The following are excerpts from Victorian texts on domestic animals showing different views on the animal-human relationship and on evolution. Except for the rare Charles Baker text, where I've reproduced the section on mammals, I have excerpted the sections most likely to be of interest to cat lovers. The texts here include "Illustrated Natural History" (Rev JG Wood), "Animals, Their Nature and Their Uses" (Charles Baker), "Origin of Species" (Charles Darwin) and "The Variation Of Animals And Plants Under Domestication" (Charles Darwin).



WE have hitherto been describing a class of harmless animals, that serve as instruments to the happiness of man, or at least that are not at warfare with his tribe ; but we are now to turn to an unrelenting race, whose sanguinary tempers deal in blood. All the class of the cat kind are chiefly distinguished by their sharp and formidable claws, which they can hide or extend at pleasure ; they lead a solitary ravenous life, neither uniting for their mutual defence, like. those which feed on vegetables, or, like the dog, for mutual support. The dog, the wolf, and the bear, are sometimes known to live upon farinaceous food ; but all of the cat kind, such as the lion, the tiger, the leopard, and the ounce, refuse the sustenance that does not teem with blood.

In other animals many alterations are produced by the arts and assiduity of man ; but these creatures remain inflexibly the same, and neither climate or control can change them.

The cat, which is the smallest animal of the kind, is the only one that has been taken under human protection : the lion and the tiger may be tamed, and rendered obedient to command ; but even in their humblest moments they are to be dreaded, as their strength is so great, and their tempers so capricious, that they have frequently been known suddenly to turn upon those to whose authority they had appeared to submit.

Of all the animals when young, there is none more prettily playful than the kitten ; but, as its years increase, it seems gradually to lose its sportive habits, and the innate treachery of its class prevails. From being naturally ravenous, education teaches it to disguise its appetites, and to watch a favorable moment for seizing its prey. Supple, artful, and insinuating, it disguises its intentions until it can execute them without danger ; and, instead of making an open attack, conceals itself in ambush, like a designing foe. The weapons of this animal are both its teeth and claws ; the former of which amount to thirty, and are calculated for tearing rather than chewing its food : their claws are remarkable both for sharpness and strength, and they never suffer any thing to escape that once comes within their grasp. The cat* has only the appearance of attachment ; and it may easily be perceived, by its timid approaches, and side-long looks, that it either dreads its master, or distrusts his kindness ; it is assiduous rather for its own pleasure, than to please ; and often obtains confidence, merely to abuse it. The form of its body, and its temperament, perfectly correspond with its disposition ; active, cleanly, delicate, and voluptuous, it shews a peculiar fondness for comfort and ease : it is timid and mistrustful, because its body is weak, and its skin more tender and thin than a dog's, therefore they appear to be constantly in dread of blows. Of all the marks which this animal exhibits of the natural ferocity and malignity of its disposition is that of sporting with the object it means to devour ; and instead of putting an end to its sufferings by an immediate death, lengthening them out by an appearance of release ; and when the poor victim fancies it has escaped its tyrant, a sudden spring renews its captive chains, and sets it once more trembling for its life. The cat is seldom known to make an attack upon those animals which are capable of defence, but birds and mice are its favourite food : it also eats the young of rabbits and hares ; and, when very hungry, will devour bats, moles, toads, and frogs.

[* This animal goes fifty-six days with young, and generally produces four or five at a time, which she carefully hides in some concealed spot, and for some weeks entirely supports them upon milk ; afterwards she carries them whatever she has made her prey.]

Although the cat is an inhabitant of our abode, it cannot be called a dependant upon man, for it gives no proof of pliancy or obedience, but follows its own inclinations and pursuits. It appears to have a natural antipathy to water ; and is fond of rubbing itself against those who carry any kind of perfume : it likewise shows an excessive partiality to the smell of valerian, marum, and cat-mint : it seldom is known to sleep sound ; and often imitates that lifeless appearance, for the purpose of deceiving the unsuspecting object of its prey. There is something peculiarly remarkable in the pupil of this animal's eye, which in the dark seems to expand over the whole ball, but contracts into a small compass when presented to the light. It is remarkably cleanly in its nature : its hair is glossy, smooth, and sleak ; and, when forcibly rubbed in the dark, emits electrical sparks.

The wild cat is something larger than the tame kind ; but, from the fur being longer, it appears much superior in size : its teeth and claws are much more formidable ; its head is bigger, and its face more flat. The general colour of this animal in England is a yellowish white, intermixed with grey. It inhabits the most mountainous and woody parts of the island ; feeds only by night, and lives in trees. It is one of those few quadrupeds which is common to the new as well as to the old continent, for when Columbus first discovered that country, a hunter brought him one that he had found in the woods : they are common likewise in many parts of Africa and Asia, and the colour of some of them is inclining to blue. In Chorazan, a province of Persia, there is a species of this animal with a most beautiful skin ; the colour is a greyish blue, and nothing can exceed the lustre and softness of its skin : the tail curls upon the back like a squirrel's, and the hair upon it is at least six inches in length. Another variety of this creature is called the lion-cat, or, more properly, the cat of Angora : these are larger than either the tame or the wild cat ; their hair is longer, and hangs about their head and neck so as to give the creature an appearance of a lion ; in general, the "animal is white, though sometimes it takes a dun hue.



Oliver Goldsmith, 1838

* The quadrupeds of this family are distinguished by having six front teeth, the intermediate ones of which are equal ; the grinders are three on each side in each jaw; the tongue is furnished with rough prickles pointing backwards ; and the claws are sheathed and retractile, except in the lion, which has them retractile, but not sheathed.

We have hitherto been describing a class of peaceful and harmless animals, that serve as the instruments of man's happiness, or, at least, that do not openly oppose him. We come now to a bloody and unrelenting tribe, that disdain to own his power, and carry on unceasing hostilities against him. All the class of the cat kind are chiefly distinguished by their sharp and formidable claws, which they can hide and extend at pleasure. They lead a solitary ravenous life, neither uniting for their mutual defence, like vegetable feeders, nor for their mutual support, like those of the dog kind. The whole of this cruel and ferocious tribe seek their food alone; and except at certain seasons, are even enemies to each other. The dog, the wolf, and the bear, are sometimes known to live upon vegetables or farinaceous food; but all of the cat kind, such as the lion, the tiger, the leopard, and the ounce, devour nothing but flesh, and starve upon any other provision.

They are, in general, fierce, rapacious, subtle, and cruel, unfit for society among each other, and incapable of adding to human happiness. However, it is probable that even the fiercest could be rendered domestic, if man thought the conquest worth the trouble. Lions have been yoked to the chariots of conquerors, and tigers have been taught to tend those herds which they are known at present to destroy; but these services are not sufficient to recompense for the trouble of their keeping; so that, ceasing to be useful, they continue to be noxious, and become rebellious subjects, because not taken under equal protection with the rest of the brute creation.

Other tribes of animals are classed with difficulty; have often but few points of resemblance; and, though alike in form, have different dispositions, and different appetites. But all those of the eat kind, although differing in size, or in Colour, are yet nearly allied to each other; being equally fierce, rapacious, and artful; and he that has seen one has seen all. In other creatures there are many changes wrought by human assiduity; the dog, the hog, or the sheep, are altered in their natures and forms, just as the necessities, or the caprice of mankind, have found fitting; but all of his kind are inflexible in their forms, and wear the print of their natural wildness strong upon them. The dogs or cows vary in different countries, but lions or tigers are still found the same; the very colour is nearly alike in all; and the slightest alterations are sufficient to make a difference in the kinds, and to give the animal a different denomination.

The cat kind are not less remarkable for the sharpness and strength of their claws, which thrust forth from their sheath when they seize their prey, than for the shortness of their snout, the roundness of their head, and the large whiskers which grow on the upper lip. Their teeth also, which amount to the number of thirty, are very formidable, but rather calculated for tearing their prey than for chewing it: for this reason they feed but slowly; and while they eat, generally continue growling, to deter others from taking a share. In the dog kind, the chief power lies in the under jaw, which is long, and furnished with muscles of amazing strength; but in these the greatest force lies in the claws, which are extended with great ease, and their gripe is so tenacious that nothing can open it. The hinder parts in all these animals are much weaker than those before; find they seem less made for strength than agility. Nor are they endued with the swiftness of most other animals; but generally owe their subsistence rather to catching their prey by surprise than by hunting it fairly down. They all seize it with a bound, at the same time expressing their fierce pleasure with a roar; and the first grasp generally disables the captive from all farther resistance. With all these qualifications for slaughter, they, nevertheless, seem timid and cowardly, and seldom make an attack, like those of the dog kind, at a disadvantage: on the contrary, they fly when the force against them is superior, or even equal to their own; and the lion himself will not venture to make a second attempt, where he has once been repulsed with success. For this reason, in countries that are tolerably inhabited, the lion is so cowardly, that he is often scared away by the cries of women and children.

