To celebrate National Cat Day, I’ve got a delicious smattering of articles featuring cats in history!
And don’t miss Marginal Cats
Do you drive a Skoda or a Ferrari? The reason is to illustrate how the Victorian’s could be very sniffy about cat-ownership. If we think of this snobbery in terms of cars (rather than cats – See what I did there), those people who own and drive a luxury brand such as Ferrari or Porsche, wouldn’t be seen dead anyway near a humble Skoda. Likewise, you may form a very different mental picture of a stranger based on the vehicle they drive. Thus was also the case for pet ownership in the 19th century.
the organizers of cat shows had a problem that dog show organizers did not have, which was how to group the entries. With dogs it was relatively easy because they came in so many varied sizes and shapes or breeds. Cats – not so much.
In the 19th century there was a mania for dog breeding and dog shows. Dogs proved to be ‘plastic’ when it came to manipulating their size, shape, and general appearance, which leant itself to the Victorian desire to control everything around them. Cats, however, were not so obliging
When one thinks of a 19th century shooting party, one usually imagines well-to-do sportsmen in plus-fours and tweed caps, accompanied by their loaders, their beaters, and—of course—their sporting dogs. However, according to an article in the October 29, 1880 edition of the Portsmouth Evening News, even the best spaniels and retrievers could not compete with the “great skill” of a sporting cat.
In earlier posts we learnt that in the 19th century dogs’ embodied masculine superiority and cats’ feminine promiscuity. The Victorian’s liked people to be neatly pigeon-holed within society and kept nicely in their place. This even extended to the images in popular culture which reinforced the message that people were happier when they accepted their proper rank. To emphasize this message, there was a fashion for vignettes of animals depicted as people, looking civilized, content, and happy because they had decided to conform to human standards.
In earlier posts we saw how the Victorian’s viewed pet cats as overtly female – and this wasn’t a good thing. For a start, the Victorian’s used the link in a negative way by implying both cats and women were promiscuous with a natural inclination to low morals, and therefore in need of a firm male hand for their own good.
The independent nature of cats was another negative point against them. A good wife and mother was obedient to her husband, and her purpose in life was to please her husband (qualities more associated with dogs than cats).
A Country Gentleman, who is neither a friend to thieves nor poachers, has at this moment in his household a favourite cat, whose honesty he is sorry to say, there is but too much reason to call in question. The animal, however, if far from being selfish in her principles, for her acceptable gleanings she regularly shares among the children of the family in which her lot is cast. It is the habit and repute of this said Grimalkin to leave the kitchen or parlour as often as hunger and an opportunity may occur, and went her way to a certain pastry cook’s shop, where the better to conceal her purpose, she endeavours slyly to ingratiate herself into favour with the mistress of the house.
If we are curious about the origin and characteristics of an animal today, we look it up on the internet. Decades ago, we would have used an encyclopedia for such research. In the early 19thcentury, however, there were handy books like Peter Parley’s Tales of Animals: Comprising Quadrupeds, Birds, Fishes, Reptiles, and Insects (1835). In this fascinating book, the early 19thcentury researcher could learn about such animals as the “Ourang-Outang” and become acquainted with what the author declares are “astonishing facts” and “deep and important reflections.” As can be expected, these reflections were anything but flattering to that most treacherous and conniving of mammals – the domestic cat.
In 1895, Marvin R. Clark published the essential cat dictionary, called Pussy and Her Language. The 150-page guide is full of cat facts, stories, and fanciful prose about felines, in an era when cats didn’t get all that much respect. You can learn a lot from this book, about cats or, more precisely, about how Clark felt about cats.
We thought today we would take a look at newspaper reports about these furry felines and were quite surprised by the articles we found, so here we go, were they fact or merely folklore, please don’t ask us to verify the truth behind any of them!
Cats in the 1600’s and 1700’s
Unlike the previous post on medieval cats, HERE, the cats in these paintings are more active. In fact, the first painting is filled with activity: ‘Cats fighting in a larder’ by Paul de Vos (1663, at The Prado). The still life includes asparagus, artichoke and… small birds strung on a stick.
It must be considered what harmes and perils come vnto men by this beast. It is most certaine that the breath and sauour of cats consume the radicall humour and destroy the lungs, and therefore they which keepe their cats with them in their beds haue the aire corrupted and fall into feuer hectickes and consumptions.
But March 17 is also the feast day of St Gertrude of Nivelles, the patron saint of cats. She’s also the patron of travellers and gardeners, and protects against rats and mental illness. Basically, she’s a saint that Simpsons character Eleanor Abernathy, MD JD could really get behind.
When trying to gather reliable information about animals as pets in the Middle Ages, modern scholars immediately come up against a major cultural barrier. As Klaus Weimann points out in his preface to the volume Middle English Animal Literature, medieval people “lived … in close contact with several species of animals both wild and domestic,” but because they believed in a hierarchical scheme of existence with animals on a parallel plane below humans, they tended to think about animals as if they were a counterpart to human society. Thus they wrote about them most often in ways meant to instruct, describing them in bestiaries, fables, or tales like the Roman de Renart with a moralizing intent, rather than conveying information as if they had interest in the animals themselves.
Cats have always been clever creatures…the cats in the 3 images are staying near the food and people, and yet appear aloof. In the post on 16th and 17th cats in kitchens HERE they are more active. A few images (click to enlarge) from the Middle Ages…
Last week we looked at how the Victorians were way ahead of the internet, and did in fact invent the LOLCat (The 19th Century Origins of theCat Meme). But is that correct? Delving deeper into the wonderful world of feline imagery I find funny images of cats that predate photography and date back to medieval times.