Our Cats and All About Them


A BLATE cat makes a proud mouse (Scotch). An idle, or stupid, or timid foe is never feared.

A cat has nine lives, a woman has nine lives. In Middleton's Blurt Master Constable, 1602, we have: "They have nine lives apiece, like a woman."

A cat may look at a king. In Cornwall they say a cat may look at a king if he carries his eyes about him.

"A Cat may Look at a King," is the title of a book on history, published in the early part of the last century. On the frontispiece is the picture of a cat, over it the inscription, "A cat may look at a king," and a king's head and shoulders on the title-page, with the same inscription above.

A cat's walk, a little way and back (Cornwall). No place like home. Idling about.

A dead cat feels no cold. No life, no pain, nor reproach.

A dog hath a day.Heywood. In Essex folks add: And a cat has two Sundays. Why?

The shape of a good greyhound:

A head like a snake, a neck like a drake, A back like a beam, sided like a bream, A foot like a cat, a tail like a rat.

Ale that would make a cat talk. Strong enough to make even the dumb speak.

"A spicy pot,
Then do's us reason,
Would make a cat
To talk high treason."—D'Urfey.

A half-penny cat may look at a king (Scotch). A jeering saying of offence—"One is as good as another," and as a Scotchman once said, "and better."

A muffled cat is no good mouser.Clarke, 1639. No good workman wears gloves. By some is said "muzzled."

A piece of a kid is worth two of a cat. A little of good is better than much that is bad.

A scalded cat fears cold water. Once bit always shy. What was may be again.

As cat or cap case.

"Bouser I am not, but mild sober Tuesday,
As catte in cap case, if I like not St. Hewsday."

The Christmas Prince, 1607.

As gray as Grannum's cat.Hazlitt. So old as to be likely to be doubly gray.

As melancholy as a cat.Walker. The voice of the cat is melancholy.

As melancholy as a gib-cat (Scotch). As an old, worn-out cat.—Johnston.

"I am as melancholy as a gib-cat or a lugged bear."[B]


Gib-cat; an old, lonely, melancholy cat.

Before the cat can lick her ear. "Nay, you were not quite out of hearing ere the cat could lick her ear."—Oviddius Exultans, 1673, p. 50. That is never.

Dun, besides being the name of one who arrested for debt in Henry VII.'s time, was also the name of the hangman before "Jack Ketch."—Grose.

"And presently a halter got,
Made of the best strong teer,
And ere a cat could lick her ear,
Had tied it up with so much art."

1664, Cotton's Virgile, Book 4.

By biting and scratching dogs and cats come together.Heywood. Quarrelling oft makes friends.

Care clammed a cat.Sir G. C. Lewis's "Herefordshire Glossary." Clammed means starvation; that is, care killed the cat; for want of food the entrails get "clammed."

Care killed the cat, but ye canna live without it. To all some trouble, though not all take heed. None know another's burden.

Care will kill a cat.

"Then hang care and sorrow,
'Tis able to kill a cat."—D'Urfey.

Alluding to its tenacity of life and the carking wear of care.

Cats after kind good mouse hunt.Heywood. Letter by F. A. touching the quarrel between Arthur Hall and Melch Mallorie, in 1575-6, repr. of ed. 1580, in "Miscy. Antiq. Anglic." 1816, p. 93. "For never yet was good cat out of kinde."—English Proverbs, Hazlitt.

Cats and Carlins sit in the sun. When work is done then warmth and rest.

Cats eat what hussies spare. Nothing is lost. Also refers to giving away, and saying "the cat took it."

Cats hide their claws. All is not fair that seems so. Trust not to appearances.

Cry you mercy, killed my cat.Clarke, 1639. Better away, than stay and ask pardon.

Every day's no yule; cast the cat a castock. The stump of a cabbage, and the proverb means much the same thing as "Spare no expense, bring another bottle of small beer."—Denham's Popular Sayings, 1846.


He bydes as fast as a cat bound with a sacer. He does as he likes; nothing holds him.


He can hold the cat to the sun. Bold and foolish enough for anything.


He is like a dog or a cat. Not reliable.

He looks like a wild cat out of a bush. Fiercely afraid.

He's like a cat; fling him which way you will, he'll not hurt. Some are always superior to misfortune, or fortune favours many.

He's like a singed cat, better than he's likely. He's better than he looks or seems.

He stands in great need that borrows the cat's dish.Clarke, 1639. The starving are not particular. The hungry cannot choose.

He lives at the sign of the cat's foot. He is hen-pecked, his wife scratches him.—Ray.

He wald gar a man trow that the moon is made of green cheis, or the cat took the heron. Never believe all that is laid to another.

Honest as the cat when the meat is out of reach. Some are honest, but others not by choice.