The cat, which is the smallest animal of this kind, is the only one that has been taken under human protection, and may be considered as a faithless friend,* brought to oppose a still more insidious enemy [This description is nearly translated from Mr Buffon : what I have added is marked with inverted commas].

* The attachment of domestic cats to human individuals is by no means very common with the species, though some striking instances of their consciousness and gratitude towards a kind owner might be quoted. They more frequently, however, evince great affection for other animals, which becomes a reciprocal feeling Thus the celebrated Godolphin Arabian and a black cat were, for many years, the warmest friends; and when the horse died, in 1753, the cat, who had stationed herself upon his carcass, until it was put under ground, then crawled mournfully away; and was never seen again till found dead in a hay-loft. In fact, the cat is constitutionally timid and distrustful; but the Editor can say, from long experience, that not even the dog himself will respond more cordially or steadily to any gentle advances.

It is, in fact, the only animal of this tribe whose services can more than recompense the trouble of their education, and whose strength is not sufficient to make its anger formidable. The lion, or the tiger, may easily be tamed, and rendered subservient to human command; but even in their humblest, and most familiar moments, they are still dangerous; since their strength is such, that the smallest fit of anger or caprice may have dreadful consequences. But the cat, though easily offended, and often capricious in her resentments, is not endowed with powers sufficient to do any great mischief. Of all animals, when young, there is none more prettily playful than the kitten; but it seems to lose this disposition as it grows old, and the innate treachery of its kind is then seen to prevail. From being naturally ravenous, education teaches it to disguise its appetites, and to watch the favourable moment of plunder; supple, insinuating, and artful, it has learned the arts of concealing its intentions till it can put them into execution; when the opportunity offers, it at once seizes upon whatever it finds, flies off with it, and continues at a distance till it supposes its offence forgotten. The cat has only the appearance of attachment; and it may easily be perceived, by its timid approaches, and sidelong looks, that it either dreads its master, or distrusts his kindness; different from the dog, whose caresses are sincere, the cat is assiduous rather for its own pleasure than to please; and often gains confidence only to abuse it. The form of its body, and its temperament, correspond with its disposition; active, cleanly, delicate, and voluptuous, it loves its ease, and seeks the softest cushions to lie on. "Many of its habits, however, are rather the consequences of its formation, than the result of any perverseness in its disposition; it is timid. and mistrustful, because its body is weak, and its skin tender; a blow hurts it infinitely more than it does a dog, whose hide is thick, and body muscular; the long fur in which the cat is clothed entirely disguises its shape, which, if seen naked, is long, feeble, and slender; it is not to be wondered, therefore, that it appears much more fearful of chastisement than the dog, and often flies even when no correction is intended. Being also a native of the warmer climates, as will be shewn hereafter, it chooses the softest bed to lie on, which is always the warmest."

The cat goes with young fifty-six days, and seldom brings forth above five or six at a time. The female usually hides the place of her retreat from the male, who is often found to devour her kittens. She feeds them for some weeks with her milk, and whatever small animals she can take by surprise, accustoming them betimes to rapine. Before they are a year old, they are fit to engender; the female seeks the male with cries; nor is their copulation performed without great pain, from the narrowness of the passage in the female. They live to about the age of ten years; * and during that period they are extremely vivacious, suffering to be worried a long time before they die.

* In the family of the Editor, there was formerly a cat which had notoriously attained twice this age, continuing to breed till within a short time of her death, and losing but little of her usual sleekness up to the latest period.

The young kittens are very playful and amusing; but their sport soon turns into malice, and they, from the beginning, show a disposition to cruelty; they often look wistfully towards the cage, sit sentinels at the mouth of a mouse-hole and in a short time become more expert hunters than if they had received the instructions of art. Indeed, their disposition is so incapable of constraint, that all instruction would be but thrown away. It is true, that we are told of the Greek monks of the isle of Cyprus teaching cats to hunt the serpents with which the island is infested; but this may be natural to the animal itself, and they might have fallen upon such a pursuit without any instruction. Whatever animal is much weaker than themselves, is to them an indiscriminate object of destruction. Birds, young rabbits, hares, rats and mice, bats, moles, toads and frogs, are all equally pursued; though not, perhaps, equally acceptable. The mouse seems to be their favourite game; and, although the cat has the sense of smelling in but a mean degree, it nevertheless knows those holes in which its prey resides. I have seen one of them patiently watch a whole day until the mouse appeared, and continue quite motionless until it came within reach, and then seized it with a jump. Of all the marks by which the cat discovers its natural malignity, that of playing and sporting with its little captive, before killing it outright, is the most flagrant.

The fixed inclination which they discover for this peculiar manner of pursuit, arises from the conformation of their eyes. The pupil in man, and in most other animals, is capable but of a small degree of contraction and dilatation; it enlarges a little in the dark, and contracts when the light pours in upon it in too great quantities. In the eyes of cats, however, this contraction and dilatation of the pupil is so considerable, that the pupil, which by daylight appears narrow and small like the black of one's nail, by night expands over the whole surface of the eye-ball, and, as every one must have seen, their eyes seem on fire. By this peculiar conformation, their eyes see better in darkness than light; and the animal is thus better adapted for spying out and surprising its prey. Although the cat is an inhabitant of our houses, yet it cannot properly be called a dependent; although perfectly tame, yet it acknowledges no obedience; on the contrary, it does only just what it thinks fit, and no art can control any of its inclinations. In general, it is but half tamed; and has its attachments rather to the place in which it resides, than to the inhabitant.* If the in habitant quits the house, the cat still remains; and if carried elsewhere, seems for a while bewildered with its new situation. It must take time to become acquainted with the holes and retreats in which its prey resides, with all the little labyrinths through which they often make good an escape.

* One of the most remarkable properties of a domestic cat is an anxiety to become acquainted, not only with every part of its usual habitation, but with the dimensions and external qualities of every object by which it is surrounded. Cats do not very readily adapt themselves to a change of houses; but we have watched the process by which one, whose attachment to a family is considerable, reconciles itself to such a change. He surveys every room in the house, from the garret to the cellar; if a door is shut, he waits till it be opened to complete the survey; he ascertains the relative size and position of every article of furniture; and when he has acquired this knowledge, he sits down contented with his new situation. It appears necessary to a cat that he should be intimately acquainted with every circumstance of his position, in the same way that a general first examines the face of the country in which he is to conduct his operations. If a new piece of furniture, if even a large book or portfolio, is newly placed in a room which a cat frequents, he walks round it, smells it, takes note of its size and appearance, and then never troubles himself more about the matter.

The cat is particularly fearful of water,* of cold, and of ill smells. It loves to keep in the sun, to get near the fire, and to rub itself against those who carry perfumes. It is excessively fond of some plants, such as valerian, marum, and cat-mint: against these it rubs, smells them at a distance, and at last, if they be planted in a garden, wears them out.

* Notwithstanding this natural dread, there is no doubt that wild cats will seize on fish; and the passionate longing of the domestic cat after that food is an evidence of the natural desire. We have seen a cat overcome her habitual reluctance to wet her feet, and seize an eel out of a pail of water. Mr Darwin alludes to this propensity: —" Mr Leonard, a very intelligent friend of mine, saw a cat catch a trout by darting upon it in a deep clear water at the mill at Weaford, near Lichfield. The cat belonged to Mr Stanley, who had often seen her catch fish in the same manner in summer, when the mill pool was drawn so low, that the fish could be seen, I have heard of other cats taking fish in shallow water, as they stood on the bank. This seems to be a natural method of taking their prey, usually lost by domestication, though they all retain a strong relish for fish." Some of their instincts are unchanged by domestication, although they have I ceased to be of use ; and a habit of reasoning does not so completely become mixed with their instinct, as in that of the dog.

This animal eats slowly, and with difficulty, as its teeth are rather made for tearing than chewing its aliments. For this reason it loves the most tender food, particularly fish, which it eats as well boiled as raw. Its sleeping is very light; and it often seems to sleep, the better to deceive its prey. When the cat walks it treads very softly, and without the least noise; and as to the necessities of nature, it is cleanly to the last degree. Its fur also is usually sleek and glossy; and, for this reason, the hair is easily electrified, sending forth shining sparks, if rubbed in the dark.

