Imágenes de página

voiceless, motionless, save only a gentle involuntary pleasurable agitation of the tip of his tail: forgetful even of the approaching tea-time, and the accustomed saucer of milk: surrendered to the full influence of that mysterious sympathy between coals and contemplation, which never lets us look for two consecutive minutes at a bright clear fire, without throwing us into a calm, thoughtful, moralising frame of mind, presenting to us, in every black promontory and glowing cavern, more strange and varying shapes and images than "Denmark's sage courtier" discovered in the passing cloud, to fool her "princely youth" to the top of his bent. Your cat, after all, is the most truly philosophic brute a ruminating animal is a goose to him. There is about that cat of yours, our dear aunt-sugar and cream, if you please, and a liberal allowance of both there is evidently about that cat of yours an abstraction from things real, a separation of spirit from matter, a meditativeness - a sagia, (pardon the Greek,) which a Greek sage of the olden time would have looked upon with envy. Disturb him not, and he will sit in that selfsame position for hours-let but this ball of thread roll within reach of his


eye, thus, and-pounce! why, he is in his kittenhood again in a moment! Your venerable protégé is one of those whom age robs not of all " smack of their youth :"

"Our good old cat, Earl Tomlemagne,
Upon a warm spring-day,
Even like a kitten at its sport

Is often seen to play."

With all his philosophy he is no Stoic. A yard of string and an inch of ribband are too much for him any day: he is "pleased with a feather, tickled with a straw," to the latest moment of his existence. And now we think he may lap his milk, and Mary may take away the tea things; for, fascinating as is the beverage, we never allow ourselves to exceed the third eup. Why, the saucer is nearly empty already! That ceaseless purr, and that ecstatic sweeping of the tail, might make envious the most inveterate gourmand in London: we could almost plump down upon all fours, and lap with him ourselves, the operation appears so delightful.

Truly, Sir Thomas, thou leadest a happy life. For thee beameth a cheerful fire, and spreadeth a soft warm

hearth-rug. For thee the morning sun poureth his earliest radiance through yon eastern window, and for thee diffuseth his parting warmth on yonder back-door, where, as thou reposest, no juvenile vagabond, wantonly envious of thy felicity, may halloo on the hostile cur, or whirl from some obscure corner the treacherous brickbat. Pleasant is it to behold thee, basking in the full effulgence of the burning day-god:-waking indeed, yet not far removed from slumber-in a state of luxurious dreaminess, fancying thyself, perchance, in some feline Elysium, where the sleek race of mice faileth never, and the gentle gales wander by unceasingly, stealing odour from a wilderness of valerian. art one of those who cannot be "too much i' the sun;”—a true votary of the noontide-a sworn worshipper of the dog-days. Alas! that we should be compelled to class thee among those human children of the same divinity, "with whom revenge is virtue!"

[ocr errors]


Nor little be thy rejoicing that thy lot was cast in these our enlightened days, rather than in the darker times of our poor, miserable, ignorant, benighted ancestors. Be thou very thankful, that, in this happy era, ancient dames may be hook-nosed, or humpbacked, or halting, with impunity, and that familiar spirits have become strangers in the land! Tremble thou to hear that time was, when the dread Father of Evil himself walked the earth after thy image, black of hue as midnight; when malignant imps, lurking concealed under a livery of tortoiseshell, wrought unspeakable ills to myriads of unfortunate chawbacons; -when men prophesied a mildewed harvest from every sweep of thy tail, a sickening herd from every purring intonation of thy voice;-when, if thou didst frisk in thy harmless glee, thou wert esteemed to be practising minuets for the approaching Witches' Sabbath-if thou didst but seize a passing mouse, thou wert only endeavouring to blind the eyes of the multitude from detecting under thy disguise the incarnation of the Wicked One. Be thou exceeding grateful that, in these latter days, thou hast fallen under the especial protection of a gentle sisterhood, whose hearts, unoccupied by other affections, throw open for thy race alone the wide floodgates of their tenderness; who consecrate for thee a shrine in every hearthrug, and appoint high-priestesses for

thy service in the shape of much-enduring maids-of-all-work. For thee, kind ministers! at every return of morn, do they duly arrest the dogdrawn vehicle, far scented by thy expectant tribe, wherein, Homerically arranged on spit-like skewers, are borne the savoury morsels collected from a thousand stores for thine especial consumption:-for thee do they bend upon the itinerant purveyor their sweetest of sweet smiles, that he may select for thy favoured palate his most tempting delicacies. For thy sake, in particular, O Epicurean Sir Thomas! how many a murmuring brother and mewing sister peep anxiously forth each morning, to chide the slug gish wheels and lingering merchant! How many a fasting lap-dog whines complainingly, as he views, at hungry distance, the long-protracted gratification of thy fastidious appetite!

