By M. F. O’Malley, Author of’ Dogt of Legend and Romance,’ dec.
HAT animal has been so evil spoken of as the “harmless necessary oat”? Alas, poor pussy! Branded with the epithets, “selfish,” ” treacherous,” and “cruel;” stoned by boys, worried by dogs, with a past dark with mysterious tales of infant’s breath sucked by night, of attendance at witches’ Sabbaths; not all his fame who turned the miller’s son into the Marquis of Carrabas; not all her renown who made the fortune of poor Dick Whittington; not all the graces of our own domestio pets, can suffice to rescue thy reputation from ignominy, or thy fate from hardship.
And yet what creature better deserves to be our own familiar friend than that whiskered and dainty-pawed being, who, from the depths of the softest arm-chair in the room, purrs applause of her own perfections and quiet content with the universe? What philosophical meditations are passing through the brain of that” Domestic Sphinx,”*
* Vide an amusing article in the ‘ Spectator’ for March 30th, 1878. VOL. XVII. No. CLIX. 2 N
s she blinks with that impenetrable gaze? Of one thing be certain, she is not contemplating our virtues, for she obviously considers us as a lower race, born to minister to her convenience.
“Selfish! conceited! unloving animal!” exclaims the cat-hater. “How different to a dog, who adores his master as a god, and licks the hand that tortures him!” Suppose Fuss were to turn round and say.
“Well! and don’t you human beings seek your own comfort and convenience? What right have you to cry out if cats do the same? Isn’t your very admiration of the dog’s devotion under ill-usage a proof of the selfishness of your disposition? What you desire is a domestic slave who will flatter you and fawn on you however much he be illtreated, and you have not the brains to see the superior value of that affection which is bestowed on you as a deliberate recognition of your amiable qualities, instead of being merely the result of your position as master of the house. Gats are reasonable creatures. Love us and be consistently kind to us, and we will love and caress you, but don’t kiok us downstairs one day, and then the next day, when your are in a better temper, expect us to come purring to your side! We
‘Have a freedom in our love,
And in our souls are free!’
And you need never expect to turn a cat into a foolish, cringing, superstitious worshipper.”
And, indeed, Mrs. Puss, there is much justice in your remarks, for can any one of us lay his hand upon his heart, and say he has never been guilty of considering himself the most interesting being in the universe to himself? Should we not also be loth to ask any sacrifice of personal convenience from some of our acquaintances who declaim against the cat as the incarnation of selfishness? But, indeed, to selfish people nothing is more surprising than the selfishness of others.
A viler slander is that “cats are not to be trusted!” Doubly black it seems to those who are now mourning the memory of a beloved Angora, who died not long ago. Let us hope he is now in the land where,
“Worthies of the whiskered race,
Elysian mice o’er floors of sapphire chase,
‘Midst beds of aromatic marum stray,
Or raptured rove beside the milky way.
Kittens than eastern houris fairer seen,
Whose bright eyes glisten with immortal green,
Shall smooth for tabby swains their yielding fur,
And, to their mews assent shall sweetly pun-;
There, like Alcmena’s, shall Grimalkin’s son
In bliss repose,—his mousing labours done,
Fate, envy, curs, time, tide and traps defy,
And caterwaul to all eternity.”
Dear ‘ Guy Fox ‘ (not ‘ FawTces,’ be it observed, for, as the old cook said, “his tail was like a fox’s brush “)! Most handsome, amiable and wise-looking of long-furred pussies! So gentle was he, that a two-year-old baby naively said of him, “I don’t mind hurting Guy, for I’m sure he won’t so’atcb.”