"The wild cat breeds with the tame; [British Zoology] and therefore the latter may be considered only as a variety of the former; however, they differ in some particulars; the cat, in its savage state, is somewhat larger than the house-cat; and its fur being longer, gives it a greater appearance than it really has; its head is bigger, and face flatter; the teeth and claws much more formidable; its muscles very strong, as being formed for rapine; the tail is of a moderate length, but very thick and flat, marked with alternate bars of black and white, the end always black; the hips and hind part of the lower joints of the leg are always black; the fur is very soft and fine ; the general colour of these animals, in England, is a yellowish white, mixed with a deep grey. These colours, though they appear at first sight confusedly blended together, yet, on a close inspection, will be found to be disposed like the streaks on the skin of the tiger, pointing from the back downwards, rising from a black list, that runs from the head, along the middle of the back, to the tail. This animal is found in our larger woods, and is the most destructive of the carnivorous kinds in this kingdom. It inhabits the most mountainous and woody parts of these islands, living mostly in trees, and feeding only by night. It often happens, that the females of the tame kind go into the woods to seek mates among the wild ones. It should seem that these, however, are not original inhabitants of this kingdom, but were introduced first in a domestic state, and afterwards became wild in the woods, by ill usage or neglect. Certain it is, the cat was an animal much higher in esteem among our ancestors than it is at present.* By the laws of Howel, the price of a kitten, before it could see, was to be a penny; till it caught a mouse, twopence; and when it commenced mouser, fourpence; it was required, besides, that it should be perfect in its senses of hearing and seeing, be a good mouser, have the claws whole, and be a good nurse. If it failed in any of these qualities, the seller was to forfeit to the buyer the third part of its value. If any one stole or killed the cat that guarded the prince's granary, he was to forfeit a milch ewe, its fleece and Iamb, or as much wheat as when poured on the cat, suspended by the tail, (the head touching the floor,) would form a heap high enough to cover the tip of the former. From hence we discover, besides a picture of the simplicity of the times, a strong argument that cats were not naturally bred in our forests. An animal that could have been so easily taken, could never have been rated so highly; and the precautions laid down to improve the breed, would have been superfluous, in a creature that multiplies to such an amazing degree.

* The moral character o£ the cat seems, centuries back, to have been estimated pretty much as it is now generally considered, whatever value, at a previous period, might have been set upon its utility. Thus, a singular old work on Natural History, printed, in 1498, by Wynkyn de Worde, says of the cat, that, "when he taketh a mouse, he playeth therewith, and eateth him after the play ; and is a cruel beast when he is wild, and dwelleth in woods, and hunteth there small wild beasts, as coneys and hares."

"In our climate, we know but of one variety of the wild cat: and, from the accounts of travellers, we learn, that there are but very few differences in this quadruped in all parts of the world. The greatest difference, indeed, between the wild and the tame cat, is rather to be found internally than in their outward form. Of all other quadrupeds, the wild cat is, perhaps, that whose intestines are proportionably the smallest and the shortest. The intestines of the sheep, for instance, unravelled out, and measured according to their length, will be found to be above thirty times the length of its body; whereas the wild cat's intestines being measured out, will not be found about three times the length of its body. This is a surprising difference; hut we may account for it from the nature of the food in the two animals: the one living upon vegetables, which require a longer and a more tedious preparation, before they can become a part of its body; the other living upon flesh, which requires very little alteration, in order to be assimilated into the substance of the creature that feeds upon it. The one, therefore, wanted a long canal for properly digesting and straining its food; the other but a short one, as the food is already prepared to pass the usual secretions. However, a difficulty still remains behind: the intestines of the wild cat are, by one-third, shorter than those of the tame. How can we account for this? If we say that the domestic cat, living upon more nourishing and more plentiful provision, has its intestines enlarged to the quantity with which it is supplied, we shall find this observation contradicted in the wild boar and the wolf, whose intestines are as long as those of the hog or the dog, though they lead a savage life, and, like the wild cat, are fed by precarious subsistence. The shortness, therefore, of the wild cat's intestines is still unaccounted for; and most naturalists consider the difficulty as inexplicable. We must leave it, therefore, as one of those difficulties which future observation or accident are most likely to discover."

This animal is one of those few which are common to the new continent, as well as the old. When Christopher Columbus first discovered that country, a hunter brought him one, which he had discovered in the woods: it was one of the ordinary size, the tail very long and thick. They were common also in Peru, although they were not rendered domestic. They were well known also in several parts of Africa, and many parts of Asia. In some of these countries they are of a peculiar colour, and inclining to blue. In Persia, Pietro della Valle informs us, that there is a kind of cat, particularly in the province of Chorazan, of the figure and form of the ordinary one, but infinitely more beautiful in the lustre and colour of its skin. It is of a grey blue, without mixture, and as soft and shining as silk. The tail is very long, and covered with hair six inches long, which the animal throws upon its back, like the squirrel. These cats are well known in France; and have been brought over into England, under the name of the blue cat, which, however, is not their colour.

Another variety of this animal is called by us the lion cat, or, as others more properly term it, the cat of Angora. These are larger than the common cat, and even than the wild one. Their hair is much longer, and hangs about their head and neck, giving this creature the appearance of a lion. Some of these are white, and others of a dun colour. These come from Syria and Persia, two countries which are noted for giving a long soft hair to the animals which are bred in them. The sheep, the goats, the dogs, and the rabbits of Syria, are all remarkable for the fine glossy length and softness of their hair; but particularly the cat, whose nature seems to be so inflexible, conforms to the nature of the climate and soil, loses its savage colour, which it preserves almost in every other part of the world, and assumes the most beautiful appearance. There are some other varieties in this animal, but rather in colour than in form; and, in general, it may be remarked, that the cat, when carried into other countries, alters but very little, still preserving its natural manners, habits, and conformation. *

* One of the most remarkable peculiarities of the domestic cat is the property which its fur possesses of yielding electric sparks by rubbing. In frosty weather this is occasionally very extraordinary. Mr White says, speaking of the frost of 1785, “During these two Siberian days, my parlour cat was so electric, that had a person stroked her, and been properly insulated, the shock might have been given to a whole circle of people.” —History of Selborne.


THE DOMESTIC CAT - By Peter Parley (Samuel Griswold Goodrich b. 1793 d. 1860)
From Tales of Animals: Comprising Quadrupeds, Birds, Fishes, Reptiles, and Insects.
Published 1835

THE Domestic Cat is so common that I need not describe its appearance. It is a variety of the Wild Cat, rendered docile by domestication ; and is found in almost all countries.

The Cat is assiduous to please, but is sly, distrustful, and treacherous. She will take advantage of your inattention to steal your breakfast ; and if by chance you tread on the tail of one that has been the favourite of years, she will turn on you with teeth and claws, and retaliate the accident with the fiercest spite. Their affection is only apparent; they are not attached to persons, but to places. They do not easily exchange their residence, but they forget their old friends and form a new attachment, in cases where one family leaves a house and another enters it, with great facility.


Notwithstanding these unamiable traits, her grace, beauty, softness, and insinuating manners, make Puss a general favourite, particularly with ladies. If Peter Parley had any friends among them, he would whisper in their ear, not as reproach, but as warning, that Puss resembles some of their other favourites, possessing more grace of manner than sincerity of heart. I hope none of my readers will learn to value beauty and accomplishments more than truth and virtue, because some people attach superior importance to them.

Every person is acquainted with the playfulness of kittens. Nothing is indeed more amusing than their happy gambols. Alas ! that they should ever cease to be kittens, and get to be old Cats; that they should lose their gentleness and vivacity, and become grave, cunning, selfish, long-faced prowlers, going about seeking what poor rat they may devour !

Yet, to do Puss justice, we could not well do without her. But for her, our houses would be overrun with rats and mice, and our very food would be stolen and carried away by these greedy creatures.

One of the most remarkable properties of a Domestic Cat is the anxiety with which it makes itself acquainted, not only with every part of its usual habitation, but with the dimensions and external qualities of every object by which it is surrounded. Cats do not very readily adapt themselves to a change of houses ; but we have watched the process by which one, whose attachment to a family is considerable, reconciles itself to such a change.

He surveys every room in the house, from the garret to the cellar; if a door is shut, he waits till it be opened to complete the survey; he ascertains the relative size and position of every article of furniture: and when he has acquired this knowledge, he sits down contented with his new situation. It appears necessary to a Cat that he should be intimately acquainted with every circumstance of his position, in the same way that a general first examines the face of the country in which he is to conduct his operations. If a new piece of furniture, if even a large book or portfolio, is newly placed in a room which a Cat frequents, he walks round it, smells it, takes note of its size and appearance, and then never troubles himself further about the matter.

This is, probably, an instinctive quality; and the wild cat may, in the same way, take a survey of every tree, or stone, every gap in a brake, every path in a thicket, within the ordinary range of its operations. The whiskers of the Cat, as we have mentioned in the case of the lion, enable it to ascertain the space through which its body may pass, without the inconvenience of vainly attempting such a passage.

