Nonfiction > Carl Van Vechten > The Tiger in the House > Chapter Ten
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CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
Carl Van Vechten (1880–1964).  The Tiger in the House. 1922.
  
Chapter Ten
The Cat in Fiction
  
IN the second of his imaginary dialogues with Edmund Gosse, George Moore complains of the absence of animals in “Tom Jones” and “Vanity Fair.” “Both books lack intimacy of thought and feeling. No one sits by the fire and thinks what his or her past has been and welcomes the approach of a familiar bird or animal. I do not remember any dog, cat, or parrot in ‘Vanity Fair,’ and I am almost certain that ‘Tom Jones’ is without one.… I have forgotten their names but I am conscious of the presence of dogs and cats in Dickens’s pages.” It is true that animals play an important rôle in prose fiction, more important than is often realized, for a book without animals is seldom a living book. Cats sleep by the fire or frisk across the leaves of many a romance. In “Bleak House” alone there are three cats: Krook’s snarling Lady Jane, who follows her master, as Charmion followed Cleopatra, or perches hissing on his shoulder: she is the symbol of his mystery; the Jellybys’ cat, who, more often than not, disposes of poor Mr. Jellyby’s morning milk; and the nameless cat of Mr. Vohles, the lawyer. Then there is Mrs. Pipchin’s old cat, little Paul Dombey’s friend, who coiling himself in the fender purrs egotistically, “while the contracting pupils of his eyes looked like two notes of admiration.” In “Père Goriot,” Madame the Keeper of the Pension is accompanied on her introduction by her cat, Mistigris. In the end, all her boarders having deserted her, it is announced as a final blow that Mistigris has disappeared. “Cats are very graceful and very clean,” proclaims Mrs. Penniman to her brother in “Washington Square,” when the good doctor suggests the drowning of the kittens. And in “A Small Boy and Others,” Henry James remarks that he rubbed himself against the Seine-front in Paris, “for endearment and consecration, as a cat invokes the friction of a protective piece of furniture.” Somewhere George Eliot has written: “Who can tell what just criticisms the cat may be passing on us beings of wider speculation?” Chattie, a very impersonal puss, plays a small part in the opening scenes of “Robert Elsmere.” Jean Jacques Rousseau in “Emile” comments upon the analogy between the curiosity of the child and that of the cat: “Observe a cat entering a room for the first time: it searches and smells about, it is not quiet for a moment, it trusts nothing until it has examined and made acquaintance with everything. Just in the same way would a child who was beginning to walk, and, so to speak, entering upon the unknown space of the world, demean itself.” Nor must we forget Don Quixote’s adventures in the castle of the Duke of Villahermosa. Chanting a love-song in his chamber at midnight, the knight is suddenly disturbed by a prodigious caterwauling and ringing of bells. “Such was the din of the bells and the squalling of the cats, that though the duke and the duchess were the contrivers of the joke, they were startled by it, while Don Quixote stood paralysed with fear: and as luck would have it, two or three of the cats made their way in through the grating of his chamber, and flying from one side to the other, made it seem as if there was a legion of devils at large in it.… Don Quixote sprang to his feet, and drawing his sword, began making passes at the grating, shouting out, ‘Avaunt, malignant enchanters! Avaunt ye witchcraft working rabble! I am Don Quixote of La Mancha, against whom your evil machinations avail not nor have any power.’” When the duke ran in and laid hold of a cat attached to the knight’s nose, the knight called out, “Let no one take him from me; leave me hand to hand with this demon, this wizard, this enchanter; I will teach him, I myself, who Don Quixote of La Mancha is.” The cat, however, snarled and held on. In Thomas Love Peacock’s “Gryll Grange,” we get a less goetic view of the cat. The fragment may be regarded as autobiographical: “In all its arrangements his house was a model of order and comfort; and the whole establishment partook of the genial physiognomy of the master. From the master and mistress to the cook, and from the cook to the tom cat, there was about the inhabitants a sleek and purring rotundity of face and figure that denoted community of feelings, habits, and diet; each in its kind, of course, for the master had his port, the cook her ale, and the cat his milk, in