"In 1758, or the following year, Bisset, the famous animal trainer, hired a room near the Haymarket, at which he announced a public performance of a 'Cats' Opera,' supplemented by tricks of a horse, a dog, and some monkeys, etc. The 'Cats' Opera' was attended by crowded houses, and Bisset cleared a thousand pounds in a few days. After a successful season in London, he sold some of the animals, and made a provincial tour with the rest, rapidly accumulating a considerable fortune." - Mr. Frost's Old Showman.
"Many years ago a concert was given at Paris, wherein cats were the performers. They were placed in rows, and a monkey beat time to them. According as he beat the time so the cats mewed; and the historian of the fact 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." - Zoological Anecdotes.
Another specimen of discipline is to be found in "Menageries." The writer says: "Cats may be taught to perform tricks, such as leaping over a stick, but they always do such feats unwillingly. There is at present an exhibition of cats in Regent Street, who, at the bidding of their master, an Italian, turn a wheel and draw up water in a bucket, ring a bell; and in doing these things begin, continue, and stop as they are commanded. But the commencez, continuez, arrttez of their keeper is always enforced with a threatening eye, and often with a severe blow; and the poor creatures exhibit the greatest reluctance to proceed with their unnatural employments. They have a subdued and piteous look; but the scratches upon their master's arms show that his task is not always an easy one."
Of performing cats on the stage, there have been several "companies" of late in London, one of which I went to see at the Royal Aquarium, Westminster; and I am bound to say that the relations between master and cats were on a better footing than any that have hitherto come under my notice. On each side of the stage there were cat kennels, from which the cats made their appearance on a given signal, ran across, on or over whatever was placed between, and disappeared quickly into the opposite kennels. But about it all there was a decided air of timidity, and an eagerness to get the performance over, and done with it. When the cats came out they were caressed and encouraged, which seemed to have a soothing effect, and I have a strong apprehension that they received some dainty morsel when they reached their destination. One ran up a pole at command, over which there was a cap at the top, into which it disappeared for a few seconds, evidently for some reason, food perhaps. It then descended. But before this supreme act several cats had crossed a bridge of chairs, stepping only on the backs, until they reached the opposite house or box into which to retire.
The process was repeated, and the performance varied by two cats crossing the bridge together, one passing over and the other under the horizontal rung between the seat and the top of the chair. A long plank was next produced, upon which was placed a row of wine-bottles at intervals; and the cats ran along the plank, winding in and out between the bottles, first to the right, then to the left, without making a mistake. This part of the performance was varied by placing on the top of each bottle a flat disc of thick wood; one of the cats strode then from disc to disc, without displacing or upsetting a bottle, while the other animal repeated its serpentine walk on the plank below. The plank being removed, a number of trestles were brought in, and placed at intervals in a row between the two sets of houses, when the cats, on being called, jumped from trestle to trestle, varying the feat by leaping through a hoop, which was held up by the trainer between the trestles. To this succeeded a performance on the tight rope, which was not the least curious part of the exhibition. A rope being stretched across the arena from house to house, the cats walked across in turn, without making a mistake.
Some white rats were then brought and placed at intervals along the rope, when the cats, re-crossing from one end to the other, strode over the rats without injuring them. A repetition of this feat was rendered a little more difficult by substituting for rats, which sat pretty quietly in one place, several white mice and small birds, which were more restless, and kept changing their positions. The cats re-crossed the rope, and passed over all these obstacles without even noticing the impediments placed in their way, with one or two exceptions, when they stopped, and cosseted one or more of the white rats, two of which rode triumphantly on the back of a large black cat.
Perhaps the most odd performance was that of "Cat Harris," an imitator of the voice of cats in 1747.
"When Foote first opened the Haymarket Theatre, amongst other projects he proposed to entertain the public with imitation of cat-music. For this purpose he engaged a man famous for his skill in mimicking the mewing of the cat. This person was called 'Cat Harris.' As he did not attend the rehearsal of this odd concert, Foote desired Shuter would endeavour to find him out and bring him with him. Shuter was directed to some court in the Minories, where this extraordinary musician lived; but, not being able to find the house, Shuter began a cat solo; upon this the other looked out of the window, and answered him with a cantata of the same sort. 'Come along,' said Shuter; 'I want no better information that you are the man. Foote stays for us; we cannot begin the cat-opera without you.'" - Cassell's Old and New London, vol. iv.