A BOOK OF CATS
Being a Discourse On Cats With Many Quotations & Original Pencil Drawings
By Mrs W Chance
J M Dent & Co
Printed by Ballantyne, Hanson & Co
At the Ballantyne Press.
In this little book on Cats I make no claim to special originality, except as to the drawings, which indeed gave rise to it.
Champfleury traces the history of these fascinating animals so exhaustively that he has left little for literary successors to do in this respect, except to acknowledge their indebtedness to him.
Mr G R Tomson, who has published a charming cat-anthology, touches lightly in his "foreword" on many points of interest, but refrains from trespassing too much on "ground already covered in masterly fashion by Moncrif, Champfleury, Pierre Loti, and above all, Theophile Gautier."
I do not intend to be so modest, because I have found that the ordinary English reader has usually never heard of Champfleury or Moncrif, whose works are besides out of print in the original ; while he may or may not have read Loti's and Gautier's delightful cat-stories, which, as far as I can discover, have not been translated.
To these materials I have added some scattered fragments of interest collected from various sources, and lastly I have introduced stories both of other people's cats and of my own favourites who have sat as models for these drawings.
A BOOK OF CATS
The cat has always been an animal with many admirers and many detractors. It seems though you must either worship or hate it. The ancient Egyptians chose the former course, and paid extraordinary honour to the living images of their cat-goddess Bubastis or Pasht, whose temple at Beni Hassan dates from 1500 B.C. It was also worshipped in the temple of the Sun at Heliopolis, because the Egyptians thought that,
"A cat's splendid circled eye
That wax and wane with love for hours
Green as green flame, blue-grey like skies"
showed secret analogies with the light of the sun ; and for the same reason - its waxing and waning pupils - the cat was also sacred to the moon.
Herodotus tells us that, when a cat died a natural death in an Egyptian house, it was mourned with grief and shaving of eyebrows, and that when a fire occurred, the household was more anxious to save its cats than to put out the fire. After death the cats were embalmed and buried with great ceremony, and their mummies and effigies can be seen in museums to this day.
From Egypt cats were probably introduced into Greece. Theocritus, in one of his dialogues, makes a mistress scold her lazy slave and compare her to a cat that "likes to sleep soft."
Still on the whole neither Greeks not Romans appear to have esteemed the animal greatly, and there is scarcely any mention of it in their literature. but Walter Pater in " Marius the Epicurean " describes an imaginary scene at a supper-party given in honour of the " Great Apuleius. " " A favourite animal white as snow, brought by one of the visitors, purred its way gracefully among the wine-cups, coaxed onward from place to place by those at table :" which contains suggestions of possible enlivenment at modern dinner-parties, if a fashion were to come in for the guests to bring their cats with them.
Experts are not quite agreed as to the origin of our existing domestic cat. It is, however, generally supposed to be descended from Egyptian ancestors, but to have since crossed largely with other breeds, especially with the wild cat and imported Angoras. Swinburne, who must be a cat lover, if not an " expert, " evidently finds the greatest poetic possibilities in the wild cat origin.
" Wild on woodland ways your sires
Flashed like fires ;
Fair as flame and fierce and fleet
As with wings on wingless feet
Shone and sprang your mother, free,
Bright and brave as wind or sea.
" Free and proud and glad as they,
Rests or roams their radiant child,
Vanquished not, but reconciled,
Free from curb of aught above
Save the lovely curb of love."
Cats seem to have been comparatively scarce and valuable in the Middle Ages, and in some countries heavy fines were imposed on felicides. in 948 Howell the Good, a prince of Wales, fearing no doubt lest some miscreant should
" Rob our household of our only cat
That was of age to combat with a rat "
made a law fixing the price of a kitten before it could see, at one penny, until it caught a mouse two pennies, and when it began mousing four pennies. If any person stole the cat that guarded the granaries of the prince he was to forfeit a milch ewe with its fleece and lamb, or as much wheat as would cover the body of the cat suspended by the tail with its nose touching the ground.
This was perhaps not too high a price to put on the cat that could
" Combat with the creeping Mouse,
And scratch the screeking Rat . . ."
And be ready
" At my Ladies's call,
To gard her from the fearfull Mouse
In Parlour and in Hall. "
Later, when cats had no doubt become more numerous, they seem to have been looked upon as the symbol of witchcraft and devilry of all kinds. In fact, they had a bad time of it in common with many innocent people, being at one time burnt almost as often as sorcerers and savants.
