"Signs of Foul Weather," by Dr. Erasmus Darwin. In a poem, the well-known relative of the eminent Charles Darwin describes the various natural indications of coming storms. Among the animals and birds he notes the cat:
Low o'er the grass the swallow wings; The cricket, too, how sharp he sings; Puss on the hearth, with velvet paws, Sits wiping o'er his whiskered jaws.
"In England,"says Mr. T. F. Thiselton Dyer, "the superstitious still hold the cat in high esteem, and oftentimes, when observing the weather, attribute much importance to its various movements. Thus, according to some, when they sneeze it is a sign of rain; and Herrick, in his 'Hesperides,' tells us how
True calendars as pusses eare,
Wash't o're to tell what change is neare.
"It is a common notion that when a cat scratches the legs of a table, it is a prognostic of change of weather. John Swan, in his 'Speculum Mundi' (Cambridge, 1643), writing of the cat, says: 'She useth therefore to wash her face with her feet, which she licketh and moisteneth with her tongue; and it is observed by some that if she put her feet beyond the crown of her head in this kind of washing, it is a signe of rain.' Indeed, in the eyes of the superstitious, there is scarcely a movement of the cat which is not supposed to have some significance.
"Cats are exceedingly fond of valerian (V. officinalis), and in TopselPs 'Four-footed Beasts ' (1658, p. 81), we find the following curious remarks: 'The root of the herb valerian (called Phu), is very like to the eye of a cat, and wheresoever it groweth, if cats come thereunto, they instantly dig it up for the love thereof, as I myself have seen in mine own garden, for it smelleth moreover like a cat.' There is also an English rhyme on the plant marum to the following effect:
If you see it,
The cats will eat it; If you sow it,
The cats will know it.
"In Suffolk, cats' eyes are supposed to dilate and contract with the flow and ebb of the tide. In Lancashire the common people have an idea that those who play much with cats never have good health."*
If tincture of valerian is sprinkled on a plant or bush the neighbouring cats roll and rub themselves on or against it, often biting and scratching the plant to pieces. - H. W.
In Lancashire it is regarded as unlucky to allow a cat to die in a house. Hence,† when they are ill they are usually drowned.
At Christ Church, Spitalfields, there is a benefaction for the widows of weavers under certain restrictions, called "cat and dog money." There is a tradition in the parish that money was given in the first instance to cats and dogs.‡
If a cat tears at the cushions, carpet, and other articles of furniture with its claws, it is considered a sign of wind. Hence the saying, "the cat is raising the wind."
Mr. Park's note in his copy of Bourn and Brand's "Popular Antiquities," p. 92, says: "Cats sitting with their tails to the fire, or washing with their paws behind their ears, are said to foretell a change of weather."
In Pules' play of " The Novice " is the line:
Ere Gil, our cat, can lick her ear.
This is from Brand, and I do not think it refers to the weather, but to an impossibility.
* Mr. T. F. Thiselton Dyer's "English Folk-lore."
† Harland and Wilkinson, "Lancashire Folk-lore," p, 141.
‡ Edwards's "Old English Customs," p. 54.