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.
Dr. Harsenet, Archbishop of York, in his Declaration of Popish Impostures, says, "Out of those is shap'd us the true idea of a witch, an old weather-beaten crone, having her chin and knees meeting for age, walking like a bow leaning on a staff, hollow ey'd, untooth'd, furrow'd on her face, having her lips trembling with the palsy, going mumbling in the streets - one that hath forgotten her pater-noster, and yet hath a shrewd tongue to call a drab a drab! - if she hath learned of an old wife in a chimney end, pax, max, fax, for a spell, or can say Sir John Grantham's curse for a nuller's eels - 'All ye that have stolen the miller's eels, Laudate Dominum de Coelis, and they that have consented thereto, Benedicamus Domino,' why then, beware, look about you, my neighbours. If any of you have a sheep sick of the giddies, or a hog of the mumps, or a horse of the staggers, or a knavish boy of the school, or an idle girl of the wheel, or a young drab of the sullens, and hath not fat enough for her porridge, or butter enough for her bread, and she hath a little help of the epilepsy or cramp to teach her to roll her eyes, wry her mouth, gnash her teeth, startle with her body, hold her arms and hands stiff, etc. And then, when an old Mother Nobs hath by chance called her 'idle young housewife,' or bid the devil scratch her, then no doubt but Mother Nobs is the witch, and the young girl is owl-blasted, etc. They that have their brains baited, and their fancies distempered, with the imaginations and apprehensions of witches, conjurors, and fairies, and all that lymphatical chimera, I find to be marshalled in one of these five ranks:- Children, fools, women, cowards, sick or black melancholic discomposed wits."
Many hundreds of poor old women, and many a Cat, were sacrificed to the zealous Master Hopkins, for Cats and Kittens were frequently said to be imps, who had taken that form. However, he was not the only scoundrel who made witch-finding a trade.
In Syke's Local Recorder, mention is made of a Scotchman, who pretended great powers of discovering witchcraft, and was engaged by the townsmen of Newcastle to practise there; and one man and fifteen women were hanged by him. But he ultimately shared, as Hopkins did, the cruel fate he had awarded to so many others. "When the witch-finder had done in Newcastle, and received his wages, he went into Northumberland to try women there, and got three pounds a-piece; but Henry Doyle, Esq., laid hold on him, and required bond of him to answer at the Sessions. He escaped into Scotland, where he was made prisoner, indicted, arraigned, and condemned for such-like villany exercised in Scotland, and confessed at the gallows that he had been the death of above two hundred and twenty women in England and Scotland."
Here is an account of the death of a famous witch's famous Cat: "Ye rats, in triumph elevate your ears! Exult, ye mice! for Fate's abhorred shears Of Dick's nine lives have slit the Cat-guts nine; Henceforth he mews' midst choirs of Cats divine!"
So sings Mr. Huddesford, in a "Monody on the death of Dick, an Academical Cat," with this motto: "Mi-Cat inter omnes."
Hor. Carm., Lib. i., Ode 12.
He brings his Cat, Dick, from the Flood, and consequently through Rutterkin, a Cat who was "cater-cousin to the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother of Grimalkin, and first Cat in the Caterie of an old woman, who was tried for bewitching a daughter of the Countess of Rutland, in the beginning of the sixteenth century." The monodist connects him with Cats of great renown in the annals of witchcraft; a science whereto they have been allied as closely as poor old women, one of whom, it appears, on the authority of an old pamphlet, entitled "Mewes from Scotland," etc., printed in the year 1591, "confessed that she took a Cat and christened it, etc., and that in the night following, the said Cat was conveyed into the middest of the sea by all these witches sayling in their riddles, or cives, so left the said Cat right before the towne of Leith, in Scotland. This done, there did arise such a tempest at sea, as a greater hath not been seen since. Againe it is confessed that the said christened Cat was the cause of the Kinge's majestie's shippe, at his coming forthe of Denmark, had a contrarie winde to the rest of the shippes then being in his com-panie, which thing was most straunge and true, as the Kinge's Majestie acknowledgeth, for when the rest of the shippes had a fair and good winde, then was the winde contrarie, and altogether against his Majestie," etc.
