Carl Van Vechten (18801964). The Tiger in the House. 1922.
Treating of Traits
NOW that I have, perhaps, convinced the reader that cats have character, it is time to assert with equal positiveness that cats have characteristics. No cat-lover would be willing to deny this, for the characteristics of the cat are what make her generally beloved. Many of these traits are born of feral habits, hundreds and even thousands of years old. The dog is an animal who in the wild state travels in packs; he follows his leader in hunting expeditions. In the domestic state he transfers this allegiance from his leader to his master, for man is literally the master of the dog, as he is of the horse and the ass, and as he has been of the maid-servant. The cat on the other hand, in the wild state hunted and lived alone; he retains the independent habits of such a condition. Observe, for instance, a dog eating: if a man or another dog approaches him he will growl. He has a racial memory of fighting for the best food and it is his instinct to bolt it down before it can be taken away from him. A cat, ordinarily (there are exceptions, as I have previously pointed out), displays no such trepidation. Accustomed as a wild animal to eating alone in tranquillity, as a domestic he usually eats slowly and with decorum, having no instinctive fear that his food will be stolen.
Similarly a cats regard for his person is acutely traceable to a memory of life in the forest and plain. A cat does not chase his prey as a dog does; he can run swiftly for a short distance, but running is not his specialty. He lies in wait for his quarry and pounces upon it suddenly. Now some of the animals of which the cat is most fond for food, notably the mouse, have a keener sense of smell than their enemy; it is therefore essential for the good mouser to be devoid of odour. Consequently he washes and rewashes his fur and trims his whiskers to the last speck. The love of dress is very marked in this attractive animal, writes Champfleury; he is proud of the lustre of his coat, and cannot endure that a hair of it shall lie the wrong way. When the cat has eaten, he passes his tongue several times over both sides of his jaws, and his whiskers, in order to clean them thoroughly; he keeps his coat clean with a prickly tongue which fulfills the office of a curry-comb; but as, notwithstanding its suppleness, it is difficult for the cat to reach the upper part of his head with the tongue; he makes use of his paw, moistened with saliva, to polish that portion. Hippolyte Taine has written a charming description of the operation:
His tongue is sponge, and brush, and towel, and curry-comb,
Well he knows what work it can be made to do,
Poor little wash-rag, smaller than my thumb.
His nose touches his back, touches his hind paws too,
Every patch of fur is raked, and scraped, and smoothed;
What more has Goethe done, what more could Voltaire do?
A similar instinct induces the cat to bury his offal, an instinct which leads him to do a deal of scratching in the domestic pan.
Louis Robinson1 has expressed an interesting and credible theory to the effect that even the cats colouring and the habit of hissing or spitting are protective mimicry. The most aggressive enemy of the cat in the wild state is the eagle. Now it is known that all animals (save perhaps the cat!) fear snakes. Tabby markings are the most common coloration in felines. If you observe a tabby cat rolled up asleep with his head in the centre of the coil you may note that he bears a very fair resemblance to a coiled serpent, quite enough resemblance to deceive an eagle in the air. Again, suppose a cat has concealed her kittens in a hollow tree. At the approach of an enemy they begin to spit, and this spitting sounds very much like the hissing of a snake. No fox will stick his nose into the dark hollow of a tree from which hisses are ejected.
The cat is an anarchist, while the dog is a socialist. He is an aristocratic, tyrannical anarchist, at that.
So Tiberius might have sat,
Had Tiberius been a cat,
wrote Matthew Arnold in a moment of wise inspiration. He prefers delicate textures, rich foods, and the best of everything.2 It is necessary to say that if the cat holds a big place in the household it is not alone by his graces of spoiled child, his loving calineries, and the seductive abandon of his lovely indolence; more than anything it is because he demands so much. His personality is strong, his awakenings and his wishes impatient. He refuses to wait. Under his supple grace his gesture is one of insistence and command. You defend yourself in vain, he is master and you yield. Thus has written Madame Michelet,3 of whom her husband, the good Jules, once retorted to her boast that she had owned a hundred cats, Rather a hundred cats have owned you! A writer in the Spectator4 describes a typical cat: We have seen a tabby with a black muzzle who, for cold, calculated, and yet perfectly well-bred insolence, could have given points to a spiteful dowager duchess whose daughter-in-law wasnt one of us, you know. The heartless and deliberate rudeness of that cats behaviour on occasion would, had she been a man, have unquestionably justified shooting at sight. The courtiers in the most slavish palace in the East would have rebelled had they received the treatment she meted out daily to those who waited on her hand and foot. After a devoted admirer had hunted breathless and bare-headed over a large garden, and under a blazing July sun, lest puss should lose her dinner, and had at last brought her into the dining-room in his arms, that cat, instead of showing gratitude, and instead of running with pleasure to the plate prepared for her, has been known to sit bolt upright at the other end of the room, regarding the whole table with a look of undisguised contempt, her eyes superciliously half-shut and a tiny speck of red tongue protruding between her teeth. If the thing had not been so exceedingly well done it would have been simply vulgar; as it was it amounted to the most exasperating form of genteel brutality imaginable. The company having been at last thoroughly stared out of countenance and put down by this monstrous exhibition of intentional rudeness, the cat in question slowly rose to her feet, and digging her claws well into the carpet, stretched and balanced herself, while yawning at the same time with lazy self-satisfaction. After this she proceeded by the most circuitous route obtainable to the plate put before her, evidently intending it to be clearly understood that she held its presence under the side-board to be due in some way or other to her own skill and forethought, and that she in no sense regarded herself as beholden to any other person. The cat is the only animal that lives with man on terms of equality, nay superiority. He willingly domesticates himself but on his own conditions and never gives up his complete liberty no matter how closely he is confined. He preserves his independence in this unequal struggle even at the cost of his life. A common tom cat, living on the domestic hearth, on the best of footings with the family, visits the rooftops and the fences, becomes a leading figure at prize-fights, negotiates his amours on a lavish scale, and otherwise conducts himself when he is away from the house exactly as he would in the incult state. Indeed, when he is thrown on his own resources, as frequently happens both in town and country, he is perfectly capable of taking care of himself and adjusts himself to the new conditions without a moments hesitation. This characteristic is admirably illustrated in a story by Charles G. D. Roberts,5 a story founded on a true incident. A dog in a similar predicament would be entirely helpless; the dog, indeed, in submitting to slavery, has entirely lost the power to take care of himself when occasion arises.
It has amused Mr. Booth Tarkington, and his readers will share this jocund emotion, to paint a picture of such a cat,6 a prodigious lanky beast who has forsaken the comforts of the fireside and the affections of a little girl for the pleasures of wild life and the chase. He had been a roly-poly, pepper-and-salt kitten, named Gipsy, a name to which in his subsequent career he gave real meaning. Early in youth he began to dissipate and was wont to join rowdy alley cats in their midnight maraudings. His taste for a fast life increased with age and one night, carrying the evening beefsteak with him, he joined the underworld.
His extraordinary size, his daring, and his utter lack of sympathy soon made him the leaderand, at the same time, the terrorof all the loose-lived cats in a wide neighbourhood. He contracted no friendships and had no confidents. He seldom slept in the same place twice in succession, and though he was wanted by the police, he was not found. In appearance he did not lack distinction of an ominous sort; the slow, rhythmic, perfectly controlled mechanism of his tail, as he impressively walked abroad, was incomparably sinister. This stately and dangerous walk of his, his long, vibrant whiskers, his scars, his yellow eye, so ice-cold, so fire-hot, haughty as the eye of Satan, gave him the deadly air of a mousquetaire duelist. His soul was in that walk and in that eye; it could be readthe soul of a bravo of fortune, living on his wits and his valour, asking no favours and granting no quarter. Intolerant, proud, sullen, yet watchful and constantly planningpurely a militarist, believing in slaughter as in religion, and confident that art, science, poetry, and the good of the world were happily advanced therebyGipsy had become, though technically not a wild cat, undoubtedly the most untamed cat at large in the civilized world.
