The following curious incident is to be found in Huc's "Chinese Empire":
"One day, when we went to pay a visit to some families of Chinese
Christian peasants, we met, near a farm, a young lad, who was
taking a buffalo to graze along our path. We asked him carelessly
as we passed whether it was yet noon. The child raised his head
to look at the sun, but it was hidden behind thick clouds, and he
could read no answer there. 'The sky is so cloudy,' said he; 'but
wait a moment;' and with these words he ran towards the farm, and
came back a few minutes afterwards with a cat in his arms. 'Look
here,' said he, 'it is not noon yet;' and he showed us the cat's
eyes by pushing up the lids with his hands. We looked at the
child with surprise; but he was evidently in earnest, and the
cat, though astonished, and not much pleased at the experiment
made on her eyes, behaved with most exemplary complaisance. 'Very
well,' said we, 'thank you;' and he then let go the cat, who made
her escape pretty quickly, and we continued our route. To say the
truth, we had not at all understood the proceeding, but did not
wish to question the little pagan, lest he should find out that
we were Europeans by our ignorance. As soon as we reached the
farm, however, we made haste to ask our Christians whether they
could tell the clock by looking into the cat's eyes. They seemed
surprised at the question, but as there was no danger in
confessing to them our ignorance of the properties of the cat's
eyes, we related what had just taken place. That was all that was
necessary; our complaisant neophytes immediately gave chase to
all the cats in the neighbourhood. They brought us three or four,
and explained in what manner they might be made use of for
watches. They pointed out that the pupils of their eyes went on
constantly growing narrower until twelve o'clock, when they
became like a fine line, as thin as a hair, drawn perpendicularly
across the eye, and that after twelve the dilatation
"Archbishop Whately once declared that there was only one noun in English which had a real vocative case. It was 'cat,' vocative 'puss.' I wonder if this derivation is true (I take it from a New York journal): When the Egyptians of old worshipped the cat they settled it that she was like the moon, because she was more bright at night, and because her eyes changed just as the moon changes—from new, to crescent, and to full. So they made an idol of the cat's head, and named it pasht, which meant the face of the moon. Pasht became pas, pus, puss."—Church Times, March 8th, 1888.
Is from the "Eleventh Night" of Straparola's Italian fairy tales, where Constantine's cat procures his master a fine castle and the king's heiress, first translated into French in 1585. Our version is taken from that of Charles Perrault. There is a similar one in the Scandinavian nursery tales. This clever cat secures a fortune and a royal partner for his master, who passes off as the Marquis of Carabas, but is in reality a young miller, without a penny in the world.
The above is from Dr. Brewer's "Dictionary of Phrase and Fable," and goes far to prove the antiquity of what is generally believed to be a modern story, many believing it to be one of the numberless pleasant, amusing, and in a sense instructive nursery or children's stories of the present time.
D'Urfey, in his poem on Knole, speaks of "The Cats" at Sevenoaks.
"The Cat" or "Cats" is by no means a common sign. The subject is well alluded to in "The Cat, Past and Present," from the French of M. Champfleury, translated by Mrs. Cashel Hoey, at page 33. A sign is pictured from the Lombards' quarter, Paris. It is there over a confectioner's shop, and is a cat seated, or rather two, a sign being placed on either side of the corner. Underneath one is "Au Chat," the other, "Noir." I may add the work is a most excellent and amusing collection of much appertaining to cats, and is well worthy of a place in the cat-lover's library.
In Larwood and Hotten's "History of Sign-boards," a work of much research and merit, occurs the following: "As I was going through a street of London where I had never been till then, I felt a general damp and faintness all over me which I could not tell how to account for, till I chanced to cast my eyes upwards, and found I was passing under a sign-post on which the picture of a cat was hung." This little incident of the cat-hater, told in No. 538 of The Spectator, is a proof of the presence of cats on the sign-board, where, indeed, they are still to be met with, but very rarely. There is a sign of "The Cat" at Egremont, in Cumberland, a "Black Cat" at St. Leonard's Gate, Lancaster, and a "Red Cat" at Birkenhead; and a "Red Cat" in the Hague, Holland, to which is attached an amusing story worthy of perusal.
