Littell's Living Age/Volume 156/Issue 2016/Puss in Boots

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Popular tales are, as a general rule, provided with exemplary morals. Virtue in them is, in the long run, almost always triumphant, and honest right seldom fails to overcome dishonest might. An exception must perhaps be made in the case of certain stories about thieves, in which the audacious ingenuity of the malefactor is called as a witness in his favor, and eventually procures for him not only an acquittal but a reward. But such freaks of popular fiction as the Highland "Shifty Lad," the German and Scandinavian "The Master Thief," and all the rest of their felonious kinsmen, belong to a peculiar class. They are, for the most part, purloiners who, like Jack Sheppard or Dick Turpin, have been rendered heroic by literature. There have been periods, moreover, in which properly regulated larceny was regarded in the light of an art or science, and these records of theft may date back to some such unprejudiced epoch. However this may be, they occur in most of the collections of the tales of the common people. But the modern introducers of folk-tales into polite society, the writers who, like Perrault, have made the fortune of the fairy-tale by rendering it neat and trim and fit to be received into drawing-rooms, have generally avoided subjects which might be looked upon with suspicion by stern moralists, and have selected as the heroes and heroines of their tiny dramas only such beings as regulate their lives in accordance with modern opinions about right and wrong. In the case of Perrault's "Contes" there is only one notorious exception to this rule. The true hero of "Le Maître Chat, on le Chat Botté," is not the miller's son who passes under the name of the Marquis de Carabas, but the cat which gains for him the hand of the princess, by means of several falsehoods and the murder of an unsuspecting and hospitable ogre. The success of the youthful peasant whom these manœuvres convert into a king's son-in-law, and that of the intriguing cat itself, which becomes a grandee, and no longer chases mice except by way of relaxation, do not lend themselves to edification. The story, as it runs in Perrault's pages, teaches a distinctly immoral lesson. It was all very well for the author to tack on to it a moralité, to the effect that industry and tact are of more use to young people than a rich inheritance. The conclusion at which an ordinary reader would arrive, if he were not dazzled by fairy-land glamor, would probably be that far better than either tact or industry on a master's part is the loyalty of an unscrupulous retainer of an imaginative turn of mind. The impropriety of this teaching is not balanced by any other form of instruction. What the story openly inculcates is not edifying, and does not secretly convey any improving doctrine,

But this great fault appears to be mainly due to the pains which its narrators have taken to make it presentable. They have ignored its proper beginning and its fitting termination, and they have thereby suppressed the whole of its moral significance. At the same time they have conferred upon it the characteristic attraction which it did not originally possess, and which has had much to do with its worldwide success, in the shape of the boots which the cat asked its master to make for it in order that it might tread thorn bushes unpricked. It is impossible to say whether this stroke of genius was due to Perrault's unassisted imagination, or to the fancy of the narrators from whom he drew so much of his inspiration. All that we know with certainty is that the animal which figures as the hero of the story wears, as a general rule, no boots and indeed is, in most instances, not only no booted cat, but no cat at all. In what seem to be the more archaic forms of the tale, the leading animal is usually a fox; and its behavior, throughout the whole of its history, appears to be more in accordance with vulpine than feline traditions. But of that more anon.

In that rich treasure-house of information respecting popular fiction, the introduction to his translation of the "Panchatantra," the late Professor Benfey remarked that the booted cat had no sufficient motive for its abnormal conduct. It was merely a commonplace retainer, bound by no tie but that of ordinary domesticity to its master. Therefore some piece of evidence was undoubtedly wanting at the beginning of the story, to prove why the cat acted in so remarkable a manner. Then again, the cat's unbroken prosperity to the end was evidently a liberty taken with the original. For the narrative clearly belonged to the great cycle of stories, apparently of Buddhistic origin, in which the gratitude of the lower animals was strongly contrasted with the ingratitude of the self-styled "superior animal," man. The story, therefore, ought to begin with an explanation of the reasons which induced the cat to do what it did for the miller's son, and to end with an account of the ungrateful manner in which that youth, after becoming an aristocrat, repaid the cat's devotion to his interests.

