkey, in appearance and actions you are a disgusting caricature of the human species which will make you wanted in the halls of the rich and admired by the vulgar. But in the former, the pranks and insults of the servants will replace the masters' caresses, a long coldness and forgetfulness will replace the short and superficial friendships, just as usually happens to children who grow up. In the piazzas you will be the Taglioni or the Cerrito [note: female ballet dancers] of the rabble, and while you cannot surpass those divine women in grace and loveliness, you will surely surpass them in strength and agility, but instead of treasure and worship you will have laughter and whipping, and a little bad bread; you will go everywhere on a short chain, and be punished for every impertinent act, and even forbidden the loves that are your greatest passion. I ask that your miserable life remains yours.
Dog, if you are of a noble breed, you will have the better things: soft carpets, exquisite morsels, and a profusion of caresses to be consumed enviously from your adoring mistress. According to the season you will be washed, combed, shorn, kept warm. You will go to the races and to the villa in a carriage. Doctors will not disdain to be consulted on your precious health, and if you are lost or stolen, the best literary man admitted to the family table (and we still doubt whether literature in Italy has a mission) will have to compose a notice for the press describing your beauty and promising a big prize to whoever bring you back. But be careful that between so many comforts and so much glory you will be kicked when you find yourself face to face with a rude servant, and beware that if, through over-confidence, you risk walking around town without a collar, life can go instantly, and mind that there will come the custom of wearing a muzzle that will not even let you smell your interests:, and be careful that if you punish with a bite some impertinent person who has provoked you and pulled your tail beyond all tolerance, you will be legally persecuted and even put to death as dangerous and suspected of hydrophobia.
And you, horse, and you, donkey, and you, mule, and you, ox, tell me all of you how much beastly efforts and blows you have to put up with for the hay that keeps you alive and a roof that protects you from weather. And so it is with most creatures.
But the cat! Oh, the cat has been able to choose the best possible place in natural history. He has placed himself so well in the midst of the most refined civilization and wildest independence, that he takes all the good and dodges all the bad of those two states. It seems to me to have practiced and indicated to the world since the beginning of the centuries the grand theory of the middle way, which modern politicians dare to pride themselves on having invented, and which has never been so well applied, as to the most difficult and sublime art of enjoying life. Let's see our hero in action.
When a kitten is born and is already freed from any competition from brothers and sisters who are ordinarily sacrificed so that he accumulates all the advantages of an enviable existence. There is the somewhat rigid and absolute application of the firstborn system, and that's good. Here, wisdom and happiness are the fate of only a few, those who died are dead and blessed are those who remain; above all blessed are those who have very few relatives, or none at all. The children are filled with wonder that a kitten was brought into the house, as they are from time to time when a little brother is brought into the house, and they run to see him, to praise him, to touch him, to noisily celebrate his arrival. The mother cat, who at the sight of any foreign and suspicious face would become a tiger, patiently tolerates all the fuss, almost welcoming it, and barely with a slight lament (brrgnin) indicates to the most restless the duties of discreteness. This comes from that high degree of shrewdness and social tact that distinguishes the cat from other animals who sometime advances frankly and cordially to provoke the rough and heavy caresses of any stranger who has a gentleman's head, while another is cautious beats a retreat. Nor does he allow himself to be coaxed or approached by those who give the slightest hint of deception. It seems that he sees into the heart, and discerns bad intentions, and merely seeing himself highly desired without for no reason, is enough for him adopt the highest degree of diffidence. It is a pity that such clear, daily, domestic lessons are lost on humanity. We would save ourselves from many painful troubles and bitter regrets if more of us learned from the cat to be cautious with new people, not to open our hearts to the first flatterer, and not toalign our interests with the first cheater that crosses our path!
Our little friend grows amid the caresses and attention of the family, commanding excellent broths, and savouring the tastiest bites as soon as the strength of his teeth and jaws permit. This physical and moral well-being causes feelings of joy and joviality to develop in him, which with adulthood will change into a placid and composed serenity of spirit leading to an idle and contemplative life. See how he also indulges himself, because the ordinary cat is self sufficient. A ribbon hanging from a chair, the fringes of the bedding, an unguarded ball thread, everything serves him as an honest pastime. In the absence of other instruments, he even amuses himself with his own tail by running after it though it always runs away from him; perhaps this was what first suggested to the sophists the idea of the vicious circle. He tampers with the lady's hat and the master's cap, then goes to sit in it in the most ridiculous poses; he alone does not laugh, because genuine and good buffoons never laugh; I appeal to the emphatic humanitarian declaimers. And if you aid him in his play, he occupies your mind for hours and hours. You wave a little stick in front of him, you throw a ball of paper at his feet, you make him run, jump, wriggle, which is marvellous. In the evening there is a competition between the children to have the kitten in bed, which has the goodness to follow you right under the blankets and lulls you to sleep with the soft music of its purr.
All of this would make you believe the cat is a docile friend, ready for your whims, at least when they correspond with his comforts. But wait a few weeks and then let me know what you say. One fine day he finds the door open, and a vague notion of novelty drives him to climb the stairs and to go to the attic. From there, through a dormer window, he climbs onto the roof to breathe a freer and purer air, and to command a view of the city. Well, take into account that from that moment he has come of age and is released from any family constraint. Do not get stressed out, dear ones; he will always be your cat and will come back for lunch and dinner and often to sleep. Sometimes he will not leave the house for the whole day, but keep long hours of company with the women when they work and spend many hours at hearth, especially that in the kitchen, but he does all this for his own pleasure, without obligation or rule, regardless of your will, regardless of long absences, and important and frequent changes in his way of life. Understan well this truth: the cat does not live, like other creatures, for your comfort or pleasures, he lives only for himself, obey sonly his whims, does not take any account of you except in so far as it finds you ready for its desires. For example, he will come thirty times without you looking for hime, to rest on your knees. The thirty-first time that you call him, he is not interested, and if he is not interested, it is over. Restrain him by force and he will pretend to sit down for a moment but, as soon as you let him loose he will run away from you. The more obstinate you are, the more his strength and his contrary spirit will strengthen in him. In short, you will be able to kill him, but to get even a minimal act of submission and obedience from him, never, not even if the world were to fall down. Oh what a creature of character! what a sublime instinct for proud independence! such independence for its own sake. Classical art wanted to personify freedom as a woman, and the woman is always a slave. We hope that the romance among many daring and very important novelties will introduce the cat to symbolize that goddess; I am convinced that if we lose anything of the aesthetics it will be largely compensated for by the truth of the concept.
Freedom is an idea, or a word that makes all generations delirious, weary and combative. One word, I said, because it is the same for everyone. The idea varies according to the mind, indeed for minds without ideas fereedom will never be anything more than a combination of letters of the alphabet. Many stretch freedom to the ultimate concept of "obeying as little as possible while commanding as much as you can." Many others would rather understand it as "do not command or obey anyone". Those who are endowed with common sense immediately realize that society would fall into chaos one way or another. The cat, however, belongs to the second party, and on its own it reduces what is an eternal pipe dream for men to a real and practical reality. But the worst is that men are unworthy of freedom, however you understand it, because they are unable to enjoy it, and even when they attain any public liberty by force of gold and blood, they run brutally to abdicate private freedom, the true and best freedom, before the altar of passions. He who becomes the slave of avarice, or of ambition, or of women, of gluttony, of mockery, or laziness; all are tyrants much more cruel and terrible than those who scream and beat their feet on the theater of Alfieri [Italian dramatist and poet known for his tragedies]. Others work tirelessly to become slaves to artificial, strange, and nauseous needs, reducing them, for example, to the inability to go two hours without smoking tobacco, or two minutes without putting it up their nostrils. Others have the talent of fishing their personal chains from the sea of superstition and would rather starve rather than sit at a table of thirteen people, and would give up the last opportunity to see his father rather than travel on a Friday. All of them are in perfect agreement in tightening ever more the halter of servitude as they progress along the path of so-called civilization, imposing on each other pastimes, beliefs, prejudices, fashions, proprieties, regards or deceptions; the age for looking for each other or fleeing, or doing both at once with visiting cards, the way to dress, decorate the house, speak or dance; the hours to go, stay, have lunch or sleep. Therefore, is it for these people that freedom was invented? My dear, you must understand that men and the creatures that live with them, or for them, are all slaves ... all except the cat. Who else knows how to enjoy the real benefits that material progress introduces into homes, such as the soft and widespread warmth of the stove, the soft springy cushions, the delicious sauces made by the cook, but also refuses subjection to them and ever-growing social needs, and does not allow his spirit to be spoiled by any new system, nor does he impose any law on anyone. Always self-sufficient, he thinks and acts today as he did five thousand years ago so that, even if he lives at the heart of the most corrupt families, the terrible contagion of bad example and bad company have no influence on him.
