by Helen M. Winslow
It is quite common for writers on the cat to say, “The story of Théophile Gautier’s cats is too familiar to need comment.” On the contrary, I do not believe it is familiar to the average reader, and that only those who know Gautier’s “Ménagerie In-time” in the original, recall the particulars of his “White and Black Dynasties.” For this reason they shall be repeated in these pages. I use Mrs. Cashel-Hoey’s translation, partly in a selfish desire to save myself time and labor, but principally because she has preserved so successfully the sympathetic and appreciative spirit of M. Gautier himself. “Dynasties of cats, as numerous as those of the Egyptian kings, succeeded each other in my dwelling,” says he. “One after another they were swept away by accident, by flight, by death. All were loved and regretted: but life is made up of oblivion, and the memory of cats dies out like the memory of men.” After making mention of an old gray cat who always took his part against his parents, and used to bite Madame Gautier’s legs when she presumed to reprove her son, he passes on at once to the romantic period, and the commemoration of Childebrand. “This name at once reveals a deep design of flouting Boileau, whom I did not like then, but have since become reconciled to. Has not Nicholas said:--
“’O le plaisant projet d’un poëte ignorant
Que de tant de héros va choisir Childebrant!’
“Now I considered Childebrand a very fine name indeed, Merovingian, mediaeval, and Gothic, and vastly preferable to Agamemnon, Achilles, Ulysses, or any Greek name whatsoever. Romanticism was the fashion of my early days: I have no doubt the people of classical times called their cats Hector, Ajax, or Patroclus. Childebrand was a splendid cat of common kind, tawny and striped with black, like the hose of Saltabadil in ‘Le Rois’ Amuse.’ With his large, green, almond-shaped eyes, and his symmetrical stripes, there was something tigerlike about him that pleased me. Childebrand had the honor of figuring in some verses that I wrote to ‘flout’ Boileau:--
“Puis je te décrirai ce tableau de Rembrandt
Que me fait tant plaisir: et mon chat Childebrand,
Sur mes genoux pose selon son habitude,
Levant sur moi la tête avec inquiétude,
Suivra les mouvements de mon doigt qui dans l’air
Esquisse mon récit pour le rendre plus clair.
“Childebrand was brought in there to make a good rhyme for Rembrandt, the piece being a kind of confession of the romantic faith made to a friend, who was then as enthusiastic as myself about Victor Hugo, Sainte Beuve, and Alfred de Musset.... I come next to Madame Théophile, a ‘red’ cat, with a white breast, a pink nose, and blue eyes, whom I called by that name because we were on terms of the closest intimacy. She slept at the foot of my bed: she sat on the arm of my chair while I wrote: she came down into the garden and gravely walked about with me: she was present at all my meals, and frequently intercepted a choice morsel on its way from my plate to my mouth. One day a friend who was going away for a short time, brought me his parrot, to be taken care of during his absence. The bird, finding itself in a strange place, climbed up to the top of its perch by the aid of its beak, and rolled its eyes (as yellow as the nails in my arm-chair) in a rather frightened manner, also moving the white membranes that formed its eyelids. Madame Théophile had never seen a parrot, and she regarded the creature with manifest surprise. While remaining as motionless as a cat mummy from Egypt in its swathing bands, she fixed her eyes upon the bird with a look of profound meditation, summoning up all the notions of natural history that she had picked up in the yard, in the garden, and on the roof. The shadow of her thoughts passed over her changing eyes, and we could plainly read in them the conclusion to which her scrutiny led, ‘Decidedly this is a green chicken.’
