Nonfiction > Carl Van Vechten > The Tiger in the House > Chapter One
Carl Van Vechten (1880–1964).  The Tiger in the House. 1922.
Chapter One
By Way of Correcting a Popular Prejudice
        “Dieu a fait le chat pour donner à
l’homme le plaisir de caresser le tigre.”

WHENEVER the subject comes up, and it may be said, speaking with moderation, that it comes up forty times a day, some one invariably declares, “No, I don’t like cats, I like dogs.” The cognate dichotomous remark, which is equally popular, prevalent, and banal, is “No, I don’t like Dickens, I like Thackeray.” As James Branch Cabell has conveniently pointed out for all time, “to the philosophical mind it would seem equally sensible to decline to participate in a game of billiards on the ground that one was fond of herring.” Nevertheless both controversies continue to rage and careless thinkers continue to force Dickens and the cat into categories. The dog-lovers, in the opposition sense (for it is really possible to care for both dogs and cats, just as it is possible to read “Pendennis” and “Bleak House” with equal delight), say of the soft puss that he is sly and deceitful, thieving and ungrateful, fickle and cruel, and friend to home and not to man. From this inconsiderate, and unconsidered, opinion the derogatory and catachrestic adjective “catty” has been derived, an adjective which when used in its ordinarily accepted sense I find particularly abhorrent, for who should be described as catty unless it be some gracious and graceful female, dignified and reserved, redolent of beauty and charm and the mystery of love? The cat-lovers on their side, so ardent, indeed, that in France they have earned the sobriquet of félinophiles enragés, have not been guiltless. Affectionate, intelligent, faithful, tried and true are some of the adjectives they lavish indiscriminately on their darling pets. It would seem, indeed, after reading some of the books, that cats spend their nine lives caring for the sick, saving children from burning buildings, and helping Mrs. Jellyby make small-clothes for the heathen in Africa.
  The cat himself might have settled the question long ago, had settling such matters been a part of the cat’s purpose in life. You cannot reasonably expect a near relative of the king of beasts (whom he much more closely resembles, by the way, than a Japanese spaniel resembles a Newfoundland dog), an animal who has been a god, a companion of sorceresses at the Witches’ Sabbath, a beast who is royal in Siam, who in Japan is called “the tiger who eats from the hand,” the adored of Mohammed, Laura’s rival with Petrarch, the friend of Richelieu’s idle moments, the favourite of poet and prelate, to regard the stupidity of humankind in regard to him with anything less than disdain. The cat, indeed, makes no advances. He cares for the hearth and often he condescends to display affection to human friends, just as he has been known to entertain a vast liking for horses, parrots, and tortoises, but even in the most heated of such relationships he preserves a proper independence. He stays where he likes to stay; he goes where he wants to go. He gives his affection where it pleases him to give it (when, also, it might be added) and he withholds it from those whom he deems unworthy of it. In other words with a cat you stand on much the same footing that you stand with a fine and dignified friend; if you forfeit his respect and confidence the relationship suffers. The cat, it is well to remember, remains the friend of man because it pleases him to do so and not because he must. Resourceful, brave, intelligent (the brain of a kitten is comparatively larger than that of a child), the cat is in no sense a dependent and can revert to the wild state with less readjustment of values than any other domestic animal. Therefore he is easily enabled to determine his own end and purpose and to lead his own life. “I love in the cat,” said Chateaubriand to M. de Marcellus, “that independent and almost ungrateful temper which prevents him from attaching himself to anyone; the indifference with which he passes from the salon to the housetop. When you caress him, he stretches himself out and arches his back, indeed, but that is caused by physical pleasure, not, as in the case of the dog, by a silly satisfaction in loving and being faithful to a master who returns thanks in kicks. The cat lives alone, has no need of society, does not obey except when he likes, pretends to sleep that he may see the more clearly, and scratches everything he can scratch. Buffon has belied the cat; I am labouring at his rehabilitation and I hope to make of him a tolerably good sort of animal, as times go.” 1   2
  Without some such guide to the nature of the most interesting of animals it is impossible to approach the subject from any angle whatever. But with these few facts in mind I must at once beg to insist upon a paradox. Stated simply the case is this: each individual cat differs in as many ways as possible from each other individual cat. Any unprejudiced observer, interested enough in cats to inspire their devotion, will have found this out for himself if he has ever become acquainted with several cats at one time. Doubtless there are seraph cats and demon cats as well but the characters of most pussies lie somewhere between these intense blacks and whites. Cats differ so much, indeed, that some of them even lack the most generally distributed feline characteristics. It can be said of cats in general, however, that they are all independent, most of them amorous (their love habits, inspired by the