The cat whose portrait Mr. Tarkington has painted in these few brilliant strokes, discovers the back-bone of a three-pound white-fish lying within a few inches of the nose of Penrods old dog, Duke, and Duke awakens to the terrifying spectacle of the cat, bearing the fishbone in his horrid jaws. Out from one side of his head, and mingling with his whiskers, projected the long, spiked spine of the big fish; down from the other side of that ferocious head dangled the fishs tail, and from above the remarkable effect thus produced shot the intolerable glare of two yellow eyes. To the gaze of Duke, still blurred by slumber, this monstrosity was all of one piecethe bone seemed a living part of it. Duke gave a shriek of terror and the massacre began. Gipsy, too, sounded his warcry, the subterranean diapason of a demoniac bass viol. Then, never releasing the fishbone for an instant, he laid back his ears in a chilling way, beginning to shrink into himself like a concertina, but rising amidships so high that he appeared to be giving an imitation of that peaceful beast, the dromedary. Such was not his purpose, however, for having attained his greatest possible altitude, he partially sat down and elevated his right arm after the manner of a semaphore. This semaphore arm remained rigid for a second, threatening; then it vibrated with inconceivable rapidity, feinting. But it was the treacherous left that did the work. Seemingly this left gave Duke three lightning little pats upon the left ear, but the change in his voice indicated that these were no love-taps. He yelled, help! and bloody murder! Gipsy possessed a vocabulary for cat-swearing certainly second to none out of Italy, and probably equal to the best there. Presently, this time with his right paw, he drew blood from Dukes nose, but on the approach of Penrod he saw fit to retire, not out of fear, Mr. Tarkington explains, but probably because he could not spit without dropping the fishbone, and, as all cats of the slightest pretensions to technique perfectly understand, this can neither be well done nor produce the best effects unless the mouth be opened to its utmost capacity so as to expose the beginnings of the alimentary canal.
Gipsy should not be regarded as a curious exception in the feline world. The cat, indeed, is the only animal without visible means of support who still manages to find a living in the city. I do not mean to say that all cats do. Both in the city and in the country cats without homes, are even cats with homes, are largely at the mercy of a great many enemies, both aggressive and accidental. The wicked small boy, the automobile, the dog, the tram-car, the rabbit-trap, all quickly put an end to many superfluous pussies lives, but it is equally certain that the number of apparently unprovided-for cats who live wild lives in both city and country is very large indeed. Some of the males become enormous, fat and sleek, living on the contents of stray ashcans, occasionally stealing better food through an open window, catching mice in warehouses and sparrows in parks. Even the females manage somehow not only to care for themselves but also to bring up families.7 Water alone is sometimes difficult or impossible to procure, but cats can do without water for several days, the blood automatically thickening. One very hot August Sunday afternoon walking up Fifth Avenue I observed a large orange tabby tom rubbing himself against a hydrant and mewing. I stopped to speak with him, as is my custom with cats, when an Irish policeman approached. I believe he wants a drink, suggested this very intelligent officer. Hes noticed that water sometimes comes from that hydrant. I think you are right, I replied. Lets get him one. Now a cat will not take an excursion merely because a man wants a walking companion. Walking is a human habit into which dogs readily fall but it is a distasteful form of exercise to a cat unless he has a purpose in view. I have never known a cat with a purpose in view to refuse a walk. This case was no exception. The orange tabby was a complete stranger to both the policeman and myself and yet when we suggested a little drink he walked peaceably a little way behind us as we strolled down Fifth Avenue. I think Page and Shaws is open, said the policeman. Now Page and Shaws was three blocks below the hydrant and yet that cat followed at our heels. When we arrived at the shop I asked Tom to sit down for a moment; the policeman went in and presently emerged with a paper cup full of water. Tom drank every bit of this and then asked for more. He had another cup. Then, having no further use for us, without a word or gesture he trotted off.
An ingenious friend of Louis Robinson suggested to him that cats may look upon man as a kind of locomotive tree, pleasant to rub against, the lower limbs of which afford a comfortable seat, and from whose upper branches occasionally drop tid-bits of mutton and other luscious fruit.8 There is a good deal to be said for this theory. However cats have been known to give a more complete affection. Most cats are ready with very friendly morning greetings but there is even a certain reserve in these attentions, a reserve which increases as the day lengthens. There is none of the excessive cataglottism indulged in by canines. Cats only give affection where it is deserved, except sometimes through sheer perversity when they annoy an ailurophobe with their attentions. Return good for evil is not in the cats book of rules. To a person deserving of their friendship, however, they occasionally pour out a really deep and beautiful affection. This is slow in growing and may be easily interrupted. Cats will not tolerate rough handling, beating, or teasing. They dislike exceedingly to be laughed at. A seeker of a cats affection must therefore proceed with care; in time he may receive some of the benefits due him, but, if he offends his cat friend, the work of the past is all undone. Cats seldom make mistakes and they never make the same mistake twice. How stupid a cat must think a human being who is constantly repeating the same errors! A cat can be duped but once in his life9 as there is plenty of proverbial evidence to prove. The celebrated affair of the cat and the chestnuts is the only historic or fabulous occasion on which the cat has been fooled.
Cats can be, most of them are, very cruel, but I think that George J. Romaness10 assumption that they torture mice simply for tortures sake is wholly unjustifiable. Occasionally this may be true. The Reverend J. G. Woods remarkable cat, Pret, had a habit of carrying his trembling and terrified mouse quite alive to the very top of the five-storey house in which she resided and then dropping it down the well in the centre of the circular staircase and watching results with eager eyes from between the banisters.11 But the fact remains that if a cat is going to keep himself in any kind of hunting condition a certain amount of practice is necessary and practice on a live animal is better practice than practice with a ball or a piece of paper with which the kitten takes his first lessons in pouncing on prey.12 Some mother cats, indeed, have been known to keep hunting preserves of slightly wounded animals, released on occasion for their kittens to play with. This instinct, too, accounts for the seemingly needless slaughter indulged in by some cat-hunters, who kill and bring in eight or ten times as much game as they consume. It may also be true that some cats carry the love of hunting far beyond necessity; there is reason to suppose, indeed, that some cats love hunting as much as Theodore Roosevelt loved it, and why, in the name of all that is just, should they not love it? There are those who protest against the killing of wild life by cats who see no evil in leading tame lambs and calves to the slaughter, who enjoy eating lobsters that have been boiled alive, who wear on their hats aigrettes torn from the breasts of live nesting birds, who send cows on long sickening ocean journeys crowded so closely together that they can scarcely lie down, or pack chickens in crates so tightly that they cannot move. People who go fox-hunting three times a week in the season object to a cat torturing a mouse.13 Even owners of factories employing child labour and dramatic critics have told me that cats are cruel. Now a cat, like a man, is a carnivorous animal; he is even more so than a man, for a healthy cat must have animal food while a healthy man (vide Bernard Shaw) may subsist entirely on fruits and nuts. He is therefore following a natural instinct in killing birds and mice and he is keeping himself in training when he subjects his captures to a certain amount of torture. But cats resemble tigers? They are tigers in miniature? Well,and very pretty miniatures they are, writes Leigh Hunt. And what has the tiger himself done, that he has not a right to eat his dinner, as well as Jones? Deprive Jones of his dinner for a day or two and see what a state he will be in. Of course, one may bell the cat, which simply means to tie a loud sounding bell around pusss neck. Then as he runs or springs the bell warns the bird to fly away. Unfortunately for the success of this expedient an intelligent cat who is also an obstinate hunter will soon learn to hold the bell under his chin in such a manner that it will not ring.
