THE CATS OF CELEBRITIES - BY LAURA ALEX SMITH.
THE LADY'S REALM - AN ILLUSTRATED MONTHLY MAGAZINE
Vol IV. May 1898 to October 1898
WE have it on the authority of no less a statistician than the late John Stuart Mill, who was himself passionately fond of cats, that the whole world might be divided into pussophilists and the reverse. At the present day, the pussophilists are without doubt in the ascendant, and the cult of the cat is as much practised as it was amongst the ancient Egyptians. Time was when hearty, lusty masculinity was supposed to be devoted to the canine race, and to be totally indifferent to the feline, which was always set down as the solace of timid and solitary femininity. Now, we have many men of mark worshipping at the shrine of the soft fluffies from the land of Hafiz and sherbet, of the pug-like royal animals of Siam, the sweet but sad-faced " blues " of Muscovy, of the tailless Manx and Japanese, or of the crusty bachelor Tom, or harmless British tabby.
Emperors, kings, princes, bishops, statesmen, great soldiers, famous authors and artists, have their pet cats, animals which are admitted to the most perfect friendship with their masters, and of whom these have often a fund of anecdotal reminiscence. If Englishmen, Russians, Italians, and Persians are fond of the feline tribe, it must be said of Frenchmen that they absolutely revel in them. The roll of famous Gallic men who have shared this intense admiration for the cat includes some of the most illustrious of all time. Cardinal Richelieu; Marshal Turenne, who amused himself for hours together, playing with his kittens ; the meditative Montaigne ; Chateaubriand ; Crebillon, the tragedian ; and those two astute historians of catdom, Moncrif and Champfleury, have all left behind them the record of much affection bestowed upon their favourites. Then, had we not Beaudelaire, who sang of them, and Michelet, who used to go out of his way to ring a bell for any stray puss who was trying for admittance into the house at Toulon ?
Of poets and writers in later days who have taken part in this cult of the cat, we have innumerable instances. Prosper Merimee, Theophile Gautier, Francois Coppee, Louis Blanc, Gaston Bettume, and Pierre Loti, have each had their " Moumouttes " whom they have spoilt in the flesh and immortalised in their fiction, or their art. Paul de Kock had thirty of these pets, and Francois Coppee has whole families of them living, painted, or sculptured. Fromentin's favourite lived eleven years with him, and the late Gaston Bettume had such a love for his two Persians that he never even troubled them to sit to him as models, but allowed them to purr away their happy life in comfortable baskets, on the steps of his studio at Auteuil. It is on record that he once made his excuses to a London hostess who expected him to dinner, in a letter, which stated "Mes chats m'attendent." As to Theophile Gautier, his enthusiasm for them takes the length of writing of them in the Revue de Deux Motides, and of naming one especially valued " Madame Theophile," " Epinone," another of his, went regularly through all courses at dinner every evening.
M. Louis Blanc's was also a bon vivant, and always met his master at the foot of the stairs of his house in the Rue de Rivoli, and walked with him to the dining-room to await the gong. Everybody who is an admirer of M. Pierre Loti's exquisite writing is aware of his love for these animals, "Moumoutte Blanche " and " Moumoutte Chinoise " occuping a great portion of that most delicious little series of essays, " Le Livre de la pitie et de la mort." By the way, the last-named moumoutte is one of the peculiar red cats of China.
The late Czar of Russia was an ardent pussophilist, and on one occasion, when he was visiting the King of Denmark, he alarmed every one in the palace by rushing out of the house at a very early hour, because from his windows he had seen a big dog attacking his favourite black cat. Pope Pius the Ninth had a tabby who shared his frugal dinner for years— always coming in with the soup, and sitting gravely opposite his holiness in a chair placed there for him. The Pope used to feed him from his own plate, and puss, at the end of the repast, walked out with the dishes. When he died his master shrugged his shoulders, and remarked, " One pope dies and another takes his place. Che vuole? So it is with cats."
Amongst our own Royal Family there are not very many cat-lovers. Her Majesty has almost an antipathy to them, and has never been known to make a pet of any ; and it was with a feeling of surprise that her subjects learnt that she had sent the cat whose portrait we reproduce to a show held recently at Banbury. The Princess of Wales had a very favourite white cat, who was her constant companion for many years, always going with its Royal mistress on visits to country houses, and enjoying all the privileges of a tenderly loved pet at Sandringham and Marlborough House. Since its death there has been no other pet so much en evidence so far as the feline tribe is concerned.