hardiest desires, are often supremely cruel 2), and mystic. On this last point there is little reason for doubt. Cats have gnosis to a degree that is granted to few bishops as I shall attempt to show in a later chapter. As for their independence it is simply the aristocratic quality of being natural. Cats do not force their attentions upon others and they do not care to have attentions forced upon them. But when a cat is hungry or wishes to go out of doors or has amorous desires he plainly declares his feelings. “Why not?” asks Colette’s Kiki-la-Doucette, “Why not? People do.” 3 These are reminiscences, inheritances, of the wild life which the cat has never lost and never will lose. For in keeping with his royal brother, the lion, he also has a strong racial instinct which survives to be awakened when it is called. He has a longer memory than Monna Lisa.   3
  Yet in the degree in which they react to these instincts individual cats differ, and these differences are accentuated by treatment and by breeding, for cats inherit many traits, and although it almost seems unscientific to say so, there is strong evidence to the effect that they inherit acquired characteristics. You will find it stated in some of the books that a cat who has been deprived of her tail will occasionally produce tailless kittens.   4
  Many observers have recorded the eccentricities and idiosyncrasies of cats. Wynter 4 speaks of a cat of his who selected blotting paper on which to sit or lie. Meredith Janvier’s Major Pussman contracted tuberculosis from sleeping on a hot radiator. Clara Rossiter 5 describes a puss whose favourite occupation was to pull all the pins out of a cushion and lay them out on the table, “and when the last was taken out, looking up into our faces with the most comical expression and making us understand she wanted them replaced. However many times we stuck the pins in she would pull them out.” This cat also took pleasure in devouring flowers, which she removed from the vases. The Reverend J. G. Wood tells us of a tom cat who was such an aristocrat that “nothing would induce him—not even milk when he was hungry—to put his head into the kitchen, or to enter the house by the servants’ door.” Wynter had a cat who rose suddenly one day and sprang up the chimney, a fire burning in the grate all the while. A couple of hundred years earlier the writer would have been burned for relating this incident. This cat would eat pickles and liked brandy and water. Lindsay 6 mentions a cat with a fondness for porter and Jerome K. Jerome 7 writes of another who drank from a leaky beer-tap until she was intoxicated. In a letter to Samuel Butler, dated December 24, 1879, Miss Savage remarks, “My cat has taken to mulled port and rum punch. Poor old dear! he is all the better for it. Dr. W. B. Richardson says that the lower animals always refuse alcoholic drinks, and gives that as a reason why humans should do so too.”   5
  It is the popular belief that cats have an inherent dislike for water and in general they are catabaptists, but my Ariel had no aversion to water; indeed, this orange Persian puss was accustomed to leap voluntarily into my warm morning tub and she particularly liked to sit in the wash-hand-bowl under the open faucet. Artault de Vevey 8 also had a cat, Isoline, who took baths, jumping into the full tub. “Cats are popularly supposed to dislike wet,” writes Olive Thorne Miller, “but I have seen two of them in a steady rain conduct an interview with all the gravity and deliberation for which these affairs are celebrated.” There are innumerable recorded examples of cats swimming rivers to return to their old homes and St. George Mivart tells us of a cat who plunged into a swiftly running stream and rescued her three drowning kittens, bearing them one by one to the shore. A writer in “Chambers’s Journal” 9 recalls a dejected black cat who committed suicide by drowning! Fishing cats seem to be a commonplace. Lane 10 quotes the “Plymouth Journal” in regard to a cat who was accustomed to dive for fish and Ross 11 writes of a Mr. Moody, near Newcastle-upon-Tyne who had a cat who caught minnows, eels, and pilchards in this manner. There is likewise the evidence of a celebrated Egyptian fresco in the British Museum which depicts a cat acting as a retriever, shows us a gentle puss leaping into the Nile from a boat in order to fetch and carry the slaughtered duck back into the boat, an incident that G. A. Henry has woven into his tale for boys, “The Cat of Bubastes.” 12 Certain cats of today find it natural to retrieve. My Ariel would run after a catnip mouse and bring it to me, as often as I would throw it. “When visiting a friend in Patagonia,” W. H. Hudson records in “The Book of a Naturalist,” “I was greatly astonished one day on going out with a gun to shoot something followed by the dogs to find a black cat in their company, and to see her when I fired my first shot actually dashing off before the dogs to retrieve the bird!”   6
  One person observes that cats are always gentle and polite, that they eat their food daintily and never greedily, but I have watched otherwise good-mannered felines who could gobble and growl over their food with as much greediness and ill-manneredness as any dog. In the mere matter of the selection of food cats vary as much as people. There are imperious, haughty, aristocratic cats who insist on being fed esoteric dishes in a certain fixed spot, by certain people. Other cats resemble Lafcadio Hearn’s little red kitten who “ate beefsteak and cockroaches, caterpillars and fish, chicken and butterflies, mosquito hawks and roast mutton, hash and tumblebugs, beetles and pigs’ feet, crabs and spiders, moths and poached eggs, oysters and earthworms, ham and mice, rats and rice pudding,—until its belly became a realization of Noah’s Ark.” 13   7
