Caturday: Animals in War
Elephants. Dogs. Messenger pigeons. Even the faithful steed, Equus ferus caballus. For centuries animals such as these have helped man in their struggle to maim and kill other men. But a less-well-known contributor is Felis catus; the following anecdote illustrates the non-lethal use of this weapon:
“I had not been many Hours in Bed, but comes the Footman of the Gentleman who entertain’d us, to my Door with a Challenge for affronting him for his Civility, by Spewing into his Punch-bowl. I sent him Word I Would not fail to meet him at the Time and Place appointed, God willing; so put on a clean Shirt, and equipped my self for the Adventure. But considering I had a Man of Fortitude to deal with, and one that would face any thing upon Earth, except a Cat which he hated much more than he did the fight of the Devil; I therefore thought Policy beyond Strength* against such an Adversary, so resolv’d to set my Wits on work to prevent Bloodshed and fortunately having a Cat in my Chamber that had not Kitten’d above a Week I took the whole Progeny out of the Nest, which consisted of half a Dozen, puts three into one Coat-pocket, and three into t’other, and away I march’d behind Southampton-Wall to meet my Antagonist; where I waited but a few Minutes e’er he approach’d the Place in a great Fury; I argu’d the Matter reasonably with him, but found nothing would attone for the Affront but downright Fighting, so stepping a few Paces back he gave me the Word and draws. I instead of applying my Hands to my Sword, apply’d them to my safer Ammunition the Kittens, and fortifies each Fist with a young Mrs. Evans; I grip’d ’em hard to make ’em Mew, that the Onset might be the more terrible; no sooner did he set his Eyes upon his little squawling Adversaries, but away he scower’d, as if a Legion of Devils had been in pursuit of him. I after him, tossing now and then one of my Hand-Granadoes at him, but took care to pick them up again, lest my Ammunition would be spent. Who would follow me into the Fields at a Pittance by the Scent, but the old one, in quest of her young, who by this time came up with us, and seeing her hopeful Issue thus terribly abus’d, she flew about like a Fury; at first he only travers’d his Ground at a little distance, but when he saw the Mother of the Family come cocking her Tail, whetting her Talons, and staring worse than a dead Pig, he ran outright to Totnam-Court, as if Vengeance had pursued him, took Sanctuary at Inman’s since which Retreat I have nor yet seen him; but for Self-preservation, which you know is Nature’s Law, I have ever since walk’d arm’d with a Brace of Kittens in my Pocket, for fear of farther Danger”
The Works of Mr. Thomas Brown: Letters from the dead to the living and from the living to the dead, v2 (1720), 235-236.
* Note the contrast of policy with strength – a dichotomy that will play a big part of my book on battle.