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.
A Cat caught in a trap is a dangerous customer to let loose again. If the door be opened incautiously, the Cat will probably fly at the catcher's face the moment she sees the light. The only safe way of getting the Cat out of the trap is to place a sack over the door end of the trap, and then rattle the other end with a stick. The animal runs at once into the sack.
Wild Cats not only eat birds, but seek eagerly after their eggs, of which they are passionately fond.
Regarding the wild Cat, Pennant says, "It may be called the 'British Tiger': it is the fiercest and most destructive beast we have; making dreadful havoc amongst our poultry, lambs and birds. It inhabits the most mountainous and wooded parts of these islands, living mostly in trees and feeding only at night. It multiplies as fast as our common Cats."
A wild Cat is said to have been killed in Cumberland (my authority gives no date) which measured above five feet in length from the nose to the end of the tail.
Mr. Timbs relates how, in 1850, he saw, at No. 175, Oxford Street, a beautifully-marked tabby Cat weighing 25¾ lbs., and measuring 27 inches round the body, and 37 inches from the tip of the tail to the end of the nose; height to top of shoulders 11½ inches: he was then seven years old.
The tame Cat's tail ends in a point; the wild Cat's in a tuft. The head of the wild Cat is triangular and strongly marked, the ears triangular, large, long and pointed.
At the village of Barnborough, in Yorkshire, there is a tradition extant of a serious conflict that once took place between a man and a wild Cat. The inhabitants say that the fight began in an adjacent wood, and that the man and Cat fought from thence to the porch of the church, where each died of the wounds received. A rude painting in the church commemorates the sanguinary event, and the red colour of some of the stones are, of course, said to be blood-stains, which all the soap and water in the world could not remove.
In the reign of Richard II. wild Cats were reckoned among the beasts of the chase, and there was an edict that no man should use more costly apparel than that made of lambs' or Cats'-skins.
In Egypt Cats were considered sacred to the Goddess Bubastis, the Egyptian Diana. Her priestesses were vowed to celibacy: they passed a great portion of their time attending on the Cats of the temple. Mrs. Loudon suggests that hence, perhaps, may have arisen the idea that a fondness for Cats is a sign of old maidism.
Apollo created the lion to terrify his sister Diana, and she turned his fearful beast into ridicule by mimicking it in the form of a Cat. Cats were dedicated to Diana, not only when she bore her proper name, but when she was called "Hecate." Witches who worshipped Hecate had always a favourite Cat.
A very great number of Cats' mummies, discovered in Egypt, afford ample proof of the esteem in which Pussy was held in "Thebes' Streets Three Thousand Years Ago." If one died a natural death, it was mourned for with many ceremonies; among others the entire household, where the death took place, shaved off their eyebrows. If killed, the murderer was given up to the mob to buffet him to death. Cats were held sacred when alive, and when they died were embalmed and deposited in the niches of the catacombs. An insult offered by a Roman to a Cat caused an insurrection among the Egyptians when nothing else could excite them. Cambyses gained Pelusis, which had previously successfully resisted all attacks, by the following stratagem: - He gave to each of his soldiers employed in the attack a live Cat, instead of a buckler, and the Egyptians, rather than hurt the objects of their veneration, suffered themselves to be vanquished without striking a blow.
Herodotus tells us that "on every occasion of a fire in Egypt, the strangest prodigy occurs with the Cats. The inhabitants allow the fire to rage as long as it pleases, while they stand about, at intervals, and watch these animals, which, slipping by the men, or else leaping over them, rush headlong into the flames."
In some of the curious Egyptian pictures at the British Museum, you may see the representation of Cats being trained to catch birds.
Cats are frequently trained in California to catch a species of burrowing pouched rat, called a gopher, a destructive animal infesting fields and gardens. Cats, so trained, are very valuable.
We are are told that there was once a Cape in the Island of Cyprus, which was called Cat Cape. A monastery stood here, the monks of which were compelled by their vows to keep a great number of Cats, to wage war against the snakes, with which the Island was swarming. At the sound of a certain bell the Cats came trooping home to their meals, and then rushed out again to the chase. When, however, the Turks conquered the Island, they destroyed both the Cats and their home.
In the middle ages, animals formed as prominent a part in the worship of the time as in the old religion of Egypt. The Cat was a very important personage in religious festivals. At Aix, in Provence, on the festival of Corpus Christi, the finest Tom-cat of the country, wrapt in swaddling clothes like a child, was exhibited in a magnificent shrine to public admiration. Every knee was bent, every hand strewed flowers, or poured incense, and Grimalkin was treated in all respects as the god of the day. But on the festival of St. John, poor Tom's fate was reversed. A number of the tabby tribe were put into a wicker basket, and thrown alive into the midst of an immense fire, kindled in the public square by the bishop and his clergy. Hymns and anthems were sung, and processions were made by the priest and people in honour of the sacrifice.
In the reign of Howel the Good, who died in 948, a law was made in Wales, fixing the price of the Cat, which was then of great scarcity. A kitten before it got its sight was to cost one penny; until a warranty was given of its having caught a mouse, twopence; after this important event, four-pence, and a very high price, too, the times considered. The Cat, however, was required to be perfect in its senses of seeing and hearing, should be a good mouser, have its claws uninjured, and, it a lady pussy, be a good mamma. If after it was sold, it was found wanting in any of these particulars, the seller was to forfeit a third of the purchase-money. If any one stole or killed the Cat that was guarding the prince's granary, the criminal forfeited a milch ewe with her fleece and lamb, or as much wheat as when poured upon a Cat suspended by its tail, would bury the animal up to the top of its tail.