This superstition may still be found lingering in out-of-the-way corners of England, where the belief in witches and magic has not yet died out, the witch being generally some unfortunate old woman who happens to have a hooked nose and to possess a favourite black cat. On this point the gipsies also have a curious superstition. Leland says :-
" I once questioned a gipsy as to cats, and what his opinion was of black ones ? His reply was, 'Gipsies never have black cats in the house because they are unearthly creatures and things of the devil . . . But white cats are good, for they are like the white ghosts of ladies.' "
Champfleury has several chapters on the subject of cats in heraldry, cats in nursery rhymes (where they figure largely), cats before the law, and so forth. The list of eminent persons who have loved cats is a very long one, and includes almost every profession, but authors predominate, and poets in particular, their feeling being no doubt that
" A poet's cat, sedate and grave
As poet well could wish to have "
Is an especially desirable companion for a man of letters.
Pope Gregory the Great is said to have had a pet cat.
Mahomet's love for his " Muezza " is told in a pretty legend that he cut off his sleeve sooner than disturb her sleep.
Petrarch we know had a favourite cat whose effigy was to be seen in the poet's house.
Two elegant epigrams were addressed to the memory of this cat by Antonius Quaerengus, " poeta eximius, " and were cut upon the stone pedestal. In one of those epigrams the poet is said to have been inflamed with two rival passions, the one for his cat and the outer for Laura, but the former the most violent of the two. " maximus ignis ego, Laura secundus erat," which might be freely translated that Laura played second fiddle to the cat.
One of Tasso's most charming sonnets is addressed to his cat.
Cardinal Wolsey is said to have held audiences as Chancellor with his cat seated on the arm of his chair, and one may be certain that the cat was not the less dignified of the two.
Another great Cardinal - Richelieu - liked to have playful kittens about him, but, according to Champfleury, he was not a real cat lover, for he got rid o them when they grew big and sedate, and replaced them by younger ones.
The great Admiral Andrea Doria had his portrait painted with his favourite cat. This picture is still to be seen in the family palace of Genoa. A propos of this, a few years ago a portrait of Mr Gladstone reading, with a cat on his knee, was exhibited at one of the London galleries.
Readers of Elia will remember the passage about a cat which he quotes from one of Montaign's essays. It will bear repeating:
" When my cat and I entertain each other with mutual apish tricks, as playing with a garter, who knows but that I make my cat more sport than she makes me ? Shall I conclude her to be simple, that has her time to begin or refuse to play, as freely as I myself have ? Nay, who knows but that it is a defect of my not understanding her language (for doubtless cats can talk and reason with one another) that we agree no better : and who knows that she pities me for being no wiser than to play with her, and laughs and censures my folly for making sport for her when we two play together. "
It seems to show that Montaigne was an exception to the general rule, that until we come to the present century we do not commonly find writers attributing moral ideas to animals, or investing the world of beasts with human sentiments. one cannot of course count such " talking beasts "as are found, for instance, in Chaucer, or in the fables of various writers, whether ancient or modern, as these are not live individual animals, but merely masks from behind which the author speaks.
There are a considerable number of allusions to cats in Shakespeare, but all more or less uncomplimentary. In fact " cat " is used as a term of opprobrium, and applied, oddly enough, to our modern notions, by men to men. Thus in Romeo and Juliet Benvolio asks, " Why, what is Tybalt ? " and Mercutio answers, " More than prince of cats, I can tell you. " And later, when Tybalt meets Mercutio and says to him, " What would'st thou have with me ? " Mercutio replies, " Good king of cats, nothing but one of your nine lives. "
In All's Well that Ends Well Bertram says, " I could endure anything but a cat before, and now he's a cat to me ; " and farther on of the same person, " He's more and more a cat, " and " He's a cat still. "
In Cymbeline the Queen's pretext for wanting poison was to kill " creatures vile, as cats and dogs of no esteem. "
Shakespeare's nearest approach to a good word for the animal is Shylock's " harmless necessary cat, " from which it is a far cry to the cat whom Swinburne apostrophises :
"Stately, kindly, lordly friend
Here to sit by me and turn
Glorious eyes that smile and burn,
Golden eyes, love's lustrous meed,
On the golden page I read. "
Or to William Watson's
"Great Angora throned in monumental calm "
Or even to Matthew Arnold's " Great Atossa "
" Cruel but composed and bland,
Dumb, inscrutable and grand. "
In the early part of this century there seems to have been a regular cat cult among a certain group of eminent Frenchmen, beginning with Chateaubriand and going on to Victor Hugo, Merimee, Saint-Beuve, Baudelaire and Theophile Gautier.
