BtC 21/22. The End of the Book

Previously on Beware the Cat: Mr Streamer has entertained his friends with a story about he gained superhuman hearing, discovered an assembly of cats and listened to a series of stories from Mouseslayer the cat.

https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/category/beware-the-cat/

Layer 1: framing narrative spoken by Baldwin

We finish with a moral. Baldwin has apparently forgotten about the original argument and instead focuses on a key lesson from Mouseslayer: cats see what we do, can understand what we say and tell all the other cats about it. As a consequence he says:

I would council all men to take heed of wickedness, and eschew secret sins and privy mischievous counsels, left, to their shame, all the world at length do hear of it. But if any man does put away his cat, then shall his so doing testify his secret naughty living, which he is more ashamed his cat should see than God and his angels, which see, mark, and behold all men’s closet doings.

Well it is his story but he does seem to have wandered off topic.

The main thing, it seems, is to live a life that your own cat won’t be ashamed of. Which is a good moral so long as you have a good cat.

This is the final part of the book. There will be one more post to conclude the series.

AN EXHORTATION.

I KNOW these things will seem marvellous to many men that cats should understand and speak, have a government among themselves and be obedient to their laws; and were it not for the approved authority of the ecstatically author of whom I heard it, I should myself be as doubtful as they. Yet seeing that I know the place and the persons with whom he talked of these matters before he experienced his wonderful and strange confessions, I am the less doubtful of the truth.

Seeing that Mr Streamer has in his oration proved that cats do understand us and mark our secret doings, and so declare them among themselves that through help of the medicine by him described any man may, as he did, understand them. I would council all men to take heed of wickedness, and eschew secret sins and privy mischievous counsels, left, to their shame, all the world at length do hear of it. But if any man does put away his cat, then shall his so doing testify his secret naughty living, which he is more ashamed his cat should see than God and his angels, which see, mark, and behold all men’s closet doings.

That we may take profit by this declaration of Master Streamers, let us so live, both openly and private, that neither our own cat, admitted to all our secrets, be able to declare aught of us to the world save what is laudable and honest ; nor the devils cat, which, will we or nil we, sees and writes all our ill doings here, ought to lay against us afore the face of God, who, not only with shame, but with everlasting torments, will punish all sin and wickedness. And ever when you go about anything call to mind this proverb, “Beware the Cat,” not to tie up thy cat till those have done, but to see that neither your own nor the devils cat, which cannot be tied up, find anything there in to accuse you of shame.

Thus doing, you cannot do amiss, but shall have such good report through the cats declamation, that you shall in memory of Mr Streamer’s oration labour, who gives you this warning, sing unto God this hymn of his making.

THE HYMN.

WHO gives wit to whales, to apes, to owls,
And kindly speech, to fish, to flesh, to fowls;
And spirits to men in soul and body clean,
To mark and know what other creatures mean.

Which hast given grace to Gregory, no pope,
No king, no lord, whose treasures are this hope,
But silly priest, which like a Streamer waves,
In ghostly good despised of foolish knaves.

Which have, I say, given grace to him to know
The course of things above and here below;
With skill so great in languages and tongues,
As never breathed from Mithridates lungs.

To whom the hunter of birds, of mice, and rats,
Did squeak as plain as Kate that thomneth hats,
By mean of whom is openly bewraid
Such things as closely were both done and said.

To him grant, Lord, with healthy wealth and rest,
Long life to us to unload his learned breast ;
With fame so great to ever live his grave,
As none had erst nor any after have.

FINIS.

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3 comments

  1. Mark

    Well, I’m not going to pretend I’ve understood what the story is really all about, but it’s been fascinating.

    I rather think Baldwin’s stories about a woman pushed into infidelity, and the females cats required to mate (up to a kindly limit of 10 per night!?!), are in there as a condemnation of the pressure, not of the women, although it’s pretty hard to tell for sure. There’s much historical context that I don’t have.

    The use of the cats as a final metaphor for realising that your sins are known and seen by someone was a surprising move to me – I didn’t realise that was where he was going. Simplistically it could be intended as a satire on Catholic views on confession – the idea that god is watching you and will deal out individual punishment gets reduced to a vengeful cat biting you in the groin!

    The story of Grimalkin being dead seems to have been abandoned, apart from a small mention that the Parliament of Cats on the rooftop are aware of it. I wonder if the death of Grimalkin being in Ireland is meant to have a significance in the Catholic/Protestant element, what with Ireland remaining staunchly Catholic.

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    • camestrosfelapton

      I’d think at that point in time its more Ireland being wild and superstitious (literally beyond the pale). All the regions (except maybe Scotland) would have been more Catholic. I was reading that around the time the book was written there had been a pro-Catholic uprising in the South-West. The North England (particularly the North West) maintained strong Catholic ties also. So I don’t know if the simple coding of Ireland=Catholic was fully formed at that point or whether that only came later in Elizabethan times.

      Grimalkin gets a mention in Shakespeare (a witches familiar in Macbeth). Like you, the start of the story felt like we would read further back into the story of Grimalkin queen of cats…but no 😦

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  2. KR

    After a couple of very busy weeks, I’ve now settled in to read the whole thing at a straight shot. Thank you CF for taking the time to format and share the story and to add your hilarious asides. I always harbored doubts about Islington myself; I lived in Finchley for a year and the Angel station was perpetually closed. They said they were renovating but it always felt a little sinister as the Tube sped up while passing through ….

    Anyway, a few random historico-contextual asides to throw into the group discussion. This text seems to have been generated at the time of the European discovery of the New World which, of course, destabilized and decentered everything. As I was reading this story, I was reminded of the debates that start taking place over the nature of Amerindians: are the newly-discovered (and not in the Bible) indigenous people humans? Are those comprehensible languages? Do they have access to reason? Can they be Christianized? Are they subjects of the Crown? And they be legally enslaved? These debates overlapped with 1) the spread of print as a medium to inform and entertain, 2) the Reformation, and 3) early stages of global expansion of European empires. Not coincidentally, Thomas More set Utopia on an island in the New World and Machiavelli’s The Prince is thought to be modeled after Ferdinand of Aragon. It seems like this was generated around the same time as Utopia?

    The atrocities committed by the Spaniards in America were converted into an effective propaganda mechanism by Dutch and English Protestants in what came to be known as The Black Legend. The Catholics were the violent, superstitious, backward priest-ridden conquerers; Protestants were rational, pacific, civilizing colonizers. In this tale, I can see elements of those tropes starting to take shape. Even some of the kinds of imagery like hanging up bodies, boiling and eating flesh, drinking blood are all taken directly from some of the early accounts of the New World — a renaissance-inflected blend of Aztecs, anti-Catholicism, anti-Semitism and Tupi cannibalism. Although the contours of the polemic started taking shape as early as 1511, the Spanish Crown formally sponsored something known as The Great Debate at Valladolid 1550-51 to discuss their right to enslave indigenous people which turned on, among other things, their access to reason and how to measure it (do they have government, laws, markets, marriage, etc). The protagonists were Bartolomé de las Casas, a Dominican priest (no) and Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, humanist scholar from Salamanca (yes) who invoked Aquinas’ theory of a just war, and Aristotle’s theory of natural slavery. I thought of all this Black Legend stuff as I was bewaring the cat.

    Related to the above, the historian Nicholas Canny has an argument that the British subjugation of Ireland used the Spanish model of conquest, and then its Irish experience, in turn, becomes the model and staging ground for British expansion across the Atlantic to the Caribbean and the Thirteen Colonies. The wild Irish would fit in to that formulation.

    Also. Ignatius J. Reilly = awesome. Thanks again for the annotated entertainment.

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