Cats, of course, are determined fighters, but these fights are like the romantic combats of chivalry, or the brabbles of the apaches of modern Paris: they are broils over the female of the species. For the cat is a great lover. The amount of amorous instinct in a healthy full-grown tom can scarcely be overestimated. And any attempt at holding this instinct in check, short of castration, is usually frustrated. As Remy de Gourmont has pointed out, chastity is a quixotic ideal towards which only man in the animal kingdom strives. It is impossible even to keep a silky Angora, whose ancestors have all been housebred, sequestered for any length of time unless he has become a neuter. Any one who tries it will be delighted, after a week or so, to let tom have his own way.14 But it has become the general custom, except for those who keep kings for breeding purposes, to alter these toms, so that they grow into large, affectionate, and lazy animals, who sleep a good deal, eat a good deal, and are generally picturesque but not very active. These altered toms are generally the favourites as pets. Personally I am more interested in cats who retain their natural fervour.
The females fight occasionally, especially in the protection of their young, and when they are calling15 (so their period of heat is poetically and literally described, for it is marked by little amorous coos, almost like the tender sighs of an eighteenth century lover), with an effrontery born of desire, they bite the males in the throat, usually with satisfactory results. The males are formidable fighters both with their own species and with other animals. They do not usually fight dogs unless they are driven into corners but cats have been known to gratuitously attack dogs. Their sharp claws and their supple joints, kept constantly in condition by applying the claws to a tree or a chair or a table or a rug and pulling and stretching, are very effective in warfare, an effectiveness that is increased by powerful jaws and sharp teeth. It is the habit of the cat when fighting to lie on his back, if possible, thus bringing all his best talents into full play and protecting his spine, his most vulnerable spot. When a cat attacks a dog he usually jumps on the dogs back and is able to cling and at the same time tear at the beasts head and eyes. Nature, ironic, as usual, allows the eagle this procedure with the cat. Cats frequently emerge unscathed from the most bloody frays, save for a torn ear or a scarred tail, for the skin of the feline is so loose that it can be pulled almost half way around the body without tearing and the lateral movements of the head, while not as extensive as those of the owl, are nevertheless considerable.
When the cat is fighting or in danger, he usually emits the most blood-curdling yowls; why, is a mystery, for these are not calls for assistance as the animal fighting in the wild state is usually alone and in no case can he depend on receiving help from others of his kind. These yowls may very well be battle cries, like the fife and drum corps of the army, to keep up the morale! When a cat is beaten or mistreated, however, he never cries, although he may growl or spit.
Cats dread death terribly, writes Andrew Lang. I had a nefarious old cat, Gyp, who used to open the cupboard door and eat any biscuits accessible. Gyp had a stroke of paralysis, and believed he was going to die. He was in a fright: Mr. Horace Hutchinson observed him and said that this cat justly entertained the most Calvinistic apprehensions of his future reward. Gyp was nursed back into health, as was proved when we found him on the roof of an outhouse with a cold chicken in his possession. Nothing could be more human.
The cat has been called a thief. To be sure, he has no respect whatever for other peoples property, although he can be taught to keep off a dinner-table while he is being watched. It is easier to teach a cat not to do things than to do them. When he is left alone, however, it is best to lock up the fish and the cream. There are proverbs to this effect and they have the ring of truth. Ariel used to hide spools, keys, pens, pencils, and scissors under rugs. She saw no more reason why she should not make such booty her own than the early settlers of America saw any reason why they should not convert aboriginal property to their uses. These early settlers looked upon the Indians as inferiors who had no rights, and the cat looks upon man in the same way.
But Walt Whitman was wrong when he said of the animals, not one is demented with the mania of owning things. As far as their own property is concerned cats have a very definite sense of property rights, rights, however, which they protect themselves; they never call in the police or the militia. Evidence of this trait is very easy to collect. All cats understand it thoroughly, so thoroughly, indeed, that only a very hungry or a very daring cat will attempt to slink through an open door into the home of another cat. In case he does so he proceeds warily and if he goes very far there is usually a scrimmage. A scene of this kind is frequently very comic. The master of the hearth crouches very low watching every move of the intruder while his hair begins to bristle. The stranger enters obliquely and appears to be unconscious of the presence of the cat who belongs in the house. Usually a few warning spits and passes of the paw from the insulted householder terrify the interloper into taking his departure. Occasionally, however, cats with charitable instincts bring in stray animals to share their food. I have already mentioned Gautiers Enjolras. I have been told of a tramp cat, fed once at a farm-house, who returned the next day with twenty-nine of his friends! But such interest in outsiders is rare in felines; they have been accustomed to rule over their solitary hunting ground in the wild state and the instinct survives.
Persian cats share it. Not long ago I brought home a little orange kitten as gentle and sweet as possible, a little model of quaint dignity and grace. The annoyance and anger of my Feathers, the established queen of the household, showed itself immediately with sundry growls and spits. A dog will almost always exhibit signs of jealousy in the presence of a newcomer, but this emotion was downright rage. Rage that any one should dare attempt to usurp a part of her life, share her food, sit on her cushions, slink into her places in the sun. So, with that persistent patience which is as effective as inquisitional methods, Feathers set about converting me to the idea the that thing was impossible. For three days she made the kittens life a grievous burden. Did the kitten try to sleep, Feathers bit his tail; was he awake, Feathers would stare at him disconcertingly, then with a bound over his back light on the other side, a terrifying procedure punctuated with a growl and a spit, calculated to send chills down stouter spines. She followed the kitten from room to room, never permitting him peace or quiet or any assurance of a foothold in the apartment. More than this, Feathers altered completely in her relations with me. Ordinarily a gentle cat, during the kittens brief sojourn she never permitted me to pick her up or to become familiar with her in any way. She bit, she scratched, she arched her back, and she bristled her hairs. Indeed I never went near her during those three days without being spit at. Hectic home life is something I do not crave; I bowed to the inevitable and bore the orange kitten away. Immediately Feathers became all smiles and caresses, a changed and delighted being.16
This quality in cats, this incessant potentiality of a return to feral conditions, is very puzzling to those who have no feeling for or understanding of these animals. It is usually called bad temper and out of it has grown the legend that you cannot trust cats. As a matter of fact no animal is so sure to react in certain ways to certain phenomena as the cat.17 He is fond of his home and its surroundings, regards them with pride and delight. How would you, reader, care to have a stranger (of either sex) suddenly foisted on you to share your bed and board? Do you think it unreasonable for a cat to protest against so great an attack on personal liberty? You would not like it; neither does the cat. But the cat being more independent, more assertive, more liberty loving, than that sneaking cowardly animal called man, refuses absolutely to tolerate encroachments on his individuality. A man quite conceivably would put up with the inconvenience; in fact, often does.
This dual personality, with its lights and shades, is in a great measure an explanation of the great power of fascination the cat possess. There is always the possibility of a reversion to the wild state. The sight of a fly or a cockroach, a rat or a mouse, another cat or dog, will make a wild beast out of a tame animal in a quarter of a second. Moreover, if Fate and Nature so rule, it is entirely possible for the cat to live either existence for extended periods of time. And it must always be remembered that a cats relations with man, whom he usually regards with a certain amused contempt, are on an entirely different plane from his relations with cats or any other animals.
