Nonfiction > Carl Van Vechten > The Tiger in the House > Chapter Twelve
Carl Van Vechten (1880–1964).  The Tiger in the House. 1922.
Chapter Twelve
Literary Men Who Have Loved Cats
        Au lieu d’un os rongé qu’en dînant je te jette,
Si mon argent devait payer ce que tu vaux,
Oh! combien envers toi serait lourde ma dette,
Aimable inspirateur de mes plus chers travaux!

EVEN in the dark ages the cat was the friend of the intelligent man, for the sorcerers and alchemists were the philosophers of the period and those who persecuted sorcerers and cats were the philistines. In our day the cat is as essential to the literary workshop as he was formerly to the alchemystical laboratory. French writers, especially, have made a fetish of the soft and independent little fellow animal. Hardly an author of distinction during the nineteenth century in Paris who did not surround himself with harems of long-haired Persian beauties. Prosper Mérimée, Théophile Gautier, Victor Hugo, Charles Baudelaire, Paul de Kock, André Theuriet, Émile Zola, Joris Karl Huysmans, Jules Lemaitre, Pierre Loti, Octave Mirbeau, and Anatole France all loved cats. Those in this list who are yet alive still do love them. Maupassant stands out as a solitary figure opposed to the cult, for I gather from his rather unsympathetic essay 1 on cats that he neither understood nor cared for them. The others revived cat-worship, for which there are sufficient reasons. Dogs are noisy, restless, clumsy, and dirty. As W. H. Hudson has remarked they are useful and therefore should be relegated with other useful animals to their proper place in the stables and the fields. 2 Two or three dogs about the house are sufficient to distract the attention and to claim one’s time, but it is possible to endure, nay to enjoy, the companionship of seventeen or more pussies, especially if they are aristocratic pussies. They keep themselves faultlessly clean and have no odour. They walk about noiselessly. Persian cats seldom mew and when they do their voices are modulated like those of well-bred people. They offer a pleasing exterior to the eye; their velvet backs invite caresses. When a man is tired a cat does not excite his nerves; when he is rested he can turn to puss for play. It is but fair to state, however, that the cat has his own ideas about such matters. “When I play with my cat who knows whether she diverts herself with me, or I with her!” writes Montaigne in an essay 3 vindicating natural theology from the objections of some of his opponents. “We entertain one another with mutual follies, struggling for a garter; and if I have my time to begin or to refuse, she also has hers. It is because I cannot understand her language that we agree no better; and perhaps she laughs at my simplicity in making sport to amuse her.”
  It is perfectly possible (a fact which I have proved scores of times myself) to work not only with a cat in the room, but with a cat on one’s shoulder or in one’s lap. In a draughty room, indeed, the cat makes a superior kind of paper-weight! Cats, to be sure, love to play on tables with loose papers and pens, but a little care will keep them from doing damage, and how welcome is the soft paw tap on the pen with the look of surprise that invariably follows, to the tired writer.   2
  As an inspiration to the author I do not think the cat can be over-estimated. He suggests so much grace, power, beauty, motion, mysticism. The perfect symmetry of his body urges one to achieve an equally perfect form. His colour and his line alone would serve to give any imaginative creator material for several pages of nervous description; on any subject, mind you, not necessarily on the cat himself. As for his intelligence, his occult power, they are so remarkable that I sometimes feel convinced that true cat-lover authors are indebted even more deeply than they believe to “cats of ebony, cats of flame” for their books. The sharp, but concealed claws, the contracting pupil of the eye, which allows only the necessary amount of light to enter, the independence, should be the best of models for any critic; the graceful movements of the animal who waves a glorious banner as he walks silently should stir the soul of any poet. The cat symbolizes, indeed, all that a good writer tries to put into his work. I do not wonder that some writers love cats; I am only surprised that all writers do not love cats.   3
  There is another explanation for the almost general fascination the cat has for the literary man. Writers as a class are irritable, temperamental, captious, and sensitive. They find in the soft grace, the urbanity, the reserve and the dignity of the cat exactly the softening qualities they require to smooth the ruggedness of life. Indeed the cat is as nearly as possible what many a writer would like to be himself.   4
  Some writer’s cats have been celebrated so often that I see small occasion for giving them much space in this volume. Dr. Johnson’s Hodge, for instance, who ate oysters and annoyed Boswell. If it had not been, indeed, that Boswell was by way of being ailurophobic, we should doubtless have heard more about Hodge who was one of the good doctor’s joys. Nor need we linger over Scott’s Hinse of Hinsefield, for a fondness for cats came late in the life of the author of “Waverley,” at heart a dog-lover. But it is worth while to note Scott’s account of his visit to the Archbishop of Taranto at Naples, “a most interesting old man, whose foible is a passion for cats.” Sir Walter was delighted with the ecclesiastical pets. “One of them,” he wrote in his journal, “is a superb brindled Persian, a great beauty, and a particular favourite. I remember seeing at Lord Yarmouth’s house a Persian cat, 4 but not so fine as the Bishop’s.” Scott was not the only traveller who described his meeting with these cats. Sir Henry Holland, lamenting the death of his friend, the Archbishop, wrote, “His cat and the Archbishop sitting together as they generally did, made a picture of themselves, the former looking the more austere theologian of the two.” And Lady Morgan’s report is irresistible: “The first day we had the honour of dining at the palace of the Archbishop of Taranto at Naples, he said to me, ‘You must pardon my passion for cats, but I never exclude them from my dining room and you will find they make excellent company.’ Between the first and second courses, the door opened, and several enormously large and beautiful Angora cats were introduced by the names of Pantalone, Desdemona, Otello, etc. They took their places on chairs near the tables, and were as silent, as quiet, as motionless, and as well behaved as the most bon-ton table in London could require. On the Bishop requesting one of the chaplains to help the Signora Desdemona, the butler stepped to his lordship, and observed, ‘My lord, la Signora Desdemona will prefer waiting for the roasts.’”   5