Cats may be taught to perform tricks, such as leaping over a stick, but they always do such feats unwillingly. There is an exhibition of Cats in Regent Street, London, where the animals, at the bidding of their master, an Italian, turn a wheel, draw up a bucket, ring a bell, and, in doing these things, begin, continue, and stop, as they are commanded. But the command of their keeper is always enforced with a threatening eye, and often with a severe blow ; and the poor creatures exhibit the greatest reluctance to proceed with their unnatural employments. They have a subdued and piteous look; but the scratches upon their master's arms show that his task is not always an easy one.

One of the most remarkable peculiarities of the Domestic Cat is the property which its fur possesses of yielding electric sparks by rubbing. In frosty weather, this is occasionally very extraordinary.

It is a very prevalent notion that Cats are fond of sucking the breath of infants, and consequently of producing disease and death. Upon the slightest reflection, nothing can be more obvious, than that it is impossible for Cats to suck an infant’s breath, at least so as to do it any injury.


It has been said that a Cat has the ability to charm or fascinate birds in such a manner, that they lose the ability to escape, and thus become an easy prey. This power is probably a faculty of inspiring birds with such terror that they become stupified and motionless. Montaigne relates the following story in illustration of this characteristic of the Cat. There was at my house, a little while ago, a Cat seen watching a bird upon the top of a tree, and for some time they mutually fixed their eyes upon each other. At length the bird let herself fall into the Cat’s claws, probably dazzled and astonished by the force of imagination.

Mr. White informs us, that a boy brought to him three young squirrels, which had been taken from their nest. These little creatures he put under a Cat that had recently lost her kittens; and he found that she nursed and suckled them with the same assiduity and affection as if they had been her own progeny.

Dr. Darwin has the following account of a similar circumstance. At Elford, near Litchfield, the Rev. Mr. Sawley had taken the young ones from a hare which had been shot. His Cat, which had just lost her own kittens, carried them away, as it was supposed, to eat them ; but it presently appeared that it was affection, not hunger, which incited her, as she suckled them and brought them up as their mother.

Thus I have told you of several of the most remarkable and interesting of those animals which belong to the Cat family ; the Lion, Tiger, Panther, Cougar, Leopard, Jaguar, Ounce, Ocelot, Lynx, Wild Cat, and Domestic Cat. There are several others belonging to the race, but I have not space to mention them in this little volume. All these animals resemble each other in their construction and habits ; they are all furnished with sharp teeth to tear their prey; and they are all endowed with instincts which lead them to feed on the flesh of other animals.

The invariable characteristic of the race, of whatever form, of whatever colour, of whatever physical power, the individual variety may be, is a ruling desire for the destruction of animal life. In some species this desire is carried into action with more boldness, in others with more cunning; but in all there is a mixture of cunning and boldness, more or less mingled with a suspicion which assumes the appearance of fear, the unchanging property of all treacherous natures.

The creature which lies at our fireside, leaps upon our table, sits upon our knee, purrs round our legs, attends us at our meals, never forsakes our houses, and altogether appears as if it could only exist in dependence upon man— the Domestic Cat—is precisely of the same nature as the Leopard or the Ocelot. The Wild Cat of the forests is the Tame Cat of the houses ; the Tame Cat would become wild if turned into the woods ; the Wild Cat at some period has been domesticated, and its species has been established in almost every family of the old and new continent.


By Mary Roberts, 1837

Published Under the Direction Of The Committee Of General Literature And Education Appointed By The Society For Promoting Christian Knowledge


ONE only of the fierce family of Felis has relinquished her native independence. This is the CAT (felis catus), that little domestic animal, which we retain near our persons in order to clear us from the aggressions of others. In her wild state she may be called the British Tiger, the fiercest, and most destructive inhabitant of our woods. She infests with her fierce sisterhood, the mountainous and woody parts of these islands, where she lives mostly in trees, and feeds only at night. In a domestic state she lays aside, with respect to her master, the more reprehensible features of her character, and sedulously employs herself in his service. When young, she is frolicsome and active, and as she grows up, nimble, dextrous, cleanly, and insinuating. It is true that she is somewhat of a flattering thief, possessing address, subtlety, and the desire of plunder; that she knows how to conceal her steps, and her designs; to watch for opportunities to seize her prey; to fly from pursuit, and remain at a distance till solicited to return; but then she has many redeeming qualities; she is gay and vivacious, attached to the roof that shelters her, and will rarely quit it, even for a more commodious home. When carried to the distance of two or three miles, she often returns of her own accord. Probably, says Buffon, because she is acquainted with all the retreats of the mice, and the passages and outlets of the house; and because the labour of returning is less than that which would be requisite to acquire the same knowledge in a new habitation; or, perhaps, because, like the Savoyard, she carries with her that love of home, which does not admit of being extinguished by other scenes.

If kindly treated, she is capable of great attachment. Pennant relates that Henry Wriothesly, Earl of Southampton, the friend and companion of the Earl of Essex in his unfortunate insurrection, having been confined for some time in the Tower, was surprised by a visit from his favourite Cat, which, says tradition, reached him by descending the chimney of his apartment. This sagacious animal generally evinces her attachment by patiently waiting the return of her master, by brushing against his legs, and gambolling before him to the door. Her little services are cheerfully applied in chasing away the rats and mice that infest his pantry: nay, in order to clear him from their intrusions, she will sit patiently for hours in a cold moonlight night, on the frosty ground, watching beside their quarries, and if she secures her prey, she returns exulting to the house, calls loudly at the door, and when admitted, runs to lay her plunder at his feet. Nor would she suffer his currants and gooseberries to be taken by small birds, if she was allowed to remain unmolested in the garden.

To enlarge farther on the qualities of this useful and agreeable domestic would be superfluous. It is sufficient to observe that, when well educated, the cat possesses qualities entitling her to the regard and protection of mankind; if she does not exhibit the vivid and animated attachment of the dog, she is affectionate and grateful to her benefactors. She has also the merit of great cleanliness, while her numerous and infinitely varying gesticulations are extremely elegant. Few exhibit an equal antipathy to water, or bad smells; are fonder of basking in the sun, or have a greater predilection for perfumes.

Cats, though naturally shy of strangers, will allow themselves to be caressed by those who carry aromatic substances. The valerian is their favourite plant, and woe to the gardener who has neglected to place it beyond their reach. First one, and then another discovers it; they collect in numbers, rub against it, then pass and repass, throw themselves upon it, and soon not a trace of the valerian remains. No animal, whose habits we have had an opportunity of accurately observing, exhibits a greater degree of maternal tenderness than the cat; the extreme assiduity with which she attends her young, and the fondness she evinces for them, afford the most pleasing entertainment to the observer.

We know an instance of a cat who was conveyed from Glasgow to Edinburgh, a distance of about forty miles, with her master's family. She was a fine sagacious creature, and was much valued for her good qualities; shortly after her arrival at the new habitation, she kittened, and continued to attend her charge till the two which had been kept were able to see and eat. One morning, to the regret of the whole family, puss was nowhere to be found; one of the kittens was also missing, and after many fruitless searches, it was conjectured that she had come to an untimely end, and that the poor little kitten had perished in attempting to follow her. Scarcely, however, had two weeks elapsed, before the lady of the house was informed by letter, that grimalkin, looking back with fond regret to the home which she had left, had actually returned, with her lost kitten, but so weak and emaciated that she could scarcely get into the house. The journey must have taken up, at least, a week, and when we consider that this poor creature had to carry and support her kitten, as well as to forage for herself, and find her way without a chart, or pocket compass, a more extraordinary instance of animal sagacity has perhaps never been recorded. Rest and food soon restored her exhausted strength, and then leaving her kitten under the care of her hostess, forth she set, and in a much shorter time than the last journey required, reached her mistress's habitation. No words expressed her feelings, but she sang loud, and looked glad to see old friends again; it was therefore hoped that she would remain, but such was not her design: she stayed just long enough to recruit her strength, and then departed with her second kitten, who was now old enough to trot some way by her mother's side, and could therefore be conveyed with less fatigue to the home, which neither affection to her mistress, nor the perils of such a journey, could induce her to relinquish.

Here, then, is a sixth sense. Five, the lower orders of creation share in common with their delegated master; but that master, proud as he may be of his pre-eminence, however skilled in every talent that may adorn and dignify his nature, cannot solve the problem, by what means a timid quadruped, burdened with the charge of a kitten, could find her way for the distance of forty miles. This sense she possesses in common with the donkey, as we shall presently have occasion to prove, and with some of the canine species; it is a sense, which we can no more comprehend than a zoophyte, clinging to his native rock, can understand the highest calculations of a Newton. Now this is a striking fact, and let us draw from it the valuable conclusion, that if we know so little concerning the things which are seen, we shall do well to distrust our own powers of comprehension concerning the things that are not seen, which are confessedly above us, and of the highest moment.

