Monday, 31 January 2011

On Cats

Some people are cat people, but some people are not. The biographer of Canon Henry Liddon tells how a small niece (whose family lived with Liddon) was once asked by Bishop Jackson on what he talked about. "Cats", she replied. "Oh yes, we all know Canon Liddon's affection for cats", said the Bishop, "but he can't talk every night and all night about cats. What does he talk about when he is not talking about cats?" "Bishops", replied the small niece.

The book "Leader's of the Church: 1800-1900" tells us that "Liddon's domestic affections were concentrated on cats, which he cherished with an eager but discriminating devotion. His niece writes 'As soon as he arrived on a visit to us, he sent for the parrot to sit in his room while he worked, and tried to bribe the dog of the house to do the same.'"

Henry Parry Liddon (20 August 1829 - 9 September 1890) was an English theologian, and was born at North Stoneham, in Hampshire, being the eldest son of Captain Matthew Liddon, R.N.. He was a literalist, taking the line in his his Bampton Lectures of 1866 that since Jesus believed Moses to be the author of the Pentateuch, David to have written Psalm 110 and Jonah to have lived in the fish, that Christians should do so to.

But clearly some of his views changed. On evolution, in 1882, he said that: "It may be admitted that when Professor Darwin's books on the ' Origin of Species' and on the ' Descent of Man' first appeared they were largely regarded by religious men as containing a theory necessarily hostile to fundamental truths of religion. A closer study has greatly modified any such impression. It is seen that whether the creative activity of God is manifested through catastrophes, as the phrase goes, or in progressive evolution, it is still His creative activity, and the really great questions behind remain untouched."

In 1867 Charles Dodgson, (alias Lewis Carroll) went on a tour to Russia with Henry Liddon. It has been suggested that Liddon was the basis for the Mock Turtle as he was a tutor at Oxford at the same time as Dodgson was there. Liddon also suggested the title "Through the Looking-Glass" for the sequel, which originally was entitled "Behind the Looking-Glass"

He died at the height of his reputation, having nearly completed a biography of Pusey. In this year of his death,  here is an extract from the last sermon preached on Whitsunday, 1890, in which he ranges himself against the Whig interpretation of history as "progress", and warns the listener that there is no infallible rule of progress. In a little over two decades after his death, his words would prove prophetic as the First World War began, sweeping away the triumphalist attitude of his day:

It is natural to us to think that the days in which we live are wiser and better than any before, and that in throwing our thoughts without restraint into the main currents of the hour we are doing the best we can with our short span of life. And yet we might observe that many a past generation has cherished this notion of an absolute value attaching to the thought and temper of its day, while we, as we look back on it, with the aid of a larger experience, can see that it was the victim of an illusory enthusiasm. When we analyse the ingredients that go to make up the spirit of the time, of any one phase of time, and when we observe that, notwithstanding its stout assertions of a right to rule, it melts away before our very eyes like the fashions of a lady's dress, into shapes and moods which contradict, with equal self-confidence, its former self, we may hesitate before we listen to it as if it were a prophet, or make a fetish of it, as though it had within it a concealed divinity. The spirit of any generation may have, must have, in it some elements to recommend it; but assuredly it has also other and very different elements, and the question is whence do they come, and whither are they drifting? All that is moving, interesting, exciting in the world of ideas, in the successive conceptions of the meaning and purpose of life that flit across the mental sky, is not necessarily from, nor does it necessarily tend towards, the Source of good. The mere movement of the ages does not in itself imply a progress from lower to higher truth, from darkness to light; movement is possible in more directions than one.

In his obituary, he was described as "a brilliant story teller, one of the very best I have ever known. Indeed, he had a special gift in that direction, and would dramatize in a most effective way....His humour was a most refreshing, sparkling, surprising thing. It flowed freely, especially in the evenings".  And so to my other, and longer extract, from "The Expository Times", again written during his last year, which is a wonderfully light and chatty piece on cats.