The cats love for places has been exaggerated by unintelligent persons, who are constantly making remarks about an animal that even the most intelligent of us does not begin to understand. This love of home is regarded as a highly moral and generally satisfactory trait in man, especially when it takes the general form of patriotism. But somehow it is entirely different for a cat to love his home; once he does so he is regarded with horror by the populace. The question, like that of the relative merits of cats and dogs, has become an international one and is invariably introduced as a subtopic in any lay conversation about cats. But the home, Madame Michelet18 points out, is often an assemblage of objects which belong to your habits, which are even you, yourself. The cat is essentially conservative in his habits. However it is less to the walls of the house that he clings than to a certain arrangement of objects, of furniture, which bear more than the house itself the trace of personality. So our actual life, our facility of locomotion, the varied circumstances and the inconstant tastes which render us today so fluid, are highly antipathetic to the cat. A poet in The Spectator has it:
The cat thinks what has been will be. As he waits for his prey he waits for his master. He learns all the ways of escape from danger in his house, finds his favourite chair to sleep in, his familiar nook to lurk in; he does not relinquish these sureties without a certain objection. Indeed in a case where a cat has not formed an attachment for any member of the family it seems absurd to ask him to give up these advantages. The cat becomes attached to his master when that one caresses him, feeds him, and loves him. But when he is largely ignored he becomes more attached to the house itself than he does to its inmates. Above all else it must be remembered that the cat loves order.
In A Story Tellers Holiday, George Moore tells how, wandering about the ruins of Dublin after the Irish rebellion, he discovered a broken wall to which a mantelpiece still clung. A plaintive miaw reached me, and a beautiful black Persian cat appeared by the fireplace. A cat is almost articulate, and Tom asked me to explain the meaning of all this ruin. He has found his old fireplace, I said, and tried to entice him; but, though pleased to see me, he would not be persuaded to leave what remained of the hearth on which he had spent so many pleasant hours, and pondering on his faithfulness and his beauty I continued my search among the ruins, meeting cats everywhere, all seeking their lost homes among the ashes and all unable to comprehend the misfortune that had befallen them. It is true that the cats suffer vaguely, but suffering is not less because it is vague, and it seemed to me that in the early ages of the world, shall we say twenty thousand years before Pompeii and Herculaneum, men groped and suffered blindly amid incomprehensible earthquakes seeking their lost homes, just like the cats in Henry Street. We are part and parcel of the same original substance, I said, and then my thoughts breaking off suddenly, I began to rejoice in Natures unexpectedness and fecundity. She is never commonplace in her stories, we have only to go to her to be original, I muttered, as I returned through the silent streets. I could have imagined everything else, the wall-paper, the overmantel, and the French clock, but not the cats seeking for their lost hearths, nor is it likely that Turgenieff could, Balzac still less.
But some cats have no aversion to moving. Some cats, indeed, move of their own accord as did Guy Wetmore Carryls capricious Zut, described further along in this volume. Andrew Lang felt that there was a mystic free-masonry, a sort of Rosicrucian brotherhood among cats, so strange are their movements, so inexplicable. It is possible that boredom is sometimes a motive for a peregrination. Monotony, writes Lindsay,19 as a factor of mental derangement in the lower animals, is closely associated with, and usually inseparable from, solitude and captivity. Other animals dislike monotonous lives and occupations as much as man does; they suffer as much as he from want of novelty and variety; they have the same desire for amusement; there is equal necessity in the case of many of them for relaxation on the one hand and pleasant excitement on the other. Sameness has a similar depressing influence on them as on man, whether this sameness be of scene, surroundings, air, or food. Persian cats, doomed usually to pass their lives in city apartments, go, of course, from one to the other without apparent discomfort or unhappiness. Occasionally a cat with a grand passion for a man will hunt him out. Pennant records that when the Earl of Southampton, the friend and companion of the Earl of Sussex in his fatal insurrection, was confined to the Tower of London, he was surprised by a visit from his favourite cat, who, it is said, obtained access to the Earl by descending the chimney of his apartment.
Animals are such friends; they ask no questions, they pass no criticism, wrote the unenlightened George Eliot somewhere or other. This is certainly not true of cats. An ordinary kitten will ask more questions than any five year old boy. He is the most catechismal of animals, with the possible exception of the monkey. Curiosity, indeed, is a predominant cat trait and a cats first duty on entering a new domain is to explore every square inch of it. He not only examines every corner of the house he lives in but investigates the country for miles around. Lane20 thinks this is the reason he can find his way back home when he has been carried away. Once this initiative ceremony is completed, the cat, in most instances, expresses his satisfaction by turning round and round and finally settling down to sleep. There is a superstition to the effect that if you butter or grease a cats feet after taking him to a new home he will not run away, and Ernest Thompson Seton has introduced a reference to it in his story, The Slum Cat.21 The basis of the superstition is the fact that a cat will wash himself directly you put grease on his paws and that almost always after washing, a cat will fall asleep and that if you can get a cat to sleep in a place it is pretty safe to say that he will be satisfied to remain there. Curiosity, of course, is an instinct taken over from the wild state, in which exploration was dangerous but necessary and it has been ingeniously explained that a cat circles round and round before lying down because he dimly remembers that he is treading a lair out of the tall grass. Curiosity in a cat, however, goes further than mere protective instinct. No box, no package, no paper bag ever enters my door that Feathers does not examine it, and this is no rare quality but one which is generally distributed. Any new box, any open drawer serves as a new place to nap in. Cats, however, can seldom be induced to eat from the hand, and then only with great reluctance, hesitation, and delicacy, so exactly are curiosity and caution balanced in the feline mind. They also sniff at objects, but one smell is enough. They do not return for reassurance. There are those who assert that the sense of smell in a cat is not highly developed.22 I think myself that it is largely superseded by a highly charged electrical nervous system and by the senses of sight, hearing, and touch.23 Madame Michelet24 decided that the sense of smell in a kitten was more highly developed than in the grown cat. She was able to awaken kittens by putting milk under their noses. The same experiment with older cats did not prove successful.
It has long been a favourite contention of mine that nothing is more ephemeral than science; no books are sooner ready for the garret or the waste-basket than serious books. When a serious book has an artistic value, such as a book by Nietzsche, for instance, the case is altered but the ordinary professors or scientists profound discoveries are absolutely worthless in a few years. They serve, indeed, only to indicate the quaint fluctuations, the ebb and flow, of human thought. The first to admit this is the scientist himself, who tells you that you must work only along the lines of the latest discoveries. Now these latest discoveries are usually ideas that have been filched from some philosopher, black magician, or monk who lived in the neolithic age. The mediaeval grimoires are probably unworked gold mines of new thought. Freud is foreshadowed in eighteenth century philosophy; even Christian Science is not new. You can find the germ of almost every science or philosophy in Aristotle, Paracelsus, or Mesmer. Alchemists were familiar with laws which scientists have recently rediscovered. Aristeus, the philosophical alchemist, is said to have delivered to his disciples what he termed the golden key of the Great Work, which had the power of rendering all metals diaphanous. Yet I have never heard Aristeus described as the inventor of the X Ray. There are few today who would attempt to duplicate the engineering feats of the Egyptians.
Men who devote their lives to science usually have no sense of humour. They are often asses. A. G. Mayer, according to John Burroughs, has proved conclusively that the promethea moth has no colour sense. The male of this moth has blackish wings and the female reddish brown. Mayer caused the two sexes to change colours; he glued the wings of the male to the female and vice versa and found that they mated just the same! Well, Professor Mayer could have arrived at the same brilliant conclusion if he had painted a yellow tom cat black and a cream queen green. There is a certain little reason by which a female can distinguish a male but no scientist would ever think of that. Serious scientific works, therefore, may be regarded as generally negligible, in the first place because it is impossible to approximate truth by rushing blindly in one direction, closing out all distracting sights and sounds, no matter how strongly they bear on the subject, in the second place because there is no such thing as truth. Any mystic philosopher can feel more than a scientist can ever learn.
