If the growing fancy for cats in this country is benefiting the feline race as a whole, they have to thank the English people for it. For certain cats in England are held at a value that seems preposterous to unsophisticated Americans. At one cat and bird show, held at the Crystal Palace, near London, some of the cats were valued at thirty-five hundred pounds sterling ($17,500)—as much as the price of a first-class race-horse.
For more than a quarter of a century National Cat Shows have been held at Crystal Palace and the Westminster Aquarium, which have given great stimulus to the breeding of fine cats, and "catteries" where high-priced cats and kittens are raised are common throughout the country.
England was the first, too, to care for lost and deserted cats and dogs. At Battersea there is a Temporary Home for both these unfortunates, where between twenty and twenty-five thousand dogs and cats are sheltered and fed. The objects of this home, which is supported entirely by voluntary subscriptions, are to restore lost pets to their owners, to find suitable homes for unclaimed cats and dogs, and to painlessly destroy useless and diseased ones. There is a commodious cat's house where pets may be boarded during their owner's absence; and a separate house where lost and deserted felines are sheltered, fed, and kindly tended.
Since long before Whittington became Lord Mayor of London, indeed, cats have been popular in England: for did not the law protect them? As to the truth of the story of Whittington's cat, there has been much earnest discussion. Although Whittington lived from about 1360 to 1425, the story seems to have been pretty generally accepted for three hundred years after his death. A portrait still exists of him, with one hand holding a cat, and when his old house was remodelled in recent times, a carved stone was found in it showing a boy with a cat in his arms. Several similar tales have been found, it is argued, in which the heroes in different countries have started to make a fortune by selling a cat. But as rats and mice were extremely common then, and it has been shown that a single pair of rats will in three years multiply into over six hundred thousand, which will eat as much as sixty-four thousand men, why shouldn't a cat be deemed a luxury even for a king's palace? The argument that the cat of Whittington was a "cat," or boat used for carrying coal, is disproved by the fact that no account of such vessels in Whittington's time can be found, and also that the trade in coal did not begin in Europe for some time afterward. And there really seems nothing improbable in the story that at a time when a kitten big enough to kill mice brought fourpence in England, such an animal, taken to a rat-infested, catless country, might not be sold for a sum large enough to start an enterprising youth in trade. Surely, the beginnings of some of our own railroad kings and financiers may as well look doubtful to future generations.
It is a pretty story—that of Whittington; how he rose from being a mere scullion at fourteen, to being "thrice Lord Mayor of London." According to what are claimed to be authentic documents, the story is something more than a nursery tale, and runs thus: Poor Dick Whittington was born at Shropshire, of such very poor parents that the boy, being of an ambitious nature, left home at fourteen, and walked to London, where he was taken into the hospital of St. John at Clerkenwell, in a menial capacity. The prior, noticing his good behavior and diligent conduct, took a fancy to him, and obtained him a position in a Mr. Fitzwarren's household on Tower Hill. For some time at this place his prospects did not improve; he was nothing but a scullion, ridiculed and disliked by the cook and other servants. Add to this the fact that an incredible swarm of mice and rats infested the miserable room in which he slept, and it would seem that he was indeed a "poor Richard." One fortunate day, however, he conceived the idea of buying a cat, and as good luck would have it, he was enabled within a few days to earn a penny or two by blacking the boots of a guest at the house. That day he met a woman with a cat for sale, and after some dickering (for she asked more money for it than the boy possessed in the world), Dick Whittington carried home his cat and put it in a cupboard or closet opening from his room. That night when he retired he let the cat out of the cupboard, and she evidently had "no end of fun"; for, according to these authentic accounts, "she destroyed all the vermin which ventured to make their appearance." For some time after that she passed her days in the cupboard (in hiding from the cook) and her nights in catching mice.
And then came the change. Mr. Fitzwarren was fitting out a vessel for Algiers, and kindly offered all his servants a chance to send something to barter with the natives. Poor Dick had nothing but his cat, but the commercial instinct was even then strong within him, and with an enterprise worthy of the early efforts of any of our self-made men, he decided to send that, and accordingly placed it, "while the tears run plentifully down his cheeks," in the hands of the master of the vessel. She must have been a most exemplary cat, for by the time they had reached Algiers, the captain was so fond of her that he allowed no one to handle her but himself. Not even he, however, expected to turn her into money; but the opportunity soon came.
At a state banquet, given by the Dey, the captain and his officers were astonished to notice that rats and mice ran freely in and out, stealing half the choice food, which was spread on the carpet; and this was a common, every-day occurrence. The captain saw his, or Whittington's, opportunity, and stated that he knew a certain remedy for this state of affairs; whereupon he was invited to dinner next day, to which he carried the cat, and the natural consequence ensued. This sudden and swift extermination of the pests drove the Dey and his court half frantic with delight; and the captain, who must have been the original progenitor of the Yankee race, drove a sharp bargain by assuming to be unwilling to part with the cat, so that the Dey finally "sent on board his ship the choicest commodities, consisting of gold, jewels, and silks."