A cat will also nurse with great tenderness the offspring of such animals as are in every respect dissimilar to herself, as well as the orphan litter of her own relations. The naturalist of Selborne, mentions that a friend of his had a little helpless leveret brought to him, which the servants fed with milk from a spoon; about the same time his cat kittened, and the young were dispatched and buried. The leveret was soon lost, and supposed to be destroyed. About a fortnight after, as the master was sitting in his garden in the dusk of evening, he observed his cat, with tail erect, trotting towards him, and calling with little short inward notes of complacency to something gambolling after. This proved to be the leveret, which the cat had supported, and still continued to nourish with great affection. Thus was a graminivorous animal, nurtured by a carnivorous and predacious one. This strange affection was most probably occasioned by those tender maternal feelings which the loss of her kittens had awakened in her breast, and by the complacency and ease which the little nursling afforded her, till she became as much de lighted with the foundling as if it was her own. In no other way can we account for a member of the ferocious family of Felis, the murium leo of Linnaeus, being affected with any tenderness towards an animal which is her natural prey. Yet this is not a solitary instance, and it affords an easy solution of those strange circumstances which grave historians as well as poets assert, of exposed children being nurtured by female wild beasts that probably had lost their young. Nor is it more extraordinary that Romulus and Remus, in their infant state, should be nursed by a she-wolf, than that a poor little suckling leveret should be fostered by a cat.

As the services of this valuable domestic are generally required, we discover them in almost every portion of the globe. They existed in America before the landing of Columbus; they are likewise found in Peru, Canada, and the Illinois, in various parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa, at Madagascar, and the Cape, sometimes in a domestic, and again in a wild state. Vast numbers have been discovered in the Antilles, their ancestors having most probably been introduced from Spain. These creatures, says Father Tettre, were so accustomed to feed on partridges, pigeons, and thrushes, that they disdained the rats; but when the game diminished, they attacked their ancient enemies with with great fury.

As the domestication of the cat is neither so complete, so universal, nor, perhaps, so ancient as that of the canine species, it is not surprising that there are fewer varieties; for though unalterably attached to the roof that shelters them, these creatures are undoubtedly half wild. Even the tamest and most domestic may be said to enjoy comparatively perfect liberty; they live only to please themselves, and it is impossible to retain them a moment after they choose to go off. Hence our domestic cats, however differing in colour, form no new races. The climates of Spain and Syria have alone produced permanent varieties. To these may be added such as inhabit the province of Pe-chi-ly, in China, which have uniformly long hair, with peculiar ears, and are the favourites of the ladies.

By James Hamilton Fennell, 1841

THE WILD CAT.-(Felis catus, Linn.)

The wild cat, though rare in England, is still a common animal in the mountainous and woody parts of Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, and in the extensive forests of Germany, and other European countries, as well as in the North of Asia.

The average length of the full-grown male, which is always larger and more beautiful than the female, is stated by Professor Bell to be one foot ten inches, or, including the tail, two feet seven inches and two lines. But Bewick mentions a wild cat, killed in Cumberland, which measured from its nose to the end of its tail upwards of five feet; and Pennant says the wild cat is three or four times as large as the house cat; and adds that the head is also comparatively larger, and the face flatter. The fur is very soft and fine; its general colour is yellowish white, mixed with a deep grey, marked with dark streaks pointing from the back downwards; a black line runs from the head down the back to the tail, which is of moderate length, but very thick and flat, annulated with black and white, and the tip is always black, as are the hips and hind parts of the lower joints of the legs.

It is a strong and fierce animal, possessing such formidable teeth and claws as to render it an object of some dread, especially when enraged. Pennant, who calls it the British tiger, says it makes great havoc among our poultry, lambs, and kids. It seeks its prey at night-time, the day being its time of repose. Shylock. “

He sleeps by day
More than the wild cat.”
(Merch, of Venice, Act. II. Sc. 5.)

In woody districts, the female forms her nest in hollow trees, and has been known to appropriate the nest of some large bird to her own use; but in alpine situations, she generally prepares her cradle in the fissures of rocks.

“Suspended cliffs, with hideous sway,
Seem'd nodding o'er the cavern grey.
From such a den the wolf had sprung:
In such the wild cat leaves her young.”
(Scott's Lady of the Lake, Canto III. St. 26.)

She has usually four or five young at a litter; and she will fight boldly in their defence. Near High Melton, a village about six miles west of Doncaster, in the county of York, is a wood of some extent, and which, from time immemorial, has been a favourite haunt of the wild cat and also the badger. Many years ago a young man, in passing through this wood, discovered a wild cat's nest in a hollow tree. Without leave or licence, he purloined the contents, which consisted of three kittens. He had not proceeded on his way home more than a mile, when, on turning round, he beheld the mother of the brood mounted on the top of a stile, which he had quitted but a moment before. Her ferocious aspect and appalling cries rendered him fearful of being involved in a sanguinary affray, so he dropped one of the kittens, which she instantly seized and conveyed out of sight. The man then proceeded onward at a quick pace, but in a very short time the affectionate parent was again at his heels, and he was obliged, for peace-sake, to drop another of her bantlings, which was disposed of in like manner with the former. With the third the man escaped. The following circumstance, which Bingley published in his Animal Biography, occurred in the same wood, and has been a popular tradition in the county for about half a century. A man, passing through the wood, being attacked by a wild cat,

a furious contest ensued, which was continued until they reached the village of Barmbrough, a mile distant from the wood, and was fatally terminated in the church-porch, where “ the man killed the cat, and the cat killed the man.” A rude painting in the church to this day records the transaction; and the simple villager exhibits to the inquisitive stranger the variegated pavement stained, as he says, with the blood of the combatants.

The existence of the common wild cat (Felis catus) in our own country and in many parts of the European continent, possessing colours and markings closely imitated in some individuals of the house cat, has led to the very general motion, scarcely ever called in question, that the former is the species from which the domestic race have descended. Professor Bell has so well discussed this matter, that I cannot resist introducing his observations here. “Among the many reasons for believing this opinion to be erroneous, we may, in the first place, instance the great difference in the general conformation of the two animals, especially in the length and form of the tail, which in the wild cat is strong and robust, and as thick at the end as at the middle and the root; whilst that of the domestic cat tapers towards the tip. The fur, too, of the former, is thicker and longer; and although the colours are somewhat like those which occur in some individuals of the ordinary species, there are, even in this respect, distinctions which can scarcely be considered otherwise than as essentially specific ; as, for instance, the tail of the wild cat invariably terminates in a black tuft. But, it may be asked, if they be not of the same species, how is it that the female tame cats, after wandering into the woods, return pregnant by the wild cat, and produce fertile young.

After a very careful investigation and much reflection on the matter, I am led to conclude, that this long-received notion of their intermixture, repeated and transmitted from one writer to another, is erroneous. The error has arisen, simply from the fact, that a female domestic cat has been occasionally known to leave her home in the neighbourhood of woods, said to be frequented by the wild cat, and returned with young; but as no one pretends to have detected the paternity of such litters by actual observation, it is equally reasonable to suppose that the father in such cases was some cat of the domestic race which had resumed a half-wild state in the woods. It is well known, that the domestic cat's attachment to its native home is not always so strong as to prevent it from wandering into the woods and forests in search of birds and other wild animals; gamekeepers and sportsmen are well aware, that in numerous instances these truants never return to their former home, but breed and rear their progeny in a state as wild as that of their original progenitors could have been.

“The markings of the striped or tabby variety of the domestic, are frequently so similar to those of the wild cat, that they might lead to a strong presumption of the intermixture of the two races, if not of their absolute identity, were it not for the fact that, in most domesticated animals, colour is of little value as a guide to their origin. The greater number of the present genus, too, have a decided indication of a striped character in the markings of the body; even the lion, when very young, showing distinct stripes on the sides. The species from which the domestic cat has sprung, may have a tendency at least to a similar kind of pattern of the fur; besides, to show how little dependence is to be placed on colour in such cases, the tortoise-shell cat is, I presume, universally admitted to be derived from the same race as the tabby; yet the distribution of the colours is totally different, and there is no wild species yet discovered bearing the slightest resemblance to that particoloured variety.

“The not unfrequent occurrence of figures of the cat, among the sculptures and paintings of the ancient Egyptians, as well as its mummies in their tombs, appears to supply the earliest records of its existence in a domestic state; and to indicate that country as the probable locality in which the original breed is to be sought.

“Temminck and some others have concluded that the Felis Maculata, a new species discovered by Ruppell in Nubia, and of about the same size as our domestic cat, and having several characters in common with it, is the true original of that animal. One of the most obvious distinctions between the British wild cat and the domestic, is the difference in the length and thickness of the tail; and in its being taper in the latter, whilst in the former it is quite as thick, if not thicker, at the extremity than at the base : but in Ruppell's Nubian species the tail is much longer in proportion than is ever seen in the domestic race; and although somewhat slender in the greater part of its length, it has a thickened and tufted termination. The ears too are much longer and broader, and the legs longer and more slender. In fact this Nubian wild cat appears to be more removed from our domestic cat, in essential zoological characters, than even the British wild cat; and I cannot but come to the conclusion, that we have yet to seek for the true original of this useful, gentle, and elegant animal.” [Abridged from A History of British Quadrupeds (1837), pp. 182-186.]