The pet cats of distinguished divines would fill a volume, from the days when Herrick in his Devonshire parsonage used to have troops of feline friends, to the present Bishop of Ripon's " Sultan," a handsome blue Angora, whose portrait we are able to reproduce. " Sultan " may in truth be styled a diocesan worker, for her kittens are always sold on behalf of any charity in the diocese. The Wakefield bishopric fund was, for instance, ten pounds the richer, owing to the sale of Sultan's offspring. Canon Duckworth is another of pussie's warmest partisans, as may be judged by the two favourites of his which have been for the first time at the mercy of the camera, and from the very characteristic remarks he makes about them in a letter he was kind enough to write me on the subject.
" ' Gem,' the aged friend who lives with me here, has reached a green old age after a kittenhood and cathood devoid of care, and sheltered from assault, so that he has husbanded his nine lives well, and he is still alert and predatory, and has no infirmity save an increasing deafness. His temper has always been exemplary, and his reception of visitors most gracious, allowing children to play the "tug-of-war" with him. He is fond of tea, and sometimes invites himself to a neighbouring tea-party, making his arrival known by low, musical signals at the drawing room window. His favourite place of repose for many years was my wastepaper-basket, but now he only glances gravely at its contents, and passes by to extend himself on the hearth. "The Westminster cat, ' Tim,' has always been very different in character and ways. It is remarkable that when I go into residence he at once takes up with a new set of habits. His favourite position is on the study table, where he lies purring with his fore-paws upon my left arm, watching intently all that I write. He is a cat of literary tastes, and the servants tell me that they can always draw him by an exhibition of pen, ink, and paper. Had I leisure to develop his powers, there is no saying how he might have distinguished himself as a cat of culture. A cat is certainly an inferior companion to a dog; but his friendship (the terms of which he always insists on arranging) is worth having, though self-sacrifice, of which a dog is capable, is a virtue quite unknown to the feline tribe. I think it is Toussenel, in his delightful "Esprit des Betes," who said so truly ' Le chien vous caresse: le chat se caresse a vous.'"
Writing later, with reference to " Gem's " picture, Canon Duckworth says, " If ' Gem ' is honoured with a portrait, it should be mentioned that he is seventeen years of age, and that his "beaux jours" (and they were "beaux ") belong to the past." The Rev. Harry Jones had a cat whom he called Sir Samuel Baker, because of his incorrigible fondness for miscellaneous travel by day and night. This animal had possibly Eastern blood in his veins, for in all Mohammedan countries puss does exactly what he likes, having neither respect for persons or regard for hours. At all hours of the day when the felines of others lands are indulging in dolce far niente, and saving their vocal organs for the evening performance, the cats of the Shah's dominions are promenading the walls and housetops, uttering plaintive melodies. This characteristic of daylight warbling is fortunately absent in our felines ; and although, as a nation, we may boast of many modern improvements and numerous up-to-date innovations, the matinee cat is not one of them.
As one of the best-known lovers of the cat amongst the theatrical profession, we must notice Miss Ellen Terry, to whom report assigns numerous favourites; but at the present time she appears to have only one, and that one most averse to publicity of any kind, for the following reply came in answer to my letter asking for information : " Dear Madam,— " Miss Terry bids me say she fears she must ask you to excuse her cat, as she has led a blameless life, and has really nothing interesting to say." Truly yours, " Secretary." Miss Terry is, I am afraid, harbouring the delusion that the feline heroes and heroines of this article are all ultra-Bohemian in their habits, for her comment on the blameless life of her pet applies equally to most of the highly respectable denizens of catdom mentioned in it — sanctioned as some of them are by ecclesiastical, not to say episcopal, approbation.
Madame Albani is one of those who believe firmly in the luck-bringing properties of the black cat. When she made her debut at Covent Garden, one of these mascottes of the race feline silently pushed open a door just as she was about to go on the stage, and stood and looked up at her. Ever since that occasion le chat noir has been sure of a welcome from this queen of song. Mademoiselle Nikita, on the other hand, pins her faith to a beautiful white Siberian, who goes everywhere with her; it was given to her by a Russian prince. Signor Foli is another enthusiastic cat-lover, and a frequent exhibitor at the shows. Mr. Willard is a firm believer in the luck which attaches to black cats, and Mr. Beerbohm Tree also shares this feeling. The workers at Barrow-in-Furness insist upon one being carried on every vessel built there, and during her trials in the Channel, The Powerful had one on board by request of the men. Many yachting men are most particular about the " harmless necessary " black Tom forming a member of the crew before setting off on a cruise, or even attempting a race in the Solent or the Mediterranean.