How can the cat help it when the maid is a fool? Often things lost, given, or stolen, are laid to the cat.

If thou 'scap'st, thou hast cat's luck, in Fletcher's Knight of Malta, alluding to the activity and caution of the cat, which generally stands it in good stead.

I'll not buy a cat in a poke. F., Chat en Poche. See what you buy; bargain not on another's word.

Just as quick as a cat up a walnut-tree.D'Urfey. To climb well and easily. To be alert and sudden.

Let the cat wink, and let the mouse run. For want of watching and care much is lost.—Hazlitt's "Dodsley," i. 265. The first portion is in the interlude of "The World and the Child," 1522.

Like a cat he'll fall on his legs. To succeed, never to fail, always right.

Like a cat round hot milk. Wait and have; all things come to those who wait.

Little and little the cat eateth the stickle.Heywood. Constant dropping weareth a stone.

Long and slender like a cat's elbow.Hazlitt. A sneer at the ill-favoured.

Love me, love my cat.—This refers to one marrying; in taking a wife he must take her belongings. Or, where you like, you must avoid contention.

Never was cat or dog drowned that could see the shore. To know the way often brings a right ending.

None but cats and dogs are allowed to quarrel here. All else agree.

No playing with a straw before an old cat.Heywood, 1562. Every trifling toy age cannot laugh at.—"Youth and Folly, Age and Wisdom."

Rats walk at their ease if cats do not them meese.Wodroephe, 1623. Rogues abound where laws are weak.

Send not a cat for lard.George Herbert. Put not any to temptation.

So as cat is after kind. Near friends are dearest. Birds of a feather flock together.

Take the chestnuts out of the fire with the cat's paw. Making use of others to save oneself.

That comes of a cat will catch mice. What is bred in the bone comes out in the flesh. Like father, like son.

The cat and dog may kiss, but are none the better friends. Policy is one thing, friendship another.

The cat invites the mouse to her feast. It is difficult for the weak to refuse the strong.

The cat is in the cream-pot. Any one's fault but hers. A row in the house (Northern).

The cat is hungry when a crust contents her. Hunger is a good sauce.

The cat is out of kind that sweet milk will not lap. One is wrong who forsakes custom.—"History of Jacob and Esau," 1568.

The cat, the rat, and Lovel the dog, rule England under one hog.—"A Myrrour for Magistrates," edition 1563, fol. 143. This couplet is a satire on Richard III. (who carried a boar on his escutcheon) and his myrmidons, Catesby, Ratcliffe, and Lovell.

The cat would eat fish, and would not wet her feet.Heywood, 1562.

"Fain would the cat fish eat,
But she is loth to wet her feet."
"What cat's averse to fish?"—Gray.

Dr. Trench has pointed out the allusion to this saying in Macbeth, when Lady Macbeth speaks of her husband as a man,

"Letting I dare not, wait upon I would,
Like the poor cat i' the adage."

The cat sees not the mouse ever.Heywood. Those that should hide, see more than they who seek. The fearful eye sees far.

The liquorish cat gets many a rap. The wrong-doer escapes not.

The more you rub a cat on the back, the higher she sets her tail. Praise the vain and they are more than pleased. Flattery and vanity are near akin.

The mouse lords it where the cat is not.—MS., 15th century. The little rule, where there are no great.

The old cat laps as much as the young.Clarke. One evil is much like another.

They agree like two cats in gutter.Heywood. To be less than friends.

They argue like cats and dogs. That is to quarrel.

Thou'lt strip it, as Stack stripped the cat when he pulled her out of the churn. To take away everything.

Though the cat winks awhile, yet sure he is not blind. To know all and pretend ignorance.

To grin like a Cheshire cat. Said to be like a cheese cat, often made in Cheshire; but this is not very clear, and the meaning doubtful.

To go like a cat on a hot bake-stone. To lose no time. To be swift and stay not.

To keep a cat from the tongs. To stop at home in idleness. It is said of a youth who stays at home with his family, when others go to the wars abroad, in "A Health to the Gentlemanly Profession of Serving Men," 1598.

Too late repents the rat when caught by the cat. Shun danger, nor dare too long.

To love it as a cat loves mustard. Not at all. To abhor.

Two cats and a mouse, two wives in one house, two dogs and one bone, never agree. No peace when all want to be masters, or to possess one object.

Well might the cat wink when both her eyes were out.

"Sumwhat it was sayeth the proverbe old,
That the cat winked when here iye was out."

Jack Juggler, edit. 1848, p. 46.

Those bribed are worse than blind.

"Well wots the cat whose beard she licketh."—Skelton's Garlande of Laurel, 1523.

"Wel wot nure cat whas berd he lickat."—Wright's Essays, vol. i. p. 149.

