2011-07-06 / Columnists
Pets, Pets, Pets
Crisco, both penned by Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870). The prolific French novelist happened to be an avid cat fancier who didn’t hold back the punches when singing feline praises. Take a look at how Dumas stated his preference to cats over dogs:
“Rather than a dog, I would choose a cat. It has for me the manners essential to social relations. At first, in its early youth, it possesses all the graces, suppleness, unexpectedness by which the most exacting, artistic fancy be amused! It is adroit, it always knows where it is. Prudent unto caution, it goes everywhere, it examines without soiling, breaking nothing; it is in itself a warmth and a caress; it has not a snout, but a mouth- and what a mouth! It is discreet and of fastidious cleanliness- it cannot be enslaved….It is a dignified, proud, disdainful animal that hides its love affairs in the shadows….It defies advances, tolerates no insults, abandons the house in which it is not treated according to its merits…In short, truly an aristocrat in type and origin.”
Dumas had two cats with the same name- Mysouff I and Mysouff II. He claimed the first one had ESP and could sense when Dumas was coming home. Actually, the author loved him for a special talent that was more similar to canine behavior. Dumas explained, “That cat missed his vocation, he should have been born a dog.”
Each day Mysouff walked Dumas to work as far as a certain street. When the time of the writer’s return approached, his tabby would ask to be let out to greet Dumas who said: “He would jump on my knees as if he were a dog, then run off and return, take the road home, returning at last in a gallop.” The strange part was that Mysouff seemed to know when Dumas was going to be late, and, on those occasions, he would remain sleeping.
Mysouff II, a black and white cat, was Dumas’s favorite even though he ate all the author's exotic birds. The Sunday following the massacre the feline felon was given a trial before Dumas’s guests. One visitor came to the hungry cat’s defense and declared he had access to the birds only because one of the author’s pet monkeys had left the aviary door open. As punishment, the “guilty” cat was sentenced to five years imprisonment with the monkeys in their cage. Fortunately for Mysouff, his master spent his money lavishly. Soon after, Dumas fell on hard financial times, forcing him to sell his monkeys. Mysouff was freed without bail.
Dumas did have quite a menagerie before he went broke. In a review, a Nov. 6, 1909 New York Times review of a newly published translation of his illustrated book, Mes Bêtes, Dumas enumerates his pets including the convicted cat, Mysouff, a tame vulture called Diogenes, three monkeys (named respectively for a translator, illustrious novelist and famous actress), plus the soon-to-be-lunch birds listed by species and name. Oh yes, the self-professed ailurophile also owned five dogs.
Dumas rescued stray cats. Toward the end of his life he formed a Feline Defense League, a prototype of an SPCA. Fellow well-known French writers- Charles Baudelaire and Guy de Maupassant- were also founding members. The Parisian cat connection was strong.
Poet, essayist and critic Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) was a talented but tormented soul. His family tried in vain to curtail his excessive lifestyle and drug use. They intervened when he squandered his sizable inheritance. Despite his troubles, Baudelaire was considered an innovator of 19th century French literature. He translated the works of my Edgar Afghan Poe’s namesake, whom he considered a “twin soul.” To clarify, he identified with Poe, the Pit and the Pendulum man; not Edgar, my Afghan Hound.
Baudelaire’s poetic masterpiece Les Fleurs du mal (1857) with juxtapositions of urban beauty and decay won favor with other notables like Victor Hugo, but the work also earned the poet notoriety since certain segments were banned in France until 1949 as obscene. Fleurs du mal (which means “Flowers of Evil”) contains two sonnets titled “The Cat”.
Supposedly, Baudelaire was so obsessed with cats that he paid more attention to them than to his friends and family. He would often enter a house, pick up a cat, stroke it and completely shut out those around him, so much so that the press ridiculed him as a “voluptuous wheedling cat with velvety manners.”
Perhaps the socially inept poet understood cats better than he did himself. His imagery captures the feline essence. Just visualize this excerpt from “The Cat” by Baudelaire (rated PG-13): “In reverie they emulate the noble mood Of giant sphinxes stretched in depths of solitude Who seem to slumber in a never-ending dream; Within their fertile loins a sparkling magic lies; Finer than any sand are dusts of gold that gleam, Vague starpoints, in the mystic iris of their eyes.”
For Adoption at Babylon Shelter (631-643- 9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: Plenty of cats and kittens at the shelter have those magical “dusts of gold” gleaming in their eyes, pleading for someone to take them home. “Topaz” #20689 is a five- yearold russet gal in the lobby. She reaches out to you. “Creamy” #94124, of the pooch persuasion. is an interesting blend of Mastiff and Sharpei. He’s a big, friendly fellow. Male: “Hamilton” #94151 patriotic Pug; Pomeranian #94191; “Maverick” #94050- yellow Lab. Female: “Cindy” #94069- black Shepherd mix; “Lola” #94193-Beagle; “Honey” #94048-Husky; “Ruthie”- blue Pit.