“This result attained, the next proceeding of Madame Théophile was to jump off the table from which she had made her observations, and lay herself flat on the ground in a corner of the room, exactly in the attitude of the panther in Gérôme’s picture watching the gazelles as they come down to drink at a lake. The parrot followed the movements of the cat with feverish anxiety: it ruffled its feathers, rattled its chain, lifted one of its feet and shook the claws, and rubbed its beak against the edge of its trough. Instinct told it that the cat was an enemy and meant mischief. The cat’s eyes were now fixed upon the bird with fascinating intensity, and they said in perfectly intelligible language, which the poor parrot distinctly understood, ‘This chicken ought to be good to eat, although it is green.’ We watched the scene with great interest, ready to interfere at need. Madame Théophile was creeping nearer and nearer almost imperceptibly; her pink nose quivered, her eyes were half closed, her contractile claws moved in and out of their velvet sheaths, slight thrills of pleasure ran along her backbone at the idea of the meal she was about to make. Such novel and exotic food excited her appetite.
“All in an instant her back took the shape of a bent bow, and with a vigorous and elastic bound she sprang upon the perch. The parrot, seeing its danger, said in a bass voice as grave and deep as M. Prudhomme’s own, ‘As tu déjeuné, Jacquot?’
“This utterance so terrified the cat that she sprang backwards. The blare of a trumpet, the crash and smash of a pile of plates flung to the ground, a pistol shot fired off at her ear, could not have frightened her more thoroughly. All her ornithological ideas were overthrown. “’Et de quoi? Du rôti du roi?’ continued the parrot. “Then might we, the observers, read in the physiognomy of Madame Théophile, ‘This is not a bird, it is a gentleman; it talks.’
“’Quand j’ai bu du vin clairet,
Tout tourne, tout tourne an cabaret,’
shrieked the parrot in a deafening voice, for it had perceived that its best means of defence was the terror aroused by its speech. The cat cast a glance at me which was full of questioning, but as my response was not satisfactory, she promptly hid herself under the bed, and from that refuge she could not be induced to stir during the whole of the day. People who are not accustomed to live with animals, and who, like Descartes, regard them as mere machines, will think that I lend unauthorized meanings to the acts of the ‘volatile’ and the ‘quadruped,’ but I have only faithfully translated their ideas into human language. The next day Madame Théophile plucked up courage and made another attempt, which was similarly repulsed. From that moment she gave it up, accepting the bird as a variety of man.
“This dainty and charming animal was extremely fond of perfumes, especially of patchouli and the scent exhaled by India shawls. She was also very fond of music, and would listen, sitting on a pile of music-books, while the fair singers who came to try the critic’s piano filled his room with melody. All the time Madame Théophile would evince great pleasure. She was, however, made nervous by certain notes, and at the high la she would tap the singer’s mouth with her paw. This was very amusing, and my visitors delighted in making the experiment. It never failed; the dilettante in fun was not to be deceived. “The rule of the ‘White Dynasty’ belonged to a later epoch, and was inaugurated in the person of a pretty little kitten as white as a powder puff, who came from Havana. On account of his spotless whiteness he was called Pierrot; but when he grew up this name was very properly magnified into Don-Pierrot-de-Navarre, which was far more majestic, and suggested ‘grandee-ism.’ [M. Théophile Gautier lays it down as a dogma that all animals with whom one is much taken up, and who are ‘spoiled,’ become delightfully good and amiable. Don-Pierrot-de-Navarre successfully supported his master’s theory; perhaps he suggested it.] “He shared in the life of the household with the enjoyment of quiet fireside friendship that is characteristic of cats. He had his own place near the fire, and there he would sit with a convincing air of comprehension of all that was talked of and of interest in it; he followed the looks of the speakers, and uttered little sounds toward them as though he, too, had objections to make and opinions to give upon the literary subjects which were most frequently discussed. He was very fond of books, and when he found one open on a table he would lie down on it, turn over the edges of the leaves with his paws, and after a while fall asleep, for all the world as if he had been reading a fashionable novel. He was deeply interested in my writing, too; the moment I took up my pen he would jump upon the desk, and follow the movement of the penholder with the gravest attention, making a little movement with his head at the beginning of each line. Sometimes he would try to take the pen out of my hand.
