THE CAT, PAST AND PRESENT
FROM THE FRENCH OF M. CHAMPFLEURY
WITH SUPPLEMENTARY NOTES BY
MRS. CASHEL HOEY
AND NUMEROUS ILLUSTRATIONS
(GEORGE BELL AND SONS, YORK STREET, COVENT GARDEN, 1885)
A FEW WORDS TO THE READER
You either love Cats, or you do not love them. In the former case, it will give you pleasure, such as only the friends of “the harmless necessary cat” can appreciate, to peruse a panegyric upon it full of knowledge, humour, and enthusiasm, by the celebrated writer, M. Champfleury. In the latter case, the persuasion of a man of genius, and his fine handling of his subject, may induce you to recognize the beauty, the intelligence, the wonderful variety of character, the surprising ways, and the fascinating qualities of an animal whose organization, the most eminent naturalists tell us, is a singularly perfect one, and whose worth as a household friend and companion has never before been set forth with so much zeal according to knowledge.
While I have been engaged in the pleasant task of translating this work, I have often longed to be able to impart the nature of my occupation to the home circle - to the cats, in fact, to whom we belong - and to take their opinion upon it. It would be very interesting to get at their views of the speculations in which M. Champfleury indulges, and to discover how far they would go with, him in his estimate of their own relations with the human race.
When we deal with the wonderful creatures of the animal world, almost as mysterious to us as those of the spiritual world, it must always be the old story of the Lion painted by the Man. In this particular instance at least, the Cat, could it assume the character of critic, would have no cause to complain of the Artist.
FRANCES CASHEL HOEY.
Illustration: After a watercolour by Mind, known as the Raphael of cats.
To my friend Jules Troubat.
It may seem strange that long studies are devoted to a simple individual, to the cat who, though summarizing some of the faculties of the feline race, cannot give a complete idea of the larger members of the species, but its sedentary habits allow the office worker to study it at any moment without interrupting his work. The cat has passed among the writers of the alchemists’ workshops where it is part of their modest interior, and it offers this peculiarity with the men of letters: it has almost as many detractors as if the cat itself was writing.
Like all creatures that the beings that provoke caresses, that give and receive them like women, if the cat is well-loved by some, it has not been forgiven by others, especially by metaphysicians. Many would admit, with Father Bougeant, in his entertaining little book of “Philosophical Musings on the Language of Beasts,” that "the beasts are nothing but devils," and that at the head of these devils walks the cat.
Descartes considers every animal an automaton. To combat this assertion, one would have to deploy a great deal of metaphysical paraphernalia, which I do not feel I have. I prefer other kinds of intellect: Aristotle, Pliny, Plutarch, Montaigne, who base their doubts on fact , proved by reason and observation.
Naturalists, those on whom it is convenient to rely, believe in animal intelligence, starting with the father of natural history. "The whole of animal life," says Aristotle, "gives several actions that imitate human life. This accuracy, which is the fruit of reflection, is even more apparent in small animals than in large ones. "This is a long way from the automata of Descartes.
With Montaigne one has an embarrassment of choice. His Essays are the richest arsenal in favour of the intelligence of animals. On almost every page, Montaigne enjoys rebutting man's cackle. "It is out of vanity," he says, "that man considers himself different, and separates himself from other animals, cutting himself away from his animal colleagues and companions, and giving himself that portion of faculties and forces that seems appropriate to him." Man’s animal brethren, according to this sceptic, has passed so much boldness under the cover of good-nature.
Montaigne grants the faculty of caution to bees, of judgment to birds; to him, the spider that spins his web deliberates, thinks and decides. This prudence, this judgment, this deliberation, these thoughts and these decisions, would provoke volumes of controversy demand of the metaphysicians who know little of animal.
These dreamers, who look neither at the sky nor the stars, have rarely been troubled by this thought: what does the thinking animal think? Fortunately, there are meditative and observant minds, independently eager, who, struck by the independence of certain animals, communicate directly with them, study their behaviour, amass facts unknown to those naturalists that remain shut in laboratories, and arrive at audacious conclusions, for which they are pardoned because of their character, their life, their science, and their virtues.
We can’t deny the scientific authority of Audubon, the naturalist, living in the forests of America, who surrounds his life with nature’s scenes. A positive spirit, who discusses his recollections of nature eloquently, served by an active, intelligent brain, all of Audubon’s words are bear the hallmark of truth; his accounts are so faithful that you can believe them. This American naturalist is of Franklin’s ilk, a moralist, an enlightened believer. And yet this elevated spirit has arrived at the idea that animals can have the sense of Divinity.
Studying two crows flitting freely through the air, this is what Audubon says: "I wish I could render the variety of musical inflections with which crows converse with each other during their tender journeys. I don’t doubt that sounds express the purity of their conjugal attachment, as it continues, strengthened, by long years of happiness tasted in each other’s company. Thus they recall the sweet memories of their youth; they recount the events of their life; they depict shared pleasures, and perhaps they finish with a humble prayer to the Author of their being , that he deigns to continue them yet.” [Audubon, Scenes of Nature in the United States . Voll II, Paris, 1837.]
I won’t dwell on what might appear paradoxical to anyone other than that great American naturalist. That is enough on the intelligence of animals. I will come back to the cats and it just remains for me to say how, having lived with cats since my childhood, the idea came to me from those studies.
One of the things which surprised me most in the revelations which the revolution of 1848 brought about was that fifty thousand francs had been granted to the author of the “Anatomy of Cats” on the secret funds of the Ministry of the Interior.
It isn’t surprising that there are politicians who break their oaths and betray their former masters. Their baseness is paid for with money, their disgrace with honours, and it has always been that way; but finding a writer awarded fifty thousand francs for occupying himself with cats in the pay of the ministers, astonished me when I browsed the lists of the terrible retrospective Review (audit).
The happy mortal favoured so liberally by the government of Louis-Philippe was Strauss-Durckheim . He is now dead, and I must say that he was a German of true knowledge, who, after having spent his life in study and retirement, produced in exchange for fifty thousand francs, works in which the cat is treated as a king of creation. [The Theology of Nature, by Strauss-Durckheim. 3 vol. 1852 (among other works)]. His Cat's Monograph, in particular, is supported by plates where the muscles, nerves, and skeleton of the animal are shown with care.
What the learned Doctor has done for anatomy, I will try to do for the story of feline ways, but it is from the public that request a subsidy, and if the he doesn’t underwrite my study with fifty thousand francs, then the funds raised by the publications and sale of this book to readers won’t appear on any retrospective Review .
I. The Cat in Ancient Egypt
II. Cats in Eastern Lands
III. The Cat in Greece and Rome
IV. The Cat in Popular Tradition
V. The Cat in Heraldry, and on Signs
VI. The Enemies of the Cat in the Middle Ages
VII. Utilitarian Enemies of the Cat
VIII. Addressed to Utilitarians
IX. The Enemies of the Cat - Sportsmen
X. Advice to Sportsmen
XI. The Feline Race in Statistics
XII. Cats in Court
Mil. The Friends of Cats
XIV. Concerning some Clever People who took Pleasure in the Society of Cats
XV. Painters of Cats
PART IIXVI. Is the Cat a Domestic Animal?
XXI. Five o’Clock in the Morning
XXII. The Infancy of the Cat
XXIII. Play to the Cat, Death to the Mouse
XXIV. Family Feeling
XXVI. Cats Sketched from Nature
XXVII. Local Attachment to the Cat
XXVIII. Country Cats
XXIX. Out for a Walk
XXX. A Polite Discussion among certain Distinguished Personages on the Subject of Cats and Dogs
XXXI. Cats in Love
XXXII. Nervous Affections of the Cat
XXXIII. The Egotism of Cats
I. The Cat in Ancient Times and among the Hebrews
II. Etymology of the word Cat
III. A Wild Cat
IV. Cat Music
V. Cats and Religion
VI. Louis XIII. and Cats
VII. The Japanese Painter Fo-Kou-Say
VIII. Doges and their Cats
IX. The Cats of M. de la Fontaine
X. Gottfried Mind, the Raphael of Cats
XI. Cats in China
XIII. Burbank the Painter
XIV. Cat-Language, by the Abbé Galiani
XV. The Cat’s Bóle in Architecture
SUPPLEMENTARY NOTES BY THE TRANSLATOR.
II. On the Persian Puss
III. A Four-Footed Friend
THE CAT, PAST AND PRESENT.
Chapter I. THE CAT IN ANCIENT EGYPT.
A naturalist, on examining a collection of Egyptian monuments, and observing that cats abound in them, either in the condition of mummies, or represented in bronze, is led to ask, how was the cat introduced into the country of the Pharaohs? The actual condition of our knowledge does not enable us to solve that problem. Egyptologists have not found any representation of the cat upon buildings contemporaneous with the pyramids. The cat appears to have been acclimatized at the same time with the horse, at the beginning of the new empire. (About 1668 B.C.)
The most ancient version of the Ritual of the Dead of which we have any knowledge, goes no farther back. At that epoch we find the cat represented in mural paintings, sitting under the arm-chair of the mistress of the house; a position also occupied by monkeys and dogs.
The rarity and the utility of the cat probably led to its admission to the ranks of sacred animals, with a view to its systematic propagation. Its utility is attested by paintings representing sporting scenes in the marshy valley of the Nile, where cats plunge into the water to retrieve and carry the game. The Egyptians, when pursuing game in the marshes, used light boats, and were attended by their families, their servants, and their animals. Among the latter cats are frequently represented.
[Footnote. The Egyptians were wonderfully skilled in training animals. At the present day in country places, a starving cat may perhaps be seen to dip its paw cautiously into a pond and catch a little fish as it darts by; but th race has entirely lost its ancestral faculty of fishing, and if a cat were to retrieve a wild duck shot in a marsh, and carry it to the sportsman, the feat would be regarded as miraculous.]
On a tomb at Thebes there is a painting of a sporting scene, in which a cat points, like a dog, by the side of his master, who stands up in a boat, and is about to throw the bent stick, like an Australian boomerang, called a schbot. Another painting, also taken from a tomb in Thebes, and which is now in the British Museum, is described in Wilkinson’s “Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians,” as follows:- “A favourite cat sometimes accompanied the Egyptian sportsmen on these occasions, and the artist intends to show us, by the exactness with which he represents the animal seizing the game, that cats were trained to hunt and carry the water-fowl.”
M. Mérimée has been good enough to make a drawing for me from this fragment of painting. The cat carries the birds to his master, who is waiting for them in a boat. Pictures of this kind, in which cats figure, belong to the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasties. (About 1638, and 1440 B.C.) One of the most ancient representations of the cat is to be found in the Necropolis of Thebes, which contains the tomb of Hana. On the stela is the statue of the King, standing erect, with his cat, Bouhaki, between his feet.
[Footnote. King Hana seems to have belonged to the eleventh dynasty. At any rate, he is earlier than Rameses VII., of the twentieth, who had his tomb explored.]
We constantly find, in the centre of the small Egyptian images in bronze or enamelled earthenware in our museums, a crouching cat, with the symbolic eye, an emblem of the sun, engraved upon its collar. King Hana’s cat wears golden ornaments suspended from its pierced ears.
The cat is also represented on certain medals of the noma of Bubastis, where the goddess Bast (the Bubastis of the Greeks), was held in special reverence. That goddess (a secondary form of Pasht), is usually depicted with a cat’s head, and holding the sistrum, the symbol of the harmony of creation. Those cats to whom sacred honours had been paid in the temple of Pasht during their lifetime, as the living image of that goddess, were embalmed after their death, and buried with great ceremony.
Several funeral statues of women bear the inscription TECHAU, the cat, in token of the patronage of the goddess Bast. Frenchmen occasionally call their wives “ma chatte,” but they probably attach no hieratic association to that term of endearment.
Some cat-mummies, found in wooden coffins at Bubastis, Speos, Artemidos,Thebes, and elsewhere, have painted faces. These curious mummies, all long and thin, look like bottles of rare wine done up in plaited straw. The cat in the accompanying drawing was an alert creature, doubtless, and much revered; the wrappings and the unguents are eovidence of that.
The symbolism of the cat still remains shrouded in mystery, although it has been treated of by both Horapollo and Plutarch, for the legends related by these historians are contradictory. According to Horapollo, the cat was worshipped in the temple of Heliopolis, sacred to the sun, because the size of the pupil of the animal s eye is regulated by the height of the sun above the horizon. Thus the cat’s eye symbolises the marvellous orb of day.
Plutarch states, in his treatise on “Isis and Osiris,” that the image of a female cat was placed at the top of the sistrum as an emblem of the moon. “This,” says Amyot, “was on account of the variety of her fur, and because she is astir at night; and, furthermore, because she bears firstly one kitten at a birth, and at the second, two, at the third, three, and then four, and then five, until the seventh time, so that she bears in all twenty-eight, as many as the moon has days. Now this, perchance, is fabulous, but ‘tis most true that her eyes do enlarge and grow full at the full moon, and that, on the contrary, they contract and diminish at the decline of the same.”
So that, while Horapollo discerns a mysterious analogy between the pupil of the cat’s eye and the sun, Plutarch assigns that relation to the moon.
Modern science, leaving it to necromancy to define the influence of the stars on animals, has explained these phenomena of vision by optics. The varying number of kittens produced at successive births, of which Plutarch speaks, may also be classed among the fables of the classic naturalists. Nor is Herodotus more veracious when he makes the following statement:-
“If a fire occurs, cats are subject to supernatural impulses; and, while the Egyptians, ranged in lines with gaps between them, are much more solicitous to save their cats than to extinguish the fire, those animals slip through the empty spaces, spring over the men’s shoulders, and fling themselves into the flames. When such accidents happen, profound grief falls upon the Egyptians. When, in any house, a cat dies a natural death, the inmates shave the eyebrows only; but if a dog dies, they shave their heads and their bodies.”
The fact of the cats throwing themselves into the flames is one which requires confirmation. I prefer to give credit to the statement, also made by an ancient, that the Egyptians gave each female cat a suitable husband at the proper age, paying great attention to harmony of taste, temper, and personal appearance, between the high contracting parties.
The Case of a Cat-Mummy in the Museum of the Louvre.
By what name was the cat known to the Egyptians? The antique rituals in the Louvre give the name as Mau, Mai, Maau; some Egyptologists have read Chaou on certain monuments. I am informed by a friend who is very erudite in such matters, that the correct reading is Maou. This forms one of those onomatopes [words that sound like the things they represent] which so frequently occur in all primitive languages.
With due respect to the Egyptologists, I take leave to express my conviction that the translation of certain hieroglyphs is beyond them, and that their cabalistic language will in all probability remain for ever the cere-clothed mummy it now is.
CHAPTER II. CATS IN EASTERN LANDS.
A distinguished Egyptologist, M. Prisse d’Avennes, has collected important material for a history of Art in many countries, whose manners and customs he has closely observed, and he has furnished me with the following facts concerning the domestication of the cat in modern Egypt:-
“The Sultan, El-Daher-Beybars, who reigned in Egypt and in Syria towards 658 of the Hegira (a.d. 1260), and is compared by William of Tripoli to Nero in wickedness and to Caesar in bravery, had also a particular affection for cats. At his death he left a garden, called Gheyt-el-Quottah (the cat’s orchard), which was situated near his mosque outside Cairo, for the support of necessitous and masterless cats.
Subsequently the field was sold by the administrator, under the pretext that it was unproductive, and resold several times over by the purchasers. In consequence of a succession of dilapidations, it now produces only a nominal rentof fifteen piastres per annum, which, with some other legacies of the same kind, is appropriated to the maintenance of cats. The Kadi, who is the official administrator of all pious and charitable bequests, ordains that at the ‘Asi,’ or hour of afternoon prayer, between noon and sunset, a daily distribution of a certain quantity of the entrails of animals, and refuse meat from the butchers’ stalls, all chopped up together, shall be made to the cats of the neighbourhood. This takes place in the outer court of the Mehkémeh, or tribunal, and a curious spectacle may be witnessed on the occasion. At the usual hour, all the terraces in the vicinity of the Mehkémeh are crowded with cats; they come jumping from house to house across the narrow streets of Cairo, in haste to secure their share; they slide down the walls, and glide into the court, where, with astonishing tenacity and much growling, they dispute the scanty morsels of a meal sadly out of proportion to the number of the guests. The old hands clear the food off in a moment; the youngsters and the new-comers, too timid to fight for their chance, are reduced to the humble expedient of licking the ground. Anybody who wants to get rid of a cat, takes it there, and loses it in the midst of the confusion of this strange feast. I have seen basketsful of kittens deposited in the court, to the great annoyance of the neighbours.”
Similar customs exist in Italy and Switzerland. In Florence there is a cloister, situated near the church of St. Lorenzo, which serves, I am told, as a house of refuge for cats. Any person who is either unable or unwilling to keep his cat may take it to this establishment, where the animal is fed and kindly treated. Also, any person who wants a cat, may go there and select one; there are specimens of every kind and of all colours. This is one of the curious institutions bequeathed by the past to the city of Florence.
At Geneva, cats prowl about the streets like dogs at Constantinople. They are respected by the people, who charge themselves with the maintenance of these free animals. Every day, at the same hour, the cats come and take np their positions at the house doors, where their food is served to them.
In Rome, too, at a certain hour, butchers’ men go through the city, laden with meat for the cats. They utter a peculiar cry, and the animals come out of their houses to receive their allowance, for which their owners pay a fixed sum monthly. I must now return to Egypt, and the narrative of M. Prisse d’Avennes:-
“Cats in Egypt are much more sociable and attached than cats in Europe; probably because they are much better cared for, and treated with such affection that they are permitted to eat out of the same dish with their masters. The Arabs have other motives for respecting cats, and sparing their lives. It is a general belief that Djinns assume the form of the cat, and haunt houses. Stories, as extravagant as any of those in the ‘Arabian Nights,’ are told in support of this superstition. The inhabitants of the Thebaid are even more credulous, and their imagination lends, unknown to themselves, a poetic form to the lethargic slumber of catalepsy. They hold that, when a woman gives birth to twins, boys or girls, the latest born (whom they call baracy) experiences for a certain period - in some instances throughout his whole life - an irresistible longing for certain kinds of food, and that, the individual frequently assumes the shape of various animals, and in particular that of the cat, in order to gratify this desire. During this transmigration of the soul into another body, the human being remains inanimate, like a corpse; but so soon as the soul has satisfied its appetite, it returns, and restores life to its habitual form. On one occasion I killed a cat which had committed sundry depredations in my kitchen at Luxor. A druggist in the neighbourhood came to me in a great fright, entreated me to spare all animals of that species, and informed me that his daughter, who had the misfortune to be baracy, frequently took the shape of a cat, that she might eat the sweetmeats served at my table.
“Women condemned to death for adultery are thrown into the Nile, sewn up in a sack with a female cat. This refinement of cruelty is perhaps due to the oriental idea that of all female animals the cat bears the closest resemblance to womankind, in her suppleness, her slyness, her coaxing ways, and her inconstancy.”
CHAPTER III. THE CAT IN GREECE AND ROME.
It is singular that the cat, an object of worship to the Egyptians, from whom it received a positive cultus, was entirely neglected by the Greeks and Romans. Although Egyptian artists had not failed to discern the fine outlines through the soft coat of the animal, it was natural that the cat should not have been represented by Greek sculptors, for they worked exclusively on grand lines. It is, however, difficult to understand why the Romans, who took pleasure in depicting domestic scenes as well as imposing objects, should have tailed to represent the cat.
In Rome and Athens that animal seems to have been neglected in proportion to its popularity in Egypt; for it is mentioned only by poets who wrote in the decline of either empire. Bearing in mind, therefore, the wide interval between the representations of the cat upon the Egyptian monuments and those upon the buildings of the Lower Empire, I shall act as prudentiy as Wilkinson did when he demurred to the identity of domestic animals like our own cats with the feline creatures that plunged into the water to retrieve from the birds wounded by the Egyptian schbot. Modern naturalists at first believed the mummied Egyptian cat to be the same as our domestic pussy, but they afterwards recognized special variations between the species.
The cat by which the Egyptians were attended on their sporting excursions, seems to have been a sort of cheetah; its coat resembles that of the hunting leopard.
The Greeks and Romans did not care to admit beasts into their houses, which, however useful for hunting purposes, were too wild for the domestic circle. And yet, in the dialogue of the Syracusans, Theocritus makes the mistress of a slave scold her in the following terms:-
“Ennoa, bring water! ” cries Prassinoé. “ How slow she is! The cat wants to lie down and rest softly. Bestir thyself, then. Quick with the water, here! Etc., etc.”
[Footnote: Learned philologists, to whom Theocritus is a religion, bid me state that this should be read, “it is the business of cats (or, it is for cats) to sleep softly.”]
Theocritus, by comparing a lazy slave to a cat, conveys to us an idea of the animal such as it has come down to our time. The domestic cat was already a sufficiently familiar object of the life of the period to be introduced into the poet’s dialogue as a visible image.
We find no traces, properly speaking, of any domestic cat, except in this charming Syracusan dialogue, between the Egyptian artists of the eighteenth dynasty (1638 years B.C.) who adorned tombs with representations of cats, and the poet Theocritus, who was born 260 years before the Christian era.
Without venturing on hazardous hypotheses, we may conclude that the acclimatization of the cat, disdained by Athens and by Rome, was accomplished by chance in the Lower Empire. A couple of Egyptian cats were probably carried away as curiosities, just as our African officers brought home lion-cubs after the conquest of Algiers, and reared them; then, no doubt, a slow domestication and deterioration of the cat took place, through the loss of its liberty. It was, however, considered useful for the destructions of rats, and although disregarded by the poets, the effigy of the animal was preserved by artists in mosaic.
The petty poets of the “Decline and Fall” despise the cat, mention its defects only, and strongly denounce its voracity.
Agathias, a writer of epigrams in the time of the Lower Empire, and a lawyer or scholasticus at Constantinople, who lived from 527 to 565, under the reign of Justinian, has left two funereal epigrams, in which the cat cuts a sorry figure:-
“O my partridge! Poor exile from the rocks and the heath, thy little willow-house possesses thee no longer! At the rising of the rosy dawn no more dost thou rustle thy wings in its warmth. A cat has torn off thy head. I seized the rest of thy body, and he was unable to appease his odious voracity with that. Let the earth not lie lightly on thee, but cover thy remains weightily, so that thine enemy may not disinter them.”
Thus does Agathias give rhythmical vent to his grief, and then, having shed his tears, the poet meditates his vengeance. This is the second epigram:-
“The domestic cat which has eaten my partridge flatters himself that he is still to live under my roof. No, dear partridge, I will not leave thee unavenged, but on thy grave will I slay thy murderer. For thy shade, which roams tormented, cannot be quieted until I shall have done that which Pyrrhus did upon the grave of Achilles.”
So, for having eaten a partridge - and not even that, for he was done out of the body - the unfortunate cat was to be sacrificed to its manes.
Damocharis, a disciple of Agathias, whom his contemporaries called “the sacred pillar of grammar,” was touched by the grief of his master, and, being anxious to prove his sympathy, heaped fresh invectives on this same cat:-
“Detestable cat, rival of homicidal dogs, thou art one of Actaeon’s hounds. In eating the pet partridge of thy master, Agathias, it was thy master himself thou wast devouring. And thou, base cat, thinkest only of partridges, while the mice play, regaling themselves upon the dainty food that thou disdainest.”
The exaggeration of these invectives leads to a suspicion that Damocharis was making fun of his master. Here is a pretty pother all about a partridge! And the comparison with those homicidal dogs, Actaeon’s hounds, is surely sarcastic.
However, let the motive of Damocharis have been what it may, it is clear from these few fragments of the Lower Empire, that, in its days, cats had declined far indeed from the worship formerly paid to them in Egypt.
I have gone through more than one museum of antiquities, examined a great number of publications, and questioned divers archaeologists, but I cannot discover that the cat is represented upon any vase, medallion, or fresco. In the Cabinet of Gems there is an engraved cornelian representing a sceptre and an ear of corn divided by the inscription:-
LVCCONIAE FELICVLAE “The inscription upon the seal,” writes M. Chabouillet, in his catalogue “gives us the names of its owner, a woman named Lucconia Felicula. Felicula signifies ‘Little Cat.’
The carving indicates a debased period in art.” This is the only monument to the cat to be found in our museums of the epoch of the Decline and Fall. [Footnote: Caylus says that the sceptre represents a tiring or head pin, and this is also the opinion of the present Director of the Cabinet of Gems.]
In the provinces and throughout Italy, more numerous proofs of the acclimatization of the cat are to be found. At Orange, Millin saw a mosaic representing a cat in the act of catching a mouse, but the portion that formed the cat had been destroyed. [Footnote: Voyage dans la Midi de la France,” vol ii, p. 153.]
The Pompeian mosaic is more significant; the cat devouring a bird may serve as an illustration of the epigrams of the Antholologia, which are of about the same period. [Footnote: According to Pliny, mosaic art dates from the reign of Sysla, nearly one hundred years prior to the Christian era.]
In the Museum of Antiquities at Bordeaux there is a representation of a young girl holding a cat in her arms on a tomb of the Gallo-Roman epoch. At her feet is a cock. At that time their playthings, and the domestic animals among whom they had lived, were buried with the bodies of children. Unfortunately the principal portion of this precious monument of the fourth century, the cat, which particularly interests us, has been so much injured that only the vague form of the animal remains. [Footnote: On the left side of the head are the following letters:- D M LAFIVS PAT. The other side of the niche is destroyed, so that the name of the young girl is unknown; the father’s name seems to have been Lapitus or Lafitus.]
Ancient authors of works on heraldry also give us some information derived from Latin authors. According to Palliot, the Romans frequently blazoned the cat upon their shields and targets. [Footnote: “La Vraye et parfaicte science des armoiries,” Paris, MDCLXIV.]
“The company of soldiers, Ordines Augustei, who marched under the command of the Colonel of Infantry, sub Magistro peditum, bore on their ‘white’ or ‘silver’ shield, a cat of the colour of the mineral prase, which is sinople, or sea-green. The cat is ‘courant,’ and turns its head over its back. Another company of the same regiment, called ‘the happy Old Men’ (Felices seniores) carried a demi-cat, red, on a buckler gules; in parma punica diluciore, with its paws up, as if playing with someone. Under the same chief, a third cat passant, gules, with one eye and one ear, was carried by the soldiers qui Alpini vocabantur.”
Examples of a similar kind might no doubt be multiplied by examining ancient works on heraldry, but these will be sufficient to satisfy ordinary curiosity on this point.
CHAPTER IV. THE CAT IN POPULAR TRADITION.
IT is curious to contrast the invectives against the cat, of the poets of the Decline of the Lower Empire, with some of our own popular village poetry. The cat is the nurse’s favourite animal, and the first living creature whose utterance strikes the ear of infancy. The cat is associated with melodies of peculiar rhythmical form; a simple little drama in which the cat plays its part is used to amuse the child and to lull it to rest. A baby falls asleep with a fantastic image of the cat impressed upon its brain.
French popular poets, having observed this, introduced the animal into their verses. A remarkable instance is furnished by the Song of the Cat and the Mice, which is common throughout Poitou. A party of mice having gone to enjoy themselves at a ball and a play:-
Le chat sauta sur les souris,
II les croqua toute la nuit.
Coco des moustaches, mirlo joli,
[The cat jumped on the mice,
He crunched them all night.