Undoubtedly the inference to be drawn is that some other cat would, and this wholesome awe was inspired by ‘Spottie,’ a cat not beautiful in person, nor amiable in disposition, but highly intelligent, and a living example of how great a libel is pronounced upon her race by those who say, “Cats care for places, not people.” Spot hates
with a deadly hatred, men-servants, children, and all animals except her own kittens, but she is devoted to her mistress, whose wanderings she has shared for the last ten years. When packing-up begins she becomes much excited, and runs about uneasily until the basket in which she travels is brought out, when she gets into it of her own accord, lies down, and purrs contentedly. On arriving at her new abode, she smells carefully round the room, then lies down on the hearth-rug and takes possession of the place. Once, when paying a two days’ visit in the country, she not only made herself perfectly at home, but drove away the cat of the house. On another occasion, when her mistress was staying with a neighbour, Spot found her way to the house, and made her appearance one evening purring loudly with joy at having discovered her owner. In vain was she taken home and, to all appearance, carefully shut up, in five minutes there she was again, and there she insisted on remaining. This fact shows a likelihood in the story that when the Duke of Norfolk was shut up in the Tower in Queen Elizabeth’s reign, his favourite cat found out where her master was imprisoned, and made her way to him down the chimney.
Spottie is of a nervous and jealous disposition, and sulks in the most absurd manner when any other animal is petted by her mistress. Imagine her disgust when a baby made its appearance on the scene. “Such a tiresome, ill-behaved little creature, too,” thought Mrs. Puss, “not pretty and delightful like my darling kittens, about whom not half so much fuss is made.” The baby’s orying appeared to be a trial to feline nerves, for Spot, after complaining of it once or twice, would always punish the wailing infant by tapping it with her paw, taking good care to keep her claws well sheathed.
When her mistress is ill, Spot lies, night and day, at the foot of the bed, a most tender and sympathetic companion. Once, however, she got up there with muddy paws and was turned off; a proceeding which so much ruffled her feelings that she sulked for a whole fortnight, at the end of which time she kindly consented to extend the paw of forgiveness.
Another of her quaint ways is a habit of tapping at the door to be let in. First comes a gentle scratch, then distinct tapping, getting gradually louder and louder, and at shorter and shorter intervals, until, if no attention is paid her, she noisily and impatiently rattles the handle of the door. She was able to open the door of the back kitchen in one house, by pressing on the latch.
Mrs. Spot is very capricious in her maternal affection. Some of her kittens she adores, and it is most touching to see her call them when any dainty, game bones, or the like, is given to her, and place the food she would herself so much enjoy before them. Then, while the little creatures are eating in a rude and greedy manner (for, like all spoilt children, they are very ill-behaved), their fond mamma gazes at them with a most ludicrous expression of admiration and devotion. On the other hand, some of her offspring have not been favourites, and these she treated with the most fashionable indifference, handing them over to the care of human beings, allowing them to be nursed by a good-natured black cat who had kittens of her own, or even pressing the amiable ‘Guy Fox’ into her services.
It was most absurd to see this tender-hearted animal stretched out on the hearth-rug, nursing one of the kittens between his paws, while the other bit his ears, played with his splendid tail, and otherwise tormented him. Meanwhile Spottie, comfortably seated in an armchair, would look on with an air of contemptuous indifference. Did one of the little creatures meet with any of the ills whioh kittenflesh is heir to and mew for help, Spot would preserve her disdainful neutrality, and never stir to see what was the matter, while Guy would rush to the rescue, lick, croon over, and comfort his injured nursling, and say, as plainly as though he could speak, “There, there, my darling, never mind; tell your poor old Guy where you are hurtl”
And yet, with every opportunity of watching the various shades of feline disposition, people are found to say of oats, “Most pussies have no character at all,” or rather to give all cats credit for a nature full of deceit and malignancy. In the words of a writer in the ‘Encyclopedia Britannica,’ ” It ” (the cat) “possesses an innate malice and a perverse disposition, which education teaches it to conceal but never to subdue!”
Yet we can but pity those who lose all the pleasure they might eDJoy by sympathy with cats, while as to kittens they are infallible preservatives against ennui, and serve tho purpose of kings’ jesters in the Middle Ages. There is no created being so enchanting as that ball of fluff. Its round and innocent face, its diminutive size, its deliciously soft fur, its ridiculous antics, its inimitable grace, all make it the most fascinating of young animals. We repeat;—much to be pitied are the haters of the feline race.