The literary confraternity generally is very much given to worshipping puss ; and some of them avow frankly that they cannot write a line unless their special feline friend is ensconced in his or her favourite spot. Mr. J. M. Barrie has a pet puss always in his study ; and so also has Mr. Andrew Lang. G. R. Sims pens his delightful paragraphs in his study overlooking Regent's Park with " Clarence Blundell Maple Snow " sitting by his side, this being a beautiful white cat. Max O'Rell, on being asked about his, replied, " We have a cat, but as he and I are not on speaking terms, I would advise you to write to my daughter for the idiosyncracies of that individual " ; this state of affairs is rare with M. Paul Blouet's compatriots.
" Maxwell Gray " has perhaps done as much as any writer to foster this love of the felines. Every one who admired her novel, "The Silence of Dean Maitland," will remember " Mark Antony," and doubtless be glad to make his further acquaintance by photo graph. Then there was " Sebastopol " in " The Heart of the Storm," and that mischievous kitty in " A Costly Freak," who tore up the bank-notes. " Mark Antony," Miss Tuttlett tells me, died in 1885, whilst the story which immortalised him was being written. Other pets of the authoress are " Tiny," a lovely white cat ; and " Prince," a soft, fluffy little fellow from the land of Omar Khayyam. In " Tiny's " early days he had a companion in " Wynken de Worde," a blue Persian ; these two spent many hours of the day looking out of the window, and so interested did they become in passing events that they frequently fell off the table, which did duty as a window-seat. " Wynken " used to swear at thunderstorms, and he had a penchant for sitting on top of the piano, and a wholesome horror of tobacco.
Mrs. Louisa Parr is another writer who makes much of her cats ; she has two, one of whom, " Dumps," is also a novel hero ; he is a magnificent sable Persian, whom his mistress wished to call " Othello " ; but her cook begged for him to be " Dumps," so " Dumps " he remains. The other is also an Oriental beauty, familiarly known as " Tiggy." Originally " Tiggy " belonged to the late Mrs.
Forrester, the novelist ; he is an amiable cat, and quite ready to make friends. " Dumps," on the other hand, keeps himself to himself, and required much tempting with the luxuries of the tea-table before he would emerge from his hiding-place under the sofa. Mrs. Jenner has three white cats, each named after a Greek goddess ; but in one case, unfortunately, puss has not lived up to her name, having somewhat low tastes, which have led her to frequent with felines of doubtful character. She was sleeping off the effects of a night out when I made her acquaintance. Miss Mary Wilkins is faithful to the memory of a pet named William, who died some years ago, but who has had no supplanter in Miss Wilkins' affections.
Mrs. Alfred Hunt's "Thomas" is quite a character. He is a very large black cat, and quite devoted to his mistress ; indeed, Mrs. Hunt cannot go through even so trite a performance as putting on her bonnet without Thomas offering his services as maid. He gently wakes her up in the mornings by putting a paw on her eyelids : and all through the day he follows her about. Thomas takes lunch with the family, having his own chair ; and although he may be left for two or three months at a time without other companionship than that of the servants, he always walks into the dining-room the day his mistress returns home, and resumes his seat with the utmost dignity and composure. The day I called to see him, he had been told he was to be interviewed, and, disliking the idea, he went to Mrs. Hunt's room to hide. After much scuffling and skirmishing he consented to come downstairs and show me some of his tricks.
The late Lord Leighton was a pussophilist, and almost the first commission he gave the clever young sculptress, Miss Alice Chaplin, was to model one of his pets. Most people are familiar with the delightful pictures of cats and kittens by Madame Henriette Ronner, and Miss Fanny Moody frequently deserts her dogs in favour of them. Mr. Louis Wain's and Mr. Harrison Weir's studies of them must not be forgotten in this paper. The latter is one of the most steadfast of puss’s friends; he was the originator of the Crystal Palace Cat Show, and is the writer of a very charming book on his favourites.