If we turn from Perrault's artistic rendering of the tale to the ruder variants it current in different parts of Europe, we find that some of them have preserved the due opening and others the meet termination, but that scarcely any of them can boast of both opening and closing aright. The story does not occur in the collection of the brothers Grimm, but one variant of it figures in Haltrich's "Deutsche Volksmärchen" (No. 13), and another in the Tyrolese collection of Schneller. In the tale told by Haltrich, the tutelary animal is a wild cat, which carries off an infant from a cradle and rears it in a forest. When the boy comes to man's estate the cat provides him with a dress composed of feathers borrowed from all manner of birds, for it has the power of calling together all the fowls of the air whenever it sounds its silver pipe, and also with a splendid feather mantle, which he offers as a present to the king. The rest of the story closely resembles the Norwegian "Lord Peter" (" Tales from the Norse," No. 42). In that variant a youngest son is helped by a domestic cat which but for him would have starved. So the opening is partially correct. But for the proper termination, in which the cat ought to be ungratefully treated, there has been substituted a quite inappropriate close, borrowed from the story which we know best under the name of "The White Cat" — in which a cat, or other equally valuable animal friend, is beheaded by the hero, at its own urgent request, and then turns into a beautiful princess. The leading idea of stories of "The White Cat" class — that of a brilliant being who is condemned to suffer a temporary eclipse, a celestial spouse who is obliged to don for a time a disfiguring hide or husk — is quite different from that which manifests itself in unadulterated variants of the "Puss in Boots" group. The Swedish story of "The Castle that stood upon Golden Pillars" (Hyltén-Cavallius & Stephens, No. 12), is remarkable for the fact that its cat works not for a master but for a mistress, but this discrepancy seems to be due to the forgetfulness of some narrator who has mixed up several stories together. In three other Scandinavian variants, one Norwegian the others Swedish, the protecting animal is not a cat but a dog.

The domestic cat, so far as Europe is concerned, is generally supposed to be somewhat of an upstart. In Egypt its cultus had existed for ages before our ancestors dreamt of paying it that species of worship which at present appears to connect it with the tutelary genius of the hearth. We have the authority of Herodotus for the fact that when a cat died in an Egyptian home the members of the bereaved family shaved off their eye-brows, and that of Diodorus for the touching statement that although Egyptians have been known to eat their fellow-creatures during famines, no instance of cat-eating was ever heard of. If an Egyptian happened to find a dead cat, says the Sicilian historian, he was careful not to approach it closely, for fear of being suspected of its murder. Standing at a distance, he made the sad loss known by cries of distress. During conflagrations, according to Herodotus, the Egyptian spectators allowed the flames to rage unchecked, devoting their attention to saving the cats belonging to the burning houses. A Roman happened one day to kill a cat by accident. The melancholy event took place at a time when the Egyptian government was very anxious to conciliate Rome. But in spite of the exertions of the king and his ministers, the mob broke into the Roman's dwelling and intentionally did to him what he had accidentally done to the cat. Of this act of popular vengeance Diodorus says that he was a spectator. According to Lenormant, the cat does not appear on Egyptian sculptures earlier than the twelfth dynasty (2020 B.C.), and therefore the credit of its domestication is due to the inhabitants of the upper Nile. That process, remarks Hehn, must have taken a long time, but it was thoroughly successful in the end. The domestic cat very rarely deserts civilization in favor of savage freedom, its character offering in this respect a strong contrast to that of its fellow Oriental, the gipsy. How the tame cat made its way into Europe remains uncertain, although it is reported to have travelled from Egypt by the way of Cyprus. The period of its arrival, also, is shrouded in mystery. It does not seem to have been known in classic times, and the early centuries of our era appear to have been unaware of its existence. In so catless a period, the arrival of such a beneficent beast as that which has kept Whittington's memory green might well be hailed with acclamation. It is easy to believe that the progress of the cat was rapid when it had once shown itself. Silently but irresistibly it seems to have subjugated the European hearth. It is terrible to think of how much pleasure as well as profit the world would have been deprived, if the cat's career had been cut prematurely short. Most fortunate was it, as Hehn remarks, that its introduction preceded those epochs in which its associations with idolatry might have caused it to fall a victim to the fanaticism of Islam or the asceticism of Christianity.

The cat has never filled quite so high a position in Europe as it occupied in Egypt, but still it has never been entirely deprived of its supernatural reputation. In Sicily, says Professor A. de Gubernatis, "the cat is sacred to St. Martha and is respected in order that she may not be irritated. He who kills a cat will be unhappy for seven years." That there is something diabolical about a domestic cat is still a fixed idea in the popular European mind. A Russian proverb asserts that a black tom-cat, at the end of seven years, is bound to become a devil. In Brittany it is believed that an animal of that kind, which has served seven masters in succession, has the right of carrying off the soul of the seventh to hell. In such cases as these it seems to be probable that the cat's "fallen divinity" has spread a shade over its character. Such stories as "Puss in Boots" might be taken as evidence of the favor with which the cat has been regarded by the people, were it not that the balance of testimony is against that animal's claims to be considered the guardian angel of the Marquis de Carabas and his brethren. For in the south and the east of Europe, as well as in Asia, the four-footed creature which plays that part is almost invariably a fox. There seems to be good reason for supposing that in all the stories of the "Booted Cat" cycle, there ought to be no cat and no boots.