But, if cats have their detractors, they have always had some enthusiastic admirers. In ancient Egypt the cat was a sacred animal, the goddess Sekket or Pasht having a cat’s head. It is to be observed, however, that in the art of the Ancient Empire, this divinity was represented with the head of a lioness, and that the cat is then absent from the sculptured fauna on the tombs, which seems to point to it as having been introduced to the valley of the Nile not earlier than at the period of the eleventh or of the twelfth dynasty. In fact all evidence goes to show that the cat was domesticated much later in the history of man than the dog, the horse, or the ox, and hence perhaps that charming independence which makes the cat live with us, but not of us, for good or ill, a ” bite incomprise,” a domestic Sphinx.
The cats of ancient Egypt who, during their lifetime, had received divine honours in the temples of lVht or of Bast, were embalmed after their death, and some of their mummies brought from Thebes may be seen in the British Museum. Egyptian women were sometimes described as “cats” on their tombs, in token that they had lived under the protection of Pasht. Nowadays it is scarcely complimentary to call a woman a ” cat, though many have been the disagreeable remarks of misogynists on the resemblance between cats and women in treachery, caprice, and other vices! But in ancient Egypt the cat at least was not misunderstood, though doubtless then as now men exercised their wit at the expense of the ” weaker sex.”
Herodotus tells us that when a fire broke out the Egyptians thought less of putting it out than of saving their cats. “These animals, however, slipping by the men, or leaping over them, rush headlong into the flames.” [Query. Is this story designed to prove the cat’s attachment to the home where it has lived ?]
Cambyses gained Pelusis, which had resisted successfully all previous attacks, by means of the following stratagem. He gave to each of his soldiers a live cat instead of a buckler, and the Egyptians suffered themselves to be vanquished rather than hnrt the objects of their veneration. Diodorus Sioulus tells us that a Roman soldier in Egypt who killed a cat, was torn in pieces by the infuriated mob.
“Mau,” as the cat was called (evidently cats then spoke the same language as they do now), is represented in many of the mural paintings at Thebes and elsewhere. She wears an ornamental collar, her ears are pierced and decorated with golden earrings, and she occupies a post of honour beneath the chair of the lady of the house. Egyptian cats were trained to retrieve, and in the British Museum there is a picture taken from a tomb at Thebes which represents their skill in this attainment. A gentleman accompanied by his wife and family is seated in a papyrus punt among the reeds; he is killing waterfowl with a heavy throw-stick something like the boomerang of the Australians. His favourite cat retrieves the wounded birds from the thickets on the bank, and is depicted as holding at the same time three wild-duck—with her mouth, her front and her hind claws. In another Theban picture the sportsman is in the act of throwing the stick, and the cat stands “at attention” beside him. In yet another of the Theban tombs are some pictures of fables about animal life, in which cats are shown playing on flutes, or a town is besieged by rats and defended by cats.
When at last death came to close poor Mau’s eyes, great was the distress of the household where she had been a trusted and valued friend. She was interred with many ceremonies, and the family shaved their eyebrows in token of mourning.
Nowadays in Cairo a certain quantity of meat is daily distributed to the cats, which assemble in crowds, and make day hideous with their howlings while waiting for their dinner. This custom originated in the time of Khalif el Daher Bey bars, a cat lover, who in 1260 A.d. bequeathed a garden for the maintenance of homeless and starving cats.
The Arabs and modern Egyptians are fond of oats, and Puss may be said to have more than nine lives in the East, for besides the ordinary Mohammedan prejudice against the taking of animal life, she is shielded by some curious superstitions. The Arabs fancy that Jinns take the form of oats, and relate many extracrdinary tales to this effect. The Egyptians call the youngest of twins a barassy, and believe that such a person has the power of taking the form of a cat in order to satisfy any craving for certain meats or drinks. M. Prisse d’Avennes, while living at Luxor, killed a cat which had committed many depredations in his larder. The next day a druggist of the neighbourhood came to him, and in much agitation implored him not to destroy cats, as his youngest daughter was a barassy, and often visited M. d’Avennes’ house in feline form in order to steal his dessert!