1. Topso of Dingley, winner of many first prizes at the Crystal
Meanwhile, things had gone from bad to worse with the youth, destined to become not only Lord Mayor of London, but the envy and admiration of future generations of youths; and he made up his mind to run away from his place. This he did, but while he was on his way to more rural scenes, he sat down on a stone at the foot of Highgate Hill (a stone that still remains marked as "Whittington's Stone") and paused to reflect on his prospects. His thoughts turned back to the home he had left, where he had at least plenty to eat, and, although the "authentic reports" use a great many words to tell us so, the boy was homesick. Just then the sound of Bow Bells reached him, and to his youthful fancy seemed to call him back:—
"Return, return, Whittington;
Thus the old tale hath it. At any rate, the boy gave up the idea of flight and went back to Mr. Fitzwarren's house. The second night after, his master sent for him in the midst of one of the cook's tirades, and going to the "parlour" he was apprised of his sudden wealth; because, added to the rest of his good luck, that captain happened to be an honest man. And then he went into trade and married the daughter of Mr. Fitzwarren and became Lord Mayor of London, and lived even happier ever after than they do in most fairy tales. And everybody, even the cook, admired and loved him after he had money and position, as has been known to happen outside of fairy tales.
Whether or not cats in England owe anything of their position to-day to the Whittington story, it is certain that they have more really appreciating friends there than in any other country. The older we grow in the refinements of civilization, the more we value the finely bred cat. In England it has long been the custom to register the pedigree of cats as carefully as dog-fanciers in this country do with their fancy pets. Some account of the Cat Club Stud Book and Register will be found in the next chapter. Queen Victoria, and the Princess of Wales, and indeed many members of the nobility are cat-lovers, and doubtless this fact influences the general sentiment in England.
Among the most devoted of Pussy's English admirers is the Hon. Mrs. McLaren Morrison, who is the happy possessor of some of the most perfect dogs and cats that have graced the bench. She lives at Kepwick Park, in her stately home in Yorkshire—a lovely spot, commanding a delightful view of picturesque Westmoreland on one side and on the other three surrounded and sheltered by hills and moors. Some of her pets go with her, however, to her flat in Queen Anne's Mansions, and even to her residence in Calcutta. It is at Kepwick Park that Mrs. McLaren Morrison has her celebrated "catteries." Here there are magnificent blue, black and silver and red Persians; snowy white, blue-eyed beauties; grandly marked English tabbies; handsome blue Russians, with their gleaming yellow-topaz eyes; some Chinese cats, with their long, edge-shaped heads, bright golden eyes, and shiny, short-haired black fur; and a pair of Japanese pussies, pure white and absolutely without tails. One of the handsomest specimens of the feline race ever seen is her blue Persian, Champion Monarch, who, as a kitten in 1893, won the gold medal at the Crystal Palace given for the best pair of kittens in the show, and the next year the Beresford Challenge Cup at Cruft's Show, for the best long-haired cat, besides taking many other honors. Among other well-known prize winners are the champions Snowball and Forget-me-not, both pure white, with lovely turquoise-blue eyes. Of Champion Nizam (now dead) that well-known English authority on cats, Mr. A.A. Clark, said his was the grandest head of any cat he had ever seen. Nizam was a perfect specimen of that rare and delicate breed of cats, a pure chinchilla. The numberless kittens sporting all day long are worthy of the art of Madame Henriette Ronner, and one could linger for hours in these delightful and most comfortable catteries watching their gambols. The gentle mistress of this fair and most interesting domain, the Hon. Mrs. McLaren Morrison herself, is one of the most attractive and fascinating women of the day—one who adds to great personal beauty all the charm of mental culture and much travel. She has made Kepwick Park a veritable House Beautiful with the rare curios and art treasures collected with her perfect taste in the many lands she has visited, and it is as interesting and enjoyable to a virtuoso as it is to an animal lover. Mrs. McLaren Morrison exhibits at all the cat shows, often entering as many as twenty-five cats. Other English ladies who exhibit largely are Mrs. Herring, of Lestock House, and Miss Cockburn Dickinson, of Surrey. Mrs. Herring's Champion Jimmy is very well known as a first prize-winner in many shows. He is a short-haired, exquisitely marked silver tabby valued at two thousand pounds ($10,000).