sufficiently liberal allowance.” In “The Hill of Dreams,” “Lucian leant back and roared with indecent laughter till the tabby tom-cat who had succeeded to the poor dead beasts looked up reproachfully from his sunny corner, with a face like the reviewer’s, innocent and round and whiskered.” Again Lucian meets a cat: “In the back street by which he passed out of the town he saw a large ‘healthy’ boy kicking a sick cat; the poor creature had just strength enough to crawl under an outhouse door; probably to die in torments. He did not find much satisfaction in thrashing the boy, but he did it with hearty good will.” In Henry Handel Richardson’s “Maurice Guest,” “Peter the Fursts’ lean cat, had sneaked stealthily in upon this, to him, enchanted ground and, according to the fancier, had caused the death from fright, of a delicate canary, although the culprit had done nothing more than sit before the cage, licking his lips.” Wotan, the one-eyed cat in this book is a memorable figure. Catulle Mendès, too, had a fancy for naming cats after Wagnerian heroes. Naming cats is beyond the powers of the ordinary brain. Samuel Butler asserts that it is the test of literary power: “They say the test of this is whether a man can write an inscription. I say, ‘Can he name a kitten?’ And by this test I am condemned, for I cannot.” 1 Peter Whiffle once named two cats, George Moore and George Sand. Eventually they had children. The King turns to Perion, “fierce, tense, and fragile, like an angered cat,” in Mr. James Branch Cabell’s “The Soul of Melicent” and “He who hunts with cats will catch mice” is another figure from this book. The incorrigible Jurgen tells of a ghost who once haunted him who “towards morning took the form of a monstrous cat, and climbed upon the foot of my bed: and there he squatted yowling until daybreak.” 2 And Jurgen, speaking of the glory of the number nine, mentions the Muses, the lives of a cat, and how many tailors make a man. Kipling compares an engine leaping across a bridge to a cat streaking along a fence. “You closed your eyes while he was kissing you like a cat being stroked,” is a figure from Octave Mirbeau’s “Chez l’illustre écrivain.” Achmed Abdullah, in “The Honorable Gentleman,” says that love is like “wings upon a cat, like rabbits’ horns, like ropes made of tortoise hair.” Charles-Henry Hirsch, in “‘Petit’ Louis, Boxeur,” describes a professional pugilist as “leste comme une chatte.” Her little head … “as smooth as a cat’s,” writes Gelett Burgess in “The White Cat.” “He knows no more about the world,” remarks a character in Mr. Chambers’s “The King in Yellow,” “than a maiden cat on its first moonlight stroll.” Peter, one of Mr. Dreiser’s “Twelve Men,” tested his skill “by embalming a dead cat or two after the Egyptian manner.” In this same book Culhane, the solid man, asserts, “a dog … eats what he needs, and then stops. So does a cat,” which, as Mr. Dreiser adds, is by no means true. In Richard Middleton’s “The Ghost Ship,” you may read, “As a rule the cat kept me company, and I was pleased with his placid society, though he made my legs cramped. I thought that I too would like to be a cat.” And again, “Like a cat I wanted to dream somewhere where I would be neglected by friends and foes alike.” Yet again, “Then there was the vision of two small feet that moved a long way off, and Toby would watch them curiously as kittens do their tails, without knowing the cause of their motion.” The postillion in “Lavengro” uses a wonderful cat figure in his description of a priest: “My mother had a sandy cat, which sometimes used to open its mouth wide with a mew nobody could hear, and the silent laugh of that red-haired priest used to put me wonderfully in mind of the silent mew of my mother’s sandy-red cat.” “Growling to herself, something after the manner of an old grimalkin when disturbed,” is a figure from “The Bible in Spain.”   1
  Pierre Loti invariably writes of cats with a sympathy and a comprehension that partakes of the mystic (“stranger than strange” is Henry James’s description of the performance), and his fondness for the little animal causes him to mention her frequently. Sometimes, in his books, she appears in person; sometimes her qualities are used figuratively. In “Japoneries d’Automne,” he speaks of the “mousmés aux yeux de chat.” Rarahu, the quaint little heroine of “Le Mariage de Loti,” which reminds us that the author visited the South Seas before Stevenson or Gauguin or the somewhat discredited hero of “The Moon and Sixpence,” loved a cat, a mournful beast named Turiri, who was sick a good deal and followed her