The Victorian Age has long been known for it's rigidity, formalness, and dedication to propriety. Perhaps that is why they needed cats to much -- so that they could let loose vicariously. Of course there was also no television or radio at the time and cats are very entertaining. I suppose that is the reason that one man to try to decipher the language of pussy cats which he produced for the world in a sort of dictionary.

Victorian Girl with Her Cat
Victorian Girl with Her Cat

Image via Cat Wisdom 101

The slim volume, which is really more like a pamphlet, is also somewhat autobiographical for Marvin R. Clark who created the book. He was not an author so Alphonse Leon Grimaldi did the actual writing. The book, "Pussy and Her Language," was self- published in 1895 so chances are you have never hear or Mr. Clark, Mr. Grimaldi, or their tiny 150-page tome.

The purpose of the book was to educate cat owners on how their should treat their precious pusses and how to understand the sounds that they make. His claimed intention of the book was "to give 'one out of a million Cats' a good name." Clark was a huge cat lover at a time when cats were often viewed as nothing more than moody and sly working animals who looked quite nice curled up by the fire.

Victorian Cats
Victorian Cats

Image via The Victorian Life

According to the primal order of speech and the manner of the construction of sentences in the Cat language, you will hear such utterances as these: ‘Milk give me,’ ‘Meat I want,’ ‘Mary I love,’ ‘Going out, my mistress?’ ‘Sick I am,’ ‘Happy are my babies,'”

The volume is a bit strange though. It turns out that the aforesaid Mr. Grimaldi was apparently either a figment of Clark's imagination or his alternate personality. He claimed that Grimaldi was supposed to be a famous French naturalist and Clark included a veritable alphabet after his name. It seems that Clark's desire to be recognized in the field caused him to "invent" the scientific facts he states as well as the scientists he claims he got them from. Or so I thought at first.

“Your Noah Webster, who padded your dictionary in order to make a formidable book, like many another man, says that animals are not possessed of reasoning powers, but have only instinct. […] This is your American authority, and you must accept it, for you have adopted the dictionary. By this definition, and with only one question, I will prove to you that animals have reasoning powers, just as men have.”

After perusing more selected quotes from the book and plowing past much of the prim and staid Victorian-era verbiage it finally started to dawn on me, a bit belatedly, that the book was most certainly a rather clever work of humor and Clark a very kindred spirit. Eventually I even found myself laughing out loud.

This explained why, when I reviewed a sample list of words from the cat language, there was not a single word that my cat has ever said to me and she is very vocal. I was even beginning to wonder if she had any sort of feline speech impediment. He even included information on cat non-verbal communication which is something I sometimes have to remind my cat to do when she is meowing at me. I have to remind her that I am only human and therefore stupid.

A Page from "Pussy and Her Language"
A Page from "Pussy and Her Language"

Public Domain Image

Clark claimed that cats, acting as spies, could undo Washington, D.C., completely, and that Napoleon's hatred of a cat was what caused him to take his wrath out on Austria and Russia. He also made the claim that just about every wonderful person from Shakespeare to the Lord Mayor of London himself was a cat lover.

For your entertainment and edification I shall share several quotes below:

“In the city of Paris, France, is a very extensive establishment called Hospice du Chats, whose name is an indication of its object… this building, covering a very large space of land, is two stories in height and expensively built for the exclusive purpose of sheltering the Cats of France… rooms are assigned to the sexes and different nationalities, halls and chambers are warmed by steam, meals are served with religious regularity, and the institution is run with the same regard to decorum and preciseness in every detail as is manifested in a well-regulated hotel.”

(We're still working on the dream.)

Victorian Girl and Her Cat
Victorian Girl and Her Cat

Image via lisak

The disposition of the Cat to mouth her words has given the impression to many who have studied her utterances to conclude that most, if not all of her words begin with the sound of the letter ‘m,’ and this is an error which cost me months of wasted time.”

(This will happen with an incorrect hypothesis at the beginning of pseudo-empirical research.)

Victorian Cats
Victorian Cats

Public Domain Image

According to the primal order of speech and the manner of the construction of sentences in the Cat language, you will hear such utterances as these: ‘Milk give me,’ ‘Meat I want,’ ‘Mary I love,’ ‘Going out, my mistress?’ ‘Sick I am,’ ‘Happy are my babies.’

(Little Yodas they are.)

“There is the language of the ear, the tail, the limb, the body, the facial, including the mouth, the nose, the eye, the brow, the chin, the lip and the whiskers, the motion of the whole and the significant general appearance, as in the carriage while in motion, and the form when at rest.”

(Are we really talking non-verbal communication or taking inventory?)

“I do not know of any sounds more soothing to the nerves of man as musical, or as musically correct in rhythm, intonation or melody, as the song of the Cat when at peace with all the world.”

(Except when they are hungry and you still have an hour before the alarm goes off.)

Victorian Cat
Victorian Cat

Public Domain Image

I you would like to peruse the pages of Clark's work for yourself, click here. If you would like to own a copy of the book, click here.

Clark may not be a great author when all is said and done, but he certainly did well enough to have people talking about his book more than a century after it was published. If I have misjudged Mr. Clark's intent in the publication of his book and it was really meant to somehow be serious I do readily apologize. On the other hand I am a pretty good judge of the location of a tongue when in cheek, having spent much of my life in that position. I am also really good at communication with those of the cat persuasion. My dear little furry feline is  currently telling me that it is time for me to knock off all of this writing nonsense and pay attention to her. The most often used and noticeably missing word from Clark's dictionary is "NOW!!!"

Sources: Atlas Obscura, cultrface

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