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Chambers's miscellany of useful and entertaining tracts (Volume v.5-6) online

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alms, which were very adequate to the purpose.

In the early history of "Our own country also, cats were of
so much importance as to be the subject of special enactments.
In the reign of Ilowel the Good, Prince of Wales, who died in



948, laws v.'ere made to fix the prices of different animals, among"
which the cat was included, as being- at that eai'ly period of g'reat
importance, on account of its scarcity and utility. The price of
a kitten before it could see was fixed at one penny ; till proof
could be given of its having* caught a mouse, twopence ; after
which it was rated at fourpence — a g'reat sum in those days,
when the value of specie was extremely high. It was likewise
required that the animal should be perfect in its senses of hear-
ing' and seeing, should be a good mouser, have its claws whole,
and, if a female, be a careful nurse. If it failed in any of these
qualifications, the seller was to forfeit to the buyer a third of the
purchase-money. If any one should steal or kill the cat that
g'uarded the prince's granary, the offender was to forfeit either
a milch ewe, with her fleece and lamb, or as much wheat as,
when poured on the cat suspended by its tail (its head touching-
the floor), would form a heap high enoug-h to cover the tip of
the tail. This is curious not only as a matter of history, but as
showing that, while the wild cat of the country was so abundant
as to be troublesome, the domestic species was apparently an
import of great rarity, and of considerable value.


It is a vulgar and erroneous belief that cats are only attached
to places : there are hundreds of instances on record where they
have shown the most devoted and enduring- attachment to per-
sons who have treated them with kindness. A gentleman in the
neighbourhood of London had a tortoise-shell cat, which, though
he never fed it, or paid much attention to it, formed an attach-
ment for him equal to that of a dog*. It knew his ring at the
bell, and at whatever time he came home, it was rubbing- against
his legs long- before the servant came, saw him into the sitting-
room, and then walked off. It was a very active animal, .and
usually went bird -catching during the night; but when its
master rose, which was g-enerally early in the morning, the cat
was always ready to receive him at the door of his room, and
accompanied him in his morning walk in the garden, alternately
skipping to the tops of the trees, and descending and g-ambolling
about him. When he was in his study, it used to pay him several
visits in the day, always short ones ; but it never retired till he
had recognised it. If rubbing against his legs had not the de-
sired effect, it would mount the writing-table, nudge his shoulder,
and if that would not do, pat him on the cheek ; but the moment
he had shaken it by the paw, and given it a pat or two on the
head, it walked off. When he was indisposed, it paid him several
visits every day, but never continued in the room ; and although
it was fond of society generally, and also of its food, it never
obtruded its company during meals. Its attachment was thus
quite disinterested, and no pains whatever had been taken to
train it.


When M. Sonnini was in Eg-jpt, lie had an Ang-ora cat, which
remained in his possession for a long- time. This animal was one
of the most beautiful of its kind, and equally attractive in its man-
ners and dispositions. In Sonnini's solitary moments, she chiefly
kept by his side ; she interrupted him frequently in the midst of
his labours or meditations, by little affecting; caresses, and g'ene-
rally followed him in his walks. During" his absence, she sought
and called for him incessantly, with the utmost inquietude ; and
if it were long before he re-appeared, she would quit his apart-
ment, and attach herself to the person of the house where he
lived ; for whom, next to himself, she entertained the greatest
affection. She recognised his voice at a distance, and seemed
on each fresh meeting with him to feel increased satisfaction.
Her gait was frank, and her look as gentle as her character.
She possessed, in a word, the disposition of the most amiable
dog beneath the brilliant fur of a cat. " This animal," says
M. Sonnini, " was my principal amusement for several years.
How was the expression of her attachment depicted upon her
countenance ! How many times have her tender caresses made
me forget my troubles, and consoled me in my misfortunes ! My
beautiful and interesting companion at length perished. After
several days of suffering, during* which I never forsook her, her
eyes, constantly fixed on me, were at length extinguished ; and
her loss rent my heart with sorrow."