The cat, as I have said, neither obeys nor commands, therefore it does not meddle in any public or private affairs, unlike the horse, the dog, and other domestic animals. The horse once began to let himself be drawn into the battles, and from then on he could no longer avoid conscription. (In ancient times, even the elephant exercised the art of war but then, having become perhaps too fat, was found useless and now has no other talent apart from the petty being of a very talented beast and, therefore, as famous and useless as a poet, he is limited to shacks to serve as a show for people who want to see that beast at least once.) The horse therefore lavishes his life on the field of glory, leads conquerors in triumph, hinders diplomacy and bureaucracy, leads ministers to court, deputies to the chambers, and rich clerks to the office. And private business, from the millionaire’s carriage to the country doctor’s cart, from the ardent showjumper to the rough slouch, he runs and sweats for everyone, pulls you, carries you, serves you in every necessity of your life.
The dog does not really have a direct part in national events, but gets everywhere, even in church, and that is the kind of public life that leads to the squares like the ancient citizens of Rome, often running serious and deep in thought through the districts like a person who does not have a minute to lose in frivolities; all this would lead us to believe that nothing can be done without him. Then at home the dog is everything: caretaker, defender, servant, and friend. He receives family members cordially, barks at strangers and beggars, becomes ill and loses his appetite in the absence of his master, and dies of sorrow soon after his master’s death (just when the inconsolable heirs begin to regain their happiness), in short, he is truly desperate from an excess of good heart. But as for the cat, he would not step outside the door to see a king or pope pass by, nor would he give the tail of a mouse to achieve Plato's republic. If a war of extermination were waged in his own district, he would not even bother to stick his muzzle over the edge of the roof to see what was happening. If the family to which he belongs dies of contagion, he will not lose any sleep, and if he burns the house, he will retire next door to enjoy the spectacle from a dormer window. Oh what an imperturbable soul, what a walking system of philosophy! What better things could the Stoics teach, who perhaps found the best precepts of their school by studying the cat? I, who when I am tempted to open any philosophical book, usually cry after two pages "oh what a beast of a philosopher,” and whenever I think of the virtues of the cat, I exclaim" oh what a philosopher of a beast! "
Some will say that this is a philosophy of indifference and selfishness. But does that makie it anything less of a philosophy, and very widespread and creditable? Beliefs have nothing to do with the affections, instead they oppose them and hold them in check. When a way of seeing and behaving starts from principles and assumes the characteristics of a system, it has nothing to do with the heart, and I could almost give reasons. So much is it true, that every great brutality that one says or does, is just fickleness legitimized by the word opinion!
The cat, loving his habits, becomes attached to the house where he was born rather than to the people he lives with. If they move away from home, he usually stays with whoever moves in, and in principle he does not approve of Saint Michael, except when it gives him more abundant mice to hunt. So he stays at home in his house, I mean in his paternal home, of which he is ultimately the true and absolute master. And I'm not joking. Who else do you think this title belongs to? Maybe to the one who bought or inherited it? The unhappy person who pays the taxes and surcharges, and then anotherfee if he wants to insure himself against fire, and from a hundred reproaches and indiscreet threats and claims from the tenants, and in order not to see the house decaying with the speed of an aging woman, always be at the discretion of the master builder, the blacksmiths, the masons, the carpenters; sometimes losing rents, sometimes having to resort to the most hateful violence to collect them, and from time to time, just for variety, to feel drawn into some furious quarrel of disturbed possession. Literates and poets, you are judicious to always keep away from such harassment since, in my weak opinion, half of so many misfortunes are enough for the so-called landlord to indded himself their most humble servant, and men of genius must never serve anything other than their own inspirations. Shall we call tenants masters? Oh you poor devils, who pay horrendous half-yearly taxes for the right not to sleep in the streets! Who, by virtue of cast-iron investitures, can neither come nor go at will! That they have a good yell about the chimney that sends smoke, the windows that send air, the attics that send water, the well that sends mud, the floor that sends dust and the walls that send bedbugs, and never get anything done! Once you recognize this great truth, that the only true owner of the house is the cat, and for this reason he is the only one to enjoy it and live in the whole house from the study to the pantry, from the cellar to the roof, from the shed to the loft, from the dark under-staircase to the open-air garden where he climbs trees, wanders on vines, walks through low walls. He goes to all the places inaccessible to man: on the dovecote, in the eaves of the roof, on top of the chimney pots, on the small tooth-like blocks under the cornice if there is enough space to stand there on four legs. When you see him push, adapt, and curl up in some uncomfortable, difficult, or dangerous place and want to know why he wants to get in there, you realize that he goes there for the sole reason that he is the master of everywhere and wants to enjoy his whole house from top to bottom.
But whatever did I say about dangerous sites? the dangers in such natures of things are, for all of us, bad calculators of difficulties, our imagination renders us faint-hearted and reduces us to dizziness, so that it seem to us a hard, dangerous trial walking on a scary path one meter wide and flanked by precipices. But the cat who acts with a calm mind, and to whom the delicacy of the senses gives a great sense of balance, feels neither these dangers nor these fears. If something cannot be done, he does not even try it; if it is possible, he will do it, and confidently, with admirable precision in all his movements. Watch him. He wants to make a daring leap from one roof to a higher one. Having chosen the best place, he in just one look. The materials of blackboard and chalk may be missing, but he makes a true mathematical calculation, an equation between his muscular forces and the length of the jump multiplied by the perpendicular direction. Once the problem is resolved, he crouches to give himself momentum, and makes the leap with an expenditure of forces so wise and economical that it does not reacon behalf of the cat, as he always knows what he is doing, whether he is wandering among the labyrinths of a great pile of wood and old household goods piled in the attic, or walking philosophically on the rubble and wreckage of a dismantled building, as Gaius Marius already in Carthage. In short, there is no uneven, broken or misleading floor that reduces him to peril because he, the great master of caution and prudence, goes with light and interrupted steps, and if that exploratory paw does not feel the required resistance, he withdraws it before entrusting it with his weight. So we men could learn from him not to make false steps in the journey of life: how many mistakes we’d avoid, and have fewer regrets!
However, it must be confessed that it is not uncommon for the cat to tumble from the roof. This occurs either because, abandoning himself to anger at some rivals, in the fury of the fray he forgets his natural prudence, or more often during snowfall, since the uniform whitening of flat surfaces deceives him, preventing him from seeing the end of the roof. But who cares about falling from such a height when he does it with impunity? For him, a tremendous leap is nothing more than going to the courtyard or street without the inconvenience of walking down the stairs. For these contingencies nature gave him lightness, elasticity, the art of falling on his feet with his muzzle in the air, and, if you save your muzzle, as all men know, everything else is saved. As a matter of fact, think about it. As soon as he touches the ground, he spends two seconds of stillness and puzzlement, almost wondering how the heck he has committed that foolish thing, then he gives a suspicious look around him, and takes off as fast as lightning! That look means that the biggest evil of the fall lies in being caught in being mistaken, and that rapid escape is to calm the hearts and assure them that he is perfectly well in mind and body. If a man in descending a comfortable ladder forgets only one step, even the bottom one, and puts a foot wrong, a thigh sprain can result, to send him still crippled after six months of bed and spasms into the hands of surgeons, and if he falls from the height of a few rungs, a deadly blow to the brain can happen in spite of all the Aesculapians and all the treasures of the earth [all the money available]. And a cat that falls from the top of a five-storey house is making much of it he thinks it appropriate to retire for a moment to clean himslef up, smooth his fur, and regain hiscomposure afte that personal little escapade. I say this: assuming that Mother Nature in all her wondeers is always wise and reveals important truths to those who know how to question her, would you not, dear ones, be led to suspect that the lives of many people are worth a little less than that of a cat? However, wanting to dodge such odious comparisons, we conclude that the cat's life must be more precious than it appears at first glance.