Coco of the mustaches, mirlo pretty,
The cat and the mice are so conveyed to the child by the rhymes that the song is never forgotten.
In the lessons in natural history which nurses give their nurslings, the cat figures with wolves and lions, and the animal belongs to the class of moving objects that vibrate like bells in the sensitive brain of children. The important part played by the cat in the impressions of early childhood is easily explained by its presence in even the poorest household, its marked outline, constantly before the children’s eyes, and its one only utterance, which is easy to imitate and retain in the memory.
Weo might fill a volume with nursery rhymes about cats. What French child has not heard the nursery alphabet:-
A, B, C,
Le chat est allé
Dans la neige; en retournant
Il avait les souliers tous blancs.
[A, B, C, The cat has gone in the snow and come back with white shoes.]
In collection of popular songs of the Western Provinces of France, made by Jerome Bugeaud, we find a verse which is a picture of the animal as well. Here it is:-
Le chat à Jeannette
Est une jolie bète.
Quand il vent se faire beau,
Il se léche le museau;
Avecque sa salive
Il fait la lessive.
[Jeannette’s cat is a pretty animal.
When he makes himself beautiful,
He licks his muzzle with his spittle
And does his laundry.]
cats and mice are habitually brought together by poets and painters for the instruction of children, who, although they cannot reason upon the antagonism between the two kinds of animals, are thus taught to observe the strife between strength and weakness.
Among the memories of my childhood, I recall with perfect distinctness a very old picture, used as a chimney-board, which represented a dozen cats of every kind and colour, fat, thin, black, white, Angoras and gutter-toms, all collected in front of a music-stand. On the desk lay open, in oblong form, the venerable “Solfège d’ltalie.” The notes were represented by little rats, which perfectly rendered the black and white; their tails accurately indicating the quavers and semiquavers. In front of his companions stood a handsome cat, beating time with all the dignity that befits the conductor of an orchestra; his paw, placed upon the music-book, seemed to scratch the rodents imprisoned between the staves with a spiteful pleasure. Breughel and Teniers have both repeated this conceit.
The minds of children were thus filled with stories concerning the cat, and the people preserved the tradition of its cultus. On this foundation a great number of storytellers, as well as our own Perrault, built. From Norwegian, German, and English sources come Puss in Boots, Master Peter and his Cat, Whittington and his Cat, etc. All these stories are derived from popular traditions, which would furnish me with ever so many pages; I shall, however, content myself with one truly fantastic passage from the “Memoirs” of Chateaubriand:-
“The people were firmly persuaded that a certain Count Combourg, who had a wooden leg and had been dead three hundred years, appeared at certain periods, and that he had been met on the tower stairs. His wooden leg was also in the habit of walking about, attended by a black cat.”
Here was a story told to a child by a servant. The child was destined to grow up, to fight the battle of life, to be called to the exercise of lofty functions, to become an illustrious person, and one day, when the great man should be musing over his triumphs, his conflicts, his loves, and his political fortunes, the black cat, accompanied by a wooden leg, and gravely walking up the tower stairs, was to start up among the images of the past.
A recollection of childhood is dearer to the high-minded and the gentle-hearted than titles and honours. Under the layers of learning piled up in the brain of great workers and thinkers, there lies, safely stowed away, a nursery song, - for it is characteristic of fine intelligences to remain children in one little nook of their being, and to preserve the impressions of childhood in maturity. This explains why so many eminent men have retained a great love of cats.
CHAPTER V. THE CAT IN HERALDRY, AND ON SIGNS.
The cat, as a strange and eccentric animal, would naturally be included in the heraldic fable-book, which was formed, not only of noble beasts with a definite significance, but also of chimerical creatures whose representation was strongly attractive to the popular fancy. Vulson de la Colombière, a learned heraldic scholar, who gives some cat coats-of-arms in his “Livre de la science heroique," says:-
“As the lion is a solitary animal, so the cat is a moon-struck beast. Its eyes, clear-visioned and glittering in the darkest nights, wax and wane in imitation of the moon; for as the moon, according as she shares in the light of the sun, changes her face every day, so is the cat moved by a similar affection towards the moon, its pupil waxing and waning at the times when that heavenly body is crescent or in its decline. Several naturalists assert that when the moon is at its full, cats have more strength and cunning to make war upon mice than when it is weak.”
I prefer to this interpretation that of Pierre Palliot, another commentator upon heraldry, who concocted the following fantastic legend from the antagonism between the sun and the moon:-
“The cat is more harmful than useful, its caresses are more to be dreaded than desired, and its bite is fatal. The cause of the pleasure that it gives us is strange and entertaining. At the moment of the creation of the world, says the fable, the Sun and the Moon emulated each other in peopling the earth with animals. The Sun, great, fiery, and luminous, formed the lion, beautiful, sanguinary, and generous. The Moon, seeing the other gods in admiration before this noble work, caused a cat to come forth from the earth, but one as disproportionate to the lion in beauty and courage as she (the Moon) is to her brother (the Sun). This contention gave rise to derision, and also to indignation; to derision on the part of the spectators, to indignation on the part of the Sun, who, being angry that the Moon should have attempted to match herself with him,
Créa par forme de mépris
En mème temps un souris.
[Showed his contempt by creating a mouse.]
As, however, ‘the sex’ never surrenders, the Moon made herself still more ridiculous by producing the most absurd of all animals, the monkey. This creature was received by the company of stars with a burst of immoderate laughter. A flame spread itself over the face of the Moon, even as when she threatens us with a tempest of great winds, and by a last effort, in order to be eternally revenged upon the Sun, she set undying enmity between the monkey and the cat, and between the cat and the mouse. Hence comes the sole advantage which we derive from the cat.” [Palliot, previously quoted.]
The origin of the cat as a symbol of independence is of remote antiquity. In the Temple of Liberty which Rome owed to Tiberius Gracchus, the goddess was represented arrayed in white; in one hand was a sceptre, in the other a cap; at her feet was a cat, the emblem of liberty. The Vandals and the Suevi carried a cat sable upon their armorial bearings, among the Greeks and Romans.
Those peoples who love legends took pleasure in seeing these fantastic creatures upon the banners of their lords. The ancient Burgundians had a cat in their arms, and; according to Palliot, “Clotilde, a Burgundian, the wife of King Clovis, carried a cat sable killing a rat of the same.” The Katzen family bore on azure a cat argent holding a mouse. The Chetaldie family, in the Limoges country, bore on azure two cats argent. The Neapolitan noble house of Della Gatta bore on azure a cat argent with a label gules in chief. The Chaffardon family bore on azure three cats or, two full face in chief. Many other instances are to be found among the coats-of-arms of European families. [See Champfleury’s “Histoire des faiences patriotiques sous la Revolution.” Paris, Dentu, 1867.]
From the Middle Ages down to modem times we find the cat repeatedly used as the symbol of independence. Thus I account for the “mark” of the firm of Sessa, printers at Venice in the sixteenth century. On the last page of most of their books we find the representation of a cat surrounded by curious ornamentation. Printing was light, and light was enfranchisement. Thus the sixteenth century understood it. How many great minds were persecuted on account of the new invention; how many stakes were lighted by the torch which those free-thinkers held aloft! Italy especially, the country that supplied so many martyrs, did not use the “mark” of the cat without a meaning.
From the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, I find but few traces of the cat used as a symbol of independence. Hagiographers always depict Saint Ives, the patron of lawyers, accompanied by a cat, and for this reason Henri Estienne represents the cat as the symbol of the officials of justice. The French Republic resumed heraldic possession of the cat, and added it to its glorious shield of arms. Over and over again the symbolical figure of Liberty was represented holding a broken chain, and a pike surmounted by a cap; by its side were a horn of plenty, a cat, and a bird escaping, with a string on its foot.
Prudhon, the gentle republican painter, the only artist who gave a mild and tender character to allegorical national faces, has left us a curious symbol of the Constitution. Wisdom, represented by Minerva, is associated with the Law and with Liberty; behind the Law come children, leading a lion and a lamb leashed together. Liberty holds a pike surmounted by the Phrygian cap, and at her feet sits a cat.
With the Republic the reign of the cat comes to an end; nor had it, indeed, implanted itself very deeply in revolutionary heraldry. The pike, the fasces, and the cap of liberty spoke more eloquently than animals to the hearts of the people. It must be admitted that, at this period, the cat was sometimes presented in an unfavourable light; no longer as the symbol of independence, but as that of perfidy. The frontispiece of a vile book, “Les Crimes des Papes,” shows us a cat seated at the feet of a prelate, as an emblem of hypocrisy and treachery.
Our forefathers regarded the cat rather as a singular animal than as one to be loved. This is proved by its frequent appearance upon the signs over shops, with curious legends attached to it, as for instance La Maison du chat qui pelote (literally, “the cat which rolls itself up”), and it evidently engaged the shopkeeping imagination a good deal. I do not allude to shoemakers only, they would of course have Puss in Boots painted upon their shop fronts.
The sagacious profile of the animal, its proverbial cunning, always likened to that of women, its characteristic domesticity combined with independence, all rendered it a favourite object for representation. And at present, when our ancient customs are vanishing, when the pickaxe and the spade are demolishing all that was formerly dear to the bourgeois of Paris, I pause, with a pang of regret for the old “signs,” before one of the last relics of the Lombards’ quarter, the confectioner’s shop which has, perched on its two corners, two black cats.
CHAPTER VI. THE ENEMIES OF THE CAT IN THE MIDDLE AGES.
FOR centuries the cat was looked upon as a diabolic creature. It was contemplative in its ways, so it was regarded as fit company for witches, and invariably figured with the owl among the “properties” of mediaeval alchemists. Sorcerers, and sometimes savants, were burned in the Middle Ages. So were cats.
“It was considered an encouragement to good behaviour, to throw a few cats into the fire at the festival of St. John,” says M. du Méril; and in fact the Abbé Lebeuf quotes a receipt for one hundred sols parisis [Parisian Sols] (coinage of the period), signed by a certain Lucas Pommoreux in 1575, for having supplied for three years all the cats required for the fire on St. John’s Day, as usual.”
The author of the “Miroir du Contentement,” speaks –
D’un chat qui, d’une course breve,
Monta au feu saint Jean en Grève.
[A cat who, after a short run, went into the St. John’s Fire on the (Place de) Grève.]
In the journal of Héroard, the physician, we read that Louis XIII, when Dauphin, interceded with Henri IV for the lives of the cats about to be burned at the festival of St. John [See Appendix]. These cruel deeds of the past were no doubt the effect of the popular terror of sorcerers, and of the cat as their supposed familiar. Fear has always been a strong incentive to cruelty.
From the Middle Ages until the seventeenth century, so much that is legendary is mixed up with the records of antiquity, that even to the present day the most erudite writers have not cleared up the confusion between those elements. It, was believed that the devil borrowed the black coat of the cat when he wanted to torment his victims. Many legends bear conclusive evidence of this; the people firmly believed it, and the better educated confirmed them in their ideas. Vincent de Beauvais relates that Saint Dominick, when he spoke to his hearers of the devil, represented him as wearing the form of a cat.
The large, fixed, green eyes of the animal had something to do with its terribly bad reputation. The owl, and all animals which have fixed eyes, were to be found among the surroundings of sorcerers and witches. The cat was one of the caryatides of the demon-temple; and yet there are legends which relate how cats have faced the foul fiend in an attitude of hostility.
The tradition of the architect who, being unable to complete the last arch of a bridge, called the devil to his aid, is claimed by more than one nation.
"I engage to bring your work to a good end,” says the devil, “if you give me the first soul that shall pass over the bridge.” The cunning architect consents, and sends a cat across the completed bridge. The animal springs at the devil’s throat, and tears him so fiercely that Satan is forced to let this well-armed soul go free. There is a place in the Sologne still called “le Chaffin (chat fin, or cunning cat), in memory of this event.
Other strange and fantastic notions concerning these animals were entertained in old times. French peasants believed that if a cat were in a cart, and the wind, passing over its fur, blew at the same time upon the horses, the latter would be tired out immediately. The country people also maintained that if any part of a rider’s clothing were formed of cat’s skin, his horse would have to carry double weight.
These ideas were fostered by sorcerers, who pretended to cure the peasants of epilepsy by the aid of three drops of blood taken from the vein under the tail of a cat, and of blindness by blowing into the patient’s eye, three times a day, dust made from the ashes of the head of a black cat that had been burned. [Footnote: Half a century ago apothecaries sold a substance which pretended to be the grease of the wild cat, for the cure of abscess, rheumatism, and ankyloses, under the title of Axungia cati sylvestris.]
A clever young writer in the Journal des Débats reminds me, in relation to these sorceries, of a question which Balthazar Bekker put to himself in the seventeenth century. “Why,” pondered that learned man, “s a cat always to be found among the belongings of the witches, when, according to the sacred books, and the Apocalypse in particular, it is the dog, and not any feline animal, that consorts with sorcerers?” To this M. Assézat replies very justly, that “the cat takes the place of the dog in mediaeval times, because the witch replaced the sorcerer at that period.”
The characteristics of womankind lend themselves naturally to the practice of sorcery. Women read the secrets of the heart more clearly than men. An old woman telling fortunes on the cards is more imposing than an old man, and Shakespeare was right in putting the incantations in “Macbeth” into the mouths of witches, not sorcerers.
Poets dealing with the fantastic element combine it with the homeliest realities. The witch travels through the air, indeed, but on a broomstick. The fireside, cat, and the implement used for house-cleaning, are both familiar to old women; therefore it was that the cat, in company with the broom, was regarded as the accomplice of sorcery.
Another story which was told over the fire by night in every country, is that of the woman, a native of Billancourt, who was cooking an omelette, when a black cat sitting in the chimney corner said to her: “It is done; you had better turn it.” The woman was so frightened that she flung the hot omelette at the animal’s head. On the following day she met one of her neighbours, who was reputed to be a sorcerer, in the village street, and observed that his face was burned. She recognized in him the Co of the previous evening. [Footnote: Since then the people of that place have been called the Cos of Billancourt. Co is Picard for cat.]
In former ages these traditions, and many others, were spread abroad among the higher classes. It was probably because of his belief in “the black art” that Henri III always fainted at the sight of a cat.
Fontenelle himself, who was a sceptic, told Moncrif that he had been brought up to believe that not a single cat could be found in the town on the Eve of St. John, because they all went on that day to the Witches’ Sabbath. We can understand from this why the people threw cats that were foolish enough to allow themselves to be caught, into the fire on that day; for they really believed that by so doing they were ridding the country of sorcerers.
The peasants, who adhere with great tenacity to old customs, observed the “diversions of St. John’s Day,” as they were practised in the towns, for a very long time. In the Canton of Hirson, in Picardy, where the “Bihourdi” is celebrated on the night of the first Sunday in Lent, torches and lanterns are carried through the village, at a given signal, and a pyre is raised in the middle of the marketplace, to which each inhabitant contributes his share of faggots. Then begins a dance around the flames; the young men fire off their guns; the village fiddlers are requisitioned; and until recently the piteous mewings of a cat tied to the pole of the “bihourdi,” were heard. Finally the poor animal was dropped into the fire, to the delight of the children, who danced about and cried, “ Hion! Hion!”
That the Flemish people are more humane than the French, we may judge by a statute of so far back as 1618, which interdicts thenceforth the hurling of a cat from the top of the tower of Ypres. That festive ceremony had habitually been performed on Wednesday of the second week in Lent. For a few years past, however, cats have escaped this martyrdom in France.
One cat the less is nothing. One cat the more is much. The animal saved from the fire is the tide-mark of the advance of civilization in country places. Some of the people of the canton have learned to read, and consequently, to reflect. The schoolmaster has come there, and, having gained influence over the children, he has taught them the inhumanity of burning a cat alive. And the feu de joie on St. John’s Day is none the less joyous.
CHAPTER VII. UTILITARIAN ENEMIES OF THE CAT.
ECONOMISTS having demonstrated that all things, although appearing to be worn out and destroyed, find some industrial employment in a new form, certain wise folk undertook so to regulate the actions of men that none of them should remain barren of result. I remember, among other odd ideas, that of an individual who propounded to the architects of the period that the floors of ball-rooms might be so constructed as to admit of corn being crushed by the feet of the dancers, without detriment to their pleasure.
We may class with this pleasant oddity an inventor (he lived in the sixteenth century), who proposed to spread terror among the ranks of the enemy by the discharge of small cannon charged with pestilential odours, and attached to the sides of cats. M. Loredan Larchey, who visited the museums and archives of France in search of unpublished documents for his “Origines de l’Artillerie,” discovered this singular document in the Great Library at Strasburg. We may presume that the sapient invention was not put into execution - historians, at least, do not allude to it.
Other persons also speculated in the cat, not with a view to employing it for useful purposes, but as a popular show. The Middle Ages, prolific of all kinds of oddities, and the Renaissance, with its lasting traces of the barbarism of preceding centuries, were remarkable for the ingenious employment of animals in shows and on public occasions.
At festivals, and on the triumphal entry of kings into a town, animals almost invariably played a part in the spectacle. The spirit of the age is manifested by the fact that educated men, and even savants, tormented the poor beasts, employing them as actors in representations which wore equally singular and useless. Juan Cristoval, a Spaniard, gives an account of a procession which took place at Brussels in 1549, at the fetes in honour of Philip II.
“The ‘body of music’” (orchestra), he says, “was upon a large car; in the middle sat a great bear playing on a kind of organ, not composed of pipes, as usual, but of twenty cats, separately confined in narrow cases, in which they could not stir; their tails protruded from the top and were tied to cords attached to the keyboard of the organ; according as the bear pressed upon the keys, the cords were raised, and the tails of the cats were pulled to make them mew in bass or treble tones, as required by the nature of the airs.”
Live monkeys and other animals, made by curious mechanism with movable joints, such as wolves, deer, etc., danced to this music. “Although,” says the chronicler, “Philip II was the most serious and the gravest of men, he could not refrain from laughter at the oddity of this spectacle.”
Diversions such as these were to the taste of fanatical and bloodthirsty princes. By real, and elevated art, they were not to be moved. It is a just punishment inflicted on ferocity that it is not to be appeased or amused by means of poetry or music.
Turning from the cruel king, Philip II, to men of science, we find that Pere Kircher amused himself during his whole life with musical oddities. The cat-organ which he describes, differs, however, from the mechanism invented by the Flemish people in honour of Philip II. Instead of cords which pulled the cats’ tails, Kircher speaks of spikes fixed at the end of the keys, which prodded the poor animals, and made them mew piteously. The result produced by this barbarous invention can hardly have been very agreeable.
Another learned individual of the seventeenth century, deriving his inspiration from the labours of Pere Kircher, undertook to popularize the invention of the cat-organ. Gaspard Schott adds a drawing of the machine in which the cats are shut up, to the chapter of “Magia Universalis” entitled “Felium Musicam exhibere.” This machine is a long box, with an aperture through which the heads of the cats protrude. The wretched animals, tortured by imprisonment and the pain inflicted on their tails (their most sensitive part), were infinitely amusing to pitiless spectators of this atrocity.
The popular cat-organ does not seem to have been very successful. The cats, on coming out of their cellular prison, must have been rather difficult to get on with. It is not their way to lick the hand that strikes them.
There were other people who exhibited “learned cats” and “cat musicians” in public. A woodcut, of the most primitive order of art, represents a showman, with cats crouching upon his head and shoulders, standing before a table on which are three others. The latter mew from written musical notes in the music-books open before them. Three instrumental musician-cats play on the mandoline, the viol, and the bass-viol. At the top of the woodcut is the following, printed in rough type:- “La Musique des Chats”
On a scroll is written: “Ceans l’on prend pensionaires, et le maistre va monstrer en ville.” [Footnote: Pupils (also boarders, or patients) are taken here, and the Master shows (exhibits) in the town.”]
The costume of the showman and the cutting of the block indicate that this representation dates from the seventeenth century. I have seen another drawing of the same subject, but not by the same hand, with the signature “P. Gallays excudit.” Copper was selected this time as a medium for immortalizing the musical talents of the performing cats. All the details are similar to those in the first woodcut, but treated in a less barbaric fashion. Beneath the copperplate drawing are the following lines:-
Vous qui ne sauez pas ce que vaut la musique,
Venez-vous en ou'ir le concert manifique
Et les airs rauissants que iaprens aux Matous.
Puisque ma belle roix ren ces bestes docilles,
Je ne scaurois manquer de vous instruire tous
Ni de vous esclairsir les nottes difficiles.
[Footnote: The following is a translation of the showman’s doggerel: “All you who know not how charming music can be, come and listen to this magnificent concert, and the ravishing airs which I teach to my Tomcats. Since my fine voice can render these animals docile, I surely could not fail to instruct you all, and to make you master the most difficult notes.”]
We find, then, that at the end of the seventeenth century, a man existed who was half mountebank, half animal-doctor (céans l’on prend des pensionaires), and that he did a sufficiently good business with his four-footed musicians to enable him to indulge in prints to puff his profession. No doubt, this woodcut was an advertisement placarded in the streets of Paris.
Notwithstanding the extreme difficulty that must have attended the teaching of any kind of music to animals of so independent a nature, the spectacle found imitators. Valmont de Bomare, the naturalist, saw a showman at the fair of Saint-Germain, in the eighteenth century, who had stuck up over the door of his booth a placard with the daringly original word “Miaulique ” in huge letters. This meant “cat-music.” Inside the booth were cats upon a table, a music-book was open before them, and at a signal given by a monkey, who acted as conductor to the orchestra, they all mewed in concert.
In a newspaper of 1789 there is an account of a Venetian who was giving “cat-concerts ” in London at that date. The animals obeyed the slightest sign from their master, but it must have taken long years to produce this poor result.
One wonders what the vulgar crowd find to amuse them in the spectacle of “learned” monkeys, dogs, or cats. How much suffering must the animals have undergone to arrive at their “learning,” especially those who, as the poet says, can not
Au servage incliner leur fierte.
[Incline their pride to serfdom.]
In the faces of these poor creatures we may read the permanent result of this teaching; they look constrained, pitiful, and sad. The frippery in which they are decked out worries them. They are no longer free, they hardly dare to look in the face of the showman, who fixes his hard eyes upon them, and their timid glances are furtive and dim. They are commanded to do a “trick,” and they execute it with the dread inspired by the remembrance of the merciless stick that is always threatening them. Their bodies are pitiful all over, their ears and tails, that ought to be silky and carried with pride, hang down in the misery of constant terror.
The Chinese, wiser than we, never endeavour to make any animal do feats which are contrary to its nature. Of the cat they make a clock. Pere Hue relates that he met some native naturalists at Pekin, who showed him in what fashion a cat may fulfil the purposes of a timekeeper. “They pointed out to us,” says the missionary, "that the pupil of its eye contracted gradually as noon drew near; that at noon it was like a hair, or an extremely thin line, traced perpendicularly on the eye; after midday the pupil began again to dilate. When we had attentively examined the cats in the place we concluded that it was past noon; the eyes of all presented an exactly similar appearance.” The Chinese are true utilitarians.
CHAPTER VIII. ADDRESSED TO UTILITARIANS.
I went one evening into a cafe concert in rather low spirits. Neither the fascinating females nor the gifted tenors, neither the orchestra nor the public, awakened any interest in me, until there appeared upon the boards a pale, thin, shabby person, with dabs of red upon his nose, and an old felt hat upon his head. This man was of lugubrious aspect - he was the comic singer and low comedian.
He sang a song about cats; the first part of it was a play upon the words cha-pon (capon), cha-meau (camel), cha-loupe (sloop), and cha-piteau (capital). At first this feat of humour did not dispel my melancholy, but as the performance proceeded, and the jester invoked the cha-pelure (hats) of the bakers, the cha-pelles (chapels) of the churches, the cha-cals (jackals) of the desert, and the shakos of the soldiers, I became infected by the amusement of the public, who were highly entertained.
[Footnote: This play upon words cannot be translated, nor can the following ingenious passage:-Il avait connu un pacha qui fasant des siennes avec des chats; l’un d’eux malheureusement s’appro-cha; il atta-cha, l’embro-cha, l’eplu-cha, le tran-cha, le ha-cha et le ma-cha. Puis vint un juge qui s’effarou-cha, se pen-cha, cra-cha et se mou-cha.
Le juge rentrait dans son cha-let,, otait son cha-peau, demandait son chasse-mouche déposé sur un cha-ssis, et finalement traitait sa servante de cha-braque pour avoir laissé brùler les cha-taignes.
Le public se tordait.
- Messieurs, disait le comique, je n’aime pas qu’on me cha-maille.
Il falsait une serie d’ente-chats, etait pris d’un violent rhume, et, disait-il pour terminer, je crains qu’aucun médecin ne puisse me guérir de matou (Ma toux = my cough, Matou = tom-cat.)]
I acknowledge, with shame, that my depression vanished; this avalanche of puns was too much for it.
I doubt whether any animal in natural history has contributed so largely as the cat to the development of French humour.
CHAPTER IX. TO THE ENEMIES OF THE CAT - SPORTSMEN.
At cottage doors in country places, we see poor, wretched animals, thin and miserable, with rough, dirt-coloured coats, casting furtive glances from their timid eyes at the slices of bread and butter which well-fed children eat in their neglected presence. These are cats; they know too well that not a crumb will come their way. At family festivals, during which the peasants devour whole pigs, the cat does not dare to pass the threshold of the door - kicks would be his sole share of the feast.
It may be said of these animals, as Diderot says of those of his native town: “The cats of Langres are such thieves, that even when they are taking something that is given to them, their furtive way would make one think they were stealing it.” It is not at Langres only that cats have this thievish and suspicious look; for “Langres,” say “country parts” - the observation will be applicable to every place in which a barbarous prejudice against those animals reigns.
In winter, when a bright fire of fir-cones is crackling on the hearth, the dog stretches himself lazily in front of it, forbidding the approach of the cat. It is only in large farmhouses, where plenty extends from the human to the brute inhabitants, and maintains a semblance of harmony between them, that the cat timidly draws nigh to the dog, dreaming his hunting adventures over again as he lies at his master’s feet; but where poverty dwells there is no safety for cats, who are regarded, notwithstanding their indisputable usefulness, as less the friends of man than the dog.
No one knows, and no one cares, where the village cat assuages its hunger or quenches its thirst. The female cat, when about to bring forth her young, hides herself in the darkest part of the garret; and if she falls sick, she ends her days in some corner, unnoticed and unregretted.
Country people are too often hard and unfeeling towards animals and old people. They call them “useless mouths!” Cats are obliged to bestir themselves actively to escape starvation. Nature has adapted them to hunting purposes; hunters they inevitably become, and thus they have aroused the wrath of their dangerous rivals, men, who wage a cruel and unjust war against them.
“I never meet a prowling cat,” says M. Toussenel, “without doing him the honour of shooting him.” And yet, the man who says this has written charming things about birds! Nor is he satisfied with killing the poor cats, who are only seeking their livelihood; he must also urge all sportsmen to imitate his cruelty: “I strongly advise all my brethren of Saint Hubert to do likewise,” adds this follower of Fourier. It is not by such counsels that M. Toussenel will win disciples to the doctrines of the Utopian philosopher.
Without degenerating into silly sentimentality, we may ask - how can any man entertain feelings of this kind? Antipathy towards an animal is no excuse for cruelty. It inspires one with a horror of those brutal sportsmen who think that anything is allowable to them because they carry a gun and a licence, when we find them wantonly shooting harmless cats.