Lady Duff-Gordon gives an amusing account of a glimpse she had of this superstition when living at Thebes. She says,
“Do you remember the German story of the lad who travelled in order to ‘learn how to shiver and shake.’ Well, I who never ‘gruselte ‘ (quaked) before/ had a touch of it a few mornings ago. I was sitting here quietly drinking tea, and four or five men were present, when a cat came to the door. I called ‘bis! bis!’ * and offered milk; but puss, after looking at us, ran away.
“‘ Well dost thou, lady,’ said a quiet sensible man, a merchant here, ‘ to be kind to the cat, for I daresay he gets little enough at home; his father, poor man, cannot cook for his children every day;’ and then in an explanatory tone to the company: ‘That’s Alee Nasserree’s boy Yussuf; it must be Yussuf, because his fellow-twin, Ismaeen, is with his uncle at Negadah.’
“‘ Mir gruselte’ (I shuddered), I confess; not but what I have heard things almost as absurd from gentlemen and ladies in Europe, but an ‘extravagance ‘ in a kaftan has quite a different effect from one in a tail-coat.
“‘ What! My butcher-boy who brings the meat—a CAT ?’ I gasped.
‘”To be sure, and he knows well where to go for a bit of good cookery, you see. All twins go out as cats at night if they go to sleep hungry; and their own bodies lie at home like dead meanwhile, but no one must touch them or they would die. Why, your own boy, Achmet, does it. Ho, Achmet!’
“‘ Boy, don’t you go out as a oat at night?’
“‘ No,’ said Achmet tranquilly, ‘I am not a twin. My sister’s sons do.’
“I inquired if people were not afraid of such cats.
“‘ No there is no fear; they only eat a little of the cookery. No, they are not afreets, they are beni-Adam.’
“The notion fully accounts for the horror the people here feel at the idea of killing a oat.”
* Arabic for Pass.
But indeed your true Moslem ought not only to spare but to love cats, for a charming story is told of Mahomet and his cat Muezza.
One day the prophet was lost in reverie; Muezza, curled round inside his wide sleeve, purred herself comfortably to sleep. (By the way, a cat’s purring is an excellent accompaniment to meditation.) Some little time went by; the seer dreamed—perchance of Paradise— the cat slept, a truly Oriental picture of repose.
But this happy state of things could not last for ever. Mahomet had business to transact, he must go out; but how stir without awaking Muezza? Moved by a happy inspiration, he took a pair of scissors which happened to be within reach, cut off his sleeve, and went out, rejoicing that he had not disturbed his favourite.
The Persian cat with its long fur and splendid tail is a beautiful animal. It is called ‘puschak,’ pronounced by the Afghans ‘pischik.’ Our “puss” doubtless belongs to the same family of words. The Lithuanians, an old Aryan-speaking race, call the cat lpuije.’ The Sanscrit word for cat is ‘mdrjara,’ derived, says Mr. Mux Miiller, from the root ‘mrj’ to clean, the animal that cleans itself. The Indian names are ‘house-wolf,’ ‘rat-eater,’ ‘foe to mice.’ Darwin says that mention is made of the cat in a Sanscrit document 2000 years old, so that it has been domesticated for some time in India. Apparently it is not very well treated there now, for Mr. Shaw, the traveller in Central Asia, says, “Cats are a favoured race in Toorkistan, not the scared, half-starved things that disappear round corners in Indian houses; but sleek, well-fed creatures, which know how to purr and scorn to steal. While I write there are four of them lying in all positions on the rug in front of my fire … At Kashgar the cats are taught to fetch and carry; well-trained ones bring a long price.” Mr. Shaw brought a white cat away with him when he left Kashgar, but lost her on the march home. A year later, when he was returning to Eastern Toorkistan, he found his cat in the possession of a tribe of wandering Kirghiz, who had picked her up in the desert. In exchange for some tea, he got her back again, with interest in the shape of a kitten!