The variants of the story in which a fox figures instead of a cat have this advantage, that they have retained the proper opening of the narrative. Thus, in a Finnish variant[1] the assisting animal is a fox which had been trapped by a youth, who let it go when it asked him if he would like to get married. The rest of the story runs the usual course, and at the end the fox retires quietly into the forest. In another Finnish variant the proper opening has been as much forgotten as the close. A youth who has inherited nothing but a cow sells it to an unknown man. The purchaser turns into a fox, and makes over the cow to fifty other foxes, which it afterwards presents, along with an equal number of wolves and bears, to a king whose son-in-law the youth becomes. Here both the beginning and the end have been changed. The Russian variants of the story (Afanasief, iv., Nos. 10 and 11) are curious. In one of them a certain Bukhtan Bukhtanovich is wont to lie stretched on a pillared stove, "half elbow-deep in tarakan milk" — the tarakan being the Russian equivalent for our black-beetle. A fox, without any perceptible motive, wins for him the hand of the usual princess — employing the well-known trick of returning a borrowed sieve with a coin fastened in it, and pretending that it has been used to measure Bukhtan's countless wealth — and also the property of two demoniacal beings, Voron Voronovich and Kokot Kokotovich (Raven Raven's son and Cock Cock's son), whom it puts out of the way after inducing them to hide from "a king who is coming with fire and a queen with lightning." In the other tale, that of "Kosma the Swiftly-rich," the assisting animal is a fox which was in the habit of killing Kosma's poultry. Caught by him in the act, it promised to make him "swiftly rich" if he would pardon its offence. He consented, and the fox showed its gratitude by inducing scores of wild beasts to follow him to the palace of the king, to whom it presented them in Kosma's name. The sieve trick followed, after which fine clothes were obtained for Kosma, who had fallen into a river together with a bridge which he and the fox had cut half through. Kosma married the king's daughter, and the fox gained for him the property of a "Tsar Zmiulan," a snake prince of the Nāga class, who was induced, by the news that "King Fire and Queen Lightning" were coming, to take refuge in a hollow tree, which Kosma and his royal father-in-law afterwards blew to bits. The fox was regaled with chickens, and stayed at Kosma's dwelling till they were all eaten up. In a third Russian variant (Khudyakof, No. 98) a fox of its own free will offers the hand of a princess to a youth, and obtains it for him in the usual way. The youth's want of retinue is accounted for by the explanation that all his attendants and baggage have been lost in a swamp. The proprietor who is dispossessed in favor of the youthful impostor is an ordinary landowner, a Barin (or Mr.) Tsygaryn. He and his wife are induced by the fox to take refuge from the wrath of "King Thunder and Queen Lightning" in a hollow tree in their garden. The king and his son-in-law hear sounds proceeding from the tree, which are really due to the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Tsygaryn are choking in their hiding-place. The king inquires what that noise is. The fox replies that the tree is haunted by devils, and had better be burnt. So the tree is consumed with fire, and together with it the innocent victims of the fox's partiality for the king's son-in-law. In a fourth Russian variant (Afanasief, iv., p. 45), a youth who was "not in the full possession of his reason," but who rejoiced in the singular name of Nikita of Macedon, was presented by his parents with a horse and a cock, with with which he set out to seek his fortune. A fox met him and asked for the fowl, promising in return the hand of the beautiful daughter of "King Fire and Queen Lightning." The rest of the story is as before.

The idea of the youth whom the animal assists being more or less idiotic occurs in some other variants of the story. The opening of the Sicilian tale of "Count Pear-tree" is a case in point (Gonzenbach, No. 65). A youth was left nothing at his father's death but a cottage and a pear-tree. Moreover he was ignorant and foolish. "As he could not earn his bread, God mercifully allowed the pear-tree to bear fruit all the year long, whereby the youth was nourished." One day in winter a fox came by, and asked for a basketful of pears. The youth gave them, and the fox took them to a king whose daughter it eventually obtained for the Conte Piro. The main body of the story is much the same in all these variants. But the Sicilian tale possesses the final incident which the foregoing variants have omitted. The fox had asked the Conte Piro to give it a handsome funeral when it died. One day it lay down and pretended to be dead. Conte Piro's princely spouse was much grieved, and said, "Now must we hasten to have a right beautiful coffin made for it." But the count exclaimed, "A coffin for that beast! Take it by its legs and fling it out of window!" Whereupon the fox jumped up and severely reprimanded the ingrate, who hastened to excuse himself by affirming that he had spoken without thinking of what he was saying. In this Sicilian form the story ends as it ought to end, but its opening is defective, for the fox obtains the pears not for itself but for the king, therefore it has no reason for being grateful to the man. The missing incident, however, is supplied by another Sicilian variant of the same story (Pitré, ii., No. 88). In it Don Giuseppi Piru begins by pardoning a fox which he catches in the act of stealing pears from a tree belonging to himself and his brothers. The grateful animal plays the usual tricks, and Don Giuseppi becomes a great man. One day, when he is walking on the terrace with his wife, and the fox is lying down near an open window, Don Giuseppi takes some dust and sprinkles the animal's head with it. The fox is disgusted with this ungrateful levity, and threatens to tell that the don used to be a pear-owner. Don Giuseppi is frightened at the idea of his wife being told the story of his early career. So he takes a flower-pot, and hits the fox over the head with it. "Thus, ingrate that he was, he killed the creature that had done so much for him." This variant of the story is complete at both ends. The tragic termination of the tale, so far as the protecting animal is concerned, is found also in "Lou Compaire Gatet," a cat story from the south of France[2], and the man's ingratitude is mentioned in a Bulgarian variant quoted by Khudyakof, at the commencement of which a miller is promised a regal crown by a fox, on condition of his daily providing it with a hot wheaten cake, a roast fowl, and a pitcher of wine. A Polish variant (Glinski, iii. 149) is more akin to the French and Scandinavian than to the Russian, Sicilian, and Bulgarian forms of the story. There remains to be mentioned one other European variant which has the merit of being quite complete, having preserved the original opening as well as close of the tale. A man named Triorrhōgas, who was "both lazy and poor," caught a fox one day in the act of stealing his grapes. He was about to kill it when it begged for mercy, promising to make him a king. In this it succeeded, after playing the usual tricks, including the burning of forty dragons. In return for this service the king, who had been Triorrhōgas, promised it a silver coffin at its death. One day it pretended to be dead. The king said, "Take it by the tail, and fling it out of window." Then the fox jumped up and severely reprimanded the king in the presence of his wife, thereby reducing him to confusion. This well-preserved specimen of the story was found at Melos. It is published in the "Contes Populaires Grecs" of M. Emile Legrand, who says that he himself heard a variant of the tale at Philippopolis, in 1875, in which the fox was replaced by a greyhound.