Another feline celebrity also well known to frequenters of English cat shows, is Madame L. Portier's magnificent and colossal Blue Boy, whose first appearance into this world was made on the day sacred to St. Patrick, 1895. He has a fine pedigree, and was raised by Madame Portier herself. Blue Boy commenced his career as a show cat, or rather kitten, at three months old, when he was awarded a first prize, and when the judge told his mistress that if he fulfilled his early promise he would make a grand cat. This he has done, and is now one of the finest specimens of his kind in England. He weighs over seventeen pounds, and always has affixed to his cage on the show-bench this request, "Please do not lift this cat by the neck; he is too heavy." He has long dark blue fur, with a ruff of a lighter shade and brilliant topaz eyes. Already Blue Boy has taken many prizes. He is a gelded cat and one of the fortunate cats who have "Not for Sale" after their names in the show catalogues.
To Mrs. C. Hill's beautiful long-haired Patrick Blue fell the honor, at the Crystal Palace Show in 1896, of a signed and framed photograph of the Prince of Wales, presented by his Royal Highness for the best long-haired cat in the show, irrespective of sex or nationality. Besides the prize given by the Prince, Patrick Blue was the proud winner of the Beresford Challenge Cup for the best blue long-haired cat, and the India Silver Bowl for the best Persian. He also was born on St. Patrick's Day, hence his name. He was bred by Mrs. Blair Maconochie, his father, Blue Ruin I, being a celebrated gold medallist. His mother, Sylvia, who belongs to Mrs. Maconochie, has never been shown, her strong point being her lovely color, which is most happily reproduced in her perfect son. Patrick Blue has all the many charms of a petted cat, and was undoubtedly one of the prominent attractions of the first Championship Show of the National Cat Club in 1896.
Silver Lambkin is another very famous English cat, owned by Miss Gresham, of Surrey. Princess Ranee, owned by Miss Freeland, of Mottisfont, near Romney; Champion Southsea Hector, owned by Miss Sangster, at Southsea; champions Prince Victor and Shelly, of Kingswood (both of whom have taken no end of prizes), are other famous English cats.
Topso, a magnificent silver tabby male, belonging to Miss Anderson Leake, of Dingley Hill, was at one time the best long-haired silver tabby in England, and took the prize on that account in 1887; his sons, daughters, grandsons, and granddaughters, have all taken prizes at Crystal Palace in the silver tabby classes, since that time.
1. King Max, pure black, valued at $1500: owned by
Lady Marcus Beresford has for the last fifteen years made quite a business of the breeding and rearing of cats. At Bishopsgate, near Egham, she has what is without doubt the finest cattery. "I have applications from all parts of the world for my cats and kittens," said Lady Marcus, in a talk about her hobby, "and I may tell you that it is largely because of this that I founded the Cat Club, which has for its object the general welfare of the cat and the improvement of the breed. My catteries were established in 1890, and at one time I had as many as 150 cats and kittens. Some of my pets live in a pretty cottage covered with creepers, which might well be called Cat Cottage. No expense has been spared in the fittings of the rooms, and every provision is made for warmth and ventilation. One room is set apart for the girl who takes entire charge of and feeds the pussies. She has a boy who works with her and performs the rougher tasks. There is a small kitchen for cooking the meals for the cats, and this is fitted with every requisite. On the walls are racks to hold the white enamelled bowls and plates used for the food. There is a medicine chest, which contains everything that is needful for prompt and efficacious treatment in case pussy becomes sick. On the wall are a list of the names and a full description of all the inmates of the cattery, and a set of rules to be observed by both the cats and their attendants. These rules are not ignored, and it is a tribute to the intelligence of the cat to see how carefully pussy can become amenable to discipline, if once given to understand of what that discipline consists.
"Then there is a garden cattery. I think this is the prettiest of all. It is covered with roses and ivy. In this there are three rooms, provided with shelves and all other conveniences which can add to the cats' comfort and amusement. The residences of the male cats are most complete, for I have given them every attention possible. Each male cat has his separate sleeping apartments, closed with wire and with a 'run' attached. Close at hand is a large, square grass 'run,' and in this each gentleman takes his daily but solitary exercise. One of the stringent rules of the cattery is that no two males shall ever be left together, and I know that with my cats if this rule were not observed, both in letter and precept, it would be a case of 'when Greek meets Greek.'
"I vary the food for my cats as much as possible. One day we will have most appetizing bowls of fish and rice. At the proper time you can see these standing in the cat kitchen ready to be distributed. Another day these bowls will be filled with minced meat. In the very hot weather a good deal of vegetable matter is mixed with the food. Swiss milk is given, so there is no fear of its turning sour. For some time I have kept a goat on the premises, the milk from which is given to the delicate or younger kittens.
"I have started many of my poorer friends in cat breeding, and they have proved conclusively how easily an addition to their income can be made, not only by breeding good Persian kittens and selling them, but by exhibiting them at the various shows and taking prizes. But of course there is a fashion in cats, as in everything else. When I started breeding blue Persians about fifteen years ago they were very scarce, and I could easily get twenty-five dollars apiece for my kittens. Now this variety is less sought after, and self-silvers, commonly called chinchillas, are in demand."