That amusing traveller, the Abbe1 Huo, tells us of a use to which oats are put in China. He stopped at a cottage once to ask the time of day. The boy to whom he spoke replied, ” The sky is clouded, I do not know whether it is yet noonday, but if you will wait a moment I will see.” Whereupon he disappeared into the house, to reappear with a large cat, into whose eyes he was steadfastly gazing; and answered that it was not yet noon. He then proceeded to inform M. Hue of a somewhat startling fact in natural history; viz., that the pupils of a cat’s eyes gradually contract after sunrise and quite disappear at noonday, enlarging again by degrees until the evening!
But the cat is not only supposed to be useful as a clock in China, but is employed in a more practical manner. Cat’s flesh is highly estimated as an article of food; that of black cats being supposed to be more nourishing and highly flavoured than that of cats of other colours. “Black cats’ eyes ” are among the dainties mentioned in the carte of a Chinese restaurant. M. de Champfleury says that the large cats fed upon rice, which are highly esteemed for the table in China, resemble those kept in Parisian shops and salons. Little did this learned and amusing author guess that in a year from the time he wrote, the people of Paris would be only too glad themselves to eat their whilom pets. Cats are much scarcer in Paris since the days of the siege, when many a poor ‘Minette’ was sacrificed to feed her hungry owners. Before 1870 every shop-counter, restaurant, and cafe had its large, long-furred, well-fed pussy.
But to return to the East. In both Chinese and Japanese porcelains, cats are represented as domestic pets. Japanese artists excel in the delineation of the cat, seizing with peculiar felicity her grace, suppleness, and quaintness.
In the art of the ancient Assyrians and Babylonians the cat has no place, nor is she mentioned in the Bible.
The Greeks commonly used the disagreeable marten for the purpose of destroying rats and mice, though the cat must have been a common domestic animal with them, for Theocritus, in one of his dialogues, makes a mistress call a tardy slave, ” as lazy and fond of her ease as a cat!”
The cat is not represented in Roman art until a late period of history; but she appears in Pompeian mosaics. A Roman lady of the second or third century was called Lucconia Felicula (equivalent to Pussy) and had a cat engraved upon her seal, so it is evident that by that time the Romans had discovered the charming qualities of the “most beautiful and entertaining of domestic animals.” *
In the Middle Ages the cat was not very common in Europe, as is
shown by the constant recurrence of the Whittington legend in different forms. In the time of Howel the Good of Wales, A.d. 948, the price of a newly-born kitten was fixed at one penny; after it got its sight, but before it had caught a mouse, at two pence, and after this important event at four pence. Be it remembered the value of money in those days was far greater than it now is. If any one stole or killed the cat that guarded the king’s granary, the criminal was to forfeit a milch-ewe with her fleece and lamb, or as much wheat as would entirely cover the cat up to the point of her tail if she were suspended by that member.
St. Anselm used as a great favour to lend his pet cat to different monasteries, which suffered from the devastations of mice. An old chronicler describes him as setting out to pay a visit to a distant convent with Puss on the saddle in front of him.
Doubtless the quiet gentle ways of the cat must have made ber popular in the convents, where, in those rude times, so many tender natures took refuge. We can fancy some sleek, well-fed pussy rubbing herself against the nuns as they made their conserves or worked at their tapestry, or purring quietly beside some diligent monk as he bent over the psalter he was transcribing.
We may as well relate here the tales of some convent cats. The monks of a monastery in Cyprus trained their cats to wage war against snakes. At the sound of a bell, twice a day, the cats would troop home to be fed, and then rush out to the ohase again. Both monastery and cats were destroyed by the Turks, but the promontory where the convent stood is still known as ‘Cape Gatto,’ or ‘delle Gatte.’ General Cesnola relates that as he was passing the Cape his mule was startled by the sudden flight from a bush of what appeared to be a oat. His guide assured him that both there and near to Acrotiri there are wild cats, which hunt and destroy the asps abounding there.