La Bruyere remarked on this with some contempt, saying that it had become the fashion among this little group to carry their love for cats to such excess that it was positively ridiculous.
In Chateaubriand's writings cats constantly figure, and he even took pleasure in discovering a likeness to them in his own person. When he went on an embassy to Rome, the Pope made him a present of a " pleasant grimalkin. "
Champfleury says of Victor Hugo -
" In my youth I had the honour of being received by him in a room with a big red dais. on which was enthroned a cat who seemed to be expecting the homage of visitors. He had a huge ruff of white fur like a Chancellor's tippet, his whiskers were like those of a Hungarian Magyar, and when the animals solemnly advanced with its flaming eyes fixed upon me, I perceived that the cat had modelled himself on the poet, and was reflecting the great thoughts that filled the dwelling. "
" It is my cat, " wrote Hugo, " which caused Mery to utter the memorable saying : ' God made the cat in order that man might have the pleasure of caressing the tiger. "
Saint-Beuve allowed his cat to walk about on his writing-table, and to play among his most precious papers, which not servant dared so much as touch.
Baudelaire had a fantastic and excessive affection for cats. He loved to dwell on the enigmatic and sphinx-like side of their character, and his cat-poems express with extraordinary power their inscrutability and subtle mysteriousness.
The following stanzas are almost disquieting in their mysticism and intensity :-
" Dans ma cervelle se promène,
Ainsi qu’en son appartement,
Un beau chat, fort, doux et charmant ;
Quand il miaule, on l’entend à peine,
" Tant son timbre est tendre et discret ;
Mais que sa voix s’apaise ou gronde,
Elle est toujours suave et profonde.
C’est là son charme et son secret.
* * *
" Non, il n'est pas d'archet qui morde
Sur mon coeur, parfait instrument,
Et fasse plus royalement
Chanter sa plus vibrante corde,
" Que ta voix, chat mysterieux,
Chat seraphique, chat etrange,
En qui tout est, comme en un ange,
Aussi subtil qu'harmonieux !
* * *
Je vois avec étonnement
Le feu de ses prunelles pâles,
Clairs faneaux, vivantes opales,
Qui me contemplent fixement."
But perhaps Baudelaire's finest Cat poem is this :-
" Les amoureux fervents et les savants austères
Aiment également, dans leur mûre saison,
Les chats puissants et doux, orgueil de la maison,
Qui comme eux sont frileux et comme eux sédentaires.
" Amis de la science et de la volupté
Ils cherchent le silence et l'horreur des ténèbres;
L'Erèbe les eût pris pour ses coursiers funèbres,
S'ils pouvaient au servage incliner leur fierté.
" Ils prennent en songeant les nobles attitudes
Des grands sphinx allongés au fond des solitudes,
Qui semblent s'endormir dans un rêve sans fin;
"Leurs reins féconds sont pleins d'étincelles magiques,
Et des parcelles d'or, ainsi qu'un sable fin,
Etoilent vaguement leurs prunelles mystiques. "
Theophile Gautier gives expression to his love for cats in the charming little volume called " Menagerie Intime. " As there is not translation of this book (in England, at any rate) it may be allowable to transcribe some of it here, my only regret being that it is impossible to give an adequate idea of Gautier's exquisite style. This is how he introduces
" 'Madame Theophile,' a reddish cat with a white breast, a pink nose and blue eyes, so called because she lives with us in an intimacy which was quite conjugal, sleeping at the foot of our bed, dreaming on the arm of our chair while we wrote, going down to the garden in order to follow us in out walks, assisting at out meals, and sometimes even intercepting a tit-bit on its way from our plate to our mouth.
One day a friend of ours who was going away for a few days brought us his parrot to look after during his absence. The bird, feeling himself to be among strangers, had climbed to the top of his perch by the held of his beak, and was rolling his eyes, which were like brass-headed nails and blinking the white skin which served him for eyelids in a decidedly frightened way.
' Madame Theophile' had never seen a parrot, and this new creature evidently caused her much surprise.
Motionless as an embalmed Egyptian cat in its wrappings, she watched the bird with an air of profound meditation, putting together all the notions of natural history which she had been able to gather on the roof, in the yard, or the garden. The shadow of her thoughts passed across her opalescent eyes, and we could read in them this summary of her investigations :
' This is decidedly a green chicken. ' . . .