  Cats are exceedingly nervous and they are not as a rule to be trusted in railroad trains, for the slightest sound or movement is likely to awaken terror and fast moving objects usually inspire them with the keenest sense of fright. But Avery Hopwood’s orange tabby Persian, Abélard, 14 takes motor rides with him, sitting sagely on the front seat without a leash. When the car stops he leaps out and walks about, ready to get back again when a start is agreed upon. Theodore Hammeker, a flyer on the French front and in Palestine during the late war, took his black cat, Brutus, with him on his flights. The R-34, the first dirigible to cross the Atlantic from England to America, carried the tabby cat, Jazz, as the only animal passenger. And I am acquainted with a eupeptic altered tom silver Persian who even goes to the movies on the shoulder of his mistress!   8
  Cats are popularly supposed again to prefer places to people and there are literally thousands of recorded examples of cats who have surmounted every kind of physical obstacle in order to return to old homes from which they had been removed. It would be as easy to give as long a list of cats who move regularly with their families every year or so. A further list could be complied of cats who move of their own accord, often from homes in which they are treated with every mark of respect and in which they are surrounded with every comfort and luxury. To those who feel that the recipient of attentions should be grateful no matter in what form they come, this strange conduct of cats will seem inexplicable, but I am sure that some of my readers will understand that it is possible to desire something which has nothing to do with luxury or comfort. Occasionally, indeed, you will even find people who are willing to leave rich homes for the pleasures of adventure.
        The Cat’s winged yearnings journey,
Unrestrained, o’er Time and Space,
muses Hiddigeigei, the Tom Cat, and cats with longings in their souls invariably satisfy these longings, so far as they are able. Carefully bred, tenderly nurtured Persian pussies have been known to leave the silks and satins of the drawing-room for the free life of the rooftop and companionship with extremely ill-bred, low-spoken, short-haired felines. Spousebreach has been known to result. Other cats have left luxurious homes to take up a broader existence in a green grocer’s shop, where the hunting is better and there is less petting. The reverse often happens. A cat leaves a life of poverty to enter into a life of luxury. On the whole, however, I would say that cats pattern their lives more on that of May Yohe than on that of Cinderella.… To return to our text it is undoubtedly true that there are perverse cats just as there are perverse people, who insist on residing in a certain spot. But these cats have a good instinctive reason for this obstinacy as I shall show later.
  Some cats make fond and zealous mothers, taking every care of their young, hiding them from danger, washing and feeding them, and teaching them to play. Alice’s Dinah, 15 whose method of washing her babies was to hold the poor things down by their ears with one paw, and with the other paw rub their faces all over, was an excellent mother. Some cats have such a strong instinct for motherhood that if their offspring is taken away from them they suckle babies, 16 leverets, 17 and even rats. Other cats have been known to neglect or even to kill their young. One stolid young queen, probably having read de Maupassant’s “Inutile Beauté,” drowned her babies in a water butt; another, refusing to suckle her kittens or, indeed, to go near them at all, was shut up with them in a shed, whereupon she promptly put out their little lives with blows from her strong hind feet. When she was released she walked out purring, evidently in a high state of relief and contentment.  10
  Cleanliness in the cat world is usually a virtue put above godliness. Puss spends more time washing than débutantes do changing their clothes and her attention to Gulliverian hydraulics and other demands of nature is fastidious to a degree. In the Cat State, Clarence Day, jr., quaintly observes, the plumber, the manicurist, and the soap-maker would occupy the highest social positions; preachers and lawyers, the lowest. Nevertheless Siamese and Russian short-haired blue cats have an odour, and I have seen cats of whatever colour, of whatever breed, dirtier than any other animal could possibly be. A kitten once lived with me, a kitten in every respect super-intelligent, who refused to systematize his toilet operations. He was a most amusing, adorably impudent, tailless kitten who followed me on the street one night in Paris. He walked closely behind me for a quarter of a mile and when I put him—he was very tiny—into my pocket he assented to the arrangement by purring loudly. But when together we ascended the steps of an omnibus, the conductor waved his hand grandly with the admonition, “Pas de bêtes!” So, with puss in my pocket, I walked to my hotel. This cat had a delectable habit of springing on my shoulder in the dark when I returned home at night. Rubbing himself against my cheek he purred like the kettle-drums in Berlioz’s Requiem. He was not impressed by the art of Franz von Stuck and invariably, until I no longer fastened it up, he succeeded in wresting an engraving of Salome from the wall, although it was pinned very high and no article of furniture underneath offered assistance in the operation. This puss also had a mania for breaking dishes, and there was no leaving tea-things around in his presence. Like all cats he could alight on a full table of such knick-knacks without upsetting anything, but once landed he delighted in disturbing the equilibrium of the porcelain with his nimble and roguish paw. These qualities did not alienate my affections, quite the contrary. We quarreled irrevocably over another matter about which puss (as cats always are) was inexorable and paramount. He refused to learn the uses of a box of sand; 18 nor would a sheet of paper or sawdust tempt him. Not even “Le Temps” or “Le Journal” with the revues of Catulle Mendès.…  11