  Steele makes delicate domestic allusions to puss in “The Tatler.” His first actions on arriving home were to stir his fire and to stroke his cat. Night after night he sat between her and a little dog. “They both of them sit by my fire every Evening and wait my return with Impatience; and, at my entrance, never fail of running up to me, and bidding me Welcome, each of them in its proper Language. As they have been bred up together from Infancy, and have seen no other Company, they have acquired each other’s Manners; so that the Dog gives himself the Airs of a Cat, and the Cat, in several of her Motions and Gestures, affects the Behaviour of the little Dog.” Byron was lavish in his hospitality to animals. At Ravenna at one time he had five cats, eight dogs, ten horses, an eagle, a crow, a falcon, five peacocks, two guinea hens, and an Egyptian crane. Shelley was appalled by these beasts and birds but Byron found them all delightful. Miss Edgeworth and the Brontës kept cats. Carlyle had a soot-black kitten who begged tidbits from him at the table and ate them on the floor to the annoyance of Mrs. Carlyle who, during an absence, wrote to her maid, Jessie: “As long as she attends Mr. C. at meals (and she doesn’t care a sheaf of tobacco for him at any other time) so long will Mr. C. continue to give her bits of meat and driblets of milk, to the ruination of the carpets and hearthrugs.” There is a familiar story about Dickens and a kitten first called William, but later, for good reasons, Williamina, who to attract the author’s attention, persisted in putting out a candle by which he was reading. And a portrait exists of Mr. Gladstone reading with a cat on his knee.   6
  Jeremy Bentham, the apostle of utilitarianism, childless, and wifeless, lived in his house in London, surrounded by piles of books. Occasionally he was visited by admirers whom he turned away or treated with rudeness. Madame de Staël, for instance, sought an interview, and sent in her card. Charming Mr. Bentham wrote on it, “Mr. Bentham has nothing to say to Madame de Staël, and he is quite certain that Madame de Staël can have nothing to say to him,” and sent it down to her! But he adored his pussy-cats. His favourite was a cat named Langbourne, who afterwards became Sir John Langbourne, and still later the Reverend Sir John Langbourne, D. D.   7
  John Payne, the author of “The Masque of Shadows” and the translator of Villon, was possessed of an Angora cat, named Parthenopæus, who was accustomed to leap on Payne’s shoulders and coil himself half way round his neck. Horace Walpole delighted in cats and Gray’s letter to him on the death of a beloved beast has become a classic. In 1852 Thomas Griffiths Wainewright, the writer-poisoner, the friend of Lamb, of whom W. Carew Hazlitt and Oscar Wilde have written, died of apoplexy with his cat beside him, his sole living companion, “for whom he had evinced an extraordinary affection.” Enough, it would seem, has been written concerning Southey’s cats and Matthew Arnold’s Atossa.   8
  George Borrow had a deep affection for animals. One of his biographers, Herbert Jenkins, says that his horse, Side Habismilk, would come to a whistle and would follow him about, and his two dogs and his cat would do the same. When he went for a walk the dogs and the cat would set out with him, but the cat would turn back after accompanying him for about a quarter of a mile. When a favourite cat was so ill that he crawled away to die in solitude, Borrow went in search of him, and discovering the poor creature in the gurden-hedge, carried him back into the house, laid him in a comfortable place, and watched over him until he died. But his care of the much persecuted “ecclesiastical cat” at Llangollen, referred to elsewhere in this volume, is the best evidence of his warm feeling for pussies. Walter Pater, it seems, had two long-haired Persians to grace his hearth and to sit at his table, and Andrew Lang was a passionate felinophile. His black cat, Mr. Toby, his grey Persian, Master of Gray, and the abandoned Gyp should go into any biographical dictionary of cats.   9
  That strange intransigent genius, Samuel Butler, who, aside from his own writings and the music of Handel, found little in art to interest him, appears to have been fonder of cats than he was of men, in this respect resembling Jeremy Bentham. But he did not surround himself with exotic Persians after the fashion of many another author. The common cats of London were good enough for him, and the passages in his Note-Books and letters which refer to this passion are vibrant with interest. Early in 1873 Butler seems to have presented his equally eccentric correspondent, Miss Savage, with a cat, which she called after the name Butler first gave to the pseudonymous author of “The Fair Haven.” “I have named your cat ‘Purdoe,’ a good name for a cat,” Miss Savage writes March 10, 1873. “I baptised it with ink.” Miss Savage makes reference in other letters to other letters to other pussies, Clara and Tybalt. Butler writes to her September 22, 1884, “My cat is better, and though it looks old and battered is not otherwise amiss. I am extremely sorry to hear of your bereavement. Shall you cat again?” In November of the same year he writes, “How is your cat? Mine is so stupid. She does not even know how to catch rats and mice. Our servants says she catches them by the tail, instead of at the back of the neck. What is to be done with her?” Butler’s friend, Pauli, was in the habit of ringing the bell, if he saw a cat sitting on the doorstep, so that the owner might take the beast in. Butler was delighted with this idea and once tried it himself, but made the mistake of waiting until the servant opened the door when he explained why he had rung, only to learn that the cat did not belong to these people and that they had been trying very hard to get rid of it. In the meantime Butler seems to have lost his own cat. He writes to Miss Savage, “Don’t offer me your cat. If my cat does not come back I don’t mean to have a cat for some time. Jones has a real love of a cat, and when my mice get bad I will fetch it down for a day or two.” In his “Note-Books” Butler records that Prince, Jones’s cat, once picked up a little waif in the court and brought it home, “and the two lay together and were much lovelier than Prince was by himself.” It was this same Prince that caused a child who was playing with him one day to exclaim, “Oh! it’s got pins in its toes,” an incident that the author used in “The Way of All Flesh.” By the fall of 1885 not only Miss Savage but Butler’s sister seem to have been determined that he should “cat again.” He writes the latter on October 21, 1885, “No, I will not have a Persian cat; it is undertaking too much responsibility. I must have a cat whom I find homeless, wandering about the court, and to whom, therefore, I am under no obligations. There is a Clifford’s Inn euphemism about cats which the laundresses use quite gravely: they say people come to this place ‘to lose their cats.’ They mean that, when they have a cat they don’t want to kill and don’t know how to get rid of, they bring it here, drop it inside the railings of our grass-plot and go away under the impression that they have been ‘losing’ their cat. Well, this happens very frequently and I have already selected a dirty little drunken wretch of a kitten to be successor to my poor old cat. I don’t suppose it drinks anything stronger than milk and water, but then, you know, so much milk and water must be bad for a kitten that age—at any rate it looks as if it drank; but it gives me the impression of being affectionate, intelligent, and fond of mice, and I believe, if it had a home, it would become more respectable; at any rate I will see how it works.” It seems to have worked well, for six months or so later we read that the cat has become a mother. As a wet-nurse Butler was a failure. He writes to his sister in March 1886, “My kittens came and alas, went! One after another died for want of sufficient nourishment. This being their mother’s first confinement, she had forgotten to make the milk necessary to feed her offsprings, and so one after another starved in spite of all I could do. I had found homes for three out of the four and was sorry to lose them. They were exceedingly pretty while they lasted, but none of them lived as long as four days. The cat frequently came and told me that things were not going right, and I soon found out what the matter was, but I could not do anything.” Butler is perhaps the first and the last amateur cat-fancier to find beauty in kittens three days old. As for the lack of nourishment, probably he did not feed the mother enough; in any case it never seems to have occurred to him that kittens can be raised on a bottle as easily as human babies. In October 1886 the cat became a mother again while he was absent on a journey and he writes his sister that the kittens are “well and strong but as wild as little tigers through not having been habitually caressed.” 5  10
  Like Butler, George Moors prefers the occidental cat. his cats, however, have not been waifs from Clifford’s Inn. Cats appear now and again in his books and generally a generous-sized tom cat wanders about his home in Ebury Street. One of these is described in “Salve,” 6 “a large, grey and affectionate animal upon whom Jane, without the aid of a doctor, had impressed the virtue of chastity, so successfully that he never sought the she, but remained at home, a quiet, sober animal that did not drink milk, 7 only water, and who, when thrown up to the ceiling, refrained from turning round, content to curl himself into a ball, convinced that my hands would receive him—an animal to whom I was so much attached that I had decided to bring him with me in a basket; but a few weeks before my departure he died of a stoppage in his entrails, brought about probably by a morsel of sponge fried in grease—a detestable and cruel way of poisoning cats often practised by porters.…” Moore and his Jane attempted in every conceivable way to alleviate Jim’s sufferings, “but he neither ate nor drank and lay down stoically to die. Death did not come to him for a long while; it seemed as if he would never drop off, and at last, unable to bear the sight of his sufferings any longer, Jane held his head in a pail of water, and after a few gasps the trial of life was over. It may have been that he died of the fur that he licked away collecting in a ball in his entrails, and that there is no cause for me to regret the sovereign given to the porter when the great van drove up to my door to take away the bedroom and kitchen furniture.” Some time large George Moore took another cat into his family, a large black tom cat with green eyes, who makes his appearance in an interview published in the “Fortnightly Review,” 8 an interview which Moore later worked into a chapter for “Avowals.” For this is his famous defence of censored literature, a defence which immediately preceded his decision to publish his own books privately to avoid all future arguments with the Comstocks and Sumners, and this defence was originally made before the great black tom cat of Ebury Street, who sat as judge in an arm-chair, listening gravely, but with some astonishment, to his master’s plea, blinked his green eyes and finally fell asleep. Fontenelle tried a similar experiment once, but with less success. He rehearsed a discourse before his cat, but the animal refused to listen and left his presence. Always talking, Fontenelle followed him from room to room, upstairs and down, until at length the cat escaped to the roof! 9 But the great black tom cat of Ebury Street is dead. “I am sorry to tell you,” Moore wrote me in December 1919, “that my last cat was run over, a dear cat, one of the most intelligent I have ever had, who did not mind a cuff for jumping on the table, but would not forgive you if you turned him down from your knee.”  11
  Théophile Gautier has written a book about his cats, his black and white dynasties, but delightful as these pages are they have been worn thread-bare by repetition and quotation. No felinophile, however, who has thus far passed it by should miss reading “La nature chez elle et la ménagerie intime.” Pussies, exquisite or suffering, wander in and out of nearly all of Pierre Loti’s books. “La vie de deux chats” is possibly the most perfect prose yet dedicated to the charms of these gentle beasts. You may read it in French, in translation, or summarized or quoted in a dozen cat books. His studies of cats in “Reflects sur la route sombre” are less familiar. How charming, for example, is this: “A cat is watching me.… He is close at hand, on the table, and thrusts forward his dimly thoughtful little head, in which some unwonted flash of intelligence has just entered. Whilst servants or visitors have been on the spot, he has scornfully kept out of the way, under an armchair, for no other person than myself is allowed to stroke his invariably immaculate coat. But no sooner does he perceive that I am alone than he comes and sits in front of me, suddenly assuming one of those expressive looks that are seen from time to time in such enigmatical, contemplative animals as belong to the same genus as himself. His yellow eyes look up at me, wide open, the pupils dilated by a mental effort to interrogate and attempt to understand: ‘Who are you, after all?’ he asks. ‘Why do I trust you? Of what importance are you in the world?’ In our ignorance of things, our inability to know anything, how amazing—perhaps terrifying—if we could but see into the curious depths of these eyes and fathom the unknowable within the little brain hidden away there. Ah! if only for a moment we could put ourselves in its place and afterwards remember, what an instantaneous and definite solution—though no doubt terrifying enough—we might obtain of the perplexing problem of life and eternity!  12
