13. Tiger and Tom

Happy black cat day! I want to get away (indeed as far as possible) from trans issues (for the moment) and Germaine Greer (Jesus, did you see her rant to Victoria Derbyshire?? I’ll warn you, it is awful) and thankfully, I think (/hope) we are all over that now. I still would love her to read my open letter to her, but it appears heels are being dug further and further into the ground for obstinacy, and we can no longer help her (and here’s a fascinating article by the Telegraph detailing why. Also see this by the Guardian). I got into a few debates on Facebook about how she should be allowed to speak, and in some ways she should… but proponents of this view are sort of distracting from the issue at hand: she has in many ways lost her credibility due to her immovability, and academics should be ever-flexible in their approaches to topics, especially their own subjects.

Anyway, I digress; today I’d like to speak briefly about some of my favourite of all animals; cats. I have owned my fair share. And the Brontës were seldom without a cat, or indeed cats. Tiger, who featured in a watercolour by Emily, appears to have been a ginger tortoiseshell with a bandy tail, purchased and lost between 1843 and 1845. ‘Little black’ Tom, the other Brontë cat we know of, appears to have been a black tabby, though not much is known about him save Ellen Nussey’s description of him: ‘it received such gentle treatment it seemed to have lost cat’s nature, and subsided into luxurious amiability and contentment.’ It sounds like Tom had the life! Despite the luxury, I thought cats would be a fitting subject for the few days approaching Halloween, though there is regrettably not much to say.

So instead, I shall leave you with Emily Brontë’s essay The Cat, written in Brussels in 1842.

I can say with sincerity that I like cats; also I can give very good reasons why those who despise them are wrong. A cat is an animal who has more human feelings than almost any other being. We cannot sustain a comparison with the dog, it is infinitely too good; but the cat, although it differs in some physical points, is extremely like us in disposition. There may be people, in truth, who would say that this resemblance extends only to the most wicked men; that it is limited to their excessive hypocrisy, cruelty, and ingratitude; detestable vices in our race and equally odious in that of cats. Without disputing the limits that those individuals set on our affinity, I answer that if hypocrisy, cruelty, and ingratitude are exclusively the domain of the wicked, that class comprises everyone. Our education develops on of those qualities in great perfection; the others flourish without nurture, and far from condemning them, we regard all three with great complacency. A cat, in its own interest, sometimes hides its misanthropy under the guise of amiable gentleness; instead of tearing what it desires from its master’s hand, it approaches with a caressing air, rubs its pretty little head against him, and advances a paw whose touch is as soft as down. When it has gained its end, it resumes its character of Timon: and that artfulness in it is called hypocrisy. In ourselves, we give it another name, politeness, and he who did not use it to hide his real feelings would soon be driven from society.

‘But,’ says some delicate lady, who has murdered a half-dozen lapdogs through pure affection, ‘the cat is such a cruel beast, he is not content to kill his prey, he torments it before its death; you cannot make that accusation against us.’ More or less, Madame. Your husband, for example, likes hunting very much, but foxes being rare on his land, he would not have the means to pursue this amusement often, if he did not manage his supplies thus: once he has run an animal to its last breath, he snatches it from the jaws of the hounds and saves it to suffer the same infliction two or three more times, ending finally in death. You yourself avoid the bloody spectacle because it wounds your weak nerves. But I have seen you embrace your child in transports, when he came to show you a beautiful butterfly crushed between his cruel fingers; and at that moment, I really wanted to have a cat, with the tail of a half-devoured rat hanging from its mouth, to present as the image, the true copy, of your angel. You could not refuse to kiss him, and if he scratches us both in revenge, so much the better. Little boys are rather liable to acknowledge their friends’ caresses in that way, and the resemblance would be more perfect. They know how to value our favours at their true price, because they guess the motives that prompt us to grand them, and if those motives might sometimes be good, undoubtedly they remember always that they owe all the misery and all their evil qualities to the great ancestor of humankind. For assuredly, the cat was not wicked in Paradise.

Emily Brontë, May 15th,1842.


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