  There is no one thing that cats are supposed to care more for than heat, and it is true that a cat will seek a hearth, a cozy wood fire, or the companionship of a kitchen stove, but it is perfectly possible for a cat to exist in the cold. When it was discovered that the extremely frigid temperature of the great cold-storage plants was not sufficiently bitter to exterminate the sturdy rats and mice some one proposed the introduction of cats. The first felines carried into these bleak quarters did not thrive. Some of them, indeed, perished, but a few survived and, after a winter or two, grew an astonishing coat of fur, as thick as that of a beaver. The kittens born in this ice-like temperature were hardy little beasts, and it is said that now the cold-storage cats would pant and languish with nervous exhaustion were they exposed to a New York July day.  12
  There is a feud between the cat and the dog, but this dislike is superficial and can, in most instances, be easily set aside. It is, to be sure, instinctive. Kittens with their eyes scarcely open have been known to spit at a dog. But cats who live with dogs usually do so with dignity and ease; in many cases a deep affection springs up between the two. When Flecknoe’s miserable old gentlewoman in his “Enigmatical Characters” (1658) speaks of letting her prayer book fall into the dripping pan and the cat and dog quarreling over it and at last agreeing to pray on it she becomes in a sense symbolical. You may likewise remember that Old Mother Hubbard went to the hatter’s to buy her dog a hat, “but when she came back he was feeding the cat.”  13
  Mademoiselle Antoinette Thérèse Deshoulières wrote a remarkable heroic tragedy, after the manner of Corneille, the subject of which is the passion of Madame Deshoulières’s cat, Grisette, for Cochon, the dog of the Duc de Vivonne, brother to Madame de Montespan. The play is called La Mort de Cochon and all the ram-cats of Madame Deshoulières’s household and the neighbourhood have gathered on a convenient rooftop to rejoice at the news conveyed by the title, and to express the hope that one of them may win the paw of the perverse Grisette. That young lady, however, gives herself whole-heartedly to grief. In vain the Chorus of Cats cries:
        Redonnez-vous à votre espèce,
Votre destin sera plus doux.
Grisette replies:
            Je dois à Cochon ma tendresse.
Dussiez-vous être encor mille fois plus jaloux,
Vous verrez à quel point pour lui je m’intéresse.
The Chorus cries:
        Ah cruelle chatte, arrêtez!
But she does not relent and disappears from the rooftop to make way for Eros, the god in the car, who holds out the following hope:
            Tendres matous, laissez-la-faire:
    Votre infortune finira;
J’en jure par mon arc, j’en jure par ma mère,
    La constance est une chimère
    Dont Grisette se lassera.
  Through the convenient pen of Madame Deshoulières, Grisette and Cochon had previously penned a long correspondence. It is perhaps the first literary friendship between a dog and a cat but by no means the last. Indeed a cat prefers, in most cases, a dog for a companion rather than another cat. A mother cat will suckle puppies and she has been known to suckle rats. For rats and cats, too, can become friends, as Théophile Gautier discovered when his dynasties of white rats and white cats were contemporaries. 19  15
  “Respect of slumber,” writes S. B. Wister, 20 “is a most curious characteristic of cats and I have often wondered if it is the same instinct which is said to prevent lions and tigers from attacking sleeping prey.” This is all very well, but have cats respect for slumber? Some of them have. My Feathers has not. She wants her breakfast at a certain hour in the morning; if the door of my bedroom is closed she gives little cries outside. If it is open she enters, puts her forepaws on the edge of my bed close to my face and licks my cheek. If I brush her away, in a few moments she is nibbling my toes. I put an end to this and very shortly she is marching up and down, using me as a highroad. She is equally persistent if I am taking a nap. On such occasions she often climbs high on my breast and sleeps with me, but when she awakes she digs her claws into my chest and stretches, quite as if I didn’t exist. This alternate protrusion of the forepaws, with toes separated, as if pushing against and sucking their mother’s teats, is a favourite gesture of cats when they are pleased.  16
  Cats make a radical distinction, naturally enough, between their relations with human beings and their relations with other cats. An anonymous writer quoted by Moncrif, 21 has put this beautifully in his description of the lovely Menine of Madame de Lesdiguieres who was
        Chatte pour tout le monde, et pour les chats, tigresse.
