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.
I TOLD you a-while ago what good Mr. Mavor says of Cats. "La defiance que cet animal inspire," says another instructor of youth, M. Pujoulx, in his Livre du Second Age, "est bien propre a corriger de dissimulation et de l'hypocrisie." I have nothing to say of poor Pujoulx, whose books and opinions are by this time well nigh forgotten; but what am I to think of two other authors, whose words should be law, but of the value of which I leave you to judge for yourself. I need not, I think, remind you that there is a natural history written by one Monsieur Buffon, "containing a theory of the earth, a general history of man, of the brute creation, and of vegetables, minerals, etc.," of which Mr. Barr published an English translation in ten goodly volumes. Thus, in this work of world-wide celebrity, is the feline race discussed. I give the author's words as I find them:"The Cat is a faithless domestic, and only kept through necessity to oppose to another domestic which incommodes us still more, and which we cannot drive away; for we pay no respect to those, who, being fond of all beasts, keep Cats for amusement. Though these animals are gentle and frolicksome when young, yet they, even then, possess an innate cunning and perverse disposition, which age increases, and which education only serves to conceal. They are, naturally, inclined to theft, and the best education only converts them into servile and flattering robbers; for they have the same address, subtlety, and inclination for mischief or rapine. Like all knaves, they know how to conceal their intentions, to watch, wait, and choose opportunities for seizing their prey; to fly from punishment, and to remain away until the danger is over, and they can return with safety. They readily conform to the habits of society, but never acquire its manners; for of attachment they have only the appearance, as may be seen by the obliquity of their motions, and duplicity of their looks. They never look in the face those who treat them best, and of whom they seem to be the most fond; but either through fear or falsehood, they approach him by windings to seek for those caresses they have no pleasure in, but only to flatter those from whom they receive them. Very different from that faithful animal the dog, whose sentiments are all directed to the person of his master, the Cat appears only to feel for himself, only to love conditionally, only to partake of society that he may abuse it; and by this disposition he has more affinity to man than the dog, who is all sincerity."
So much for M. Buffon: though he is sadly mistaken on the subject of which he writes, these were probably his honest opinions; but what can be said for a writer in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, who holds forth as follows, and is not only ignorant of what he talks about, but steals Buffon's absurd prejudices, and passes them off as his own. In his opinion the cat "is a useful but deceitful domestic. Although when young it is playful and gay, it possesses at the same time an innate malice and perverse disposition, which increases as it grows up, and which education learns it to conceal, but never to subdue. Constantly bent upon theft and rapine, though in a domestic state, it is full of cunning and dissimulation: it conceals all its designs, seizes every opportunity of doing mischief, and then flies from punishment. It easily takes on the habits of society, but never its manners; for it has only the appearance of friendship and attachment. This disingenuity of character is betrayed by the obliquity of its movements and the ambiguity of its looks. In a word, the Cat is totally destitute of friendship."
. Here, I think, are some pretty sentiments and some valuable information about the Cat-kind. Let us hope that the other contributors to the Encyclopaedia knew something more of what they wrote about than the gentleman above quoted. And these opinions are not uncommon; for instance, allow me to quote from an article in a popular miscellany:"No! I cannot abide Cats," says the writer. "Pet Cats, wild Cats, Tom Cats, gib Cats, Persian
Cats, Angora Cats, tortoiseshell Cats, tabby Cats, black Cats, Manx Cats, brindled Cats, mewing once, twice, or thrice, as the case may be, - none of these Cats delight me; they are associated in my mind with none but disagreeable objects and remembrances - old maids, witchcraft, dreadful sabbaths, with old women flying up the chimney upon broom-sticks, to drink hell-broth with the evil one, charms, incantations, sorceries, sucking children's breaths, stopping out late on the tiles, catter-wauling and molrowing in the night season, prowling about the streets at unseasonable hours, and a variety of other things, too numerous and too unpleasant to mention."
Upon the other hand, Puss has had her defenders, and Miss Isabel Hill writes thus:"Poor Pinkey, I can scarce dare a word in praise of one belonging to thy slandered sisterhood; yet a few good examples embolden me to assert that I have rarely known any harm of Cats who were given a fair chance, though I own I have seldom met with any that have enjoyed that advantage. Is it their fault that they are born nearly without brains, though with all their senses about them, and of a tender turn? That they want strength, both of body and instinct, are dependant, and ill educated? No! their errors are thrust upon them; they become selfish per force, cowards from their tenacious regard for that personal neatness which they so labour to preserve. Oh! that all females made such good use of their tongues! Cross from sheer melancholy, reflecting, in their starved and persecuted maturity, on the fondness lavished over the days in which they were pet useless toys; as soon as they can deserve and may require kind treatment, they are as ill-used as if they were constant wives - rather unfair on ladies of their excessive genius. Could every Cat, like Whittington's, catch fortunes for her master as well as mice, we should hear no more said against the species. Suppose they only fawn on us because we house and feed them, they have no nobler proofs of friendship with which to thank us; and if their very gratitude for this self-interested hire be adduced as a crime, alas! poor Pussies! Had Minette been a Thomas, a whiskered fur-collared Philander, he would most probably have surmounted that unmanly weakness, and received all favours as but his due. I never see a Mrs. Mouser rubbing her soft coat against me, with round upturned eyes, but I translate her purr into words like these:- 'I can't swim; I can neither fetch and carry, nor guard the house; I can only love you, mistress; pray accept all I have to offer.'"