The fireside sphinx
THE FIRESIDE SPHINX
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY E. BONSALL
BOSTON AND NEW YORK
HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND COMPANY
The Riverside Press, Cambridge
COPYRIGHT, 1901, BY AGNES REPPLIER
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Published October, 1901
IN MEMORY OF
"Les amoureux fervents et les savants austères
Aiment également, dans leur mûre saison,
Les chats puissants et doux, orgueil de la maison,
Qui comme eux sont frileux, et comme eux, sédentaires."
There is a sweet and sunny corner of the Elysian fields, where drowse and play, and drowse and play forever, a little band of cats, whose names, imperishable as their masters', are household words to-day. We know them well, these gentle furry ghosts, lifted to immortality by the human hands that fondled them in life. We know the white Muezza whom Mohammed loved, and Bouhaki of Thebes, proudest of his proud race, and Dick Whittington's thrice famous cat that made his master's fortune. We know this sleek and shining tortoise-shell, for she is Selima, fair and ill-fated, whom the glint of gold-fish tempted to her grave. This pensive pussy with clear topaz eyes shared Petrarch's heart with Laura; this splendid beast, red as a fox and stately as a lion, is Chateaubriand's Micetto, the sovereign Pontiff's gift; and his no less arrogant companion sat, it is whispered, by the side of Wolsey, when the butcher's son was Chancellor of England.
Montaigne's grey cat is here, indolently supercilious as in old earthly days; and Victor Hugo's Chanoine, the sleepiest puss in Paradise; and Baudelaire's mysterious pet, with pale fire gleaming 'neath his half-shut lids; and Moumoutte Blanche and Moumoutte Chinoise, rivals for M. Loti's fluctuating affections, and the superb dynasties, both white and black, that ruled for years over M. Gautier's heart and home. Here, too, is "great Atossa," sung into fame by Mr. Arnold; and that sedate and serious tabby who slept too long in Cowper's bureau drawer. And—honoured of all their race—here are two happy and distinguished cats whom we cannot remember without envy, nor name without respect,—Dr. Johnson's Hodge, and Hinse of Hinsefeld, the wise companion of Sir Walter Scott.
Into this august assembly, into this sacred circle, I fain in moments of temerity would introduce a little shade who stole too soon from the warm sun, and from the simple joys of life. She was dearly loved and early lost, and the scanty honours years of toil have brought me I lay at her soft feet for entrance fee. May Hodge and Hinse champion her cause with the Immortals for the sake of the unfaltering love I have ever borne their masters, and may her grace and beauty win for her what my poor pen is powerless to attain! Dear little ghost, whose memory has never faded from my heart, accept this book, dedicated to thee, and to all thy cherished race. Sleep sweetly in the fields of asphodel, and waken, as of old, to stretch thy languid length, and purr thy soft contentment to the skies. I only beg, as one before me begged of her dead darling, that, midst the joys of Elysium, I may not be wholly forgotten.
"Nor, though Persephone's own Puss you be,
Let Orcus breed oblivion of me."
|I.||The Cat of Antiquity||1|
|II.||The Dark Ages||20|
|V.||The Cat of Albion||82|
|VI.||The Cat in Art||104|
|VII.||The Cat Triumphant||126|
|VIII.||Some Cats of France||179|
|IX.||The Cat To-day||228|