Lifeless cats have been from time immemorial suggestive of foolish hoaxing, a parcel being made up, or a basket with the legs of a hare projecting, directed to some one at a distance, and on which the charge for carriage comes to a considerable sum, the fortunate recipient ultimately, to his great annoyance, finding "his present" was nothing else but "a dead cat." Dead cats, which not infrequently were cast into the streets, or accidentally killed there, were sometimes used as objects of sport by the silly, low-minded, and vulgar, and it was thought a "clever thing" if they could deposit such in a drawing-room through an open window, or pitch the unfortunate animal, often crushed and dirty, into a passing carriage; but "the time of times " when it was considered to be a legitimate object to use was that of either a borough or county election, cats and rotten eggs forming the material with which the assault was conducted in the event of an unpopular candidate for honours attempting to give his political views to a depreciatory mob surrounding the hustings.
An anecdote is recorded in Grose's "Olio" of Mr. Fox, who, in 1784, was a candidate for Westminster, which goes far to show what dirty, degrading, disgusting indignities the would-be "peoples representative" had to endure at that period, and with what good humour such favours of popular appreciation, or otherwise, were received:
"During the poll, a dead cat being thrown on the hustings, one of Sir Cecil Wray's party observed it stunk worse than a fox; to which Mr. Fox replied there was nothing extraordinary in that, considering it was a 'poll cat.'"
This is by no means the only ready and witty answer that has been attributed to Mr. Fox, though not bearing on the present subject.
Shakespeare, in "Lucrece," says:
"Yet foul night-waking cat, he doth but dally, While in his holdfast foot the weak mouse panteth."
In an essay on "The Art of Ingeniously Tormenting" (1753), the cat is alluded to in the frontispiece - a cat at play with a mouse, below which is the couplet:
The cat doth play, And after slay.
Giovanni Batista Casti, in his book, "Tre Giuli" (1762), likens the cat to one who lends money, and suddenly pounces on the debtor:
Thus sometimes with a mouse, ere nip, The cat will on her hapless victim smile, Until at length she gives the fatal grip.
Again, John Philips, in the latter part of the seventeenth century, in his poem of "The Splendid Shilling," referring to debtors, writes:
Grimalkin to Domestick Vermin sworn An everlasting Foe, with watchful Eye Lies nightly brooding o'er a chinky Gap Protending her fell Claws, to thoughtless Mice Sure Ruin.