From 1867: some Wicked Stories that have been told about Cats.

Ido not love a Cat,” says a popular author, often quoted; “his disposition is mean and suspicious. A friendship of years is cancelled in a moment by an accidental tread on the tail. He spits, twirls his tail of malignity, and shuns you, turning back as he goes off a staring vindictive face full of horrid oaths and unforgiveness, seeming to say, ‘Perdition catch you! I hate you for ever.’ But the Dog is my delight. Tread on his tail, he expresses for a moment the uneasiness of his feelings, but in a moment the complaint is ended: he runs round you, jumps up against you, seems to declare his sorrow for complaining, as it was not intentionally done,—nay, to make himself the aggressor, and begs, by whinings and lickings, that the master will think of it no more.” No sentiments could be more popular with some gentlemen. In the same way there are those who would like to beat their wives, and for them to come and kiss the hand that struck them in all humility. It is not only when hurt by accident that the dog comes whining round its master. The lashed hound crawls back and licks the boot that kicked him, and so makes friends again. Pussy will not do that though. If you want to be friendly with a cat on Tuesday, you must not kick him on Monday. You must not fondle him one moment and illtreat him the next, or he will be shy of your advances. This really human way of behaving makes Pussy unpopular.

I am afraid that if it were to occur to one of our legislators to tax the Cats, the feline slaughter would be fearful. Every one is fond of dogs, and yet Mr. Edmund Yates, travelling by water to Greenwich last June, said that the journey was pleasingly diversified by practical and nasal demonstrations of the efficient working of the Dog-tax. “No fewer than 292 bodies of departed canines, in various stages of decomposition, were floating off Greenwich during the space of seven days in the previous month, seventy-eight of which were found jammed in the chains and landing-stages of the “Dreadnought” hospital ship, thereby enhancing the salubrity of that celebrated hothouse for sick seamen.” And I cannot venture to repeat the incredible stories of the numbers said to have been taken from the Regent’s Canal.

There are some persons who profess to have a great repugnance to Cats. King Henry III. of France, a poor, weak, dissipated creature, was one of these. According to Conrad Gesner, men have been known to lose their strength, perspire violently, and even faint at the sight of a cat. Others are said to have gone even further than this, for some have fainted at a cat’s picture, or when they have been in a room where such a picture was concealed, or when the picture was as far off as the next room. It was supposed that this sensitiveness might be cured by medicine. Let us hope that these gentlemen were all properly physicked. I myself have often heard men express similar sentiments of aversion to the feline race; and sometimes young ladies have done so in my hearing. In both cases I have little doubt but that the weakness is easily overcome. As for a hidden and unheard Cat’s presence affecting a person’s nerves, I beg to state my conviction that such a story is utterly ridiculous; and I was vastly entertained by the following narrative, written by a lady for a Magazine for Boys, and given as a truth. Such a valuable fact in natural history should not be allowed to perish; she calls it, a tale of my grandmother.

My maternal grandmother had so strong an aversion to Cats that it seemed to endow her with an additional sense. You may, perhaps, have heard people use the phrase, that they were “frightened out of their seven senses,” without troubling yourselves to wonder how they came to have more than five. But the Druids of old used to include sympathy and antipathy in the number, a belief which has, no doubt, left its trace in the above popular and otherwise unmeaning expression; and this extra sense of antipathy my grandmother certainly exhibited as regarding Cats.

When she was a young and pretty little bride, dinner parties and routs, as is usual on such occasions, were given in her honour. In those days, now about eighty years ago, people usually dined early in the afternoon, and you may imagine somewhere in Yorkshire, a large company assembled for a grand dinner by daylight. With all due decorum and old-fashioned stately politeness, the ladies in rustling silks, stately hoops, and nodding plumes, are led to their seats by their respective cavaliers, in bright coloured coats with large gilt buttons.

With dignified bows and profound curtsies, they take their places, the bride, of course, at her host’s right hand. The bustle subsides, the servants remove the covers, the carving-knives are brandished by experienced hands, and the host having made the first incision in a goodly sirloin or haunch, turns to enquire how his fair guest wishes to be helped.