There have been sects of somatists who do not believe that the cat is endowed with a soul. But this discussion has gone out of fashion because man is no longer very much interested in the soul. It is now the part of smart scientific conversation to talk more above the brain. During the nineteenth century many scientists, psychologists, natural historians, zoologists, and the like, have devoted their entire time to the consideration of the problem as to whether or no animals think. Darwin, of course, for the sake of his evolutionary theory, warmly espoused the cause of thinking brutes, and Romanes and others have followed him in this direction. Other men of more or less importance have disagreed and talk about instinct, etc. A whole literature of neglected and contradictory books has grown up on the subject and I imagine anything written before the hour of midnight of the morning on which you are reading these pages would be considered entirely worthless in any self-respecting professors class-room. Il ny a pas un de ces livres qui nen démente un autre, remarks the supremely sagacious Sylvestre Bonnard, en sorte que, quand on les connaît tous, on ne sait que penser. Elsewhere I have given a short bibliography of the subject and you may take a melancholy pleasure in perusing some of the arguments pro and con.
The worthy John Burroughs25 informs us that when he hears an animal laugh he will believe in his reason. Man, he says, can be reached through his mind, an animal only through his senses. The whole secret of the training of wild animals is to form new habits in them. Any army captain will inform Mr. Burroughs that this is the whole secret of training men. There are others who will contradict Mr. Burroughs. There is really nothing so primitive, even so animal as reason, writes Havelock Ellis.26 It may plausibly, however unsoundly, be maintained that it is by his emotions, not by his reason, that man differs most from the beasts. My cat, says Unamuno, who takes this view in his new book, Del sentimiento tragico de la vida, never laughs or cries; he is always reasoning.
Mr. Burroughs also decided that animals cannot think because they have no language and that you cannot think without language. But have they not? The vocal language of cats is extraordinarily complete as I shall show in a later chapter. This is complemented by a gesture language which can, of course, only be completely understood by other cats. There is, for instance, the language of the tail The cat with a tail raised high like a banner is a satisfied, contented, healthy, and proud cat. A tail carried horizontally indicates stealth or terror. A tail curled under the body is a signal of fear. The cat waves his tail from side to side when he is dissatisfied, annoyed, or angry; in rage he extends it with the fur distended. He lashes it as a preparation for battle and he twitches it when he is amused or pleased. And cats sometimes use their tails, as women use boas or muffs, as a means of keeping warm.
The variety of ways in which a cat uses his paw is even greater. Lindsay27 gives us a catalogue: The cat not infrequently uses its paw to touch or tap its masters shoulder when it desires to attract his notice (Animal World). A pet cat sitting at a carriage window, when anything passing takes her fancy, puts her paw on my chest, says her mistress, and makes a pretty little noise, as though asking me if I had seen it also. Another laid her paw on the lips of a lady who had a distressing cough every time she coughed, in evidence possibly of pity, possibly in order to the physical suppression of the cough by the closure of the aperture by which alone it could find vent (Wood).28 A third cat touched with her paw the lips of those who whistled a tune, as if pleased with the sound (Wood). Cats cuff each other or their youngthat is, they give blows, and so punish or administer rebuke to some unruly or troublesome kittenwith their paws. They also warm their paws before a fire and use them for shading the face either from the fire or the sun (Animal World). We are told of a cat frequently patting the nose of a companion horse. It is well known that our domestic cats are in the habit of washing their faces by means of their paws by which means also they brush and clean their foreheads and eyes. The cat uses its forepaw too in touching or testing objectsto ascertain, for instance, their hardness or other qualities (Percy Anecdotes), or to measure the quantity or discover the level of the fluids certain vessels may contain. Thus a cat, when wishing to drink water from a jug, used its paw to ascertain if it was full enough (Animal World). It takes milk from a narrow milk-pot by inserting its paw, curling it for removal when saturated with milk, and then licking it (Wood). In a Birmingham burglary case, heard at the Warwick Assizes in March 1877, the prosecutor deposed that he was awakened by his cat patting his face, puss having discovered the burglars rummaging his bedroom. (Inverness Courier, March 29, 1877). It might be added that the cat frequently scratches to attract attention. It would also be possible to enumerate countless ways in which the cat uses his head, his eyes, and even his fur for purposes of conversation.
Professor Edward L. Thorndike undertook to make some exceedingly ingenious and involved experiments with cats and other animals and he has written a book29 about them. His experiments with cats were made with puzzle boxes. Cats which had been starved for a considerable period were shut in boxes over which food was placed. Now there were numerous more or less complicated ways of opening these boxes from within. The problem was to see how long it would take a cat to open his box and reach the food. From the results the professor drew his absolutely valueless conclusions. If the cats did not find the doctors boxes adapertile this is no starting point on which to found a system of animal psychology. The experiment seems to me entirely analogous to that of putting a hungry and terrified Cherokee Indian into a Rolls-Royce and asking him, in a strange language, to run it if he wants his dinner.
One of the favourite arguments of the instinct-pushers educes the fact that cats, accustomed to bury dung in the wild state, will go through the motions of digging up earth on a marble or wooden floor, an instinctive memory of an act no longer necessary, and therefore unworthy of a being who thinks. Now this sort of thing can be knocked over by an idiot baby with one blue eye and one black one. Why, for instance, do you still shake hands? All reason for doing so, the assurance that your friend and you carry no weapons, has passed away, and yet the stupid instinct survives. With the cat there is cause for the survival. Nature is well aware that he may be forced through circumstances or desire to again lead the wild life; when this happens he is prepared to conceal all evidence of his whereabouts from his enemies.
Other scientists in claiming inferiority for the beasts, bring forward as an argument that they always do the same things, make the same movements, that they neither invent nor progress. The bee constructs the same receptacle for honey, the spider weaves the same web, and the barn swallow builds the same nest. All individual liberty and spontaneity seem to have been refused them. They appear to obey mechanical rhythms which are transmitted through the centuries. But who can say that these rhythms are not superior moral laws and if the beasts do not progress it is because they sprang perfect into the world and do not need to, while man gropes, searches, changes, destroys, and reconstructs without being able to find anything stable in intelligence, any end to his desire, any harmony to his form? It is well to remember, O Christian reader, that it was man that God ejected from Paradise and not the animals. Besides it is preposterous and stupid to content that animals have not freedom of thought, that they do not think, that they cannot solve individual problems.
Personally I am convinced that all these scientists, psychologists, etc., mean more or less the same thing; they are struggling more or less with the same idea, only they express it in dissimilar terms. One means instinct when he says intelligence and the other means intelligence when he says instinct. A very important system of philosophy, indeed, is based on the theory that animal instinct is of greater utility than intelligence and asks man to trust to it as much as possible. Women, I believe, are popularly supposed to be entirely guided by such principles.
To my mind there is no more doubt that animals think, after their fashion, than there is that men as a rule do not think at all. Scientists make the mistake of observing too closely and of writing down what they think they have seen. Such matters should be discussed mystically with a certain aloofness. I observe authors who speak concerning cats with a familiarity most distasteful, writes Andrew Lang.
Animals do not think after the manner of man; their thinking processes are quite different. There is a certain amount of truth in the theory that they think in abstractions, cold, heat, etc., but that they do not think of them afterwards as abstractions as human beings do. But I can see no particular advantage in remembering and discussing such matters. Robert Louis Stevenson once observed that animals never used verbs: That is the only way in which their thinking differs from that of men.
However one point and one point only concerns us greatly here, that is the relative intelligence of the cat, who by many is considered inferior mentally to the dog and the horse. The intelligence of cats, has, I think, been greatly underestimated.30 It can hardly be overestimated. We cannot without becoming cats, perfectly understand the cat mind, writes St. George Mivart.31 The cat as an individual thinks in entirely different directions from his human companions and therefore it is difficult to secure the right kind of evidence, especially as most of the professors judge an animals intelligence by his susceptibility to discipline, in other words by his comparative ability to become the willing slave of man. In this kind of contest the dog and the horse naturally carry off all the honours. Because the cat refuses to bend under the yoke and accept this discipline I do not think he can be proved an unintelligent animal; quite the contrary. The cat is far too intelligent to be inveigled into any drudgery or mummery.