The article which M. Toussenel devotes to the cat, does not substantiate any serious grievance against an innocent it animal on the part of the Phalansterian. “A love of cats,” says the Fourierist sportsman, “is a vice of inferior minds; a man of good taste, and with a keen sense of smell, has never had, nor could he have, sympathy with a beast passionately fond of asparagus.” [Note 2017: Contrary to popular belief, all people produce “asparagus pee,” but not all people are able to smell it.]
If all the human beings who are fond of asparagus were to be shot on principle, France would speedily be decimated. The cat likes those herbs which are necessary to its health. In the country, the animal, after having made its toilet, proceeds to chew grasses and plants. This green stuff fails him when he is shut up in a house; is it not, therefore, natural that in the spring, the cat, like his master, should like to eat of a delicate and delicious vegetable? There is no plea for shooting him in that charge.
Another grievance of M. Toussenel against the domestic cat is the crossing of its breed with the wild-cat. If we are to believe him, the race of wild-cats would have been extinct before the present time if it had not been perpetuated by this means.
CHAPTER X. ADVICE TO SPORTSMEN.
Sportsmen are inclined to indulge in the pleasures of the table. There it is that they relate their exploits, and brag of their prowess. Certain sportsmen are famous for culinary recipes. I, also, have studied the ordering and arrangement of a repast elsewhere than in the Household Cookery Book (“Cuisinière bourgeoise ”), and I should like to draw the attention of sportsmen to a particular application of the intelligence of the cat, which is not without utility, and will doubtless raise the animal in their esteem.
Cooks are in the habit of preparing butter for breakfast by rolling the pats with a knife which makes a pattern on it. By merely leaving a pat within reach of the cat, this operation will be much better performed than by the cook. Pussy’s rasp-like tongue will trace charming designs upon the butter.
CHAPTER XI. THE FELINE RACE IN STATISTICS.
THE domestic country cat has other enemies, more inveterate, if possible, than the sportsman. We find a terrible indictment of the poor animal in the “Journal d’Agriculture pratique.” According to the editor of that periodical, the greatest destroyer of game is the cat. At night it roams about the country, and watches, more patiently than the fisherman watches with his rod and line for his finny prey, the hares and rabbits that come out to play in the dark. The bounds of the cat are, if we are to believe the accuser, as terrible as those of the panther; with one spring the animal falls upon the long-eared creatures, and it is imputed to it as a crime that its claws penetrate their flesh like a harpoon.
A nightingale begins to sing; suddenly the music is mute - both nightingale and song have fallen into the jaws of the cat.
Peasants take ortolans in snares which they set in the vines; when they find feathers only lying beside their engines of destruction they know that the cat, who also has a liking for ortolans and beccaficoes, has been beforehand with them. The cat does more damage in its proper person than those devastators of the poultry-yard, the ferret, the weasel, or even the wolf. The immense advantage of the cat over these beasts of prey, is that it carries on its operations in peace, without exciting suspicion. It is at home.
The least noise in the interior of the farm alarms the fox stealthily prowling about the out-buildings. The corn must be pretty high to afford covert to a fox, but a little shrub will suffice for a hiding-place for the cat. Crouching amid the foliage on the branches of the trees, it commits greater ravages among the birds’ nests than all the ill-disposed boys in the parish. The cat has strange magnetic faculties; its green eye fascinates birds, and makes them drop helplessly into its jaws.
The dog inspects a field of corn with his nose, and the rapidity of his movements prevents him from finding all the birds hidden in the furrows. The more reflective and deliberate cat ferrets minutely into every corner; its velvet paws enable it to approach its prey quite noiselessly. Out of a covey of young partridges not one will escape. The delicate and acute ear of the cat detects the cry which the female hare utters when she wants to collect her young. At this signal the cat arrives on the scene, and the leverets are collected in its stomach.
The hare defends itself against the wolf, and against the rabbit, its most cruel enemy; it seeks protection in the vicinity of man. There is no animal who would be more easily domesticated. The company of cows in the cow-house is not displeasing to the hare, and sometimes a servant, going to the cellar to draw wine, catches sight of its big ears; but the cat is there, and it pitilessly devours the animal who has come to claim hospitality at the farm.
According to the same witness for the prosecution, the fox, the ferret, the badger, and the wolf, are absent from certain countries, and if the kite and the hawk are seen, it is only to appear and disappear at the equinoxes. But none the less do hares and rabbits vanish as if by magic! The enchanter, according to the indictment, is no other than the cat, who eats on an average ninety leverets out of every hundred in the year.
Nevertheless the country cat is thin and miserable. I have explained the cause of its melancholy looks. It gets more kicks than meat, it is despised as much as the dog is cherished, it never receives a caress, it is thrust aside by rude, coarse natures, who do not comprehend its wealth of affection, and the cat suffers profoundly from wounded feelings. There are no friendly legs against which it may rub itself, and the harsh voices of the country people sound rude to the exquisitely delicate ear of this finely organized animal. In its youth it mewed gently to gratify its longing, but no one heeded it. The cat has become misanthropical; its best qualities are injured, It seeks a healing balm for its melancholy in the solitude of the woods and fields; neither the pastures nor the forests can restore its cheerfulness; the village cat is sad.
It is difficult to account for the thinness of the animal, and at the same time to believe in the misdeeds with which the “Journal d’Agriculture pratique” charges it. No doubt life in the woods is less favourable to personal appearance than life in town; a well-warmed apartment makes the coat shine better than exposure to every wind; but, surely, the abundant game which it is accused of destroying ought to have some effect on the stomach of the animal?
We have seen the statement of the depredations committed by cats; the statist is harder upon the creature than a State prosecutor. The number of rural houses in France is set down at six millions. In every house in each village we may reckon one cat, generally more. Here, then, are several millions of beasts of prey, destroyers of game - consequently, six millions of cats at least to be exterminated. The editor of the journal, who has marshalled these facts and figures, enjoins the rural proprietors to prevent their farmers, vine-dressers, shepherds, millers, woodmen, and labourers, from keeping cats in their houses; he too, like M. Toussenel, would settle the matter promptly by powder and shot.
These statistics make no account of the preservation of grain. Rats, mice, and other rodents seem never to have existed. It is not admitted that the mere presence of the cat in a house suffices to banish the destroyers of corn.
Their prejudices mislead all the enemies of the feline race. It is not enough to draw up an act of accusation; the accused has a right to have the witnesses for the defence heard. Has the mission of country cats been sufficiently studied, that they should be so readily condemned? That they protect the storage of grain, is proved by their battles with rats;-but do they not also make war on other animals, on stoats and weasels, for instance? [Footnote: M. George Barral says, in the “Journal d’Agriculture,” that the country people might, by better treatment, turn what one of his collaborators, a member of an acclimatization society, calls the “criminal instincts of the domestic tiger” to their own advantage.]
The reports of the Conseils généraux upon noxious animals state that at a certain period a price was put upon the heads of sparrows. A year later it was discovered that those noxious birds might be useful, and the magistrates were enjoined to proceed against any persons who took their nests. Councillors of State, naturalists, prefects, statists, all contradict each other; that which one department approves is condemned by its neighbour.
We lack attentive observers, and philosophers who might wrest her secrets from Nature. Every living creature fulfils a mission: that mission is hidden from us. We are more destructive than the animals whom, in our ignorance, we accuse. In a “Noel” of Franche-Comté, an old man is brought to bay by the logic of a child, and gets into a rage in order to close the discussion.
“Who made the stars? ” asks the child.
“God,” replies the old man.
“And the sun?”
“God. Partridges, snipe, hares, chickens, turkeys, and leverets are also the work of God,” continues the old man.
All things which strike the eye of childhood are enumerated by the poet, who, at each answer, puts the name of the Creator into the old man’s mouth.
“Tell me, if you please,” asks the child, at length, “is it God who has created fleas and lice?”
“Little pratebox,” says the old man, “if you interrupt the story again, I will rap your knuckles with the tongs.”
CHAPTER XII. CATS IN COURT.
Cats are frequently involved in grave testamentary questions. More than any other animal, they occupy the attention of the tribunals of civil law and police. There we find evidence of the profound affection which certain cats have inspired. It will be objected that cat-lovers are old bachelors, old maids, or persons of mean condition, who awaken but little interest; and yet I might plead for such a sentiment on behalf of the old maid whose lack of dowry has prevented her from gaining a place in society. Poverty has made her timid, her shyness has condemned her to solitude, and, having lost her illusions, having no hope of ever possessing a husband or children, she concentrates her affections in a cat, her only friend. If the animal does but respond by a look, by a purr, the old maid forgets her sadness and her solitude.
It is not only among ordinary people that the cat inspires affection. The famous Lord Chesterfield left life-pensions to his cats and their offspring. Bequests of a similar nature made to cats in the presence of a notary have often been disputed by greedy heirs, who take advantage of their relative’s affection for animals to endeavour to “interdict” the testator by accusing him of insanity.
'These “interdiction” suits bring many strange things to light. They pitilessly expose the wretchedness of poor human nature, its meanness, its misery, and the misfortune of ill-balanced minds. We are also struck by the absence of a sense of family honour which is involved in these painful disputes, when, to set aside the wishes of their aged relatives, the rapacious disputants will invoke justice to declare them mad!
Some years ago a suit was heard which made a great sensation. A brother demanded “interdiction” against his sister, because she “had had a tooth of her deceased cat set in a ring." This, according to her brother, constituted a veritable act of madness and imbecility.
M. Cremieux pleaded for the friend of cats.
“You who are magistrates, we who are advocates,” he said “shall we forget, among those who shed upon us a lustre common to us all, Antoine Lemàitre, one of the purest and most illustrious of our renowned brethren? Having retired to Port Royal, it was his custom, after he had conversed for a few hours every evening upon the loftiest topics of the time with his two uncles - immortal like himself - to retire to his sanctum, and amuse himself there with his two cats, whose society was dear and precious to him, and who had his first word on waking, his last before he slept. The name of General Hondaille has reached your ears; he was renowned for his bravery, and he rose from the rank of a simple officer to that of a general of artillery. All his life he had a great tenderness for cats; three were always with him in his bachelor’s quarters. The colonel had to lead his regiment from Toulouse to Metz, and he returned in person to Toulouse to seek his cats and take them to Metz.”
M. Cremieux might have added to his defence the names of several illustrious foreigners who were devoted to cats. Did not Tasso address the most charming of his sonnets to his female cat? Petrarch loved a cat almost as much as he loved the beauteous Laura, and had it embalmed after the Egyptian fashion. The English Cardinal Wolsey had his cat placed on a seat by his side, while acting in his judicial capacity as Lord Chancellor.
Unfortunately I have not been able to procure, in order to have it copied, an English engraving representing Whittington, as Lord Mayor of London in the fifteenth century, with his right hand resting on a cat. This engraving was made from a statue erected to the great administrator, which stood in a niche of the old prison of Newgate.
The English would not display such indifference to the safety of cats (of which a recent calculation tells us there are 350,000 in England) as the French judicial decisions reveal. If we pass on from the civil tribunal to the justices of the peace, we shall see how many dangers the domestic cat incurs. As the law does not protect it efficiently, it is put to death by the rag-pickers. These people do not sell cats to the keepers of low eating-houses to be made into pies - as it is commonly believed - but they do dispose of them to manufacturers of toys. The rag-pickers employ valerian to attract cats, scattering it about in places which they are likely to frequent; and these murderous miscreants seldom fall into the clutches of the law.
In 1865, the juge de paix (local magistrate) of Fontainebleau delivered a judgment that was very much talked of at the time, and of which I will give a certain portion. An inhabitant of the town of Fontainebleau, being annoyed by the neighbouring cats, who ran about over his flower-beds, set so many traps in his garden that he caught no less than fifteen of the trespassers. They disappeared for ever, leaving behind them a sanguinary legend in a peaceful town. The neighbours of this barbarous householder combined to bring him to justice. The juge de paix delivered an elaborate judgment, in which the nature and habits of the cat, the principles of justice, and legislative texts were set forth with a gravity for which he was laughed at - most unjustly, in my opinion. The following are his words –
“Considering, that the law does not permit the individual to do justice to himself in his own person;
That article 479 of the Penal Code, and article 1385 of the Code Napoleon, recognize several kinds of cats, notably the wild-cat, as a noxious animal for the destruction of which a reward is granted, but that the domestic cat is not affected by these articles in the eyes of the legislator;
That the domestic cat, not being a thing of nought (res nullius), but the property of a master, ought to be protected by the law;
That the utility of the cat as a destroyer of mischievous animals of the rodent kind being indisputable, equity demands the extension of indulgence to an animal which is tolerated by the law;
That even the domestic cat is in some degree of a mixed nature, that is to say, an animal always partly wild, and which must remain so by reason of its destiny and purpose, if it is to render those services which are expected from it;
That although the law of 1790, article 12 in fine, permits the killing of poultry, the assimilation of cats with those animals is by no means correct, since the fowl species are destined to be killed sooner or later, and that they can be kept in a manner under the hand of their owners, sub custodia in a completely enclosed and secure place, while this cannot be said of the cat, for it is impossible to put that animal under lock and key, if it is to obey the law of its nature;
That the asserted right in certain cases of killing the dog, which is a dangerous animal and prompt to attack without being rabid, cannot be held to imply as a consequence the right to kill a cat, which is an animal not calculated to inspire fear, and always ready to run away;
That nothing in the law authorizes citizens to set traps in order, by an appetizing bait, to entice the innocent cats of an entire quarter as well as the guilty ones;
That no one ought to do to the property (chose) of another that which he would not wish to have done to his own property (chose);
That all goods being either movables (meubles) or immovables (immeubles) according to article 516 of the Code Napoleon, it results therefrom that the cat, contrary to article 128 of the same code, is incontestably a movable (meuble) protected by the law, and therefore that the owners of animals which are destroyed are entitled, to claim the application of article 479, clause 1, of the Penal Code, which punishes those who have voluntarily caused damage to the movable property of others.”
Such were the principal utterances of M. Richard, juge de paix, and no doubt they were approved by the members of the Society for the Protection of Animals. This “finding,” which ought to have passed into law on the matter, was afterwards disputed before another jurisdiction, that of the Correctional Tribunal. The cruel maxim of the sportsmen who shoot cats as vermin was appealed to by the defendant’s counsel and found favour with the judges. And yet the kind treatment of animals is a mark of civilization. To be humane to them is to give proof of humanity towards one’s neighbour. Montaigne regarded the animal, as a creature nearer to man than man imagines.
CHAPTER XIII. THE FRIENDS OF CATS.
If cats have traducers, so also they have ardent friends. In the first rank of their partisans we find two great men - Mahomet and Richelieu.
The affection of certain great political personages for cats is explained by the contempt with which they regard men, whom, with few exceptions, they hold to be mere creeping things. They know too well how surely the purest are to be bought with money, place, dignities, and honours. On that point great politicians are not mistaken; if any were, they would not be great politicians. Thus, the independent animal pleases them, and, above all, the Cat, the very type of independence.
I need not advance any stronger proof of this than the legend of Mahomet and his cat, Muezza. While Mahomet was concocting his system, his cat sat curled up on his sleeve. While the cat purred, Mahomet reflected, for the purring of a cat makes an excellent bass to meditation. Perhaps the prophet dreamed of his Paradise. He dreamed for a long time, and the cat fell asleep. Being at length obliged to attend to his business, Mahomet took a pair of scissors, cut off the sleeve of his robe on which the cat was sleeping, and rose gently from his seat, happy that he had not disturbed the animal’s slumber. Such is the Eastern legend related by Cairene nurses to their charges to the present day.
What does this story prove, and what is the lesson that we may derive from it? That the prophet was full of kindliness towards animals, and that he set an example to his people of gentleness carried to an extreme.
The secret of the fitness of men to govern nations, to found an empire, to establish a religion, is, that they should show themselves pitiful towards the weak. First of all they enlist women on their side by this means; for the protection of children and animals is a feminine instinct and sentiment. Force, violence, and cruelty have never been other than temporary means of government. Persuasion, gentleness, and pity are the qualities that remain associated for ever with the names of the leaders of men.
Cardinal Richelieu also was a great politician who took pleasure in the companionship of cats, but he was not actuated by sentiments so refined. He would not cut off his sleeve rather than disturb the slumber of one of his favourites. If tradition is to be believed, his love for cats was a selfish feeling; he regarded them simply as an amusement. The memoirs of the time represent Richelieu as habitually ill-humoured, always reserved, and given to mystifying others if he could get a laugh out of their bewilderment. Nevertheless, this pastime never really dispelled the gloom of his habitual moroseness.
“He sometimes fell into such deep fits of melancholy,” says Tallemant des Réaux, “ that he would send for Boisrobert and the others who might be able to divert him, and say to them, ‘Amuse me, if you can find out the secret of how to do it.’ Then they would play the buffoon, and when his black mood was lightened, he would return to his business.”
Richelieu [Armand Jean du Plessis], it is said, always kept a number of kittens in his cabinet, and took pleasure in watching their pranks. He was not, however, a genuine lover of the feline race, for he used to send the kittens away when they were three months old, and replace them by younger ones. The pretty faces and funny ways of the merry restless little company were as good as a perpetual play to him, but the Cardinal did not trouble himself about love, maternity, heredity, or intellectual development - things which are all so interesting to study in relation to the cat.
[Footnote: It is surprising that Moncrif, who, notwithstanding the jesting tone of his book, made extensive researches on the subject of cats, has not said a word about Richelieu’s passion for these animals. Can it be that this peculiarity, attributed to a great political personage, is a legend misapplied? “Everybody knows,” says Moncrif, “that one of the greatest ministers France ever possessed, M. Colbert, always had a number of kittens playing about that same cabinet in which so many institutions, both useful and honourable to the nation, had their origin.”]
Chateaubriand was a truer and more discerning lover of cats. Of all writers upon this theme he is the best, the most enthusiastic, the one who discusses it most justly. Chateaubriand is closely bound up with cats, and they with him. Under all circumstances, in every vicissitude, he occupied himself with cats - in good and evil fortune, as an ambassador, as an exile, at the close of his life, when, weary of his fame, he ruled over the literary world from the retirement of the Abbaye-aux-Bois. He has so great an admiration for the cat that he delights in tracing a resemblance between himself and that beloved animal.
“Do you not know someone, near here,” said he to his friend, Count de Marcellus, “who is like a cat? I think, myself, that our long familiarity has given me some of its ways.”
The independence of the cat is the quality that Chateaubriand particularly admires, for he, too, although he made himself agreeable to princes at certain times, never stooped to flatter royalty when it made inroads on liberty.
“I love in the cat,” said Chateaubriand to M. de Marcellus,”that independent and almost ungrateful temper which, prevents it from attaching itself to anyone; the independence with which it passes from the salon to the housetop. When you caress it, it stretches itself out and arches its back, indeed; but that is caused by physical pleasure, not, as in the case of the dog, by a silly satisfaction in loving and being faithful to a master who returns thanks in kicks. The cat lives alone, has no need of society, does not obey except when it likes, pretends to sleep that it may see the more clearly, and scratches everything it can scratch. Buffon has belied the cat; I am labouring at its rehabilitation, and hope to make of it a tolerably good sort of animal, as times go.”
[Footnote: “Chateaubriand et son temps,” par le Comte de Marcellus, 1 vol, 1859.]
Chateaubriand has, in fact, contributed largely to the rehabilitation of the cat, and although he had not time to do this didactically, eulogiums upon the animal are to be found in various parts of the “Mémoires,” mingled with, and more interesting than the author’s politics.
In the days of his poverty as an emigre in London, Chatoaubriand lodged with an Irish widow - a Mrs. O'Larry -whose fondness for cats formed a strong link between the landlady and the lodger. “United by this common sentiment,” he says, in his “Mémoires d’Outretombe,” “we mourned together the misfortune of losing two lovely she-cats, as white as ermines, with black tips to their tails.”
[Footnote: Chateaubriand evidently drew upon his imagination, and his sense of the fitness of things for this name. – Translator]
According to this noble exile, the English cat has not the lively ways of the French variety. In alluding to the well-regulated suburbs of London, Chateaubriand says:- ”The London sparrow, all blackened with smoke, hops silently about the roads; one never hears a dog bark or a horse neigh, and even the free and independent cat itself ceases to mew upon the house-top.” Perhaps this was written in one of those hours of depression to which great intellects are prone, and Chateaubriand has misjudged the animals of Albion.
When he went on an embassy to Rome, Chateaubriand received a cat as a gift from the Pope. “He was called Micetto,” says M. de Marcellus. “Pope Leo the Twelfth’s cat, which came into the possession of M. de Chateaubriand, could not fail to reappear in the description of that domestic hearth where I have so often seen him basking. In fact, Chateaubriand has immortalized his favourite in the sketch which begins with the words: ‘My companion is a big cat, of a greyish red.’ ”
M. de Marcellus adds that the cultus of the cat knew no decline in the case of Chateaubriand, even when all his other feelings underwent a gradual process of decay. “I would gladly constitute myself the advocate of some of the works of God which are despised by man,” said he to M. de Marcellus, “and among the foremost should come the ass and the cat.”
One of the scribblers who ridiculed Moncrif’s love for the feline race, argued that only its antagonist the dog had been held sufficiently noble to be represented in sculpture upon tombs at the feet of knights. “Cats,” says the author of the “Lettre d’un rat calotin,” “with their cunning physiognomy and their dangerous claws, could only appear with propriety on the mausoleum of a procureur or a gaoler.” If I were a sculptor, I should disregard this dictum, and raise a monument to M. de Chateaubriand with a beautiful cat sleeping at his feet.
Refined and delicate natures understand the cat. Women, poets, and artists hold it in great esteem, for they recognize the exquisite delicacy of its nervous system; indeed, only coarse natures fail to discern the natural distinction of the animal. Here is a charming episode, related by the wife of a celebrated historian:-
"The most numerous and assiduous visitors to our little house,” says Madame Michelet, “were the poor. They well knew the road to it, and the inexhaustible charity that reigned there. All had a share of that - animals a large one; and it was a curious and amusing spectacle to see the dogs of the neighbourhood, sitting up patiently on end, waiting until my father should raise his eyes from his book. My mother would sometimes remonstrate, even dismiss these self-invited guests. My father felt that he was unreasonable, but yet he never failed to throw them, on the sly, a supply of ‘bits’ which sent them away content.
“Cats stood even higher than doers in his favour. This was a result of his education, and the cruel years of his life at school. His brother and himself, beaten and knocked about between the harshness of home and the cruelties of school, had two cats for their consolers. Their love of these animals became a family trait. When we were children each of us had a cat. It was grand when we gathered round the fire, and the cats, in gala fur, beautifully clean and sleek, sat majestically under their young masters’ chairs.
“There was one who did not join the circle: this was a poor thing too ugly to figure among the others, and so conscious of its defects that it held aloof, with invincible shyness and reserve. This cat was the butt, the souffre douleur of our little society, for it seems that the inborn malignity of our nature makes us always want one. We did not hit him with blows, indeed, but we did with ridicule; he used to be called ‘Moquo.’ He was thin, weak, and had a scanty coat; he needed the warmth of the hearth more than any of the others; but the children frightened him; and his comrades, snugly wrapped up in their furry robes, seemed to think but little of him, and gave him only sidelong looks. My father would go to him and take him up; the grateful animal would purr under that beloved hand, and take courage. Then wrapped in my father’s coat, and warmed by his warmth, he sat, supposed to be unseen, by the fireside.
"We spied him out, however, and if the end of an ear, or a bit of his fur peeped out, we laughed and jeered at him, in spite of my father. I can still recall the shadowy creature picking itself up and seeming to melt away in the breast of its protector, closing its eyes, and shrinking within itself, choosing to see and hear nothing.
“The house was sold, and our plantations, all made by ourselves, our trees, which were members of the family, were forsaken. Our animals were visibly inconsolable for the departure of my father. The dog went, for I know not how many days, to the road which my father had taken, sat down and howled piteously several times, and then returned. The most desolate of all was Moquo; he no longer trusted anyone, but would still come and look wistfully and furtively at the vacant place. At last he made up his mind; he fled away to the woods, from whence we could never entice him back - he resumed the wild wretched life of his infancy. What became of him? Who loved him, or was loved by him? for affection is an imperative need with all living creatures.” [“L’Oiseau,” by Michelot.]
And now I am about to submit another story to the paradoxical M. Toussenel, who, oblivious of the anecdote of the Count de Charolais amusing himself by firing on the slaters at work at his chateau, would fain have cats set up as targets for sportsmen.
In 1867, a merchant ship sailed from Saint Servan for Lisbon, with a heavy cargo. With the night came a dense fog; the ship was struck by another ship, and so much damage was done to it that the crew were obliged to take refuge on board an English vessel cruising in those waters.
The shipwrecked captain was looking sadly at his deserted ship, growing dim on the horizon, when he suddenly exclaimed: “Where is Michel, the apprentice?”
He counted the crew. The apprentice had been left behind. No trace of the ship was now to be seen upon the immensity of the ocean. The vessel had gone down; the boy was dead.
No; he lived. At the moment of the collision the little apprentice, Michel, was busy with the rigging at the forepart of the ship; when his task was done he went aft, and saw that the English ship was carrying away the crew. The boy called, shouted, but his feeble voice was lost in the rush and roar of the waves. Michel was alone on a ship into which the water was pouring fore and aft. At first he wept, but soon he recovered himself, ran to the pump, lighted a lantern, rang the ship’s bell, and all night long strove and fought against destruction. Day dawned; the little fellow descried a sail, far, very far off. He hoisted a flag of distress, but the sail passed out of sight, and Michel returned to the pump. Towards noon, a second ship became visible on the horizon; but, like the other, it passed on, and the wreck was not discovered. At that moment, two cats belonging to his ship came to Michel, and rubbed themselves against his legs; he shared his provisions - some pork and biscuit-with them, and then to work once more! to the pump, to the signals!
These alternations of struggle, hope, and despair lasted throe days. The provisions were almost exhausted, but each day at the same hour, the cats, now the sole companions of the little apprentice, came to seek their food.
At last an American brig came in sight, and Michel was “made out” upon the prow of the vessel, now on the point of going down. He was taken on board the brig; but he would not quit the merchantman without his cats. Three months afterwards he landed at the port of Saint Servan, carrying his two cats in his arms in triumph, amid the acclamations of the crowd.
CHAPTER XIV. CONCERNING SOME CLEVER PEOPLE WHO TOOK PLEASURE IN THE SOCIETY OF CATS.
Among those who have done justice to cats, Moncrif must be given a leading place, if it were only on account of the ridicule that his advocacy and defence of his four-footed friends has brought upon him.
He was reader to the queen, and a favourite at court. His songs and other compositions were much admired, and while cultivating letters, he thoroughly enjoyed life. “One of those fruits of ready wit,” said he, “which one may calculate on enjoying, is the making of our own life pleasant.”
He was regarded as an epicurean, and treated as such, and he led a quiet life until the day when he was tempted to prove his erudition by his book on cats. Then began the misery of Moncrif; the literary world rent the air with its cries. For all that, “Lettres sur les Chats” is a pleasant book, and full of humour; a “gravely frivolous work” the author himself called it. The historiographer of the cats was pelted with pamphlets, songs, and satirical verses. Voltaire and Grimm were particularly unjust in this respect, especially Voltaire, who used (more suo) to flatter and cajole Moncrif, and then laugh at him with his friends.