mistress about, howling mournfully and eating blue butterflies. She arched her back at the nude Chinaman who tried to seduce Rarahu with presents, and once, after a hegira, she created a havoc at a feast by leaping on the table and disturbing the cups and plates in very uncatlike fashion. Plumket, one of the characters of the book, was called by the Tahitians, “Oeil de Chat.” Loti’s cat figures are always descriptive: Rarahu avait des yeux d’un noir roux, pleins d’une langueur exotique, d’une douceur caline, comme celle des jeunes chats quand on les caresse.” Another: “avec une prestesse de jeune chatte nerveuse et courroucée.” Still another: “Comme deux chattes qui vont se rouler et s’égratigner les deux petites se regardaient.” He hears some Chinese actors, “avec des voix de chats de gouttières.”   2
  His biographical pictures of his two cats, Moumoutte Blanche and Moumoutte Chinoise, are perhaps the most careful studies of cats that exist. Who that loves either Loti or pussies does not know them? In “Une bête galeuse,” 3 his subject is a tom cat suffering from mange, the dread leprosy of cats, which has eaten the fur away from his head and made it impossible for him further to make his toilet. Loti rescues this poor beast from the wall where he has climbed to die and with the aid of a groom in the stables gives him chloroform. And with that unerring personal touch which is one of his passwords into the company of the immortals, he awakens our pity much more than our horror for the poor dumb brute who as he is dying fixes Loti with his eyes which seem to say, “It was to kill me you rescued me.… And you see, I am letting you do it.… It is too late.… I shall sleep.” And the poor sick head drops in the writer’s hand.   3
  There is another harrowing study of a sick cat in the last pages of “En Rade.” Huysmans, of course, spares the reader nothing. This lank, half-starved beast, belonging to Aunt Norine, came into the monotonous lives of Jacques and Louise. At first very wild, he rapidly became tame and “he rested finally sleeping with Louise, taking her throat between his paws from time to time, and through friendliness rubbing his head against her cheek.” A little later Huysmans describes the animal: “The fact is that this cat, thin as a hundred nails, carried his pointed head in the form of a pike’s jaw and as the climax of disgrace had black lips; his fur was ashen grey, waved with rust, a vagabond’s garment, with the hair dull and dry. His hairless tail was like a cord with a little tuft at the end and the skin of his belly, torn, no doubt, in a fall, hung like a fetlock of which the dirty hair swept the ground. Were it not for his enormous caline eyes in the green fluid of which golden gravel circled incessantly, he would have been, under his poor and changeable coat, a low son of the race of the gutters, an unspeakable cat.” Presently he began to die, suffering the most exquisite agony, an agony, which readers of Huysmans may well believe, is protracted for pages and discussed in detail. Indeed it may be said that this incident shares with the birth of the calf the dramatic interest of the book. It is carefully observed. When Louise tried to alleviate his suffering, “he cried at each effort and she dared not aid him because his poor body seemed to be a clavier of pain which resounded to each touch.” 4 Finally Louise placed an apron over the poor beast and left him.   4
  This cat was a composite picture of two of Huysmans’s own cats. The death scene is a transcription of the final struggles of Barre-de-Rouille, a big red tabby gutter cat, who was a wonderful hunter and caught bats from Huysmans’s balcony at night. He appears in his healthier days as one of the characters of “En Ménage.” A later occupant of Huysmans’s household, Mouche, an ugly grey cat, sat for the description of the feline in “En Rade,” and appears more characteristically in “La-Bas.” A true philosopher, he assists, curious but calm, at the most intimate diversions of Durtal and his mistress, while his green eyes seem to say, “How useless all this is!” Mouche was an affectionate cat who waited for Huysmans at the door and purred sympathetically when he entered.   5