Va, le secret de réussir,
Cest dêtre adroit, non dêtre utile,
is the advice of the lazy old cat in a fable of Florian. He compels his human friend to accept him on his own terms. A dogs acts are much more imitative and therefore more applicable to human reasoning. But T. Wesley Mills,32 who studied both animals, writes, The cat is far in advance of the dog in power to execute highly complex co-ordinated movements. And again, In will-power and ability to maintain an independent existence the cat is superior to the dog.
Some acts of cats are entirely consonant with human intelligence. Cats have the power to draw inferences from observation. They easily learn to open doors; many of them learn to ring bells for admittance. Frequently they answer bells, knowing that they mean dinner or somebodys arrival. Feathers not only goes to the door when the bell rings but also when she hears the elevator ascending. She even runs to the telephone when it rings. These and other such accomplishments as retrieving the cat is not easily taught. If, however, she finds it convenient to acquire them she will do so. Artault de Vevey had a cat33 who was fond of visiting friends on the fifth floor (de Vevey lived on the first). She would cry for admittance; if no one answered her she would scratch at the doorpanel; as a last resort she would pull the bell rope.
A writer in The Spectator34 observed a large male cat who in turn was watching sparrows feeding in a court-yard. When disturbed by the opening of a back-door the sparrows always flew to a beech-hedge near. The cat noted this, walked behind the hedge and waiting opposite the spot to which the birds generally flew, jumped into the middle of them when they were next disturbed. This was the result of deliberation and calculation. Another cat which was watching sparrows stepped behind a row of paving stones recently taken up as soon as it saw the writer approaching and secured one driven over its head. It saw the probability that the birds would be driven in its direction and it acted on its conclusions in a second. Wynter35 relates an incident of a tom cat of Callendar who was seen bearing away a piece of beef in his jaws. The servant who followed him watched him lay the morsel down near a rat hole. Then he hid himself. Presently the rat came out and was dragging away the meat when the cat pounced upon him. Émile Achards Matapon,36 having killed all the mice in the house, took to killing field mice. This was difficult and unpleasant on rainy days but it was not long before he conceived the idea, and carried it out, of restocking the house. He brought field mice in alive and let them loose, thus establishing a new hunting preserve.
Lindsay37 quotes the following example from the Animal World: A certain cat and dog were confederates in a larder theft. The cat by its mewing called the dog when circumstances were favourable to their depredations. On one occasion when the dog was followed the cat was discovered mounted on a shelf, keeping the cover of a dish partly open with one foot and throwing down good things to the dog with the other! The Reverend J. G. Wood describes an old disabled tom cat who made a bargain with a younger and more active animal to catch mice for him, the apprentice being paid with bones and cats meat. The compact was honourably carried out on both sides. Once, during an illness, Mrs. Siddons38 fed her cat the richest cream, the finest parts of the chicken. Thereafter he occasionally shammed lameness in order to get these delicacies.
Eugène Muller, in Animaux Célèbres, furnishes us with another admirable example: A professor, who wished to demonstrate to his pupils the uses of a pneumatic machine, introduced a cat under the glass bell. The animal, of course, made frantic efforts to escape, but the glass held him a prisoner. I am going to show you, said the professor, how, as I pump, the air under the globe will become rarefied; the cat will breathe with more and more difficulty, and indeed would be asphyxiated if I pumped long enough, but we will conclude the experiment before that, and you will see that the moment the air re-enters the cat will immediately regain all his forces. It all happened exactly as he had described it. The professor pumped, and the cat fell panting, thinking, doubtless, that his last hour was upon him. But, the instant the professor ceased to pump, puss was himself once more. He was released and ran away, making a vow, no doubt, that he would not be caught again. In a few days, however, before another class, the good doctor had occasion to repeat the experiment. The cat was captured and placed under the bell and the professor began his explanation, I am going to show you how, as I pump But the students observed a quite different phenomenon from that which was intended, for, as the professor pumped, the cat placed one of his paws over the opening through which the air was to be drawn away. And as often as the professor attempted to repeat the experiment he repeated his countergesture!
During the Crimean War, Col. Stuart wortleys cat visited the doctors hut to get a bayonet wound in the foot examined and bandaged. The colonel found her wounded after the battle of Malakoff and took her daily for a time to the regimental surgeon for treatment. But when he himself became ill she continued the visits of her own accord and sat quietly down for her usual treatment.39 There are many recorded instances of cats bringing their kittens to their mistresses for treatment and cats have been known to give one another obstetrical assistance. In Madame Michelets book, Mr. Frederick Harrison relates a touching incident of an old lady cat. She felt she was dying before her kittens were weaned. She could hardly walk but she disappeared one morning carrying a kitten and came back without it. Next day, quite exhausted, she took away her other two kittens and then died. She had carried each kitten to a separate cat, each of which was nourishing a family and accepted the new fosterling.
A cat will sit washing his face within two inches of a dog in the most frantic state of barking rage, if the dog be chained. He knows the dog cannot get away. Cats also have a habit of tantalizing dogs by lying on exposed window-sills, with paws temptingly depending just out of reach. You may also have observed for yourself how impertinent cats can be to dogs who are muzzled.
Any one who has lived on terms of comparative equality with a cat knows that he will show his intelligence fifty times a day. To be sure this intelligence is usually of the variety called selfish. Thereby the cat shows how much finer his intelligence is than that of the rest of the animal world. He is quite unwilling to perform feats of intelligence for which he can see no legitimate reason, or through which he is unable to derive any personal satisfaction. If he wants submaxillary massage he knows that he is pretty sure of getting it by leaping into some ones lap. If he does not want it he knows that the best way of avoiding it is to avoid the person who insists on lavishing it. A cat, it has been said, will only come when called if dinner is in the offing. This is very much my procedure. I refuse to make casual calls but often accept invitations to dinner.
In spite of his independence and his inadaptability to human desires the cat can be made useful, which is perhaps fortunate as there are certain people who consider an animal worthless who cannot be made in some way to serve that superior being man. In England cats work for the government in offices, barracks, docks and workshops. There are at least two thousand felines so employed and they are all on the pay-roll, receiving a shilling a week. This is for food, for contrary to popular belief hungry cats do not make the best mousers. Benvenuto Cellini was right when he said, Cats of good breed hunt better fat than lean. They serve to effectually rid these places of rodents. The National Printing Office of France employs a large staff of cats to guard the paper from rats and mice. Vienna has official cats and the Midland Railway in England has eight cats among its employees. Cats are kept in all the large United States Post Offices and in the military magazines. A writer in The Spectator40 tells of the regret felt in a large London factory when the best foundry cat died. The sand moulds for making casts in the foundry are mixed with flour. Mice eat the flour and spoil the moulds. Cats are kept to kill the mice but they have to be taught not to walk on the moulds or to scratch them up. The cat who died was absolutely perfect in this respect. The number of mice a good cat-hunter can destroy goes quite beyond the probable. Lane41 writes of walking with his cat Magpie into his stables when a mob of mice dashed across the room. Magpie leaped into the group and caught four simultaneously, two in her jaws and one under each forepaw! Such prowess is not rare in a good mouser. Every retail and whole-sale butcher-shop and green-grocer, every stationer, every restaurateur, must therefore have his cat or cats. In some groceries a cellar cat and a shop cat are kept. I have already mentioned the cold-storage cats. The cat also destroys a great number of insects, flies, cockroaches, grasshoppers and mosquitoes. During the late war the English government conscripted 500,000 cats, a few of which were sent to sea to test submarines and the remainder to the trenches. Their warnings of the approach of a cloud of gas, long before any soldier could smell it, saved many lives. They also did a good deal towards ridding the trenches of rats and mice, and probably served as pets for many a doughboy.