Cats are extremely sensitive and nervous; their pulses register 160 throbs a minute. A good-natured kitten may be worried into becoming a bad-natured cat, or the bad characteristics of a cat may sometimes be softened by tender treatment. I know of an instance in which a guest handled a kitten about three months old rather roughly. When released the kitten fled to safety; she was not accustomed to suffering such indignities and she resented them. Familiarity always breeds contempt in a cat. However, once the guest had taken his departure she resumed her old-time offhand manner and was as playful as possible. A year elapsed before the offending guest again appeared in the circle, a year during which the kitten had grown into cathood, but the moment the young man entered the door she disappeared under a bed and could not be induced to come out until he had left. Cats have long memories. Jessie Pickens had a very remarkable brown tabby Persian who snarled and growled and spit at everybody except her mistress. She would indeed suffer no one but Jessie to come near her at all, but for Jessie she had an excessive fondness and had even crossed the Atlantic in her cabin seventeen times. Her fear of strangers was due to an accident which occurred when she was a kitten. Willy, really a great admirer of cats and at that time the husband of Colette, than whom no one has written more delicately and sensitively about these little rogues in fur, was calling one day. He picked the kitten up to play with her and tossed her up towards the ceiling, catching her as she dropped, but a sudden twist and puss slipped through his fingers, falling to the floor. With a cry of terror she fled from the room and it was only after two days that she was discovered hiding behind some trunks in the garret. She never permitted a stranger to touch her again. Another cat fell into a well. He managed to keep from drowning by climbing to a small rock and in time he was rescued, but thereafter he was completely insane; he never regained interest in life nor seemed to have the slightest consciousness of what was going on about him. Lindsay 22 has culled another example from the “Animal World.” This cat was frightened by a peacock; a sort of terror-mania developed, agoraphobia, perhaps, involving an utter loss of self-possession, followed by a permanent timidity that permitted the animal to feed only in his master’s presence.
  Whether they inherit these traits or whether their manners and habits are encouraged or embarrassed by treatment, the fact remains that there are all kinds of cats, cross and gentle, cruel and tender, savage and tame. The curious thing is that several kittens by the same mother brought up together in the same house will exhibit many differences. Gautier describes three kittens of the same litter: “Enjolras was solemn, pretentious, aldermanic from his cradle; even theatrical at times in his vast assumption of dignity. Gavroche was a born Bohemian, enamoured of low company, and of the careless comedies of life. Their sister Eponine—best loved of the three—was delicate, fastidious little creature with an exquisite sense of propriety, and of the refinements of social intercourse. Enjolras was a glutton, caring for nothing so much as his dinner. Gavroche, more generous, would bring in from the streets gaunt and ragged cats, who devoured in a scurry of fright the food laid aside for him. I was often tempted to remonstrate, and to say to this little scamp, ‘A nice lot of friends you do pick up!’ But I refrained. After all, it was an amiable weakness. He might have eaten his dinner himself.”  18
  Madame Michelet 23 thinks that colouring may have something to do with temperament. Black cats, according to this femme savante, have passionate and sombre characters. The blondes are amiable and facile, with a certain submerged smiling melancholy. Those between the two extremes, neither blonde nor brunette, have equable temperaments. These classifications of Madame Michelet will be considered rather fantastic by any one who has known cats of different colours.  19
  But Diderot’s “il y a chat et chat” is certainly just. Some cats are cold and haughty, imperious and ironic. Other cats are so frank, so persistent in demanding affection, that they almost lack mystery. There are cats who will climb on any one and purr with delight. Catnip is vodka and whisky to most cats, but Feathers merely sniffs at it and walks away. There are all varieties and kinds and sorts of cats; there are long and short-haired cats, and Mexican cats without any hair; there are strange Australian cats with long pointed noses; there are Angora and Persian and Siamese cats, and Manx cats without any tails; there are blue, black, and white cats; there are tortoise-shell and creams; there are orange and silver and chinchilla cats; there are combinations of all these colours; my Feathers is tortoise-shell and white smoke tabby queen, with seven toes on each front paw! Seven or six-toed cats are by no means rare. Even in regard to the freaks of catdom there are variations: in spite of much popular opinion to the contrary white cats are not always deaf, tortoise-shells are not always females, and orange tabbies are not always males.
        Some pussies’ coats are yellow; some amber streaked with dark;
No member of the feline race but has a special mark.
This one has feet with hoarfrost tipped; that one has tail that curls;
Another’s inky hide is striped; another’s decked with pearls.