Mahomet's cat must have ingratiated herself with her master
in no common degree, for the prophet preferred cutting off the
sleeve of his g-arment to disturbing the repose of his favourite,
who had fallen asleep on it. It is said that Rousseau esteemed
the cat more than the dog; but though few will be inclined to
go this length, the former is undoubtedly capable of close per-
sonal attachment, and knows how to recommend herself to those
for whom she feels an affection. Petrarch was so fond of his
cat, that he had it embalmed after death, and placed in a niche
of his apartment. Dr Johnson, too, had his feline favourite, of
which it is told that it once fell ill, and refused every kind of
food that could be thought of, till at last an oyster was offered
by accident, which it greedily seized, and seemed to relish. The
doctor, thinking that his servants would not be over-attentive
to the duties of cat-nurse, undertook the charge himself, went
daily for a few oysters, brought them home in his pocket, and
administered them to poor Puss till she had quite recovered.
The celebrated painter, Godefroi Mind, devoted himself almost
exclusively to the painting of cats, in which he gained such
celebrity, that he was distinguished by the appellation of the
" Raphael of cats." He did not view them merely as subjects
for art, but his attachment to the animal was unbounded. At
one time hydrophobia prevailed to such an extent among the cats
of Berne, that 800 were destroyed in consequence of an order
issued by the magistrates. Poor Mind was in the deepest grief



for the death, of the cats, nor was he ever after completely con-
soled. He had, ho-vvever, so successfully secreted his own favou-
rite cat, that she was spared. Minette was always near him
when he was at work, and he carried on a kind of conversation
with her by gestures and words. Sometimes Minette occupied
his lap, while two or three kittens were perched on his shoulder,
or on the back of his neck, as he stooped at his occupation; and
thus he would remain for hours together without stirring*, for
fear of disturbing' his companions, whose purring* soothed and
composed him. What made this the more remarkable was, that
!Mind was not particularly well -tempered, and that he could
never be disturbed by visitors. His cat was no doubt equally
attached to her master.

It is very common for cats to select one member of a family
on whom they lavish all their fondness, while to the others they
comport themselves with the utmost indiiference. " I remember,"
says a female correspondent, " there was a cat with her kittens
found in a hole in the wall, in the g'arden of the house where my
father-in-law lived. One of the kittens, being a very beautiful
black one, was brought into the house, and almost immediately
attached himself in a very extraordinary way to me. I was in
mourning at the time, and perhaps the similarity of the hue of
my dress to his sable fur might first have attracted him ; but
however this may have been, whenever he came into the room
he constantly jumped into my lap, and evinced his fondness by
purring and rubbing his head against me in a very coaxing*
manner. He continued thus to distinguish me durino" the rest of
his life, and though I went with my father-in-law's :^mily every
winter to Dublin, and every summer to the country, the chang*e
of abode (to which cats are supposed so averse) never troubled
my favourite, provided he could be with me. Frequently, when
we have been walking* home after spending the evening out, he
has come running down half the street to meet us, testifying the
greatest dehght. On one occasion, when I had an illness which
confined me for upwards of two months to my room, poor Lee
Boo deserted the parlour altogether, though he had been always
patted and caressed by every one there. He would sit for hours
mewing disconsolately at my door, and when he could, he would
steal in, jump upon the bed, testifying his joy at seeing me by
loud purring and coaxing*, and sometimes licking my hand. The
very day I went down, he resumed his regular attendance in.
the parlour."

One of the most affecting* instances of personal attachment in
the cat, is that mentioned by M. Ladoucette. Madame Helvitius
had a favourite, which constantly lay at her feet, seemingly
always ready to defend her. It never molested the birds which
its mistress kept ; it would not take food from any hand save
hers : and would not allow any one else to caress it. At the
death of his mistress, the poor cat was removed from her cham-