[Footnote: It was thought to be witty to call the historiographe historiogriffe. This bad joke cannot be translated, but it will sauter aux yeux of the reader as readily as any cat, according to the notions of traducers. – Translator.]
[Historiograph - the body of literature concerned with historical matters. Griffe – claw.]
When, however, Moncrif was elected to the Academy, the storm became so violent that the poor “historiogriffe” could not bear the pelting of it, and eliminated from his works all that he had written about cats. With the exception of M'Alembert, who, in his capacity of permanent secretary was bound to be careful, and afterwards did justice to his amiable character, everyone underrated Moncrif’s writings.
His easy and luxurious life at court was not calculated to propitiate men of letters who had just inaugurated the grievous system of professional literature. Pensions, a fortune, a lodging at the Tuileries, and sundry dignities and successes in high places, assumed an almost criminal complexion when the Academy offered a seat to the queen’s reader.
Could so learned a society open to the historian of cats that door which it closed against a Diderot? There certainly was some show of reason in these recriminations; but if we refer to the lists of the Academy at that period, we shall find many obscure members occupying the envied armchairs, who have not even left behind them such a book as “Lettres sur les Chats!”
That work, whatever Grimm has said about it, constitutes its author’s true title to distinction. We who belong to a cold and reasoning age, who submit the light and flimsy works of the past to a kind of straining-off process of criticism, consider that Moncrif has expended superfluous research upon his subject; but although some chapters are open to the charge of frivolity, they still preserve the delicate tints of a ribbon once worn by an old marquise, and found at the bottom of a drawer.
Among whimsical writers, we may quote, in opposition to Moncrif, the poet Baudelaire, an electric creature, who, when he was in health, had friendly relations with cats. Many a time when he and I have been walking together have we stopped at the door of a laundress’s establishment to look at a cat luxuriously curled up on a pile of beautifully white linen, revelling in the fragrance of the newly-ironed fabrics. Into what fits of contemplation have we fallen, before the windows, while the pretty coquettish laundresses struck attitudes at the ironing-board, under the mistaken impression that we were admiring them. If a cat made its appearance at a door, or crossed a street, Baudelaire would approach it, coax it to come to him, and then take it in his arms and pet it - sometimes stroking it the wrong way. Although I may seem to confirm the stories that were circulated when the poet was attacked by almost hopeless paralysis, I must admit that the enthusiasm of the author of “Fleurs du Mal” had something startling and excessive about it. This made him a charming companion for an hour or two; but afterwards he became fatiguing from the extreme excitability which all who knew him recognized as characteristic of him.
Baudelaire’s affection for cats long supplied the petty press with a subject of ridicule. This was natural, for there is an innate opposition between the active and turbulent spirit common to journalists, and the contemplative and retrospective character of the poet. Here is a sample:-
“It has become the fashion in the society formed by Baudelaire and his companions to make too much of cats, after the example of Hoffmann, Edgar Poe, and Gautier. Baudelaire, going for the first time to a house, and on business, is uneasy and restless until he has seen the household cat. But when he sees it, he takes it up, kisses and strokes it, and is so completely occupied with it that he makes no answer to anything that is said to him; he is a thousand miles away with his cat. People stare at this breach of good manners, but he is a man of letters, an oddity, and the lady of the house henceforth regards him with curiosity. The poet’s turn is served. Let us only astonish the world at any price!”
In this easy imitation of La Bruyère, cat-lovers are accused, among other things, of despising the dog. Here the schism between meditative beings and active natures reveals itself. The barking of the dog has an irritating effect on the delicate organs of the former; while, on the contrary, those who like to rule, and who love show and fuss, prefer the noisy demonstrativeness of dogs, and make little of the thoughtful animal who, without any noise about it, maintains its independence, and eludes any hands that try to hold it. These are traits and distinctions which escape the notice of persons who regard life simply as a hunting field, and have no place in their dictionary for the verbs “to think” and “to meditate.”
It takes an essentially feminine and poetic nature to understand the cat. In my youth I used to visit at a house in the Place Royale; the salon was hung with tapestry and decorated with Gothic ornaments; in its centre stood a large red ottoman, on which a huge cat was seated, awaiting the homage of visitors with grave dignity. This was the favourite cat of Victor Hugo, whom, in his “Lettres sur le Rhin,” he calls “Chanoine,” because of its indolence and idleness.
A disciple very dear to the master inherited his passion for cats, but he introduced singular variations into it. At a certain epoch of his life, Théophile Grautier, forgetting that a cat should have no rival in the house, divided his affections between cats and white rats. I approve more highly of the dignified position of Sainte-Beuve’s cat, as it walked about his writing-table amid an accumulation of notes and papers which no servant would have ventured to disturb. The historian of Port Royal really understands cats and his house is celebrated in all the neighbourhood for the esteem in which those animals are treated there.
I have passed some pleasant and profitable hours in talking of cats with M. Prosper Mérimée, who loved them, and did not consider that he degraded himself as a man by acknowledging the intelligence of those animals. M Merimee would not admit, indeed, that they had any fault except an excessive sensitiveness. According to him, the cat proves its susceptibility by an extreme politeness. “In that,” he said, “the animal resembles well-bred persons.”
M. Viollet-le-Duc has reserved the most conspicuous part of his ante-room for a mosaic formed of cats, and, kindly wishing to adorn the present volume, he laid aside his plans and his specifications for the moment in order to draw the chief household favourite from nature.
A number of celebrities might be added to this list, which I am obliged to close. Besides these eminent men, there are humbler persons whose devotion to the cat deserves to be chronicled; but I am forced by the imperious limitations of space to content myself with a brief but grateful acknowledgment of their sympathy.
CHAPTER XV. PAINTERS OF CATS.
The cat, a sedate animal, whose form is remarkable for a sculpturesque accuracy of line hidden under a softly undulating coat of fur, holds an important place in the Egyptian museums. In them we find the cat either crouching and in profile, sphinx fashion, or with its face adjusted to the body of a god, or to the hieratic curves of musical instruments; or again, wrapped up in bandages and forming parcels of the oddest shapes.
The Egyptians represented the cat, now in a sacred, again in a domestic aspect, and since the key long ago forged skilful Egyptologists does not give admittance to all the arcana of the mysteries of the land of the Pharaohs, I purpose especially to examine this twofold character.
Many learned works treat of the hieratic representations of cat, but the writers do not appear to have taken sufficiently into account the familiar aspect of certain paintings of the ancient Egyptian time, in which the cat is represented as either suckling her kittens, or sleeping under the chair of the mistress of the house. The domestic, rather than the hieratic treatment, is adopted in the bronzes, for, while the cats are not adorned with collars and precious stones, I remark also that their images have not that particular rigidity of line which, to my mind, indicates their sacred character.
The Egyptians represented cats, whether sacred or profane, with equal skill and dignity. They only have studied the sculptural side of the animal, and without sacrificing realism they have drawn its form in majestic outlines. Next to the Egyptians the Japanese are, par excellence, painters of the cat, as they are painters of women and of all fantastic things. Let it be observed that artists1 who appreciate the delicate graces of the cat are equally impressed with those of woman, and that a love of the strange and fantastic is frequently combined with that double comprehension. I do not propose to enter upon a course aesthetics to demonstrate the charm with which the fantastic art of Hoffmann and Goya is invested, but I may remark in this place that the German story-teller and Spanish painter, to whom maybe added Cazotte and “Le Diable amoureux,” are among those who have depicted women most admirably, and also excelled in the artistic treatment of animals.
The Japanese possess these exceptional faculties in the highest degree. They surround their figures of women with romantic elegance; innumerable fancies adorn their compositions. Above all, they study and delight in the cat, rendering its every movement with even greater fidelity and suppleness than Mind.
Gottfried Mind, called “the Raphael of Cats,” has left some charming drawings. Innumerable pen-sketches bear witness to his constant observation of the movements of those animals. His drawings have not, however, the peculiar charm of the Japanese representations of cats; although in the latter, the tails of the cats are cut off, in accordance with the custom of the country. [Note: Champfleury had not heard of Japanese Bob-tailed cats.]
I have seen some wonderful water-colour pictures of cats by Burbank, who also, like Mind, made them a speciality. In the Appendix my readers will find some notes upon this master, who must have passed many hours in the contemptation of cats.
The cat plays as leading a part in caricature as in proverbs, but it is a grotesque element in the former, and engravers take no pains with the feline forms. As an exception on to this rule I reproduce here a strange and clever Japanese composition. It is a head formed of a series of cats; their bells (grelots) make the eyes.
I am indebted to M. Jaequemart for the sight of a cup, made in Japan in the sixteenth century, and representing a scene of Chinese life, with cats introduced, but I should like, if it were possible, to give my readers an idea, by means of an engraving, of that porcelain cat of which Pere d'Entrecolles tells us, and which he saw. So perfect was the execution of this figure, that when a small lamp was placed inside the head the flame passed through the pupils of the eyes. The missionary was informed that the rats scampered away at night, terrified, on beholding this cat - a real triumph of art.
With the exception of the Dutch artist, Cornelius Wisscher, whose marvellous tomcat has become typical [Footnote: Only two specimens of the engraving of which I give the facsimile are known], the artists who have introduced cats into their domestic scenes, among family portraits, or in the arms of children, seem to have gone to toy-shops for their models. [Footnote: In the Louvre there is an excellent picture by Otto Venius (Rubens’ master), representing the painter’s family. In the foreground sits a cat, apparently stuffed with bran.]
At the head of the list of contemporary artists who have studied and painted the cat, stands Delacroix, a man of febrile and nervous temperament. The sketch-books sold after his death bear witness to his persevering studies of that animal. Nevertheless, there are no cats in his pictures, and for this reason: Delacroix made tigers of his cats! Their striped fur, their graceful ways, their manner of stretching themselves, supplied him with models of the form and suppleness of the tiger, an animal which he painted frequently. It is a great pity that this romantic master did not leave some pictures of cats; he knew them better than anyone, and his active imagination would have found plenty to work upon in their faces.
We must not forget J. J. Grandville, who, among cat-painters, especially occupied himself with the physiognomy of the animal. It may, indeed, be said that the alone has thoroughly studied that difficult profile in which the passions of the feline race are reflected in minute details.
Rouviere, the actor, was truly feline by nature, and was haunted by a desire to represent his sensations by the brush. He fell in love with Carlin, the harlequin of the Italian stage, who lived surrounded by cats, whose “pupil” he declared himself to be. A picture by Rouviere in my possession explains certain movements of that actor, who was remarkable for his quick, strange, and caressing gestures in Hamlet. Rouviere painted a cat, watching her kitten with maternal complacency, as it is meditating some mischievous prank. The restless curiosity of the kitten just entering upon life is shining out of the bright eyes of the little creature; the mother looks on with the air of one who has had similar whims in her time.
Nothing is so difficult to paint as the cat’s face, which, as Moncrif justly observes, bears a character of “finesse and hilarity.” The lines are so delicate, the eyes so strange, the movements subject to impulses so sudden, that one should be feline one’s self to attempt to portray such a subject.
Thus may be explained certain exceptional faculties of Rouviere’s, which, even after his death, might serve an instructive purpose. Those faculties were drawn from the living sources of nature; for it may be said without any paradox, that the contemplation of a cat is as valuable to an actor as the “course” of the Conservatoire.
CHAPTER XVI. IS THE CAT A DOMESTIC ANIMAL?
Only a celebrated savant can seriously inquire: Is the cat a domestic animal? M. Flourens, of the French Academy, when he proposed that question, must have forgotten to look in the dictionary drawn up by the learned body to which (I do not know on what grounds) he was admitted.
A formal discussion on the subject was opened. The principal arguments are as follows: “All our domestic animals are by nature sociable animals,” said M. Flourens. “The ox, the pig, the dog, the rabbit, live naturally in association and in numbers. The cat seems, at a first glance, to form an exception, for the cat species is solitary. But is the cat really domestic? It lives with us, but does it associate with us? It receives our bounty, but does it give us in exchange submission, docility, the services of those species which are truly domestic? That time, care, and custom avail nothing, Unless the nature of the animal is primarily sociable, is proved by the example of the cat.”
M. Flourens then quotes Buffon, who says: “Although they are dwellers in our houses, cats are not entirely domestic, and the tamest among them are nevertheless not reduced to subjection.”
M. Fee, the naturalist, replied to this: “It has been established that the cat is not a domestic animal; but what is to be understood by domesticity is not very clear. In my opinion domesticity signifies a change in the habits of an animal, bringing it to like our caresses, making it obey our call, keeping it by the fireside, or at least inducing it to live among us. The goat and the horse are our slaves; the cat is not a slave; that is all the difference.”
It was very easy to dispose of the argument of M. Flourens.
“Among carnivora the panther is the most untameable; the only one that kills for the sake of killing is the cougar; the only one that has any inbred gentleness is the leopard; the only one that is really intelligent is the cat. The latter consents to be our guest; it accepts the shelter we afford and the food we give, it even goes so far as to solicit our caresses; but this it does capriciously, and when it suits its humour to receive them. The cat will never part with its liberty; it will neither be our servant like the horse, nor our friend like the dog.”
According to M. Fée (“De l’Instinct chez les Animaux”), the cat is susceptible of profound attachment, but it must not be interfered with. We must wait for its caresses until it is in the humour. A female cat who could not endure that any one should touch it, came voluntarily, and offered herself to the hand when she was quite assured that there was no intention of making her a prisoner. She did not like to be left alone, and would follow the master of the house like a dog, through all the rooms, moving softly. Solitude oppressed her, company she must have. Whenever her master absented himself for a few days she disappeared, but when he came back she turned up again, and manifested her joy unmistakably.
“A country cat knew the hour at which its master came home from the neighbouring town, and would go and wait for him at the comer of the road, a considerable distance from their dwelling; but such a proof of sympathy was in this case the reward of extreme kindness. The cat is not a commonplace creature when it loves. It is difficult to win its affection, and easy to forfeit it: in this consists the great difference between the cat and the dog.”
CHAPTER XVII. THE CAT’S PAW.
If you would know what a cat is thinking about, you must hold its paw in your hand for a long time. It is very pleasant to touch the soft pads of this beautiful animal’s paws, and the cat likes human caresses to be bestowed on the supple pouch in which its claws are enclosed. If while gently playing with the expanding and contracting paw, one talks softly to the cat, it will do its best to understand.
The cat’s nervous system is easily irritated, and if one strokes it too much, it will scratch or bite the hand that excites it unpleasantly; but rapid repentance will succeed to this impulse of ill-humour, for the creature is truly affectionate. It scratches the hand which passes and repasses frequently before its eyes, because it becomes simply an object easy to seize; this impulse of the claws has been conferred on it by nature; and it will sometimes scratch a child who keeps it too long a prisoner, pulls its ears or its whiskers, or squeezes its neck almost to strangulation point. No doubt the child is quite unconscious of the suffering he is inflicting on the animal; but the cat, being very sensitive to the loss of its liberty, to asphyxia, and to to the pain of having its ears and whiskers pulled, reluctantly makes use of its natural weapons.
I emphatically declare that I have never seen a cat scratch anyone without reason. A well-bred, well-behaved cat will always sheath its claws, the moment they approach the face, although, an instant before, it has been sticking them into the cloth of one’s coat and trousers with deliberate enjoyment.
And then, how beautiful are those claws! I give a drawing of them, without the skin, so that my reader may study, in its simplicity and perfection, that system of self-defence which the Rose possesses without being reproached with it. I maintain, with M. Fee, that the cat is neither snappish, aggressive, nor choleric; that it does not attack its own species, nor pitilessly molest the weak. The latter cannot be said of the dog.
"Everyone,” says the naturalist, “may observe for himself a characteristic which is honourable to the feline species. When cats eat off the same platter, they share the meal in peace and amity; when dogs feed in common they fight. The animal who has been called an ‘egotist,’ and a ‘Tartufe,’ leaves a portion for his companions, the animal who is always described as ‘gentle’ and ‘affectionate’ tears the bone (literally of contention) from his neighbour.”
M. Flourens gravely affirms that the cat is neither sociable nor docile. I have known cats to live on perfectly good terms with parrots, monkeys, and rats. Dogs and cats have also been induced, without much difficulty, to sleep together.
Vigneul Marville relates that he saw a lady in Paris who had, by dint of perseverance in their education, brought a dog, a cat, a sparrow and a mouse to live together like brethren. The four animals slept in the same bed, and ate off the same plate. The dog, it is true, helped himself first, and amply; but he did not forget the cat, who kindly gave certain little bits she did not care for to the mouse, and left the crumbs of bread which the others did not covet, to the sparrow. [Footnote; “melanges d’histoire et de literature.” 1670.]
"After feeding-time came play-time,” adds Vigneul Marville; “the dog licked the cat, and the cat licked the dog; the mouse played between the paws of the cat, who kept his claws carefully sheathed, and let it feel the velvet only. As for the sparrow, he flew about high and low, pecking first one and then another, without losing a feather. There existed, in short, the closest union between these comrades of such different species; and among them no-one ever heard of a quarrel, or the least disturbance; while it is impossible for human beings to live at peace with their fellows.”
Dupont de Nemours, who comments upon the extreme social gentleness of animals who are sufficiently fed, relates the following anecdote in connection with this subject:- “At the Jardin des Plantes there appeared a very large old cat, who, no doubt, had lost its master, and was driven by want to thieving, in which it found an insufficient resource. Its paws were so shrunken that they hardly hid its claws; its eye was dilated and haggard, its thinness was terrible, its aspect hideous. It lay in ambush near the kitchen of M. Desfontaines’ house. Whenever it had the chance it would enter the kitchen with the boldness of despair, seize the first scrap of food in its way, and bound off, pursued with brooms, and shouts, “hiss, cat, hiss, bad cat!”
[Footnote: Mi Desfontaines was Director of the Jardin des Plantes under the Restoration.]
The servants did not wait for it to take anything; the moment it was seen it was hunted, and it fled. The place was so well watched, and the cat’s terror was so great that it could get nothing, and was dying of hunger. One day, M. Desfontaines being alone in the house, and at his window, saw the wretched cat staggering along on a neighbouring wall, and ready to drop with weakness. Who does not know the kindness of heart of M. Desfontaines? He took pity on the animal, brought three pieces of meat from the kitchen, and flung them, one by one, to the starving cat. The poor creature pounced on the first piece; then, seeing that it was not pursued, it came a little nearer, took the second piece, and again made off. The third time it came nearer still, and having taken the meat, it paused for a moment to look at its benefactor.
Half an hour later, the cat had entered M. Desfontaines’ room by the window, curled itself up comfortably on the bed, and was, no doubt, saying to itself: “This one here is not pitiless.” During its preceding expeditions and campaigns the cat had had an opportunity of observing, that “this one here,” was the master of the others, and his grateful heart added: “My misfortunes are ended; I have a protector!”
CHAPTER XVIII. CURIOSITY AND SAGACITY OF THE CAT.
The window [The reader must bear in mind that a French Window is meant] has just been opened. It seldom happens that the click of the hasp does not wake the cat, who leaves the cushioned chair in which it is sleeping, to crouch in the balcony and breathe the air. When the cat has had enough of the fresh air it will be attracted by the slightest noise in the street, and will protrude its head from the balcony, extraordinarily interested in everything that is going on.
The opposite window, opening to give egress to a housemaid who shakes a mop, the lady-neighbour watering her flowers, the the gentleman-neighbour smoking, a carriage in a difficulty, the postman ringing at the door, an itinerant print-seller, a whistling boy; will each and all excite the curiosity of the cat. It observes every detail, snugly curled up, with half- shut eyelids, and a philosophical smile concealed beneath its whiskers, as it meditates upon the various incidents it has just taken into its brain. It endeavours to account for the actions and things which have particularly struck it; the distribution of letters, the watering of flowers, the tobacco smoke, the whistling of the street boy.
Voltaire held that curiosity is innate among animals. “Curiosity,” he says, “is natural to man, monkeys, and small dogs. Take a little dog with you in your coach, he will be perpetually putting his paws up to the window to see what is happening outside. A monkey peers about everywhere, and always looks as if it were pondering upon everything.” Why, indeed, unless impelled by a motive of curiosity, should the cat leave the comfortable chair in which it is luxuriously curled up, when the window is opened?
This opinion of Voltaire’s has, however, been disputed by the wittiest sceptic among the followers of Holbach. “Voltaire,” says the Abbé Galiani, “ought to have made a very interesting reflection upon curiosity; i.e., that it is a sensation peculiar to man, unique in him, and not common with him to any other animal. Animals have not even the idea of it.” He says, in another place: “ We can inspire beasts with fear, but never with curiosity.”
This philosopher draws the following conclusion:- “The cat,” he says, “hunts its fleas as man does; but only M. de Reaumar observes the pulsation of their hearts. Curiosity appertains to man alone. Thus, dogs will not go to see dogs hanged in the Place de Grève.”
That which Voltaire calls curiosity, Galiani calls sagacity. A metaphysician might fill a large volume with dissertations upon this curiosity and that sagacity. I propose to settle the matter in one line:- The cat is both curious and sagacious.
Its sagacity I do not think anyone will deny. Here is an instance. Every day, after breakfast, I made it a rule to throw a bit of bread into an adjoining room, as far off as I could, so as to induce my cat to run after it as it rolled away. This custom I kept up for several months, and the cat always regarded that piece of bread as the tit-bit of its dessert. Even after it had eaten meat, it would await with attentive interest the minute when it was to start in pursuit of the morsel of soft bread. One day I held the coveted scrap in my hand, and swung it about for a long time, while the cat eyed it with a kind of patient eagerness, and then, instead of throwing it into the next room I threw it behind the upper portion of a picture which was slightly inclined forwards from the wall. The surprise of the cat, who, closely following my movements, had observed the direction in which I threw the bread, and its disappearance, was extreme. The uneasy look of the animal indicated its consciousness that a material object traversing space could not be annihilated. For some time the cat considered the matter, then it started off into the next room, evidently guided by the reflection, that, the piece of bread having disappeared, it must have gone through the wall.
But the bread had not gone through the wall, and the cat returned, disappointed. The animal’s logic was at fault. I again attracted its attention by my gestures, and sent a second piece of bread to join the first behind the picture. This time the cat jumped upon a divan and went straight to the hiding-place. Having inspected the frame on both sides, it began to manoeuvre so dexterously with its paw that it shifted the lower edge of the picture away from the wall, and thus got at the two pieces of bread.
A German diplomatist of the last century has recorded a similar observation respecting a favourite female cat, and advances it as proof of consecutive and conclusive reasoning on the part of the animal. “I noticed,” says Baron von Gleichen, “that she was constantly looking at herself in the glass, retreating from her own image and running back to it again, and especially scratching at the frames, for all my glasses were inserted in panels. This suggested to me the idea of placing a toilet mirror in the middle of the room, so that my cat might have the pleasure of examining it all round.
“She began by making sure (by approaching and with-drawing as usual) that she was dealing with a glass like the others. She passed behind it several times, more quickly each time; but, seeing that she could not get at this cat, which was always too quick for her, she placed herself at the edge of the mirror, and looking alternately on one side and the other, she made quite sure that the cat which she had just seen, neither was nor had been behind the mirror. Then she arrived at the conclusion that the cat was inside it. But how did she proceed to test this conclusion, the last that remained to her? Keeping her place at the edge of the mirror, she rose on her hind feet, and stretched out her fore paws to feel the thickness of the glass; then, aware that it did not afford sufficient space to contain a cat, she withdrew dejectedly. Being convinced that the matter in question was a phenomenon impossible for her to discover, because it was outside the circle of her ideas, she never again looked in any glass, but at once renounced an object which had vainly excited her curiosity.” [Footnote: “Souvenirs du Baron von Gleichen,” published by P. Grimblot, Techener, 1868.]
The German diplomatist, who was a friend of Diderot and the whole body of encyclopaedists, recognises in this fact the wisdom of the animal, which puts a limit to its metaphysical researches.
To my mind these two instances are convincing evidence of sagacity, observation, and the reasoning faculty.
CHAPTER XIX. CAT LANGUAGE.
Dupont de Nemours, a “naturalist” philosopher, one of those who was under the direct influence of the great minds of the eighteenth century, maintained that the study of intelligence in animals, and the advantages which men may gain from its exercise, was of great utility. In his treatise, addressed to the Institute, he suggests a method of understanding the brute creation. It is simply this: “To study the animal in ourselves.”
Dry controversies respecting the reasoning faculty in animals he left to metaphysicians, adhering, for his own part, to the school of Montaigne; and he put the following problem:- “A point undecided, and of guess-work, is, to which of us belongs the fault that we do not understand each other? For we understand them no more than they understand us: for this same reason, they may esteem us beasts, as we esteem them.” [Footnote: Montaigne also says: “We have some mean (moyenne) intelligence of their senses; so also have the beasts of ours, well-nigh in the same measure. They flatter us, menace us, and need us; and we them. It is abundantly evident to us that there is among them a full and entire communication, and that they understand each other.”]
Man, a superior intelligence, has the faculty of accounting to himself for inferior intelligences. He can place his more subtle and intimate sensations under the microscope of reason, and study them to their fullest extent. The child cannot follow the complicated machinery with which civilization has supplied the man, but the man can clearly judge of the perceptions of the child; just as the nurse understands the infant who does not understand her.
The animal is the child. Now, Dupont de Nemours, going a step beyond Montaigne, tried to penetrate the mysteries of animal language.
“That which prevents us from understanding the reasoning of most of the animals,” he says, “is the difficulty which we feel in putting ourselves in their place, a difficulty that arises from the prejudices which have led us to abase them, while at the same time we have exaggerated our own importance. But when we have arrived at the conviction that animals, although inferior to us, are nevertheless intelligent beings, and that, just because they have to exercise their intelligence upon a lesser number of ideas and objects, they bestow upon those a more lasting and more recurrent affection, are more strongly impressed by them, and revolve them oftener in their memory; when, reverting to ourselves, we reflect upon what our intelligence would experience, with similar organs, in similar circumstances, we are enabled, according to their sensations of the same nature as our own, and their conclusions in conformity with our logic, to discover the chain of their thoughts; we can recognize the sequence of recollections, notions, and inductions that leads from their perceptions to their actions.”
Dupont de Nemours, pushing his theory to its utmost limits, adds:- “I am asked how we may learn the languages of animals and form an idea of their discourse approaching the reality? I reply that careful observation of animals is the first step to success in the attempt to do this. It will convince us that those who utter sounds attach significance to them, that their fellows do the same, and that those sounds, originally inspired by passions, and repeated under similar recurrent circumstances, have, by the combined action of nature and habit, become the abiding expression of the passions that gave rise to them. It is impossible for any person who lives familiarly with animals to doubt this fact, if he be capable of close observation.
“Having recognized these various languages, how are we to learn them? Just as we learn the languages of savage tribes, or even the tongue of a foreign nation without studying its grammar, or possessing a dictionary. By carefully listening to a sound, and thus imprinting it on our memory, by recognizing it when repeated, distinguishing between it and other sounds which bear a resemblance to it; without being exactly the same, writing it down when it is fixed, and by observing on the utterance of each sound the thing with which it coincides, and the gesture by which it is accompanied.