But in short, someone will say, look how he spends his life! I answer with one phrase: like a great lord. He eagerly takes care of the most important occupations, eating, digesting, sleeping; he spends several hours of the day on the serious work of the toilet: washing, combing, and polishing his hair, making himself beautiful all over with the ministry of his own tongue and paws. Today he dedicates himself to a hunting party and forgets all other treatments; tomorrow he will get whims of gallantry, and for a few weeks he will be the Don Giovanni Tenorio of all the attics and cellars in the district. Ordinarily, when he does not know what else to do, he grants himself the sweet and very long delights of completely philosophical and contemplative idleness.
Idleness (forgive me a short digression which, however, is strictly connected with the habits of the cat and man's sympathies), idleness is not really the father of vices, as the ignorant hoi polloi asserts, but is the son of all virtues, the prize of honorable labours and even of iniquitious ones, the dear companion of opulence, sighing and dreaming continuously of misery, the hope and goal of all those who labour and shed sweat from their brows. It was given to us as a gift from heaven, and an idle poet said this when he sang with his hands on his belly “Deus nobis haec otia fecit.” [“God has given us these days of leisure” - Virgil] And precisely because I feel unworthy of singing his praises, I want my assumption to be confirmed by the authority of another great poet. Tasso in one of his pastoral poems, among the many virtues of a celebrated nymph also included idleness.
Corinna loves idleness, and idleness is in heaven:
But fatigue comes in on the doors
Of the shadowy underworld, where sorrowful
It ranks among the host of infinite evils.
Can we say more or better? Don't you think that in these few verses there is an entire system of morals? Would they not be a beautiful text to be placed in the hands of an industrial or economic science treaty? That if some obscure small person becomes scandalised that I seem to melt with fondness at the thought of idleness, I will say that I do not intend to praise shameful idleness, but only philosophical and wise idleness. The first would consist in doing nothing. The second (note the distinction) consists of having nothing to do. Shameful idleness would be detestable if it could occur in nature, but it is like anything inconceivable and fortunately does not exist. I come to the proof. Pretend the most neglectful and unemployed man that is possible, lying on a bed, not moving or thinking, and not even sleeping, since that would be a case of purposefully doing something. Well, if you believe him idle in the vulgar and abject meaning of the word, you are largely deceived. To say the least, he accomplishes within himself with prodigious alacrity and exactitude, without ever resting for a second, the great work of blood circulation, the discovery of which alone earned celebrity for a century. That stupendous phenomenon, through which the precious liquid (which he perfected and made suitable for so many functions through the effort of his teeth) flows through the rivers of his arteries, is divided into a thousand streams, and gradually divides into millions of capillary channels to bring softness, warmth, nutrition and strength to all the fibrils of the system. Then the inverse system of the venous tree brings back all the decomposed molecules no longer useable to life. But in order for the blood to be purified of these wastes, to be stripped of carbon, to take back oxygen and with it the colour and heat in the great laboratory of the lungs, he (the so-called idler) at the same time attends to the sublime and incessant work of breathing. He works without working. The blood ruled with so much alacrity and constancy wants to be the administrator and nourisher of the most vital and precious secretions, therefore, under the appearances of negligence, our man composes within himself the gastric juices for digestion, the bile for generous indignation, saliva for his cigar, and tears for tender sentimentality. And he does all these things just as well as Alexander who dominated Asia, like Scipio who subjugated Africa, like Columbus who discovered America, and like Bonaparte who conquered Europe.
And if he complicates his labours by associating them with thought and speech, a new and more wonderful field of very active operations opens up. Suppose he just says: “oh how bored I am!” Those few words imply a very rapid review of the past, an intimate examination of the present, and a wise divination of the future. The objects that surround him impact his external senses; these are conducted by the nerves that transmit their vibrations to the centre of the sensory system; the soul then receives (by way of expression) the impact. He notices and reacts with his own will and draws moral relationships from the given warnings by virtue of extremely complicated acts of reminiscence, comparison, and judgment. He decides to speak, establishing the concept to be expressed, seeking and finding the words to express it, placing the letters that comprise the words one by one, and by the telegraph of his nerves he commands the tongue, larynx, palate and lips to work together, putting their levers into action and performing the many and varied movements that make up the mechanics of speech. All these acts which I have so unworthily and confusedly attempted to describe to you, this most stupid and inert of men does them with an order, precision and speed at which defies thought. Now you will understand how much wisdom there is in the sentence of an ancient philosopher, who usued to exclaim "I am never busier than when I am idle". By this, he meant that the operations that are carried out by the laws of nature are so admirable and grand, that the addition of human skill must count for nothing, just as the pond and the hillock of the garden are merely childish trifles in comparison to the Ocean and the Cordillera mountains. And on what front can men pride themselves on the meagre fruit of their wits, if the best things they do are done in common with all the other bad seeds of Adam?
Therefore, if we reject as absurd the idea of absolute idleness, there remains only philosophical idleness, a cherished privilege of beings whose mission is to enjoying this worldly life. The cat is the pinnacle of such people. In the warm season he is able to spend all day on the roofs, enjoying the pure air and the sun, strolling without purpose or diintermediate state between sleep and waking which is the complete rest of the soul and body with enough awareness to feel one's well-being, and that semi-ecstasy swings sweetly from the possession of full intelligence to the total oblivion of everything in the arms of Morpheus. By the squinting of his eyes from open to closed we can see the stages of the different degrees from drowsiness to sleep, and from sleep to drowsiness; paths determined by the greater or lesser effectiveness of the slightest external sensation - a zephyr of air, the buzz of a fly, from the sounding of the hours by the distant clock in a bell tower. This is what happens to lukewarm souls and bodies weary of being comfortably seated at a sermon, when a veil is spread over the pupils of the eyes by the continuous sound of that monotonous voice, reducing awareness that that of some violent exclamation or the tinkling of the bag asking for alms. Awareness becomes more keen when following pressing arguments, and it suddenly disappears when the same voice that had become a necessary companion to the sweetness of that placid sleep disappears.
Once the cat recovers from this gentle inertia, he feels the need to change his position, to stretch his limbs, to recover his stamina, resting, so to speak, from his rest. Therefore he turns himself over, curls up, nestles down, stretches everything, arches his back, and draws himself into many elegant attitudes that would be enough for the glory of any painter who knew how to capture them clearly: the whole interpolated by long, full and delicious yawns. This last phenomenon is noteworthy in itself, being that the yawn is the privilege of animals of fine intellect, the highest of which is man, and especially of highly civilized men. The yawn almost presides over the protection of elegant conversations, vocal and dismayed academies, the learned musings of scientific bodies; and this becomes the boast of such respectable unions, because the yawn is a kind of unloader or safety valve that defends the individual from becoming too full of pleasures and wisdom. Oh yes! connoisseurs, scholars and cats yawn a lot, with the division that the latter, following the call of mother nature, spread their jaws and dilate the pulmonary bellows as much as they can and for the time it takes to the sumptuous satisfaction of this physico-moral need, while the bipeds, always slaves of prejudice and convenience, more often than not make the yawn abort with real nuisance and precordial distress. [precordial: “of the heart and lower chest”]
Oh the peaceful and blissful life led by this ruler of the roof! of that roof which is always the lid of a great pot of ills, since every building where man lives, from the hovel to the palace, is a Pandora's box full of pain and complaints: the cruel deprivations of poverty, or the fatal effects of abused wealth. Here, girls desolate at not finding a husband. There, men desperate for marriage. Here, young people already satisfied with everything and wary of the future. There, people old beyond resignation and eager for life to abandon them. In this house are the fruits of blind and bold ignorance; int that one is the bleak, barren skepticism of a superb philosophy. One family is troubled by fraternal discord, a second by commercial crises, a third by disease and death. Everywhere then, are the storms passions, and oh what frantic days, what sleepless nights amidst the tortures of betrayed love, helpless hatred, oppressed pride, disappointed ambition and insatiable avarice! But enough of pity. The cat is up there, above all these miseries, and keeps them under his feet, and perhaps he dedicates his philosophical meditations to them. This is simply conjecture, the cat having never taken note of his thoughts, but it is very probable that, in the absence of any business of his own, he will review the nonsense and evils which he witnesses amidst domestic walls. That he thinks, and does so very seriously, is beyond his front upright, head turned slightly to one side, ears pricked and pointing forward, anxiously preoccupied, eye staring into the middle distance, he seems the personification of thought, and I mean thought that is sublime, instantaneous, new; thought that constitutes inspiration. Painters, when they make a portrait of a poet, philosopher or man of letters, endeavour to show the great significance of his genius by means of his untidy cloak, his crooked tie, his ruffled hair, his proud frown, and above all of two wild eyes that seem to want to drill into the sky. And sometimes the contrast between so many pretensions and the good-natured kindness of his very prosaic features is ridiculous; for it is not uncommon for such great men to have perfectly coarse features, which reveal the betrayed vocation of coachman or cheesemaker. If in these cases the artist took the model of a cat in thought and, cultivating this ideal beauty, translated it from beast to man, it would almost certainly be much more natural and effective.
