Our Cats and All About Them


Those with long memories will not have forgotten the Italian with a board on his head, on which were tied a number of plaster casts, and possibly still seem to hear, in the far away time, the unforgotten cry of "Yah im-a-gees." Notably, among these works of art, were models of cats—such cats, such expressive faces; and what forms! How droll, too, were those with a moving head, wagging and nodding, as it were, with a grave and thoughtful, semi-reproachful, vacant gaze! "Yah im-a-gees" has passed on, and the country pedlar, with his "crockery" cats, mostly red and white. "Sure such cats alive were never seen?" but in burnt clay they existed, and often adorned the mantel-shelves of the poor. What must the live cat sitting before the fire have thought—if cats think—when it looked up at the stolid, staring, stiff and stark new-comer? One never sees these things now; nor the cats made of paste-board covered with black velvet, and two large brass spangles for eyes. These were put into dark corners with an idea of deception, with the imbecile hope that visitors would take them to be real flesh and bone everyday black cats. But was any one ever taken in but—the maker? Then there were cats, and cats and kittens, made of silk, for selling at fancy fairs, not much like cats, but for the purposes good. Cats sitting on pen-wipers; clay cats of burnt brick-earth. These were generally something to remember rather than possess. Wax cats also, with a cotton wick coming out at the top of the head. It was a saddening sight to see these beauties burning slowly away. Was this a "remnant" of the burning of the live cats in the "good old times?" And cats made of rabbits' skins were not uncommon, and far better to give children to play with than the tiny, lovable, patient, live kitten, which, if it submit to be tortured, it is well, but if it resent pain and suffering, then it is beaten. There is more ill done "from want of thought than want of heart."

But kittens have fallen upon evil times, ay, even in these days of education and enlightenment. As long as the world lasts probably there will be the foolish, the gay, unthinking, and, in tastes, the ridiculous. But then there are, and there ever will be, those that are always craving, thirsting, longing, shall I say mad?—for something new. Light-headed, with softened intellects who must—they say they must—have some excitement or some novelty, no matter what, to talk of or possess, though all this is ephemeral, and the silliness only lasts a few hours. Long or short, they are never conscious of these absurdities, and look forward with all the eagerness of doll-pleased infancy for another—craze. The world is being denuded of some of its brightest ornaments and its heaven-taught music, in the slaughter of birds, to gratify for scarcely a few hours the insane vanity, that is now rife in the ball-room—fashion.

What has all this to do with cats? Why, this class of people are not content, they never are so; but are adding to the evil by piling up a fresh one. It is the kitten now, the small, about two or three weeks old kitten that is the "fashion." Not long ago they were killed and stuffed for children to play with—better so than alive, perhaps; but now they are to please children of a larger growth, their tightly filled skins, adorned with glass eyes, being put in sportive attitudes about portrait frames, and such like uses. It is comical, and were it not for the stupid bad taste and absurdity of the thing, one would feel inclined to laugh at clambering kitten skins about, and supposed to be peeping into the face of a languor-struck "beauty." Who buys such? Does any one? If so, where do they go? Over thirty kittens in one shop window. What next, and—next? Truly frivolity is not dead!

From these, and such as these, turn to the models fair and proper; the china, the porcelain, the terra cotta, the bronze, and the silver, both English, French, German, and Japanese; some exquisite, with all the character, elegance, and grace of the living animals. In these there has been a great advance of late years, Miss A. Chaplin taking the lead. Then in bold point tracery on pottery Miss Barlow tells of the animal's flowing lines and non-angular posing. Art—true art—all of it; and art to be coveted by the lover of cats, or for art alone.

But I have almost forgotten the old-time custom of, when the young ladies came from school, bringing home a "sampler," in the days before linen stamping was known or thought of. On these in needlework were alphabets, numbers, trees (such trees), dogs, and cats. Then, too, there were cats of silk and satin, in needlework, and cats in various materials; but the most curious among the young people's accomplishments was the making of tortoiseshell cats from a snail-shell, with a smaller one for a head, with either wax or bread ears, fore-legs and tail, and yellow or green beads for eyes. Droll-looking things—very. I give a drawing of one. And last, not least often, the edible cats—cats made of cheese, cats of sweet sponge-cake, cats of sugar, and once I saw a cat of jelly. In the old times of country pleasure fairs, when every one brought home gingerbread nuts and cakes as "a fairing," the gingerbread "cat in boots" was not forgotten nor left unappreciated; generally fairly good in form, and gilt over with Dutch metal, it occupied a place of honour in many a country cottage home, and, for the matter of that, also in the busy town. If good gingerbread, it was saved for many a day, or until the holiday time was ended and feasting over, and the next fair talked of.

But, after all "said and done," what a little respect, regard, and reverence is there in our mode to that of the Egyptians! They had three varieties of cats, but they were all the same to them; as their pets, as useful, beautiful, and typical, they were individually and nationally regarded, their bodies embalmed, and verses chaunted in their praise; and the image of the cat then—a thousand years ago—was a deity. What do they think of the cat now, these same though modern Egyptians? Scarcely anything. And we, who in bygone ages persecuted it, to-day give it a growing recognition as an animal both useful, beautiful, and worthy of culture.

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