The Asiatic variants of the tale are unfortunately few in number. But one of them is so complete that it may be supposed to give a fair idea of the story as it originally existed in India, which doubtless was its original home. Let us take first two specimens from central Asia, preserved by Radloff in his great work on "The Turkish Races of South Siberia." The first (i. 271) is a quaint Tartar poem about an orphan youth who lived alone without food to eat or clothes to wear. To him there came a fox which told him what to do. Borrowing a pair of scales from a rich neighboring prince, he pretended to weigh in them butter belonging to the youth to the amount of a thousand poods, or forty thousand pounds. "A thousand poods is a great deal," justly observed the prince. A second time the fox borrowed the scales, and sent them back with a string broken and a coin inserted, thereby producing a high opinion of the orphan's wealth. For the fox declared that it was the weight of the young man's money which had broken the string, he having weighed in the scales seventy poods of bank-notes and a hundred of copper coins. On the strength of this the fox induced the prince to accept the orphan as a suitor for his daughter's hand. The youth set out with a train of seven sledges laden with empty barrels. These the fox contrived to push off a bridge into the water below, before the eyes of the prince, who was deluded into believing that a rich wedding present had been lost by the fall. The youth married the prince's daughter and went away with her, wondering what he should do for a house and fine raiment when his father-in-law visited him. Coming to a desert he found a stone house out of which crept innumerable snakes. These he induced to hide under hay, saying, "The bird will catch you and carry you away" — an evident allusion to an Indian Nāga-destroying Garuda — and then he set the hay on fire, consumed the snakes, and took possession of their dwelling. When the prince came he was entertained in great style by his son-in-law. "Seven days they drank brandy, seven days they drank tea." And so all went well. In the other Tartar story, which is in prose, an orphan named Salamya is brought up by a fox, which, when he is grown up, goes forth to seek him a wife. First it has recourse to the money-measuring trick, which proves highly successful. Then it avails itself of a remarkable artifice. It makes out of straw a ship, and equips it with soldiers who are literally men of straw. This ship it sends by water to the city where dwells the prince whose son-in-law the fox wishes the orphan to become. While the whole city is admiring the approaching vessel, in which the fox declares the suitor is bringing rich wedding presents, the fox, "which was a storm-maker," calls up storm and tempest. Down goes the ship of straw, away drift the straw soldiers, and the orphan is cast naked on the shore. The prince hastens to supply the shipwrecked impostor with all that he desires, including the princess his daughter. Salamya goes away with his wife, and the fox running on in front obliges all the people it meets to say that the surrounding lands and flocks are the property of that youth. And finally it induces the real owner, a seven-headed Yilbigän, a demoniacal dragon, to creep into a well, the mouth of which it closes with a stone. Having done all these kind things for the youth, the fox goes tranquilly away. The moral of the story has been missed by its wild narrators in central Asia.