“Don-Pierrot-de-Navarre never went to bed until I had come in. He would wait for me just inside the outer door and rub himself to my legs, his back in an arch, with a glad and friendly purring. Then he would go on before me, preceding me with a page-like air, and I have no doubt, if I had asked him, he would have carried the candlestick. Having thus conducted me to my bedroom, he would wait quietly while I undressed, and then jump on my bed, take my neck between his paws, gently rub my nose with his own, and lick me with his small, pink tongue, as rough as a file, uttering all the time little inarticulate cries, which expressed as clearly as any words could do his perfect satisfaction at having me with him again. After these caresses he would perch himself on the back of the bedstead and sleep there, carefully balanced, like a bird on a branch. When I awoke, he would come down and lie beside me until I got up.
“Pierrot was as strict as a concierge in his notions of the proper hour for all good people to return to their homes. He did not approve of anything later than midnight. In those days we had a little society among friends, which we called ‘The Four Candles,’—the light in our place of meeting being restricted to four candles in silver candlesticks, placed at the four corners of the tables. Sometimes the talk became so animated that I forgot all about time, and twice or three times Pierrot sat up for me until two o’clock in the morning. After a while, however, my conduct in this respect displeased him, and he retired to rest without me. I was touched by this mute protest against my innocent dissipation, and thenceforth came home regularly at twelve o’clock. Nevertheless, Pierrot cherished the memory of my offence for some time; he waited to test the reality of my repentance, but when he was convinced that my conversion was sincere, he deigned to restore me to his good graces, and resumed his nocturnal post in the anteroom. “To gain the friendship of a cat is a difficult thing. The cat is a philosophical, methodical, quiet animal, tenacious of its own habits, fond of order and cleanliness, and it does not lightly confer its friendship. If you are worthy of its affection, a cat will be your friend, but never your slave. He keeps his free will, though he loves, and he will not do for you what he thinks unreasonable; but if he once gives himself to you, it is with such absolute confidence, such fidelity of affection. He makes himself the companion of your hours of solitude, melancholy, and toil. He remains for whole evenings on your knee, uttering his contented purr, happy to be with you, and forsaking the company of animals of his own species. In vain do melodious mewings on the roof invite him to one of those cat parties in which fish bones play the part of tea and cakes; he is not to be tempted away from you. Put him down and he will jump up again, with a sort of cooing sound that is like a gentle reproach; and sometimes he will sit upon the carpet in front of you, looking at you with eyes so melting, so caressing, and so human, that they almost frighten you, for it is impossible to believe that a soul is not there.
“Don-Pierrot-de-Navarre had a sweetheart of the same race and of as snowy a whiteness as himself. The ermine would have looked yellow by the side of Seraphita, for so this lovely creature was named, in honor of Balzac’s Swedenborgian romance. Seraphita was of a dreamy and contemplative disposition. She would sit on a cushion for hours together, quite motionless, not asleep, and following with her eyes, in a rapture of attention, sights invisible to mere mortals. Caresses were agreeable to her, but she returned them in a very reserved manner, and only in the case of persons whom she favored with her rarely accorded esteem. She was fond of luxury, and it was always upon the handsomest easy-chair, or the rug that would best show off her snowy fur, that she would surely be found. She devoted a great deal of time to her toilet, her glossy coat was carefully smoothed every morning. She washed herself with her paw, and licked every atom of her fur with her pink tongue until it shone like new silver. When any one touched her, she instantly effaced all trace of the contact; she could not endure to be tumbled. An idea of aristocracy was suggested by her elegance and distinction, and among her own people she was a duchess at least. She delighted in perfumes, would stick her nose into bouquets, bite scented handkerchiefs with little spasms of pleasure, and walk about among the scent bottles on the toilet table, smelling at their stoppers; no doubt, she would have used the powder puff if she had been permitted. Such was Seraphita, and never did cat more amply justify a poetic name. I must mention here that, in the days of the White Dynasty, I was also the happy possessor of a family of white rats, and that the cats, always supposed to be their natural, invariable, and irreconcilable enemies, lived in perfect harmony with my pet rodents. The rats never showed the slightest distrust of the cats, nor did the cats ever betray their confidence. Don-Pierrot-de-Navarre was very much attached to them. He would sit close to their cage and observe their gambols for hours together, and if by any chance the door of the room in which they were left was shut, he would scratch and mew gently until some one came to open it and allow him to rejoin his little white friends, who would often come out of the cage and sleep close to him. Seraphita, who was of a more reserved and disdainful temper, and who disliked the musky odor of the white rats, took no part in their games; but she never did them any harm, and would let them pass before her without putting out a claw.