Now tell me, O cat, what genius is hidden behind your inspired forehead? Must I revere the philosopher or the poet in you? Poet no, because you are too positive, wise and happy. So, philosopher it must be, but not from rambling on like most of them who, by dint of hypotheses and doctrines and very abstruse metaphysics, are never clear on what they want to do and how they can benefit the world. You are the philosopher of real life, you are a pathway to the high theorist Macchiavelli and the highly businesslike Talleyrand, and, except for reducing their maxims from public life to private life, you resemble them both; indeed it is they who resemble you, even in their physiognomy, and whoeverclosely examines their portraits will find in their features and their gazes something that is exquisitely catlike, and that’s how it should be, because the face is truly the mirror of the soul. Isn't the French diplomat, who gained a reputation for wisdom after spending his life either in silence or uttering monosyllables, a perfect fit for your cat's prudence, dissimulation and habitual taciturnity? His career was a perpetual and happy imitation of that creature, who, staying in his own home, easily accommodates himself with all the tenants who take over, and is stroked and given delicacies by people of every temperament and opinion. No one is more Macchiavellian than the cat, who by innate knowledge practiced the same maxims as the Florentine Secretano many centuries before him. We have randomly taken one example out of a thousand. It teaches that great master of politics that "enemies must be coddled or exterminated." Well, the cat has great enmity with the mouse and the dog; it relentlessly exteminates the first, because it is weaker than him. With the second, because it is stronger, if you coexist out of necessity, and prudently tolerate it, you will end up eating from the same plate and to sleep on his back. It is the progress of true talent to make a virtue out of necessity. But a complete virtue, which leaves no secret grudges, makes a sincere friend of a natural enemy. Not like us men when we find ourselves needing to soothe an important enemy; we usually do this so awkwardly and with such obvious effort that we leave hatred intact and give rise to contempt. When the cat is then attacked by the dog, his subtle tactic to explain that he dislikes Macchiavelli's art of war. If he is no longer able to escape, he takes an advantageous position, close to the wall, which protects him on one side. Then, facing the enemy, he explains all the apparatus of his real and fictitious forces, arching his back, puffing himself up and showing his teeth. It tries to appear much bigger and more terrible than it really is, puffing out its tail, raising its fur, widening its eyes and swiping the air; puffing and hissing in warning. The dog, who with a leap and two snaps of its jaws could tear it to pieces, is awed by that array of defences and almost bewitched by such furious efforts of powerlessness, and instead of acting, he ventes, like all good-hearted people, in vain barking until the other, with its exquisite alertness, spots a way out and suddenly flees, gaining the safety of a door, or window, or cellar hole, leaving his opponent with a cut to the muzzle. In short, if the final and supreme concept of practical philosophy can be reduced to the science of living well, no man or beast is a better philosopher than a cat. And it hurts me that he does not like vain academic qualifications and diplomas, because in return for him never having been, like the two mentioned, a philosopher of princes, I would like to have him proclaimed prince of philosophers.
Among the amusements that the cat pursues to relieve his mental labours, he excels at hunting; the best of rural pastimes, which he is able to enjoy deliciously even in the heart of the cities, without licence and without fees, without nets and without decoys, without artificial weapons and without seasonal restrictions. Therefore, always ready with his talents and always armed by nature, he dedicates himself, according to need, to hunting lizards, toads, moles, small rabbits, small birds in the nest, even adult birds which he surprises by ambush, or cleverly traps in their cages. But his favorite prey, for which he seems to be on a true mission from God, is the mouse, against whom he has sworn relentless war, persecution unto death, extermination. From the inexhaustible patience and prodigious perseverance with which he awaits his victim at its burrow, his fierce joy of catching it can be inferred. He is able to lie in wait for a whole day, a very long night, forgetting hunger, sleep, cold and fatigue, to be the sentry at a little closet, from which he feels that at any moment his hare must emerge [note: analogy to coursing/greyhound racing]. He remains there, fixed, motionless, in the pose that precedes the jump, with a dark, glassy, magnetic gaze, which seems to evoke his prey with the attraction of desire. Even at night, I note, because the cat, a true favourite of nature, is endowed with very mobile and wonderfully expandable pupils to see in the dark; under the glare of the sun they are reduced to a linear, almost microscopic crack, and in the darkness they dilate like a full moon, collects in a fire the weak rays that are almost imperceptible man, and reflecting them from the back of the eye, creating that sinister light that at first sight chills the heart with horror. I believe it is because of this physical property that, for many centuries, cat was accused of being connected with infernal powers, and it was made to participate in many terrible trials and accounts of magic, necromancy and witchcraft. But as human reason progressed he was cleared of such slanders, and that curious phenomenon fell under the quiet investigation of science (See in this regard the clever Memoir of the talented ophthalmologist Dr. Trinchinelti in Politecnico, vol. I, p. 355). But woe to be a mouse and to meet that dazzling glare, to first feel frightened, then seized, then eaten and dead! Yes, the cat eats the mouse, like. . . like man eats the cat, and this coarse similarity saves you, my dear ones, from a philosophical meditation on the infinite chain of animals, where all of them are victims of the strongest or most cunning, from the microscopic insect up to man. But I don't want to dispense with an observation. Violent souls, who feed on hatred and revenge, if no divine or human law, can induce feelings of mildness towards those you abhor, this idea at least confounds you, that in your outburst of brutal instinct you are in a much worse condition than brute beasts. If a fierce purpose drives you along a bloody path against your enemy, you may perhaps avoid the iron avenger of justice, but you will not escape the cruel stings of eternal remorse. Meanwhile, the cat eats its enemy alive and then quiety falls asleep to digest it. (The beautiful ideal of atrocity!) In the cat, before and after everything there is voluptuousness; in you after a moment of sinister satisfaction, there is only pain. Believe it or not, the cat is driven by hunger! Yes he, the friend of the cook and the maid, the perfect house-guest! It’s true that when he attacks one of the big marsh rats, he lays out its guts in the sun, and disdainfully abandons it to the kicks of passers-by. In this case his hunt loses the character of a pastime and assumes the dignity of grave and dangerous war.
The cat often spends a long time playing with the mouse, and wants to let it know it isgoing to die (as the emperor Vitellius said of his victims). Therefore, after the first shake, he lets it run somewhat, giving it with refined cruelty a momentary hope of escape. Then he bites it and lets it make another run, always strategically placing himself between his prey and its retreat hole. Oftentimes when the mouse is already dead, he shakes it with his paw and encourages him to make some movement. Then he takes it between his teeth, and carries it to the family, and he is capable of jumping on your bed or table to show you his prey and be congratulated. In short, his vanity resembles that of almost all hunters who nail the hawk to the door of the house, who show everyone their game bag and have a particular anecdote for each bird inside it, who recount their well-known enterprises a thousand and one times.