The cat also is the one animal, save the mongoose, that is not afraid of snakes and can battle successfully even with the venomous varieties. J. R. Rengger, who has written of the mammals of Paraguay,42 declares that he has more than once seen cats pursue and kill snakes, even rattle-snakes, on the sandy, grassless plains of that land. With their rare skill, he writes, they would strike the snake with their paw, and at the same time avoid its spring. If the snake coiled itself they would not attack it directly, but would go round it till it became tired of turning its head after them; then they would strike another blow, and instantly turn aside. If the snake started to run away, they would seize its tail, as if to play with it. By virtue of these continued attacks they usually destroyed their enemy in less than an hour, but would never eat its flesh. The subject has served in fiction but the man who wrote the following description43 was certainly writing something he had once observed: Now, as the Dryad, curled to a capital S, quivering and hissing, advanced for the last time to the charge, it was bound to strike across the edge of the sofa on which I lay, at the erect head of Stoffles, which vanished with a juggling celerity that would have dislocated the collar-bone of any other animal in creation. From such an exertion the snake recovered itself with an obvious effort, quick beyond question, but not nearly quick enough. Before I could well see that it had missed its aim, Stoffles had launched out like a spring released, and, burying eight or ten claws in the back of its enemys head, pinned it down against the stiff cushion of the sofa. The tail of the agonized reptile flung wildly in the air and flapped on the arched back of the imperturbable tigress. The whiskered muzzle of Stoffles dropped quietly, and her teeth met once, twice, thrice, like the needle and hook of a sewing-machine, in the neck of the Blue Dryad; and when, after much deliberation, she let it go, the beast fell into a limp tangle on the floor. Moncrif44 speaks of this special talent of cats. According to the Frenchman a certain promontory in the Island of Cyprus is known as the Cape of Cats. Formerly there was a monastery there and the promontory was infested with black and white snakes. The cats belonging to the monks spent happy days hunting serpents, but, when the bell rang, always returned to the monastery for their meals.
Lieutenant Colonel A. Buchanan, M. D.45 is convinced that the Indian plagues are caused by rats and that they could be prevented if the natives could be prevailed upon to keep cats.46 He produces statistics which seem to prove that the villages in which there were cats in each household were free from epidemics of cholera.
In the sixteenth century a German, one Christopher of Hapsburg, projected a plan for having poison gases in jars attached to the backs of cats disseminated in battle. Christopher was an officer of artillery and he presented his drawing, which was not accepted for practical use, to the Council of One and Twenty at Strassbourg. It still exists in the great library there. There is another story, certainly apocryphal, that the Persians, bearing pussies in their arms, once marched upon the Egyptians who, refusing to harm the sacred animal, were put to rout.
I have elsewhere related how occasionally cats bring rabbits home to their masters. They have served even stranger purposes. A physician told me of a lady whose milk came slowly at the nipple. He suggested the substitution of an animal at the nipple. It happened that the family cat had kittened the same night and the tiny mammal was substituted with complete success. Daughter and kitten therefore grew up as soeurs de lait. This cat acquired the pretty habit of lighting the Christmas tree, by pressing a button with her forepaw. She lived to the remarkable age of 28 but in her last year developed a cancer. The physician dressed and cared for the disease until Christmas eve when she lighted her last Christmas tree and immediately afterwards was chloroformed.
But it seems to me that the more useless a cat is the more he has earned his right to companionship. There are enough people trying to make themselves useful in this world without the added competition of cats. And those who care most for the cat certainly never think of him as a mouser or a snaker. A writer in The Nation has it: To respect the cat is the beginning of the aesthetic sense. At a stage of culture when utility governs all of its judgments, mankind prefers the dog;47 and a distinguished scholar at Oxford avowed to believe that men admired cats or dogs according as to whether they were Platonists or Aristotelians: The visionary chooses a cat; the man of concrete a dog. Hamlet must have kept a cat. Platonists, or cat-lovers, include sailors, painters, poets, and pick-pockets. Aristotelians, or dog-lovers, include soldiers, foot-ball players, and burglars. Champfleurys dictum is that refined and delicate natures understand the cat. Women, poets, and artists hold it in great esteem, for they recognize the exquisite delicacy of its nervous system; indeed, only coarse natures fail to discern the natural distinction of the animal. Madame Delphine Gay writes of the catlike man: The catlike man is one upon whom no tricks can be played with success. He possesses none of the qualities of the doglike man but he enjoys all the advantages of those qualities. He is selfish, ungrateful, miserly, avaricious, dapper, persuasive, gifted with intelligence, cleverness, and the power of fascination. He possesses refined experience; he guesses what he does not know; he understands what is hidden from him. To this race belong great diplomats, successful gallants, in fact all the men whom women call perfidious.
The cat is admired for his independence, his courage, his prudence, his patience, his naturalness, and his wit. He is, as Madame Michelet reminds us, essentially a noble animal. There is no mixture in his blood. This is so true that you can tell any member of the family at a glance. Tiger, lion, and house-cat differ more in size than in appearance. The originality of the cat is to offer in himself an exquisite and harmless miniature of his wild brothers. He lives like a great lord and there is nothing vulgar about him. The delicacy of the animal is one of his fascinations. All of us have wondered how a cat can leap upon a table littered with breakable objects, alighting firmly without disturbing anything. Curiously enough, as Philip Gilbert Hamerton48 has pointed out, this is not a proof of lady-like civilization in the cat but again evidence that she has retained her savage habits. When she so carefully avoids the glasses on the dinner-table she is not thinking of her behaviour as a dependent of civilized man, but acting in obedience to hereditary habits of caution in the stealthy chase, which is the natural accomplishment of her species. She will stir no branch of a shrub lest her fated bird escape her, and her feet are noiseless that the mouse may not know of her coming. Mr. Hamerton has captured and crystallized another interesting trait of the cat when he says, The cat always uses precisely the necessary force, other animals roughly employ what strength they happen to possess without reference to the small occasion. One day I watched a young cat playing with a daffodil. She sat on her hind-legs and patted the flower with her paws, first with one paw and then with the other, making the light yellow ball sway from side to side, yet not injuring a petal or a stamen. She took a delight, evidently, in the very delicacy of the exercise, whereas a dog or a horse has no enjoyment in his own movements, but acts strongly when he is strong, without calculating whether the force used may be is strong, without calculating whether the force used may be in great part superfluous. This proportioning of the force to the need is well known to be one of the evidences of refined culture, both in manners and in the fine arts. If animals could speak as fabulists have feigned, the dog would be a blunt, outspoken, honest fellow, but the cat would have the rare talent of never saying a world too much. A hint of the same character is conveyed by the sheathing of the claws, and also by the contractability of the pupil of the eye. The hostile claws are invisible, and are not shown when they are not wanted, yet are ever sharp and ready. The eye has a narrow pupil in broad daylight, receiving no more sunshine than is agreeable, but it will gradually expand as twilight falls, and clear vision needs a larger and larger surface. Some of these cat-qualities are very desirable in criticism. The claws of a critic ought to be very sharp, but not perpetually prominent, and the eye ought to see far into rather obscure objects without being dazzled by plain daylight.
There are those who find themselves uninterested in the appearance and doings of full-grown felines who are unable to resist the fascinations of kittens. The kitten, indeed, is an irresistible bundle of animate fur, all nerves and tenderness, all play-actor, dashing madly against nothing, prancing down the garden walk with the affected arched back of a Rutterkin about to commit foul deeds, chasing his tail, making a vain attempt to capture and swallow his own shadow, peering curiously at esoteric insects, or entranced and delighted with a viper, like Cowpers kitten,
Who, never having seen in field or house
The like, sat still and silent as a mouse;
Only projecting, with attention due,
Her whiskerd face, she asked him, Who are you?