  Cats loom in the mind’s eye, indeed, with the heroes of history and the characters of fiction: Zola’s roving Angora, worsted in a street fight, and Edward Peple’s roving Angora who does up an alley cat and returns home tired and happy; Baudelaire’s occult cat; Lafcadio Hearn’s tortoise-shell, Tama, who played with her dead kittens in dreams, cooing to them, catching for them small shadowy things; Corporal Bunting’s devilishly grim, brindled, bandit cat, Jacobina; Madame Jolicœur’s cuddlesome, Shah de Perse, whose “rare little cat tantrums were but as sun-spots on the effulgence of his otherwise constant amiability”; Mr. Tarkington’s Gipsy, “half broncho and half Malay pirate”; snarling, green-eyed, grey Lady Jane, who follows Mr. Krook about in “Bleak House”; the pious papal cats of Leo XII, Gregory XV, and Pius IX; 24 the playful kitten companions of Richelieu; 25 the oyster-eating Hodge of Dr. Johnson, the bane of Boswell; Edward Lear’s Old Foss; “that troublesome old rip,” Hector G. Yelverton, “with no more principle than an injun”; Mr. Garnett’s indomitable queen, of whom has been written:
        And all the Toms, though never so bold,
Quailed at the martial Marigold.
  The esoteric procession continues to pass in front of me: Scheffel’s philosophical and lyrical Tom Cat, Hiddigeigei, of sable coat and majestic tail; Hamilcar, 26 the cat of Sylvestre Bonnard, who combined in his personality the formidable aspect of a Tartar chief with the heavy grace of an odalisque; John F. Runciman’s Felix-Mendelssohn-Bartholdy-Shedlock-Runciman-Felinis, who spit at hansoms at the age of six months and later attempted to play the viola-alta by trailing the bow across the floor, and his Minnie who used to put dogs to rout and died of eating needles; the charming Kallikrates of W. L. George’s “Blind Alley”; Tieck’s prodigiously delightful Hinze; Alexandre Dumas’s clairvoyant Mysouff, who once ate a 500 franc breakfast; the terrible one-eyed Pluto of Poe’s story and the one-eyed Wotan, Kraft’s cat in “Maurice Guest”; Mr. Warner’s sage Calvin and Mark Twain’s Tom Quartz, who objected to quartz mining; Agnes Repplier’s Agrippina and Lux; John Silence’s psychic cat, Smoke, who loved to rub up against the legs of spirits; the gamine cat, Fanchette, of the adorable Claudine; Dr. Nicola’s eschatological cat, Apollyon, who was privy to the mysteries of cartomancy; Dickens’s Williamina (first named William); Southey’s Rumpel, “the Most Noble the Archduke the Archduke Rumpel-stiltzchen, Marcus Macbum, Earl Tomlefnagne, Baron Raticide, Waowhler and Scratch”; Chateaubriand’s greyish red Micetto, the gift of a Pope; Tom Hood’s Tabitha Longclaws Tiddleywink and her three kittens, Pepperpot, Scratchaway, and Sootikins; the black cat of Fray Inocencio called Timoteo, a name “bestowed upon him for the reason that this is a name well suited to a cat, and also in derisive reprobation of that schismatic monophysite of Egypt, who in the fifth century usurped the Patriarchate, and was known popularly as ‘Timothy the Cat.’”; later this puss was called Susurro, 27 which in Spanish signifies Purrer; Sandy Jenkins’s hoodoo cat, Mesmerizer; Théophile Gautier’s Madame Théophile, who delighted in perfumes and music, India shawls lifted from boxes of sandalwood, and faint aromatic odours of the East; Victor Hugo’s Chanoine and Sir Walter Scott’s Hinse; Pierre Loti’s Moumoutte Blanche and Moumoutte Chinoise; the wicked Rutterkin of ways mephitic; and Rosamund Marriot Watson’s Egyptian cat desired by Arsinoë:
        A little lion, small and dainty sweet
    (For such there be!)
With sea-grey eyes and softly stepping feet.
On strings the solemn march:
        Les chats prudents, les chats silencieux,
Promènant leur beauté, leur grâce et leur mystère,
“furred serpents,” “green-eyed Venuses,” the “house-animal,” the “fireside sphinx,” “rat-eater,” “mouse-enemy,” the “panther of the hearth,” “cats … of titles obsolete or yet in use, Tom, Tybert, Roger, Rutterkin, or Puss,”
        Calumnious cats, who circulate faux pas,
And reputations maul with murderous claws;
Shrill cats, whom fierce domestic brawls delight,
Cross cats, who nothing want but teeth to bite,
Starch cats of puritanic aspect sad,
And learned cats who talk their husbands mad;
Uncleanly cats who never pare their nails,
Cat-gossips, full of Canterbury tales;
Cat-grandams, vex’d with asthmas and catarrhs,
And superstitious cats, who curse their stars.