"The Cat and Parrot" and "The Cat and Lion" apparently have no direct meaning, unless by the former may be inferred that if you lap like a cat of the liquids sold at the hostelry, you will talk like a parrot; yet, according to Larwood and Hotten, it was a bookseller's sign.
"The Cat and Cage" and "The Cat in Basket" were signs much in vogue during the frost fair on the Thames in 1739-40, a live cat being hung outside some of the booths, which afterwards was not infrequent at other festive meetings. What the exact origin was is not quite apparent.
"'Cat and Fiddle,' a public-house sign, is a corruption either of the French Catherine la fid�le, wife of Czar Peter the Great of Russia, or of Caton le fid�le, meaning Caton, governor of Calais."—Dr. Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.
Cat and Fiddle.—"While on the subject of sign-boards," says a writer in Cassell's "Old and New London," vol. i., p. 507, "we may state that Piccadilly was the place in which 'The Cat and Fiddle' first appeared as a public-house sign. The story is that a Frenchwoman, a small shopkeeper at the eastern end soon after it was built, had a very faithful and favourite cat, and that in the lack of any other sign she put over her door the words, 'Voici un Chat fid�le.' From some cause or other the 'Chat fid�le' soon became a popular sign in France, and was speedily Anglicised into 'The Cat and Fiddle,' because the words form part of one of our most popular nursery rhymes. We do not pledge ourselves as to the accuracy of this definition."
"In Farringdon (Devon) is the sign of 'La Chatte Fid�le,' in commemoration of a faithful cat. Without scanning the phrase too nicely, it may simply indicate that the game of cat (trap-ball) and a fiddle for dancing are provided for customers."
Yet, according to Larwood and Hotten's "History of Sign-boards," there is yet another version, and another, of the matter, for it is stated, "a little hidden meaning is there in the 'Cat and Fiddle,' still a great favourite in Hampshire, the only connection between the animal and the instrument being that the strings are made from cats' entrails (sic), and that a small fiddle is called a kit, and a small cat a kitten; besides, they have been united from time immemorial in the nursery rhyme:
Amongst the other explanations offered is the one that it may have originated with the sign of a certain Caton Fid�le, a staunch Protestant in the reign of Queen Mary, and only have been changed into the cat and fiddle by corruption; but if so it must have lost its original appellation very soon, for as early as 1589 we find "Henry Carr, signe of the Catte and Fidle in the olde Chaunge." Formerly there was a "Cat and Fiddle at Norwich, the Cat being represented playing on a fiddle, and a number of mice dancing round her."
Cat and Bagpipes.—Was not uncommon in Ireland, this instrument being the national one in place of the fiddle.
When doctors disagree, who shall decide? Thus I leave it.
Cat and Mutton, from Cassell's "Old and New London," vol. iv., p. 223:
"Near the Imperial Gas Works, Haggerston, is Goldsmith's row; this was formerly known as Mutton Lane, a name still given to that part of the thoroughfare bordering on the southern extremity of London Fields, where stands a noted public-house rejoicing in the sign of the 'Cat and Mutton' affixed to the house, and two sign-boards, which are rather curious. They have upon them the following doggerel lines:
Cat and Wheel.—Most likely to be a corruption of Catherine Wheel; there was a sign of this name in the Borough, Southwark.
In France some signs are still more peculiar, as a "Cat Playing at Raquet" (Chatte qui pelote), "Fishing Cat" (La Chatte qui p�che), "The Dancing Cat," and the well-known "Puss in Boots."
"Whittington and his Cat" is by no means uncommon, and was not unknown in the early part of the seventeenth century. Somewhere I remember having seen "Whittington's Cat" without the master, which, I suppose, arose from the painter not knowing how to portray "Sir Richard."
"Cat and Kittens.—A public-house sign, alluding to the pewter pots so called. Stealing these pots is termed 'Cat and kitten sneaking.' We still call a large kettle a kitchen, and speak of a soldier's kit (Saxon, cytel, a pot, pan, or vessel generally)."—Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.
May not this sign be intended to mean merely what is shown, "The Cat and Kittens," indicative of comfort and rest? Or may it have been "Cat and Chitterlings," in allusion to the source from which fiddlestrings were said to be derived?
Cat and Tortoise.—This seems to have no meaning other than at a tavern extremes meet, the fast and the slow, the lively and the stolid; or it is possibly a corruption of something widely different.