  “And now he is about to sleep, maybe to dream, on this table at which I am writing; he settles down as close to me as possible, after stretching out his paw towards me two or three times, looking at me as though craving permission to leap on to my knees. And there he lies, his head daintily resting on my arm, as though to say: ‘Since you will not have me altogether, permit this at least, for I not disturb you if I remain so.’  13
  “How mysterious is the affection of animals! It denotes something lofty, something superior in those natures about which we know so little. And how well I can understand Mohammed, who, in response to the chant of the muezzin summoning him to prayers, cut off with a pair of scissors the hem of his cloak before rising to his feet, for fear of disturbing his cat, which had settled down thereon to sleep.”  14
  Alexandre Dumas was an enormously prodigal and fecund person. He wrote a monstrous lot; he lived a lot; he ate a lot; his establishment was always crowded and among the crowds of people played crowds of pets, which he has described in “Mes Bêtes.” The reader, however, will not carry away from this book the impression that Dumas was especially fond of animals, although there is a touching picture drawn of the English pointer, Pritchard. The vultures, cats, monkeys, and macaws about the place were mostly cared for by the gardener, Michel, who adored animals. Dumas was amused by them, much as was Byron.  15
  Chateaubriand, on the other hand, was a discerning admirer of cats. Under all circumstances, he occupied himself with cats, as an ambassador, as an exile, and at the close of his life when he ruled over the literary world from the retirement of Abbaye-aux-Bois. Champfleury finds him “of all writers on this theme, the best, the most enthusiastic.” “Do you not know some one, near here,” he asked his friend, Comte de Marcellus, “who is like a cat? I think myself, that our long familiarity has given me some of his ways.” Space and Time did not permit his friend to send him Huysmans, who is described by Arthur Symons as looking like a cat, 10 or Walt Whitman, of whom Edmund Gosse 11 has said, “If it be true that all remarkable human beings resemble animals, then Walt Whitman was like a cat—a great old grey Angora Tom, alert in response, serenely blinking under his combed waves of hair, with eyes inscrutably dreaming,” or La Fontaine or Baudelaire. 12 When he went on an embassy to Rome Chateaubriand received a cat as a gift from the Pope. “He was called Micetto,” writes M. de Marcellus. “Pope Leo the Twelfth’s cat, which came into the possession of Chateaubriand, could not fail to reappear in the description of that domestic hearth where I have so often seen him basking.” Chateaubriand has immortalized his favourite: “My companion is a large grey and red cat, banded with black. He was born in the Vatican, in the loggia of Raphael. Leo the Twelfth reared him on a fold of his white robe, where I used to look at him with envy when, as ambassador, I received my audiences. The successor of Saint Peter being dead, I inherited the bereaved animal. He is called Micetto, and surnamed ‘the Pope’s cat,’ enjoying in that regard much consideration from pious souls. I endeavour to soften his exile, and help him to forget the Sistine Chapel, and the vast dome of Saint Angelo, where far from earth, he was wont to take his daily promenade.” 13  16
  Barbey d’Aurevilly’s Demonette outlived her master and was subsequently cared for by Louise Read. Her name was Desdemona, “Demonette to her intimate friends,” Barbey used to explain. She was given to the writer-dandy in 1884 by Madame Constantin Paul, and he at once installed her as the favourite in his home, even allowing her to sprawl on his manuscript while he worked. She also sat by him with her paws on the table at his meals, receiving the choicest morsels from his hands. Léon Ostrowski made a sketch of this scene which appeared in the “Revue Illustée” for January 1, 1887. “Eyes of gold on a piece of black velvet”: thus Barbey described her. When Spirito was born, Barbey cried, “My cat has made a misalliance!” But eventually he became deeply attached to Spirito, who was infinitely more tender than the Archduchess Demonette, as he sometimes called her. At Valognes he had a cat-companion whom he called Grifette but he missed the Archduchess and Spirito and he wrote, “How lovely Demonette with her black fur, this Mauritian princess, would be here in this great yellow room (the disguise of the brunettes)! Alas I have not my cats, my nocturnal companions, to caress.” After the death of Barbey, Demonette could not be induced to leave his bed. An expression of terror and fright shone from her eyes. Three days later four kittens were born before their time, three of them dead; the fourth tiny beast seemed to inherit his mother’s despair.  17
  Champfleury spent many agreeable hours discussing cats with Prosper Mérimée, who found cats excessively sensitive, a trait which he deplored, and exceedingly polite. “In that,” he said, “the animal resembles well-bred persons.” In one of his letters Mérimée writes of “Un vieux chat noir, parfaitement laid, mais plein d’esprit et de discretion. Seulement il n’a eu que des gens vulgaires et manque d’usage.” Champfleury also describes Victor Hugo and his cat: “It takes an essentially feminine and poetic nature to understand the cat. In my youth I used to visit at a house in the Place Royale; the salon was hung with tapestry and decorated with Gothic ornaments; in its centre stood a large red ottoman, on which a huge cat was seated, awaiting the homage of visitors with grave dignity. This was the favourite cat of Victor Hugo, whom, in his ‘Letters sur le Rhin’ he calls Chanoine, because of his indolence and idleness.” Saint-Beuve’s Palémon was permitted to range undisturbed through the critic’s precious manuscripts. Among the guests who came to the house he had a natural preference for Théophile Gautier. Huysmans once said, “In the matter of animals I love only cats but I love them unreasonably for their qualities and in spite of their numerous faults. I have only one but I could not live without a cat.” But later he wrote, “I have been and still am a diligent friend of the feline race, but since the death of my last cat I do not own one; my affection is then for the present entirely platonic.” This feeling that there will never be another, after the death of a cat, is pretty generally distributed, but in time another usually comes. Stéphane Mallarmé held that a cat was a necessary adjunct of the home. He completed it, polished the furniture, softened the angles, and gave the place mystery. He was the last bibelot, the supreme touch! Mallaré’s Lilith was sketched by Whistler. 