Of Various Kinds Of Cats, Ancient And Modern

NOW, although this is the Book of Cats, do you know I am more that half afraid that if I give you too much about Cats in it, you will go away dissatisfied. Some years ago there was a great rage for mechanics' institutions and instructive lectures on things generally, and one half the world was for jumping on to the platform and improving the mind of the other half in gases and ologies; and, in those days, there was one particular sort of lecture, which might be roughly described as hard words and an explosion, with which the frequenter of all institutes was perfectly familiar; and you may remember, too, how we did not so much care about the words, but thought that the stuff out of the bottle, that went off with a bang, was the best fun out. Carried away by the popularity of these oratorical and chemical displays, the heads of schools were wont to encourage lecturing on a small scale among their pupils, only suppressing the explosive part of the entertainment as too dangerous; and young gentlemen told other young gentlemen what they knew rather better than the young gentlemen telling them respecting the ology of which they treated.

In like fashion, I am afraid I may be only telling you what you know already, or what you might have known, but have not cared about learning. The fact is, all that this chapter contains is to be elsewhere found at greater length. I have no new theories of my own upon the subject, and, indeed, would not presume to argue the question of the domestic Cat's origin with those who have so ably treated the subject in books long since written. To tell the truth, I was not myself very much interested about the matter when I began to read the arguments on either side. Will you be? I am inclined to think not. However, here is a brief statement of the case, which is easily skipped if not approved of.

M. Ruppel, who discovered in the wild regions west of the Nile a Cat about one-third smaller than the European Cat, and having a longer tail, is of opinion that the animal was descended from the domestic Cat of the ancient Egyptians, and that the Egyptian and our domestic Cat are identical. Temminck is of the same opinion; but Professor Owen objects to this theory, because the first deciduous molar-tooth of the Egyptian Cat has a relatively thicker crown, and is supported by three roots, whilst the corresponding tooth of the domestic and wild Cat of Europe has a thinner crown, and only two roots. A writer on the subject, in 1836, says, there is no doubt but that the wild Cat of the European forests is the tame Cat of European houses; that the wild Cat at some period has been domesticated, and that the tame Cat would become wild if turned into the woods. Mr. Bell, however, with regard to the belief that the common wild Cat is the father of the tame, says, that the general conformation of the two animals is considerably different, especially in the length and form of the tail. The fur, too, of the wild Cat is thicker and longer.

Sir William Jardine thinks that, since the introduction of our house Cat to this country, there may have been an accidental cross with the wild native species, by which the difference in form between the wild and tame Cat may be accounted for. "The domestic Cat," says he, "is the only one of this race which has been generally used in the economy of man. Some of the other small species have shown that they might be applied to similar purposes; and we have seen that the general disposition of this family will not prevent their training. Much pains would have been necessary to effect this, and none of the European nations were likely to have attempted it. The scarcity of Cats in Europe, in its earliest ages, is also well known, and in the tenth and eleventh centuries a good mouser brought a high price."

Another author, quoting the above, says: -"Although our opinion coincides with that of Ruppel, and we think that we are indebted to the superstition of the ancient Egyptians for having domesticated the species mentioned by Ruppel, we have no doubt that since its introduction to this country, and more particularly to the north of Scotland, there have been occasional crosses with our native species, and that the result of these crosses have been kept in our houses. We have seen many Cats very closely resembling the wild Cat, and one or two which could scarcely be distinguished from it. There is, perhaps, no other animal that so soon loses its cultivation and returns apparently to a state completely wild: the tasting of some wild and living food may tempt them to seek it again and to leave their civilized homes. They then prowl about in the same manner as their prey, couching in the long grass and brush-wood, and hiding themselves from all publicity."

No game destroyer, however, is more easily caught than the Cat. In summer, when rabbit-paunches will not keep on account of the weather, a little valerian root is used as a bait. The Cats come to rub themselves on it, finding some unaccountable pleasure in so doing. The valerian root is of a whitish colour, and it has a very strong and disagreeable smell: it is used by us as a medicine in nervous disorders, and its good effects against headaches, low-spirits, and trembling of the limbs are well known. A story is told of a little boy home for the holidays who played an old lady this trick: - He put some valerian root under the hearth-rug, which set the Cat scratching, rubbing her back on it, and performing a hundred antics, till the old lady, getting frightened, thought Puss had gone mad. The boy then quietly took away the valerian. The Cat grew calm again, and the old lady was much astonished.

It is a cruel custom in some parts of the country to cut off the ears of Cats and remove the hairs all round the exposed aperture of the ear, to prevent the animal from poaching in the woods. It is thought that by so doing, the wet off the bushes and grass may get into the internal cavity of the ear, and by the pain cause the Cat to desist from the chase. Cats so mutilated, however, often choose fine days for their poaching expeditions.