“Don-Pierrot-de-Navarre, who came from Havana, required a hothouse temperature: and this he always had in his own apartments. The house was, however, surrounded by extensive gardens, divided by railings, through and over which cats could easily climb, and in those gardens were trees inhabited by a great number of birds. Pierrot would frequently take advantage of an open door to get out of an evening and go a-hunting through the wet grass and flower-beds: and, as his mewing under the windows when he wanted to get in again did not always awaken the sleepers in the house, he frequently had to stay out until morning. His chest was delicate, and one very chilly night he caught a cold which rapidly developed into phthisis. At the end of a year of coughing, poor Don Pierrot had wasted to a skeleton, and his coat, once so silky, was a dull, harsh white. His large, transparent eyes looked unnaturally large in his shrunken face: the pink of his little nose had faded, and he dragged himself slowly along the sunny side of the wall with a melancholy air, looking at the yellow autumnal leaves as they danced and whirled in the wind. Nothing is so touching as a sick animal: it submits to suffering with such gentle and sad resignation. We did all in our power to save Pierrot: a skilful doctor came to see him, felt his pulse, sounded his lungs, and ordered him ass’s milk. He drank the prescribed beverage very readily out of his own especial china saucer. For hours together he lay stretched upon my knee, like the shadow of a sphinx. I felt his spine under my finger tips like the beads of a rosary, and he tried to respond to my caresses by a feeble purr that resembled a death-rattle. On the day of his death he was lying on his side panting, and suddenly, with a supreme effort, he rose and came to me. His large eyes were opened wide, and he gazed at me with a look of intense supplication, a look that seemed to say, ‘Save me, save me, you, who are a man.’ Then he made a few faltering steps, his eyes became glassy, and he fell down, uttering so lamentable a cry, so dreadful and full of anguish, that I was struck dumb and motionless with horror. He was buried at the bottom of the garden under a white rose tree, which still marks the place of his sepulture. Three years later Seraphita died, and was buried by the side of Don Pierrot.
With her the White Dynasty became extinct, but not the family. This snow-white couple had three children, who were as black as ink. Let any one explain that mystery who can. The kittens were born in the early days of the great renown of Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Miserables,’ when everybody was talking of the new masterpiece, and the names of the personages in it were in every mouth. The two little male creatures were called Enjolras and Gavroche, and their sister received the name of Eponine. They were very pretty, and I trained them to run after a little ball of paper and bring it back to me when I threw it into the corner of the room. In time they would follow the ball up to the top of the bookcase, or fish for it behind boxes or in the bottom of china vases with their dainty little paws. As they grew up they came to disdain those frivolous amusements, and assumed the philosophical and meditative quiet which is the true temperament of the cat. “To the eyes of the careless and indifferent observer, three black cats are just three black cats, but those who are really acquainted with animals know that their physiognomy is as various as that of the human race. I was perfectly well able to distinguish between these little faces, as black as Harlequin’s mask, and lighted up by disks of emerald with golden gleams. Enjolras, who was much the handsomest of the three, was remarkable for his broad, leonine head and full whiskers, strong shoulders, and a superb feathery tail. There was something theatrical and pretentious in his air, like the posing of a popular actor. His movements were slow, undulatory, and majestic: so circumspect was he about where he set his feet down that he always seemed to be walking among glass and china. His disposition was by no means stoical, and he was much too fond of food to have been approved of by his namesake. The temperate and austere Enjolras would certainly have said to him, as the angel said to Swedenborg, ‘You eat too much.’ I encouraged his gastronomical tastes, and Enjolras attained a very unusual size and weight.