By far the best variant of the story, that in which the reason for the animal's kindness to the man is recorded in the opening, and the ingratitude of the man to the animal is depicted in the close, while the various incidents of the central part are invested with as great an air of probability as befits a "fairy-tale," has been preserved among the rapidly dwindling Avars or Lesghians of the Caucasus, from whose but little studied language it has been translated by the late Professor Anton Schiefner[3]. It runs as follows. There once was a miller who was known by a name which may be translated as the Loathsome Hadji. From his house things used to be stolen. Angered thereat, he lay in wait for the thief, and caught a fox in the act of stealing. He was about to put it to death when it besought him to be calm, observing that "hasty water reaches no sea," and promising in case of pardon to make the miller a great man, and to gain for him the hand of a khan's daughter. The miller accepted the offer of the fox, and promised, if it made good its words, to feed it as long as it lived on fat and to bury it after its death enveloped in a mass of fat sheep's tails. The fox ran off and searched among rubbish till it found a silver coin. Then it went to the khan and asked for the loan of a measure in which to mete the silver wealth of its master Bukutchi Khan. The khan wondered who this unknown potentate could be, but lent the measure, which the fox presently returned with the coin sticking in it. Next the fox searched about till it found a morsel of gold. Then it went again to the khan and borrowed the measure once more, this time for the purpose of measuring the golden stores of its master Bukutchi Khan taking care that the measure, when returned, had in it the morsel of gold it had found. The khan formed a high opinion of Bukutchi Khan's pecuniary resources, and "died of joy," that is to say, was glad, when the fox asked for the hand of the khan's daughter on behalf of its master Bukutchi Khan. Next day the fox made a garment for the miller "out of the most beautiful flowers of the hills," and sent him down with a gun made of lime-wood on his shoulder, to a river on the further side of which the khan's retainers were to meet him. In accordance with the instructions of the fox, the miller stumbled and fell while fording the river, and the stream rapidly carried away all he had on and with him. The khan's servants dashed into the water, rescued the miller, and provided him with raiment so sumptuous that he could not keep his eyes off it. The fox explained that Bukutchi Khan was mourning for the loss of his own garments, which were composed of nothing but diamonds and rubies. "They did look like a rainbow," replied the khan's attendants, who were likewise induced to believe that the lime-wood gun was a priceless heirloom of Stamboul manufacture. "We remarked," they observed, "that it shone like silver."

The so-called Bukutchi Khan received the khan's daughter in marriage, and, at the end of a festive week, set out to take her to his home. The fox ran on in front, and when it came to a prairie on which much cattle was grazing, asked to whom the herds belonged. "To the dragon," was the reply. "Take care," exclaimed the fox, "utter the dragon's name no more, his cause is lost: the host of the seven princes is going up against him with cannon, artillery, mortars, and guns. If you say the cattle is his, you will be killed, and every head of cattle carried off. There is a khan, feared by kings, called Bukutchi Khan. If any one asks you, say the cattle is his; then no man will have anything to say against you." The herdsman followed the advice of the fox, as did the shepherds, mowers, and other laborers whom it accosted. Whenever the attendants of the young married couple asked to whom belonged the cattle, or sheep, or meadows they saw, the answer was always, "To Bukutchi Khan."

Meanwhile the fox entered the castle of the dragon, who was the real proprietor, and informed him that the host of the seven princes was coming against him. "What shall I do?" exclaimed the terrified dragon. "Creep underneath that hay," replied the fox, pointing to a huge stack in the middle of the courtyard. The dragon did so, and the fox set it on fire. The dragon was fried "like a sausage," and his castle, together with all his property, passed into the hands of the newly wedded pair.

All went well for a time. At last the fox determined to test the ex-miller's gratitude. So it lay down one day and pretended to be dead. "Just look!" cried the khan's daughter, "our fox seems to be dead." "It would be a piece of luck if it were to die seven times more, one after the other," replied her husband. "This good-for-nothing has become a bore." Up jumped the fox and cried, "Shall I tell, shall I tell of the Loathsome Hadji? Tell about the lime-wood gun? All about the miller tell?" Down on his knees went Bukutchi, wept and prayed, and smote himself on the head. So the fox forgave him. But soon afterwards the fox died in reality. Bukutchi Khan was afraid that this also might be a pretence, so he slit open a fat sheep's tail, and carefully placed the fox inside.

There can be little doubt that the Avars borrowed this well-preserved specimen of the "Puss in Boots" story from the same source to which the Tartars were indebted for their versions of the narrative. Some day, perhaps, probably in some Buddhistic land, the story may be found in its original form. It seems to have established itself in the south of Europe under its cat form at an early period, for it figures in the Italian story-books of both Straparola, about the middle of the sixteenth century, and Basile, in the first half of the seventeenth. In the "Piacevoli Notti," of the former, the youth Constantino is assisted by his cat, "which was a fairy," and which performs all the ordinary tricks. Nothing is said at the end about its master's ingratitude. In Basile's "Pentarnerone" a cat behaves in precisely the same manner, and its enriched master declares that after its death he will cause it to be embalmed and will keep its remains, encased in a golden vessel, in his own room. Three days later the cat, "displeased by this exaggeration," lies down in the garden and pretends to be dead. "Take it by its tail and fling it out of window," exclaims its ungrateful master. Whereupon the cat arises, and reprimands him in a long and rather tedious oration. After which it retires from the scene.

