CATS AS SOCIETY PETS (1904)
PUSS in her prettiness, her capricious, caressing coquetry, holds her own through each century of change, and her followers and friends are found in all sorts and conditions of people. It is not my mission in these pages to go back into history, but rather to speak of her as she may be found to-day in the grand old homes of England.
Cat shows, now annual fixtures, were originated by Mr. Harrison Weir in the sixties, and each year sees them growing in numbers and popularity. It is only necessary to walk down the marshalled rows of cages at a show to recognise the care and affection which these favourites of the domestic hearth receive.
Science has effected wonders with regard to the length of fur, the colour of it and its markings, and perfection has nearly been reached in shape and size. Who could want anything handsomer than the Russian blue short haired cat, with its glorious amber eyes and its density of fur ; or more caressable than the silvery Chinchilla, or the handsomely marked grey and brown tabbies, long or short-haired ? I am satisfied to own the beautiful blue Persian with its long seductive coat, or the so-called smoke, which shades from black to silver, and vice versa. Then we must not forget those attractive cats which carry the opaque white coat and the bluest of blue orbs, which are varied occasionally by odd eyes, one amber and one blue. Such a cat is highly prized in the East, if not on our side. Even the jet black cat with eyes of flame does not a affright me ; on the contrary, once he crosses our threshold, who dares to brave Fate and send him and his good luck away ?
Then what about the beauty of Siam, the Eastern pug-cat ? Its points are the same as those of the Dutch dog, save that its muzzle is less monkey-like and its tail lies straight without a bend ; the muzzle and ears, however, are black on a cream ground, and the black tip to the tail completes a wonderful similarity.
The cats of Manxland and Japan are distinctly weird, for they are tailless. The gait of the former gives an impression of ever readiness to spring, its hind legs being longer than its fore ones. The rounded tailless rump of both Manx and Jap give shape and character, which at once is odd and distinctly smart. It is quite a fallacy to think they are docked in kittenhood ; these cats are born tailless. A cat that has been docked can soon be discovered, for the hair refuses to grow on the stump of its tail, while the true tailless cat has the stern round it well covered with fur, and is minus a stump of any kind.
There are fewer of the aristocracy to-day actively encouraging shows by themselves judging and conmpeting, than there were in 1871, when the Palace Show had its prizes awarded by Lady Dorothy Nevill, Lady Mildred Beresford-Hope, Hon. Lady Cust, and the Hon. Mrs. Walpole; and for patrons, Her Grace the Duchess of Sutherland, Mrs. Cashel Hoey, Lady Dorothy Nevill, and Charles Darwin.
To-day, however, Princess Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein is an active patron, showing, selling, and also placing her cats at stud. Her Serene Highness is partial to the long-coated varieties, and is charmed with the pretty prizes her cats have won. Princess Christian, her mother, is also fond of cats, and possesses a pretty prize winner; and even Prince Christian himself visits the Cumberland catteries, which are under the care of Mrs. Amor, an old trusted retainer of the family.
The late Queen, though not specially fond of cats, accepted several, as did also the Duchess of Connaught, from Lady Decies and other ladies at a charity bazaar at Bagshot.
Queen Alexandra had her affection for cats nipped in the bud some few years back when she discovered her favourite eating one of her tame mice. From that day to this, so it is said, the Queen has never made a pet of a cat, nor has she kept any mice : but Her Majesty thinks the cat a very beautiful creature, and at the cat shows she has visited, she has shown much interest in them, and perhaps a preference for the beautiful silver tabbies, which certainly are gorgeously handsome when the stripes are true tiger and the silver colour pure.
On Her Majesty’s visit with the King to Manxland, the Queen saw two tailless tabbied Manx cats sitting sunning themselves on a wall, and was so enchanted with them that she brought them back to London, and they are, I believe, kept at Buckingham Palace, as the King objects to cats near the game coverts. The cats round Sandringham are nearly all white, with either blue, gold, or wall eyes. It said that there are more white cats in Norfolk than in any other county, and these, if report is true, come from the much loved white cat with blue eyes which Her Majesty, when Princess of Wales, bought at a charity stall from Madame Sarah Bernhardt. This is the cat which Messrs. Downey photographed with Her Majesty soon after she secured it.
The Princess Alexis Dolgorouki gives her patronage for the higher upkeep of shows, but I do not remember her ever showing a cat, though I believe she owns some Persians. Nor has the Duchess of Bedford ever shown a cat, though, to help the fortunes of Puss, she has given the costliest of prizes, has subscribed and helps to maintain a bond fide Cat Home. In the movement to secure better treatment for waif and stray cats, the Duchess also promoted and largely paid for a most successful supper some two years ago for the cats’-meat men who were, on the occasion, so good impressed by her Grace’s tactful remarks, her appeal to their kindlier manhood, that we can believe what is freely stated all over the slums of London, that since that eventful supper night the cats’-meat men have never allowed a cat on their beat to want a bite, or a little touch of kindness. The Duchess of Bedford is not an exhibitor from dislike of cat shows, for she realises that these fixtures are a great protection to the cat, making Puss of such com-mercial value that its happiness and safety in living are assured, and she gives her patronage to the leading exhibitions of cats.
