"There are periods in a man's life when he finds the society that
walks on four feet a welcome relief from the society that walks on two."
(The Fallen Leaves)
Wilkie Collins was a great animal lover and there were invariably pets in Gloucester
Place. His much loved dog,
Tommie, appeared in 'My Lady's Money'
and Collins even kept a note in his travelling desk, along with other
anniversaries, that Tommie died on 28 August 1885.
Cats were also a great favourite and there was often one in the
household. Collins admired their
characteristics, noting in The New Magdalen
'the cat is a sleek and splendid creature' and referring to a 'subtle cat-like
courage' in 'Sister Rose'. Mannion
in Basil has 'a large black cat...basking
luxuriously in the heat of the fire' and 'Snooks', a real cat owned by the
Collins family when Wilkie was a young man, features by name in Hide
John Herncastle in The Moonstone
lives as a recluse with his animals and Fosco in The
Woman in White is constantly surrounded by his birds and mice.
Describing the injured spaniel in the same book, Marian Halcombe's diary
records 'The misery of a weak, helpless, dumb creature is surely one of the
saddest of all the mournful sights which this world can show.'
In The Fallen Leaves Collins
notes 'the insatiable Anglo-Saxon delight in killing birds' and Allan Armadale
observes 'I could enjoy a ride on horseback without galloping after a wretched
stinking fox or a distracted little hare.'
Heart and Science (1883) supported the anti-vivisection movement to which Collins alludes in the preface. During his research he wrote to Surgeon-General Gordon 'I am endeavouring to add my small contribution in aid of the good cause by such means as Fiction will permit'. In 1884, mentioning a cheap one volume reprint to Miss Frances Power Cobbe, Collins added 'What little I have been able to do towards helping this good cause is in a fair way, I hope, of appealing to a large audience.' In the text, he writes 'Here, you may meet undisturbed cats on the pavement, in the full glare of noontide' and 'This fortunate little member of a brutally slandered race.'
In The Dead Secret, we have 'I saw a cat this morning... and there wasn't a single point in which you would bear comparison with him. The cat's eyes were clear - yours are muddy. The cat's nose was straight - yours is crooked. The cat's whiskers were clean - yours are dirty. The cat's coat fitted him - yours hangs about you like a sack.' At the beginning of Antonina 'You should see his cats! He has a perfect legion of them at his villa. Twelve slaves are employed to attend on them.'
In The Two Destinies Collins
records 'To my thinking, the cat is a cruelly misunderstood creature -
She touched the strings of her instrument - the ancient harp... the sound was at first unpleasantly high in pitch, to my untutored ear. At the opening notes of the melody - a slow, wailing, dirge-like air - the cats rose, and circled round their mistress, marching to the tune. Now they followed each other singly; now, at a change in the melody, they walked two and two; and, now again, they separated into divisions of three each, and circled round the chair in opposite directions. The music quickened, and the cats quickened their pace with it. Faster and faster the notes rang out, and faster and faster in the ruddy firelight, the cats, like living shadows, whirled round the still black figure in the chair, with the ancient harp on its knee. Anything so weird, wild, and ghostlike I never imagined before even in a dream! The music changed, and the whirling cats began to leap. One perched itself at a bound on the pedestal of the harp. Four sprung up together, and assumed their places, two on each of her shoulders. The last and smallest of the cats took the last leap, and lighted on her head! There the six creatures kept their positions, motionless as statues! Nothing moved but the wan, white hands over the harp-strings; no sound but the sound of the music stirred in the room. Once more the melody changed. In an instant the six cats were on the floor again, seated round the chair as I had seen them on their first entrance; the harp was laid aside; and the faint, sweet voice said quietly, "I am soon tired - I must leave my cats to conclude their performances tomorrow."
[For a modern cat book by Andrew Gasson see www.goodcatfoodguide.com]
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