Now I want to approach a thorny question, and I owe this for the sake of impartiality, even if my hero’s glory must suffer. The cat has a reputation as a thief, and to such an extent that its name is commonly used as an epithet for thieves. It is widespread saying, and it is just a saying. The more commonly a thing is believed, the more the wise man must be suspicious whether it is a prejudice of fools. Therefore, having clearly posed the question of whether the cat is a thief, I will answer with a dilemma. Is it a poor cat, who, in some rare exception to the rule, does not have his own dish in the family, and must work to satisfy his hunger, then he is not actually stealing, but is exercising his right, or rather his duty of self-preservation; for, to be honest, he scrupulously adheres to these limits, appropriating only absolutely necessary food. Or if he is a well-fed glutton, then it is no longer a base craft, because it is not imposed by basic need, but it is an art of mere pleasure, a kind of calling that has its roots in the philosophical combinations of cerebral forms. And will you use the unworthy word of thief? is it practiced as an art by men? Someone who literally strips you of your purse, or enters your home to force open your chest, is called a thief, but a hobbyist who makes the belongings of another his own, and in a more gentle manner, is given the name of the most honoured classes (and here I refer to the rare exceptions), he is called an administrator, a barrister, a shopkeeper, bursar, tutor, farmer, etc., and he is described in the most tender terms: - he understands business! – how well he handles affairs! - how practical and quick the gentleman is! - the gentleman knows a great deal! — There is general admiration and envy. In cases of more violent, grandiose and noisy usurpations, the world uses the even more magnificent words of conqueror, of hero. Thief issuch a plebeian word, only fit for a rogue! Even modern science feels the need to ennoble certain concepts, since phrenology, this new scrutinizer of hearts and kidneys, will never say that someone is a thief, but that he has an admirably developed organ of acquisition. This is decent, technical and learned language! Good grief, would you pretend that the cat developed the organs of charity or poetry, or of the palette or of metaphysics? But if I wanted for a moment to admit that the cat was a thief, I still say that his honour is saved, and his conscience clear because I can't find any law that forbids it. The precept not to steal is made only for men who, all being born primarily with a formidable development of this acquisitiveness, in order not to destroy each other like wild beasts, had to form the social pact, establish rights and lay down laws with very serious penalties on violators. But the cat was not called to be part of this alliance, of this first college of nascent civilization. And what duty does he therefore have towards man if man did not assure him of any rights? He must live cautiously, with great prudence in knowing how to avoid so many pitfalls? Now you see the injustice. It will be lawful for any vulgar rascal, and especially common publicans, to kill a cat and misrepresent it on his table under the pseudonym of hare, but the cat is not allowed, if circumstances permit, to treat himself to a chicken wing or two badly guarded meatballs? Admire rather, in such a noble animal, the happy fruit of the coexistence with man; though nature created him for violence and robbery, he, being refined in custom, was reduced almost exclusively to clandestine theft in the same way that, due to the habit of exquisite gastronomy, he has become almost encyclopedic in his tastes in spite of anatomy that proclaims him strict carnivorous. On the other hand, I suppose that he, traditionally faithful to ancient maxims, still thinks about theft according to the laws of Lycurgus. If he ever gets caught awkwardly in the fact, he suffers the punishment inflicted on him by beatings, kicks, or similar incivilities, but for the well calculated and ingeniously executed theft, there is complete impunity and plenary indulgence. After all, because the cat is such a talented creature, he resembles the children of Adam in such things. It is precisely the forbidden fruit that awakens his appetite. Sometimes you offer him a few mouthfuls, and he is apathetic, he decides only after a long sniff, and it seems he is doing you a favour by condescending to eat it. But if you yearn to make him chew a stale breadcrust, hide it, and that very diligent patroller of the house will eat it stealthily, convinced he is eating something forbidden. And all that imagined voluptuousness, I would offer the theory that it consists in doing prohibited things. How much evil would man save if he were commanded to do things instead of being forbidden! And it hurts me that in the art of description I am so far from that excellence that the cat has achieved in the art of satisfying acquisition. He must have an aptitude for this, a special talent which reveals his absolute calling. Imagine a kitchen busy with lunch preparations. There is a cook, there is a scullery boy, there is a maid and other people coming and going. There is fish on the table, and the cat, who is very fond of fish, has already done his calculations and firmly decided to give himself a big feast of raw fish. How do you manage this with so many eyes around? wait and dissimulate. As regards forbearance and dissimulation, the cat has no superior either among men or among beasts. He wanders with an air of listlessness and indifference, as if he has no desire in the world. He goes to the hearth, crouches by the cinders, pretends to doze and sneaks peeks at his prey. If you approach him, he is all innocence and goodness, wheedling to the point of colliding with your legs. What, are you looking at the table? Huh, he knows nothing, is not capable of such thoughts, and is there only to enjoy your company. The minute finally arrives, the highly explored instant in which the coup can be attempted between absentees and distractions. And like a flash of lightning he leaps on the table, takes the fish in his mouth, and off he goes through the door of the rustic courtyard, into the cellar, or behind wood shed, or onto a low wall to quietly have his meal. Take note that he is not worried about it. And in his place of safety he does not botyher to hide from view. You can shout at him, threaten him or throw cabbage peelings or stones, but he eats and doesn't bother moving. He keeps a wary eye on you, but he knows you will only hit him once in a hundred tries. Then when the family gathered at the dinner show amazement, and chatter animatedly about pussy’s lapse, he will be processing his kilo during the sweetness of sleep. Now, I say, is such a well-conducted manoeuvre not worthy of admiration or impunity? We must also reflect that the temptation to gain a good meal by his talents must be the cat’s irresistible strength, because no animal savours food better than he does. Almost everyone else can eat with some inattention but, due to the special shape of his oral cavity, when he eats he necessarily has his mind entirely on this activity because, in the alternating chewing motions every time his jaw opens the food would fall out, if from time to time he did not hold onto it with those measured jolts of his head which shakes it from the bottom to the top. Does he make studied efforts to not let go? and to not look around while chewing, which obliges him to adopt a single posture of concentration, he also concentrates all his faculties in the exclusive sensation of taste. But there is more. You all know that his tongue is somewhat coarse and rough like a small brush, and this, whatever the anatomists think, depends on being punctuated or dotted all over with nerve papillae of the gustatory system, which (like the metal tips which strip the clouds of electricity) absorb the finest quintessence of salts from food substances, and thus pass on to the soul all the voluptuousness of the food in its most intense and concentrated potency. Oh he is the happiest and most enviable of the epicureans, who can indulge in all the pleasures of greed without remorse, without fear of ruining his health or becoming too fat!