ber, but it made its way there the next morning", went on the
bed, sat upon her chair, slowly and mournfully paced over her
toilet, and cried most piteously, as if lamenting" his poor mistress.
Alter her funeral, it was found stretched on her grave, appa-
rently having died from excess of grief. Another equally re-
markable instance is related by Mr Pennant in his Account of
London. Henry Wriothsly, Earl of Southampton, the friend
and companion of the Earl of Essex in his fatal insurrection,
having been some time conhned in the Tower, was one day sur-
prised by a visit from his favourite cat, which is said to have
reached its master by descending the chimney of his apartment.
The following" anecdote of combined attachment and sagacity
rivals anything that has been told of the dog, and places the cat
in a much more favourable light than current opinion would
allow: — In the summer of 1800, a physician of Lyons was re-
quested to inquire into a murder that had been committed on a
woman of that cit}^. He accordingly went to the residence of
the deceased, where he found her extended lifeless on the floor,
and weltering in her blood. A large white cat Avas mounted on
the cornice of a cupboard, at the farther end of the apartment,
where he seemed to have taken refuge. He sat motionless,
with his eyes fixed on the corpse, ;^nd his attitude and looks
expressing horror and affright. Tho^following niorning he was
found in the same station and attitude ; and when the room
was filled with officers of justice, neither the clattering of the
soldiers' arms, nor the loud conversation of the company, could
in the leasts degree divert his attention. As soon, however, as
the suspected persons were broi^'ght in, his eyes glared with in-
creased fury ; his hair bristled ; he darted into the middle of the
apartment, where he stopped for a moment to gaze at them,
and then precipitately retreated. The countenances of the assas-
sins were disconcerted 5 and they now, for the first time during'
the whole course of the horrid business, felt their atrocious auda-
city forsake them.


Every one who has observed the deportment of the female cat
towards her young", must have admired not only her maternal
assiduity, but the playful simplicity she assumes to amuse them.
The same tenderness she has been know^i to bestow on the young
of other creatures ; nursing them and tending them with the
most devoted watchfulness. Books on animal biography abound
with instances of this nature. Mr White of Selborne men-
tions that a friend of his had a leveret brought to him, which
his servants fed with milk from a spoon. About the same time
his cat kittened, and the young ones were drowned. The little
hare v/as lost, and it was supposed to have been devoured by
some dog or cat. However, in about a fortnight after, as the
gentleman vv'as sitting in his garden in the dusk of the evening,



he observed his cat with tail erect trotting towards him, and
calling* with short notes of complacency, such as cats use towards
their kittens, and something- g'ambolling after, Avhich proved to
be the leveret, which the cat had supported Avith her milk. The
same writer relates a similar anecdote of a boy who had taken
three young* squirrels from their nest. These creatures he put
under a cat which had lately lost her kittens, and found that
she nursed and suckled them with the same assiduity and affec-
tion as if they had been her own progeny. So many persons
went to see the little squirrels suckled by a cat, that the foster-
mother became jealous of her charge, and in pain for their safety,
and therefore concealed them over the ceiling-, where one of them

A similar story is told, in Dodsley's Annual Register, of a cat
that suckled a couple of young- rabbits, which had been thrown
to her to devour ; and, what is equally wonderful, we have heard
cf a cat that brought out two chickens, and treated them with
the same affection as she did her kittens. A more remarkable
instance, however, occurred some years ago in the house of a
Mr Greenlield of jMaryland. A cat had kittens, to which she
frequently carried mice and other small animals for food, and
among- the rest she is supposed to have carried a young rat. The
kittens, probably not being hungry, played with it ; and when
the cat gave suck to them, the rat likewise sucked her. This
having- been observed by some of the servants, Mr Greenfield
had the kittens and rat brought down stairs, and put on the
floor ; and in carrying them off", the cat was remarked to convey
away the young- rat as tenderly as she did any of the kittens.
This experiment was repeated as often as any company came to
the house, till great numbers had become eye-witnesses of the
preternatural affection.