14 François Coppée named one of his cats Bourget, who unlike his namesake, became a great fighter until finally his ears were torn to lace. His nickname was Zézé and he lived to be twenty years old. Coppée owned two more celebrated cats, Loulou and Mistigris. These pussies had their own physician, M. Bourrel, who once remarked, to Coppée’s delight, “These are not the first literary cats that I have had the honour of caring for. I was also the physician for the cats of M. Paul de Kock.” Paul de Kock, indeed, was a true félinophile enragé. His property at Lilas was surrounded by a wall and within the enclosure pussies roamed at their leisure. His neighbours were familiar with his weakness and whenever they found a stray cat, they carried it to him. They did not even take the trouble to ring the bell at the gate. They did not even take the trouble to ring the bell at the gate. The cat was tossed over the wall to join the vast family already there. Frédéric Mistral loved his cat, Marcabrun. Catulle Mendès was attracted towards cats by their beauty. Aside from Mime, who committed suicide on account of certain alterations, he owned Fasolt and Fafner, who during their and his lifetime, dined at his table. Georges Courteline had a fondness for the rakish apache cats of the Butte Montmartre and he named them the Purotin of the Rue de Ruisseau, Charles Scherer, alias l’Infâme, alias la Terreur de Clingnancourt, la Mère Dissipée, le Petit Turbulent, and the Rouquin de Montmartre. When Ernest la Jeunesse came to Paris from Nancy he brought five cats with him, Elsa, Thaïs, Paphnuce, Bérénice, and Boudolha. From the names we would gather that these became twenty-five before the year was out. This list, you will observe, is not short. Indeed a history of the French felinophiles might serve as the literary history of France. In this connection it is interesting to remember that François Coppée, Catulle Mendès, André Theuriet, A Sylvestre, Octave Mirbeau, Eugène Lambert, Steinlen, Pierre Mégnin, and Maurice Vaucaire served on the jury of the first cat-show 15 in Paris.  18
  “The Black Cat” is perhaps not the story of a cat-lover; nevertheless Poe loved cats, and there are those who even assert that Baudelaire inherited this passion from Poe, and took it over together with the other paraphernalia of the alchemist’s retreat. At any rate a visitor to Poe in Fordham in 1846, describes this scene in his cottage: “There was no clothing on the bed, which was only straw, but a snow-white counterpane and sheets. The weather was cold and the sick lady (Mrs. Poe) had the dreadful chills that accompany the hectic fever of consumption. She lay on the straw bed, wrapped in her husband’s great coat, with a large tortoiseshell cat in her bosom. The wonderful cat seemed conscious of her great usefulness. The coat and the cat were the sufferer’s only means of warmth, except as her husband held her hands and her mother her feet.” Mrs. Poe died in January 1847. Lafcadio Hearn, it may well be imagined, was a felinophile. “Very much do I love cats,” he writes in “Kotto,” “and I suppose that I could write a large book about the different cats that I have kept, in various climes and times, on both sides of the world.” Alas, Hearn never wrote this book, which might have been his masterpiece, but pussies stroll through his other works.  19
  Mark Twain completely capitulated to grimalkin; cats, indeed, it would seem were one of the necessities of life to him. In “Pudd’nhead Wilson” he says, “A home without a cat, and a well-fed, well-petted, and properly revered cat, may be a perfect home, perhaps, but how can it prove its title?” Cat comparisons, cat allusions, cat descriptions, cat figures, cats and kittens abound in his stories. Twain even mentions cats in his early lecture on Artemus Ward. 16 In “Following the Equator,” somewhere in the Orient he remarks the absence of the cat from a fauna otherwise satisfactory. “And yet,” he observes plaintively, “a cat would have liked the place.” In “The Stolen White Elephant” we read: “We saw upwards of a million cats in Bermuda, but the people are very abstemious in the matter of dogs. Two or three nights we prowled the country far and wide, and never once were accosted by a dog. It is a great privilege to visit such a land.” 17 Mr. Clemens wrote several stories about cats and he was once photographed with a kitten. Naturally there were always cats in his home (Like George Borrow, Samuel Butler, and George Moore he specialized in the domestic variety) and I have been told that when he played billiards, his cat frequently watched him from one corner of the table. In a letter to “Saint Nicholas” 18 he speaks of Sour Mash, Apollinaris, Zoroaster, Blatherskite, “names given them, not in an unfriendly spirit, but merely to practise the children in large and difficult styles of pronunciation.”  20
  All readers of “Roughing It” will remember Tom Quartz, “who wouldn’t let the Gov’ner of Californy be familiar with him,” and who “never ketched a rat in his life—’peared to be above it. You couldn’t tell him nothin’ ’bout placer diggins—’n’ as for pocket mining, why he was jest born for it. He would dig out after me an’ Jim when we went over the hills prospect’n, and he would trot along behind us for as much as five mile; if we went so fur. An’ he had the best judgement about mining ground—why you never see anything like it. When we went to work, he’d scatter a glance around, ’n’ if he didn’t think much of the indications, he would give a look as much as to say, ‘Well, I’ll have to get you to excuse me,’ ’n’ without another word he’d hyste his nose in the air and shove for home. But if the ground suited him, he would lay low ’n’ take a look, an’ if there was about six he or seven grains of gold he was satisfied—he didn’t want no better prospect ’n that—’n’ then he would lay down on our coats and snore like a steamboat till we’d struck the pocket an’ then get up ’n’ superintend.” In due time quartz mining became fashionable. One day Tom, asleep on the coat, was forgotten when the fuse was lit, and when the explosion followed he rose in the air with the shower of rock. Thereafter Tom “shoved off” for home as soon as any one lit a fuse.  21