“Animals have few wants and few passions. Those wants are, however, imperious, and those passions are strong. The expression of them is, therefore, very marked, but the ideas are not many, the vocabulary is limited, the grammar is simple. There are very few nouns; double as many adjectives; the verb is almost always understood; interjections, as it has been admirably proved by M. de Tracy, form whole phrases in one single word. These are the only parts of speech.
“In comparison with animals our languages are rich; we have a multitude of ways of expressing the various shades of our ideas. We ought not, therefore, to find it difficult to translate animal into human speech. It is difficult to understand how animals translate our abundant language into their own which is so meagre. They do this, nevertheless; for, if it were not so, how could our horses, dogs, and tame birds obey our voices?”
His ingenious theory unfortunately tempted Dupont de Nemours to translate a nightingale’s song, a feat which laid him open to the ready ridicule of his adversaries. Two centuries earlier, Marco Bettini had transcribed the song of the nightingale:-
“Tiouou, tiouou, tiouou, tiouou, tiouou,
Zpe, tiou, zqua,
Tio, tio, tio, tio, tio,
Quoutio, quoutio, quoutio, quoutio,
Zquo, zquo, zquo, zquo,
Zi, zi, zi, zi, zi, zis, zi, zi, zi,
Quorsror tiou zquo pipiqui.”
[Footnote: Ruben, Hilarotragedia Sittiro pastorale. In 4to. Parma: 1614.]
These onomatopes, which he maintains are the tender utterances of the nightingale in the hatching season, were rendered as follows:-
“Dors, dors, dors, dors, dors, dors, ma douce amie
Si belle et si chérie;
Dors en aimant,
Dors en couvant,
Ma belle amie,
Nos jolis enfans,” etc., etc.
No wonder the discovery and the discoverer alike were unmercifully laughed at!
Dupont, de Nemours, thoroughly disconcerted by the reception accorded to his brilliant and original theory, retired into the country, and devoted two whole winters to collecting materials for a dictionary of the language of crows. He noted the words thus:-
Cra, crè, cro, crou, crouou.
Grass, gress, gross, grouss, grououss.
Craè, crèa, croa, croua, grouass.
Crao, crèè, croè, crouè, grouess.
Craou, crèo, croo, crouo, grouoss.
According to the student and discoverer these twenty-five words express: here, there, right, left, forward, halt, food, take care, armed men, cold, hot, to set out, and several other intimations which crows give each other according to their needs.
Chateaubriand, who was very fond of crows, doubtless paid some attention to the new dictionary with which this enthusiast purposed to enrich the natural sciences. He was also interested in cat-language, which Dupont de Nemours, who held the cat to be more intelligent than the dog, had attempted to note.
“Its claws, and the power of climbing trees which its claws confer upon it,” says the naturalist, “furnish the cat with a source of experience and ideas denied to the dog. The cat has, also, the advantage of a language in which the same vowels as those pronounced by the dog exist, with six consonants in addition, m, n, g, h, v and f. The consequence is that the cat has a greater number of words. These two causes, the finer structure of the paws, and the larger scope of oral language, endow the solitary cat with greater cunning and skill as a hunter of game than the dog possesses.”
As we have no remains of this compared language of the dog and the cat, jesters cannot make a mockery of the assertions of Dupont de Nemours. He, however, omitted one important point. In the compilation of a dictionary of this kind, he ought to have called the German and English philologists to his aid. In Sanscrit the cat is called mardjara or vidala, and its speech is rendered by the words madj, vid, bid.
The Greeks called the cat ailouros and its speech larungizein. The Latins called the cat felis, and gave no name to its speech. Among the Arabs the animal was called ayel or cotth; its speech naoua. The Chinese translate the cry of the cat into ming. In German the cat is katze, and the utterance is miauen; this comes nearest to the English mew.
I am of opinion that the western peoples have most correctly rendered the sound of the utterance of the cat. Naoua is an exclusively Oriental form of caterwauling; and the Chinese word ming reminds one only of the metallic, sound of the Chinese gong. The French miauler, the German miauen, and the English mew, convey the idea of a much more universal language.
If some master minds of the different nations who have translated the utterance of the animal by positive onomatopes, would but undertake the vocabular study of the cat in a spirit of hearty collaboration, we might perhaps arrive at a realization of the enterprise of Dupont do Nemours and Galiani. [Footnote: For an amusing note on the language of cats by the witty Abbe, see Appendix.]
For the present we must be content, with what Montaigne ways about our intercourse with these animals:- “When I play with my cat, how do I know whether she does not make a pastime of me, just as I do of her? We entertain ourselves with mutual antics; and if I have my own times of beginning or refusing, she too has hers.”
CHAPTER XX. HEREDITARY TRANSMISSION OF MORAL QUALITIES IN THE CAT.
A friend who, without having made a special study of them, has closely observed certain animals, sends me the following remarks:- “I believe that cats possess intelligence which they constantly endeavour to apply to a definite purpose. Like children playing at battles, trades, robbers, and police, they want to apply themselves to something serious and real, but they have not enough strength, and their senses are not sufficiently developed. Watch the proceedings of a kitten in the garden; it will climb a tree in pursuit of a bird which it cannot reach, but instinct leads it to this make-believe hunting. It will watch at the end of the garden for the man coming to cut the hedge, and will want to play with him, following him about with blinking, intelligent eyes. In all this there is undeveloped intelligence, which, as in the case of a child, is pure play.
“Le Roy, who says it would takes two thousand years to develop the intelligence of animals so as to make useful servants of them, probably over-states the case very much indeed. Several generations, brought up with great care, and in comfort, after an exotic fashion, would probably suffice to enable us to apply these intellectual instruments to small purposes, and to the performance of trifling offices; but then it would be necessary that men themselves should pay more attention to those things which look like mere phantasms, and are of no immediate utility.
“There should also be a family of ‘naturalist observers,’ in which the father would confide the care of a family of cats to the son, the son to the grandson, and so on, throughout all its generations. It is thus that all great problems are solved.
“There exists somewhere in the world a learned work on mathematics. It is a unique copy. It was bequeathed by its author to M. --, by him to another (still to the most worthy), and by that other, I believe, to M. Biot, who will also have transmitted it in his turn to the greatest mathematician of our time. Inside the case which contains this work, three or four dedications to distinguished persons are written, and the last is left blank until the death of the testator. ‘Transmitted by M. -- to M. --’
“In a similar way the study and observation of a family of animals ought to be perpetuated by its transmission from one naturalist to another.”
[Footnote: This project for perfecting the qualities of the cat was formed by M. Jules Troubat, of whom Sainte Beuve says, in his “Nouveaux Lundis”:- “He is full of zeal and of the ardour of an amiable and affectionate nature, and he combines a profound and solid education with a great pleasure of his friends, into whom he seems to transform, and with whom he seems to blend himself.]
CHAPTER XXI. FIVE O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING.
This is the hour at which my cat generally awakes. Curled up at the foot of the bed, in the place which is occupied by a dog on the old monuments, of the knights, my cat is the most accurate of clocks. He stretches his legs, yawns, to stretch his jaws, and opens his eyes widely. Having risen to his feet, he gradually elevates himself to an extraordinary height, owing to the flexibility of his spine. His back, which just now was round and indistinct, changes by degrees into a hump; he is no longer a cat, but a sort of small camel.
The cat jumps off the bed, springs on a chair, wanders all over the room, and finally rouses me up completely. In summer I open the window, and sometimes I am so lazy as to lie in bed for another half-hour, enjoying the fresh morning air, vaguely meditating, and grumbling at the pen which I must presently dip in the ink-bottle.
Towards five o’clock in the morning the sky forms a succession of splendid pictures, making one understand the religion of the sun-worshippers. This ever-varying spectacle cannot be enjoyed too much or too often, and it fills the mind with sweet and lasting serenity for the whole of the day. Every morning this panorama unrolls itself before the eyes of my cat; but I suspect him of diluting its interest with that of more material things. When I open the window he climbs on the sill, sniffs the air, and looks out with lively curiosity. The birds also are awake, and they utter little cries in their warm nests. All this twittering has aroused the attention of the cat, his ears begin to stir, they part widely, then suddenly droop, point forward, like the ears of a vicious horse, and make a number of little movements which mean that no sound is lost upon them, from the note of the mother bird, fluttering about the nest, to the calls of the callow brood awaiting their morning meal.
All of a sudden the cat turns his face to the wind, and the soft parts of his nose, as well as his moustaches, begin to move. A bird has flitted past the window; hence the animal’s agitation. He leans over and looks out with his green eyes; the bird has flown away, and the cat apparently resumes his apathetic attitude. He pretends to be asleep again; the feint consisting of drawing the blind of his eyelids over the glittering emerald green of his eyes.
The animal when in this attitude is on the watch. He fondly fancies that the bird flying free in air will come within reach of his claws, come in at the window, perhaps fall ready roasted into his jaws. Ten times over the cat sleeps and wakes at his pleasure, until he is at last convinced that keeping watch at the window is fruitless.
Six o’clock has just struck. My cat abandons his post, slowly crosses the room, goes and comes from the kitchen to the dining-room, from the dining-room to the study, and occasionally utters a plaintive cry. He often returns to the corridor on which the door leading to the staircase opens. He wants to get out; his great object just now is to breathe the fresh air.
In sheer compassion I put on my dressing-gown, and there is no need for me to tell the cat to follow me. He rushes to the staircase, bounds down it, and rubs the locked door with his head, as though, it would open of its own accord for his coaxing.
CHAPTER XXII. THE INFANCY OF THE CAT.
A kitten is the delight of a household. Where there is one of those little creatures, a play is being performed all day long by an incomparable actor. Searchers for “Perpetual Motion” need do no more than observe a kitten. Its stage is always ready, for it is the place of its abode. It needs but few properties; a scrap of paper, a pen, a piece of string, a pincushion, are quite enough to enable it to accomplish prodigies of posturing, and clown’s tricks. “Everything that moves serves to amuse cats,” says Moncrif. “They are convinced that nature is occupied solely with their diversion; they do not conceive of any other cause for motion; and when, by our movements, we incite them to do their graceful tumbling, may it not be that they take us merely for pantomimists, all whose actions are jokes?”
Even when a kitten is quiet, nothing can be more amusing. The little crouching creature with its shut eyes has such a knowing, touch-me-not air. Its head hanging as though overwhelmed with sleep, its stretched-out paws, its dainty little nose, all seem to say, “Don’t wake me, I am so happy!” A sleeping kitten is the image of perfect beatitude. Its ears are especially remarkable in its babyhood. How large and comical they look, planted in its little skull! The slightest noise goes straight to them. Look at the kitten on its legs; its eyes are almost as big as its ears, and full of keen observation. Nothing escapes it. Who is that ringing, or knocking? Who is that moving about? - and what good thing to eat is he or she bringing? The ruling passion of the kitten is curiosity.
In “Emile,” Jean Jacques Rousseau comments upon the analogy between the curiosity of the child and that of the cat. “Observe a cat entering a room for the first time: it searches and smells about, it is not quiet for a moment, it trusts nothing until it has examined and made acquaintance with everything. Just in the same way would a child who was beginning to walk, and, so to speak, entering upon the unknown space of the world, demean itself.”
The story of a hat which I am about to relate, does not appear to bear upon the instincts of kittens, but the reader will discover the analogy in due time.
The late Gustave Planche was busy, one day, correcting proofs in the editor’s room at the office of a certain celebrated Review. Having finished his work, he breathed a sigh of satisfaction, and was about to sally forth into the fresh air, when he discovered that his hat had vanished. Great commotion in the house ensued. Who could have carried off the “wide-awake” of an influential critic? No one but Planche himself had been in the editor’s room, and the hat was not a tempting article. The search was continued, and it was remembered that the children of the house, who had been playing in the garden, had been prying about the editor’s premises. Out went Planche to search the garden.
Children are capable of any enormity. Could they have thrown the hat down the well? No proofs of the crime were found, and the suspects had run away! However, after a long search, traces of freshly-turned clay were discovered, and the place being searched, the hat, stuffed with stones and sand, was unearthed. Planche shook the dirt off his restored headgear, and walked off, meditating upon the iniquity of children, and the singularity of the fact that it could give anyone pleasure to bury a hat.
Cats, although they are incapable of a deed of this kind, take a strange delight in the inspection of a hat. A cat will walk round a hat, sniff at it, seeming uneasy at first; then jump joyously into the crown, and, protruding its surprised-looking head, remind one irresistibly of a preacher in the pulpit.
There are no more intrepid explorers than kittens. They make voyages of discovery into cellars and garrets, they climb on the roofs of neighbouring houses, put their little noses out of the half-closed street door, and return with a store of observation laid up for future use. Sometimes, however, this ardent curiosity leads them into dangerous places, and brings them into difficulties which they have cause to regret.
It is worthwhile to watch a kitten climbing a tree. Up it goes, from branch to branch, higher and higher, as though to enjoy the spectacle of a grand panorama. Where is it going to? It knows not. It climbs eagerly, heedless of the diminishing size of the branches, and it is only when it lays its paws upon the frail upper twigs that it begins to understand the danger of going always straight ahead. Then it is seized with terror, and being unable to continue its course, mews in a heartrending manner. If the tree upon which it is perched in consternation be too lofty to admit of a ladder being brought to aid in the salvage of the poor little animal, the kitten, with infinite precautions, and a heart beating almost out of its body, will let itself slide along the branches, sticking its nervously-convulsed claws into them.
The curiosity of the kitten is a venial sin compared with its greediness. Gratiolet, the physiologist, thus admirably describes the greediness of the young cat:- “Observe a kitten advancing slowly and sniffing at some sweetened liquid. Its ears are erect, its widely-opened eyes express desire, its impatient tongue, licking its lips, tastes the desired object by anticipation. It walks cautiously, with outstretched neck. But now it has got hold of the longed-for object, its lips touch the balmy liquid, it laps it eagerly. The object is no longer desired, it is possessed, and the sensation which it awakens pervades the entire organism; the young cat then shuts its eyes, in contemplation of its own all-pervading pleasure. It falls back upon itself, hunches up its back, shivers voluptuously, and seems to cover up its body with its limbs, as if to possess the source of its enjoyment more entirely. Its head sinks in between its shoulders; one might fancy that it seeks oblivion of a world thenceforth indifferent to it. It resolves itself into the sense of taste, and the sense of smell, and withdraws into itself with a most significant completeness."
A kitten is not merely and not only curious and greedy; it plays a useful part in its family relations, and I advise the friends of the feline race to leave the child with its mother for at least two months, if only for the sake of the cat’s health.
The father and mother have reached the age of tranquillity, quietude, and even of somnolence, against which it is well to guard. The liveliness of their offspring diverts them from their idleness. The kitten will not let them sleep or dream. In the morning it jumps about its parents and licks them, thus exciting their nervous system. In vain does the father mark his irritation by the abrupt movements of his tail; the kitten pounces upon that wagging member, bites it, undeterred by any paw-taps, and forces both father and mother to play with it. Thus the kitten helps to keep the limbs of animals who are tending to the laziness of age in a state of suppleness and activity.
CHAPTER XXIII. PLAY TO THE CAT, DEATH TO THE MOUSE.
The cat has seen a mouse-hole in the corner of the room; it goes over to this hole, and sniffs long and carefully, to make sure whether the scent hanging about it denotes the presence of a rodent. If the hole be inhabited the cat does not trouble itself about it during the day; but will wait until night, when it will crouch at a little distance, perfectly motionless. A whole night may pass over without any result, the animal does not lose patience; but it institutes a search upon the premises that would do honour to a skilled detective. The hiding-place of the mouse may have several issues; they are usually narrow, in dark corners, or under the furniture.
The cat has not found any other point of egress from the cavern for his enemies. When night comes it crouches motionless near the hole, and when the little rodent puts its head out before venturing into the room, it receives a tremendous blow on the head, and is instantly helpless in the grip of its relentless foe.
M. Brasseur-Wirtgen, a student of instinct in animals, relates a fact respecting his female cat which refutes the general charge of selfishness brought against the feline race:-“My habit of reading,” he says, “which divided us from each other in our respective thoughts, prejudiced my cat very strongly against my books. Sometimes her little head would project its profile on the page which I was perusing, as though she were trying to discover what it was that thus absorbed me; doubtless, she did not understand why I should look for any happiness beyond the presence of a devoted heart.
“Her solicitude was no less manifest when she brought me rats or mice. She acted in this case exactly as if I had been her son; dragging enormous rats, still in the throes of death, to my feet; and she was evidently guided by logic in offering me a prey commensurate with my size, for she never presented any such large game to her kittens.
“Her affectionate attention invariably caused her a severe disappointment. Having laid the product of her hunting expedition at my feet, she would appear to be greatly hurt by my indifference to such delicious fare.”
CHAPTER XXIV. FAMILY FEELING.
“I had two she-cats,” says Dupont de Nemours; “they were mother and daughter. The mother had produced her kittens on a certain day, and they had been all left with her. The daughter gave birth to her first litter on the following day, and was very ill. She lost consciousness and motion with the birth of the last kitten. The mother went round and round her, lavishing on her all the expressions of maternal tenderness, which are very numerous in the vocabulary of cat-language. Perceiving at length that the care she was expending upon her daughter was in vain, she busied herself, like a good grandmother, with the little creatures crawling in a desolate and orphaned condition upon the ground, licked all the litter, and finally carried them to the bed of her own children, where she shared her milk with them.
“A full hour afterwards the young cat came to her senses, looked for her little ones, and found her mother nursing them. There was great joy on both sides, and many touching expressions of affection and gratitude were exchanged. The two mothers established themselves in the same basket, and, while the educational period lasted, they never left it except separately. One always remained on duty. Thus they nursed, caressed, and impartially reared the seven kittens, of whom three belonged to the daughter, and four to the grandmother.
“I do not know,” says Dupont de Nemours in conclusion, “what species of animal could have done better.”
The extraordinary development of the maternal sentiment in the female cat is well known, and innumerable anecdotes on this subject might be related. I am, however, extremely distrustful of moving stories respecting animals. When an observer is a man of the calibre of Dupont de Nemours, or of Le Roy (whose functions and tendencies are unfortunately of a nature to alienate him from the feline race), he is to be believed implicitly; but minds which can be content with natural phenomena as they are, without seeking to embellish them, are very rare.
Pierquin de Gembloux, the author of “La Folie des Animaux,” quotes an instance of maternal love on the part of a cat which is worthy of record. “M. Moreau de Saint Méry,” he says, “had a cat who produced several kittens, but always in vain, because she was not allowed to rear her family. In order to spare her feelings, and also to provide for the drawing-off of her milk, she was deprived of only one kitten each day. For five successive days she had undergone this bereavement; on the sixth, before any one came to her basket, she took the child that remained to her, carried it to her master’s study, and laid it on his knees. Her nursling was saved, but the mother brought it back every day, and could not be quieted until her master had caressed the little one, and renewed his orders that it was to be well cared for.”
M. Charles Asselineau sends me the following:- “My cat had her kittens in the country. I left her one, so that she should not have the milk-fever, and I gave the other to my laundress. One night, soon after, the whole house was aroused by heartrending cries. The gardener’s wife, who is very kind-hearted, got up and found the little kitten shivering, drenched, half dead; she carried it in, and took it to sleep beside her in her own bed, to warm it. The next morning the kitten was presented to its mother, and flung itself upon her like a famished creature in its eagerness to suck, but the cat repulsed it resolutely, bristling up, ‘swearing’ at it, and showing her claws. Twenty times the attempt was renewed, and always in vain. We were extremely indignant with this bad mother, who, after only two days of separation, had ceased to know her own child. My nieces actually wept over her depravity, and exclaimed: ‘Oh, what a horrid creature! What a bad mother!’
“At last we made up our minds to take the little creature back to the laundress, and to scold her for her barbarity in turning out a feeble little new-born animal in such weather. We arrived, and what did we see? - the real kitten, comfortably reclining upon a cushion, with a saucer of milk within its reach!
“We had calumniated the mother. Her instinct had been more trustworthy than our eyes. She had instantaneously perceived that the child which was presented to her was not hers, and had refused it, so as not to defraud her lawful offspring.”
[Footnote: All animals, however, have not such keen instinct. I extract the following account of a singular delusion from a paper read at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, by Mr. Charles Buxton, M.P. – “The maternal instinct,” said Mr. Buxton, “developed itself in a very absurd manner in the case of a couple of grey parrots. This year a cat gave birth to her kittens in a recess in which their perch was placed. These parrots, who had not been clever enough to lay eggs and found a family, have taken it into their heads that the kittens are their children They declared war on the old cat, and no sooner had she quitted the recess, than one of them took her place there with the kittens, and has ever since refused to leave them, even when the mother is present.”
CHAPTER XXV. CLEANLINESS.
The exquisite cleanliness of the cat has probably led to its having been compared, by all peoples, in all ages, to woman. The love of dress is very marked in this attractive animal; it is proud of the lustre of its coat, and cannot endure that a hair of it should lie the wrong way. When the cat has eaten, it passes its tongue several times over both sides of its jaws, and its whiskers, in order to clean them thoroughly; it keeps its coat clean with a prickly tongue which fulfils the office of a currycomb; but as, notwithstanding its suppleness, it is difficult for the cat to reach the upper part of its head with the tongue, it makes use of its paw, moistened with saliva, to polish that portion. An observer of the scrupulous care which a cat takes of its person, has said: “We must bear in mind that cleanliness is not only a social virtue, but also that it contributes to health, and is a mark of respect for one’s self and for others.” [Footnote: De Lasteyrie, Histoire Naturelle. Paris, 1834.]
CHAPTER XXVI. CATS SKETCHED FROM NATURE.
At twelve o’clock on the 10th June, 1865, I was particularly struck by the characteristic attitudes of my male and female cats, and their kitten. I passed a whole hour in the contemplation of the three animals, as they lay at full length on a couch. The mother’s head hung down supinely, the father seemed overpowered with lassitude, and a nervous thrill passed every now and then through the paws and ears of the kitten.
No labourers, stretching themselves under the shadow of their hayricks after a hard morning’s work, could be more tired. And yet my cat family had undergone no toil that morning. A natural phenomenon of some kind is the only way of accounting for this exhaustion, and for the nervous shocks which thrill their frames.
It would need a skilful and refined pen to convey an idea of the cat-household devoted to the rearing of the newly born. Where could the draughtsman be found who could depict for me this “group” of cats; the three intertwined, the mother resting against the outstretched father, as though he were an easy chair, the kitten held in its mother’s paws. The tenderest love exists among these beautiful creatures. The voice of the mother when she calls her child to her embrace is like the cooing of a dove. If the kitten makes ever so short an excursion away from them, the mother follows it instantly, and if anyone pretends to be about to touch the cherished child, the father adds his remonstrating and imploring accents to the maternal cry.
The kisses and the lickings that are exchanged among the three are beyond computation, and although, just at first, the kitten does not look amiable - its depressed skull and flattened nose give it a morose appearance for a few days - it perfectly understands the parental caresses. The kitten is six weeks old. This is the customary period of separation. It has been weaned, and the foundation of its education has been laid. From the hour of its birth it has been promised to trusty friends, who are well acquainted with the grace and intelligence of its mother, and the masculine grandeur and noble qualities of its father.
The hereditary transmission of the graces and virtues of its parents is about to be developed in another home. It is gone! The bereaved mother wanders about looking and calling for her child. This lasts a few days, but her transient memory soon ceases to retain the image of the little one whom she tended with such devoted solicitude.
CHAPTER XXVII. LOCAL ATTACHMENT OF THE CAT.
The instances which I have known of cats having returned from long distances to their former homes, are so numerous that I could not undertake to relate them all. I shall, therefore, give two peculiarly conclusive examples of subtlety of scent, in which the cat is the equal of the dog.
The curé of a certain village was promoted to a more important charge; that of a small neighbouring town at a distance of five miles from his former parish. His household had, hitherto, consisted of an old woman servant, a crow, and a cat, all three being strongly attached to the house. The cat was slightly given to thieving; the crow was of a teasing disposition and addicted to pecking the cat with its beak, the old servant was constantly scolding either the cat or the crow, and the good curé took a lively interest in the disputes of the little company.
The day after the installation of the curé at the town, the cat disappeared. The crow, very uneasy in its mind, hopped about in every corner, looking for its companion, the old servant lamented that no choice bit of that day’s meat was carried off by the cat, and the cure was alarmed lest this sad state of things should bring down upon his head the avalanche of reproach usually reserved for the missing animal.
A few days later, one of his former parishioners came to visit the curé, and asked him whether it was by design or by accident that he had left his cat at the village. The poor animal had been seen and heard mewing at the door of the presbytery; the peasant would certainly have brought it back to its master if he had not concluded that the curé wished to get rid of it. Both master and servant were indignant at being accused of so cruel an act of desertion, and the cat was brought back, to their great joy. It disappeared again, however, wholly unmoved by the affection with which it was regarded.
A second time the curé was informed that his successor was disturbed by the cries of the cat, and that it persisted in wandering about the garden and roof of the presbytery, looking to the last degree rueful and wretched. Once more the poor animal was brought to the town, in a starved condition. It had been away for a week, and presented all the appearance of having had nothing to eat during that period. Its bones might be counted under its lustreless coat; it was a pitiful object to behold.
The old servant lavished every kind of care and attention upon the cat; she gave it large bits of meat, and delicately ministered to its predatory instincts by leaving the door of the larder open as if by accident. All these devices failed to retain the cat. The old fireside held its place in his heart; his attachment to the walls of the presbytery was like that of aged men who cannot survive banishment. The cure was told that the obstinate animal, now as thin as a lath, uttered the most lamentable cries, disturbing the repose of the village, and it was greatly to be feared that some pitiless peasant might shoot the poor creature, in order to get rid of the piteous noise.
Then the wise old servant, who entertained a profound affection for the cat, notwithstanding its ingratitude, bethought her of a disagreeable expedient, but one which, she felt assured, would make the new abode in the town blissful to her obstinate pet. She employed a man to catch the cat, put it in a bag, and dip it into a pond. After this operation the wanderer was brought back to its master in a terrible state of indignation as may be supposed, but these ended its escapades.
My second story, which was told me by a doctor, is still more significant.
The special instinct that brings back a cat to the familiar fireside, in spite of difficulties and dangers, was made the subject of a bet, in which very large sums were staked, in Belgium. It is the fashion among the Flemish people to race pigeons, and to bet upon the bird which shall first return to a pre-arranged spot. A certain peasant laid a wager that twelve pigeons, having been taken to a distance of eight leagues, would not have re-entered their dovecot before his cat, - to be let loose at the same place,- would have returned to the house.
The cat is short-sighted and lives a sedentary life. If it ever plays truant it is in a dry or grassy spot. The sight of a man inspires it with terror. The pigeon, far up in the air, escapes from danger. To fly afar is natural to it; death only can prevent it from returning to its dovecot. The peasant who laid this strange wager was ridiculed because within the allotted space there was a bridge across a river, and it seemed impossible but that the cat should be puzzled by the bridge. The cat was, however, triumphant over his twelve competitors, reached the house in advance of the pigeons, and won a large sum for his master.
CHAPTER XVIII. COUNTRY CATS.
The small dwelling which I inhabit is half-hidden in greenery, and stands in the midst of a little bit of ground, half lawn, half garden, enclosed within a hedge of elder bushes and eglantine. It is a lovely and delightful spot. In the morning some birds come hopping about in the elder bushes, with a queer little cry, as if they were tapping the wood with their sharp beaks. It is like (t’ t’ t’ t’ t’). This sound attracts my cat, lying in ambush in the hedge, and there it remains motionless for hours together, without bringing home any spoils of the chase, for he does not belong to the race of his confreres, of whom Montaigne says that “ magnetizing the birds with their green eyes, they make them fall into their outspread jaws.”