  It is highly probable that Balzac meant his “Peines de Cœur d’une Chatte Anglaise” 5 to be something more than a cat story. There is every reason to believe, indeed, that it may be regarded as an ingenious satirical comparison of the French and British manners of making love, an ironic commentary on Anglo-Saxon respectability. Whether J. Thomson, the English translator of the book in which it appeared, felt that this satire was too keen for English minds or whether he was shocked by certain rather lively passages in the original, at any rate he saw fit to omit it from his version. This story of the demure English puss brought up in a strict household where she is taught to read the Bible and suppress her desires is delicious. The cats of Albion, according to Balzac, are always respectable and never natural. To the simple white Beauty comes the remarkable and splendid Puff, a superb Angora who is so bored that he goes to sleep in front of his prospective mistress but she, with her lack of experience, infatuated by his languor and magnificence, falls an easy victim. She marries him but he continues to sleep every night and she continues to suppress her desires. One night, however, while he is asleep, her curiosity overcomes her modesty and she ascends to the rooftop where she makes the acquaintance of a rowdy French maquereau cat named Brisquet, who immediately finds it convenient to assail her timid heart with such effective ammunition that I think I cannot do better than to reproduce his impassioned appeal in full in the original French:
          “Dear Beauty, de longtemps d’ici la nature ne pourra former une Chatte aussi parfaite que vous. Le cachemire de la Perse et des Indes semble être du poil de Chameau comparé à vos soies fines et brillantes. Vous exhalez un parfum à faire évanouir de bonheur les anges, et je l’ai senti du salon du Prince de Talleyrand, que j’ai quitté pour accourir à ce déluge de sottises que vous appelez un meeting. Le feu de vos yeux éclaire la nuit! Vos oreilles seraient la perfection même si mes gémissements les attendrissaient. Il n’y a pas de rose dans toute l’Angleterre qui soit aussi rose que la chair rose qui borde votre petite bouche rose. Un pêcheur chercherait vainement dans les abîmes d’Ormus des perles qui puissent valoir vos dents. Votre cher museau fin, gracieux, est tout ce que l’Angleterre a produit de plus mignon. La neige des Alpes paraîtrait rousse auprès de votre robe céleste. Ah! ces sortes de poils ne se voient que dans vos brouillards! Vos pattes portent mollement et avec grâce ce corps qui est l’abrégé des miracles de la création, mais que votre queue, interprète élégant des mouvements de votre cœur, surpasse: oui! jamais courbe si élégante, rondeur plus correcte, mouvements plus délicats ne se sont vus chez aucune Chatte.”
   6
  You will not be able to believe that any woman’s virtue would be proof against such an attack, but Beauty fled from it … only to return a few nights later. She began to feel drawn towards the rooftops as Louise felt the call of Paris, and when Brisquet began to talk carelessly about his conquest and she began to murmur in her sleep, “Cher petit homme!” in French, Puff at last woke up, dragged his unfortunate wife to Doctors’ Commons, and secured a divorce. A little later Brisquet was stabbed in the back and the disgraced Beauty was left entirely alone. The irony of the story lies in the fact that her husband has never satisfied her longings and she has throughout been afraid to yield to her lover. The little déclassée at the end of the tale is as pure as the virgin of the beginning.   7
  In Balzac’s “Une Fille d’Ève,” the musician Schmuke has a magnificent Angora named Murr: “Je l’ai nommé Murr,” remarks his master, “pur clorivier nodre crant Hoffmann te Perlin, ke ché paugoube gonni.” Hoffmann’s cat Murr, indeed, was something more than a literary philosopher. The death of Murr was one of the profound events in this fantastic writer’s life. To his friend Litzig he wrote on November 30, 1821: “In the night between the twenty-ninth and thirtieth of November, my dear pupil, the cat Murr, went to sleep to relive in a better life, after short but violent suffering. He was four years old and full of hope. Those who know that I weep will understand my grief and will respect it—by their silence.”   8
  There are many females in the novels of Émile Zola. He began by putting two, one black, the other white, in his “Nouveaux Contes à Ninon.” In the foyer of the theatre of Bordenaire in “Nana” there is an enormous red cat who has an aversion for the odour of the gum which the old comedian Bosc rubs on his cheeks in order to attach his beard. In “La Faute de l’Abbé Mouret” there are three cats, country cats, like Zola’s cats at Médan. The black one is called Moumou. There is also François, the cat with the hard, ironic, cruel gaze, of the diabolic stare in “Thérèse Raquin.” Zola’s own favourite was Minouche of “La Joie de Vivre,” a little white cat with delicate airs, whose tail twitched with disgust at the sight of mud, but who nevertheless ventured four times a year into the soft mud of the brooks. Zola was an ardent ailurophile and there were always several cats at Médan.   9