All sorts of Cats, according to Huddesford, lamented the death of his favourite, whom he calls "premier Cat upon the catalogue," and who, preferring sprats to all other fish "Had swallow'd down a score, without remorse, And three fat mice slew for a second course; But, while the third his grinders dyed with gore, Sudden those grinders clos'd - to grind no more! And, dire to tell! commission'd by old Nick, A catalepsy made an end of Dick.
Calumnious Cats, who circulate faux pas,
And reputations maul with murderous claws;
Shrill Cats, whom fierce domestic brawls delight,
Cross Cats, who nothing want but teeth to bite;
Starch Cats of puritanic aspect sad,
And learned Cats, who talk their husbands mad;
Confounded Cats, who cough, and croak, and cry,
And maudlin Cats who drink eternally;
Fastidious Cats, who pine for costly cates,
And jealous Cats who catechise their mates;
Cat prudes who, when they're ask'd the question, squall,
And ne'er give answer categorical;
Uncleanly Cats, who never pare their nails,
Cat-gossips, full of Canterbury tales;
Cat-grandams, vex'd with asthmas and catarrhs,
And superstitious Cats, who curse their stars;
Cats of each class, craft, calling, and degree,
Mourn Dick's calamitous catastrophe!
Yet while I chant the cause of Richard's end,
Ye sympathising Cats, your tears suspend!
Then shed enough to float a dozen whales,
And use for pocket handkerchiefs your tails!
Ah! though thy bust adorn no sculptur'd shrine,
No vase thy relics rare to fame consign;
No rev'rend characters thy rank express,
Nor hail thee, Dick, ' D.D. nor F.R.S.'
Though no funereal cypress shade thy tomb,
For thee the wreaths of Paradise shall bloom;
There, while Grimalkin's mew her Richard greets,
A thousand Cats shall purr on purple seats.
E'en now I see, descending from his throne,
Thy venerable Cat, O Whittington!
The kindred excellence of Richard hail,
And wave with joy his gratulating tail!
There shall the worthies of the whiskered race Elysian mice o'er floors of sapphire chase, Midst beds of aromatic marum stray, Or raptur'd rove beside the milky way. Kittens, than eastern houris fairer seen, Whose bright eyes glisten with immortal green, Shall smooth for tabby swains their yielding fur, And, to their amorous mews, assenting purr;-There, like Alcmena's, shall Grimalkin's son In bliss repose, - his mousing labours done, Fate, envy, curs, time, tide, and traps defy, And caterwaul to all eternity."
To conclude this Chapter, an incident which took place only a few days ago, in Essex, at a village within forty miles of London, and which came under the personal knowledge of the writer, may be adduced, to show that, however witchcraft may have been laughed away - and laughter has been more effectual to rid the world of it than rope or stake - there are still to be found individuals who believe in the evil powers of hook-nosed crones, black Cats, and broom-sticks.
In a squalid hut lived a miserable dame, whose only claims to a demoniacal connection were her excessive age and her sombre Cat. Whether the neighbours thought the Cat was more of a witch than the woman, or whether they had a wholesome dread of the punishment inflicted upon murderers, it was upon the animal the bewitched ones determined to wreak their vengeance, and then it was that the true satanic nature of poor Puss appeared. Traps were set to catch her, but she would not be caught; ropes were purchased to hang her, but she would not bow her head to the noose; and, finally, a blunderbuss was loaded to shoot her - loaded to the very muzzle. By conjurations and enchantments, when that gun was fired, it knocked the holder backwards, and never injured the black Cat. Another man tried, with the same result, and yet another. It was evident the gun was bewitched, so Pussy's murder was given up for the time, and, with the exception of the tip of her tail, lost in one of the traps, passed the remainder of her life happy and unmutilated.