And yet is not thy cup of sweets altogether undashed with bitterness, "medio de fonte leporum surgit amari aliquid;"-thou too hast thy share of the persecutions of this persecuting world: nay, no sooner hast thou entered it than thy perils compass thee round, and, alas! thou hast no eyes to avoid them! How often have we seen thy helpless kindred, in all the fancied security and unoffending blindness of kittenhood, dashed rudely against the flinty wall, or plunged headlong into the stagnant pool or hurrying torrent! How often, O Thames! stream "gentle yet not dull," have we marked some hapless victim, cut off untimely, and nipped in the very bud of promise, borne slowly downward on the bosom of the waves-alas! how changed! the graceful form swollen and distended with "too much of water"the innocent limbs rigid and extended in death-the glossy coat worn from the skin by the action of the unpitying stream-the nucleus of a foul collection of sticks and straws, "weeds and filth, a leprous scum," augmenting as it is borne lazily on, till in the unsightly and shapeless mass the very mother that moaned for its loss would fail to recognise her offspring! Happy, ay, thrice happy, Puss was she, Sir Thomas, who was erst wont to carry thee in her maternal mouth to the sunniest spots, secluded from the prying ken of the destroyer; -who kept for thee the choicest morsel, visiting with stealthiest step thy carefully concealed bed in some well

filled barn or comfortable hay-loft, till thy opening eyes grew bright, and thy young limbs waxed strong, and thou didst shoot up beneath her delighted gaze into active and vigorous cathood! But not even thus have thy perils ceased, and still art thou in jeopardy! Many sworn foes hast thou-imps of mischief in short jackets and still shorter inexpressibles. "fiends in shape of boys," as sayeth the tenderhearted minstrel whose mournful dirge rang plaintively over the "expiring frog," who go about to do thee perpetual harm. Perchance, allured by the warmth of a more than usually genial morn, thou dost timidly peep forth into the world, unconscious of the perils which lurk beyond the pale of thine accustomed area, and art pacing with slow, happy, unsuspicious steps, along the well-sunned flagstones-alas! unhappy animal! see you not yon evil-minded urchin before?-hear you not yon butcher's cur behind?-turn! fly! ere yet it be too late! already the well-aimed pebble is on its way,—already the growling savage in act to spring—one moment more, and great Jupiter, a masterly retreat! Xenophon from Cunaxa was not half so skilful,-Bonaparte from Moscow not half so quick! How the caitiff cur stands astounded at the leap which cleared his unwieldy carcase, and bore thee at one bound beyond the reach of his utmost swiftness!—And let thy much-palpitating heart rejoice, for the missile of thy human foe has spent its force against yon kitchen window, and a sturdy scullion is even now taking vengeance on the offender.

Now, by the

Many a time and oft, too, has our heart bled for the hapless child of thy race, whom some puerile demon, despite her piteous moanings and despairing struggles, holds closely grasped between his unrelenting knees, till he has shod each velvet paw with a sandal of unyielding walnut-shell, and laughs to see her limp clattering away, or to mark her fruitless efforts to disengage her tender toes from their unwonted durance. Sometimes toothank heaven! but seldom-do we shudder, as we read of the atrocities of some more mature devil, some animated flint, who, for the sake of allevil gain, hesitates not to strip the furry coat from the yet living flesh, to fling aside the bleeding and quivering carcass. We have scarcely heart to

speak of it; we never look at an urchin surmounted by one of those hateful fur caps, without thinking of the agonies by which perchance it was purchased-without fancying we hear the howl of torture, and see the mangled limbs writhing under- -But the theme is too horrible to be pursued: in all Hogarth's Progress of Cruelty, sickening as it is to look on, there is not imagined a more fiendish example of the vice.

And yet there be those who look upon thy persecutions with little compassion, and scruple not to lay to thy account manifold and serious charges, which would indeed, we fear, puzzle thee to answer. They say that thou art one of those time-servers whom it is dangerous to trust—a very incarnation of treachery-friend and foe in the same moment-now fawning, and now scratching-bearing a most feudal remembrance of wrongs, without the open and avowed hostility which accompanied the enmities of those days-one who suffers the injury of a moment to blot out the benefits of a life. "I do not love a cat," says somebody or other, we forget who "his disposition is mean and suspicious. A friendship of years is cancelled in a moment by an accidental tread on his tail or his foot. He instantly spits, raises his rump, 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!'" Yes, the charge is too truean uncertain and fickle friend thou art; and not without reason has our own. Shakspeare made the noble mother of the banished Coriolanus, while she vents her wrath upon the cowering Tribunes, sum up in the single expressive epithet of "Cats!" all the faithlessness, and the falsehood, and the ingratitude of the scoundrel Plebs, who hooted their deliverer from the gates of Rome. They say, too, Sir Thomas, that thou thyself art a persecutor: that thou lovest to torment the hapless sparrow, and the ill-fated mouse,—delaying the fatal gripe only to gloat over its bootless struggles, and drink in with greedy ear its little cries of complaint. They say that all thy sufferings are but the well-deserved recompense of thy- Grace be with us! what sound was that? As we hope to be saved, our respected aunt fast

