Cats in the 19th Century (Part 16 -Théophile Gautier)

Theophile Gautier catsThe French poet and writer Théophile Gautier  (1811-1872), truly adored cats.  Many of his poems include them, and they were his beloved companions. An excerpt from the Daily Telegraph of 1895, describes his passionate affection for his felines.

            “Theophile Gautier, one of the most famous and artistic French authors of the present century, had an especial fondness of all animals, but cats were his particular favorites.  In his book called ‘La Menagerie Intime or My Private Menagerie’ he describes his household pets.

            One of the first was Childebrand, a short-haired, fawn colored beauty, striped with black velvet, like the clown in Hugo’s ‘Roi s’Amuse’.  He had great green eyes, almond-shaped, and surrounded by bands of black.

            Madame Theophile was another favorite, reddish and white breasted, pink-nosed and blue-eyed.  She dwelt with him on terms of great intimacy, sleeping with him, sitting on the arm of his chair when he wrote, following him on his walks through the garden and always present at meals, when she sometimes stole attractive bits from his plate.

            He tells an amusing tale about her and a parrot left in his charge for a short time by an absent friend.  Madame Theophile had never beheld a parrot, and it astonished her greatly by its gyrations and beak and claw and the strange motions of its awkward green body.  She sat for a long time as still as an Egyptian mummied cat, watching it with meditation, for she had never seen such a peculiar example of natural history.  Finally she seemed to say: ‘I have it now; it is a green chicken!’  Meanwhile the parrot watched the cat with increasing alarm, ruffling its feathers and whacking its beack uneasily against its cage.  Presently the cat seemed to say:  ‘Well, even if it is a green chicken, very likely it is good to eat.’

            ‘I watched the scene,’ says Gautier.  ‘Her paws gradually spread and contracted, she gave alternative purrs and growls, and prepared for a spring.  The parrot, perceiving the danger, said in a deep bass voice: ‘Have you breakfasted, Jacquot?’

            The blare from a trumpet, a pistol shot, an earthquake, could not have frightened her more.  All her ornithological ideas were upset.  ‘What more,’ said the parrot, ‘the king’s roast beef?’

            The cat’s face expressed terror.  ‘He is not a bird; he is a monsieur,’ she seemed to say.  The green creature then sang a French couplet about good wine, and the cat, fleeing for her life, took refuge under the bed. 

            Madame Theophile had all the tastes of a great French lady, being especially fond of perfumes, but patchouli and vertivert would throw her into ecstasies.  She liked music, too, but sharp, high notes affected her and she would put her paw upon a singer’s lips when such a high note distressed her.

            A third favorite was brought to Gautier from Havana by a friend.  This was an Angora, as white as a swan, the founder of the ‘White Dynasty.’  He received the name of Pierrot, and as he grew older and more dignified this was extended to Don Pierrot de Navarre.  He always loved to be with people, adored Gautier’s literary friends, and used to sit silently when they discussed great questions, sometimes putting his head on one side and occasionally making a little cry.  He used to play with the books, turning over the leaves with his paws and going to sleep on top of them.  Like Childebrand, he used to sit by the author when he was at work and watch his pen move across the paper with intense interest.  He never went to bed until Gautier returned home, and no matter how late it was he would bound out in the dark to greet him, and as soon as the candle was lit scamper ahead like a page.  His companion was a beautiful puss, as white as snow, and owing to her celestial purity she was named ‘Seraphita,’ for Balzac’s romance.  (Singleton, 1895 Daily Telegraph)”

Tomb of Theophile Gautier with a Cat Head at the Top

Tomb of Theophile Gautier with a Cat Head at the Top

 

The first line of his work, My Private Menagerie states,” I have often been caricatured in Turkish dress seated upon cushions, and surrounded by cats so familiar that they did not hesitate to climb upon my shoulders and even upon my head. The caricature is truth slightly exaggerated, and I must own that all my life I have been as fond of animals in general and of cats in particular as any Brahmin or old maid.“

Gautier is famous for many cat quotes.  Visit our page on Cat Quotes for more information.

 

 

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