The convent bell reminds us of a story told by Mr. Ross, in the ‘Book of Cats.’ “Once upon a time there was a monastery, a cat, and a dinner-bell.” Every day at a certain hour the bell was rung and the monks and the cat had their meal together. One day, however, when the bell rang, Puss found herself shut into a room at the other end of the building, where no one heard her piteous mews for release. Some hours afterwards the door was opened, and off she
ran to the refectory, but, alas! found there nothing but bare tables. Presently the monks were astonished by the loud ringing of the dinner-bell, and hurrying to the spot, found the cat swinging on the bell-rope. She had learned by experience that bell-ringing was always followed by dinner, and doubtless imagined this to be an unerring law of nature.
Still more wonderful is the tale of another convent cat. This ingenious animal discovered that when a certain bell rang the cook would leave the kitchen to answer it, the monks’ dinner remaining unguarded. Strange to relate, whenever the bell rang and the cook turned his back, the contents of one of the plates of food would disappear, and no one could find out either how it went, or who had rung the bell. At last a watch was set, and it was discovered that the cat first rang the bell, the handle of which hung outside the kitchen door, then jumped through the window, seized her booty, and having done so, fled in haste. The monks, so far from punishing this clever robber, made capital out of her misdeeds by allowing visitors, on the payment of a fee, to see her perform this trick.
But cats have been dear to dignitaries of the Church as well as to poor Carthusian monks. Lady Morgan describes a dinner with an archbishop at Naples, where several large Angora cats, introduced by the names of Pantalone, Otello, Desdemona, etc., had their places on chairs near the table. “On the bishop requesting one of his chaplains to help Desdemona, the butler stepped forward and observed, ‘My lord, la signora Desdemona will prefer waiting for the roasts.'”
The author, when leaving Canada as a child, gave a favourite cat to the old Bishop of Toronto. This fortunate animal, who rejoiced in the name of Touton, found her lines cast in pleasant places. For twelve or thirteen years she was the spoilt child of the episcopal abode. Not content with her velvet cushion in front of the bishop’s study fire, she would often insist upon occupying the poor old gentleman’s arm-chair, where she reclined in state, the bishop having to content himself with a small hard uncomfortable seat.
More illustrious churchmen have had their feline favourites. Cardinal Wolsey’s cat always sat beside him when he gave audience as Chancellor. No doubt puss felt and looked to the full as important as the magnificent prelate himself.
Another great Church statesman, Cardinal Richelieu, always kept Bome kittens in his ante-chamber. When weary of his labours, or oppressed with melancholy, he rang for the kittens, and solaced himself by watching their absurd gambols.
Nor is it surprising that the cat should attract great leaders of men (we have seen how Mahomet loved his Muezza), for no creature can better exemplify the whole art of government. Her sharp and terrible claw, hidden beneath the velvet softness of her paw; the unfathomable mystery in which she shrouds her thoughts and feelings; the unalterable patience with which she waits her opportunity, followed by the sudden spring with which she pounces upon her prey; the gentle and caressing manners with which she wins the hearts of those whom she desires to attach to herself—these are all lessons worth the study of those who desire to rule and guide their fellow men.
Chateaubriand, as statesman and poet, was doubly attracted by the cat, for to the sensitive nature of the poet the oat is much akin. Only those fail to understand her to whom life is a species of race-course; all hurry, noise, and bustle, and for whom the word thought only exists in the dictionary. Chateaubriand had a magnificent puss called ‘Micetto,’ given him when he was ambassador at Rome, by Pope Leo XII. When seeing the reverse side of life’s medal, as an exile in London, he found in their mutual love for cats a bond of sympathy with the poor Irish widow in whose house he lodged. In the ‘ Memoires d’Outre Tombe,’ he writes: “We had the misfortune to lose two elegant pussies, white as ermine, with black tails.” But with some of the proverbial ingratitude of exiles towards the land which has sheltered them, Chateaubriand afterwards said that he found English cats as dull and stupidly respectable as English people.