We shall close our instances of the cat's affection towards the
young- of other animals by the following- anecdote from the pages
of Marryatt, allowing- the captain to tell it in his own amusing*
way : — " A little black spaniel had five puppies, which were con-
sidered too many for her to bring up. As, however, the breed
was much in request, her mistress was unwilling- that any of
them should be destroyed, and she asked the cook whether she
thought it would be possible to bring- a portion of them up hy
hand before the kitchen fire. In reply, the cook observed that
the cat had that day kittened, and that, perhaps, the puppies
might be substituted. The cat made no objection, took to them
kindly, and gradually all the kittens were taken away, and the
cat nursed the tv\-o puppies only. Now, the first curious fact
was, that the two puppies nursed by the cat were, in a fortnight,
as active, forward, and playful as kittens would have been : they
had the use of their . leg;s, barked, and gambolled about ; while
the other three, nursed by the mother, were whining and rolling
about like fat slugs. The cat gave them her tail to plav v.-ith,

" 9


and they were always in motion : they soon ate meat, and long*
before the others they were fit to be removed. This was done,
and the cat became very inconsolable. She prowled about the
house, and on the second day of tribulation fell in with the
little spaniel who was nursing the three other puppies. ' Oh,'
says Puss, putting up her back, ' it is you who have stolen my
children.' 'No,' replied the spaniel with a snarl; Hhey are
my own flesh and blood.' ' That won't do,' said the cat ; ' I'll
take my oath before any justice of the peace that you have my
two puppies.* Thereupon issue was joined ; that is to say, there
was a desperate combat, which ended in the defeat of the spaniel,
and in the cat walking oif proudly with one of the puppies,
M'hich she took to her own bed. Having* deposited this one, she
returned, fought again, g-ained another victory, and redeemed
another puppy. Now, it is veiy singular that she should have
only taken two, the exact number she had been deprived of."

Besides these instances where the maternal feeling" is the ex-
citing motive, there are many accounts of cats having lived in
amity with creatures to whom they are supposed to be naturally
averse. A few years since, a collection of wild beasts, birds, &c.
was exhibited, in which the most attractive object was a cage
inhabited by a cat, a guinea-pig, some white mice, and some
birds — all living* together in peace and harmony — Puss not only
having' laid aside her predatory propensities, but actually regard-
ing her companions with looks of complacency and kindness.
" We have at present," says a correspondent, " a cat who has
formed a very warm friendship with a large Newfoundland dog.
She is continually caressing him, advances in all haste to him
when he comes in, with her tail erect, then rubs her head against
him, and purrs delightedly. When he lies before the kitchen tire,
she uses him as a bed, pulling up and settling his hair with her
€laws to make it comfortable. As soon as she has arranged it to
her liking, she lies down and composes herself to sleep, generally
purring till she is no longer awake ; and they often lie thus for
an hour at a time. Poor Wallace bears this rough combing of
his locks with the most patient placidity, turning- his head
towards her during the operation, and merely giving her a bene-
volent look, or gentlj'' licking her."

We have also met with the following, which shows how the
cat will look for assistance in cases of emergency, and that she
will hit upon some way of showing her gratitude for the kind-
ness conferred. We give it in the words of the individual who
recounts it : — " I was on a visit to a friend last summer, who had
a favourite cat and dog-, which lived together on the best possible
terms, eating from the same plate, and sleeping on the same rug*.
Puss had a young family while I was at the Park, and Pincher
paid a daily visit to the kittens, whose nursery was at the top of
the house. One morning there was a tremendous storm of
thunder and lig-htning- ; Pincher was in the drawing'-room; and



(he cat "was attending- her family in the g-arret. Pincher seemed
to be considerably annoyed hj the vivid flashes of lig-htning-
■which continually startled him ; and just as he had crept close to
my feet, some one entered the drawing-room followed by Puss,
•who walked in -with a disturbed air, and mewing- with all her
might. She came up to Pincher, rubbed her face against his
cheek, touched him g'ently with her paw, and then walked to
the door ; stopped, looked back, mewed — all of which said, as
plainly as words could have done, ' Come with me, Pincher;'
but Pincher was too much frightened himself to g-ive any con-
solation to her, and took no notice of the invitation. The cat
then returned and renewed her application with increased energy ;
but the dog: "was immoveable ; though it was evident that he
understood her meaning-, for he turned away his head with a
half-conscious look, and crept still closer to me ; and Puss finding-
all her intreaties unavailing-, then left the room. Soon after this,
her mewing- became so piteous that I could no longer resist g-oing-
to see what was the matter. I met the cat at the top of the stairs,
close to the door of my sleeping: apartment. She ran to me,
rubbed herself against me, and then went into the room, and
crept under the wardrobe. I then heard two voices, and dis-
covered that she had brought down one of her kittens and lodg-ed
it there for safety ; but her fears and cares being- so divided be-
tween the kittens above and this little one below, I suppose she
had wanted Pincher to watch by this one while she went for the
others ; for, having confided it to my protection, she hastened up
stairs. I followed her with my young charge, placed it beside
her, and moved their little bed farther from the window, through
which the lightning had flashed so vividly as to alarm poor Puss
for the safety of her family. I remained there till the storm had
subsided, and all was again calm. On the following morning-,
much to my surprise, I found her waiting for me at the door of
my apartment. She accompanied me down to breakfast, sat by
me, and caressed me in every possible way. She had alwaj's
been in the habit of going down to breakfast with the lady of the
house ; but on this morning she had resisted all her coaxing to
leave my door, and would not move a step till I made my appear-
ance. She went to the breakfast-room with me, and remained,
as I have mentioned, until breakfast was over; and then went up
stairs to her family. She had never done this before, and never
did it again : she had shown her gratitude for my care of her
little ones, and her duty was done."