To his surprise, he beholds her pretty face flushed and uneasy, while she lifts the snowy damask and looks beneath the table.

“What is the matter, my dear madam? Have you lost something?”

“No, sir, nothing, thank you;—it is the Cat,” replied the timid bride, with a slight shudder, as she pronounced the word.

“The Cat?” echoed the gentleman, with a puzzled smile; “but, my dear Mrs. H——, we have no Cat!”

“Indeed! that is very odd, for there is certainly a Cat in the room.”

“Did you see it then?”

“No, sir, no: I did not see it, but I know it is in the room.”

“Do you fancy you heard one then?”

“No, sir.”

“What is the matter, my dear?” now enquires the lady of the house, from the end of the long table; “the dinner will be quite cold while you are talking to your fair neighbour so busily.”

“Mrs. H—— says there is a Cat in the room, my love; but we have no Cat, have we?”

“No, certainly!” replied the lady tartly. “Do carve the haunch, Mr.——.”

The footman held the plate nearer, a due portion of the savoury meat was placed upon it.

“To Mrs. H——,” said the host, and turned to look again at his fair neighbour; but her uneasiness and confusion were greater than ever. Her brow was crimson—every eye was turned towards her, and she looked ready to cry.

“I will leave the room, if you will allow me, sir, for I know that there is a Cat in the room.”

“But, my dear madam—”

“I am quite sure there is, sir; I feel it—I would rather go.”

“John, Thomas, Joseph, can there be a Cat in the room?” demanded the embarrassed host of the servants.

“Quite impossible, sir;—have not seen such a hanimal about the place since I comed, any way.”

“Well, look under the table, at any rate; the lady says she feels it; look in every corner of the room, and let us try to convince her.”

“My dear, my dear!” remonstrated the annoyed bridegroom from a distant part of the table; “what trouble you are giving.”

“Indeed, I would rather leave the room,” said the little bride, slipping from her chair. But, meanwhile, the servants ostentatiously bustled in their unwilling search for what they believed to be a phantom fancy of the young lady’s brain; when, lo! one of the footmen took hold of a half-closed window-shutter, and from the aperture behind out sprang a large cat into the midst of the astonished circle, eliciting cries and exclamations from others than the finely organised bride, who clasped her hands rigidly, and gasped with pallid lips.

Such facts as this are curious, certainly, and remain a puzzle to philosophers.

This habit of hiding itself in secret places is one of the most unpleasant characteristics of the Cat. I know many instances of it—especially of a night alarm when we were children, ending in a strange cat being found in a clothes bag.

Here, indeed, we have truth several degrees stranger than fiction; but this is not the only wonderful story the authoress has to tell. I will give you some others very slightly abridged.

“A year or two ago, a man in the south of Ireland severely chastised his cat for some misdemeanour, immediately after which the animal stole away, and was seen no more.

“A few days subsequently, as this man was starting to go from home, the Cat met and stood before him in a narrow path, with rather a wicked aspect. Its owner slashed his handkerchief at her to frighten her out of the way, but the Cat, undismayed, sprang at the hand, and held it with so ferocious a gripe, that it was impossible to make it open its jaws, and the creature’s body had actually to be cut from the head, and the jaws afterwards to be severed, before the mangled hand could be extricated. The man died from the injuries.”

The jaws of a Cat are comparatively strong, and worked by powerful muscles; it has thirty-four teeth, but they are for the most part very tiny teeth, like pin’s points. What, I wonder, were the dimensions of this ferocious animal with the iron jaws; and how many courageous souls were engaged in its destruction. If this story is, however, rather hard to swallow, the next is not less so. Says our authoress:—

“I also know an Irish gentleman, who being an only son without any playmates, was allowed, when he was a child, to have a whole family of Cats sleeping in the bed with him every night.

“One day he had beaten the father of the family for some offence, and when he was asleep at night, the revengeful beast seized him by the throat, and would probably have killed him had not instant help been at hand. “The Cat sprang from the window, and was never more seen.” (Probably went away in a flash of blue fire.)