Domestic cats differ considerably in their size, according to the sex and breed. He-cats (or Tom-cats as they are generally called) are usually larger and more noble looking than those of the other sex; but most of the former that are kept are emasculated, in which state, always accompanied with a subdued and melancholy appearance, they are termed gilberts, or gib-cats. Falstaff. “I am as melancholy as a gib-cat." (Henry IV. Part I. Act I. Sc. 2.)

When a cat is roused to attention, as by the scratching of a mouse, the pupils of her eyes dilate; and the same thing occurs when she struggles to get away from any one who holds her.” If it be might-time, her pupils, when thus dilated to receive the light, will be seen to shine conspicuously. [The eyes of the ox-eye tit (Parus major), a small predacious bird, also have the power of dilating.]

Gower. “The cat with eyne of burning coal, Now couches 'fore the mouse's hole.” (Pericles, Act. III. Prologue.) In the day-time, when unexcited, each pupil has the compressed lineal appearance represented in the following figure.

A writer in the Magazine of Natural History (vol. i. p. 66), says it is a remarkable fact that “white cats with blue eyes are always deaf; ” and the Rev. F. W. Bree has recorded an anecdote in confirmation of the curious remark.

The cat is sensibly affected by changes in the atmosphere. “Her face-washing and trimming of her fur, has been,” says Mr. Mudie, “the cottage barometer time out of mind; and the observation has been too repeatedly made to be doubtful. This operation of the cat is performed equally whether she is snugly housed beside the fire, or out of doors exposed to the air. It happens, too, sooner before the actual fall of rain, than the prognostics of most other animals. She is of all animals with which we are very familiar, by far the most electric; that is the most susceptible to electric action. Clear and dry air is well known to be a non-conductor of electricity, and the more dry and clear the air is, the more agreeable to the cat. It is, indeed, highly probable that the love of dry air, as much as the love of heat, brings the cat to bask by the fire when the air is damp and raw : but the subject has not been studied with the attention which it deserves; for, strange though it may seem to some, the cat may be of real service to the meteorologist, for the body of an animal must, under any circumstances, be a far more delicate instrument than any which can be made by man.” . [Abridged from The Naturalist (1837), vol. i. p. 25. ]

Indeed it has been stated, that electricity may be accumulated in its body, and given off suddenly so as to produce a shock. Romer says, if a person take a cat in his lap in dry weather, and apply the left hand to its breast, while with the right he strokes its back, at first he only obtains a few sparks from the hair; but after continuing the manipulation for some time, he receives a sharp shock, which is often felt above the wrists of both arms. At the same moment, the animal runs off with expressions of terror, and will seldom submit itself to a second experiment.

“The nature of the cat,” says Gesner, “is to love the place of her breeding; neither will she tarry in any strange place, although carried far, being never willing to forsake the house for the love of any man, and most contrary to the nature of a dog, who will travel abroad with his master; but although her master forsake the house, yet the cat will not bear him company, and being carried forth in a closed basket or sack she will return again.” [History of Four-footed Beasts, translated by Topsel (1607), p. 82.] Mr. Rennie says, that he has known a cat travel from London to her home at Chatham, in Kent, a distance of thirty miles; and most people can relate similar incidents.

The general character of the cat has been greatly traduced by writers, who have seen only the worst portion of the feline population. Its ingratitude has been held up to public odium, which constantly manifests itself against the poor animal, who can rarely show her face in the streets without calling forth a volley of stones or some such annoyance. A writer in the Edinburgh Journal (No. 186), records the following interesting anecdote, as one proof among many he has observed of the attachment and gratitude of cats:– “ Mos: A. had a cat of which she was very fond, and whose dinner was provided with as much regularity as that of any member of the house, by the cook bringing home a liver once a-week when she went to purchase provisions for family use. When the liver was brought home, it was cut into seven pieces, and puss had each day her allotted portion. It so happened that Mrs. A. was taken ill and confined to bed. No sooner did the cat miss her kind friend, than she made her way to Mrs. A.'s chamber, and, jumping on the bed, she caressed her mistress, licking her face and hands, and expressing by every means in her power her sympathy and affection. After a time, the cat became restless; she leapt from the bed, planted herself close to the door, and waited with evident impatience till it was opened. The moment this was done, she ran down stairs, and, to her mistress's great surprise, she returned immediately with a piece of liver in her mouth, which she laid on the bed, and seemed to solicit her to eat; thinking, perhaps, that she was suffering from hunger. The gratitude of puss did not end here; for on the next market-day, when the cook brought in the liver, ere she had time to divide it, puss, slyly seizing the opportunity when her back was turned, pounced upon the liver, rushed up stairs with it, and laid it on the counterpane with evident marks of pleasure, and with gestures which seemed to say, ‘See what a fine dinner I have brought you; pray get up and eat it.’” The chief food of the cat when she is left to forage for herself, in houses and other buildings, consists of mice. [Mr. Edward Blyth informs me that, though the cat will eat the common mouse, she will not touch either the harvest mouse (Mus messorius) or any species of the shrew genus (Sorew), improperly called shrew-mice.]

She also kills great numbers of rats, but she rarely eats them unless they are young and tender. In St. Catherine's Docks, London, cats are expressly kept to destroy the rats, which, previous to this mode of exterminating them, used to make vast havoc amongst the sugar stores deposited there. That the cats do not eat many of the rats is proved from the circumstance of the annual expense of cat's-meat, bought by contract, amounting to one hundred and four pounds sterling. They are fed by two men, at six o'clock in the morning and at nine in the evening. “Our ancestors,” Pennant remarks, “had a high sense of the utility of this animal. That excellent Prince, Hoel dda, or Howel the Good, who died in the year 948, has included the cat among his laws relating to the prices, &c. of animals,” and described the qualities she ought to have. The price of a kitten before it could see, was to be a penny; till it caught a mouse two pence; when it commenced mousing four pence. It was required besides, that it should be perfect in its senses of hearing and seeing; be a good mouser; have the claws whole, and be a good nurse : but if it failed in any of these qualities, the seller was to forfeit to the buyer the third part of its value. If any one stole or killed the cat that guarded the Prince's granary, he was to forfeit a milch ewe, its fleece, and lamb; or as much wheat as when poured on the cat suspended by the tail (the head touching the ground) would form a heap high enough to cover the tip of the former. The large prices set on them (if we consider the high value of specie at that time), and the great care taken of the improvement and breed of an animal so prolific, are almost certain proofs of their being little known at that period, and nearly demonstrates that cats are not aborigines of these islands, or known to the earliest inhabitants.” [Leges Wallicae, p. 247, 248.]

When cats are too much pampered they will not eat the mice they kill, and some indeed will not take the trouble to catch them at all. A cat at Dorking, in Surrey, never ate the mice he caught, but used to lay them at the feet of the first person he met.[ British Zoology (1768), vol. i. p. 46.] A Mr. Clarke who resided at East Bergholt, in Suffolk, about the year 1815, had a white tom cat, which would frequently go to an adjoining meadow where there were abundance of rabbits, and bring some of them away, even those which were more than half grown; and, without hurting them, would take them into the house, lay them at the feet of any of the inmates, and retire to the door to prevent the escape of his captives.

The love of cats for the flesh of small birds is frequently manifested by their attacks upon caged canaries, and other favourite songsters; and also by their climbing trees to procure our wild birds, or their young ones. Mr. Blyth says, that a cat, at the Castle Inn, Tooting, was in the constant habit, whenever the poultry were fed, of crouching herself in the midst of the fowls, whilst they were all collected together round their food; and that by this artifice she frequently contrived to seize some unfortunate sparrow, who, descending for his share of the grain, little suspected his ready foe to be lurking in such a strange hiding-place. The enmity of the cat against birds has been turned to useful account in protecting fruit from their ravages. At the Horticultural Society's Meeting, November 6, 1832, it was stated that Mr. Robert Brook, of Melton Lodge, near Woodbridge, in Suffolk, had four or five cats, each with a collar, and light chain and swivel, about a yard long, with a large iron ring at the end. As soon as the gooseberries, currants, and raspberries began to ripen, a small stake was driven into the ground, or bed, near the plants, leaving about a yard and a half of the stake above ground; the ring was slipped over the head of the stake, and with the cat thus tethered near the fruit, no birds would approach them. Cherry trees and wall-fruit trees were protected in the same manner as they successively ripened. Each cat, by way of a shed, had one of the largest-sized flower-pots laid on its side, within reach of her chain, with a little hay or straw in bad weather, and her food and water were placed near her. In confirmation of the above it may be added, that a wall of vine between two hundred and three hundred yards long, in Mr. Kirke's nursery at Brompton, the fruit of which in all previous seasons had been very much injured by birds, was, in 1831, completely protected by a cat having voluntarily posted herself sentry upon it.