The cat, being naturally carnivorous, may be expected to pos-
sess considei-able audacity. Every one must have witnessed the
boldness with which a cat of ordinary size will stand up against
even the largest Newfoundland dog, bristling her hair, and using
her claws with the greatest address, so long as she can keep her



front to lier antagonist. Indeed it is only wlien the dog' can lay hold
of the comparatively slender spine of his opponent, that he over-
comes her — few dogs having the boldness long to resist the fero-
city with which she assails their faces and eyes with her claws.
The following instance of maternal courage and affection, re-
corded in the Naturalists' Cabinet, is worthy of admiration : —
" A cat who had a numerous brood of kittens, one sunny day in
spring, encouraged her little ones to frolic in the vernal beams of
noon about the stable-door. While she was joining them in a
thousand sportive tricks and gambols, they were discovered by a
large hawk, who was sailing above the barnyard in expecta-
tion of prey. In a moment, swift as lightning, the hawk darted
upon one of the kittens, and had as quickly borne it off, but for
the courageous mother, who, seeing the danger of her offspring-,
flew on the common enemy, who, to defend itself, let fall the
prize. The battle presently became seemingly dreadful to both
parties ; for the hawk, by the power of his wings, the sharpness
of his talons, and the keenness of his beak, had for a while the
advantage, cruelly lacerating the poor cat, and had actually de-
prived her of one eye in the conflict; but Puss, no way daunted
by this accident, strove with all her cunning- and agility for her
little ones, till she had broken the wing of her adversary''. In this
state she got him more within the. power of her claws, the hawk
still defending himself apparently with additional vig-our 5 and
the fight continued with equal fury on the side of g-rimalkin, to
the great entertainment of many spectators. At length victory
seemed to favour the nearly exhausted mother, and she availed
herself of the advantage ; for, by an instantaneous exertion, she
laid the hawk motionless beneath her feet, and, as if exulting- in
the victory, tore off the head of the vanquished tyrant. Disre-
garding the loss of her eye, she immediately ran to the bleeding
kitten, licked the wounds inflicted by the hawk's talons on its
tender sides, purring while she caressed her liberated offspring,
with the same maternal affection as if no danger had assailed
them or their affectionate parent."

The cat's dislike to wet her feet has long been proverbial. The
saying, " she likes fish, but won't wet her feet for them," is,
however, not strictly true : the cat has been known to take the
water after a fish, just as she will take the brake after a young
hare or pheasant. Her dislike to soil her feet arises as much
from her natural love of cleanliness, and the desire to keep her
fur dry, as from any fear that she has to take the water. A
friend of Dr Darwin's saw a cat catch a trout, by darting upon
it in a deep clear water, at the mill at Weaford, near Litchfield.
The animal belonged to a Mrs Stanley, who had frequently seen
her catch fish in the same nianner in the summer, when the mill-
pool was drawn so low that the fish could be seen. Other cats
have been known to take fish in shallow water as they stood on
the bank. This raay probably be a natural act of taking- prey,

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of useful and entertaining tracts (Volume v.5-6) → online text (page 46 of 59)