This section is from the book "The Book Of Cats", by Charles Henry Ross. Also available from Amazon: The Book Of Cats: A Chit-Chat Chronicle Of Feline Facts And Fancies, Legendary, Lyrical, Medical, Mirthful And Miscellaneous.
ONE day, ever so long ago, it struck me that I should like to try and write a book about Cats. I mentioned the idea to some of my friends: the first burst out laughing at the end of my opening sentence, so I refrained from entering into further details. The second said there were a hundred books about Cats already. The third said, "Nobody would read it," and added,"Besides, what do you know of the subject?" and before I had time to begin to tell him, said he expected it was very little."Why not Dogs?" asked one friend of mine, hitting upon the notion as though by inspiration."Or Horses," said some one else;"or Pigs; or, look here, this is the finest notion of all:'The Book Of Donkies, 'By One Of The Family!'"
Somewhat disheartened by the reception my little project had met with, I gave up the idea for awhile, and went to work upon other things. I cannot exactly remember what I did, or how much, but my book about Cats was postponed sine die, and in the meantime I made some inquiries.
I searched high and low; I consulted Lady Cust's little volume; I bought Mr.Beeton's book; I read up Buffon and Bell, and Frank Buckland; I eagerly perused the amusing pages of the Rev. Mr.Wood; I looked through two or three hundred works of one sort and another, and as many old newspapers and odd numbers of defunct periodicals, and although I daresay I have overlooked some of the very best, I have really taken a great deal of trouble, and sincerely hope that I shall be able to amuse you by my version of what other people have had to tell, with a good many things which have not yet appeared in print, that I have to tell myself.
One thing I found out very early in my researches, and that was, that nine out of ten among my authorities were prejudiced against the animal about which they wrote, and furthermore, that they knew very little indeed upon the subject. Take for instance our old friend Mavor, who thus mis-teaches the young idea in his celebrated Spelling Book.
"Cats," says Mr. Mavor, "have less sense than dogs, and their attachment is chiefly to the house; but the dog's is to the persons who inhabit it." Need I tell the reader who has thought it worth his while to learn anything of the Cat's nature, that Mr. Mavor's was a vulgar and erroneous belief, and that there are countless instances on record where Cats have shown the most devoted and enduring attachment to those who have kindly treated them. Again, nothing can be more unjust than to call Cats cruel. If such a word as cruel could be applied to a creature without reason, few animals could be found more cruel than a Robin Redbreast, which we have all determined to make a pet of since somebody wrote that pretty fable about the
"Babes in the Wood." And apropos of the Robin, do you remember Canning's verses?
"Tell me, tell me, gentle Robin, What is it sets thy heart a-throbbing? Is it that Grimalkin fell Hath killed thy father or thy mother, Thy sister or thy brother, Or any other? Tell me but that, And I'll kill the Cat.
But stay, little Robin, did you ever spare, A grub on the ground or a fly in the air? No, that you never did, I'll swear; So I won't kill the Cat,
But all the cruel and unjust things that have been said about poor pussy I will tell you in another chapter. I mean to try and begin at the beginning. In the first place, what is the meaning of the word
"Cat." Let us look in the dictionary. A Cat, according to Dr.Johnson, is "a domestick animal that catches mice." But the word has one or two other meanings, for instance:In thieves' slang the word"Cat" signifies a lady's muff, and "to free a cat" to steal a muff. Among soldiers and sailors a"Cat" means something very unpleasant indeed, with nine tingling lashes or tails, so called, from the scratches they leave on the skin, like the claws of a cat.
A Cat is also the name for a tackle or combination of pulleys, to suspend the anchor at the cat's-head of a ship.
Cat-harping is the name for a purchase of ropes employed to brace in the shrouds of the lower masts behind their yards.
The Cat-fall is the name of a rope employed upon the Cat-head. Two little holes astern, above the Gun-room ports, are called Cat-holes.
A Cat's-paw is a particular turn in the bight of a rope made to hook a tackle in; and the light air perceived in a calm by a rippling on the surface of the water, is known by the same name.
A kind of double tripod with six feet, intended to hold a plate before the fire and so constructed that, in whatever position it is placed, three of the legs rest on the ground, is called a Cat, from the belief that however a Cat may be thrown, she always falls on her feet.
Cat-salt is a name given by our salt-workers to a very beautifully granulated kind of common salt.
Cat's-eye or Sun-stone of the Turks is a kind of gem found chiefly in Siberia. It is very hard and semi-transparent, and has different points from whence the light is reflected with a kind of yellowish radiation somewhat similar to the eyes of cats.
Catkins are imperfect flowers hanging from trees in the manner of a rope or cat's-tail.
Cat's-meat, Cat-thyme, and Cat's-foot are the names of herbs; Cat's head of an apple, and also of a kind of fossil. Cat-silver is a fossil. Cat's-tail is a seed or a long round substance growing on a nut-tree.