I give the picture of ‘Goblin.” though he is of the past, as I know her Grace was extremely fond of him, and, if my memory is true, she wears his picture in a tiny locket made to contain the likeness of each of the cats she made personal pets of in, and since, the days of her girlhood in India. Of cats which the Duchess now has, there is only one indoors, viz., the veteran “Fritz," nine and a half years old.
As a kitten he fell into an area near St. James’s Street, and. being too small to find his way home again, was taken care of by the secretary of the Courier Club. He must have been of aristocratic parentage, as he is a handsome silver tabby Persian. He came to her Grace when two years old. During “Goblin's” lifetime he was a somewhat ill-tempered and morose little cat, as the Siamese always took an unholy delight in springing out upon him unawares from behind doors and screens, really only from playful motives, but “Fritz’s” London education had probably taught him to take a serious view of life, and he looked upon these jokes as unseemly.
From the day “Goblin” died, “Fritz” became an altered cat : screens and doors were no longer objects of suspicion to him, and to his human friends he has become an affectionate and good-tempered little cat. He resents all interlopers in the shape of dogs or other four-footed animals, but has no objection to birds.
The only other cat of interest which her Grace owns is one “Napoleon,” which lives at the stables ; a black and white English cat of remarkable ugliness, which was rescued by a woman in North London from cruelty and starvation. She first sent it to be destroyed at a lethal chamber, but it escaped, and she then brought it to the Duchess, as she loved cats, and had not the heart to return it. It was a thin, mangy, scarred creature of truly unattractive appearance, her Grace told me, but extremely affectionate, and as the woman would not even accept her bus fare, the Duchess thinks her story was true. The cat was taken to Woburn, where he almost immediately assumed the position of guardian of one block of stables, and allowed only certain privileged cats, whose looks would not put his in the shade, to come there. A handsome Persian was kept in his place in the opposite block of stables. He now nearly always sits in the most conspicuous position under a cedar tree in front of the Abbey, and the last two years having dealt kindly with him, he has a sleek and glossy coat. Had nature not been in such a hurry when she made him, and put the white mark on his nose all crooked, he might almost claim to be good-looking.
The cat fancy has much for which to thank Lady Marcus Beresford, and if the rumour of her secession from its ranks is true, it is an evil day for exhibiting catdom. A more unselfish supporter of shows is not possible, and her efforts to stop sickness and fraud at shows are well known. The cat world would never have had such prominence given to their hobby had this remarkable cat lover neglected to finance the excellent and charitable shows she organised twice a year. I have also known her on occasion to enter twelve cats in one class in order that the class should pay the promoters, and so the cat herself be properly represented. Sometimes she has entered her cats thus liberally, knowing that she could not get even a third prize of five shillings — either they were out of coat or too young but Lady Marcus heeded not. Were not the cats making new friends ? Lady Marcus will, of course, keep two of her favourite Siamese, which are of the best in England, the one named “It” being especially good ; she will also keep some silvers.
Following the Duchess of Bedford and Lady Marcus, next in order comes Lady Decies, whose catteries at Birchington are large and handsome. This lady possesses a great collection of prize winners, including the famous Chinchilla Champion “Zaida,” a cat which has done a great record of winning. Champion “Zenophon,” her short-haired tabby, is dead, but I give his portrait as a model of one of the best English tabby cats ever shown.
Lady Alexander is another ardent lover of cats, and owns the premier kennel of Russian blues, and white English short- haired cats with square jaws, snub faces, and blue eyes. She also includes Manx cats, and her catteries hold their own. Lady Alexander generously does not compete for club prizes, as she wishes to encourage the fancy of short-hairs, which have lost place in the desire of so many cat lovers to own and breed long-coated cats. Other ladies of note beside those already mentioned as owning good cats are, Cora, Countess of Strafford, the Marchioness of Dufferin, the Countess of Aberdeen. Lady Pink, Mrs. Vyvian, sister to Sir Forestier-Walker, the Hon. Mrs. Baillie, and the Hon. Mrs. McLaren Morrison, who will some day in her own right become Baroness Pirbright. This devotee of the cat has for years kept a huge cattery of the loveliest cats, both short and long-haired, and all prize winners. She brings many of her best from the East, which she visits every few years, and was one of the first in England to build a cattery of any dimensions.