But what noise is this? Listen. It is the middle of the night; the whole district lies buried in sleep; when from the dark of an attic they come down to rudely break the general quiet
Different languages, horrible tales,
Words of pain, accents of anger,
Loud, low voices sounds of clawed feet:
and all this with a diabolical crescendo from the dull and visceral groan of ventriloquism to the furious scream of despair. And like when it is stormy; from the dull and distant rumbling of thunder we reach the roar of hailstones and the burst of thunderbolts. There is no longer anyone asleep; the old men curse by coughing; the damsels appease the dead with a requiem and think their lottery number is being called; boys hide their heads under the blankets, and tremble at the bogeyman. So what will it be? Fear not, dear ones, it is nothing serious. The king of the rooftops is making a little bit of love. Here it is appropriate to repeat with the most celebrated seventeenth century writer alive: the king is having fun. But how, someone will ask, can there be so much noise for such trifles? Will the cat, habitually calm, discreet, prudent, and taciturn, who normally avoids being noticed, become eager for such a flaw as publicity like a beardless poet invoking the oblivion of the tomb? The thing is, in these precise terms: if any one desires to understand the cause, naturalists who are too keen on materialism (eh, am I correct?) are able to trace the reason in the laws of special organic structure, of anatomy. But I, who always think with my mind, I want to find an entirely moral explanation for this phenomenon, and I propose a fine hypothesis for your judgment. Could the cat, always original, which in all its passions deserves to be taken as a model by men, have in its turn become an imitator of man, in a single passion? Would you really like to deny him any right to spoil our customs? That fine, versatile, exquisitely epicurean genius, why shouldn't he nettle us by emulating the spectacle of our desires supported by the elements of intelligence and heart? But precisely so he is not destined to imitate us, he mimics badly, appealing to vicious extremes, and taking very immature men and very mature women as his examples. From those moulds are born the clamour and scandal of his desires. The immature man, that is, the young man, usually places in his first amorous efforts so much ardour, so much recklessness, so much bragadoccio that he frightens the most fearless scorner of public gossip. If a lady, out of politeness, offers him her hand to kiss, or directs a gentle word so as not to leave him silent and unnoticed in the circle, he glimpses a fire in her heart, he dreams of sacrifices and triumphs, and trumpets great things to anyone whether they believe it or not. The mature woman who, fortunately past the age of menopause, fears she is no longer considerable as adorable as twenty years ago, feels duty-bound to tell herself and the world a solemn lie of such a hateful mistake. Therefore, if she succeeds in entangling some naive bachelor in her amorous snare, let her make a good compromise; introduce him to her friends, especially to close friends, be accompanied by him to the theatre, to conversations, on the most popular strolls, in the carriage, and like the dog he is an eloquent symbol of immaculate fidelity. In short, the liveliest and greatest interest of his love is that everyone knows and sees first-hand that he has a love, and I say a fresh, blind love, therefore full of abandonment and adorable imprudences. Such examples overflow in the most cultured and advanced cities in every walk of progress; a worthy contrast to the barbaric times when brutal husbands gave wives the terrible choice of poison or a dagger if they had the slightest suspicion of a secret lover. But civilization counts for something, and this consists largely in the gentleness of the customs, that is, in replacing strong passions with languid fancies: you don't hate openly, but have well-disguised dislikes; instead of bloody revenge you make epigrams and slander; no longer ardent ambitions, but laughable vanities. Now, vanity enters as a primitive defining element of an infinite number of loves and fancies. It makes men want to possess stage beauties, and makes women fiercely contend for the most notorious young lions to tame. And since vanity can be defined as "ambition in small things" it is the only ambition of small minds, thus its tyrannical empire was increasingly extended in this era barren of great events, between the so sociable, united, idle, thirsty for intimate romances and for scandalous gossip; with its widespread desire to catch the eye and to make people talk about themselves. Now, I ask, how could immature men, mature women and cats fix the attention and wonder of the frivolous world more effectively than by noisy love affairs?
But this is a mere hypothesis, at least in relation to the cat. On the contrary, I confess that, on beginning the comparison, I had to convince myself of its non-existence because the cat’s philosophical gravity and his absolute indifference to anything that is not of real material interest makes me suppose that his heart is not amenable to the ambitions of misguided self-love. We conclude, therefore, that if he makes all that nocturnal noise it is because he likes and wants to do so, and this at last persuades us that he ignores the rest of the world, that his usual calmness and quietness does not stem from discretion or concern for us, but from his own nature; so much so, that he comes across as crazy during his erotic transports, he turns into the devil, breaks the window to escape, scratches the doors, wails like a madman, obliges you to leap out of bed and into your shirt to let him out the door; fights, gets defeated, and makes the whole district lose sleep. But every inconvenience has its compensations, and it is quite curious and pleasant to hear a little of that nightly fuss up close. For me, I confess that I have a lot of fun, and I pay close attention and let myself go on all sorts of flights of the imagination. Sometimes it seems to me that I am at a musical Opera, performed by the kind of players who are commonly called dogs, but who seem better qualified to be cats. I can distinguish the pleading moans of Desdemona, the wild cries of Othello, the hoarse voice of the Doge. Oh what bewildering pieces, what disharmonious choruses, what jarring false notes that would shame all provincial theaters! But most of the time you seem to witness a small Trojan war, fought for a beautiful four-legged Helen, who, lost and palpitating, expects to become the prey of the most vigorous. Nor is this a fantastical aberration of classical pedantry. Just listen to their words. They are two Trojans who challenge and call the main enemy warriors by name. The one with a slow, suffocated voice, trembling with indignation, shouts: Agamemnon! The other screams desperately: Menelaus! I am convinced that learned philologists would understand all the rest of those angry words with equal ease and certainty.
It is remarkable that the cat never indulges in love unworthy of his blood. Oh, in this he is aristocratic to the last degree, and very strict in the legitimacy of his marriages, unlike the horse, the dog, the man, and other animals. That beast the horse! to see him so large and great and serious one would believe he would have a little judgment. Well, he also has his whims, his marriages by the left hand [see note], and goes on to lose his personal dignity with donkeys, no less, giving rise to that stubborn spawn called a mule. And that creature the dog! by dint of unashamed desire his bastards are improvised in the middle of the streets; he has degenerated into many varieties, some worse than others, that you could no longer deduce his original form. But the cat was always a cat, unvarying from the start of time, and he will remain so until the consummation of the ages. In the uncorrupted and ancient nobility of his blood, he boasts as first cousins the leopard, the panther, the lion king of the forests, and the terrible royal tiger. Indeed, he is a small tiger refined by coexistence and familiarity with man. In short, if you want to know his genealogy, he is precisely a cadet branch of the great and illustrious “Felis”’ family, a slight euphonic [pleasing to the ear] alteration of the ancient family name “Felix,” wisely imposed on them by naturalists to express in one word the peaceful and blessed existence destined for this noble lineage idle and sleepy jokers.
[Note: Marriage of the left hand (morganatic marriage): So-called, because at the nuptial ceremony the husband gives his left hand to the bride, rather than his right hand. It is a marriage in which neither the spouse of lower rank, nor any children, have any claim to the title, possessions or land of the spouse of higher rank. Usually denotes a marriage between a noble and a commoner.]
But, speaking of gentlemanliness, it is necessary for me to dedicate a moment to the special praise of the cat. In almost all classes of animals, the the male boasts of beauty: for lively colouring of feathers, the luxuriousness of hair, the fullness of his shape, or his more luxuriant horns, or noble pride of bearing, and so it goes on. The female loses a lot in comparison. But the tomcat and the she-cat are rare exception, sharing the boast of a very special beauty, so that in the same way she is justifiably called the fair sex, of gentle sex. Could it be possible that mother nature, having provided the cat with such intelligence, deliberately wanted to endow her with the enchantment of such aesthetic beauty, just as with humana? Certainly there is nothing more graceful and pretty than the she-cat. Her coat is as soft as ermine, her head is like velvet, her very flexible and delicate extremities correspond to the famous small hands and famously delicate feet that are found on every page of cheap romantic novels. What can I say about the semblance? She is beautiful, but her placid and serious serenity also give her a combination of awkwardness and show-off. But her face expresses the finest intelligence, the most exquisite sensitivity. The tiniest impressions of smells, of light, or of sounds changes her very mobile physiognomy and bring about one hundred different expressions. She loves caresses, but takes offense under a rough and heavy hand and slips away. She walks so quietly that nobody hears her. Discreet, cautious, light, she walks among the jewellery, the little pictures and the china, without moving anything, without even touching anything. She seems to have been born to live in the most elegant modern studios, full of pot-plants and trinkets and toys that once amused small children and now amuse grown-up children. In short, she has the actions and habits of a little girl, but a little girl of the first order: ultra-sentimental, who never eats, who never leaves the house on foot, and who studies English. Her beauty is as varied as in women, and has something for all tastes: skinny or plump, white or brunette, blonde or multicoloured, with beauty spots so seductive and capricious they appear to be coquetries of the most refined art, but are favours of a privileged nature. And what assistance brings out so many charms? Only natural wonders without the aid of ribbons or bonnets, lace or gold, mirrors or cosmetics, and with just the tongue and a little spittle. What a sublime lesson of simplicity and economics! Meditate on this, you husbands who always have an empty purse due to the incessant bills from the perfumer, merchant, seamstress, milliner and jeweller. The cat becomes beautiful through the medium of the tongue, while many beautiful women with tongues manage to appear ugly.