Where are peacocks it is a pretty sight to see the kittens, amazed by the proud and spreading tail, dash and spring upon it and go whirling round while the furious bird attempts to throw the demons off. But it is enough to watch them lap the cream from a bowl on the breakfast table with the innocence of cherubs, or lie contented purring balls of warm fur in your lap or on your shoulder. Kittens, like Japanese and Negro babies, may lose some of their charm when they grow older, but as kittens they are paramount. And therefore, it is wise to follow the advice of Oliver Herford:
Note 2. It is odd that cats show an intense dislike to anything destined or set apart for them. Mentu had a basket of his own, and a cushion made by a fond mistress, but to put him into it was to make him bound out like an india-rubber ball. He liked to occupy proper chairs and sofas, or even proper hearthrugs. In the same way, the well-bred cat has an inconvenient but aesthetic preference for eating its food in pleasant places, even as we consume chilly tea and dusty bread and butter in a summer glade. A plate is distasteful to a cat, a newspaper still worse; they like to eat sticky pieces of meat sitting on a cushioned chair or a nice Persian rug. Yet if these were dedicated to this use they would remove elsewhere. Hence the controversy is interminable. Margaret Benson in The Soul of a Cat. [back]
Note 7. The cats ability to leap and climb gives him a marked advantage both in hunting and escaping from his enemies. It is a curious fact, however, that cats who climb to considerable heights frequently refuse to descend from more modest ones. A cat in a tree, whither he has fled from a dog, or in a second storey window, yowling piteously, is no uncommon sight. Sometimes the rescue of such a cat becomes an international matter. It has even been found expedient, on occasion, to call out the fire department. It should be remembered that a fall from any considerable height is a serious matter for a cat. In spite of the popular superstition that he always lights on his feet, he is quite likely to break his spine. [back]
Note 8. The following curious description of the cat from Edward Topsells History of Four-footed Beasts (1658) is interesting enough to quote: It is needless to spend any time over her loving nature to man, how she flattereth by rubbing her skin against ones legs, how she whurleth with her voice, having as many tunes as turnes, for she hath one voice to beg and to complain, another to testify her delight and pleasure, another among her own kind by flattering, by hissing, by puffing, by spitting, in so much that some have thought that they have a peculiar intelligible language among themselves. Therefore how she playeth, leapeth, looketh, catcheth, tosseth with her foot, riseth up to strings held over her head, sometimes creeping, sometimes lying on the back, playing with foot, apprehending greedily anything save the hand of a man, with divers such gestical actions, it is needless to stand upon; in so much as Collins was wont to say, that being free from his studies and more urgent weighty affairs, he was not ashamed to play and sport himself with his cat, and verily it may be called an idle mans pastime. [back]
Note 9. An incident described by Louis de Grammont is typical of the cats instinct in this respect: A friend of mine occupied a house in which gas was used for cooking. He had a cat which at the period of which I write was the mother of two half-grown kittens. At dinner these cats, very badly bred, had the habit of jumping on the table and helping themselves to such morsels as they could secure. One day at luncheon the cats were on the table as usual when the servant brought in the cutlets. At the same instant there was an explosion. Upon inquiry it was discovered that the cook had been careless and that there had been a slight explosion of gas. No one was injured and everybody took his place again at the table except the cats who, thoroughly frightened, had disappeared. They did not come back, indeed, for several days. When they finally returned their fear was gone and they resumed their former habits. But some weeks later, when the maid again brought cutlets to the table, they fled at once. They had connected the explosion with the appearance of cutlets! [back]
Note 12. Madame Michelet is not of the opinion that all of the play of the kitten is an apprenticeship for the chase (Les Chats, p. 48): A world of ideas, of images awake first in him, which are not images of prey. That will come to him, but later. The first attraction for him, as for a baby, is the thing that moves. It seems that this life of objects deceives their immobility. Both follow these movements with an eye at first uncertain, but soon they are captivated. The infant wishes to seize the ball suspended to the cradle and the kitten in the evening pursues his shadow. Tigrine showed a very lively taste for these silhouettes, which assumed in her eyes more reality than the object itself. [back]
Note 13. But they see no harm in teaching dogs to hunt. The crime of the cat is that he does his own hunting instead of mans. [back]
Note 14. In the Middle Ages it was the custom to attach cats outside the windows of remarried widows in reference to the lubricity of the animal. The cat is opposed to marriage. She will accept one lover, two lovers, three lovers, as many slaves as possible, but never a tyrant. [back]
Note 15. The vocabulary of the professional cat-breeder is generally poetic. When a female cat is sent to a male the event is called a visit and the males act is called signing. [back]
Note 16. Cats often consider certain chairs as their property and they will allow neither dogs nor human beings to occupy them. I have observed a cat, in a household which he ruled, make the round of the drawing-room, driving each occupant out of his chair. His method was a simple one. He weighed twelve pounds and he insinuated himself between the person seated and the back of the chair. [back]
Note 17. A well-treated cat will never scratch a friend, except accidentally in play, or under the nervous strain of a supreme insult, and a friend will never insult a cat. [back]
Note 22. But cats are frequently intoxicated by the odour of valerian and they adore the fragrance of flowers. Sometimes even they express delight over the artifices of Houbigant, Coty, and Bichara. In this they differ from dogs, as W. H. Hudson has pointed out (The Great Dog-Superstition in The Book of a Naturalist): The pampered lap-dag in the midst of his comforts has one great thorn in his side, one perpetual misery to endure, in the perfumes which please his mistress. He too is a little Venetian in his way, but his way is not hers. The camphor-wood chest in her room is an offence to him, the case of glass-stoppered scents an abomination. All fragrant flowers are as asafoetida to his exquisite nostrils and his face is turned aside in very ill-concealed disgust from the sandal-wood box or fan. It is warm and soft on her lap, but an incurable grief to be so near her pocket-handkerchief, saturated with nasty white-rose or lavender. If she must perfume herself with flowery essences he would prefer an essential oil expressed from the gorgeous Rafflesia Arnoldi of the Bornean forest, or even from the humble carrion-flower which blossoms nearer home. [back]
Note 23. Cats have an especial fondness for certain textures. They like paper or something rough that tears with a noise. [back]
Note 45. Cats as Plague Preventers: British Medical Journal; London; October 24, 1908; Vol. 2, p. 1231. [back]
Note 46. Hindus, who believe in the doctrine of metempsychosis, have a valid objection to taking life. In Bombay there is a hospital for sick animals. Professor Monier Williams, who visited it, says, The animals are well fed and well tended, though it certainly seemed to me that a great majority would be more mercifully provided for by the application of a loaded pistol to their heads. It is even said that men are paid to sleep on dirty woollen beds in different parts of the building that the loathsome vermin with which they are infested may be supplied with their nightly need of human blood. These men are drugged so that they will not involuntarily kill the vermin in their sleep. E. P. Evans: Evolutionary Ethics and Animal Psychology, p. 140. [back]
Note 47. He continues: To the cultivated mind the cat has the charm of completeness, the satisfaction which makes a sonnet more than an epic. The ancients figured eternity as a serpent biting its own tail. There will yet arise a philosopher who will conceive the Absolute as a gigantic and self-satisfied cat, purring as it clasps in comfortable round its own perfection, and uttering as it purrs, that lined of Edmund Spensers about the CosmosIt loved itself because itself was fair. A cat blinking at midnight among your papers and your books declares with more eloquence than any skull the vanity of knowledge and the uselessness of striving. The cat enjoys the march of the seasons, sins through space with the stars, and shares in her quietism the inevitable life of the universe. In all our hurrying can we do more? [back]