“Gavroche was a remarkably knowing cat, and looked it. He was wonderfully active, and his twists, twirls, and tumbles were very comic. He was of a Bohemian temperament, and fond of low company. Thus he would occasionally compromise the dignity of his descent from the illustrious Don-Pierrot-de-Navarre, grandee of Spain of the first class, and the Marquesa Dona Seraphita, of aristocratic and disdainful bearing. He would sometimes return from his expeditions to the street, accompanied by gaunt, starved companions, whom he had picked up in his wanderings, and he would stand complacently by while they bolted the contents of his plate of food in a violent hurry and in dread of dispersion by a broomstick or a shower of water. I was sometimes tempted to say to Gavroche, ‘A nice lot of friends you pick up,’ but I refrained, for, after all, it was an amiable weakness: he might have eaten his dinner all by himself.
“The interesting Eponine was more slender and graceful than her brothers, and she was an extraordinarily sensitive, nervous, and electric animal. She was passionately attached to me, and she would do the honors of my hermitage with perfect grace and propriety. When the bell rang, she hastened to the door, received the visitors, conducted them to the salon, made them take seats, talked to them—yes, talked, with little coos, murmurs, and cries quite unlike the language which cats use among themselves, and which bordered on the articulate speech of man. What did she say? She said quite plainly: ‘Don’t be impatient: look at the pictures, or talk with me, if I amuse you. My master is coming down.’ On my appearing she would retire discreetly to an arm-chair or the corner of the piano, and listen to the conversation without interrupting it, like a well-bred animal accustomed to good society.
“Eponine’s intelligence, fine disposition, and sociability led to her being elevated by common consent to the dignity of a person, for reason, superior instinct, plainly governed her conduct. That dignity conferred on her the right to eat at table like a person, and not in a corner on the floor, from a saucer, like an animal. Eponine had a chair by my side at breakfast and dinner, but in consideration of her size she was privileged to place her fore paws on the table. Her place was laid, without a knife and fork, indeed, but with a glass, and she went regularly through dinner, from soup to dessert, awaiting her turn to be helped, and behaving with a quiet propriety which most children might imitate with advantage. At the first stroke of the bell she would appear, and when I came into the dining room she would be at her post, upright in her chair, her fore paws on the edge of the tablecloth, and she would present her smooth forehead to be kissed, like a well-bred little girl who was affectionately polite to relatives and old people. When we had friends to dine with us, Eponine always knew that company was expected. She would look at her place, and if a knife, fork, and spoon lay near her plate she would immediately turn away and seat herself on the piano-stool, her invariable refuge. Let those who deny the possession of reason to animals explain, if they can, this little fact, apparently so simple, but which contains a world of induction. From the presence near her plate of those implements which only man can use, the observant and judicious cat concluded that she ought on this occasion to give way to a guest, and she hastened to do so. She was never mistaken: only, when the visitor was a person whom she knew and liked, she would jump on his knee and coax him for a bit off his plate by her graceful caresses. She survived her brothers, and was my dear companion for several years.... Such is the chronicle of the Black Dynasty.”