I too was the owner of a she-cat in the happy days of my youth: oh the memories! what an image of beauty and intelligence. She had a grace, a distinction of manners, a queen's decorum; to be honest, she was the Cleopatra of the cats, indeed the Semiramis of cats, because precisely "libito fé’ licito in sua legge," [she made lust legitimate in her laws] like that ancient Woman of Babylon. It could not be otherwise, due to the great affection that the whole house showed her; her every will was satisfied, every whim admired, and unpunished. Here, however, I do not intend to spin her obituary, although it would be more interesting than many that appear in the periodical press about people so obscure that they urgently need to die so that we learn from the gazettes that they had existed. I just want to entertain you with the tragic catastrophe. . . but let's not rush the events. It was in late September, and the San Michele day move was to take place. There had already been several discussions in the family on how to transport the cat without the risk of losing her in the great commotion. After airing various schemes, it was established that on the morning of the 29th [San Michele day] she would be placed in a basket, taken to a friend's house, and shut it there all day in a room. Then, in the evening they would go to get it and put her in possession of her new home. San Michele day finally arrived, a tremendous day for anyone to take out a new lease and see the failure of the old furniture. As soon as dawn arrived, the apartment was invaded by porters who began their devastating work there. The cat, terrified by such turmoil, disappeared. I got out of bed, I ran through the rooms, I called her, I searched for her on the stairs, in the courtyard, in the cellar, up in the attic, in all the nooks in the house, and I felt that she has taken refuge in the barn. So I got a slice of salami, the maid following with the basket, and when I reached the door of the barn I said "you are here silent and ready like Judith’s servant, when she was waiting to put Holofernes' head in the sack" and I went forward. I saw the cat on the edge of the dormer window, with a look full of concern and suspicion, wagging her tail. And is one of many distinct physiological differences between dog and cat. The dog wags its tail as a sign of friendship and joy, the cat a sign of annoyance and moral agitation. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, men renounce their tails [pony tails], but the very few who have preserved it to this day as a rare monument, merely letting it hang down between their shoulders without even moving it, show heroic proof of contempt for human respect, constancy of the ancient rules of condut, and hatred for every novelty. Oh how different and varied is the eloquence of the tail in different animal species! I invited the cat to come closer, but in vain. I showed her the slice of salami, and didn’t achieve anything. I started calling her by name with the most affectionate endorsements, “poor kitty, poor puss, poor pussy cat, pc pc pc. . .” (1) losing my breath. Then I resolved to go to her, and threw myself swimming in that sea of hay, first putting the slice of salami between my teeth, but it was not long before I lost it among those whirlpools, because a great desire to laugh came over me at thinking how Julius Caesar saved his Commentaries in the same way by swimming. When I arrived at the dormer, in a touching moment of sympathy and confidence the cat lets herself be taken. I held her firmly and close to my chest, and rolled down the hay as best I could, with serious risk of getting my hands and face scratched. I shut the cat in the basket and shouted with satisfaction "the deed is done!" We went straight to the friend’s house, the maid in front with her load, and I far behind, and doing the Indian [see note]. On the street there was a resounding meow, and people stopped, laughed, and ad-libbed various opinions, to the point of saying that a stew would be made of that blasted hare. Once at the destination, the cat is deposited in the assigned room, the room is locked with a key, and off we go. In the evening (listen to this) when the new apartment was put in some order, I returned to bring the kitty back in the same way. I went to the door, strained my ears, called her several times, but I didn't hear the slightest noise. Then I slowly open the door, and I saw - oh what a performance! I saw . . .
[1: With these pc pc pcs I mean that special sound that is commonly made to call cats; sounds that you can’t seem make with any combination of alphabetical letters. But if scholars of philology or zoology believe otherwise, I will defer to their wise judgment with the greatest confidence.]
[Note: “Doing the Indian” = pretending not to be interested in something.]
But here I will come to the point, because you seem to read on people’s faces the accusation of spending time and breath on such trifles. I am sorry because the best of the anecdote is to come, and those who would have liked to hear the ending must remain with their curiosity unsatisfied. Instead, for those who want a sauce of philosophy and morals, we come to a quick review of some of the virtues and habits of the cat with their practical application to human life, and thus we will have accomplished, albeit weakly, the defence of our protagonist.
And no less praiseworthy as a universally known fact is the cat’s instinct of delicacy and exquisite decency with which it usually jealously conceals certain natural miseries from view [i.e. bodily functions]; if men deigned to imitate it in this respect, we would no longer see so much filth on street corners, outside taverns, even alongside churches and close to the most respectable monuments. Considering this nauseous disorder from the aspect of incivility alone, it seems a more marked anachronism each passing day in our cities. Public and private generosity contribute admirably in the competition to make them more beautiful, polite and healthy; we walk on the granite slabs, and see water directed into channels, the ground leveled and the disappearance of puddles. Here a shady walk is opened up, there a crooked street is straightened, elsewhere a narrow and sunless street is widened. Everywhere, almost by magic, rise workshops, houses and mansions; temples of taste and elegance. With so many embellishments of these rich cities being renewed under the eyes of the present generation, strenghtening their patriotic pride, why not also inspire a sense of respect and consideration so as not to disfigure them? Children, and even idiots, almost instinctively respect their festive attire, and try to prevent it being spoiled by stains. Ordinarily it is art that usually spoils the works of nature, but in this case it is actually nature that spoils the art. Dear friends, in this matter at least, which does not touch the bottom of my passions, if you take the cat as a model, my sermon will have been greatly fruitful.
The cat has a mustache, and there is no denying that it is very well imitated by men, perhaps precisely because it is something quite insignificant. But there is no shortage of people, also respectable, who proclaim an invincible dislike for this fashion, and who are capable of wishing to hurt a young man for the sole reason that he lets his sideburns grow. They are wrong. A good pair of mustaches, like any other part of a luxuriant beard, are elements of virile beauty, and it is very innocent to cultivate them and be satisfied with them like any other gift of nature. And if he entertains a little vanity and frivolity, it is still the least of evils. Whoever shows himself hard and intolerant of the most consistent human weaknesses becomes hateful, and his words lose all effectiveness even when he sets himself to fighting real social flaws. What would you say of someone who is supposed to be hunting wolves, but wastes his time catching flies? Are there so few pleasing things that men can choose to do or not do, without feeling remorse or opposition; why be so inconsiderate that we want to further decrease the number of those things? Mustaches do not prevent him from being a flower of a gentleman or a flower of intellignce. So, all of you who are neither professors of education, nor magistrates, nor doctors, nor too devout, nor bound by dependence or convenience to the whims of the third and fourth, let your whiskers grow as you wish or as you can; especially as that martial insignia does not force you to do stunts, or accept duels, or save the threatened homeland. The cat’s mustaches are long and beautiful, but he does not believe himself obliged to affect valour because of them, on the contrary he is wisely cowardly, he hides from danger, he runs away from the dog, and is always prepared to be a coward to save his own skin.
When the cat falls it has the virtue of always landing on its feet. You can establish this with even a small and inexperienced cat: lift it belly up, then let it fall suddenly, even from the height of only four inches. That short space is enough for it to very quickly make a half turn on its axis and land on its feet. On the contrary, we are used to falling ignominiously, and most often headlong, as if the head was the least noble part of a thinking being. But if men are too physically inept to fall on their feet, there are many who are more adept at falling on their feet in the metaphorical and proverbial sense of the concept, for example, in business upsets. I will mention one case out of a thousand. A failed businessman who ran away with sufficient means to be able to live honestly under another sky, left his homeland with these words "reputation, honour, and temper are lost, but they are just ideas; at least I’ve saved myself and my money, which are things." The rascal fell on his feet.
And since we have touched on such virtues, tell me in confidence: do you ever have the intention of imitating the cat’s rapacious claws as well? I warmly advise against it, but if you were really determined to do so, note the very essential fact that its claws are retractable, and usually hidden from sight and even from touch. There is more to it, my dear ones, than letting your nails grow as fashion commands – you will only scratch friends when you shake their hands. Take a look at the cat's paw: it is soft, velvety and soothing. Its claws are there, sharp and strong, but they do not appear until they need to be used. Do you understand? If you do not keep your claws well hidden, you have little to hope of touching greedy clientele, or an agency or administration for funds for your trade. In short, use any opportunity to be a little bit like the cat.