A wooden summerhouse, about which tendrils of the wild briony climb, stands with its back to a fine acacia; this is my work-room.
First, the cat comes and sharpens his claws upon the trunk of the acacia; after this is satisfactorily done, he climbs into the lower branches, jumps down, climbs again, and once more descends. Having made several excursions through the little garden, the cat perceives that his master, in pensive mood, is bending over a table, and scribbling on paper. This does not suit his views at all. He springs on the bench alongside of me, crouches there for a moment, and then jumps on the table, evidently investigating what can be the grave occupation that hinders me from paying personal attention to him.
“I, too, will be serious,” he seems to say, in order to excuse his familiarity. He settles himself upon the table in front of me, in the tranquil attitude of his Egyptian forefathers. The movement of the pen presently makes his eyes shine, and then, as he considers its motion too slow, he gives it little pats with his paw. How delighted one is to be thus disturbed at one’s work; to have so excellent an excuse for idleness!
The cat has resumed his solemn attitude, and I my pen. But, after a while, his gambols begin again. “ H’sh” - say I. He pays not the smallest heed to this admonition; but is firmly persuaded that I am shaking my pen at him for his amusement. At length I emphatically bid him begone, and when he declines to obey I take measures for the removal of the intrusive animal.
Here I am, then, delivered from the gambols of the beloved obstructive. A silence of a few moments ensues, and then I hear a strange sound like slipping and ripping on the roof of the summer house, and, through the old tarpaulin covering, through the gaping laths comes a paw, which feels about in the empty space as though it wanted to shake hands. Cats and children delight in a hole! The roof is broken; through the aperture a pantomime is being played with two paws. How am I to write with this performance going on over my head? In hope of escaping from this disturbing cause, I leave the summerhouse, and lie down in a hammock which is slung between the trunks of two old elder trees, and sheltered by their thick branches. If I cannot write this morning, at least I may read in peace.
Just at that moment comes a kitten down from a neighbouring roof, and the two begin to play; pawing each other, jumping, tumbling about, hiding in the box borders, springing out, growling, biting, and displaying their elongated eyes and pink palates. No matter! Let the playfellows chase the butterflies or pursue the bits of straw that are blown about by the wind, I, stretched in my hammock, with a book in my hand, am not going to trouble my head about them.
Nothing is better for the intellectual stomach than the reading of a few pages by a good author, early in the day. By disturbing me at my work my cat had caused me to remember that I had forgotten La Bruyère of late. Behold me now stretched at full length, turning over his pages in luxurious leisure. A cool breeze plays amid the foliage; the rays of the sun cannot pierce through the thick arch of the elder branches. This is a good place wherein to read in peace.
All of a sudden one of the cats makes a dash at the tree on the right, the other makes a dash at the tree on the left, and the two playfellows meet in the branches over my head as I lie in the hammock, and poke their noses through the leaves. Then begins a series of manoeuvres, so playful, so pretty, so full of life, grace, merriment, and comic meaning, that I give up my book. Without intending any disrespect to the most classic writer of the seventeenth century, I am bound to confess that for the moment the two cats possess greater interest for me than the observations of La Bruyère upon Mankind.
CHAPTER XXIX. OUT FOR A WALK.
I HAD no intention, in writing these pages, to speak ill of dogs. I am, indeed, fully alive to the pleasure of being invited out for a walk by a dog, who, jumping about and running round me with eloquently wagging tail, looks at me with eyes that plainly say, “Are we going to start?” And, when we are fairly off, I like this trusty comrade who sets off at railway speed, remembers that his master cannot follow him at that pace, manifests his pleasure by the friendliest movements, and starts off again, barking an inspiriting “Come on!”
But there is a still greater charm, a more refined pleasure in the company of a cat, whose good pleasure it is to lead his master. The cat does not invite one out for a walk; it does not experience the ambulatory enjoyment peculiar to the dog; or at least it does not appear to do so. It follows the person for whom it has an affection, but always on condition that the walk shall be a short one, and in a quiet place. A thoughtful person who walks in the pleached alleys of an old-fashioned garden, meditatively, book in hand, is particularly agreeable to the refined and delicate animal. Before such a one the cat will run, stop suddenly, and roll himself upon the gravelled path, rubbing his back against it with delight. There he will wait until his master comes up and caresses him, and then start off to go through the same “high jinks” twenty paces farther on.
CHAPTER XXX. A POLITE DISCUSSION AMONG CERTAIN DISTINGUISHED PERSONAGES ON THE SUBJECT OF CATS AND DOGS.
Imagine that, about the year 1810, a select company of seven or eight persons, all agreeable talkers and none afraid of declaring their real sentiments, is assembled for a pleasant discussion. Grouped around the hearth are naturalists, economists, men of talent and women of the world. Buffon has brought with him Sonini, his collaborateur, Jean Baptiste Say makes his entry under the patronage of the Abbé Galiani, and Mdme. de Custine is talking with Delphine Gay. Buffon is very old, but Mdlle. Gay is very young. [Footnote: Delphine Gay married Emile de Girardin.]
The conversation turns upon cats, and old Buffon says:- “The cat is an unfaithful domestic animal, kept only from necessity in order to suppress a less domestic and more unpleasant one - (the mouse) - and although these animals are pretty creatures, especially when they are young, they have a treacherous and perverse disposition, which increases with age, and is only disguised by training. They are inveterate thieves; only when they are well brought up they become as cunning and flattering as human rascals; they have the same adroitness, the same subtlety, the same love of ill-doing, the same taste for petty rapine. Like human rascals they know how to cover their approach, to dissemble their designs, watch their opportunities, choose, and seize the moment to make their coup, and then they contrive to escape punishment, fly from pursuit, and stay away until they are recalled. They easily assume sociable manners, but are never really sociable. They have only the semblance of attachment; that may be seen by their sidelong movements and their shifting eyes; they never look the person whom they are supposed to love in the face, and, whether from distrust or from their innate falseness, they approach him by roundabout ways to seek caresses which they care for solely on account of the physical sensation conveyed by them. The cat, far different from that faithful animal, all whose feelings have reference to the person of his master, the cat seems to care for itself alone, to love only under conditions, to lend itself to social intercourse merely to abuse it, and that very cunning and complacency renders it less incompatible with mankind than with the dog, who is sincere in everything.”
With great deference the company have listened to the words of the master - his phrases are as irreproachable as his wristbands - but Sonini, the naturalist, although he has the honour to work with Buffon, is far from sharing his antipathy towards the feline race. “For several years,” he says, “an Angora cat was my pleasantest companion. How often did its tender caresses beguile me into forgetfulness of my troubles and console me for many of my misfortunes. At last my beautiful pet died. After many days of suffering, during which I did not leave her for a moment, her beautiful eyes, which had been constantly fixed upon me, were extinguished, and the loss of her filled my heart with grief.”
Galiani, who agrees with Sonini, declares that but for the company of two charming cats, he would have found life at Naples unbearably dull. One of his pets having gone astray, through the negligence of his servants, he dismissed his whole establishment. And the Abbe makes free confession that, if the animal had not been found, he believed he must have hanged himself in despair.
Mdme. de Custine, addressing herself to Buffon in particular says:- “You would beat me if I were to say that I am not at all touched by the attachment of dogs. They look as if they were condemned to love us; they are mechanically faithful, and you know my horror of machines. They inspire me with a personal enmity. Long live the cat! Paradox apart, however, I prefer cats to dogs. They are more, far more, independent, more natural; human civilization has not become a second nature to them. They are more primitive beings, more graceful than dogs; they take from society all that it can give them, and they always have a gutter to retire to in the vicinity of the salon where they may once more become what God has made them, and be free and independent of their tyrant. When they do, by any chance, love that tyrant, it is not with the degraded slavishness of those wretched dogs, who lick the hand that strikes them, and are faithful only because they have not sense enough to be inconstant.”
Then they talk of certain physiognomical analogies between animals and man, which have frequently been remarked: how there are men who resemble the eagle, others the ferret; some women who have eyes like those of the gazelle, others endowed with the activity of the Squirrel.
“But,” says Mdlle. Delphine Gray, “the cat and the dog especially form the two most distinct races of humanity. The individual who belongs to the dog race has all the qualities of that animal; kindness, courage, devotedness, fidelity and frankness; but he has also its defects; credulity, want of foresight, good nature-yes, I repeat it, good nature, for that, while it is a virtue of the heart is a defect in the character. A man who resembles a dog is full of sound qualities, but in general he lacks address and charm. He is seldom fascinating. His vocation will be for grave employments, for conditions of life which require the exercise of the sound and sober virtues. The man who resembles a dog always makes a good soldier, among his kind we find the best husbands, the best servants, sincere friends, good comrades, great heroes, and ready dupes. In short he will always select by preference a profession in which it is possible to remain an honest man. And the result is that the dog-like man is esteemed by all who know him, but he is seldom loved; he is born for friendship, and if he feels love he never inspires it; he has almost always a flirting wife whom he adores, and ungrateful children who ruin him.”
“The cat-like man, on the contrary,” continues this witty woman, “is one upon whom no tricks can be played with success. He possesses none of the qualities of the dog-like man, but he enjoys all the advantages of those qualities. He is selfish, ungrateful, miserly, avaricious, ambitious, and perfidious; but he is adroit, gracious, dapper, persuasive, gifted with intelligence, cleverness, and the power of fascination. He possesses refined experience: he guesses what he does not know, he understands what is hidden from him. To this race belong great diplomatists, successful gallants, in fact all the men whom women call perfidious.”
No sooner had Mdlle. Delphine Gray concluded, than the lady of the house turned towards the man with compressed lips and expressive eyes, who was to become the celebrated economist Jean Baptiste Say. The disciple of Franklin, whose outward man was very plain and simple, seldom spoke in large assemblies; but his shyness vanished when he was among friends, and when he was in the vein this amiable savant enjoyed a joke.
All those present had remarked his gestures while Mdlle. Delphine Gay was speaking, everyone was anxious to hear the opinion of the thinker upon the subject of discussion.
“I do not know,” says Jean Baptiste Say, “who it is that has remarked that those who like cats are also distinguished for their philanthropy. At first sight one would be tempted to take this saying for a jest; but the remark is confirmed by numerous examples, so that it must have some foundation. Yes -one must have a good deal of philanthropy in one to like cats. He who does not revolt against seeing every one seek his own welfare in his own way; who, without sacrificing his own independence, knows bow to respect that of others; who thinks it quite right that all should have their tastes and endeavour to gratify them; their opinions and try to support them, is a true philanthropist. Only such a disposition can put up with the independence of the cat, an animal who is not ill-disposed unless it is driven to extremities by hunger or ill-treatment, but which preserves the independence of its tastes more than any other domestic animal. Don’t you think that man, who wants to have slaves, would naturally prefer the dog? - for it is, after all, a creeping thing, and employs the faculties which the Creator has given it solely in the service of a master, while it submits to his caprices and licks the hand of injustice as readily as that of kindness. M. de Buffon,” he continued, “counts it a crime on the part of the cat that it loves its ease, and looks out for the softest cushions and pleasantest places for either its play or its rest - just like men; - that it cares for caresses solely because they give it pleasure - again, just like men; - that it spies out animals weaker than itself to prey upon them - still like men; - that it is averse to all restraint - once more, exactly like men.”
Writers, whether they be grave or gay, and even talkers, are saving of the good things that may be picked up in conversation. Buffon had repeated a page of his Natural History. Sonini, the Abbé Galiani, and Mdme. de Castine made this pleasant talk the theme of letters to their friends; Jean Baptiste Say recalled it afterwards and recorded his impressions in his “Petit volume contenant quelques apercus des hommes et de la société.” Mdlle. Delphine Gay turned it to account in one of her clever newspaper articles. And if any one feels disposed to reprove me for having brought together personages whose respective ages do not admit of their having met, I plead the author’s excuse, that I have endeavoured to do away with wearisome quotations.
CHAPTER XXXI. CATS IN LOVE.
At the beginning of a certain winter I derived a great deal of amusement from observing the proceedings of two cats, a male and a female, whom I kept shut up in the house. I was confined to my room by the results of an accident at the time, and could therefore watch them at my leisure. The female cat began by making flattering advances to the “Tom,” but he bore himself with true platonic philosophy. Next day it was his turn, but the pretty coquette took not the slightest notice of him. For three whole days these animals acted the play of Le Dépit Amoureux just as cleverly and thoroughly as ever it was acted by human adepts in the game of flirtation. Turn and turn about they affected disdain and indifference, and the “myows” of the ill-used lover were truly heartrending.
Under such circumstances especially one requires to know how to translate cat-language. From among the great variety of myows (sixty-three can be counted, but the notation of them is difficult) I will select one that is particularly expressive, and accompanied by so precise a gesture that it can only be translated into “are you coming?” Then with one accord the cats adjourn to an adjoining room, or to the housetop, and interchange the most ardent vows.
CHAPTER XXXII. NERVOUS AFFECTIONS OF THE CAT.
Pierquin de Gembloux - a voluminous writer somewhat confused in his ideas - has left us a “Traité de la folie des animaux,” in which he describes certain nervous phenomena among cats. Of the facts related by him some are not very conclusive; others need confirmation; for no scientific observation ought to be accepted as authoritative unless it be made by a person of irreproachable sincerity and accurate observation. What are we to think, for instance, of such an assertion as the following:-
“I have frequently had,” says Pierquin de Gembloux, “an opportunity of observing a cat’s antipathy to music earned to the extent of convulsions. Every time that a certain series of sounds was produced on the piano or by the voice, the animal in question became convulsed, while another cat, its companion, would sit on the instrument listening to the choicest airs of French opera, and enjoying the vibrations of the sonorous chords.”
No doubt the delicacy of the nervous system of the cat is excessive, although the animal may be able to endure the sound of an instrument of music; but why has the observer omitted to note whether one of the two animals of whose different musical organization he speaks was a male? The sexes would probably present variations of sensitiveness.
In the chapter on “La Monomanie Infanticide,” Pierquin de Gembloux gives several instances of female cats, who, seeing their masters much taken up by the prettiness and the playfulness of their kittens, manifested great anger, and took such a dislike to their offspring, that they killed them. “A female cat in Spain,” he tells us, “all her life long displayed the strongest aversion to her young, and killed them. If by any chance she allowed one in each litter to live, it was always a male.” These observations need confirmation by a naturalist of greater authority.
It is certain that cats are jealous; the introduction of an animal of their race into the household amid which they live will annoy them deeply. They lose their appetite for a while when this wrong is done them; but does their jealousy ever go to the extent of leading the females to strangle their young? That tom-cats occasionally eat newly-born kittens is a fact well known to all those who possess cats. The motive that impels the animal to destroy its own species is still undiscovered. Ought not infanticidal monomania to be ascribed rather to the male than to the female cat?
Pierquin de Gembloux relates a strange fact in connection with the nervous sensitiveness of the cat. An Angora cat suddenly caught sight of a big Newfoundland dog; its fur stood on end, it gathered itself up, seemed afraid to breathe, but uttered no cry. Its countenance expressed extreme terror, and it appeared to be completely fascinated, while its body trembled violently. Even after the enemy had been driven away, the Angora could not be quieted, but remained insensible to the coaxing and deaf to the voice of its owners. Motionless, and stupefied, it stared at the place where the dog had been; its habitual intelligence seemed to be suspended. Gradually, step by step, it withdrew, but its fur still stared. It drew one paw after another slowly, looking anxiously around, and appearing to be afraid lest the slightest noise should recall the object of its dread and aversion.
“The cat’s terror,” adds Pierquin, “did not subside for several hours, and it never fully recovered its intellectual faculties.”
Travellers have borne witness to similar effects of terror produced by the lion upon dogs, and by the camel upon goats; but these are not cases of madness.
A fact of the same nature, arising from other causes, is recorded by a physician. A young cat having fallen into a well, succeeded in clambering up to a stone which jutted out from the side, and clung there. Its master, attracted by the cries of the animal, got it out of the well and saved its life, but the ordeal through which it had passed had so profoundly affected the intellect of the cat, that it remained all the rest of its life half imbecile.
On two occasions in the country, I have seen a cat undergo a nervous crisis which seemed to me to belong to the order of particular hallucinations. All of a sudden, without any apparent motive, the cat rushed across the room like a horse running away, shot through the garden like an arrow, climbed up a tree, ventured out upon a slender twig, and sat there for several hours, shuddering, and with wild haggard eyes. The people to whom it was accustomed called the animal, but it gave no heed; they placed food at the foot of the tree, but it was not to be tempted to descend. So utter was the cat’s state of prostration, and so completely was it unable to use its reason, that in this strange fit of bewilderment it let itself fall from the top of the tree, the twig on which it had ventured to crouch scarcely affording foothold for a bird.
This same mental disturbance was observed at different periods in the case of two cats, one male, the other female, both about six months old, and in good health, who had full liberty to play about in a shrubbery.
Nothing avails to prevent crises of this kind; they have no premonitory symptoms. I have not remarked this phenomenon as occurring within doors; except in the modified form of the animal’s rushing wildly about the room towards the middle of the day; chiefly in autumn when the wind is blustery outside.
CHAPTER XXXIII. THE EGOTISM OF CATS.
On approaching the conclusion of my little treatise, I came across a passage from Plutarch which gave rise to some reflection. The historian relates that Ceasar, observing certain wealthy strangers who came to Rome and went about with little dogs or monkeys nestling in their breast, inquired whether women bore no children in the countries whence those persons came. “This,” says Plutarch, “was a truly imperial method of rebuking those who lavish upon animals that sentiment of affection which nature has implanted in our hearts, and whose lawful object is mankind.”
What would Caesar say, in our time, of the pampered lapdogs taken out for airings in the Bois de Boulogne by ladies of fashion? These eccentric attachments to certain animals of great price are, however, the pastime of idle people only. While we recognize, in this passage, the habitual reasonableness of the great classic author, we may observe that mankind has been sufficiently studied and magnified from the days of antiquity, and that the attention now bestowed upon animals hitherto misunderstood, neglected, and ill-treated, speaks well for the humanity of the nineteenth century. We have now two tribunals to prevent and punish the ill-treatment of the brute creation, and the study of natural sciences leads us to form a more correct idea of the nature of animals. I do not think I can bring my little work more fittingly to an end than by saying a few words concerning the alleged egotism of the cat.
“Don’t imagine that the cat is caressing you,” says Chamfort, “it is caressing itself.”
This allegation might readily be turned against man himself. When the cat is hungry and comes to ask for its food by purring and rubbing its body against the legs of a person who is in the habit of feeding it, these demonstrations are certainly intended for the individual of whom the creature has need. If the cat caresses itself on the same occasion, none the less does it lavish tokens of affection on its master.
The cat is natural, and for that reason it is calumniated. Playing its little part in the world unaffectedly, when it is hungry it says so. If it wants to sleep, it lies down and stretches itself out. When it wants to go out, it asks to be let out.
Why has the ingratitude with which the cat is reproached failed to alienate the hearts of people who have centred their affections in so selfish an animal? The cultus of the cat, although it is no longer a religion, has never been abandoned since the days of Ancient Egypt. The animal is no longer wrapped up in spice and cerements after its death, but it is surrounded during its life with care and attention which it doubtless prefers to embalmment. In the palace and in the cabin the cat is treated by rich and poor alike on a footing of equality. It is not “an unfaithful servant,” as Buffon wrote of it; the animal works according to its nature.
Let us look at the cat in the courtyard crouching close to a leaden pipe at the side of the house. You may call it ever so coaxingly; it is at its post and it will not raise its head. Lying flat on the pavement, every now and then it thrusts its paw into the pipe, and draws it out again with evident disappointment. The cat has seen a rat disappear through this pipe, and it is self-condemned to watch there for hours for the rat. The latter will have to succumb in the end; so that an animal described as an egotist will have done good service on that day. The cat will clear your premises of mice for you, and ask nothing for the job, contenting himself with eating up the household enemies. If there be no mice in the house, the presence of the cat will hinder them from coming there; nay, in its apparent idleness, the animal is a vigilant sentinel. From the moment it takes up its abode anywhere, rodents are kept off.
Man has desired the society of the cat. The cat has not sought the society of man. Let the animal roam in peace about woods or gardens; it will not ask to come in to dessert, and to stretch itself upon the drawing-room carpet. The cat will suffice to its own needs; it will find its food, and sleep in a tree. One week of freedom will restore its natural independence to the cat.
Man, in order to disguise his own vices, likes to create a belief in those of the creatures who surround him.
“The cat is the personification of selfishness,” will be sententiously asserted by grave gentlemen of whom I should never think of asking the slightest service.
APPENDIX I. THE CAT IN ANCIENT TIMES, AND AMONG THE HEBREWS.
The domestic cat is not mentioned in the Bible, and, although the prophet includes Tsym, which certain commentators take to be cats, among the animals that prowl and cry among the ruins of Babylon by night, it is to be presumed that these were jackals. [Footnote: The cat is called Tsy in Hebrew, and according to Bochart, Tsyim is the plural.] Isobades, whom Pilpai imitates in the Indian fables, calls the cat “eater of mice.” Pilpai copies Isobades, AEsop copies Pilpai, Phaedrus copies AEsop, and thus the animal comes down through the ages to La Fontaine, who endorses the characteristic perfidy ascribed to it by the fabulists, his own literary ancestors.
M. Dureau de Lamalle thinks that Homer alludes to the domestic cat, whom he calls Gale, in the “Battle of the Frogs,” attributed to him. It is more certain that the word ailouros, used by Herodotus and Aristotle, is applied to the domestic cat.
Diodorus of Sicily says, in reference to the conquests of Agatochus of Numidia, that he marched his army over lofty mountains, inhabited by so great a number of cats that no bird builded a nest there. Elusius also proves that the ailouros of the Greeks is no domestic cat, by describing that animal as among the number of those who may be tamed by food and coaxing. He adds (no doubt wild cats were in his mind) that monkeys take refuge at the ends of the branches of trees in order to escape from these ailouros.
The ailouros of the Greeks becomes felis among the Latins. Pliny was particularly occupied with this subject, and Palladius, a writer of the period of the Decline, speaks, in his work on agriculture, of the cattus or catus as an animal useful for the killing of mice in barns.
“It would seem, then,” says M. de Blainville, “that the cat became domesticated at about that period, since it appears certain that it was not so in ancient times among the Greeks, or even among the Romans, although it was a domestic animal among the Egyptians.”
In fact, the French naturalist, who, in his “Osteographie,” treats of the evidence of the domestication of animals to be found in ancient monuments, finds no representations of the cat either in Greece or in Rome. M. de Blainville makes mention of a mummied cat whose skeleton was stripped of its bandages and placed in a museum. “M. E. Geoffroy,” he says, “and also M. Cuvier, recognized in it an animal not differing in any way from our domestic cat in Europe, but this is not exactly true. Since then, M. Ehrenberg, who has also, had an opportunity of seeing these cat mummies, has ascertained that they belonged to a species which still exists in both the wild and domestic state in Europe.”
Various other cat mummies lead M. de Blainville to the conclusion that the Egyptians had several species of cats. He says: “We may be sure that the ancient Egyptians possessed three species or varieties of cats which are known to moderns in Africa, in the wild as well as in the domestic state.
Among the Scythian-Celtic peoples the cat was not a domestic animal. This is proved by the fact that in the tumuli which M. de Blainville explored in Europe and in Northern Asia, and in which he found great quantities of bones of the bovine and ovine species, together with those of deer, dogs, and swine, there were no remains of the cat.
The English naturalist, Darwin, who treats of the cat in his famous work “The Origin of Species,” observes that blue-eyed cats are almost always deaf. He has also drawn attention to the fact that the cat has upright ears because it is perpetually on the watch, and thus the muscles of the ear are in constant action from its earliest infancy.
APPENDIX II. ETYMOLOGY OP THE WORD CAT.
Etym: Walloon, chat; Burgundian, chai; Picardian, ca, co; Provencal, cat; Catalonian, gat; Spanish and Portuguese, gato; Italian, gatto; from the Latin, catus or cattus, which was a word in vulgar use, and to be found only in the works of those relatively recent authors, Paladius and Isidorus. To the Celtic and German belong cat; Kymry, kath; Anglo-Saxon, cat; Ancient Scandinavian, kottzz; modern German, Katze.
According to Isidorus, cattus comes from cattare, to see, and the animal is thus named because he sees, or watches. Catar, to look, is chater in Provencal and old French. The origin of cattus and cater is not known, but the late appearance of both in the Latin language leads us to believe that they are of Celtic-Germanic origin. In Arabic there is the word gittoun, male cat, but Freitag doubts whether this word properly belongs to the Arabic tongue. (Littré)
APPENDIX III. A WILD CAT.
Several attempts have been made to acclimatize the wild cats of Nepaul, the Cape, and Java, at the Jardin des Plantes; but the sole result of their being deprived of liberty, and of all the pains taken with them, was that they lost a portion of that characteristic wildness which the naturalists especially wished to observe. Frédéric Cuvier makes mention only of a black Cape cat. Of this animal he says: “The Cape cat had the eyes and the disposition of the common domestic cat. It had been tamed, and left to itself on board the vessel that brought it to Europe; like the domestic cat it made war on rats, with all the •more success on account of its size and strength.
“ On its arrival at the Jardin-des-Plantes, it was, at first, shut up, but it was soon set at liberty. Only for its repugnance to being lifted up, or even touched, it might have been taken for a domestic cat; it remained attached to the place where it was fed, but banished every other male cat. Nor would it endure the presence of one within a tolerably wide circle outside its own domain. I am convinced that the enemies which it made by this exclusiveness had something to do with its death.
“Although young, it survived only one year with us.” (“Histoire Naturelle des Mammifères.” Paris: 1824.)
APPENDIX IV. CAT MUSIC.
A picture by Teniers bears the following inscription under the engravings of it issued in the last century:-
“Ces chasseurs de la Griffe, assouvis de leur proye,
Qui de leurs hurlemens font des chansons de joye,
Jusques au lendemain gardent le rat qui fuit.
Quand ou est au logis, ils sont sur les goutières.
Le Hibou de ses yeux leur donnant de lumières,
Les aide à concerter leur musique de nuit.”
["These Clawed hunters, satisfied with their prey,
Who with their howlings make songs of joy,
Keeping rats fleeing until the next day.
When they’re at home, they’re on the roof gutters.
The owl, with his eyes, gives them light,
Helping them making their musical concert at night."]
In this curious picture, half-a-dozen cats crouch upon a table, singing from the notes of a music book upon which an owl, apparently the leader of the orchestra, is perched. Through a window opening into the concert room peeps the head of an inquisitive tom-cat, attracted by the voices of his kinsmen. Theorbos and guitars are placed near the table in the foreground, and at the opposite corner two monkeys in fantastic attire play an accompaniment on the flute to the miowing.
This picture, which is very large, is not equal to the ingenious composition of Breughel. Teniers’ colouring is superior; but the Flemish master seems to have been taken up chiefly with the monkeys whom he introduces into his pictures to the detriment of the cats, reckoning on their grimaces to render his subjects amusing.
An “interior” of a barber’s shop, by Teniers, in which cats are being shaved by monkeys, has also been engraved.