Although cats have no place in the Bible, neither can their enemies who sing the praise of the dog, find much advantage there: for that most excellent animal is referred to in anything but a complimentary fashion—“For without are dogs and sorcerers.” The great prophet of Allah, however, knew a good cat when he saw it. “Muezza” even contributed her small share to the development of the Mahometan system: for did she not sit curled up in her master’s sleeve, and by her soft purring soothe and deepen his meditations? And did she not keep him dreaming so long that she finally became exhausted herself, and fell asleep in his flowing sleeve; whereupon did not Mahomet, rather than disturb her, and feeling that he must be about his Allah’s business, cut off his sleeve rather than disturb the much loved Muezza? The nurses of Cairo tell this story to their young charges to this day. Cardinal Richelieu had many a kitten, too; and morose and ill-tempered as he was, found in them much amusement. His love for them, however, was not that unselfish love which led Mahomet to cut off his sleeve; but simply a selfish desire for passing amusement. He cared nothing for that most interesting process, the development of a kitten into a cat, and the study of its individuality which is known only to the real lover of cats. For it is recorded of him that as soon as his pets were three months old he sent them away, evidently not caring where, and procured new ones.
M. Champfleury, however, thinks it possible that there may not be any real foundation for this story about Richelieu. He refers to the fact that Moncrif says not a word about the celebrated cardinal’s passion for those creatures; but he does say, “Everybody knows 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 honorable and useful to the nation, had their origin.” Can it be that Richelieu has been given credit for Colbert’s virtues?
In various parts of Chateaubriand’s “Memoires” may be found eulogiums on the cat. So well known was his fondness for them, that even when his other feelings and interests faded with age and decay, his affections for cats remained strong to the end. This love became well known to all his compeers, and once on an embassy to Rome the Pope gave him a cat. He was called “Micetto.” According to Chateaubriand’s biographer, M. de Marcellus, “Pope Leo XII’s cat could not fail to reappear in the description of that domestic hearth where I have so often seen him basking. In fact, Chateaubriand has immortalized his favorite in the sketch which begins, ‘My companion is a big cat, of a greyish red.’” This ecclesiastical pet was always dignified and imposing in manners, ever conscious that he had been the gift of a sovereign pontiff, and had a tremendous weight of reputation to maintain. He used to stroke his tail when he desired Madame Recamier to know that he was tired. “I love in the cat,” said Chateaubriand to M. de Marcellus, “that independent and almost ungrateful temper which prevents it from attaching itself to any one: the indifference with which it passes from the salon to the house-top. When you caress it, it stretches itself out and arches its 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 it likes, and pretends to sleep that it may see the more clearly, and scratches everything that it can scratch. Buffon has belied the cat: I am laboring at its rehabilitation, and hope to make of it a tolerably good sort of animal, as times go.”
Cardinal Wolsey, Lord High Chancellor of England, was another cat-lover, and his superb cat sat in a cushioned arm-chair by his side in the zenith of his pride and power, the only one in that select circle who was not obliged to don a wig and robe while acting in a judicial capacity. Then there was Bouhaki, the proud Theban cat that used to wear gold earrings as he sat at the feet of King Hana, his owner, perhaps, but not his master, and whose reproduction in the tomb of Hana in the Necropolis at Thebes, between his master’s feet in a statue, is one of the most ancient reproductions of a cat. And Sainte-Beuve, whose cat used to roam at will over his desk and sit or lie on the precious manuscripts no other person was allowed to touch; it is flattering to know that the great Frenchman and I have one habit in common; and Miss Repplier owns to it too. “But Sainte-Beuve,” says she, “probably had sufficient space reserved for his own comfort and convenience. I have not; and Agrippina’s beautifully ringed tail flapping across my copy distracts my attention and imperils the neatness of my penmanship.” And even as I write these pages, does the Pretty Lady’s daughter Jane lie on my copy and gaze lovingly at me as I work.