If, however, anyone feels remorse for having let their claws be imprudently seen, don’t be discouraged: every rule has its exceptions. Ordinarily the cat hides his claws, but from time to time it jumps on your knees with admirable ingenuousness to sharpen them on your clothes, and, if we push it away, even in your skin. You can see a bit of the bold provocateur of our tolerance in the spirit of the creature! I challenge Persio and Juvenal to make a more lively satire on the inconsequential and stupid world that often insists on protecting those who brazenly make fun of it. Oh! it would be too bad for rogues if, once known to be rascals, they were forever denied the trust of gentlemen. So, I ask, how can you rip off proteges one after another, only to fail a second or third time; in short, to fish for life in the inexhaustible seas of neglect, credulity and ignorance of others? Therefore, with claws we need prudence, and at the same time courage because, either hidden or exposed, they always serve to make prey.
But lets leave such jokes that could be interpreted sinisterly. The cat has a further quality: when stroking it in the wrong direction it develops electric sparks that can be observed in darkness. So he, so cold in appearance, has a latent fire that is released when rubbed the wrong way. This also happens in humans to those who are too happy and are accustomed to seeing everything go according to their wishes. It is not a great virtue to be pleasant, calm and peaceful among riches, comforts and honours, surrounded by obedience, praise, and respect, always being gently caressed in the right direction. To find out what fire of evil passions smoulder below, just rub them up the wrong way. Instead of smoothing them from head to foot with blatant adulation, try to reorganize them from heart to head with a salient epigram, and then you will see that volcanic eruptions of pride, hatred and vengeance.
I have already noted the cat's habitual silence, an argument for his esteem, his tranquility and independence. Do you see that fool of a dog? He barks at anyone he does not know and at every slight noise; he is indiscreet and in addition to his many other skills, this makes him a doorkeeper, a guardian nd a spy. The cat speaks only out of need, to get an exit opened, out of pain, for erotic transports or for hunger. The virtues of keeping silent would make a valuable treatise. Here we need only mention one phenomenon of the human heart. Between two new people, one of whom speaks a lot and well, and the other stays quiet, the one who impresses us most is the second. Because the first is an open book, he lays out his wares and you know his value, that man is yours. But the taciturn man is a problem to be solved, he provokes your curiosity, you don't know which side he is on or how he will accept your opinions. So you remain in awe of him and he is almost a bogeyman. The fools, who are usually empty and troublesome ide chatterers, how much they would gain by keeping quiet! those of them who, due to their overwhelming numbness of intelligence, demonstrate this negative virtue, end up written off by most respectable people. Silence is the best disguise of ignorance and is often mistaken for wisdom. It is very rare that one must repent for silence, but a word often causes lifelong unhappiness, and many others cost life itself. There are no such dangers for the cat for he is silent for the sole reason that talking unnecessarily is an unnecessary effort. How wise! and therefore how much he deserved and is worthy of his happiness!
Among the many lessons that the cat gives us, I want to remember this one. The proverb “be gracious with everyone and intimate with no-one” could have have been invented by him, so much is his character described by that concept: gracious, sweet, a good companion at the table and even on the couch who often sucks up to you better than a flatterer or freeloader. But at the same time he is indifferent, impassive to everyone, incapable of the slightest sacrifice even for those who pay for it, since even for his master he keeps a good store of scratches, payable on demand in the event of being bothered during a moment of bad mood. Perhaps in the cat, due to an over-abundance of intellectual faculties, there is no longer a place for the heart. It’s a fact that he denies any feelings of true friendship and gratitude, and therefore happily exempts himself from any duty. Unlike all the other beasts, to which man gives nothing for free, the cat demands and obtains everything from us for free, and without being obliged to give any benefit in return. Nor can you raise the objection to me that he keeps the house free of mice; that is an activity he does of his own will for pure amusement, not something commanded or excited in him; he is not threatened if he decides to avoid it. Besides, there are many armchair cats who do not even deal with this matter, which is really a push to the utmost degree on the philosophy of idleness; those rich people who don’t want to do anything at all: not even to travel, or ride, or hunting can barely compare; in short, they live only to pass through their lives.
From making these various observations, it is obvious to infer that the cat is better than us even in vices (he has too much talent not to have them, and not to have perfected them exquisitely). Therefore, since everything must be done well, even evil, I am going to suggest to you that even if you don’t want to imitate any of his virtues because our corrupt nature does not bend to this, at least you should deign to take him as a model in vice; and you will find that will still be a lesser evil. Can one be more discreet and seductive in a question that even has the apparent attraction of immorality? A single example will be enough to justify me. The cat loves to get intoxicated, and avidly gets this pleasure by means of a small weed, the maro, known as cat grass. So whenever he can get it, he tastes a little, and this is enough to enhance his mental state that, having lost all composure, he shakes, jumps, flips, and rolls on the ground. But after a few minutes of such pleasant and harmless drunkenness, that madness ceases, and he returns to his most reasonable and peaceful habits. Now, isn't this a thousand times better than being ravaged by the opium of the Mohammedans, or with the wine of the Christians? Drunkenness in man is full of terrible effects. It dulls the brain, making you lose all desire to work, it ruins health and shortens life. And as for the most immediate consequences, what a pitiable object is the drunkard! He becomes brutally quarrelsome and physical, or his tongue is loose with the most extravagant foolish gossip that it is a joy to listen to it, or, worse still, it reveals the hidden and jealous secrets of his soul to everyone. If any drunkard is listening to me, for your own sake try to get intoxicated in the manner of the cat in future, as he doesn’t suffer so many ills from his intoxication.
Friends, let's conclude. To compress all the admiration due to such a noble animal into a strong and compact formula, one must say "if I were not a man, I would like to be a cat". Nor does it seem that these words are a plagiarism of those other famous ones "if I were not Alexander, I would like to be Diogenes." In that, you can feel the superb and cowardly flatterer in designating himself the premier man on earth, and giving second place to that bad, itinerant, mad philosopher. Hence Alexander would have deserved to truly become Diogenes on pain of such a brazen lie. But our notion is much more reasonable and sincere, and precisely for this reason will not have the good fortune to pass enigmatically into posterity, as happened to that other saying.
Here someone could ask with a philosophical trick “But, must it be the cat, only the cat that we have to look at to be happy! Wouldn't it be better in the age of light to be versatile monkeys, creeping reptiles, deceiving foxes, lethargic marmots, or glorious donkeys?” It’s a serious question, and to answer worthily you would have to compose a great book. For now I will just say that having chosen this time to celebrate the cat, it wisely seemed to me that he was the best model of the art of living, and for the good of humanity I proposed this to you. If I am going to write the biography of some other beast, it is probable that I may change my opinion because, let it be said with due modesty, changing one’s mind is wise. O you, who in love, friendship, literature, morals, and in each and every human thing, who know that times and measures vary, note these words well, which I want to repeat to you in Latin, because they serve you authoritatively in the many times you need to use them. Firmness and immobility are virtues of the mountains, and obstinacy is the worst vice of fools, but good people are changeable: “Sapientis est mutare consilium.” [“It is for the wise person to change his mind.”] I therefore repeat that today I am of the firmest, most impregnable, eternal persuasion that we should be cats; unless we decide at the first opportunity that it is better to be a chameleon or parrot, a donkey or an ox, especially when it comes to being a fat ox or a golden donkey.
INDEX . . . Page (of original pamphlet)
Preface - Pag. 7
Beginning - Page 25
Poor condition of other creatures in comparison with the cat - Pag. 28
Birth, infancy, emancipation of the cat - Pag. 51
The cat as a symbol of freedom - Page 55
The cat’s indifference to any public and private event - Page 57
The real owner of the house - Page 40
Dangers of running on the rooftops, andhow its falls - Pag. 42
Defence of idleness - Pag. 45
The cat's blessed idleness - Page 49
The philosophy of the cat compared to Machiavelli and Talleyrand - Pag. 55
The hunter cat - Page 55
The thief cat - Page 59
The cat in love - Pag. 64
The she-cat - Page 71
My cat and San Michele day - Pag. 72
Moral applications - Page 76