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.
In Abyssinia, Cats are so valuable, that a marriageable girl who is likely to come in for a Cat, is looked upon as quite an heiress.
The resemblance between the Tiger and the Cat is so striking, that little children first taken to the Zoological Gardens almost always call the Tigers great Cats; and, in their native woods, Tigers purr.
The domestic species require no description, but one or two of the varieties may be mentioned:
The Cat of Angora, is a very beautiful variety, with silvery hair of fine silken texture, generally longest on the neck, but also long on the tail. Some are yellowish, and others olive, approaching to the colour of the Lion; but they are all delicate creatures, and of gentle dispositions. Mr. Wood, while staying in Paris, made the acquaintance of an Angora, which ate two plates of almond biscuits at a sitting. This breed of Cats has singular tastes; I knew one that took very kindly to gin and water, and was rather partial to curry. He also ate peas, greens, and broad beans (in moderation). Most Cats are fond of asparagus.
The Persian Cat is a variety with hair very long, and very silky, perhaps more so than the Cat of Angora; it is however differently coloured, being of a fine uniform grey on the upper part, with the texture of the fur as soft as silk, and the lustre glossy; the colour fades off on the lower parts of the sides, and passes into white, or nearly so, on the belly. This is, probably, one of the most beautiful varieties, and it is said to be exceedingly gentle in its manners.
The Chinese Cat has the fur beautifully glossed, but it is very different from either of those which have been mentioned. It is variegated with black and yellow, and, unlike most of the race, has the ears pendulous. Bosman, writing about the ears, says: "It is worthy of observation, that there is in animals evident signs of ancestry of their slavery. Long ears are produced by time and civilization, and all wild animals have straight round ears."
The Tortoise-shell or Spanish Cat is one of the prettiest varieties of those which have the fur of moderate length, and without any particular silvery gloss. The colours are very pure, black, white, and reddish orange; and, in this country, at least, males thus marked are said to be rare, though they are quite common in Egypt and the south of Europe. This variety has other qualities to recommend it, besides the beauty of its colours. Tortoise-shell Cats are very elegant, though delicate in their form, and are, at the same time, very active, and among the most attached and grateful of the whole race.
Bluish grey is not a common colour; this species are styled "Chartreux Cats," and are esteemed rarities.
The Manx Cat is perhaps the most singular; its limbs are gaunt, its fur close set, its eyes staring and restless, and it has no tail; that is to say, there is only a sort of knob as though its tail had been amputated. "A black Manx Cat," says a modern writer, "with its staring eyes and its stump of a tail, is a most measly looking beast, which would find a more appropriate resting place at Kirk Alloway or the Black Bay, than at the fireside of a respectable household. So it might fitly be the quadrupedal form in which the ancient sorcerers were wont to clothe themselves on their nocturnal excursions."
I read in an article by Mr. Lord that there is a variety of tailless Cats found in various parts of the world, and he suggests that this deficiency may be due to an accident originally, but perpetuated by interbreeding. I am not quite of the same opinion. It reminds one of the old saying, "It runs in the blood, like wooden legs."
I recollect the case of a young gentleman who devoted his leisure evenings to cutting off Cats' tails in the neighbourhood in which he lived. He hung them up in bunches to dry, and had rare sport, while it lasted, in making the collection, only some one, who was a Cat-owner, did not see the fun of it, and put an end to the joke. Some young men think it a manly sport to kill or hunt down Cats; and, by the way, do you remember Sir Robert Peel's memorable speech about the Volunteers, thus reported in Hansard? "At Hythe the first prize was carried off by a genuine Cockney. Upon being asked how he had acquired his extraordinary skill and precision "'Oh,' said he, as reported in the columns of the Court fournal, 'I live in London, and have had considerable practice in shooting at the Cats of my Brompton neighbours.'
"It was not, perhaps, of much consequence in the depth of winter (continued Sir R. Peel), but no man could tell what a scene London would present in the height of the season. Everybody would be shooting at his neighbour's Cat. There would be the stoker of the Railway Rifles potting at the funnels of the North Western, and we should have the Finsbury Filibusters fluking over Cripplegate. He trusted, however, that before that time a stop would be put to the Volunteer movement," etc., etc.
Cats do certainly seem to enjoy themselves on moonlight nights, anyhow they make noise enough. The Cat was believed by the ancients to stand in some relation to the moon, for Plutarch says that the Cat was the symbol of the moon on account of her different colours, her busy ways at night, and her giving birth to twenty-eight young ones during the course of her life, which is exactly the number of the phases of the moon.
The ancients identified Bubastis with the Greek Artemis (or Diana), and each was regarded as the Goddess of the moon. Bubastis was generally represented as a woman with a Cat's head.
It might occur to some, that "Puss" is derived from the Egyptian name, Pasht; but perhaps it is better to acquiesce in the derivation from the Latin, Pusus (a little boy), or Pusa (a little girl). By others this term is thought to be a corruption of Pers.
The French of Cat is Chat; the German, Katze; the Italian, Gatto; the Spanish, Gato; the Dutch and Danish, Kat; the Welsh, Cath; the Latin, Catus: the French of Puss is Minette. You have heard the story, I suppose, of the person who being told to decline the noun Cat, when he came to the vocative, said "O Cat!" on which he was reminded that if he spoke to a Cat he would say "Puss."
Mr. Buchton says, that "the only language in which the name of the Cat is significant, is the Zend, where the word Gatu, almost identical with the Spanish Gato, means a place - a word peculiarly significant in reference to this animal, whose attachment is peculiar to place, and not to the person, so strikingly indicated by the dog."
In some parts of Lancashire, a Tom is still called a "Gib" or "Gibbe" Cat, the g being pronounced hard, not jibbe, as found in most dictionaries. According to Nares, Gib, the contraction of Gilbert, was the name formerly applied to a Cat, as Tom is now, and that Tibert, as given in Reynard the Fox, was the old French for Gilbert. Chaucer in his Romance of the Rose translates Thibert le Cas by "Gibbe our Cat." Shakespeare applies the word Gibbe to an old worn-out animal. The term Gib-face means the lower lip of a horse. In mechanics, the pieces of iron employed to clasp together the pieces of wood or metal of a frame which is to be keyed previous to inserting the keys, are called Gibs. Anyone curious upon the subject of Gib Cats, my find the subject treated at length in the Etymologicon.