Note 1.  “Chateaubriand et son temps,” by the Comte de Marcellus; 1859. [back]
Note 2.  The theory of the American Shakers that the functions of sex “belong to a state of nature are inconsistent with a state of grace” is not held by the cat. [back]
Note 3.  “Sept Dialogues de Bêtes.” [back]
Note 4.  “Fruit Between the Leaves.” [back]
Note 5.  “Anecdotes of Pets”: “North British Advertiser” (Edinburgh); 1874. [back]
Note 6.  “Mind in the Lower Animals.” [back]
Note 7.  “Novel Notes,” P. 151. [back]
Note 8.  Artault de Vevey: “Des Actes Raisonnés chez le Chat”: “Bulletin de l’Institut Genéral Psychologique,” Année III, No. 1; P. 13–14; Paris; 1903. [back]
Note 9.  “Chambers’s Journal”; October 9, 1880, P. 646. [back]
Note 10.  C. H. Lane: “Rabbits, Cats and Cavies.” P. 239. The cat was named Puddles. “He used to go out a-fishin’ with me every night,” relates the fisherman. “On cold nights he would sit on my lap while I was a-fishin’, and poke his head out every now and then, or else I would wrap him up in a sail and make him lay quiet. He’d lay down on me while I was asleep, and if anybody came, he’d swear a good un, and have the face off on ’em if they went to touch me, and he’d never touch a fish, not even a little teeny pout, if you didn’t give it to ’im. I was obliged to take him out a-fishin’ or else he’d stand an’ yowl and marr till I went back and ketched him by the poll and shied him into the boat, and then he was quiet happy. When it was fine he used to stick up at the bow of the boat and sit a-watchin’ the dogs (dog-fish). The dogs used to come along by the thousands at a time, and when they was thick all about, he would dive in and fetch ’em out, jammed in his mouth as fast as may be, just as if they was a parcel of rats, and he didn’t tremble with the cold half as much as a Newfoundland dog who was used to it. He looked terrible wild about the head when he came out of the water with a dog-fish. I larnt him the water myself. One day, when he was a kitten, I took him down to the sea to wash and brush the fleas out of him and in a week he could swim after a feather or a cork.” [back]
Note 11.  C. H. Ross: “The Book of Cats.” [back]
Note 12.  To the black cat, who has it in mind to move, the chinchilla cat gives the following advice in Jerome K. Jerome’s “Novel Notes,” P. 147: “Try and get yourself slightly wet. Why people should prefer a wet cat to a dry one I have never been able to understand; but that a wet cat is practically sure of being taken in and gushed over, while a dry cat is liable to have the garden hose turned upon it, is an undoubted fact. Also, if you can possibly manage it, and it is offered you, eat a bit of dry bread. The human race is always stirred to its deepest depths by the sight of a cat eating a bit of dry bread.” [back]
Note 13.  “The Little Red Kitten,” in “Fantastics,” P. 33. [back]
Note 14.  “Fulbert … now deeply troubled and revengeful, determined to inflict that punishment and indignity on Abélard, which, in its accomplishment, shocked even that ruder civilization to horror and reprisal.” From “The Story of Abélard and Héloïse.”

  Raoul Gineste has treated the subject in a poem which begins:
        On a fait couper matou,
Pour cause de propreté,
Et par esprit de bonté;
L’amour l’aurait rendu fou.
Son maître, bardé de lard,
Bourgeois stupide et cruel,
A trouvé spirituel
De l’appeler Abélard.

  In “Les Chats” (P. 74) Moncrif quotes Isaac de Benserade’s poem, inspired by the castration of a cat belonging to Madame Deshoulières:
        Je ne dis mot et je fais bonne mine
Et mauvais jeu depuis le triste jour
Qu’on me rendit inhabile à l’amour
Des Chats galans, moi la fleur la plus fine.
Ainsi se plaint Moricaut et rumine
Contre la main qui lui fit un tel tour;
Il est glacière, au lieu qu’il étoit four;
Il s’occupoit, maintenant il badine,
C’étoit un brave, et ce n’est plus qu’un sot,
Dans la gouttière il tourne autour du pot,
Et de bon coeur son Serrail en enrage;
Pour les plaisirs il avoit un talent,
Que l’on lui change au plus beau de son âge:
Le triste état qu’un état indolent!