  In that inconceivably stupid, pretentious, highfalutin, and altogether reprehensible bundle of nonsense called “Eugene Aram,” Bulwer-Lytton has drawn an extraordinarily life-like picture of a cat. As every human character in the book is made of wax, or wood, or sand, and as cats are infinitely more difficult to individualize and describe than men, this feat must be set down as one of some importance. Jacobina, for so is the grimalkin called, belongs to Corporal Bunting, whom she loves with a unique devotion, which, of course, is returned, for cats only display this emotion when it is richly deserved. Corporal Bunting calls her “daughter, wife, friend,” and the brindled Jacobina rubs her sides against his leg and purrs.  10
  Under the tutelage of the corporal she had become a remarkable animal, learning to fetch and carry, to turn over head and tail like a tumbler, to run up his shoulder, “to fly as if she were mad at any one upon whom the corporal saw fit to set her; and, above all, to rob larders, shelves, and tables, and bring the produce to the corporal, who never failed to consider such stray waifs lawful manorial acquisitions. These little feline cultivations of talent, however delightful to the corporal, had, nevertheless, rendered the corporal’s cat a proverb and byword in the neighbourhood. Never was a cat in such bad odour; and the dislike in which it was held was wonderfully increased by terror,—for the creature was signally large and robust, and withal of so courageous a temper, that if you attempted to resist its invasion of your property it forthwith sat up its back, put down its ears, opened its mouth, and bade you fully comprehend that what it feloniously seized it could gallantly defend.… Various deputations had, from time to time, arrived at the corporal’s cottage requesting the death, expulsion, or perpetual imprisonment of the favourite. But the stout corporal received them gruffly, and the cat went on waxing in size and wickedness, and baffling, as if inspired by the devil, the various gins and traps set for its destruction.”  11
  Miss Repplier relates an anecdote of a Southern gentleman who brought suit in a court of law against his next-door neighbour for alienating the affections of his cat. The testimony declared that a certain maltese puss was the plaintiff’s sole companion who spent her evenings devotedly by the side of her master. This happy life was broken into by the advent of a widow who rented the adjoining house and garden. Puss visited the new neighbour and was welcomed. Soon she began to pass her days there, but the gentleman overlooked this as he was away until sundown and only began to miss his cat when dinner time arrived. A little later, however, the fickle maltese stayed away at night, and when brought back by force, sulked and glowered in corners until she could again escape. The widow declared in court that an intelligent cat had the right to choose her own friends and surroundings and, however the suit ended, one may be sure that the cat continued to exercise her own preferences.  12
  In his very amusing “Zut,” the talented Guy Wetmore Carryl has related a similar story, the story of a cat who lived in the épicerie of Jean-Baptiste Caille in the Avenue de la Grande Armée in Paris. Zut was “a white Angora cat of surpassing beauty and prodigious size. She had come into Alexandrine’s possession as a kitten, and, what with much eating and an inherent dislike for exercise, had attained her present proportions and her superb air of unconcern. It was from the latter that she derived her name, the which, in Parisian argot, at once means everything and nothing, but is chiefly taken to signify complete and magnificent indifference to all things mundane and material: and in the matter of indifference Zut was past-mistress. Even for Madame Caille herself, who fed her with the choicest morsels from her own plate, brushed her fine fur with excessive care, and addressed caressing remarks to her at minute intervals throughout the day, Zut manifested a lack of interest that amounted to contempt. As she basked in the warm sun at the shop door, the round face of her mistress beamed upon her from the little desk, and the voice of her mistress sent fulsome flattery winging towards her on the heavy air. Was she beautiful, mon Dieu! In effect all that one could dream of the most beautiful! And her eyes, a blue like the