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.
The lateral movements of the head in Cats are not so extensive as in the owl, but are, nevertheless, considerable. A cat can look round pretty far behind it without moving its body, which might be apt to startle its prey. The spine of the Cat is very full and loose, in order that all its movements in all possible directions and circumstances may be free and unrestrained. For this purpose, too, all the joints which connect its bones together are extremely loose and free. Thus, the Cat is enabled to get through small apertures, to leap from great heights, and even to fall in an unfavourable posture with little or no injury to itself. Its ears are not so moveable as those of some other animals, but are more so than in very many animals. The shape of the external ear, or rather cartilaginous portion, is admirably adapted to intercept sounds. The natural posture is forward and outward, so as to catch sounds proceeding from the front and sides. The upper half, however, is moveable, and by means of a thin layer of muscular fibres, it is made to curve backwards and receive sounds from the rear. Although a Cat cannot lick its face and head, it nevertheless cleans these parts thoroughly; in fact, as we often observe, a Cat licks its right paw for a long time, and then brushes down the corresponding side of the head and face; and when this is accomplished, it does the same with the other paw and corresponding side.
"'A May kitten makes a dirty Cat,' is a piece of Huntingdonshire folk-lore," says Mr. Cuthbert Bede, "quoted to me in order to deter me from keeping a kitten that had been born in May."
Dr. Turton says, "The Cat has a more voluminous and expressive vocabulary than any other brute; the short twitter of complacency and affection, the purr of tranquility and pleasure, the mew of distress, the growl of anger, and the horrible wailing of pain." For myself, I seldom hear a catawauling without thinking of that droll picture in Punch of the old lady sitting up in bed and pricking up her ears to the music of a mewing Cat.
"Oh, ah! yes, it's the waits," says she, with a delighted chuckle; "I love to listen to 'em. It may be fancy, but somehow they don't seem to play so sweetly as they did when I was a girl. Perhaps it is that I am getting old, and don't hear quite so well as I used to do."
Few, even amongst Pussy's most ardent admirers, who possess the faculty of hearing, and have heard the music of Cats, would desire the continuance of their "sweet voices"; yet a concert was exhibited at Paris, wherein Cats were the performers. They were placed in rows, and a monkey beat time to them, as the Cats mewed; and the historian of the facts relates that the diversity of the tones which they emitted produced a very ludicrous effect. This exhibition was announced to the Parisian public by the title of "Concert Miaulant."
This would seem to prove that Cats may be taught tricks, which is not generally believed, but is nevertheless the case.
In Pool's Twists and Turns about the Streets of
London, mention is made of "a poor half-naked boy, strumming a violin, while another urchin with a whip makes two half-starved Cats go through numerous feats of agility."
De Roget says, that in animals that graze and keep their heads for a long time in a dependent position, the danger from an excessive impetus in the blood flowing towards the head is much greater than in other animals; and we find that an extraordinary provision is made to obviate this danger. The arteries which supply the brain on their entrance into the basis of the skull suddenly divide into a great number of minute branches, forming a complicated network of vessels, an arrangement which, on the well known principle of hydraulics, must greatly check the velocity of the blood conducted through them. That such is the real purpose of this structure, which has been called the rete mirabile, is evident from the branches afterwards uniting into larger trunks when they have entered the brain, through the substance of which they are then distributed exactly as in other animals, where no such previous subdivision takes place. The rete mirabile is much developed in the sheep, but scarcely perceptible in the Cat.
Being an animal which hunts both by day and night, the structure of its visual organs is adjusted for both. The retina, or expansion of the optic nerve, is most sensitive to the stimulus of light; hence, a well-marked ciliary muscle contracts the pupil to a mere vertical fissure during the day, while in the dark, the pupil dilates enormously, and lets in as much light as possible. But even this would be insufficient, for Cats have to look for their prey in holes, cellars, and other places where little or no light can penetrate. Hence, the Cat is furnished with a bright metal-like, lustrous, membrane, called the Tapetum, which lines part of the hollow globe of the eye, and sheds considerable light on the image of an object thrown on the retina. This membrane is, we are told, common to all vertebrated animals, but is especially beautiful and lustrous in nocturnal animals. The herbivora, such as the ox and sheep, have the tapetum of the finest enamelled green colour, provided probably to suit the nature of their food, which is green. The subject, however, of the various colours of the tapetum in different animals is not yet understood. The sensibility of the retina in Cats is so great that neither the contractions of the pupil nor the closing of the eye-lids would alone afford them sufficient protection from the action of the light. Hence, in common with most animals, the Cat is furnished with a nictitating membrane, which is, in fact, a third eyelid, sliding over the transparent cornea beneath the common eyelids. This membrane is not altogether opaque, but translucent, allowing light to fall on the retina, and acting, as it were, like a shade. The nictitating membrane is often seen in the Cat when she slowly opens her eyes from a calm and prolonged sleep: it is well developed in the eagle, and enables him to gaze steadfastly on the sun's unclouded disk.