asleep, and snoring most unequivocally! And to think that we should have been wasting our precious breath for the last half hour in this fashion, deeming fondly that we were creating the most favourable impression that the skill of an expectant nephew ever succeeded in making upon a maiden aunt with £10,000 in the three per cents! Bah! we will beat our retreat before the old girl wakes herself to the sound of her own music; and as for you, Sir Thomas, as you value your safety, get not between us and the door, or we may be tempted too strongly to turn bully ourselves, and treat you to an accidental kick, that will stick in your memory to the end of your ninth existence.

Now forgive us, if you can, all you far, bright, silent stars that now shine down upon us, all the humbug we have uttered this blessed evening to tickle the ungrateful ears of the virgin Tabitha, and let it be sufficient punishment to have uttered it in vain! Not that we absolutely hate a cat-that would be contrary to our principles. We have no more personal grudge against them, than the son of Peleus had against the Trojans: they never steal our cream- -frighten our favourite bullfinch into convulsions-or "catawampously chaw up" our gold fish. We have, we say, no downright, redhot feud with them; but we cannot help regarding them, at best, but as a sort of modified tigers, with whom it is dangerous to be too familiar, and trench not upon the undisputed prerogative of the single sisterhood. We lords of creation seldom love cats. Most women do-and no wonder ; both are graceful, and both domestic; not to mention that they both scratch. Still they have an authority or two among us to quote in their favour; no less a personage than Mahomet himself patronised the breed, and, if his disciples "have writ their annals true," the said Prophet actually allowed his feline favourite to turn the breast of his robe into a nursery for her purring progeny! Only fancy the Founder of the Faithful with a bosom-full of kittens! Why, his embrace (and he was pretty prodigal of such delicate attentions) must have been nearly as destructive to the favoured fair one, as that` of the great father of gods and men to the "lightning-blasted Semele." Indeed, we are sceptical enough to question whether Mistress Khadijah could

ever have been persuaded to allow the practice, though beyond a doubt the modern Moslem doth "most powerfully and potently believe" it, and imitates it so zealously, that he might give many a lesson in cat-keeping even to the virgin daughters of merry England.

Southey kept a cat at Balliol-or if he didn't, he wrote lines to one as if he did, (one never knows when to believe a poet;) and he praises the said cat, real or imaginary, for being a "democratic beast." Well, the said laureate was a democratic young gentleman himself in those days-but he knows better now: no doubt, he got well scratched one fine morning, and discovered all on a sudden that democracy in theory was a far finer thing than democracy in practice.

Scott even the dog-loving and dog-loved Scott-admitted in his later days a sneaking kindness for pussy. "The greatest advance of age," says he," which I have yet found, is liking a cat, an animal which I detested, and becoming fond of a garden, an art which I despised." We have nothing to say against the first argument of senility, for cats and old folks have really many common characteristics; but as to the second position, that the love of a garden is the peculiar concomitant of advancing years, we do think we could-battling under cover of the strong shield of Bacon, like Teucer from behind that of Ajax Telamon-put "old Peveril" to the rout, horse and foot. We have a great mind to try a skirmish some day, when we sport our country house, and have a "pleasaunce" of our own, to stir us up in defence of that "purest of all human pleasures."

But we have made too hasty a jump among the moderns, and passed over the grand authority for cat-keepingthe quaint, learned, lively, philosophical, gossipping, egotistical, fascinating Montaigne. We have even been led to entertain serious thoughts of setting up a Grimalkin ourselves, after reading his account of himself and his pet. "When my cat and I entertain each

other with mutual apish tricks, as playing with a garter, who knows but that I make my cat more sport than she makes me ? Shall I conclude her to be simple that has her time to begin or to refuse to play, as freely as I myself have? nay, who knows but that it is a defect of my not understanding her language (for doubtless cats talk and reason with one another) that we agree no better; and who knows but that she pities me for being no wiser than to play with her, and Jaughs and censures my folly for making sport for her when we two play together?" The old Gascon capering round his study with puss at his heels, jumping at the tantalizing lure, has summoned up to our memory a similar picture-Cowper's account of his hares; a narrative which would be enough to make us love the hand which penned it, had it never traced a line of the strains which have for ever enshrined his memory in the hearts of the wise and good among his countrymen. The Bard of The Task, by the way, has himself no mean claim to the respect of the feline family. Their gratitude for the Elegy on the "demurest of the tabby kind" should, to say the least of it, be purr-petual.