heaven, were they not wise and calm? Mon Dieu, yes! It was a cat among thousands, a mimi almost divine.” Now Madame Alexandrine Caille bore a rich resentment against Espérance Sergeot and her husband, the proprietors of the very smart hair-dressing shop immediately adjoining the grocery, and this resentment was increased when one day she perceived Zut sitting in the doorway of this shop. Zut had been allured and fascinated by the sweet odours, the mirrors, the soft cushions, and when Espérance fed her cream and fish, she capitulated and purred as she had not been in the habit of purring for Alexandrine. Her mistress tore puss away from this life of shameless luxury but Zut returned and bore kittens at the hair-dresser’s. Now on this point the Parisian law is explicit: kittens belong to the owner of the premises on which they are littered; the owner of the cat has no standing in the matter. Zut was delivered of one pure white kitten, while the rest were “any other colour,” mottled types. Espérance concludes the situation and the story by retaining the prize and sending Zut and the rest of her brood back to the grocery.  13
  Rudyard Kipling, dropping into an appropriate folklore style, has written a delicious story called, “The cat that walked by himself.” 6 We are told how the cave man and his woman persuaded the dog and the horse and the cow to give up their freedom in return for food and protection; but the cat made a bargain with the woman whereby he is offered milk and a place under the roof by the hearth in return for doing only what he cares to do and would do naturally if he were wild, play and catch mice. “The Cat keeps his side of the bargain. He will kill mice and he will be kind to babies when he is in the house, just so long as they do not pull his tail too hard. But when he has done that, and between times, he is the Cat that walks by himself, and all places are alike to him. Then he goes out to the Wet Wild Woods or up on the Wet Wild Trees or on the Wet Wild Roofs, waving his wild tail and walking by his wild lone.”  14
  Ambrose Bierce, too, curiously enough, approached the cat in the folklore spirit, writing about him in the fable form, and like the other fabulists somewhat paraphrased those who have gone before him. His three feline fables 7 are short enough so that I can give them complete.  15
 
  “A cat was looking at a King, as permitted by the proverb.  16
  “‘Well,’ said the Monarch, observing her inspection of the royal person, ‘how do you like me?’  17
  “‘I can imagine a King,’ said the Cat, ‘whom I should like better.’  18
  “‘For example?’  19
  “‘The King of the Mice.’  20
  “The sovereign was so pleased with the wit of the reply that he gave her permission to scratch his Prime Minister’s eyes out.”  21
 
  “A Cat fell in love with a handsome Young Man, and entreated Venus to change her into a woman.  22
  “‘I should think,’ said Venus, ‘you might make so trifling a change without bothering me. However, be a woman.’  23
  “Afterward, wishing to see if the change were complete, Venus caused a mouse to approach, whereupon the woman shrieked and made such a show of herself that the Young Man would not marry her.”  24
 
  “Hearing that the Birds in an aviary were ill, a Cat went to them and said that he was a physician, and would cure them if they would let him in.  25
  “‘To what school of medicine do you belong?’ asked the Birds.  26
  “‘I am a Miaulopathist,” said the Cat.  27
  “‘Did you ever practice Gohomœopathy?’ the Birds inquired, winking faintly.  28
  “The Cat took the hint and his leave.”  29
  In “Blind Alley,” Mr. W. L. George has written a book about the effect of the war on an upper middle class English family. Every character in the story, save alone the cat, comes to the end of a blind alley as the result of the world conflict and Mr. George seems to imply that England and the world in general have come to the end of a blind alley too. But through the general agitation, prostration, sex excitement, stupidity, folly, worry, and anxiety of the book, calmly walks Kallikrates, the orange Persian cat. Now if Mr. George intended anything at all by this cat, and he must have intended a good deal because Kallikrates opens and closes the book and, along with an otherwise unmentioned creature named Russet, receives half the dedication, he intended to convey his superiority to any of the human beings about whom he has written. There is about this feline an abstraction from things real, a separation of spirit from matter, a meditativeness, which place him on a plane considerably higher than that of the human philosophy