  Catulle Mendès writes: “Rue Mansard, j’eus un chat, à qui l’on donna le nom d’un personnage de la Walkyrie. Mime était beau comme un amour. C’était un matou d’un noir superbe; mais il répandait une odeur formidable et ne se faisait pas faute de lacérer mes rideaux. On fut bien obligé de le confier à un homme de l’art, qui nous le ramena dans un état absolu de neutralité. A dater de ce jour, Mime s’enfonca dans une tristesse plus noire que lui-même. Nous habitions au cinquième étage. Mime avait coutume, à certains moments de la journée, de faire un petit tour sur la corniche de zinc qui régnait au long de la facade intérieure, sous nos fenêtres. Un matin, je le vis—ou je crus le voir—s’élancer volontairement de-cette corniche dans la rue. En tombant, il rencontra un réverbère contre lequel il se cassa les reins. Je vous affirme que je garde l’impression que Mime s’est suicidé.” [back]
Note 15.  “Through the Looking Glass”: Chapter I. [back]
Note 16.  W. Lauder Lindsay. “Mind in the Lower Animals.” [back]
Note 17.  Gilbert White: “The Natural History of Selborne.” [back]
Note 18.  Claudine’s Fanchette was irreproachable in this respect. Colette Willy observed her one day and set down her observations with such truth and good humour that I cannot resist the temptation to quote the passage from “Claudine à Paris” (P. 19): “Fanchette, heureuse fille, a pris gaîment l’internat. Elle a, sans protestation, accepté, pour y déposer ses petites horreurs, un plat de sciure dissimulé, dans ma ruelle, et je m’amuse, penchée, à suivre sur sa physionomie de chatte les phases d’une opération importante. Fanchette se lave les pattes de derrière, soigneuse, entre les doigts. Figure sage et qui ne dit rien. Arrêt brusque dans le washing: figure sérieuse et vague souci. Changement soudain de pose; elle s’assied sur son séant. Yeux froids et quasi sévères. Elle se lève, fait trois pas et se rassied. Puis, décision irrévocable, on saute du lit, on court à son plat, on gratte … et rien du tout. L’air indifférent reparaît. Mais pas longtemps. Les sourcils angoissés se rapprochent; elle regratte fièvreusement la sciure, piétine, cherche la bonne place et pendant trois minutes, l’oeil fixe et sorti, semble songer âprement. Car elle est volontiers un peu constipée. Enfin, lentement, on se relève et, avec des précautions minutieuses, on recouvre le cadavre, de l’air pénétré qui convient à cette funèbre opération. Petit grattement superfétatoire autour du plat, et sans transition, cabriole déhanchée et diabolique, prélude à une danse de chèvre, le pas de la délivrance. Alors, je ris et je crie: ‘Mélie, viens changer, vite, le plat de la chatte!’” [back]
Note 19.  W. H. Hudson relates the story of a remarkable friendship between a cat and a rat in “The Book of a Naturalist.” [back]
Note 20.  “Cats and their affections”; “Temple Bar”; Vol. 107, P. 84. [back]
Note 21.  “Les Chats”; P. 89. [back]
Note 22.  “Mind in the Lower Animals”; Vol. II, P. 186. [back]
Note 23.  “Les Chats.” [back]
Note 24.  When Pius IX sat down to dine, his cat came in with the soup, mounted a chair opposite him, and dumbly and decorously looked on until the pontiff had finished his meal. Then he received his own at his master’s hands and took leave until the same hour next day. The demise of puss alarmed the Pope’s household, lest he should be painfully affected by the loss of his old table companion, but His Holiness “did not seem to care a bit more about it than he had cared for the death of his secretary, the Cardinal Antonelli.” [back]
Note 25.  The fondness of Richelieu for kittens has been generally taken for granted and is stated as a fact in most of the books about cats. Champfleury, however, questions the matter in a footnote: “It is surprising that Moncrif, who, notwithstanding the jesting tone of his book, made extensive researches on the subject of cats, has not said a word about Richelieu’s passion for those animals. Can it be that this peculiarity, attributed to a great political personage, is a legend misapplied? ‘Everybody knows,’ says Moncrif, ‘that one of the greatest ministers France ever possessed, M. Colbert, always had a number of kittens playing about that same cabinet in which so many institutions, both useful and honourable to the nation, had their origin.’”

  Alexandre Landrin (“Le Chat,” p. 93) writes, “With Richelieu the taste for cats was a mania; when he rose in the morning and when he went to bed at night he was always surrounded by a dozen of them with which he played, delighting to watch them jump and gamble. He had one of his chambers fitted up as a cattery, which was entrusted to overseers, the names of whom are known. Abel and Teyssandier came, morning and evening, to feed the cats with patés fashioned of the white meat of chicken. At his death Richelieu left a pension for his cats and to Abel and Teyssandier so that they might continue to care for their charges. When he died Richelieu left fourteen cats of which the names were: Mounard le Fougueux, Soumise, Serpolet, Gazette, Ludovic le Cruel, Mimie Piaillon, Felimare, Lucifer, Lodoïska, Rubis sur l’Ongle, Pyrame, Thisbé, Racan, and Perruque. These last two received their names from the fact that they were born in the wig of Racan, the academician.”

  Gaston Percheron (“Le Chat,” p. 19) writes, “History records that Richelieu with one hand caressed a family of cats which played on his knees, while with the other he signed the order for the execution of Cinq-Mars.” [back]
Note 26.  Hamilcar was Anatole France’s own cat. After his death he was succeeded by a cat named Pascal by France’s cook, who had overheard a luncheon conversation about the French philosopher. Pascal was a stray cat who wandered in from the streets, liked the “city of books,” and decided to remain. He always maintained his independence, and sometimes went away for a week at a time. [back]
Note 27.  Asura, the ancient Aryan name for deity, signifies the breather. [back]



Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.