The Genealogy of a Cat, and other odd Matters, which the great Critics of the Age will call improbable and unnatural.
A QUITE new scene of life now opened on our hero, who from frequenting drums and assemblies with Lady Tempest, from shining conspicuous in the side boxes of the opera and playhouse, was now confined to the chambers of an old maid, and obliged to attend morning and evening prayers. 'Tis true the change was not altogether a sudden one, since his last place had a good deal reduced his aspiring notions, but still his genius for gallantry and high-life continued, and he found it very difficult to compose himself to the sober hours and orderly deportment of an ancient virgin. Sometimes indeed he would turn up his ear and seem attentive, while she was reading Tillotson's Sermons; but if the truth were known, I believe he had much rather have been listening to a novel or a play-book.
People who have been used to such company, cannot easily reconcile themselves to solitude, and the only companion he found here, was an ancient tabby cat, whom he despised at first with a most fashionable disdain, though she solicited his acquaintance with much civility, and showed him all the respect due to a stranger. She took every opportunity of meeting him in her walks, and tried to enter into conversation with him; but he never returned any of her compliments, and as much as possible declined her haunts. At length, however, time reconciled him to her, and frequent meetings produced a strict friendship between them.
This cat, by name Mopsa, was heiress of the most ancient family of cats in the world. There is a tradition, which makes her to be descended from that memorable Grimalkin of antiquity, who was converted into a woman at the request of her master, and is said to have leapt out of bed one morning, forgetting her transformation, in pursuit of a fugitive mouse: from which event all moralists have declaimed on the impossibility possibility of changing fixed habits, and L'Estrange in particular observes, that 'Puss, though a Madam, will be a mouser still.'
It is very difficult to fix the precise time of her family's first arrival in England, so various and discordant are the opinions of our antiquaries on that subject. Many are persuaded they came over with Brute the Trojan; others conjecture they were left by Phœnician merchants, who formerly traded on the coast of Cornwall. The great B—n W—ll—s insists, that Julius Cæsar, in his second expedition to Britain, brought over with him a colony of Roman cats to people the island, at that time greatly infested with mice and rats. The learned and ingenious Dr. S—k—y, disliking all these opinions, undertakes to prove, that they were not in England till the Conquest, but that they came over in the same ship with the Duke of Normandy, afterwards William the First. Which of their' conjectures is the truest, these ingenious gentlemen must decide among themselves; which I apprehend will not be done without many volumes of controversy; but they are all unanimous in supposing the family to be very ancient and of foreign extraction.
Another of her great ancestors, whose name likewise is considerable in history, was that immortal car, who made the fortune of Mr. Whittington, and advanced him to the dignity of a Lord-mayor of London, according to the prophesy of a parish- steeple to that effect. There are likewise many others well known to fame, as Gridelin the Great, and Dinah the Sober, and Grimalkin the Pious, and the famous Puss that wore Boots, and another that had a legacy left her in the last will and testament of her deceased mistress; of which satirical mention is made in the works of our English Horace. But leaving the deduction of her genealogy to the great professors of that science, and recommending it to them as a subject quite new, and extremely worthy of their sagacious researches, I shall proceed to matters of greater consequence to this history.
'Tis observed by an old Greek poet, and from thence copied into the Spectator, that there is a great similitude between cats and women. Whether the resemblance be just in other instances, I will not pretend to determine, but I believe it holds exactly between ancient cats and ancient maids; which I suppose is the reason why ladies of that character are never without a grave mouser in their houses, and generally at their elbows.
Mopsa had now lived near a dozen years with her present mistress, and being naturally of a studious, musing temper, she had so improved her understanding from the conversation of this aged virgin, that she was now deservedly reckoned the most philosophic cat in England. She had the misfortune some years before to lose her favourite sister Selima, who was unfortunately drowned in a large china vase; which sorrowful accident is very ingeniously lamented in a most elegant little ode, which I heartily recommend to the perusal of every reader, who has a taste for lyric numbers and poetical fancy; and it is to be found in one of the volumes of Mr. Dodsley's Collection of Miscellany Poems. This misfortune added much to Mopsa's gravity, and gave her an air of melancholy not easily described. For a long while indeed her grief was so great, that she neglected the care of her person, neither cleansing her whiskers, nor washing her face as usual; but time and reflection at length got the better of her sorrow, and restored her to the natural serenity of her temper.
When little Pompey came into the family, she saw he had a good disposition at the bottom, though he was a wild, thoughtless, young dog, and therefore resolved to try the effects of her philosophy upon him. If therefore at any time he began to talk in the language of the world, and flourished upon balls, operas, plays, masquerades, and the like, she would take up the discourse, and with much Socratical composure prove to him the folly and vanity of such pursuits. She would tell him how unworthy it was of a dog of any understanding to follow the trivial gratification of his senses, and how idle were the pageants of ambition compared with the sober comforts of philosophy. This indeed he used to ridicule with great gaiety of spirit (if the reader will believe it) and tell her by way of answer, that her contempt of the world arose from her having never lived in it. But when he had a little wore off the relish of pleasure, he began to listen every day to her arguments with greater attention, till at length she absolutely convinced him that happiness is nowhere so perfect, as in tranquillity and retired life.
From this time their friendship grew stricter every day; they used to go upon little parties of innocent amusement together, and it was very entertaining to see them walking side by side in the garden, or lying couchant under a tree to surprise some little bird in the branches. Malicious fame no sooner observed this intimacy, than with her usual malice she published the scandal of an amour between them; but I am persuaded it had no foundation, for Mopsa was old enough to be Pompey's grand-mother, and besides he always behaved to her, rather with the homage due to a parent than the ardent fondness of a lover.
But fortune, his constant enemy, again set her face against him. The two friends one day in their mistress's closet, had been engaged in a very serious dispute on the summum bonum, or chief good of life; and both of them had delivered gravely upon it; the one contending for an absolute exclusion of all pleasure, the other desirous only to intermix some diversions with his philosophy. They were seated on two books, which their mistress had left open in her study; to wit, Mopsa on Nelson's Festivals, and Pompey on Baker's Chronicles; when alas—how little things often determine the greatest matters! Pompey, in the earnestness of his debate, did something on the leaves of that sage historian, very unworthy of his character, and improper to be mentioned in explicit terms. His mistress unfortunately entered the room at that moment, and saw the crime he had been guilty of; which so enraged her, that she resolved never to see his face any more, but ordered her footman to dispose of him without delay. Thus was this hopeful friendship interrupted almost as soon as it began; for the footman, having received his mistress's orders, sold him that very day for a pint of porter to an ale house-keeper's daughter near Hyde-Park Corner.