Julian Hawthorne is another writer whose cat is an accompaniment of his working hours. In this connection we must not forget M. Brasseur Wirtgen, a student of natural history who writes of his cat: “My habit of reading,” he says, “which divided us from each other in our respective thoughts, prejudiced my cat very strongly against my books. Sometimes her little head would project its profile on the page which I was perusing, as though she were trying to discover what it was that thus absorbed me: doubtless, she did not understand why I should look for my happiness beyond the presence of a devoted heart. Her solicitude was no less manifest when she brought me rats or mice. She acted in this case exactly as if I had been her son: dragging enormous rats, still in the throes of death, to my feet: and she was evidently guided by logic in offering me a prey commensurate with my size, for she never presented any such large game to her kittens. Her affectionate attention invariably caused her a severe disappointment. Having laid the product of her hunting expedition at my feet, she would appear to be greatly hurt by my indifference to such delicious fare.” That Tasso had a cat we know because he wrote a sonnet to her. Alfred de Musset’s cats are apostrophized in his verses. Dr. Johnson’s Hodge held a soft place for many years in the gruff old scholar’s breast. And has not every one heard how the famous Dr. Johnson fetched oysters for his beloved Hodge, lest the servants should object to the trouble, and vent their displeasure on his favorite?
Nor can one forget Sir Isaac Newton and his cats: for is it not alleged that the great man had two holes cut in his barn door, one for the mother, and a smaller one for the kitten?
Byron was fond of cats: in his establishment at Ravenna he had five of them. Daniel Maclise’s famous portrait of Harriet Martineau represents that estimable woman sitting in front of a fireplace and turning her face to receive the caress of her pet cat crawling to a resting-place upon her mistress’s shoulder.
Although La Fontaine in his fables shows such a delicate appreciation of their character and ways, it is doubtful whether he honestly loved cats. But his friend and patron, the Duchess of Bouillon, was so devoted to them that she requested the poet to make her a copy with his own hand of all his fables in which pussy appears. The exercise-book in which they were written was discovered a few years ago among the Bouillon papers. Baudelaire, it is said, could never pass a cat in the street without stopping to stroke and fondle it. “Many a time,” said Champfleury, “when he and I have been walking together, have we stopped to look at a cat curled luxuriously in a pile of fresh white linen, revelling in the cleanliness of the newly ironed fabrics. Into what fits of contemplation have we fallen before such windows, while the coquettish laundresses struck attitudes at the ironing boards, under the mistaken impression that we were admiring them.” It was also related of Baudelaire that, “going for the first time to a house, he is restless and uneasy until he has seen the household cat. But when he sees it, he takes it up, kisses and strokes it, and is so completely absorbed in it, that he makes no answer to what is said to him.”
Professor Huxley’s notorious fondness for cats was a fad which he shared with Paul de Koch, the novelist, who, at one time, kept as many as thirty cats in his house. Many descriptions of them are to be found scattered through his novels. His chief favorite, Fromentin, lived eleven years with him.
Pierre Loti has written a charming and most touching history of two of his cats—Moumette Blanche and Moumette Chinoise—which all true cat-lovers should make a point of reading.
Algernon Swinburne, the poet, is devoted to cats. His favorite is named Atossa. Robert Southey was an ardent lover of cats. Most people have read his letter to his friend Bedford, announcing the death of one. “Alas, Grosvenor,” he wrote, “this day poor Rumpel was found dead, after as long and happy a life as cat could wish for, if cats form wishes on that subject. His full titles were: The Most Noble, the Archduke Rumpelstiltzchen, Marcus Macbum, Earl Tomlefnagne, Baron Raticide, Waowhler and Scratch. There should be a court-mourning in Catland, and if the Dragon (your pet cat) wear a black ribbon round his neck, or a band of crape a la militaire round one of his forepaws it will be but a becoming mark of respect.” Then the poet-laureate adds, “I believe we are each and all, servants included, more sorry for his loss, or, rather, more affected by it, than any of us would like to confess.” Josh Billings called his favorite cat William, because he considered no shorter name fitted to the dignity of his character. “Poor old man,” he remarked one day, to a friend, “he has fits now, so I call him Fitz-William.”
Copyright © D. J. McAdam· All Rights Reserved