Most cats are fond of fish. Gray, in his Ode on the Death of a favourite Cat, asks

“What female heart can gold despise?
What cat's averse to fish?”

Some cats, indeed, will so far overcome their aversion to wet their fur, as to catch fish for themselves. Dr. Darwin records an anecdote of a cat which was in the constant habit of catching trouts by darting upon them in their own element; and the author of The Menageries (1829, vol. i. p. 208), mentions a cat's seizing an eel out of a pail of water.” Indeed several pages might be filled with anecdotes that have been published fully contradicting the old saying, that the cat loves fish but dares not wet her feet. I have often observed cats capture numbers of flies, black beetles, cockchafers, and other insects, and eat them. Sometimes, but not often or naturally, cats will eat fruits and the stalks of plants. Miss M. L. Beevor has recorded an instance of a cat that delighted in raisins; and a kitten that ate honey-suckles with avidity. Cats are generally fond of the smell of odoriferous plants, such as marum, valerian, and cat-mint (Nepeta Cataria). Ray says, that she not only likes to lie upon, but to eat the full grown and old plants of cat-mint when they are transplanted from the fields into the garden, but those that are raised from seeds she does not touch —a circumstance which gave rise to the rhyme:—

Mr. Joseph Thomas, the publisher of this work, had a cat which would eat pies, pickles, or any kind of food, except seed-cake.

The drink of the domestic cat is generally milk; but when not indulged with this, however, she will lap water, which doubtless is her proper and more natural beverage, if one may so call it. Miss M. L. Beevor mentions a cat which had been taught to sip water from a wine-glass in the most delicate and lady-like manner imaginable, and was fond of performing the feat. I am surprised to find Mr. Rennie stating that it would be difficult to get a cat to “drink beer, wine, or spirits, all of which it greatly dislikes.” This assertion is contradicted both by an old proverb, and by actual facts. In the poem called The Old Courtier, published in The Prince de l'Amour (1660), is this line:– “And beer and ale would make a cat to speak.”

Mr. John Clark, a horse-hair weaver, in London, used to make his cat drunk by giving her bread dipped in ale, of which she was very fond ; and I have several times seen her in a state of such excessive inebriation, as to tumble about the room and roll down the stairs. Shakespeare thus alludes to its drinking wine :—

Stephano. “He shall taste of my bottle: if he have never drunk wine afore.**** Come on your ways; open your mouth; here is that will give language to you, cat.” (Tempest, Act II. Sc. 2.)

The female goes with young eight weeks, and generally has three litters in a year, each consisting of from four to five kittens. If annoyed, or ill-fed and unable to procure food, she will, sometimes, eat her kittens, or bite off portions of them. I have been told by a person who kept a great number of cats at Laytonstone, and who used to let them find their own victuals, that one of them bit off the tips of the ears of all her kittens just after they were born. Under favourable circumstances, however, the cat nourishes her kittens with great care, and displays much affection for them. A lady presented a kitten to a friend, living at the distance of a mile ; and the mother, having discovered her young one, regularly visited it, day after day, for the purpose of suckling it. Hear this, ye illustrious but unnatural bipeds, who confide to a mercenary alien the first duty which a mother owes to her offspring !

When the kittens are a few weeks old, and full of fun and frolic, mischief and inquisitiveness, nothing can be more entertaining than to watch their sly and playful movements; one minute quizzing and teazing their mother, jumping over her back and making sport with her tail; then stealing up to a pendant and moving string, a ball of cotton, or a marble, and playing with it in the most gleesome manner; and then again returning to pester their demure parent, and ever and anon bo-peeping at her from behind some of the furniture. These scenes are familiar to all—

“Ye who can smile, to wisdom no disgrace,
At the arch meaning of a kitten's face.”

“A cat belonging to Professor Coventry, of Edinburgh, lost its tail by accident when it was young; and subsequently had many litters of kittens, and in every litter there was one or more without a tail.”* * Anderson's Recreations in Agriculture (1790).

A hereditary variety or breed of tailless cats is very abundant in the Isle of Man, especially in that part called the Calf of Man, where specimens may be purchased for a trifle. The Rev. W. B. Clarke, who in 1820 saw several in the huts of the peasantry, amongst the mountains between Ramsay and Peel Town, says that he was informed by a person at Balla Salla, not far from the Calf, that a vessel from Prussia, or some port in the Baltic, was wrecked many years ago on the rocky shore between Castle Rushen and the Calf, and that, on her driving close in to land, two or three cats without tails escaped from the bowsprit, and were taken by the wreckers; and that these were the first of the kind ever seen in the island. They are described as being rather taller than the common cat, but not so broad and strong; their colour is generally a lightish grey. They resemble more the hare and rabbit in their movements, than the domestic cat; which, perhaps, may be owing to their hind legs being so much longer than those of the common cat. One having bred with a common cat, had four kittens, two of which had very short thick tails, about two inches long.” [Mag. Nat. Hist. (1832), vol. v. p. 717.]

The rabbit-like appearance of these tailless cats may perhaps explain the following miraculous occurrence, which was published in the British Traveller, in May 1823:—“There is in the possession of Mr. Henley, at Chatham, a cat which has littered a kitten and four rabbits.” A writer in the Mana Paper remarking upon this, says, “We are inclined to believe the four rabbits to be nothing more than kittens of the same description as some cats in this island (Man); namely, without tails, and which must originally have been a freak of dame Nature's here, but which she is now showing at Chatham.” Mr. Le Keux says, that “the tailless cat is not uncommon in Cornwall, and that Dr. Leach received one from the Isle of Wight.” [Illustrations of Natural History (1830), vol. i. p. 356.] If the latter statement is not a mistake, it may be concluded that Dr. Leach's cat was either wrecked on, or imported to the Isle of Wight, for the breed does not appear to be known there.

This beautiful variety is most abundant at Angora, in Asia Minor. It is considerably larger than most of our common cats, and is plentifully clothed with remarkably long and silky hair of a silvery hue, growing most profusely about the neck, where it forms a kind of ruff, and on the tail, which, when elevated above the body, resembles a beautiful plume. The nose and the edges of the lips are of a fine rose colour; the eyes large and brilliant, and generally blue or yellow. When Sonnini was in Egypt, he had an Angora cat with one eye of a fine blue and the other of a light yellow.” [In the shop of Mr. Handforth, Borough Road, Southwark, I saw in 1835 a white cat whose left eye was of a light green colour, while her right was of a beautiful bright blue. It would seem that sometimes, if not always, this disparity arises from disease or injury. Dr. Smith mentions a soldier, whose eyes he found to differ in colour, one iris being grey, the other light green; and the man ascribed the circumstance to a severe blow inflicted by a rope's end, several months previously, on the light green eye which was originally grey like the other.]

With the physiognomy of goodness, Sonnini's specimen possessed a most amiable disposition. How ill soever any one used her, she never attempted to protrude her claws; sensible also to kindness, she licked the hand that caressed her. On a journey, she reposed tranquilly on the knees of any of the company, for there was no occasion to confine her; and if her master or some other person whom she knew were present, no noise whatever gave her the least alarm. In Sonnini's solitary movements, she chiefly kept by his side; she interrupted him frequently in the midst of his labours or meditations, by little affecting caresses, and generally followed him in his walks. During his absence, she sought and called for him incessantly, with the utmost inquietude. She recognised his voice at a distance, and seemed on each fresh meeting with him to feel increased satisfaction. Her gait was frank, and her look as gentle as her character.


A manual for teachers, forest officials, farmers, hunters, students and lovers of natural history,
Berlin, 1845


They have an almost spherical head, a mostly shortened snout, 6/6 front teeth in the same row, 3/4 / 3/4 the same protruding canine teeth and 4/3 / 4/3 relatively longer and generally larger molars than those of dogs, among which there is a small and a large cusp tooth in the upper jaw, in the lower jaw there are two large cusp teeth and a fang. As a result of the nature of their teeth, cats can chop up bones and tendons. Their tongue is coarse, the ears are moderately long and usually rounded; they have a less sensitive sense of smell and sharper vision and are sometimes active during the day (with a round pupil), but mostly at night (wide open pupil). Their physique is strong and powerful, and ends with a long or moderately long tail. Their legs are moderately long, there are 5 toes on the front feet and 4 on the back feet, which are provided with sharp, sickle-shaped, curved, white claws, which can be pulled back (fall back) into a membranous sheath under the nail phalange. Therefore the points do not get worn down when walking, but remain a sharp weapon of attack and make this race most dangerous predatory animals, all the more since they are also very dexterous animals, which usually climb and run with great skill and have excellent jumping ability. They usually lie in wait to ambush their prey, but sometimes pursue it in the hunt, mostly only eating fresh meat, preferably that of animals they themselves have caught and killed. They are most numerous and largest in hot regions, but most common in Africa and America. Our country no longer contains a single original species, since, as a result of the industrious cultivation and culture of the country, the forests have decreased in size and the common lynx (Felis Lynx Temm.), along with the common wild cat (F. Catus ferus Linn .) have been ousted from this area. We must therefore restrict this to the house cat (F. C. domesticus) here.