What do you think of these very strange stories? If they surprise you, however, what will you say to this one? “Dr. C——, an Italian gentleman still living in Florence (the initial is just a little unsatisfactory), who knew at least one of the parties, related to the authoress the following singular story. A certain country priest in Tuscany, who lived quite alone with his servants, naturally attached himself, in the want of better society, to a fine he-cat, which sat by his stove in winter, and always ate from his plate.

One day a brother priest was the good man’s guest, and, in the rare enjoyment of genial conversation, the Cat was neglected; resenting this, he attempted to help himself from his master’s plate, instead of waiting for the special morsels which were usually placed on the margin for his use, and was requited with a sharp rap on the head for the liberty. This excited the animal’s indignation still more, and springing from the table with an angry cry, he darted to the other side of the room. The two priests thought no more of the Cat until the cloth was about to be removed; when the master of the house prepared a plateful of scraps for his forward favourite, and called him by name to come and enjoy his share of the feast. No joyful Cat obeyed the familiar call: his master observed him looking sulkily from the recess of the window, and rose, holding out the plate, and calling to him in a caressing voice. As he did not approach, however, the old gentleman put the platter aside, saying he might please himself, and sulk instead of dine, if he preferred it; and then resumed his conversation with his friend. A little later the old gentleman showed symptoms of drowsiness, so his visitor begged that he would not be on ceremony with him, but lie down and take the nap which he knew he was accustomed to indulge in after dinner, and he in the meantime would stroll in the garden for an hour. This was agreed to. The host stretched himself on a couch, and threw his handkerchief over his face to protect him from the summer flies, while the guest stepped through a French window which opened on a terrace and shrubbery.

An hour or somewhat more had passed when he returned, and found his friend still recumbent: he did not at first think of disturbing him, but after a few minutes, considering that he had slept very long, he looked more observantly towards the couch, and was struck by the perfect immobility of the figure, and with something peculiar in the position of the head over which the handkerchief lay disordered. Approaching nearer he saw that it was stained with blood, and hastily removing it, saw, to his unutterable horror, that his poor friend’s throat was gashed across, and that life was already extinct.

He started back, shocked and dismayed, and for a few moments remained gazing on the dreadful spectacle almost paralysed. Then came the speculation who could have done so cruel a deed? An old man murdered sleeping—a good man, beloved by his parishioners and scarcely known beyond the narrow circle of his rural home. It was his duty to investigate the mystery, so he composed his countenance as well as he was able, and going to the door of the room, called for a servant.

The man who had waited at table presently appeared, rubbing his eyes, for he, too, had been asleep.

“Tell me who has been into this room while I was in the garden.”

“Nobody, your reverence; no one ever disturbs the master during his siesta.”

He then asked the servant where he had been, and was told in the ante-room. He next enquired whether any person had been in or out of the house, or if he had heard any movement or voice in the room, and also how many fellow-servants the man had. He was told that he had heard no noise or voices, and that he had two fellow-servants—the cook and a little boy. His reverence demanded that they should be brought in, that he might question them.

They came, and were cross-questioned as closely as possible, but they declared that they had not been in that part of the house all day long, and that nobody could possibly get into the house without their knowledge, unless it was through the garden. The priest had been walking all the time in view of the house, and he felt convinced that the murderer could not have passed in or out on that side without his knowledge.

“Listen to me; some person has been into that room since dinner, and your master is cruelly murdered.”

“Murdered!” cried the three domestics in tones of terror and amazement; “did your reverence say ‘murdered’?”

“He lies where I left him, but his throat is gashed from ear to ear—he is dead. My poor old friend!”

“Dead! the poor master dead, murdered in his own house.”

They wrung their hands, tore their hair, and wept aloud.

“Silence! I command you; and consider that every one of us standing here is liable to the suspicion of complicity in this foul deed; so look to it. Giuseppe was asleep.”

“But I sleep very lightly, your reverence.”

“Come in and see your master,” said the priest solemnly.