  “When Tom was sot once, he was always sot, and you might a blowed him up as much as three million times ’n’ never a broken him of his cussed prejudice agin quartz mining.” Theodore Roosevelt must have enjoyed this story for he named a White House cat, Tom Quartz. This cat once playfully challenged the dignity of Joe Cannon. 19  22
  Henry James’s love of cats is a more esoteric matter. Less is probably known about this writer’s private life than about the life of any man equally prominent. He was seldom, if ever, interviewed, and anecdotes of his adventures and personal habits did not appear in the magazine sections of the Sunday newspapers, or in “The Ladies’ Home Journal.” Nevertheless one writer has asserted that Henry James often worked with a cat on his shoulder, 20 a statement I should not have credited uncorroborated, but in a paper by S. B. Wister 21 I found the following: “The prettiest of Princess’s ways was a fashion she had of rearing on her hind legs, pressing her little pink nose against the face that bent over her, and at the same time patting the cheeks with her forepaws. She reserved this caress for her mistress almost exclusively, making a rare exception in favour of her master, but for nobody else save once, memorably for Mr. Henry James. It was very rapid, very endearing, and had a touch of condescension about it which was characteristic of her attitude towards man and beast.”  23
  In William Dean Howells’s “My Literary Passions” that author tells us how in his youth he wrote a “mock-heroic epic of a cat fight, studied from the cat fights in our back yard, with the wonted invocation to the Muse, and the machinery of partisan gods and goddesses. It was in some hundreds of verses, which I did my best to balance as Pope did, with a cæsura falling in the middle of the line, and a neat antithesis at either end.” Further pussies decorate the progress of Mr. Howells’s many volumes and in “Familiar Spanish Studies” I found convincing evidence of this writer’s real love for cats, for it would seem that he would turn away from Goya and El Greco to pet and talk to cats in Spain. 22 I was somewhat astonished to learn that this idiosyncrasy had not grown further, for Mr. Howells wrote me, “Wrote are a cat family as opposed to dogs, but I have no great personal passion for cats.” Perhaps not, yet in one of his books, 23 Mr. Howells has made a very personal study of a cat named Jim who lived at Kittery Point. “Unless one has lived at Kittery Point, and realized from observation and experience, what a leading part cats play in society, one cannot feel the full import of this fact. Not only has every house in Kittery its cat, but every house seems to have its half-dozen cats, large, little, old, and young; of divers colours, tending mostly to a dark tortoise-shell. 24 With a whole ocean inviting to the tragic rite, I do not believe there is ever a kitten drowned in Kittery; the illimitable sea rather employs itself in supplying the fish to which ‘no cat’s averse,’ but which the cats of Kittery demand to have cooked. They do not like raw fish; they say it plainly, and they prefer to have the bones taken out for them, though they do not insist upon that point.”  24
  Jim scented the odour of broiled mackerel in the air about the Howells kitchen and dropped in one evening “with a fine casual effect of being merely out for a walk, and feeling it a neighbourly thing to call. He had on a silver collar, engraved with his name and surname, which offered itself for introduction like a visiting card. He was too polite to ask himself to the table at once, but after he had been welcomed to the family circle, he formed the habit of finding himself with us at breakfast and supper, when he sauntered in like one who should say, ‘Did I smell fish?’ but would not go further in the way of hinting.  25
  “He had no need to do so. He was made at home, and freely invited to our best not only in fish, but in chicken, for which he showed a nice taste, and in sweet-corn, for which he revealed a most surprising fondness when it was cut from the cob for him. After he had breakfasted or supped he gracefully suggested that he was thirsty by climbing to the table where the water-pitcher stood and stretching his fine feline head towards it. When he had lapped up his saucer of water, he marched into the parlour, and riveted the chains upon our fondness by taking the best chair and going to sleep in it in attitudes of Egyptian, of Assyrian majesty. His arts were few or none; he rather disdained to practise any; he completed our conquest by maintaining himself simply a fascinating presence.…”  26
  Thomas A. Janvier was a great ailurophile. Tabbies and silvers insinuate themselves smilingly into the pages of many of his books. “Not that I would depreciate one single beast—no, not even the hippopotamus in order to give cats a better standing;” he writes, 25 “for all of them in their severally appointed places, have those first good qualities wherewith they have been endowed by their creator.… But to some natures—of which, I confess, mine own is one—the supereminence of the cat over every other animal, save man alone, 26 is so obtrusive a certainty that there surely is no denying it.” Edmund Clarence Stedman was an admirer of cats. In 1895 he owned a great maltese called Babylon and Mrs. Stedman a long-haired blue called Kelpie. Sarah Orne Jewett is a cat-lover and the old gentlewomen of her books usually are felinophiles too. Mrs. Frances Hodgson Burnett exhibited her Dick at the first New York cat-show. Mary E. Wilkins is devoted to puss and she has written several stories about him. I especially remember the dreary old New England spinster who lost her Willy, and who thereupon became very wicked, figuratively cursed her Maker, and refused to go to meetin’. Willy was eventually discovered in the cellar where the spinster herself had unwittingly locked him up. I think Miss Repplier must love cats with a fervour equal to her adoration of the eighteenth century English essayists. At least they share an equal importance in her books. Her study of a kitten, her portraits of Agrippina, Claudius Nero, and Lux are among the treasures of felinature, and yet Miss Repplier seems always a little afraid that she loves her cats more than they love her.  27
  Cats appear somewhere in nearly all the books of Edgar Saltus, which is but fitting in the works of a son of the French diabolists, but the only story he has written which directly concerns puss is about a girl,