As the story is evidently of a moral nature, mythological ideas entering into it only so far as the supernatural being is concerned whom the cat contrives to kill in its master's behalf, it has undergone less alteration in the course of its travels than legends which, like "Cinderella," or "Beauty and the Beast," appear to have originally involved some mythological conception. Its comparatively commonplace character in this respect has prevented its being turned to account by the extreme section of the solar-myth school. Other cats of popular fiction have been found by such commentators to be sublimely mythical.

There are two Indian fables the meaning of which seems at first sight to be perfectly plain and simple. In one of them ("Panchatantra," iii. 2), a hare and a sparrow agree to refer a dispute to the arbitration of a wild cat named Dadhi-karna or Milk-Ear, that is, having ears as white as milk. This cat pretends to be leading an ascetic life, and the two litigants find it standing on one foot, with its face turned towards the sun and its fore-paws lifted on high, uttering the most edifying sentiments, to the effect that "life is the illusion of an instant," and so forth. Entreated to act as judge, the cat asks the suitors to draw near, on the ground that it is old and hard of hearing. When they have come within reach, it seizes one of them with its claws and the other with its teeth, and so puts a complete end to their dispute. A similarly hypocritical cat, mentioned in the "Mahābhārata," lives on the shores of the Ganges and feeds upon the mice in which its feigned austerities have inspired confidence. After referring to these two stories, an accomplished scholar goes on to say[4]: "Thus far we have seen the cat with white ears, who hunts the hare (or moon), the morning twilight, and the penitent cat, who eats mice at the river's side, and which is mythically the same. … The thieving cat … is now the morning twilight, now the moon who gives chase to the mice of the night." But the booted puss seems never to have been likened even to the smallest luminary of the night, not to speak of a morning or evening twilight. One of the greatest changes which have come over it, or its prototype the fox, is to be found in a South African variant of the story. Benfey has remarked that future investigations will some day show clearly that there are very few peoples to whom Indian tales have not made their way; and among the savage races which thus became acquainted with the wisdom of India were some of the African tribes, to whom Mussulman narrators probably conveyed Indian traditions obtained by Arabs from Persian sources. At all events some such migration as this is much more easily to be believed in than any kind of "independent evolution," in the case of the variant of the "Puss in Boots" story which is contained in Mr. Steere's "Swahili Tales" (No. 2). In it a miserable wretch finds a coin in a heap of rubbish, and expends it upon the purchase of a gazelle which he thus saves from death. The gazelle proves grateful, and renders its master the services which the booted cat rendered to the Marquis de Carabas, gaining for him the hand of a king's daughter, and the property of a seven-headed snake. At last the gazelle falls ill, and its master shows it no sympathy. It dies, and instead of giving it an honorable burial, he flings it into a well. That night he dreams that he is back in his original position, grovelling on the heap of rubbish. He wakes, and finds his dream realized. He is back again there, all his state and prosperity as Sultan Darai having disappeared. This termination seems to have been borrowed from some other tale, of the class to which belongs the German tale of "The Fisherman and his Wife," wherein the enriched fisher-folk who ask for too much suddenly find themselves reduced to their former misery in their original hovel.

The group of stories to which "Puss in Boots" belongs is one of the largest and most widely ramified of the divisions of folk-tales. The themes those stories handle, the sentiments they express, are within the comprehension of all hearers, and appeal to feelings which influence every heart. The leading part allotted in them to animals endears them to youth, their slightly cynical flavor is grateful to old age. Even in Europe they still indirectly support the cause of kindness towards the brute creation. The dullest peasant cannot mistake the sense of such a story as the "Well Done and Ill Paid" of the Norse Tales (No. 38), in which the man behaves so ungratefully to the fox which has saved him from a bear, or the Russian story which tells how "old kindness is forgotten" (Afanasief, iii., No. 24). The latter tale is almost identical with that of "The Brahman, the Tiger, and the Six Judges"' in Miss Frere's "Old Deccan Days," which is the same in all but a few details as the old Indian story (Benfey's "Panchatantra," i. 113) of the crocodile which induced a Brahman to carry it in a sack to Benares, in order that it might live in the holy Ganges. At the end of the journey it was about to devour its benefactor, when he appealed for sympathy to a mango-tree and an old cow. The mango replied that men were accustomed to destroy trees after having derived benefit from their shade and fruit. The cow said that now it could be no longer of use to men, they had abandoned it to the beasts of prey. Fortunately for the Brahman, a fox came up which persuaded the crocodile to go back into the bag, whereupon it was killed by the man and eaten by the fox. In the Russian variant, the man who has been rescued from death by the fox finally hit it over the head and beat it to death, saying the while, "Old kindness is forgotten." In many of the Indian stories of this kind, a warning against man's ingratitude is given in a very straightforward manner. A hunter, says one of them, took refuge from the wrath of a tiger in a tree, and was hospitably entertained by a monkey which had its home there. In the course of the night, while the man was asleep, the tiger came and asked the monkey to throw him down. The monkey refused, in spite of the tiger' s warning that his guest, being a man, would be sure to do him an injury. Later on the tiger came back and found the man awake, and easily persuaded him to throw down the sleeping monkey. But the monkey escaped, and next morning went forth to seek a breakfast for his guest. The man availed himself of its absence to kill its entire family. On its return the monkey was grieved but not angered, and proceeded to show its guest the way out of the forest. When they reached the open country, the man killed the monkey and set out homewards. Before he got there, however, he fell into a hole, and so right through into hell. Meantime the monkey was carried up into heaven, where it found its family restored to life. In one of the sacred books of Tibet ("Kahgyur," vol. iv., f. 212), the hunter who rescues from a hole into which they have fallen a lion, a snake, a mouse, and a hawk, is expressly warned by the lion not to have anything to do with a woodcutter who is also in the same place of captivity. "I shall be grateful to you," it says, "but do not draw up that black-haired forgetter of kindness received." In spite of that warning the hunter rescues the woodcutter, and suffers accordingly. The story occurs also in the "Panchatantra," and from the work of which the "Panchatantra" is the Indian representative it passed towards the middle of the eighth century into the Syriac and Arabic "Kalilah and Dimnah," and thence in the eleventh century through Symeon Seth's Greek translation, and in the thirteenth century through the Latin translation (from a Hebrew version) of Joannes of Capua, it made its way into the literature of Europe.

