Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/260

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

caves, they lay at cross-roads, at night they carried on their operations in ruined mills in the forest; even witches and magicians assumed their forms in order either to inflict injury upon others or to visit the Blocksberg. The German fables of animals allot to the cat the prize for wisdom and deception. When it becomes necessary to bring the robber Reynard to court to make an end to all his evil deeds and the complaints arising therefrom, and Brown, i. e. Bruin, the bear has failed in the attempt, then it appears that only Harry, the cat, is able to accomplish the task of delivering the artful message to the evildoer. Again, the cat does not lack certain desirable qualities. How burdensome does the dog with its caresses often become, how unskillfully does he exert himself to please; how gentle and amiable, on the contrary, can the cat be, how pleasant its manner and motion! During the middle ages, therefore, the cat served as a plaything for distinguished ladies, who nursed it on their laps and fed it with dainty bits; and at the present time, among many persons, the cat finds recognition and love: in Gottfried Mind it has found its Raphael, and poets, like Tieck, Amadeus Hoffman, Lichtwer, and in recent times Scheffel, have ennobled their thinking and striving; who, for example, does not hold in grateful remembrance the deep philosophizing of the cat Hidigeigei (in Scheffel's "Trompeter von Säkkingen") on the theme "Why do men kiss?" Even Lessing's quaint nature could find a source of enjoyment in this animal; on his writing-table lay his cat, and no one can read without emotion how Lessing, when his favorite had destroyed the manuscript of "Nathan," patiently and quietly wrote the poem anew without depriving the author of the mischief of its usual place. Notwithstanding this, for most men there is something demoniacal and weird about the animal, which withdraws it from their sympathy; hence Massius rightly says of it, "Complicated by the favor of parties and by their hate, its character in history wavers."

Among manifold other varieties of animals, birds have always excited in a marked degree the attention and the favor of man. Since the primeval time hosts of songs have been sung to the lark, the stork, the nightingale, and the swallow, and the speech of people greets them in their flight with a thousand fond, familiar words. Nay, it is not too much to assert that, without the birds, even the spring-time would be sad, just as by their flight the winter becomes so much the more gloomy and desolate. But that which most attracts us to birds is their power of song and of flight. In ancient times favored men pretended to understand their mysterious sounds, which were to them the voice of Fate, since they seemed either to encourage by a cheerful address or to warn by threatening tones. The flight especially seemed to be supernatural and worthy of admiration, and there has certainly been no lack of attempts to imitate it, as the myth of the Greeks regarding Dædalus and Icarus shows. But it was precisely