        qui miaulait d’un ton fort doux.
  Saltus’s passion for the animal is as intense as that of Baudelaire. Like the author of the “Fleurs du Mal” he stops to converse with every grimalkin he meets on the street. Indeed wherever he goes, which to be sure is next to nowhere, for Saltus is a recluse, the cats he meets receive more attention from him than men. In “The Anatomy of Negation,” one reads, “Throughout the middle ages no sorcerer was considered well-equipped without a sleek black cat, an animal to which, like many a sensible mortal, the devil appears to have been greatly attached.” In “Mr. Incoul’s Misadventure” there is a Thibetan cat. In “The Paliser Case” there is a cat with “long hair, the colour of smoke, a bushy tail, the eyes of an angel, and a ferocious moustache.”  29
  But of all American cat-lovers I think perhaps Charles Dudley Warner deserves first place.… “I only had one cat,” he once said, “and he was more of a companion than a cat. When he departed this life I did not care to do as many men do when their partners die, take a second.” The wonderful Calvin appears briefly in the delightful chapters of “My Summer in a Garden,” which Samuel Butler sent to Miss Savage warning her to keep silent if she did not like it, “for I cannot bear to have people disagree with me.” After Calvin’s death Warner wrote a special paper about him, which is included in later editions of this work. This essay is a masterpiece of sympathetic prose and one of the best cat portraits that has been given to us by a literary man. Calvin, it seems, walked one day a full-grown cat into the home of Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe. “It was as if he had inquired at the door if that was the residence of the author of ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin,’ and, upon being assured that it was, had decided to dwell there.” Later when Mrs. Stowe moved to Florida, Calvin was entrusted to the Warner family of which he was a beloved member until his death eight years later.  30
  “He was of royal mould, and had an air of high breeding. He was large, but he had nothing of the fat grossness of the celebrated Angora family; though powerful, he was exquisitely proportioned, and as graceful in every movement as a young leopard.… His coat was the finest and softest I have ever seen, a shade of quiet maltese; and from his throat downward underneath, to the white tips of his feet, he wore the whitest and most delicate ermine; and no person was ever more fastidiously neat. In his finely formed head you saw something of his aristocratic character; the ears were small and cleanly cut, there was a tinge of pink in the nostrils, his face was handsome, and the expression of his countenance exceedingly intelligent—I should call it even a sweet expression if the term were not inconsistent with his look of alertness and sagacity.  31
  “Although he had fixed notions about his own rights, and extraordinary persistency in getting them, he never showed temper at a repulse; he simply and firmly persisted till he had what he wanted. His diet was one point; his idea was that of the scholars about dictionaries,—‘to get the best.’ He knew as well as any one what was in the house, and would refuse beef if turkey was to be had; and if there were oysters, he would wait over the turkey to see if the oysters would not be forthcoming. And yet he was not a gross gourmand; he would eat bread if he saw me eating it, and thought he was not being imposed on.  32
  “The intelligence of was something phenomenal, in his rank of life. he established a method of communicating his wants, and even some of his sentiments; and he could help himself in many things. There was a furnace register in a retired room, where he used to go when he wished to be alone, that he always opened when he desired more heat; but never shut it, any more than he shut the door after himself.… I hesitate a little to speak of his capacity for friendship and the affectionateness of his nature, for I know from his own reserve that he would not care to have it much talked about. We understood each other perfectly, but we never made any fuss about it; when I spoke his name and snapped my fingers, he came to me; when I returned home at night, he was pretty sure to be waiting for me near the gate, and would rise and saunter along the walk, as if his being there was purely accidental,—so shy was he commonly of showing feeling. There was one thing he never did,—he never rushed through an open doorway. He never forgot his dignity. If he had asked to have the door opened, and was eager to go out, he always went out deliberately; I can see him now, standing on the sill, looking about at the sky as if he was thinking whether it were worth while to take an umbrella, until he was near having his tail shut in.  33
  “His friendship was rather constant than demonstrative. When we returned from an absence of nearly two years, Calvin welcomed us with evident pleasure, but showed his satisfaction rather by tranquil happiness than by fuming about. He had the faculty of making us glad to get home. It was his constancy that was so attractive. He liked companionship, but he wouldn’t be petted, or fussed over, or sit in any one’s lap a moment; he always extricated himself from such familiarity with dignity and with no show of temper. If there was any petting to be done, however, he chose to do it. Often he would sit looking at me, and then, moved by a delicate affection, come and pull at my coat and sleeve until he could touch my face with his nose, and then go away contented.”  34
  Like Loti, Mr. Warner touches our hearts very deeply in the death scene, a scene which is very sincerely, very beautifully written. An animal who can inspire such prose as “Calvin” and “Vie de Deux Chats” has certainly served his purpose in this world.  35

Note 1.  “Sur les Chats” in the volume entitled, “La Petite Roque.” [back]
Note 2.  The dog with all his new propensities, remains mentally a jackal, above some mammalians and below others; nor can he outlive ancient, obscene instincts which become increasingly offensive as civilization raises and refines his master man. How did our belief in the mental superiority of this animal come to exist? Doubtless it came about through our intimacy with the dog, in the fields where he helped us, and in our houses where we made a pet of him, together with our ignorance of the true character of other animals. In the Orient the dog is an unclean animal. His instincts still persist. He may be shut up in an atmosphere of opopanax and frangipani for twelve hundred years and he will love the smell of carrion still.