Among ourselves the best-known story of the kind is that of Whittington's cat, which offers an interesting illustration of the manner in which fictitious events are connected with the career of a real person. According to the chap-book legend, young Whittington purchased a cat with the only penny he possessed in the world, not out of pity, but with the sensible view of keeping down the rats and mice by which he was annoyed in his garret. The cat, being sent out as a venture in one of his master's ships, fetched a high price in Barbary, where rats and mice were rife but cats were unknown, and so laid the foundation of his fortunes. Sir Richard Whittington's biographers have made a touching stand in defence of the authenticity of this highly improbable story. Dr. Lysons refused to yield a jot to the argument that, as the tale had been told over and over again in many lands, and had been known in Persia before Whittington was born, therefore the author of the legendary life of his hero probably borrowed the incident. He even held that "the very fact of the story being so widely spread goes to prove that it has some foundation of reality." Mr. Besant, in the bright and graphic memoir of Whittington which he contributed to the New Plutarch," after justly dismissing Mr. Riley's "ingenious" suggestions as to "cat" being a corruption of achat, a purchase, or a term meaning a collier, goes on to argue in favor of the credibility of the story on the following grounds. There used to exist in the Mercers' Hall a portrait of Whittington, dated 1536, in which a black and white cat figured at his left hand. A still existing portrait by Reginald Elstrack, who flourished about 1590, represents him with his hand resting on a cat. The story is told that the hand originally rested on a skull, but that in deference to public opinion a cat was substituted, which proves that the legend or the history had been by that time completely spread. That is also proved by a reference to the cat legend in Heywood's "If You know not Me," and by another in Beaumont and Fletcher's "Knight of the Burning Pestle." Newgate gaol was rebuilt by Whittington's executors, and his statue, with a cat at his feet, is said to have been set up on the gate, and to have remained there till the fire of 1666. Moreover a piece of plate, on which figured "heraldic cats," was presented to the Mercers' Company in 1672; and in the house at Gloucester which the Whittingtons occupied till 1560, there was dug up a stone, when repairs were being made in 1862, "on which, in basso rilievo, is represented the figure of a boy carrying in his arms a cat. The workmanship appears to be of the fifteenth century."