They crept in, white with fear and stepping noiselessly. They gazed on the shocking spectacle transfixed with horror. Then a cry of “Who can have done it?” burst from all lips.

“Who, indeed?” repeated the cook.

The priest desired Giuseppe to look round the premises, and count the plate, and ascertain if there had been a robbery, or if any one was concealed about the house. The man returned without throwing any new light upon the mystery; but, in his absence, while surveying the room more carefully than he had previously done, the priest’s eye met those of the Cat glowing like lurid flames, as he sat crouching in the shade near a curtain. The orbs had a fierce malignant expression, which startled him, and at once recalled to his recollection the angry and sullen demeanour of the creature during dinner.

“Could it possibly be the Cat that killed him?” demanded of the cook the awe-struck priest.

“Who knows?” replied he; “the beast was surly to others, but always seemed to love him fondly; and then the wound seems as though it were made with a weapon.”


“It does, certainly,” rejoined the priest; “yet I mistrust that brute, and we will try to put it to the proof, at any rate.”

After many suggestions, they agreed to pass cords round the neck and under the shoulders of the deceased, and carried the ends outside the room door, which was exactly opposite the couch where he lay. They then all quietly left the apartment, almost closing the door, and remained perfectly still.

One of the party was directed to keep his eye fixed on the Cat, the others after a short delay slowly pulled the cords, which had the effect of partially raising the head of the corpse.

Instantly, at this apparent sign of life, the savage Cat sprang from its corner, and, with a low yell and a single bound, fastened upon the mangled neck of its victim.

At once the sad mystery was solved, the treacherous, ungrateful, cowardly, and revengeful murderer discovered! and all that remained to be done was to summon help to destroy the wild beast, and in due time to bury the good man in peace.

Well, to such stories as these I have no particular objection, under certain circumstances. They are well enough, for instance, to fill up the odd corners of a weekly newspaper in the dull season, and are a pleasant relief to the ‘enormous gooseberry’; but I have my doubts whether they should be given as facts for the instruction of youth, though I am not much surprised that the editor should have admitted them into his pages, when he speaks of them in another part of the magazine as “delightful papers.” When children’s minds are thus filled with absurd falsehoods, it is not to be wondered at if, when the child grows up into a man, the man should express himself somewhat in the words of this instructor of youth, who says, “I must confess, on my own part, an aversion to the feline race, which, with the best intentions, I am unable entirely to conquer. I have occasionally become rather fond of an individual Cat, but never encounter one, unexpectedly, without a feeling of repugnance; and, as I like, or feel an interest in, every other animal, I regard this peculiarity as hereditary.”

I suppose, however, that there are few of my fair readers who have not a feeling somewhat akin to repugnance towards snakes, black-beetles, earwigs, spiders, rats, and even poor little, harmless mice; yet ladies have been known to keep white mice, and make pets of them after a time, when the first timidity was overcome. There was a captive once, you may remember, who tamed a spider. A man, about ten years ago, who used to go about the streets, got his living by pretending to swallow snakes. He allowed them, while holding tight on their tails, to crawl half-way down his throat and back again. He said they were nice clean animals, and good company. Little boys at school often swallow frogs. An earwig probably has fine social qualities, which only want bringing out: naturalists tell us they make the best of mothers. The black beetle has always been a maligned insect: it is a sort of nigger among insects, apparently born only to be poisoned, drowned, or smashed; but some one ought, decidedly, to take the race in hand and see of what it is capable. I have, myself, a horror of most of the creatures I have named, but happen not to have been reared with an aversion for Cats, and I have a strong belief that if I tried hard (which I am not going to do) I might get upon friendly relations with the other animals named above, which, I suppose, most of us are taught, when children, to dislike; and as our fathers and mothers have entertained the same feeling, perhaps, as my authoress says, we may “regard this peculiarity as hereditary.”

Probably a good many ladies reading these lines will endorse my authoress’s opinions. For the most part these will be married ladies with large families; and it will be found upon enquiry, I feel certain, that ladies who have many children will have a dislike for the feline race.


This article about 19th century cats, and the accompanying illustration is by Charles H. Ross.

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