which occasionally for brief periods sustains the people of the book. “Kallikrates,” murmurs Sir Hugh, “If you were a man I don’t think you would have joined up.” … And again: “Ah! Kallikrates didn’t care. He went on purring, and drinking milk, and begging for toast. And when he wanted you he put an enormous paw, lined with orange velvet, upon your knee. And when he didn’t want you he just walked away, leaving behind him a trail of contempt. Oh! fortunate cat, aloof from all passions and all responsibilities, centre of his visible world, on whom no emotions are enjoined and that dwells on an Olympus below the crest of which loves and duties hang pale as clouds. Like a god, looking down without emotion or curiosity on little servant men.” Later, in the midst of war, Sir Hugh apostrophizes the superb feline eunuch: “‘Sultan! Debauchee! Don Juan! Casanova! Petronius! Demetrios! Marguerite of Navarre and Maria Monk! Thou dost contain all their sensuous souls, Oh, Kallikrates, lascivious and epicene! Is this not for thee a world of velvet and down, padded against all shocks, running with the milk of Canaan and the honey of Hymettus? When the last constellations faint and fall, as thine own Sussex poet says, thou shalt neither faint nor fall.’ He poked the cat suddenly in the ribs: ‘Get up! you fat yellow pig. Don’t you know that there’s a revolution going on in Russia? Don’t sit there, and purr, and be superior to such things. I’ll have no Plato in this house urging me to moderation and aloofness. What do you think I keep you for? Charity brat! Not to sit there like a sham Socrates, pleading by your inaction that life and death are the same thing.’ Kallikrates very slowly rose, yawned enormously, stretched and lay down again on his side, his rosy nose hidden between his hind paws. Alone, a watchful strip of yellow eye showed that he was ready to bite and claw if the sacred fur of his belly was touched. For a moment Sir Hugh thought only of his cat’s beauty. Then he came to regret that in the present times beauty should be so little cared for, so easily abandoned, when little mortals took to political agitation.” And at the end of the book we leave the delightful Kallikrates on Sir Hugh’s desk: “A long stare of his amber eyes assured him that nothing dangerous lay there. So slowly, cautiously, he sank down, one after the other folded the velvet gauntlets of his paws, composed his squat head into the sumptuous silk of his ruff. His eyelids began to droop, the watchful strip of gold below them grew less and less. He breathed louder; by degrees there purred forth from his throat the soft song that conceals neither joy, nor pain, nor hope, but is all content, uncritical and faith eternal in the permanence of aloof good things in an unchanging world.”  30
  In many novels the cat has appeared as a domestic accessory, a necessity of the fireside; in others he has played a part in the drama, lived his little life, or died his little death, but, for the first time, in “Blind Alley” he emerges as a critic and philosopher, and a true superior to man.  31


Note 1.  Samuel Butler was inspired when he wrote these lines in his note-book. Out of every ten names sent in for registry with the Cat Fanciers’ Federation nine are returned because they have already been used. The lack of imagination or invention most people display in christening pussies is almost beyond credence. [back]
Note 2.  In nightmare in oppression and suffocation are felt and one’s fancy immediately conjured up a spectre to lie on one’s bosom. Scott writes of a man dying, first affliction by the vision of a large cat which came and disappeared he could not tell exactly how, but the man liked cats and became almost indifferent to the spectre until it turned into a gentleman-usher dressed “as if to wait upon a Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, a Lord High Commissioner of the Kirk, or any other who bears on his brow the rank and stamp of delegated sovereignty.” The hallucination finally took the form of a skeleton, and the patient died under the effects of this visitation. “Demonology and Witchcraft,” P. 30. [back]
Note 3.  “Le Livre de la Pitié et de la Mort.” [back]
Note 4.  This description is proof that Huysmans was well acquainted with cats, if any such proof were needed. A cat is never able to locate pain. If his foot hurts he will yowl if you touch his breast. [back]
Note 5.  “Vie Privée et Publique des Animaux.” [back]
Note 6.  “Just So Stories.” [back]
Note 7.  “Fantastic Fables”; G. P. Putnam’s Sons; 1899. [back]

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