Syn: F. domestica Briss. Regn. on. p. 264. 1. - Le chat domestique tigré. Fred. Cuv. Dictionn. des sc, nature. book 8. p. 207.
Common names: the common tame cat.

Description: Their entire length, including the tail, is usually 2', of which more than half the length of the body is taken up by the tail, this is also thinner towards the tip and made up of 23 vertebrae. Its head is almost spherical, the muzzle a little protruding and blunt, the eyes, which have an elongated pupil which the animal can narrow very much in the light and widen in the dark, are set at the base of the rather arched forehead and are more forward pointing than in dogs and shine in the dark. The erect, longish, pointed ears are only thinly hairy on the inside, and can be moved back and forth at night. The striped cylindrical body is often grey with darker waved lines and spots, or has large, irregular fields of different colours, or sometimes completely black or white; but in all these respects it does not vary to the same degree as the dog.

Lifestyle: It is found as a domestic animal with humans almost over the entire habitable earth and is kept by him as a means of protection against the excessive increase of many smaller, uninvited guests, such as rats and mice with which it lives in natural enmity, but for this purpose it is of course necessary that it remain in the semi-free state which it prefers; because real house cats, which are carefully fed and kept very warm and soft, make very bad mousers. The cat will never be a domestic animal in the same sense as the dog; on the contrary, it always retains the peculiarity of easily becoming wild again if it is given freedom. In this state it produces fertile young with the common wild cat from whose individual varieties it is descended, or at least is closely related, and it does not limit itself in this respect, but according to Pallas' assertion, in its lust the cat will even mate with martens and polecats. As food, when tame she spurns almost nothing that man enjoys, although her inclination remains predominantly on meat dishes. Their courtship time in our land falls mostly in the month of February, and mating takes place with great howling from the female, because it is painful for her because the male’s rod is covered with horny spines. The tomcats fight with each other, often terribly, at this time. The female is pregnant for 8 weeks and usually gives birth twice a year to 3 - 5, more rarely up to 10, young, which remain blind for 8 to 12 days and can reproduce before they are one year old. Her age probably reaches 18-20 years. Cat born in May are chosen for breeding because they have a nice, large stature, and also those that have black paws.

Land of Origin: Unknown, as it is likely that it descended from different original species (*).
(*) It has generally been assumed that the house cat is descended from the common wild cat. In more recent times, however, many doubts have been raised against this, because the anatomical aspects differ significantly between the two in some respects, and there has been a tendency to regard the Egyptian or steppe cat, F. Manul Pall., as the original species of cat the external aspects of these at least coincide more closely with those of the house cat; It has also been believed that great importance should be attached to the fact that the cat was first properly tamed in the Orient and had become such a popular pet among the Egyptians, that it was even mummified. Recently, “F. maniculata Mus. Francof. von Rüppell” has become regarded it as the type specimen of our house cat, at least of some varieties. It has a dingy upper colour and is darker coloured along the top, and the cheeks, throat and throat are white, lips and tip of the nose are black, and feet and thighs are marked with some dark horizontal stripes. The forehead has eight narrow stripes, the tail is longer than that of the domestic cat, which is the same size, and has two blackish rings at the tip. You can find them in Nubia. F. Manul, on the other hand, has a cylindrical tail made up of 20 vertebrae, over half the length of the body and with about 9 more or less distinct rings. The ears are almost bare on the inside, the basic colour is pale-pale yellow, the tip is studded with many sharp black bristles and the hind legs are marked with black longitudinal stripes on the outside up to the hocks.

General: The cat's origin from a warm area is confirmed by its love for warmth. Even when tame it retains a large part of its natural predilections: bloodlust, deceit, and a love of freedom. It is true that it is most active in twilight and on moonlit nights, but it is not so exclusively a nocturnal predator that it is quite inactive during the day, although it likes to sleep at this time. It sleeps quietly and every sound wakes it up. Its gait is seldom audible, and it walks with retracted claws. If it is fleeing from something, it turns her eyes downwards. It is quick and light when running and jumping, during which time its long tail is very useful, but it cannot keep this up for long. It can climb very skilfully, jump from one tree to another, and walk over the most uneven slats and poles. If it falls from a raised tree or house while carelessly trying to catch prey, or if it is thrown from a high place, it seldom dies, but lands upright because , it makes a half turn in the air while falling with its back curved, and when it comes to earth it has all 4 legs held beneath it, shakes itself a few times and usually runs away unharmed. The tail comes in very handy here, it sticks straight out, and acts like a rudder.

It is a very clean animal, which always smooths its fur with its tongue and claws, and also smears the soft, spongy pads of the forefeet with saliva, and then rubs them over its face, ears and the back of the head. The female cat spends a great deal of the time cleaning the fur of her young. For all its good deeds, the cat shows no great devotion to its master, but greater devotion to the place where it was brought up. It never leaves it, but always returns there when her benefactor or teacher moves apartment, finding its way there even from a few miles away. By catching the mice and rats (though they can’t catch them all), it makes itself very useful; you don't have to give it much to eat, but you have to give it milk to drink if it is to hunt well. It becomes annoying through its sweetness, which it cannot be weaned from, and dangerous through its falsehood. It was not uncommon for them to cause fire accidents, as they dragged glowing coals from fireplaces where they like to warm themselves. Their meat is just as edible as that of the dog; yes, in France and Italy one should even love roasted young cats.

The peculiar electrical condition of their hair is remarkable and is most noticeable in black cats when the hair is stroked backwards in the dark. For this reason, their fur is often used instead of a fox tail to excite the electricity in the electrophor (resin block) or on electric machines. Only the fur of wild cats is valued by furriers, that of tame cats is valued very little. Most remarkable is the cat’s peculiar habit of burying their stinking faeces. Their meowing, purring, screaming and hissing are extremely unpleasant, especially for some people who, even when unaware a cat is nearby, become so uncomfortable that they fall into convulsive states. They meow when asking for something, purr when at rest, hiss when angry, and express their moods, which alternate very much with the females when in heat, with all of the above and with other sounds similar to the cries of children. In all their actions, cats show cunning and cleverness and do all things with special ease. The way they catch their prey is well known; for they sneak up on it with flattened, stretched bodies, then lie still, wag their tails, push their heads down between their forefeet, take aim, lift themselves up a little with their hind legs, and try to catch it by jumping with their claws out. If the ambush fails, the mouse or the prey usually escapes from its pursuer.

The most excellent varieties, of which a great number could certainly be distinguished if they were carefully bred, are the following:

a) F. C. domesticus striatus. The Cyprus Cal.
This has the basic colour of the common wild cat, but a pattern that is more blue-grey. The lips and soles of the feet are always black, the stripes on the back run lengthwise, spiralling on the sides and thighs. The forehead and cheeks have small bands similar to those of the wild cat and the tip of the tail is black. It likes to live outdoors, away from human housing.

b) F. C. d. coeruleus. The Carthusian Cat.
This has long, fine, wavy hair of a simple bluish - ash-gray, almost slate-blue colour, only the lips and soles of the feet are black.

c) F. C. d. hispanicus The Spanish Cat.
This has irregular patches of yellow, black and white, mixed or, more rarely, striped. Modern zoologists, especially the French, maintain that the female individuals are tri-colored, but the males are never tri-coloured; the darker colour is more characteristic of the male, the lighter colour the female.

d) F. C. d. angorensis. The Angora Cat.
This has long, soft, silky, silver-white or yellowish hair with irregular markings, which are only passed on to the offspring through strict segregation from ordinary cat, and which forms a real frill on the neck. The woollen fur is very luxurious. This cat is said to be a descendant of a very special kind from Persia, which we are not yet familiar with. It is strange that it has the same fatherland as the Angora goat and the Angora rabbit. In Tobolsk, Gmelin found a bright red breed, that is, a striking development from the yellow. The angora cat is indisputably one of the rarest varieties.

e) F. C. d. chinensis. The Chinese cat.
This also has long, soft, yellow or black hair and drooping ears.

f) F. C. d. javanicus. The Japanese cat.
It is white with large yellow and blackish spots and a very thin tail.

g) F. C. d. indicus. The Indian cat.
It is said to have a gnarled tail and occur in the Malay Archipelago and Madagascar.


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