APPENDIX V. CATS AND RELIGION.
Relations between cats and the Church are rare; nevertheless, a friend sends me the two following instances. One of them reminds us of the Golden Legend, the other of the ancient practices of witchcraft.
The Abbé Leboeuf says, at the close of a dissertation inserted in “Le Mercure de France,” in March, 1728:- “The extract given by several journals from the book entitled ‘Des Chats’ (by Moncrif), has recalled to my mind a fact which ought to have found a place in that work, and is not suitable to any other. John, a Roman deacon, tells us in his ‘Life of St. Gregory,’ the first Pope so named, that in the time of the holy pontiff there existed a solitary of virtue so exalted, that God had revealed to him that he was destined to an equal degree of beatitude with the saintly pope.
“Now the solitary possessed nothing in the world except a female cat. The great poverty of this hermit rendered him unable to understand how he could be rewarded equally with St. Gregory who possessed vast wealth; but a second revelation taught him that neither his poverty nor his detachment was so complete as he thought, since he was more strongly attached to his cat than St. Gregory to all his worldly possessions. This historic trait may serve all lovers of cats both as a lesson and an apology. I wish M. de Moncrif had not overlooked it.”
The other incident is less affecting:-“In 1328, the discovery that a black cat whose cries had led to its rescue had been buried alive, gave rise to a serious scandal. An abbot of the monastery of Citeaux, in concert with some of his canons, had shut up the cat in a coffer with food for three days. The box with the animal in it was buried, in preparation for some sort of magic performance, but the cat did not approve of this solitary and cellular system, and uttered such piercing cries, that some of the bourgeois of Chateau Landon searched the ground, discovered the coffer, instituted an enquiry, and found that the monks were guilty of malpractices. The trial, which ended in the banishment of two monks and the condemnation of two others to the stake, made so much noise at the time that it was considered of sufficient importance to be inscribed in the ‘Chronique de Saint Denis.’ ”
APPENDIX VI. LOUIS XIII AND CATS.
IN the journal of Dr. Hérvard, which contains a great deal of interesting information relating to Henri IV and Louis XIII, we find the following note:- “Wednesday, 16. Paris. (The Dauphin) Take at five o’clock to the Pre-aux-Clercs, to run a cat with a horse.” This curious and obscure phrase seems to imply that at a certain spot a cat would be “enlarged” (or let out of a bag) so as to rush despairingly away from a galloping horse. After this fashion was the Dauphin taught the noble art of hunting. The physician’s journal makes mention also of a more interesting fact. He writes on the 24th June, 1604, at Saint Germain:- “The Dauphin taken to the king, who took him to the queen. He obtained leave to spare the lives of the cats about to be burned in the bonfires (on St. John’s Day).”
The solicitude of so young a child (the Dauphin was only three years old) for animals that were burned by the people is a touching trait of character. We might, indeed, be inclined to doubt its authenticity, and to reckon it among other fine sayings and doings habitually imputed to princes by courtiers; but the good feeling, which was inculcated in Louis XIII from his earliest childhood, may be traced throughout the whole of Dr. Hérvard’s journal. The physician, who was happy to have to report this, has written upon the margin of his journal the grand word- “humane.” [“Journal de Hervard, Medecin de Louis XIII” Didot, 1869.]
APPENDIX VII. THE JAPANESE PAINTER FO-KOU-SAY.
The Japanese vignettes which I have reproduced in this volume are for the most part taken from a portfolio of sketches by a marvellous artist who died about fifty years ago in Japan, leaving a great number of works. The introduction of the chief series, consisting of fourteen albums, into Paris, excited eager and praiseworthy emulation among artists there.
I cannot convey a better idea of the merit of this painter -his name was Fo-Kou-Say, but he is more popular in Paris under that of Hok’sai - than by likening him to Goya. He possesses the variety and fancifulness of that great artist, and even his manner of engraving bears a marked similarity to that of the author of Les Caprices.
Hok’sai has done more to facilitate our knowledge of Japan than travellers and teachers of Japanese have effected. Thanks to the number of his drawings, we are enabled to estimate aright the civilization and intelligence of a people, who, instead of slumbering amid the traditions of the past, like the Chinese, press resolutely onward towards competition with the industrial discoveries of Europe.
Hok’sai was a thoroughly original artist. The institutions of his country, the manners and customs of its inhabitants, his own nature, even the popularity achieved by his drawings, furnished his genius with matter to work upon. That genius is rendered particularly striking and attractive to me by my present studies.
APPENDIX VIII. DOGES AND THEIR CATS.
Madame de B- -, a distinguished lady, who talks of cats like a poet, directs my attention to the “wonderful orange cats of Venice, whose nature is harmonious and placid like the waters of the lagoon.”
In a great hall of the Palazzo Doria, this lady discovered the portrait of a large spotted cat with tiger-like paws, placed in front of Andrea Doria, that hero of eighty-six years old, whose life “was dreary, like all old things!” Mdme. de B- -would have been happy if she might have carried away a drawing of this antique portrait; but as this could not be, she sends a description which is almost as valuable.
Gravely seated upon the table in front of his master, the noble animal contemplates him with an expression of mournful tenderness, which one may readily put into these human words: “So this is what you have come to, my poor hero!... Alas, of all those once eager courtiers there remains to you only me! But I - I love you!”
Chateaubriand would have been delighted to collect such recollections on the spot, and also to have been enabled to describe another cat, that belonged to the great Morosini, and seems, as Mdme. de B- - writes to me, to have been the sole object of his affection except his country. The skeleton of the favourite cat of the illustrious Doge is preserved as a relic together with his Book of Hours, and a handsome whip with a pistol concealed in its handle.
APPENDIX IX. THE CATS OF M. DE LA FONTAINE.
Some poets have written to me, to express their desire that the part played by cats in literature should be more fully developed. The programme they propose is that a collection should be made of all the passages in honour of the cat to be found in prose and poetry, ancient and modem, of all the homage which has been rendered to the animal, of every fragment of poem or romance in which it plays a part. Thus shall be twined a poetic and literary wreath in honour of the feline race.
M. Thales Bernard is much surprised to find no trace in my book of Lope de Vega’s poem “La Guerre des Chats,” and he is anxious also to lead me into researches among the ancient Sagas of the North Land in pursuit of the animal.
Each of my correspondents, it is true, “pleads for his own Saint.”
“Observe, how thorough is La Fontaine’s knowledge of the cat,” writes M. Feuillet de Conches, who regrets the omission of his hero from the list of the friends of the feline race. “Rominagrobis is not Rodilardus. La Fontaine has painted the cat as he studied it, under all its aspects, and with the skill of a master. La Fontaine is the Homer of cats. And pray, what was La Fontaine himself, if not a genuine cat? That he loved the owners of the house, I am glad to believe, but he loved the house itself still more. He was always curling himself up in a corner of it, and then curling himself up in it again. His answer to M. d’Hervart: ‘I was going there!’ is a cat’s answer.” I ought to mention a treasure in the possession of this collector, who has accumulated so much valuable material for the history of Letters and the Arts. The Duchesse de Bouillon, who was a true lover of cats, asked her friend La Fontaine to give her a copy of every fable in which her favourite animal played a part. The book in which these precious autographs were collected was found by M. Feuillet de Conches among the papers of the de Bouillon family, in a garret where they had been stowed away as lumber by Count Roy, who had acquired the de Bouillon estate.
These autographs ought to be mentioned; but I am designedly discreet on the subject of the part played by cats in literature, because I do not wish to get into a discussion with other writers on that subject.
APPENDIX X. GOTTFRIED MIND, THE RAPHAEL OF CATS.
Mind was bom at Berne in 1768; his father was of Hungarian origin. He studied drawing with Freudenberger, a painter who occupies only a small place in the history of art. “A special taste,” says M. Depping, [“Biographie Universelle.”] “led Mind to draw animals, or rather two kinds of animals, bears and cats. The latter especially were his favourite subjects, he delighted in painting them in all sorts of attitudes, singly or in groups, with truth and naturalness which have never been surpassed. His pictures were, one might almost say, cat-portraits; he gave every shade of expression to their soft and cunning faces; he lent infinite variety to the graceful attitudes of kittens playing with their mother; he depicted the silky coat of the cat perfectly; in short, the cats that were painted by Mind seemed to be alive. Mdme. Lebrun, who never failed to purchase some of this painter's works on each of her visits to Switzerland, called him “the Raphael of Cats.” Several royal personages, travelling in his country, desired to purchase Mind’s cats, which were carefully preserved in portfolios by Swiss amateurs, and others.
The painter and his cats were inseparable; while he worked his favourite she-cat was almost always by his side, and he carried on a sort of conversation with her. Sometimes she would sit on his knees; two or three kittens would be perched on his shoulders; and he would remain in this attitude for hours without stirring, lest he should disturb the companions of his solitude. He was not by any means so considerate towards visitors of the human species, whom he received with disguised ill-humour.
Mind probably never in his whole life experienced more profound grief than that which was caused by the general massacre of cats by the police of Berne, in 1809. This severe measure was dictated by terror; an epidemic of madness having broken out among, the cats. He contrived to save his dear Minette by hiding her, but his sorrow for the death of the eight hundred cats that were sacrificed to the public safety was overwhelming: he never was entirely consoled. It gave him great pleasure to examine pictures or drawings which represented animals. Woe to the painters who had not represented his favourite species with perfect fidelity! They obtained no favour from him, let their talent in any other direction be ever so great. During the winter evenings he still contrived to occupy himself with his beloved animals by cutting out cats and bears in chestnuts. The pretty trifles, which were executed with marvellous skill, had a great sale.
Mind was a short man, with a big head, very deep set eyes, a reddish-brown complexion, a hollow voice, and a sort of rattle in his throat, which, added to his gloomy expression, produced a repulsive effect on those who saw him for the first time. He died at Berne, on the 8th November, 1814. The lines of Catullus on the death of Lydia’s sparrow were cleverly parodied and applied to him:-
Lugete, o feles, ursique lugete,
Mortuus est vobis amicus;
[Grieve, oh cats and bears mourn
Your friend is dead;]
also another line by an ancient poet:-
Felibus atque ursis flebilis occidit.
[He died with/from cats and doleful bears.]
APPENDIX XI. CATS IN CHINA.
The Abbé Lenoir tells us that, far from serving up cat in the place of rabbit, as the custom is in the low Parisian eating-houses, the Chinese consider cat’s flesh excellent food; also that in their provision shops enormous cats are hung up with their heads and tails on. In the farms cats are kept, secured by light chains, and fattened with the remains of the rice cooked for the family. These cats are big ones like those to be seen in our salons, and sitting on the counters in Parisian shops. The quiet in which they live facilitates and accelerates their growing fat. As I am more interested in the Chinese treatment of the cat in an artistic than in a culinary sense, I look out everywhere for representations of the animal by Chinese artists.
In China the cat is formed, especially by the ceramic statuary, in Chinese white, in turquoise blue, and in old violet. M. Jacquemart, in his “Histoire de la Porcelaine,” mentions a cat “in old violet ” which fetched 800 livres at the sale of the effects of Mdme. de Mazarin.
On the commoner kinds of porcelain cats are to be seen, enamelled in various colours, sitting on their haunches; these bear some resemblance to the Egyptian cats. Sometimes the animals are curled up with the head resting on the forepaws; these are not so natural; the face is grimacing, the ears erect; the eyes have the feline iris much exaggerated, cut vertically; indeed the cleft is often real, and as there is an opening in the back, it is probable that the head is lighted up inside, in order to produce a more striking effect. A great number of these cats couchant form flower-vases.
In Japan, cats are made in common ware; they are roughly dabbed with red and black; but in the fine porcelain in which Chinese interiors are represented, we frequently find the forms of domestic animals repeated. The dog is almost always in the garden; the cat, on the contrary, in the house. We find it near the lady at her toilet, or the children are playing with it while the ladies are taking their tea. In these paintings the animal is always white, with large brown or black patches; this it seems is the favourite species.
APPENDIX XII. LEGENDS.
Among the Greeks, the cat was sacred to the chaste Diana. Mythologists pretend that Diana created the cat in order to throw ridicule upon the lion, an animal created by Apollo with the intention of frightening his sister. . The ancient writers on heraldry (as I have pointed out in the first chapters of this work), availing themselves of this legend, attributed to the stars what mythologists set down to the account of the gods.
Damirei, an Arab naturalist, who composed a History of Animals, in the eighth century of the Hegira, under the title of “Hanet-el-Haiwana,” gives the following account of the creation of the cat: “When, as the Arabs relate, Noah made a couple of each kind of animal enter the ark, his companions as well as the members of his own family said to him: ‘What security can there be for us and for the animals so long as the lion shall dwell with us in this narrow vessel?’ The patriarch betook himself to prayer, and entreated the Lord God. Immediately, fever came down from heaven, and seized upon the king of the beasts, so that tranquillity of mind was restored to the inhabitants of the ark. There is no other explanation of the origin of fever in this world. But there was in the vessel an enemy no less harmful; this was the mouse. The companions of Noah called his attention to the fact that it would be impossible for them to preserve their provisions and their clothes intact. After the patriarch had addressed renewed supplications to the Most High, the lion sneezed, and a cat ran out of his nostrils. From that time forth the mouse became so timid that it contracted the habit of hiding itself in holes.”
The Russians explain the antagonism between dogs and cats by the following legend:- “When the dog was created, he had neither fur nor hair. He lost patience, and instead of waiting to be supplied with the necessary covering, he ran after the first passer-by who called him. Now this passer-by was the devil, and he made the animal his emissary, and, indeed, sometimes assumes its appearance. The fur which was destined to the dog was given to the cat. This probably explains the antipathy which exists between the two animals; the one believes that the other has stolen its property.”
Visitors to Russia cannot fail to remark a curious coloured print in many of the Russian peasants’ cabins. This print was executed at Moscow, and its colouring resembles that of our school at Epinal. The composition, although modern, has an archaic character, composed of Egyptian and Byzantine elements. It represents the burial of the cat after a dramatic fashion, and derives its origin from a very interesting Russian legend.
APPENDIX XIII. BURBANK THE PAINTER
We sometimes come across works of art in provincial museums and private collections which are puzzling, inasmuch as they belong to no known school. No one knows to what class to attribute them, and it is disappointing to be unable to include them in any “group” of paintings. If the work be signed, the uncertainty remains the same, for the dictionary makes no mention of it.
A few years ago I saw a wonderful water-colour drawing, representing a cat’s head, life-size, in the studio of Dantan the sculptor. In this picture there were melted and mingled certain qualities which make a Holbein, or a plodding clockmaker, a Denner, or a forger of bank notes.
It would be useless to attempt to describe the eyes of the animal as they looked into the face of the spectator. The pen becomes useless before the marvellous tints of those eyes. And yet here was a painter whose brush was capable of rendering those strange looks. If the daguerreotype had been invented at the time when the artist painted this head (doubtless between 1828 and 1830), he would certainly have been accused of availing himself of that mechanical method of modelling the very peculiar masque of the animal. The machine would, however, have been quite incapable of rendering the softness of the smooth fur on the skull, the group of tawny patches, and the tiger-stripes like spectacles, which prolong the eyes up to the ears. No, never would any cat remain motionless in such fashion, and dart its eyes at a fixed point, even for the few seconds that the sun requires for its work.
This painting is the result of the prolonged attention of an observer whose fault is that of coldness, only revealed by the work. Excessive application and exactness have the counter quality of lessening the enthusiasm of the artist. Cold and correct, passionate and incorrect; so few men are quite perfect! Notwithstanding the excessive correctness of the drawing, I gather from each stroke of the pencil that the painter had specially studied cats; no doubt he had some of them about him in his studio.
The water-colour drawing was not signed, but on the frame was inscribed “Burbank.”
Two large lithographs by Marin Lavigne, from works of this same Burbank, also representing cats, show us that the artist delighted in those handsome drawing-room pets, whose chief occupation consists in the assiduous licking of their shining coats. These were his chosen subjects; he represented with incomparable skill the creatures with whom he was in constant communication. The two lithographs hung side by side. One, called “The Gourmand,” shows us a fat tomcat, lapping milk. The second is called “Play,” and represents a kitten gambolling upon the floor in a drawing-room, with a ball of tangled thread between its paws. The latter work is inferior to the former; but these prints can only be taken as an indication. Marin Lavigne was one of the first of the too-light lithographers, and he gave only an imperfect notion of the paintings of the master. To form an idea of what the originals must have been, one must have seen the water-colours in Dantan’s studio.
So great is the importance that I attribute to Burbank that I venture to assert, if the cat painted by this artist were placed among the ancient drawings in the Louvre, not only would it hold an honourable place there, but it would attract the attention of all who are capable of appreciating the interpretation of truth.
Dantan having kindly allowed me to retain possession of his treasure for a short time, in order that I might take a copy of it, I was enabled thoroughly to estimate the in artist’s precision. That which seemed simple at first was most complicated in the execution. The eyes of the cat revealed whole worlds of touches to the copyist. Such a copy would take a month to make; and I became more and more enthusiastic every day as I studied the astonishing realism of this fine work of art.
It would have been ungrateful not to think a little about the life of this wonderful unknown Burbank, whose work had been given as a rare picture to Dantan (the younger) by the celebrated print-seller Colnaghi, as a souvenir of a bust of his father, executed for him by the sculptor. I had the following questions inserted in “Notes and Queries”:-
“Who was Burbank, the English painter whose two important studies of cats are published by Marin Lavigne?” “ At what period did Burbank live?”
“Do the English biographical dictionaries contain any details concerning this master, who seems to have made the representation of cats his speciality?”
“Did Burbank habitually make his studies of cats in water-colours?”
“Do the English museums and private collections contain any specimens of the master?”
My appeal to “Notes and Queries” remained totally unnoticed. Happily, however, M. Dafforne of the “Art Journal” had known Burbank, who, in 1839, gave private drawing-lessons in London, and exhibited studies of animals, birds, dogs, etc., at the Royal Academy.
This was all I could learn, and it proves that Burbank was poor, obliged to give lessons, and that the English regarded him - as, no doubt, he regarded himself - as a mere draughtsman of Natural History (but what a draughtsman!), that the connoisseurs did not take any interest in his productions, and so it has come to pass that no biographer has cared to record the life and works of the modest, unknown, and poor artist.
[Footnote: M. Champfleury has drawn upon his imagination for these facts. In Graves’ “Dictionary of Artists” Burbank is described as an animal painter who exhibited twenty-seven pictures in London between the years 1825-1872, twelve of them being in the Royal Academy.-Translator]
APPENDIX XIV. CAT-LANGUAGE, BY THE ABBÉ GALIANI.
The Abbé Galiani, who has been mentioned in my chapter on “The Friends of Cats,” has treated of the animal’s affections. Except in the matter of myow-ing, I agree with the friend of Diderot on the linguistic question.
“For centuries,” says the Abbé, “cats have been reared, and yet I do not find that they have ever been really studied. I have a male and a female cat. I have cut them off from all communication with cats outside the house, and I have closely observed their proceedings. Would you believe one thing? During their courtship they never once myow-ed; the myow is not, therefore, the language of cat-love,- it is the call of the absent.
“Another positive discovery I have made is that the voice of the male is totally different from that of the female, and this is as it ought to be. In birds the difference is more marked - the song of the male is altogether unlike that of the female - but in quadrupeds I do not think anyone has hitherto perceived it. Besides, I am sure that there are more than twenty different inflections in the language of cats, and their language is really a ‘tongue,’ for they always employ the same sound to express the same thing.”
APPENDIX XV. THE CAT’S ROLE IN ARCHITECTURE.
The Middle Ages, which employed so many fantastic animals in the decoration of the facades of religious and civil monuments, did not make much use of cats; and yet Angora cats had been brought into Prance at that time, for the Romaunt of the Rose speaks of those animals, and compares the cat, snug in its fur, to a beneficed canon. No doubt, mediaeval sculptors, unlike the Egyptians, did not recognize the beautiful outlines of the animal; but it is singular that the masque of the cat should not have supplied them with some grimacing design to add to the collection of devilries on the fronts of the old churches.
The cat is not quite so rare in the monuments of the Renaissance. In the Museum at Troyes there is a capital of the fifteenth century, which represents a cat. I would gladly have given a sketch of it, if the animal had not been so hideous.
M. Fichot, the archaeologist and painter, sends me a drawing of a door-lintel at Ricey-Haute-Rive. In the middle of this bas-relief is, a cat, in company with hens, a fox, and a kind of rat; but this work is too primitive, and the animal does not retain enough of the type of its race to be reproduced here. It is better to give a detail of the Chàteau de Pierrefonds, by M. Viollet-le-Duc. The dormer windows of the inner court are ornamented with cats in different postures, all from the designs of that celebrated architect.
SUPPLEMENTARY NOTES BY THE TRANSLATOR.
Among eminent men of letters who have possessed the additional distinction of duly appreciating the cat, Théophile Gautier holds a high place. His love of the graceful and intelligent animals who were his constant companions, was commemorated in many a pleasant sketch and caricature by his artist friends in the days of his Parisian fame. A favourite method of treatment was the representation of Gautier in Turkish attire, squatting on cushions and overrun with cats, the biggest and boldest calmly sitting on his head. He always said there was very little exaggeration in these pictures, and the portraits of himself were admirable; but it was very hard to induce him to acknowledge that the artist had in any case “hit off” the peculiar and characteristic features of the cats. Where was the curve of Zuleika’s snow-white breast; or the deep repose of Zulema’s folded paws; or the eloquent elevation of Zobeide’s jet-black tail? No, no; they were clever fellows, Jules, and Adolphe, and Henri, and could paint mere men to the life, but it takes more than cleverness to paint cats - “that, my good fellows, is a question of genius!” And then Théophile Gautier would talk, as he afterwards wrote, about the successive dynasties of his darlings, with a convinced and delightful seriousness, the reigning favourite on his knee, and the heirs presumptive everywhere, professing, to begin with, a comprehensive tenderness for all animals, but a special devotion to cats, which developed itself after the death of a much-loved dog that he lost when he was a child. He did not like to be accused of a lack of sympathy with dogs, or any deficiency of affection for them, and he would gravely complain that, while one has only to be fond of dogs to get credit for frankness, fidelity, and guilelessness - in short, all the canine virtues - a preference for cats was supposed to imply a false, sensuous, and cruel disposition. He felt that such an imputation could be made only by the narrow-minded and the commonplace; nevertheless, he was careful to protest against it, and to record his adhesion to the axiom of Charlet:- “Ce qu’il y a de mieux dans l’homme, c’est le chien.” [The best thing about man is the dog.]
Nowhere can there be found more perfect studies of the cat than in Théophile Gautier’s “Menagerie Intime,” where they are mixed up with charming reminiscences of dogs, horses, chameleons, lizards, magpies, and white rats, and with a delightful tale of ruin ensuing upon the suppression of “La Presse.” After this event the witty journalist was reduced to the sad necessity of parting with his menagerie, because he could not feed his dependants on roast chickens, and his sole credit was with a purveyor of those dainties.
“Dynasties of cats, as numerous as those of the Egyptian kings, succeeded each other in my dwelling,” says the writer; “one after another they were swept away by accident, by flight, by death. All were loved and regretted; but life is made up of oblivion, and the memory of cats dies out like the memory of men.” After making mention of an old grey cat who always took his part against his parents, and used to bite Madame Gautier’s legs when she presumed to reprove her son, he passes on at once to the romantic period, and the commemoration of Childebrand.
“This name at once reveals a deep design of flouting Boileau, whom I did not like then, but have since become reconciled to. Has not Nicolas said:-
‘O le plaisant projet d’un poete ignorant
Que de tant de héros va choisir Childebrant!’
[O the pleasant project of an ignorant poet
Who out of many heroes will choose Childebrant!]
Now, I considered Childebrand a very fine name indeed, Merovingian, Mediaeval, and Gothic, and vastly preferable to Agamemnon, Achilles, Ulysses, or any Greek name whatsoever. Romanticism was the fashion of my early days: I have no doubt the people of classical times called their cats Hector, Ajax, or Patroclus. Childebrand was a splendid cat of the common kind, tawny and striped with black, like the hose of Saltabadil in ‘Le Roi s’Amuse.’ With his large, green, almond-shaped eyes, and his symmetrical velvet stripes, there was something tiger-like about him that pleased me. Childebrand had the honour of figuring in some verses that I wrote to ‘flout’ Boileau:-
‘Puis je te décrirai ce tableau de Rembrandt
Que me fait tant plaisir; et mon chat Childebrand,
Sur mes genoux pose selon son habitude,
Levant sur moi la téte avec inquietude,.
Suivra les mouvements de mon doigt qui dans l’air
Esquisse mon récit pour le rendre plus clair.’
[Let me describe to you this painting by Rembrandt
That so delights me; and my cat Childebrand,
Poses on my knees as he does usually,
And raises his head to me, restlessly,
To follow my finger moving in the air
As I sketch my story to make it more clear.]
Childebrand was brought in there to make a good rhyme for Rembrandt; the piece being a kind of confession of the romantic faith made to a friend, who was then as enthusiastic as myself about Victor Hugo, Sainte Beuve, and Alfred de Musset. ... I come next to Madame Théophile, a ‘red’ cat, with a white breast, a pink nose, and blue eyes, whom I called by that name because we were on terms of the closest intimacy. She slept at the foot of my bed; she sat on the arm of my chair while I wrote; she came down into the garden and gravely walked about with me; she was present at all my meals, and frequently intercepted a choice morsel on its way from my plate to my mouth. One day, a friend who was going away for a short time, brought me his parrot, to be taken care of during his absence. The bird, finding itself in a strange place, climbed up to the top of its perch by the aid of its beak, and rolled its eyes (as yellow as the nails in my armchair) in a rather frightened manner, also moving the white membranes that formed its eyelids. Madame Théophile had never seen a parrot, and she regarded the creature with manifest surprise. While remaining as motionless as a cat-mummy from Egypt in its swathing-bands, she fixed her eyes upon the bird with a look of profound meditation, Summoning up all the notions of natural history that she had picked up in the yard, in the garden, and on the roof. The shadow of her thoughts passed over her changing eyes, and we could plainly read in them the conclusion to which her scrutiny led: ‘Decidedly this is a green chicken.’
"This result attained, the next proceeding of Madame Théophile was to jump off the table from which she had made her observations, and lay herself flat on the ground in a comer of the room, exactly in the attitude of the panther in Gérome’s picture, watching the gazelles as they come down to drink at a lake. The parrot followed the movements of the cat with feverish anxiety; it ruffled its feathers, rattled its chain, lifted one of its feet and shook the claws, and rubbed its beak against the edge of its trough. Instinct told it that the cat was an enemy, and meant mischief. The cat’s eyes were now fixed upon the bird with fascinating intensity, and they said in perfectly intelligible language, which the poor parrot distinctly understood: ‘This chicken ought to be good to eat, although it is green.’ We watched the scene with great interest, ready to interfere at need. Madame Théophile was creeping nearer and nearer, almost imperceptibly; her pink nose quivered, her eyes were half closed, her contractile claws moved in and out of their velvet sheaths, slight thrills of pleasure ran along her backbone at the idea of the meal she was about to make. Such novel and exotic food excited her appetite.
“All in an instant her back took the shape of a bent bow, and with a vigorous and elastic bound she sprang upon the perch. The parrot, seeing its danger, said in a bass voice, as grave and deep as M. Prudhomme’s own: ‘As tu déjeuné, Jacquot?’