The parrot followed the cat's movements with feverish anxiety. . . His instinct told him that this was an enemy meditating some evil deed.
As to the cat's eyes, which were fixed on the bird with fascinating intensity, they said in language which the parrot understood perfectly, for there was nothing ambiguous about it, ' Although it is green, this chicken must be good to eat. '
We followed this scene with interest, ready to intervene is necessity arose. Madame Theophile had insensibly drawn nearer. Her pink nose quivered, she half closed her eyes, and her contractile claws went in and out. Little shivers ran down her spine. . . Suddenly her back was bent like a bow, and in one vigorous elastic bound she alighted on the perch. The parrot, perceiving the danger, promptly exclaimed in a bass voice, as solemn and deep as that of Monsieur Joseph Prudhomme, ' As tu dejeune. Jacquot ? ' (Have you breakfasted, Jacquot ?) This speech caused the cat to spring back in unspeakable terror. . . All her ornithological ideas were upset.
The parrot continued :
" Et de quoi ? De roti de roi. ' (And on what ? Off the joint of the king.)
The cat's face clearly expressed : ' It is not a bird; it is a gentleman ; he is speaking !' . . .
She cast a look full of interrogation at us, and not being satisfied with our reply she went and hid herself under the bed, from where it was impossible to get her out for the rest of the day. . .
This dainty and charming animal loved perfumes, some kinds of which threw her into ecstasies. She also had a taste for music. Seated on a pile of scores she would listen attentively and with evident signs of pleasure, to the ladies who came to our house to sing.
But shrill notes made her nervous, and when the high A occurred she never failed to shut the mouth of the singer with her paw. "
I can corroborate this story from my own experience. All the cats I have known have shown the greatest dislike to shrill sounds, and especially to whistling, which makes them very restless, the minor key or chromatic passages having a particularly exciting effect.
It once happened that the Master of the House drove one of our cats literally to desperation by whistling a tune which she greatly disliked, and when she could no longer stand the excruciating noise she suddenly ran up him, like a squirrel up a pine tree, and delicately bit his nose.
But to go back to Gautier and his fascinating pets - he says :
" Feline dynasties, as numerous as those of the Egyptian kings, succeeded each other in our household ; accident, flight, death carried them off one after another. All were loved and regretted. But life is made up on forgetting, and the memory of cats is effaced like that of men. "
The " White Dynasty " started with a little cat brought from Havana, who, on account of his immaculate whiteness (" he was like a swansdown powder-puff "), received the name of " Pierrot. " When he grew big this was lengthened to " Don Pierrot de Navarre, " as being more majestic and grandiose.
" Don Pierrot, like all animals who are spoilt and made much of, developed a charming amiability of character. he shared the life of the household, with all the pleasure which cats find in the intimacy of the domestic hearth. . . He was very fond of books, and when he found one open on a table he would lie on it, look at the page attentively, and turn over the leaves with his paw ; then he would end by going to sleep, for all the world as if he were reading a fashionable novel. "
Sometimes when Gaultier was writing, Don Pierrot would
" try to take part in the work, and attempt to take the pen out of out hand, no doubt in order to write himself, for he was an aesthetic cat like Hoffman's ' Murr, ' and we strongly suspect him of having scribbled his memoirs at night on some house-top by the light of his phosphorescent eyes. Unfortunately this lucubrations have been lost.
' Don Pierrot ' never went to bed until we came in. He waited for us inside the door, and as we entered the hall he would rub himself against our legs, and arch his back, purring joyfully the while. Then he proceeded to walk in front of us like a page, and if we has asked him, he would certainly have carried the candle. . . . Twelve o'clock was the latest hour at which we were supposed to come in. On this subject Pierrot had all the notions of a concierge. "
But sometimes when Gaultier was among friends he forgot the time, and he tells how
" Pierrot waited for us two or three times until two o'clock in the morning, but in the end our conduct displeased him, and he went to be without us.
This mute protest against out innocent dissipation touched us and after that we came home regularly at midnight.