The Duchess of Bedford's cats are amongst the most admired denizens of catdom. The Duchess has the wisest possible methods of treating them, and she never coddles them, allowing the kittens to run about in all weathers during the day, but not at night, and having their quarters well ventilated and sufficiently heated by natural, not artificial, means. " Fritz," one of her chief favourites, was once a stray pussy, wandering, starved and unappropriated, in the London streets. The secretary of the Couriers' Club found it, and would have kept it, but he feared its being stolen from the club; for care and comfort had quickly restored Fritz (a silver tabby Persian) to his pristine beauty. So he became the Duchess's pet. His attention to his toilet is so exemplary as to render him quite a Beau Brummel amongst cats. Goblin, a Siamese importation, who is very juvenile in his manners, takes a great pleasure in bullying Fritz, who, in return, treats Goblin in a very off-hand way. The latter is a keen sportsman. " Bill," a yellow Persian, is as careless over his appearance as Fritz is careful; he absolutely refuses to wash himself. He is the quintessence of laziness, finding even purring a trouble, although he is fond of being petted ; in his salad days Bill suffered much from hysteria, and but for the great care taken of him, he would never have attained to the dignity of a cat.
Visitors to the British Embassy in Paris may recall Lord Dufferin's beautiful white Persian, "Ambassador." I was anxious to include a photograph of this diplomatic pet in the "Cats of Celebrities," but it was not possible to obtain one. Lord Dufferin wrote as follows : " A relative of Lord Dufferin's presented him with a very handsome Persian cat, which he was in the habit of exhibiting ; but it was sent back to the donor as it was found it could not be conveniently kept. It is true Lord Dufferin had another young Persian, but the other day it tumbled into a barrel of tar, of which it must have swallowed a good deal, for it died almost immediately after." On application to the present owner of " Ambassador," it was found that no photograph of him exists.
A cat which has had a most eventful career is Mdlle. Janotha's black one, "White Heather." This handsome fellow has been at many Courts, and has on several occasions spent an hour or two with Her Majesty at Balmoral, Osborne, and Windsor. She was so amused at his comical ways that she knitted up a piece of wool for him to play with. " White Heather " is also a persona grata at Berlin, and the Empress calls him " Othello." He has great luck-bringing qualities ; and when President Cleveland gave one of his receptions at White House, he stood beside him and graciously shook hands with the guests. Many picked a hair off his silky coat and had it set in a locket as a charm. To White Heather's "credit it must be stated that he once saved a white mouse. Sir Charles and Lady Dilke are great lovers of the cat, and have a special breed of long-haired, tailless ones which they rear with extreme care at Pyford, Surrey.
From: THE LADY'S REALM - AN ILLUSTRATED MONTHLY MAGAZINE
Vol. XI. - November 1901 to April 1902
Beresford Lodge is an overgrown bungalow, or rather couple of bungalows, connected by a subterranean passage below and a large hall above, which has the peculiarity of being designed on the lines of the saloon of an ocean steamer. Here Lord Decies keeps his collection of blue china, which contains some very valuable specimens; and here, too, Lady Decies displays the innumerable cups, medals, and trophies of every description won at the various shows by her famous cats. The "Catteries," which are situated not far from the house, are quite models of their kind, with large airy " runs," wired in and covered with awnings, and comfortable well-warmed houses. Here reside in luxury champion " FulmerZaida," a magnificent chinchilla, " Xenophon," an English tabby, who has taken over two hundred prizes, " Powder-puff," a white Persian, and " Boodoo," a beautiful Siamese, with black head, dun-coloured body, and blue eyes.
Lady Decies, who was Miss Gertrude Willoughby, sister of Sir John Willoughby of Fulmer Hall, Slough,
Is one of those people who are generally successful in whatever they undertake. Before her marriage she used to invent all sorts of puzzles and games, which were disposed of for the benefit of various charities. In appearance, Lady Decies is tall and fair, with charming manners and a bright expression. She is devoted to animals, and has a good deal of power over them, training and teaching her cats in a most remarkable way. Her birds, bullfinches for choice, and her dogs, are really models of what can be done by a mutual understanding between human beings and the animal world. Lord Decies is a keen all-round sportsman, and devoted to a country life. He is very popular in Thanet, makes an admirable master of hounds, and everything connected with the hunt is very well done.