"The cat knoweth whose lips she licketh."—Heywood, 1562.

The first appears the most correct.

What the good wife spares the cat eats. Favourites are well cared for.

When candles are out all cats are gray. In the dark all are alike. This is said of beauty in general.

When the cat is away the mice will play.—"The Bachelor's Banquet," 1603. Heywood's "Woman Killed with Kindness," 1607. When danger is past, it is time to rejoice.

When the weasel and the cat make a marriage, it is very ill presage. When enemies counsel together, take heed; when rogues agree, let the honest folk beware.

When the maid leaves the door open, the cat's in fault. It is always well to have another to bear the blame. The way to do ill deeds oft makes ill deeds done.

Who shall hang the bell about the cat's neck?Heywood, 1562.

"Who shall ty the bell about the cat's necke low?
Not I (quoth the mouse), for a thing that I know."

The mice at a consultation held how to secure themselves from the cat, resolved upon hanging a bell about her neck, to give warning when she was near; but when this was resolved, they were as far to seek; for who would do it?—R. Who will court danger to benefit others?

A Douglas in the olden time, at a meeting of conspirators, said he would "bell the cat." Afterwards the enemy was taken by him, he retaining the cognomen of "Archibald Bell-the-cat."

You can have no more of a cat than its skin. You can have no more of a man but what he can do or what he has, or no more from a jug than what it contains.


Shakespeare mentions the cat forty-four times, and in this, like nearly all else of which he wrote, displayed both wonderful and accurate knowledge, not only of the form, nature, habits, and food of the animal, but also the inner life, the disposition, what it was, of what capable, and what it resembled. How truly he saw either from study, observation, or intuitively knew, not only the outward contour of "men and things," but could see within the casket which held the life and being, noting clearly thoughts, feelings, aspirations, intents, and purposes, not of the one only, but that also of the brute creation.

How truthfully he alludes to the peculiar eyes of the cat, the fine mark that the pupil dwindles to when the sun rides high in the heavens! Hear Grumio in The Taming of the Shrew:

And so disfigure her with it, that she shall have no more eyes to see withal than a cat.

As to the food of the cat, he well informs us that at this distant period domestic cats were fed and cared for to a certain extent, for besides much else, he points to the fact of its love of milk in The Tempest, Antonio's reply to Sebastian in Act II., Scene 1:

For all the rest,
They'll take suggestion as a cat laps milk.

And in King Henry the Fourth, Act IV., Scene 2, of its pilfering ways, Falstaff cries out:

I am as vigilant as a cat to steal cream.

While Lady Macbeth points to the uncertain, timid, cautious habits of the cat, amounting almost to cowardice:

Letting I dare not wait upon I would,
Like the poor cat i' the adage.

and in the same play the strange superstitious fear attached to the voice and presence of the cat at certain times and seasons:

Thrice the brinded cat hath mewed.

The line almost carries a kind of awe with it, a sort of feeling of "what next will happen?" He noted, also, as he did most things, its marvellous powers of observation, for in Coriolanus, Act IV., Scene 2, occurs the following:

Cats, that can judge as fitly.

and of the forlorn loneliness of the age-stricken male cat in King Henry the Fourth, Falstaff, murmuring, says:

I am as melancholy as a gib cat.

He marks, too, the difference of action in the lion and cat, in a state of nature:

A crouching lion and a ramping cat.

Of the night-time food-seeking cat, in The Merchant of Venice, old Shylock talks of the

...Slow in profit, and he sleeps by day
More than the wild cat.

In the same play Shylock discourses of those that have a natural horror of certain animals, which holds good till this day:

Some men there are love not a gaping pig,
Some, that are mad if they behold a cat.

and further on:

As there is no firm reason to be rendered
Why he cannot abide a gaping pig,
Why he, a harmless necessary cat.

Note the distinction he makes between the wild and the domestic cat; the one, evidently, he knew the value and use of, and the other, its peculiar stealthy ways and of nature dread. In All's Well that Ends Well, he gives vent to his dislike; Bertram rages forth:

I could endure anything before but a cat,
And now he's cat to me.

The feud with the wild cat intensifies in Midsummer Night's Dream; 'tis Lysander speaks:

Hang off, thou cat, thou burr, thou vile thing.

And Gremio tells of the untamableness of the wild cat, which he deems apparently impossible:

But will you woo this wild cat?

Romeo, in Romeo and Juliet, looks with much disfavour, not only on cats but also dogs; in fact, the dog was held in as high disdain as the cat:

And every cat and dog,
And every little mouse, and every unworthy thing.

Here is Hamlet's opinion:

The cat will mew, the dog will have his day.

In Cymbeline there is:

In killing creatures vile, as cats and dogs.

The foregoing is enough to show the great poet's opinion of the cat.

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