A Cat-fish is a shark in the West Indies. Gua-nahani, or Cat Island, a small island of the Bahama group, in the West Indies, is supposed to be so called because wild Cats of large size used to infest it, but I can find no particulars upon the subject in the works of writers on the West Indies.
In the North of England, a common expression of contempt is to call a person Cat-faced. Artists call portraits containing two-thirds of the figure Kit-cat size. With little boys in the street a Cat is a dreadfully objectionable plaything, roughly cut out of a stick or piece of wood, and sharpened at each end. Those whose way to business lies through low neighbourhoods, and who venture upon short cuts, well know from bitter experience that at a certain period of the year the tip-cat season sets in with awful severity, and then it is not safe for such as have eyes to lose, to wander where the epidemic rages.
In the North, however, the same game is called
"Piggie" I learn by the newspaper that a young woman at Leeds nearly lost her eye-sight by a blow from one of these piggies or cats, and the magistrates sent the boy who was the cause of it to an industrial school, ordering his father to pay half-a-crown a week for his maintenance.
The shrill whistle indulged in upon the first night of a pantomime by those young gentlemen with the figure six curls in the front row of the gallery are denominated cat-calls. This is, I am given to understand, a difficult art to acquire - I know I have tried very hard myself and can't; and to arrive at perfection you must lose a front tooth. Such a thing has been known before this, as a young coster-monger having one of his front teeth pulled out to enable him to whistle well. Let us hope that his talent was properly appreciated in the circles in which he moved.
With respect to cat-calls or cat-cals, also termed cat-pipes, it would appear that there was an instrument by that name used by the audiences at the theatre, the noise of which was very different to that made by whistling through the fingers, as now practised. In the Covent Garden Journal for 1810 the O. P. Riots are thus spoken of:- "Mr. Kemble made his appearance in the costume of 'Macbeth,' and, amid vollies of hissing, hooting, groans, and cat-calls, seemed as though he meant to speak a steril and pointless address announced for the occasion."
In book iii. chap. vi. of Joseph Andrews, occurs this passage:-"You would have seen cities in embroidery transplanted from the boxes to the pit, whose ancient inhabitants were exalted to the galleries, where they played upon cat-calls."
In Lloyd's Law Student we find:"By law let others strive to gain renown!
Florio's a gentleman, a man o' th' town. He nor courts clients, or the law regarding, Hurries from Nando's clown to Covent Garden. Zethe's a scholar - mark him in the pit, With critic Cat-call sound the stops of wit."
In Chetwood's History of the Stage (1741), there is a story of a sea-officer who was much plagued by
"a couple of sparks, prepared with their offensive instruments, vulgarly termed Cat-calls;" and describes how "the squeak was stopped in the middle by a blow from the officer, which he gave with so strong a will that his child's trumpet was struck through his cheek."
The Cat-call used at theatres in former times was a small circular whistle, composed of two plates of tin of about the size of a half-penny perforated by a hole in the centre, and connected by a band or border of the same metal about one-eighth of an inch thick. The instrument was readily concealed within the mouth, and the perpetrator of the noise could not be detected.
There used to be a public-house of some notoriety at the corner of Downing-street, next to King-street, called the "Cat and Bagpipes." It was also a chop house used by many persons connected with the public offices in the neighbourhood. George Rose, so well known in after life as the friend of Pitt, Clerk of the Parliament, Secretary of the Treasury, etc., and executor of the Earl of March-mont, but then "a bashful young man," was one of the frequenters of this tavern.
Madame Catalini is thus alluded to with disrespectful abbreviation of her name in a new song on Covent Garden Theatre, printed and sold by J. Pitts, No. 14, Great St. Andrew-street, Seven Dials.
"This noble building, to be sure, has beauty without bounds, It cost upwards of one hundred and fifty thousand pounds; They've Madame Catalini there to open her white throat, But to hear your foreign singers I would not give a groat;
So haste away unto the play, whose name has reached the skies, And when the Catiope's her mouth, oh how she'll catch the flies!"
It was once upon a time the trick of a countryman to bring a Cat to market in a bag, and substitute it for a sucking pig in another bag, which he sold to the unwary when he got the chance. If the trick was discovered prematurely, it was called letting the cat out of the bag - if not - he that made the bad bargain was said to have bought a pig in a poke. To turn the Cat in the pan, according to Bacon, is when that which a man says to another he says it as if another had said it to him.
There is a kind of ship, too, called a Cat, a vessel formed on the Norwegian model, of about 600 tons burthen. That was the sort of cat that brought the great Dick Whittington, of "turn again" memory, his fortune. Do you remember how sorry you were to find out the truth? Do you recollect what a pang it cost you when first you heard that Robinson Crusoe was not true? I shall never forget how vexed and disappointed I was at hearing that Dick Turpin never did ride to York on his famous mare Black Bess, and that no such person as William Tell ever existed, and that that beautiful story about the apple was only a beautiful story after all.