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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 26.djvu/273

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ODDITIES OF ANIMAL CHARACTER.

ODDITIES OF ANIMAL CHARACTER.

MR. J. S. MILL, in his essay on "Liberty," long ago warned us against the stupefying influence of custom upon human beings? and held that we ought to encourage eccentricities in each other, and to guard jealously the right to be eccentric, instead of insisting on reducing every one by the hard-and-fast Procrustean standard to a single dead-level of mediocrity. But, whatever our sins may be in this respect toward human beings, surely they are greater still toward the domestic animals. We reduce our horses, so far as possible, to the mechanical condition of locomotive-engines—indeed, eccentric horses might involve very serious dangers to life and limb—our dogs to sentinels, which we drill to a social decorum as rigid as our own; while we regard the eccentricities of a cat with undisguised horror, as the mere prelude to dangerous insanity. No one who watches can fail to see how bigoted we are against anything like a "new departure" among our poor relations. If a man begins to save against his old age, we call it thrift, and praise him as a small capitalist who is giving hostages to fortune; but if a dog accumulates a store of bones or food, we look upon him as indulging in dangerous caprices, which may end in the necessity of putting a bullet through his head. There may be exceptions here and there. Sometimes you will find an old lady who will protect eccentricity in a parrot, a magpie, or a jackdaw, as a bird that has a right to a certain freedom of movement in return for its entertaining attempts at conversation. But, on the whole, there is no sterner standard of conventionality than that which we enforce on our domestic animals. Pet dogs become perfect bigots in favor of the usual, and persecute any attempt to deviate from it on the part even of a more powerful and less favored colleague, as the Inquisition persecuted heresy, or as the court of Russia persecutes Nihilism. There is nothing equal to the indignation of an in-doors dog at any invasion of the privacy of the drawing-room by an out-doors dog, and nothing more melancholy than the servile apologies which the big dog will make to the little one, for even proposing to break through the animal etiquette of the house. The horror of the queen's chamberlain, when once an officer presented himself at the levée in the proper court suit diversified by slippers, which he had forgotten to exchange for the regulation boots, was not so great as the horror of the terrier and the Pomeranian when a collie or a setter presents himself on the threshold of their mistress's sitting-room. We smother the genius of our dogs with our conventionalisms, and stifle the originality of our cats with luxurious bribes. We did, indeed, meet the other day, within the precincts of a great cathedral, with a young cat who was spoken of as "epoch-making"—as likely even to originate a new hegira by the