  The moral of all this is, that while the dog has become far too useful for us to think of parting with it—useful in a thousand ways, and likely to be useful in a thousand more, as new breeds arise with modified forms and with new unimagined propensities—it would be a blessed thing, both for man and dog, to draw the line at useful animals, to put and keep them in their place, which is not in the house, and to value them at their proper worth, as we do our horses, pigs, cows, goats, sheep, and rabbits.

  But there is a place in the human heart, the female heart especially, which would be vacant without an animal to love and fondle, a desire to have some furred creature for a friend … and this love is unsatisfied and feels itself deprived of its due unless it can be expressed in the legitimate mammalian way, which is to have contact with its object, to touch with the fingers and caress. Fortunately such a feeling or instinct can be amply gratified without the dog. W. H. Hudson in “The Great Dog-Superstition.” Goethe was among those who hated dogs and Mephistopheles appeared to Faust in the form of a poodle. [back]
Note 3.  “Apologie de Raimond Sebond.” [back]
Note 4.  In the early nineteenth century Persian cats were comparatively rare in England. [back]
Note 5.  These examples are from “Samuel Butler” by Henry Festing Jones; Macmillan and Co.; London; 1919, and “The Note-Books of Samuel Butler.” [back]
Note 6.  P. 25; English edition. [back]
Note 7.  Many common cats are brought up on milk and they cannot be said to dislike it, but no cat breeder would think of giving milk to his cat, and a Persian cat, brought up on meat, will not touch it. Frequently, therefore, they die of starvation, when they are old and have lost their teeth. But a cat without a carnivorous diet is a weak cadaverous cat. It may be mentioned here that it is essential that prey be freshly killed. Cats will not eat carrion or stale food of any kind. [back]
Note 8.  “The Fortnightly Review”; October 1917. [back]
Note 9.  Moncrif: “Les Chats,” P. 103. [back]
Note 10.  “‘He gave me the impression of a cat,’ some interviewer once wrote of him; ‘courteous, perfectly polite, almost amiable, but all nerves, ready to shoot out his claws at the least word.’ And indeed there is something of his favourite animal about him. The face is grey, wearily alert with a look of benevolent malice.” “Figures of Several Centuries,” P. 270. [back]
Note 11.  “Critical Kit-Kats,” P. 103; London; 1896. [back]
Note 12.  See Pages 263 and 267. [back]
Note 13.  “Mémoires d’Outre Tombe.” [back]
Note 14.  There is a reproduction of this sketch on P. 251 of Paul Mégnin’s book, “Notre Ami le Chat.” [back]
Note 15.  Cat-shows have undoubtedly done much to raise this little animal in the estimation of unbelievers. They have also made it a great incentive to improve breeds. It is unfortunate, however, that cat-shows at present are so largely in the hands of professional breeders, who are anxious to advance the prices of their “stock.” The cat-shows in both England and France were started by artists, authors, and rich amateurs. It would be a good thing if more people in these classes would interest themselves in American cat-shows. [back]
Note 16.  Don C. Seitz: “Artemus Ward,” P. 140. [back]
Note 17.  “Some Rambling Notes of an Idle Excursion”; P. 74. [back]
Note 18.  This letter was republished in “Cat Stories from Saint Nicholas.” [back]
Note 19.  This incident is related in “Theodore Roosevelt’s Letters to His Children.” [back]
Note 20.  Marvin R. Clark: “Pussy and Her Language.” [back]
Note 21.  “Temple Bar”; January 1896. [back]
Note 22.  “In Gerona Cathedral there was a cat who would stroll about in front of the capilla mayor during the progress of mass, receiving the caresses of the passersby,” writes Havelock Ellis in “The Soul of Spain,” P. 14. [back]
Note 23.  “Literature and Life.” [back]
Note 24.  Mr. Howells probably means tabby. [back]
Note 25.  In his essay, “The Cats of Henriette Ronner”; “The Century Magazine”; October 1893. [back]
Note 26.  To me this exception seems unduly cautious and unnecessary. [back]



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