But it was a long time before Pierrot forgave us. He wanted to be sure that it was not a sham repentance, but when he was convinced of the sincerity of our conversion, he deigned to take us into favour again, and resumed his nightly post in the entrance hall. To gain the friendship of a cat is a difficult thing. It is a philosophic, well-regulated, tranquil animal, a creature of habit, a lover of order and cleanliness, it does not give its affection indiscriminately, it will consent to be your friend if you are worthy of the honour, but it will not be your slave. "
Or as an English poet puts it -
" yet must I humble me thy grace to gain,
For wiles may win thee, but no arts enslave. "
" Don Pierrot had a companion of the same race as himself, and no less white. All the imaginable snowy comparisons which it were possible to pile up, would not suffice to give an idea of that immaculate fur, which would have made ermine look yellow. We called her ' Seraphita.' . . her character was dreamy and pensive. She would lie motionless on a cushion for hours, not asleep, but with eyes fixed with rapt attention on scenes invisible to ordinary mortals. She would carefully smooth her entire coat every morning, disentangling any knots with her paw, and every hair on her body, when brushed by her pink tongue, shone like new silver. If anyone touched her she would immediately efface all traces of the contact, for she could not endure to be ruffled.
Her elegance and distinction gave one an idea of aristocratic birth, and among her own kind she must have been at least a duchess. "
With the death of Pierrot and Seraphita
" the White Dynasty came to an end, but not the family. To this snow-white pair were born three kittens as black as ink.
Let him explain this mystery who can. "
Ust at this time, Victor Hugo's " Miserables " was in great vogue, and Gautier called the three kittens after some of the characters in the novel, Gavroche, Enjolras and Eponine. The last named was the most interesting of the three Gautier says of her -
" She was more delicate and slender than her brothers . . . her eyes were slightly oblique, and green as those of Pallas Athene, to whom Homer always applied the epithet of [having shining eyes] ; her nose was of a velvety black, and had the grain of a fine Perigord truffle ; her whiskers were in a perpetual state of agitation, all of which gave her a peculiarly expressive countenance. her superb black coat was always in motion, and was watered and shot with shadowy markings. Never was there a more sensitive, nervous, electric animal. Eponine attached herself particularly to us . . This gentle and devoted cat is still our inseparable companion . . . She comes running up when she hears the front door bell, receives the visitors, conducts them to the drawing-room, talks to them - yes, talks to them - with little chirruping noises, that do not in the least resemble the language cats use in talking to their own kind, but which simulate the articulate speech of man. What does she say ? She says in the most intelligible manner : ' Will you be good enough to wait until Monsieur comes down ? Please look at the pictures. or chat with me in the meantime if it amuses you to do so. ' The on our entering the room, she discreetly retires to an armchair or to a corner of the piano, and listens to the conversation without joining in, like a well-bred animal, who knows what is correct in good society.
' La gentille ' Eponine gave so many proofs of intelligence, good disposition, and sociability, that by common consent she was raised to the dignity of a person. . . . This dignity confers on her the privilege of eating at table like a person and not on the the floor in a corner, out of a saucer, like an animal. So Eponine had a chair next to us at breakfast and dinner, but on account of her small size she was allowed to rest her two front paws on the edge of the table. her place was laid, without spoon or fork, but she had her glass. She followed the dinner right through, dish by dish, from soup to dessert, waiting for her turn to be helped, and behaving with such propriety and nice manners as one would like to see in many children. . .
As one finds flaws in the diamond, spots on the sun, and faint shadows on perfection itself, so Eponine, it must be confessed, had a passionate liking for fish . . . which caused her to become almost frantic, and like children who are filled with the expectation of dessert, she sometimes rebelled at her soup when she knew (from previous investigations in the kitchen) that fish was coming. When this happened she was not helped, and we would say to her coldly, 'Madamoiselle, a person who is not hungry for soup cannot be hungry for fish,' and the dish would be pitilessly carried away from under her nose. Convinced that matters were serious, greedy Eponine would swallow her soup in all haste . . . and would then turn round and look at us with pride, like one who has conscientiously done his duty. Then she would be given her portion which she would consume with great satisfaction, and after having tasted of every dish in turn, she would finish up by drinking a third of a glass of water. . .
Such is the chronicle of the black dynasty. Enjolras, Gavroche, and Eponine served to remind us of the creation of the master we loved. The only thing is that when we re-read the 'Miserables' it seems to us the principle roles in the novel are filled by black cats, which in no way diminishes he interest of it for us.
Gautier's story of Eponine at table brings to mind a passage from Rogers' " Italy, " where he says : " Often dine with the good old Cardinal --, and I should add with his cats, for they are always at his table, and are much the gravest of company. "
Another well-known Frenchman, the sailor-author Pierre Loti, has written very prettily about his pet cats in his " Livre de la Pitie et de la Mort. " But his writing is so deeply imbued with melancholy, that even his cats assume a doleful character, and wander through the pages in the saddest way imaginable.