This is all that can be said in favor of the legend. Against it, besides its inherent improbability, may be called as witnesses various folk-tales, which at least suggest that the story is one, of the commonplaces of popular fiction, capable of being associated with any historical or fictitious personage. In the German "Three Luck Children"(Grimm, No. 70), the story becomes farcical. The cat, after being bartered for a mule laden with gold, frightens its new proprietors so greatly by its mewing that they attempt to rid themselves of it by means of artillery, whereby they destroy the royal palace. The Whittington's cat story is told of a citizen of Venice by Albertus of Stade, who wrote his chronicle about a hundred years before Whittington was born[5]. A poor man, he says, who possessed nothing but two cats, entrusted them to a rich merchant, who happened to visit a mouse-plagued land. There he sold the cats at a high price (vendidit catos pro magna pecunia), and brought home much wealth to his poor fellow-citizen. The Norse story of "The Honest Penny" ("Tales from the Fjeld," p. 22), is told at much greater length, approaching very closely in form to the variants current in eastern Europe. From Sicily come two highly religious specimens of the tale. In one (Pitré, No. 116), St. Michael the archangel protects a youth in many ways. Among other things, the saint tells him to procure a ship-load of cats from a king. The king issues an order that "all persons who possess cats shall bring them to the king's palace." Having obtained his feline cargo, the youth sells it in a catless land for its weight in gold. In the other Sicilian variant St. Joseph is the supernatural protector, and a ship-load of gold is the price realized by the cats, but in other respects the two legends entirely agree. The Servian version (Vuk, No. 7) begins, like the Norwegian, with the account of a righteously earned coin, which the earner entrusts to a merchant, who with it ransoms a cat which boys are about to drown. After a time the merchant comes to a land where rats and mice sadly vex the inhabitants, who are obliged to shut themselves up at night in chests, for fear of their ears being gnawed off, and where a ship-load of gold and silver is gladly given in exchange for the cat. in Afanasief's collection of Russian folk-tales the story occurs twice. "The Three Kopeks" (v., No. 32), opens in the same way as the Norwegian and Servian variants. A workman at the end of a year accepts from his master only one small coin. This he tests by throwing it into a river, saying, "If I have served truly and faithfully, then my kopek will not sink." It does sink, and he recommences his labors. At the end of the second year the coin which represents his wages sinks also. But when the third year has gone by, and he has a third time thrown a kopek into the river, all three coins rise to the surface of the water. With one of them he purchases a cat, which is eventually bartered for three ships. The other story, that of "The Wise Wife" (vii. 22), is one of the most remarkable of all the variants of the tale. A youngest son of feeble intellect purchased a dog and a cat with the money his father had left him, and set out to seek his fortune. Meeting some merchants, he entrusted to them his cat, which they carried to a land where no one had ever seen a cat, but rats and mice were as plentiful as grass in a field. The chief merchant was invited one day to the house of a commercial man, who made him drunk and left him to spend the night in a barn, saying to himself, "Let the rats eat him up, and we shall get his wealth for nothing." Fortunately the cat had followed the merchant, from whom it could not bear to be absent. So when the rats arrived they suffered greatly. The host looked in next morning, and found to his great surprise that "the merchant was not a bit the worse, and the cat was finishing the last rat." He straightway purchased it for six barrels of gold. The merchant returned home and handed over to the youth his share of the money. "What shall I do with it?" thought the young man. At length an idea occurred to him. Wandering through towns and villages, he distributed two-thirds of his money among the poor. With the remainder "he bought incense, piled it up a field, and set it alight. As it burnt, the odor thereof went up to God in heaven. Suddenly an angel appeared, saying, "The Lord has ordered me to ask you what you would like to have." "I don't know," answered the fool. Unable to decide for himself, the youth was at length instructed by an old man as to what he should ask for. "If riches are given to you, you will probably forget God," said the greybeard. "Better ask for a wise wife." The youth did so, and was made happy forever.

In this story we are carried far away from Sir Richard Whittington and the thrice-gained mayoralty of London town. The "natural" who spends a fortune on almsgiving and incense-burning is a very different being from the practical mercer of our own land; so impulsive and altogether untradesmanlike a speculator was much more likely to be indebted for the foundation of his fortune to a bartered cat than the practical Englishman whose real success has been associated by tradition with a probably fictitious feline friendship. We can scarcely hope that any new evidence will be found in support of the Whittington legend. But it is very probable that fresh variants of the story of his cat will be discovered in Eastern lands, all tending to preach the same doctrine — that it is right to show kindness to animals, and that he who saves the life of even a cat shall not go unrewarded. The same lesson is taught also by the "Puss in Boots" tale, when it appears in its complete form, with the warning appended thereunto that of all animals man is the most ungrateful. And thus Whittington's cat and the booted cat may fairly claim the right of standing side by side amid the ranks of the great moral instructors of the world.

There remains to be told but one more cat story of importance. It claims to be of recent date, and it conveys the useful moral that they who attempt to benefit their fellow-men must be prepared for frequent disappointments. A few years ago, if newspaper reports may be believed, a ship was sent to the colony of Tristan d'Acunha with a score of cats on board. These animals were a present from the lords of the admiralty, to whom it had been reported that the island was mouse-ridden. When the vessel arrived the governor of the colony begged that the cats might be kept on board. It was quite true, he explained, that the island was infested by mice, but it was also overrun by cats. And in Tristan d'Acunha cats, in consequence of some strange climatic influence, always abandoned mousing, a fact which accounted for the abnormal development of the mouse population. So that a gift of cats to Tristan d'Acunha was even less likely to be welcome than a present of "owls to Athens."


  1. ^  Quoted by Dr. Reinhold Köhler in his exhaustive note to Gonzenbach's Sicilian tale of "Conte Piro."
  2. ^  Quoted by M. Charles Deulin in his excellent work, "Les Contes de ma Mère L'Oye avant Perrault" (Paris, 1879), who refers to the Revue des Langues Romanes, vol. iii., p 396.
  3. ^  Awarische Texte. St. Petersburg, 1873, pp. 53-59.
  4. ^  Zoological Mythology, ii. 58.
  5. ^ He is supposed to have been made abbot of the monastery at Stade in 1240. His Chronicon Universale was not published till 1587, and the cat story may be an interpolation.