On Cats by Canon Liddon
CATS are like oysters, in that no one is neutral about them ; every one is, explicitly or implicitly, friendly or hostile to them. And they are like children in their power of discovering, by a rapid and sure instinct, who likes them and who does not. It is difficult to win their affection ; and it is easy to forfeit what it is hard to win. But when given, their love, although less demonstrative, is more delicate and beautiful than that of a dog.
Who that is on really intimate terms with a cat has not watched its dismay at the signs of packing-up and leaving home ! We ourselves have known a cat who would recognise his master's footstep after a three months' absence, and come out to meet him in the hall, with tail erect, and purring all over as if to the very verge of bursting. And another cat we know, who comes up very morning between six and seven o'clock to wake his master, sits on the bed, and very gently feels first one eyelid and then the other with his paw. even an eye opens, but not till then, the cat sets up a loud purr, like the prayer of a fire-worshipper to the rising sun.
Those who say lightly that cats care only for places, and not for persons, should go to the Cat Show at the Crystal Palace, where they may see recognitions between cat and owner that will cure them of so shallow an opinion. When we were last there, one striking instance fell in our way. Cats greatly dislike these exhibitions ; a cat, as a rule, is like Queen Vashti, unwilling to be shown, even to the nobles, at the pleasure of an Ahasuerus. Shy, sensitive, wayward, and independent, a cat resents being -placed upon a cushion in a wire cage, and exposed to the unintelligent criticism, to say nothing of the fingers, of a mob of sightseers. One very eminent cat, belonging to the :Master's Common Room at Christ Church, Oxford, whose size and beauty have on several occasions entailed on him the hard necessity of attending a Cat Show, takes, it is said, three days to recover from the sense of humiliation and disgust which he feels, whether he gets a prize or not. On the occasion to which we refer, a row of distinguished cats were sitting, each on his cushion, with their backs turned to the sightseers, while their faces, when from time to time visible, were expressive of the deepest gloom and disgust. Presently two little girls pushed through the crowd to the cage of one of the largest of these cats, crying, "There's Dick !"Instantly the great cat turned round, his face transfigured with joy, purred loudly, and endeavoured to scratch open the front of the cage, that he might rejoin his little friends, who were with difficulty persuaded to leave him at the show.
No doubt, local attachment is a prominent feature of a cat's mind ; and a very good quality it is too. It, however, often gets cats into odd company, as it did those cats whom Baruch mentions as sitting upon the idols of Babylon, if not into serious misfortune. Under this head, our readers should study the story, given by M. Champfleury, of the French cure's cat, who was only induced to leave an old presbytery by being put into a bag and dipped in a pond.
This attachment to place is closely connected with a cat's fine power of accurate observation. When a piece of furniture has been moved from its accustomed place, all the cats in the house set themselves to examine the phenomenon, with a view to discovering, if possible, its reason. Cats are, we apprehend, inveterate Conservatives. This principle, rather than ill-nature or jealousy, explains their conduct on the arrival of a new companion. They, first of all, tentatively examine it; then, especially if it be a kitten, they all spit at and scratch it. Only after slow approaches and the lapse of three or four days is the new-comer received even provisionally into the circle of established cats ; but at the end of a month it is just as secure in its position as is the first Reform Bill in the British Constitution, or any aged peer in the House of Lords. This ready acceptance of accomplished facts illustrates that quality of sagacity in cats upon which M. Champfleury lays stress.
Cats are, however, sometimes strangely at fault. So was Madame Theophile, a red cat with a white breast, pink nose, and blue eyes, who was "on terms of the closest intimacy" with M. Theophile Gautier. When Madame first saw a parrot, she evidently took it for a green chicken, and was preparing to deal with it accordingly. She gradually made her approaches; and at last, with one bound, sprang upon the perch where the parrot was sitting. But the bird, without moving, addressed Madame in a deep bass voice, "As-tu déjeuné, Jacquot?" For this accomplishment the cat was wholly unprepared ; after all, it might be a man in disguise. The bird followed up its advantage by further questions "Et de quoi?" "Du roti du roi?" and as the cat retired in sheer terror, proceeded to quote French verses, which naturally and utterly completed Madame's discomfiture.