Yet nature is made better by no mean, But nature makes that mean: so, o'er that art, Which, you say, adds to nature, is an art That nature makes.
Coriolanus, Act II. Scene 1.
This requires much and careful consideration, and in this, as well as in many other things, experience and theory join hands, while the knowledge of the naturalist and fancier is of great and superlative value; yet, with all combined, anything like certainty can never be assured, although the possession of pedigree is added, and the different properties of food, health, quality, and breed understood and taken into account. Still, much may be gained by continued observation and close study of the peculiar properties of colour, besides that of form. If, for instance, a really, absolutely blue cat, without a shade of any other colour, were obtainable, and likewise a pure, clear, canary yellow, there is little doubt that at a distant period, a green would be the ultimate goal of success. But the yellow tabby is not a yellow, nor the blue a blue. There being, then, only a certain variety of colours in cats, the tints to be gained are limited entirely to a certain set of such colours, and the numerous shades and half-shades of these mixed, broken, or not, into tints, markings light or dark, as desired. To all colour arrangements, if I may so call them, by the mind, intellect, or hand of man, there is a limit, beyond which none can go.
It is thus far and no further.
There is the black cat, and the white; and between these are intervening shades, from very light, or white-gray, to darker, blue, dark blue, blackish blue, gray and black. If a blue-black is used, the lighter colours are of one tint; if a brown-black, they are another.
Then in what are termed the sandies and browns, it commences with the yellow-white tint scarcely visible apart from white to the uninitiated eye; then darker and darker, until it culminates in deep brown, with the intervening yellows, reds, chestnuts, mahoganys, and such colours, which generally are striped with a darker colour of nearly their own shade, until growing denser, it ends in brown-black.
The gray tabby has a ground colour of gray. In this there are the various shades from little or no markings, leaving the colour a brown or gray, or the gray gradually disappearing before the advance of the black in broader and broader bands, until the first is excluded and black is the result.
The tortoiseshell is a mixture of colours in patches, and is certainly an exhibition of what may be done by careful selection, mating, and crossing of an animal while under the control of man, in a state of thorough domestication. What the almond tumbler is to the pigeon fancier, so is the tortoiseshell cat to the cat fancier, or the bizarre tulip to the florist. As regards colour, it is a triumph of art over nature, by the means of skilful, careful mating, continued with unwearying patience. We get the same combination of colour in the guinea-pig, both male and female, and therefore this is in part a proof that by proper mating, eventually a tortoiseshell male cat should soon be by no means a rarity. There are rules, which, if strictly followed under favourable conditions, ought to produce certain properties, such properties that may be desired, either by foolish (which generally it is) fashion, or the production of absolute beauty of form, markings in colours, or other brilliant effects, and which the true fanciers endeavour to obtain.
It is to this latter I shall address my remarks, rather than to the reproduction of the curious, the inelegant, or the deformed, such as an undesirable number of toes, which are impediments to utility.
In the first place, the fancier must thoroughly make up his mind as to the variety of form, colour, association of colours or markings by which he wishes to produce, if possible, perfection; and, having done so, he must provide himself with such stock as, on being mated, are likely to bring such progeny as will enable him in due time to attain the end he has in view. This being gained, he must also prepare himself for many disappointments, which are the more likely to accrue from the reason that, in all probability, he starts without any knowledge of the ancestry or pedigree of the animals with which he begins his operations. Therefore, for this reason, he has to gain his knowledge of any aptitude for divergence from the ordinary or the common they may exhibit, or which his practical experience discovers, and thus, as it were, build up a family with certain points and qualities before he can actually embark in the real business of accurately matching and crossing so as to produce the results which, by a will, undeviating perseverance, and patience, he is hoping to gain eventually - the perfection he so long, ardently, and anxiously seeks to acquire; but he must bear in mind that that, on which he sets his mark, though high, must come within the limits and compass of that which is attainable, for it is not the slightest use to attempt that which is not within the charmed circle of possibilities.
I place these first on the list because, being an old pigeon fancier and somewhat of a florist, I deem these to be the breed wherein there is the most art and skill required to produce properly all the varied mottled beauty of bright colours that a cat of this breed should possess; and those who have bred tortoiseshells well know how difficult a task it is.
In breeding for this splendid, gorgeous, and diversified arrangement of colouring, a black, or even a blue, may be used with a yellow or red tabby female, or a white male, supposing either or both were the offspring of a tortoiseshell mother. The same males might be used with advantage with a tortoiseshell female. This is on the theory of whole colours, and patches or portions of whole colours, without bars or markings when possible. In the same way some of the best almond tumbler pigeons are bred from an almond cock mated to a yellow hen. The difficulty here, until lately, has been to breed hens of the varied mottling on almond colour, the hen almost invariably coming nearly, if not quite yellow - so much so that forty to fifty years ago a yellow hen was considered as a pair to an almond cock, in the same way as the red tabby male is now regarded in respect to the tortoise-shell female; and it was not until at Birmingham, many years ago, when acting as judge, I refused to award prizes to them as such, that the effort was made, and a successful one, to breed almond-coloured hens with the same plumage as the cock - that is, the three colours.