I LOVE all animals, even spiders, they spin so cleverly and are such excellent mothers. Besides, they are musical. My friend, the Swedish composer, Hallstrom, told me that for a long time he had two spiders which would let themselves down from the ceiling by long threads when he played, and station themselves on the piano to hear the music. Of ants and bees I will not speak; one who does not love them is so stupid that I have nothing to say to him. Even wasps are not as black as they are painted. For snakes only I have no liking; they terrify me; but my aversion is doubtless due to the fact that I have not studied them enough. It seems to me impossible not to love an animal whose innocence and goodness one has accurately comprehended. How many kinds of insects have I painted with real delight, begging them to sit still upon my hand until their portraits were finished! How many bumblebees have I made my fast friends! Once I was painting some roses upon black marble when ten of these bees came flying in at my window to welter in the flowers and one of them flew down upon my painted roses but was frightened away by the smell of turpentine. He was evidently a courtier among bumblebees, and pretended that he mistook my painted roses for living blooms. Of dogs I have had a large number and have loved them dearly; but this is quite natural, and everyone has done the same
That dogs are faithful is admitted; but everyone will be surprised when I say that cats are much more faithful and attached than dogs, for this runs counter to the common belief. My first cat was the house-cat, who one day found the way into my chamber and honored me with her friendship. Every day she placed herself in my lap and attended my toilet, and soon would not leave me at all. I called her Misikatz or Micki, and she was as dear as only a friendly cat can be. Soon she had a very pretty daughter, whom I named Diddelchen and Bubi, and who was already so cultivated that she understood everything that one wanted of her. Her mother brought her up with the greatest care; taught her to be clean almost before her eyes were open; dragged her to the sand and pulled her about in it as a punishment when she misbehaved; and suckled her for nearly two years. Diddelchen was very fond of climbing up the casing of a door, stretching herself out along the top and catching little pellets of paper which were thrown at her and tossing them back. It was a regular game of ball—as if she were a little monkey and had tiny hands instead of claws. Every morning my ladies and I found the greatest amusement in this ball-game.
Diddelchen had two kittens, Müffchen and Püffchen,—Püffchen, however, alone survived. It was intended that it should become a highly educated kitten. I desired especially to make it musical, and kept it in a little fur bag on my lap when I played the piano. Musical, however, it did not become; but it grew to be extremely nervous and wonderfully clever. It had almost human intelligence, but remained small and thin, though it had very beautiful children; for I had, meanwhile, been presented with a splendid, gold-yellow Persian tom-cat named Vulpi, or Füchschen, from its color. I thus brought about a cross between the Angora and the common cat, which is extremely rare. The kittens were extraordinarily pretty, with snow-white breast and long dark stripes over back and tail, and from the eyes to the ears, little velvet caps over the forehead, very soft hair, and a peculiar disposition.
It is stated in Brehm's "Thierleben" that cats are the most faithful of nurses, but how much more have I seen than Brehm observed! Very interesting is their jealousy; they are frightfully jealous. They divide the rooms among themselves, and if any other comes in than the one who believes that she has the greater right to be near me, the growling and spitting are frightful.
To lie on my bed is their highest bliss, and they jump down from it only when the insufferable type-writer makes too much noise; for it is my custom to write early in the morning. I have even followed the example of Mahomet, who when his cat fell asleep upon his sleeve, cut off the sleeve rather than disturb the faithful animal. Since the type-writer is utterly unmusical, I have not been willing to accustom the kittens to it; I feared that it might injure their little brains, for they are exceedingly nervous and sensitive and are easily upset. One cannot be too careful not to irritate or offend them. .
They never become attached to new masters as easily and quickly as dogs do. One of Püffchen's pretty children, named Lilliput, has such boundless affection for me that she climbs into my bosom and continually presses her little forehead against my lips, for me to kiss. She is so fond of flowers, that a potted plant must be brought to her every morning: she walks about it, purring, smells every bloom, lies down by it, rubs herself against it, and repeats the process again and again, purring about the flower and caressing it without crumpling a leaf. I have never seen such a love of flowers in any other animal; she cannot eat them, and finds in them only the purest pleasure. Moreover, she likes only flowers which have a pretty color rather than a pleasing odor: big red or rose blooms are her especial delight. It is a pretty sight to see her walking about the flower-pot, with tail erect, purring, and smelling, and admiring the flowers one by one.
When I return from a journey, I always bring them something,—a whip, a ball, a toy kitten,—and give to each its plaything. This none of the others may touch; they lie upon their property and defend it like little children. Each one knows exactly what belongs to it.
I have also a tom, a son of Püffchen and Vulpi, named Frätzibutzi, with the prettiest Angora marks and a white breast. His official name is Freiherr Fratz von dem Katzenbuckel, but he answers best to Frätzibutzi. Indeed he has not even comprehended the fact that he has such a high-sounding and dignified title, but insists upon being petted and wails indescribably when he is left for an instant alone. Animals never want to be alone, but always with human beings, otherwise they are terribly unhappy. I do not let my cats out any more, for it has happened that they have come into contact with mangy toms and have with difficulty been made sound again. When they hear my bell they leave food and drink and rush for the door, and if they find that my attendant does not open it quickly enough, they tug at her dress in order to make her come more quickly. They will leave even a partridge, or any other tidbit, when I ring.