And yet, though we have found a poet or two to patronize the race, it is by no means loved by the " genus irritabile" in general: "caret vate sacro," like all the great men who so unfortunately existed before the days of Agamemnon; unless, indeed, we dignify with that honoured name the innumerable and excellent poetasters, who build the lofty rhyme for the ears of the rising generation, and swell with many a storied page and pictured tome the bookshelves of the nursery. There, in many a wild and wondrous legend, many a happy and instructive epologue doth our friend puss stand pre-eminent. To this day we have vividly before us the portraiture of Puss in Boots, and feel yet a relish for the history of the venerable Dame Trot and her Comical Cat. How beautifully is her treacherous spirit denounced, in the simple and touching

*The quotation is from Izaac Walton, who adds,-" Thus freely speaks Montaigne concerning cats." There is, however, as much freedom in Father Izaac's translation, as in Montaigne's gossip. Piscator is considerably more paraphrastic than faithful in his rendering-unless, indeed, the fault be in the standard translation, and not in the inaccuracy of the "quaint old cruel coxcomb " himself. We do not happen to have a copy in the original to settle the question,

story of the "three blind mice who who sat in a barn to spin ;"-her sirenlike behaviour in the fable of the Old and the Young Mouse! What bosom has not felt a pang at the cruel catastrophe which befel the hospitable hostess of the "Froggie who would awooing go," and who met with so unfortunate an accident in the course of his stroll homewards? What calculating master and arithmetical miss has not toiled and laboured over the hopeless task of discovering the aggregate amount of "kits, cats, sacks, and wives," journeying towards the ancient and loyal borough of St Ives? But we might multiply questions to infinity.

As to all the brave young princes, and angelic young princesses, who have been enchanted into cats, from the year of the world one to the year of grace 1839 inclusive, if we were to move for a return of them, the "tottle of the whole" would baffle the calculating powers of black and white Joey Hume himself. We confess that, in our more superstitious moments, we are half-inclined to number ourselves among those "who hold the opinion of Pythogoras, and fear to kill a woodcock least they dispossess the soul of their grandam ;" and to look upon every Grimalkin as some prince, power, or potentate, "doomed for a certain space to walk" in tortoiseshell; or a masquerading fairy, condescending for some elfish purpose to visit this "middle earth," who will by no means fail to repay with interest any indignities offered to his pro tempore person, and make us―― Now, all confusion seize the miscreant that made that slide for our unwary feet to tread upon! Here, you! policeman! lend us a helping hand up, will you? The feline accomplishment of falling always upon one's legs would have saved us a considerable shock somewhere else just at this moment! We, that have only one life to lose, seldom manage to tumble without a bruise at least, while a wretch of a cat, with nine times the number, may fall from the clouds themselves without a parachute, and come down as comfortably as if granite were three-piled velvet, and asphalte eider-down. There certainly is a sort of "charmed life" about a cat, which goes far to justify our ancestors in their belief that they were either spirits of ill, in propria persona,

or had signed and sealed indentures of partnership with the Arch-fiend himself. "Care killed a cat," says some modern Solomon, meaning thereby to point out, both how very difficult it is to kill the said animal, and that, if mental anxiety can effect so arduous an exploit, it can, à fortiori, far more easily make an end of a parcel of poor miserable mortals like ourselves. Corollary:-that our sorrows ought to be drowned, like kittens, in their infancy; and, like Clarence, in good liquor.

Well, thank goodness, here we are at home; and not before it is high time either for there speak the tongues, of which Time has as many as Rumour, though he finds but a far more scanty audience. One, two, three!twelve o'clock, by all that's horological! Alas for twelve o'clock! No longer is it the " very witching time of night" that it was wont to be: no longer, at its pealing summons, the spiritual world sends forth its denizens to frightens us "fools of nature" out of what few senses we possess. Churchyards groan no more and though, indeed, the graves do still "give up their dead," it is only to the hands of the body-snatcher. In our modern midnights, staircases creak, and candles burn blue in vain. Does a door fly suddenly open ?-we only confound the wind, and slam it to again. Is a mysterious scratching heard?—we do but anathematize a rat, and turn over to the next page of our book. Armed in the strength of mind of the nineteenth century, we can smile at the "airy tongues" and echoing footfalls, the hollow moans and clanking chains, which terrified our grandmothers. There! that very sound that rose half a second ago, and has hardly yet died away, would, under the reign of Anne Radcliffe, have thrown a whole boarding-school into hysterics. Again!It might almost be taken for the voice of some indignant ghost, bemoaning himself on his farewell ramble, and pouring forth a melancholy Vale to his once constant occupation, so rapidly falling away before the cockcrow of that mental chanticleer, the Schoolmaster Abroad. Once more!Then must we risk a cold, and look out into the moonlight. Pshaw! that our usually accurate ears should have been puzzled by old Biddy Skinaflint's tom-cat, on the opposite housetop! The old rascal has just emerged

« AnteriorContinuar »