They die painful and lingering deaths, and altogether leave an impression on the mind rather like that produced by the children in certain " goody " books, who are too angelic to live, and who harrow us by dying on the slightest provocation. Still, the story of the ugly little half-starved Chinese cat is a pretty one.
It appeared suddenly on board Pierre Loti's ship, no-one knew from where, having probably escaped from some sinking Chinese junk by springing on to the French boat. It took refuge in his cabin, and resisted all efforts which he made at first to drive it away.
At last he was touched by the little creature's pathetic confidence in him, and its humble, deprecating ways, and he allowed it to remain. For seven months it was his shipmate, sharing his cabin, and gradually gaining his affection, until when the time of his furlough came, he could not bring himself to leave it behind.
So " Moumotte Chinoise " was taken to his home in France.
The timid, fragile creature, with its plaintive, almost human eyes, was received with fierce indignation by the superb cat of the house, " Moumotte Blanche. " The contrast between the two animals was great - the one with its regal winter coat, imposing in its beauty and stateliness, the other thin and ugly, with ragged, patchy fur. A great battle ensued, and the combatants had to be separated by pouring a jug of water over them. This enmity, however, gradually gave way to indifference, which was in turn, by some caprice, suddenly changed to devoted friendship. Thenceforth the two cats were inseparable, sitting on the same chair, eating out of the same plate, and greeting each other by rubbing noses.
As to this part of the story, I would remark that French cats and Chinese cats must be very different to those I have known, for all mine have been curiously independent of friendship with their own kind.
After kittenhood they seem to ignore each other's existence, and as for sitting in the same chair, or sharing a bed, they would not think of such a thing. They do, it is true, for domestic reasons, eat out of the same dish, but this is not because they would not infinitely prefer to have each a separate plate. Indeed it is funny to see how they put back their ears, flatten their whiskers against their cheeks, and make their heads as small as possible, so as to avoid any distasteful contact with other people's whiskers, ears or noses.
The only time they take any notice of each other is when they are out walking in the garden.
Then they become very playful, and even the grandfather of the family, who is enormously fat, runs up a tree like the youngest of them, with perhaps two or three of his wives and children in full chase.
It might be thought, from the many instances quoted, that cat lovers are more often to be found among the French than among other nations.
This however is not the case, but the French have perhaps written more, and with greater charm and naivete about their pets, than other less expansive people.
Two German writers at least, Hoffman and Scheffel, have given cats an important role in their books. But, although they are very humorous and amusing, these cat-heroes " Murr " and " Hiddigeigei " are like highly cultivated, philosophising German gentlemen masquerading as cats. They have in fact, little in common with the cats of real life, though we know that " Murr, " at any rate, had a living prototype in an unusually intelligent and beautiful Tom (a descendant of Puss in Boots), who suggested to Hoffman the form of his book " Kater Murr's Views of Life."
Among notable English cat-lovers are Lord Chesterfield (who left pensions to his cats), Southey, Jeremy Bentham, and Dr. Johnson.
This passage from Boswell shows " the great Lexicographer " in a very charming light. In referring to Johnson's kindness Boswell says :-
" Nor would it be just under this head to omit the fondness he showed for animals which he had taken under his protection.
I shall never forget the indulgence with which he treated ' Hodge, ' his cat ; for whom he himself used to go out and buy oysters, lest the servants having that trouble should take a dislike to the poor creature. I am, unluckily, one of those who have such an antipathy to a cat, that I am uneasy when I am in the room with one; and I own I frequently suffered a good deal from the presence of this same ' Hodge. '
I recollect him one day scrambling up Dr. Johnson's breast, apparently with much satisfaction, while my friend, smiling and half whistling, rubbed down his back and pulled him by the tail ; and when I observed he was a fine cat, saying, ; Why yes, Sir, but I have had cats whom i liked better than this, ' and then as if perceiving Hodge to be out of countenance, adding, ' but his is a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed. '
This reminds me of the ludicrous account which he gave Mr. Langton of the despicable state of a young gentleman of good family, ' Sir, when I heard of him last he was running about town shooting cats. ' And then in a sort of kindly reverie, he bethought himself of this own favourite cat, and said, but "Hodge" shan't be shot ; no, no, "Hodge" shall not be shot. ' "
Boswell's mention of his antipathy to cats touches on a very curious subject. The seem to be the only creatures, other that reptiles, capable of inspiring this odd repulsion. And in the case of reptiles it is probably a physical dislike of their coldness and sliminess, or a fear of their poisonous bit, which produces the feeling. One never hears of any one turning pale or fainting as the sight of a dog, though nervous people, and especially cyclists with their unprotected ankles (I speak feelingly), have much more cause to do so that at the sight of the most warlike Tom.