The common assertion that Angoras and common cats will not pair is not true. It is true, however, that after the first beautiful kittens, no more are forthcoming—at least these hybrids have not yet produced offspring. All my life long I have ridiculed the so-called equality of birth, and I now see clearly that even among animals there are some of higher and others of lower quality that do not go well together; and while I have always advocated the greatest possible mingling of races, I now discover that this also has its limits, and that if the diversity of the races be too great, an obvious weakness and lack of procreative power result from intermixture. Thus one learns best of all from nature, and can never cease to learn; and so it would, as a rule, be better quietly to observe animals than to torture them, or outrage them, or dissect them. Many things would be observed of which we have no suspicion. How often one is ashamed when one observes animals and their customs—their justice and injustice, their anger and forgiveness, their self-sacrifice and their innocence.
There is another false statement about cats which I can contradict: they are said, namely, to be more attached to the house than to man! I find, on the contrary, that where I am my little animals are quite happy, and that they are content even to journey on the railway if the accustomed faces are about them. We had once a scene so touching that all beheld it with tears in their eyes. Misikatz, from sheer jealousy, had made herself so intolerable that we decided to leave her in Bucharest while we went to Sinaia. But when she saw that all the others were in the basket and that the basket was already provided with a padlock, she placed herself before my attendant and cried pitifully. So, at the last moment, we stuffed her into the half-shut basket—two men trying to open a corner—and as soon as she was inside she began to purr and express her joy.
Cats rather than belong to a new master will cling in grief to the old walls and refuse to be taken away from them. But if they can follow their master they will go with him to the end of the world. One must not forget that they are extraordinarily nervous and timid, and from timidity easily lose their heads and run away, they themselves know not whither. They must be well protected and made to feel that they are guarded and cared for.
We must not, however, expect a cat to obey like a dog. It is a free and independent little beast,—a cousin of the lion,—a tropical animal which needs great warmth in order to become most beautiful and as large as its nature permits. Almost all of my cats lie about the stove, each upon its own chair or in its own basket, but all upon perfectly clean, white linen. Vulpi will on no account lie down upon a cloth that shows a spot or a hole, but steps back from it and is not to be induced to touch it or to lay a paw upon it.
What makes me like cats so much better than dogs, is the way they have of looking straight and deep into one's eyes as if they would say something by their wondrous and mysterious glance.
Another fable is that a cat is not hurt when it falls. Two of my cats fell from the roof, and never thereafter had living kittens. Poor Diddelchen was injured internally, and died after much suffering patiently borne. She had the most beautiful eyes of all—eyes like little lamps! I have never seen such a look.
When I have been on a journey I am first reproved and then totally neglected and no one purrs; they must show me just how unhappy they have been the whole time. I also generally find my door scratched. According to report, the first eight days are passed most miserably; after that they sleep from sheer grief, and play not at all.
It is very pretty, when I am stroking one of them and stop, to see a velvet paw move softly up and pull my hand. They eat also very daintily. Lilliput takes hold of each piece of meat with a paw and puts it into her mouth like a human being; she does not eat like an animal with her mouth in the dish. From this one can see that my cats are extraordinarily cultivated and have very fine manners. When, however, I have Vulpi in my lap combing his splendid silk-soft fur, and they take him away, he growls and snarls and makes his indignation very obvious. Only I may not touch the sacred tail. If I attempt to comb it, he looks at me, growls, and gives my hand a tap—but without the claws-to remind me that he is too distinguished to permit anyone to touch his train.
When children torment animals I feel as if humanity had reverted to the rudest barbarism and cannibalism. Children often are ignorant of what it means to suffer and feel pain; that is their only excuse. They themselves would not like to be stoned or drowned, or have an arm or a leg torn off. But they think that an unreasoning beast does not feel it so, and do not see the limitless sympathy which animals have for one another—how they aid and support one another and comfort with the tenderest affection those that are afflicted, just as children themselves love to be comforted. Under the pretext that cats eat birds, the poor animals are shamefully maltreated even by grown-up people. But when a cat's hunger is satisfied it does not eat birds or mice. It catches them, brings them alive, and lets them go. The presence of a cat in the house is generally enough to drive away the mice. Cats are always treated somewhat as if they were wild beasts, because they are shy, and do not flatter when they do not care to. One should try to win their proud hearts, and it is worth while to do so, for one will find in them very firm friends and very watchful guardians. They growl like dogs when they hear an unfamiliar step. If one has their confidence they will follow readily. I understand the strangest cats, for I know their pretty ways—how they stamp with the fore-paws and claw the floor when they are pleased, and how they scratch, for the most part, only from fear or in self-defense, when they think that one is about to injure them. They must feel that one is their friend and protector, and if one often plays with them they are especially delighted. Mine have made a little house out of an old hat-box, and they chase one another in and out of it and play hide-and-seek in the cunningest way. They play the game which all children love, "No, this is my house," sticking the little paws out of the window to defend it, or lie down in it two at a time and go to sleep.
It is absolutely inconceivable that man is not ashamed to abuse innocent animals, as he does,—as if all nature belonged to him, and as if he also were not a guest, by sufferance, upon the earth, upon which he cannot remain, and of which he cannot say that it belongs to him and that he can do what he pleases with it. And if man really imagines that he is the lord of the creation—which he, nevertheless, has neither designed nor made, and in which he can neither better nor alter anything—surely he has, before all, a tremendous responsibility toward his inferiors and must, perhaps, some time give an account of the way in which he has treated these animals. If eternal retribution is a reality, if we are responsible, what shall we then suffer for the way in which we have treated God's creatures! No animal is bad—only hungry; man first teaches him to be vindictive when he has exhausted his patience. But how long an animal suffers with patience, before he takes revenge! How long a dog or a cat will let itself be tormented by children, without defending itself, and yet how savagely it can bite and scratch! How well it could defend itself if it were not better and more patient than its small tormentors! And so it is cowardly for children to torture animals. They know that the animals are good and do what they please. Shame on them!