“This utterance so terrified the cat that she sprang backwards. The blare of a trumpet, the crash and smash of a pile of plates flung to the ground, a pistol-shot fired off at her ear, could not have frightened her more thoroughly. All her ornithological ideas were overthrown.
“ ‘Et de quoi? - Du réti du roi?’ continued the parrot.
“Then might we, the observers, read in the physiognomy of Madame Théophile: ‘This is not a bird, it is a gentleman, it talks!’
‘Quand j’ai bu du vin clairet,
Tout tourne, tout tourne au cabaret,’
shrieked the parrot, in a deafening voice, for it had perceived that its best means of defence was the terror aroused by its speech. The cat cast a glance at me which was full of questioning, but, as my response was not satisfactory, she promptly hid herself under the bed, and from that refuge she could not be induced to stir during the whole of the day. People who are not accustomed to live with animals, and who, like Descartes, regard them as mere machines, will think that I lend unauthorized meanings to the acts of the ‘volatile’ and the ‘quadruped;’ but I have only faithfully translated their ideas into human language. The next day, Madame Théophile plucked up courage and made another attempt, which was similarly repulsed. From that moment she gave it up, accepting the bird as a variety of man.
“This dainty and charming animal was extremely fond of perfumes, especially of patchouli, and the scent exhaled by Indian shawls. She was also very fond of music, and would listen, sitting on a pile of music books, while the fair singers who came to try the critic’s piano filled his room with melody. All the time Madame Théophile would evince great pleasure. She was, however, made nervous by certain notes, and at the high ‘la’ she - would tap the singer’s mouth with her paw. This was very amusing, and my visitors delighted in making the experiment. It never failed; the dilettante in fur was not to be deceived.”
The rule of the “White Dynasty” belonged to a later epoch, and was inaugurated in the person of a pretty little kitten, as white as a powder puff, who came from Havannah. On account of his spotless whiteness he was called Pierrot; but when he grew up this name was very properly magnified into Don-Pierrot-de-Navarre, which was far more majestic, and suggested “grandee-ism.” M. Théophile Gautier lays it down as a dogma that all animals with whom one is much taken up, and who are “spoiled,” become delightfully good and amiable. Don-Pierrot-de-Navarre successfully supported his master’s theory; perhaps he suggested it.
“He shared in the life of the household with the enjoyment of quiet fireside friendship that is characteristic of cats. He had his own place near the fire, and there he would sit, with a convincing air of comprehension of all that was talked of, and of interest in it; he followed the looks of the speakers, and uttered little sounds towards them, as though he too had objections to make, and opinions to give upon the literary subjects which were most frequently discussed. He was very fond of books, and when he found one open on a table he would lie down on it, turn over the edges of the leaves with his paws, and after a while fall asleep, for all the world as if he had been reading a fashionable novel. He was deeply interested in my writing, too; the moment I took up my pen he would jump upon the desk, and follow the movement of the pen-holder with the gravest atten-tion, making a little movement with his head at the beginning of each line. Sometimes he would try to take the pen out of my hand.
“Don-Pierrot-de-Navarre never went to bed until I had come in. He would wait for me just inside the outer door, and rub himself to my legs, his back in an arch, with a glad and friendly purring. Then he would go on before me, preceding me with a page-like air, and I have no doubt, if I had asked him, he would have carried the candlestick. Having thus conducted me to my bedroom, he would wait quietly while I undressed, and then jump on my bed, take my neck between his paws, gently rub my nose with his own, and lick me with his small pink tongue, as rough as a file, uttering all the time little inarticulate cries, which expressed as clearly as any words could do his perfect satisfaction at having me with him again. After these caresses he would perch himself on the back of the bedstead and sleep there, carefully balanced, like a bird on a branch. When I awoke, he would come down and lie beside me, until I got up.
“Pierrot was as strict as a concierge in his notions of the proper hour for all good people to return to their homes. He did not approve of anything later than midnight. In those days we had a little society, among friends, which we called ‘The Four Candles’ - the light in our place of meeting being restricted to four candles in silver candlesticks, placed at the four corners of the table. Sometimes the talk became so animated that I forgot all about time, and twice or three times Pierrot sat up for me until two o’clock in the morning. After a while, however, my conduct in this respect displeased him, and he retired to rest without me. I was touched by this mute protest against my innocent dissipation, and thenceforth came home regularly at twelve o’clock. Nevertheless, Pierrot cherished the memory of my offence for some time: he waited to test the reality of my repentance, but when he was convinced that my conversion was sincere, he deigned to restore me to his good graces, and resumed his nocturnal post in the ante-room.
“To gain the friendship of a cat is a difficult thing. The cat is a philosophical, methodical, quiet animal, tenacious of its own habits, fond of order and cleanliness, and it does not lightly confer its friendship. If you are worthy of its affection, a cat will be your friend, but never your slave. He keeps his free will, though he loves, and he will not do for you what he thinks unreasonable; but, if he once gives himself to you, it is with such absolute confidence, such fidelity of affection! He makes himself the companion of your hours of solitude, melancholy, and toil. He remains for whole evenings on your knee, uttering his contented purr, happy to be with you, and forsaking the company of animals of his own species. In vain do melodious mewings on the roof invite him to one of those cat parties in which fish bones play the part of tea and cakes: he is not to be tempted away from you. Put him down and he will jump up again, with a sort of cooing sound that is like a gentle reproach; and sometimes he will sit upon the carpet in front of you, looking at you with eyes so melting, so caressing, and so human, that they almost frighten you; for it is impossible to believe that a soul is not there.
Don-Pierrot-de-Navarre had a sweetheart of the same race, and of as snowy a whiteness as himself. The ermine would have looked yellow by the side of Seraphita, for so this lovely creature was named, in honour of Balzac’s Swedenborgian romance. Seraphita was of a dreamy and contemplative disposition. She would sit on a cushion for hours together, quite motionless, not asleep, and following with her eyes, in a rapture of attention, sights invisible to mere mortals. Caresses were agreeable to her, but she returned them in a very reserved manner; and only in the case of persons whom she favoured with her rarely-accorded esteem. She was fond of luxury, and it was always upon the handsomest easy chair, or the rug that would best show off her snowy for, that she would surely be found. ,§he devoted a great deal of time to her toilet; her glossy coat was carefully smoothed every morning. She washed herself with her paw, and licked every atom of her fur with her pink tongue until it shone like new silver. When anyone touched her she instantly effaced all trace of the contact; she could not endure to be tumbled. An idea of aristocracy was suggested by her elegance and distinction, and among her own people she was a duchess at least. She delighted in perfumes, would stick her nose into bouquets, bite scented handkerchiefs with little spasms of pleasure, and walk about among the scent bottles on the toilet-table, smelling at their stoppers; no doubt she would have used the powder puff if she had been permitted. Such was Seraphita, and never did cat more amply justify a poetic name. ... I must mention here that, in the days of the White Dynasty, I was also the happy possessor of a family of white rats, and that, the cats, always supposed to be their natural, invariable, and irreconcilable enemies, lived in perfect harmony with my pet rodents. The rats never showed the slightest distrust of the cats, nor did the cats ever betray their confidence. Don-Pierrot-de-Navarre was very much attached to them. He would sit close to their cage and observe their gambols for hours together, and if by any chance the door of the room in which they were left was shut, he would scratch and mew gently until someone came to open it, and allow him to rejoin his little white friends, who would often come out of the cage and sleep close to him. Seraphita, who was of a more reserved and disdainful temper, and who disliked the musky odour of the white rats, took no part in their games; but she never did them any harm, and would let them pass before her without putting out a claw.
“Don-Pierrot-de-Navarre, who came from Havannah, required a hothouse temperature; and this he always had in his own apartments. The house was, however, surrounded by extensive gardens, divided by railings, through and over which cats could easily climb, and in those gardens were trees inhabited by a great number of birds. Pierrot would frequently take advantage of an open door to get out of an evening and go a-hunting through the wet grass and flower-beds; and, as his mewing under the windows when he wanted to get in again did not always awaken the sleepers in the house, he frequently had to stay out until morning. His chest was delicate, and one very chilly night he caught a cold which rapidly developed into phthisis. At the end of a year of coughing, poor Don Pierrot had wasted to a skeleton, and his coat, once so silky, was a dull, harsh white, his large transparent eyes looked unnaturally large in his shrunken face; the pink of his little nose had faded, and he dragged himself slowly along the sunny-side of the wall with a melancholy air, looking at the yellow autumnal leaves as they danced and whirled in the wind. Nothing is so touching as a sick animal; it submits to suffering with such gentle and sad resignation! We did all in our power to save Pierrot; a skilful doctor came to see him, felt his pulse, sounded his lungs, and ordered him ass’s milk. He drank the prescribed beverage very readily out of his own especial china saucer. For hours together he lay stretched upon my knee like the shadow of a sphinx; I felt his spine under my finger-tips like the beads of a rosary, and he tried to respond to my caresses by a feeble purr that resembled a death-rattle. On the day of his death he was lying on his side panting, and suddenly, with a supreme effort, he rose and came to me. His large eyes were opened wide, and he gazed at me with a look of intense supplication, a look that seemed to say, ‘Save me, save me, you, who are a man!’ Then he made a few faltering steps, his eyes became glassy, and he fell down, uttering so lamentable a cry, one so dreadful and full of anguish, that I was struck dumb and motionless with horror. He was buried at the bottom of the garden under a white rose- tree, which still marks the place of his sepulture. Three years later Seraphita died, and was buried by the side of Don Pierrot. With her the White Dynasty became extinct, but not the family. This snow-white couple had three children, who were as black as ink. Let anyone explain that mystery who can. The kittens were born in the early days of the great renown of Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Misérables,’ when everybody was talking of the new masterpiece, and the names of the personages in it were in every mouth. The two little male creatures were called Enjolras and Gavroche, and their sister received the name of Eponine. They were very pretty, and I trained them to run after a little ball of paper and bring it back to me, when I threw it into the corner of the room. In time they would follow the ball up to the top of the bookcase, or fish for it behind boxes, or in the bottom of china vases, with their dainty little paws. As they grew up they came to disdain those frivolous amusements, and assumed the philosophical and meditative quiet which is the true temperament of the cat.
“To the eyes of the careless and indifferent observer, three black cats are just three black cats; but those who are really acquainted with animals, know that their physiognomy is as various as that of the human race. I was perfectly well able to distinguish between these little faces, as black as Harlequin’s mask, and lighted up by discs of emerald with golden gleams. Enjolras, who was much the handsomest of the three, was remarkable for his broad leonine head and full whiskers, strong shoulders, and a superb feathery tail. There was something theatrical and pretentious in his air, like the posing of a popular actor. His movements were slow, undulatory, and majestic; so circumspect was he about where he set his feet down that he seemed to be always walking among glass and china. His disposition was by no means stoical, and he was much too fond of food to have been approved by his namesake. The temperate and austere Enjolras would certainly have said to him, as the angel said to Swedenborg: ‘You eat too much!’ I encouraged his gastronomical tastes, and Enjolras attained a very unusual size and weight.
“Gavroche was a remarkably knowing cat, and looked it. He was wonderfully active, and his twists, twirls, and tumbles were very comic. He was of a Bohemian temperament, and fond of low company. Thus he would occasionally compromise the dignity of his descent from the illustrious Don-Pierrot-de-Navarre, Grandee of Spain of the first class, and the Marquesa Dona Seraphita, of aristocratic and disdainful bearing. He would sometimes return from his expeditions to the street, accompanied by gaunt, starved companions, whom he had picked up in his wanderings, and he would stand complacently by while they bolted the contents of his plate of food, in a violent hurry, and in dread of dispersion by a broomstick or a shower of water. I was sometimes induced to say to Gavroche: ‘A nice lot of friends you pick up!’ but I refrained, for, after all, it was an amiable weakness; he might have eaten his dinner all by himself.
“The interesting Eponine was more slender and graceful than her brothers, and she was an extraordinarily sensitive, nervous, and electric animal. She was passionately attached to me, and she would do the honours of my hermitage with perfect grace and propriety. When the bell rang, she hastened to the door, received the visitors, conducted them to the salon, made them take seats, talked to them - yes, talked, with little coos, murmurs, and cries, quite unlike the language which cats use among themselves, and which bordered on the articulate speech of man. What did she say? She said quite plainly: ‘Don’t be impatient; look at the pictures, or talk with me, if I amuse you. My master is coming down.’ On my appearing, she would retire discreetly to an armchair or the corner of the piano, and listen to the conversation without interrupting it, like a well-bred animal accustomed to good society.
“Eponine’s intelligence, fine disposition, and sociability led to her being elevated by common consent to the dignity of a person, for reason, superior instinct, plainly governed her conduct. That dignity conferred on her the right to eat at table, like a person, and not in a corner on the floor, from a saucer, like an animal. Eponine had a chair by my side at breakfast and dinner, but, in consideration of her size, she was privileged to place her forepaws on the table. Her place was laid, without a knife and fork indeed, but with a glass, and she went regularly through dinner, from soup to dessert, awaiting her turn to be helped, and behaving with a quiet propriety which most children might imitate with advantage. At the first stroke of the bell she would appear, and when I came into the dining-room she would be at her post, upright on her chair, her forepaws on the edge of the table-cloth, and she would present her smooth forehead to be kissed, like a well-bred little girl who was affectionately polite to relatives and old people. When we had friends to dine with us, Eponine always knew that company was expected. She would look at her place, and if a knife, fork, and spoon lay near her plate, she would immediately turn away and seat herself on the piano stool, her invariable refuge. Let those who deny the possession of reason to animals explain, if they can, this little fact, apparently so simple, but which contains a world of induction. From the presence near her plate of those implements which only man can use, the observant and judicious cat concluded that she ought on this occasion to give way to a guest, and she hastened to do so. She was never mistaken; only, when the visitor was a person whom she knew and liked, she would jump on his knee, and coax him for a bit off his plate by her graceful caresses. She survived her brothers, and was my dear companion for several years. . . . Such is the chronicle of the Black Dynasty.”
On the 30th December, 1871, the subjoined letter appeared in the correspondence department of the “ Spectator ":- “On the Persian Puss. Sir, - I am inclined to think from many valuable notices on the subject that you have a due appreciation of that domestic blessing, the Cat. Will you kindly allow me a few words on the vexed question of the deaf and blue-eyed alluded to in your last issue? I believe there is no connection between blue eyes and deafness beyond that of their both being attributes of the Persian Cat. This race, which is to be known also by its beautiful silky, white fur, apparently loses its hearing when transferred to our climate; for there is no reason to think that it is deaf in its own. I never saw or heard of any cat, save this particular kind, that was either blue-eyed or deaf, and they all are both. The half or quarter-Persians are sometimes deaf with one eye blue and the other green; or not deaf, though still with dissimilar eyes. But whatever they may be in these respects, they are uniformly fascinating,-far sweeter-natured than the Angoras, far furrier than the English cats.-I am, Sir, etc., - Felise.”
On the 6th January, 1872, the subject was again mooted by the following account of the life and death of a favourite and remarkable cat:-
“A FOUR-FOOTED FRIEND.
“Sir, - I share the belief of your correspondent ‘Felise’ that ‘you have a due appreciation of that domestic blessing, the Cat,’ and I therefore venture to give you a brief account of one than whom no Angora was ever ‘sweeter-natured,’ or Persian more grand and beautiful. For ‘furrier’ I cannot hold out, however strong my private conviction may be, for I am not acquainted with any Persian cats. We believe our Nero to have been an English cat, but we know nothing of his antecedents. He came into our house one wintry day, seated himself on the hearthrug beside the chair of the house-father, and instantly adopted him for his master; a relation to which he contrived to give an entirely novel and much-varied significance, and which remained unbroken to the end. He was then full-grown, and very beautiful, with a peculiar upright grandeur of demeanour, different from the usual slinking and stealthy grace of his tribe. His head was finely shaped, and his whiskers were superb, as was the fur upon his snow-white breast. He had large, green, wistful eyes, with a gaze in them such as I never saw before, and sometimes, when he was in grief, could hardly bear to look at; and a small black mouth, the most eloquent with which a dumb creature ever spoke. Remonstrance, appeal, approbation, curiosity, apprehension, content, anger, and above all, ruffled dignity, - how often has his mouth expressed those to us, all readily interpreted by us, and invariably acted upon; for he was our companion, our solace, our delight; and I hope we never once failed to recognize his right to our utmost sympathy, and to accord it.
He had powerful fore-paws, and the daintiest little white hind feet, of which he was proud and careful. He would dispose them in the palm of his master’s hand when he was carried up to bed by him, laying at the same time one forepaw round the back of his master’s neck, and the other on his breast, while the face rested confidentially against his cheek. He allowed himself, especially after his health began to fail, to be carried about by other members of the household, but this particular attitude was strictly reserved for his master. He would sit with both forepaws hanging over my shoulder, or lie along my folded arms, but he never put his paws round my neck or rubbed his face to mine. In this way he invariably saluted his master, and occasionally, when he believed himself unobserved, he would stand on his hind legs, put a fore-paw on each side of his master’s face, and laying his little white nose alongside of his, remain in that position for several moments, uttering a peculiar contented sound, not a purr, which we used to call his ‘bleat.’
He took an extraordinary interest in the affairs of the household, regularly inspecting the contents of the letter-box, attending with great solemnity on occasions of delivering parcels, putting in coals, or doing jobs of carpentering. No parcel was ever opened until he was present, when he would inspect, smell, and touch the contents, and the paper and string having been duly folded for him, he would lie down upon them for a few moments. From this custom he never departed. He got into every box and basket, large enough to hold him, that came into the house, always gravely, and consulting the bystanders with his wistful eyes, as on a matter of duty not to be neglected or postponed. He instantly recognized any new article of dress worn by any member of the family, and he invented for himself a method of curling himself up so as to adapt his back to the arch of a new bonnet, with his legs stretched out in careful avoidance of the strings, which I venture to think has never been surpassed in effectiveness and ingenuity.
Shortly after he took possession of our hearts and home we changed our residence. He was carried to our new house in a basket, and when set free went direct to his master, with eloquent gestures and expression of resentment and inquiry. The matter was gravely explained to him; for we never presumed to limit his intelligence to our perception of it, and he presently acquiesced. He led his master to the door of every room in the house in succession, deliberately made the tour of the apartments, was lifted up to each window-sill, whence he studied the front and back aspects of the house and the adjacent gardens, taking his time over it, and then, returning to the study, as yet unfurnished, recognized with manifest pleasure a standing-desk he was in the habit of seeing his master use. He gave the little gasp which meant that he wanted to be lifted up, was placed upon it, went to sleep, and ever afterwards took to the new house with more than acquiescence, with enthusiasm. He had favourite rooms, and his especial place in each, and he resorted to them at different hours with undeviating regularity. If he found a door shut, he went to the nearest person, made the sound which we all knew meant that he wanted to be followed, and then led the individual to the door, and stood aside until it was opened. If he wanted water, which he preferred to London milk, he went for a servant, conducted her to the pantry, and looked, and bleated, at the tap.
His punctual attendance at meal times was always secured by the ringing of the dinner-bell at the pantry window: or, if his walks abroad led him down the road, by tapping the lid of a sardine-box with a fork at the front gate. He was very fond of the dining-room balcony, which was known as his ‘fortification,’ and never shall I forget his tone and gestures of remonstrance addressed, as usual, to his master, when we were so ill-advised as to adorn the balcony with some inconvenient flower-pots, which impeded his freedom of motion, and his view of everyone who came to our gate, or that of either of our neighbours. Of course, the flower-pots were instantly removed, and he bounded into the balcony, with a joyous whisk of his magnificent tail, and sat there all day. He liked to know how everybody in the house was engaged, and much affected a commanding position on the stairs, which enabled him to see what the servants were about in general, and to observe everyone who went in or out of the sitting-rooms. During his master’s absence he would sit with me a good deal in the afternoon, on my writing-table, his paws resting on the edge of my paper, and his eyes and head drowsily following the motion of my pen.
He never upset, or broke, or spoiled anything, and his taste was fastidious. For some time a humble jam-pot contained drinking water for him beside my dressing-table, but one day I had a red Bohemian glass carafe and tumbler given me, which, as usual, Nero inspected. Henceforth, he declined the jam-pot, and the red tumbler was made over to him. However thirsty he might be, in that room he would not drink out of anything else, and if he missed it from its accustomed, place, he instantly carried a complaint to the fountain of justice. He politely but steadily declined to drink water which had been standing for any time, and if his meaning were not at once understood, he would jump on the washing-stand and rub his head to the carafe. He was condescending to other cats, but not familiar with them, and the finest of sights was his holding durbar in the back garden, which had been laid down in grass for his delectation. A few select animals would group themselves at a respectful distance, while he sat, his great paws folded up invisible under his swelling white breast, motionless, in the sunniest spot on the grass-plot, until the whole affair bored him, when he would rise, stretch himself, yawn, and saunter in, to “seek the human society which, strange to say, did not bore him. He was also condescending to the servants, and in his days of decline he grew fond of them, but he was not familiar with them, and he rarely visited the kitchen, insisting upon the pantry window being kept open for his ingress and egress, and utterly disdaining the area steps. His breakfast was laid every morning beside the dining-room fire, a newspaper being neatly disposed under his own particular plate. Sometimes his master did this, sometimes the parlour-maid, and in the latter ease, though he was very good friends with her, he would stand gravely by, and decline to begin to eat until she had left the room.
He had a strange knowledge of the feelings of each and all of us, and he regulated his intimacies by it. He would give quite a fussy welcome to friends whom we loved, and be blandly indifferent to mere acquaintances, while his perception of likenesses was most extraordinary. His master's brother, visiting our house for the first time, and arriving when no one was at home, was amazed to find himself met at the threshold by a large beautiful cat, who preceded him into the dining-room, jumped on the table beside him, and after gravely inspecting him for some time, fondly rubbed his face to his, and purred a loud welcome. A bust, bearing a decided resemblance to the house-father, was placed on a table within his reach, and shortly after its arrival Nero’s master, watching his proceedings from an outer room, himself unseen, beheld him, after long and steady contemplation of the unfamiliar object, spring upon the table, lay his paws on the shoulders of the bust, and energetically rub his nose to the face, with the invariable sound sacred to his caresses of his master.
He would no more have stolen anything to eat than you, Sir, would have been guilty of such an act. An ardent, but youthful admirer of his, with a somewhat undisciplined sense of humour, once subjected him to a test. She collected, and placed conveniently within his reach, sundry articles of food which he particularly liked, and then left him, seated on his own especial chair, exactly in front of them, and proceeded to watch him through the keyhole. He sat still, purred, got up, stretched his little white nose in the direction of the savoury meats, withdrew it, purred again, and finally removed himself, with grave slowness, to a distant armchair.
He would no more have answered to the conventional appellation ‘Puss!’ than he would have noticed the cry of ‘Stop thief!’ and, indeed, I hardly ever remember any visitor of ours being so deficient in judgment as to apply so silly a term to him. His names were Pisistratus Palaeologus Porphyrogenitus Malachi Nero, and he looked them, every one. I don’t know whether in his youth he had heard of rats and mice, but he certainly never longed to fetch any of them out of our wainscots, and had only such a distant relation to the vermin-killing helots of his race, as the mandarin has to the coolie. He did not like dogs, and he had a constitutional aversion to monkeys. We had an outdoor pensioner of the quadrumanous kind, who came every Saturday for a cake and a penny; but Nero invariably absented himself on those occasions, going quietly away before the monkey was announced, and returning, in subdued spirits, on his departure.
He had a most delicate taste in gastronomy, and I fear we rather over-cultivated it. In the privacy of domestic life he used to eat from his master’s fork, catching it with his forepaw, and guiding it dexterously to his mouth, and I have not seen anything neater than his method of eating green peas separately off the inclined edge of a plate. On solemn occasions of company his conduct was sublime. He was always the first person in the drawing-room, where he installed himself on an ottoman and watched the arrivals. On the announcement of dinner he walked downstairs in advance of the party, and took his seat in his own chair, by his master’s side, and there he would remain, perfectly quiet, not asking for anything, but apparently deeply interested in the appetites and conversation of the company.
His good- breeding impressed everybody. ‘Oh, ma’am, he was such a gentleman!’ said our cook, when he was gone from us; and it was true. But, remarkable as he was for the sweetness of his manners and the dignity of his demeanour, it is not those qualities to which I particularly desire to direct your attention. It is rather to the wonderful loving heart with which this beautiful creature was gifted, and the way in which his affections cultivated his intelligence.
If I only knew how to get at your recent correspondent ‘Philozooist,’ I would tell her about our Nero in these respects, in the hope that she might find in the facts another argument for the comforting theory that these beloved creatures, who help us on our journey more than we can tell to anyone, so that we can only measure their aid by the anguish of their loss, may not be for ever absent from us when the journey is ended. He loved us all, and had his different ways of showing us that he loved us; but, above all, and in a totally separate way, he loved his master. His ear was quicker to hear his step than the ear of wife or child, and so well was this known among us, that a glance at Nero was enough to tell us his master was coming. Two latchkeys are permitted in our household; one to its head, the other to a junior member. Nero used to distinguish the sound of his master’s key in the lock so correctly, that it was an infallible guide to the servants. ‘That’s master, - look at Nero!’ they would say. He would jump off his bed and run downstairs in the night, to be in waiting at the door, long before we caught the sound of his master’s tread in the stillness of the summer, and the storm and rain of winter could not whirl it away from his ears.
The creature’s distress when signs of packing up presented themselves was pitiable, and the ingenuity with which he arrived at a conclusion about what he had to dread, wonderful. If his master went away, carrying a small black bag, he was not restless or wretched until evening came, and then, if his return were deferred, Nero would run to the door leading up to the garret where boxes are kept, and cry until someone came to open it, when he would rush frantically up the stairs, and search for a portmanteau which accompanies his master in prolonged absences. If the portmanteau were forthcoming he would lie down upon it, and purr loudly, and then go to bed content, satisfied that his master would return; but if he could not find the portmanteau, he would know that his worst fears were realized, and then he would lie prone on the floor, and refuse food for twenty-four hours at a time.
We had to be most careful, when his master was leaving home, to prevent his getting out. If he knew it, he would always try to hide himself in the cab, which must have been a tumbril in his eyes, or failing that, to run after it. If his master came into the room with his hat on early in the day he would make great efforts to push it off with his nose and his teeth, but in the evening he made no such efforts; he knew that in the one case he was going out, and that in the other he had come home, as well us we knew it.
I might multiply instances and proofs of this great love of the four-footed for the human friend; but I have told you enough in these two instances, which were habitual and invariable, and shall add only one more reminiscence of our Nero. They say that most animals, and especially cats, creep away into darkness and solitude to die. He had been ill for a long time, and in spite of all our care, we knew the end was near, and we dreaded that this instinct might assert itself. But, when the death agony was upon him, and we were looking on, helpless, he crept close to his master, and bore his great pain with patient courage, responding always to the encouragement of his master’s voice, and then, having lain for three hours, with his head pillowed in the palm of his master’s hand, and the loving, wistful eyes fixed immovably upon his face, he died, good and gentle to the last.
Do you believe that spirit was one of those which ‘go down into the earth?’ or that there is no promise of futurity for such love and such intelligence? - I am, Sir, etc., “A Constant Reader and Disciple.”