Ronsard has expressed his peculiar antipathy in very strong language :-
" Homme ne vit qui tant haisse au monde
Les chats que moy d'une haine profonde :
Je hay leurs yeux, leur front et le regard,
Et les voyant je m'enfuy d'autre part
Tremblant de nerfs, de veines et de membres,
Et jamais chat n'entre dedans ma chambre. "
On this point I have been told an amusing story about a well-known Doctor in Calcutta who had twenty cats, and kept a native servant whose exclusive business it was to make curry for them. On one occasion a lady with a strong antipathy to cats was expected to dinner, and so they were all shut up in a room at the top of the house. But by some accident the door was opened, and the twenty charged downstairs like a regiment of cavalry, whereupon, history relates, the lady fainted.
It is told of Lord Roberts that he also has this horror of cats.
A friend of ours, though he does not actually dislike them, suffers from a kind of hay fever if any are present, and begins to sneeze directly one comes into the room.
The dislike of bird-lovers is more explicable, and from very ancient times they have expressed their fury against Puss in verse and otherwise.
In the reign of Justinian and epigrammatist of Constantinople called Agathais, inveighed in unmeasured terms against the cat who had killed his tame partridge, and declared he would not be satisfied until he had taken the murderer's life, and so appeased the shade of the dead bird. As Champfleury says - " Voila bien due tapage pur une perdrix. "
Agathais might really have been a game-keeper. But is he made a great fuss about his partridge, what is to be thought of the lady who thus laments her sparrow, and calls down vengeance "on all the whole nation
"Of cats wild and tame ;
That cat especially
That slew so cruelly
My pretty little sparrow
That I brought up at Carrow.
" O cat of churlish mind,
Would thou hadst been blind !
The leopards savage,
The lions in their rage,
May catch thee in their paws
And gnaw thee in their jaws.
* * *
" Of Arcady the bears
May they pluck away thing ears,
The wild wolf Lycaon
Bite asunder they backbone ;
Of Etnas the burning hill
That day and night burneth still,
Set they tail in a blaze
That all the world may gaze
In wonder upon thee
From Ocean the great sea
Unto the Isle of Orchadye,
From Tilberry Ferry
To the plain of Salisbury. "
(- From the " Nun's Lament for Philip Sparrow, " by G. J. Skelton.)
The above leaves nothing to be desired in the matter of cursing and banning, though something perhaps on the score of metre.
Besides the two classes of cat-haters already mentioned, there is a third whose feelings towards Puss are well expressed by Calverley -
" Should china fall, or chandeliers, or anything but stocks -
Nay, stocks, when they're in flower-pots - the cat expects hard knocks ;
Should ever anything be missed - milk, coals, umbrellas, brandy -
The cat's pitched into with a boot, or anything that's handy."
Another section of the community appreciate cats in a cynical kind of way, admiring their beauty as a decorative adjunct to the household furniture, but perceiving their failings (which no-one would deny them to possess) more clearly than their charms.
The views of this section are admirably set forth in these elegant lines by Mr. A. C. Benson -
"On some grave business, soft and slow
Along the garden paths you go,
With bold and burning eyes ;
Or stand with twitching tail, to mark
What starts and rustles in the dark,
Among the peonies.
" You all day long, beside the fire,
Retrace in dreams your dark desire.
And mournfully complain.
In grave displeasure, if I raise
Your languid form to pet or praise ; —
And so to sleep again.
* * *
"You loved me when the fire was warm,
But now I stretch a fondling arm,
You eye me and depart.
Cold eyes, sleek skin, and velvet paws,
You win my indolent applause.
You do not win my heart. "
Although I cannot pretend that there is not a great deal of truth in that view, yet I am enough of a cat-lover to find, like Chateaubriand, a charm in what he calls " ce charactere independante et presque ingrat. "
But cats vary in character as much as human beings, and I have now in my cat-family one or two individuals whose temper is decidedly crabbed, though even they have their genial moments. Others have the most charming disposition imaginable. On the whole the ladies are the most amiable.
Sometimes a neglected cat will respond with the utmost affection and gratitude to any one who shows it a little unaccustomed attention.
I was once staying in a house where there was a beautiful cat ; but it never appeared in the upper regions, on account of a pet dog which had made things all its own way upstairs. One day I came across the cat in the garden and made friends with it. That evening, to my surprise, I found it asleep on my bed, and for the rest of my visit it never failed to spend the night in my room. (It did not come in the daytime.)
The servants told me that they had never known it go up to that part of the house before, and I heard that after I left it was very disconsolate for some while, going up of an evening and wandering from room to room, evidently looking for its departed friend.
Our cats always know when we are going away. They get very restless and excited at the sight of the boxes being brought down and at the general bustle of packing. Several pussies of outs have systematically refused to remain in the house when we have left it, and have always gone to live at the stables during our absence. The curious thing is, that within half-an-hour of our return they will come back, and again take up their abode in the house as though they had never been away from it.
Last year I too a little cat with me on a bicycle tour. It sat in a basket on the handlebars, and appeared to enjoy everything except " coasting. " Like ' Gunga Din ' it " didn't seem to know the use of fear, " and its composure was never ruffled. It went down the Wye in a boat, it travelled by rail and in carts or 'busses. It went through its ablutions on the crowded platform of Bristol Station with the utmost nonchalance. It went for long country walks, following like a dog and jumping carefully over the puddles, and delicately avoiding wet places. If a cart came along it would spring into the bushes at the side of the road and sit like ' Brer Rabbit ' in the brier-patch, with just its head sticking out.
A very pleasing feature of ' William's ' tour was the warm welcome he received from everyone whose hospitality he enjoyed. Rather to my surprise the innkeepers at the places where we stopped, far from objecting to such a strange travelling companion, without exception made quite a fuss about him, and petted and admired him to an extent which should have turned his head.
' William ' is now too heavy to go out cycling, but he still goes for walks, when we can take him without risk of his meeting strange dogs. His extreme fearlessness increases the danger, as I very much doubt if he would realise that there could be any necessity for defending himself. I need hardly say that our own dogs are the devoted friends and allies of our cats.
I might go on filling pages with cat-stories, but enough is as good as a feast, and I will only tell one more, illustrating the power of the cat to gain not only the affections of high-born statesmen, poets and fine gentlemen, but also those of rougher natures.
It is from Fielding's " Voyage to Lisbon. " The captain of the ship in which he sailed was a great martinet, who exacted the strictest obedience to his orders from all on board, and resented with hasty impatience the slightest affront to his personal authority or dignity. Yet he was a very good-hearted fellow, really kind to his sailors, and even his cats and kittens had large shares in his affections. It is the story of an accident to one of these which Fielding tells.
" Thursday, July 11th, 1774.
A most tragical accident fell out this day at sea. While the ship was under sail, but making, as will appear, no great way, a kitten, one of the four feline inhabitants of the cabin, fell from the window into the water. An alarm was immediately given to the captain, who was then upon deck and received it with many bitter oaths. He immediately gave orders to the steersman in favour of the poor thing, as he called it ; the sails were instantly slackened, and all hands, as the phrase is, employed to recover the poor animal. I was, I own, extremely surprised at all this ; less, indeed, at the captain's extreme tenderness, than at his conceiving any possibility of success ; for if puss has had nine thousand, instead of nine lives, I concluded they had all been lost. The boatswain, however, had more sanguine hopes ; for having stripped himself of his jacket, breeches and shirt, he leaped boldly into the water, and to my great astonishment, in a few minutes returned to the ship, bearing the motionless animal in his mouth. Nor was this, I observed, a matter of such great difficulty as it appeared to my ignorance, and possibly may seem to that of my freshwater reader. The kittens was now exposed to air and sun on the deck, where its life, of which it retained no symptoms, was despaired of by all.
The captain's grief was great, and he declared ' that he had rather have lost a cask of rum or brandy ' - a most striking tribute to the value he set upon the kitten. "
After all, Fielding tells us, this precious creature recovered
" to the great joy of the good captain, but to the great disappointment of some of the sailors, who asserted that the drowning a cat was the very surest way of raising a favourable wind. "
It is sad to have to add that
" the cat which had shown it could not be drowned was a few days later found suffocated under a bed in the cabin. "
Fielding says --
" I will not endeavour to describe his (the captain's) lamentations with more prolixity than barely by saying they were grievous, and seemed to have some mixture of the Irish howl in them. "
It now only remains for me to end by expressing a hope that this little book may succeed in pleasing those who are already fond of Puss, and that in addition it may possibly gain some fresh admirers for her.
" little lion, small and dainty sweet, With sea-grey eyes and softly stepping feet, "
less poetically known as the Domestic Cat.