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vos genoux, et reposoit sur votre couche; où cette Zémire,* aujourd'hui si ardente à nous chasser de chez vous, et qui entre en fureur au seul mot de chat, faisoit humblement sa cour au favori dont elle occupe aujourd'hui la place. Alors nous marchions la queue levée dans toute la maison. Feu M. Pompon daignoit quelquefois partager avec le dernier d'entre nous les lapins que Sa Majesté lui envoyoit de sa chasse, et à l'ombre du crédit de cet illustre favori nous jouissions de quelque paix et de quelque bonheur. Cet heureux tems n'est plus ! Nous vivons sous un règne de chien, et nous regrettons sans cesse le chat, sous l'empire duquel nous avons coulé de si beaux jours! Aussi allons-nous toutes les nuits arroser de nos pleurs le pied du cyprès que couvre sa tombe.
Ah! très-illustre Dame, que le souvenir du chat que vous avez tant aimé, vous touche au moins de quelque pitié pour nous. Nous ne sommes pas à la vérité de sa race, puisqu'il fut voué dès sa jeunesse à la chasteté ; mais nous sommes de son espèce. Ses mânes, errans encore dans ces lieux, vous demandent la révocation de l'ordre sanguinaire qui menace nos jours; nous emploierons tous ceux que vous conserverez à vous miauler notre vive reconnoissance, et nous la transmettrons aux cœurs de nos enfans et des enfans de nos enfans.
AN HUMBLE PETITION, PRESENTED TO MADAME
MOST ILLUSTRIOUS AND EXCELLENT LADY,
A terrible piece of news has just reached us, to interrupt the happiness we enjoyed in your poultry-yard and wood-yard. We learn that, in consequence of certain calumnious representations on the part of our enemies, your Abbés,* a sentence of proscription has been issued against us, and that by means of a diabolical invention we are all to be seized, put into a cask, rolled down to the river, and abandoned to the mercy of the waters. At the moment in which we are drawing up this our humble request, we hear the strokes of the hammer and hatchet from the hands of your coachman, who is employed to frame the instrument of our destruction.
But, most illustrious Lady, shall we be condemned without being heard? and shall we be the only creatures among so many fed and nourished by you, who do not find your bosom alive to justice and compassion? We see your beneficent hand every day feeding two or three hundred chickens, as many canary-birds, pigeons without number, all the sparrows of the neighbourhood, all the blackbirds of the Wood of Boulogne, nay, even the very dogs of your domain; and shall we alone not only cease to experience the effects of your beneficence, but, what is more terrible to think of, become the objects of a cruelty wholly foreign to your nature, and never exercised but towards us? No, the natural goodness of your heart will recall in you sentiments more worthy of your catology.
Alas! what are the crimes that we have committed! We are accused to what lengths will not calumny transport the heart! we are accused of eating your chickens while they are still young, of making depredations from time to time upon your pigeons, of watching your canary-birds incessantly, and seizing any that come near enough to the lattice of your aviary, and of suffering the mice to infest your house unmolested.
But are imputed crimes sufficient to render any one guilty? These horrible accusations we can easily repel. In the first place, it must be observed, that they do not rest upon any proofs. Granted that the feet of some pigeons, or the feathers of some chickens, may
*The Abbés Morellet and La Roche.
be produced; can these be admitted as evidence before any tribunal upon earth? Great crimes are, besides, the consequences of great misery and want, and we receive every day from you, to the number of eighteen cats, of which our troop consists, abundant means of subsistence; nothing is wanting to us. And can we be supposed to scratch the hand by which we are nourished? Have you not, more than once, with your own eyes, seen your chickens come and eat off the same dish with us, without the least hostile movement on our part? And if you are told that we never eat the chickens when conscious that we are observed, that it is by night our murders are committed, we answer, that it is our calumniators who hide themselves under the veil of darkness to frame their cruel plots against This we may the rather say, since they are reduced to impute to us nocturnal crimes, which are contradicted by our conduct throughout the day.
But, say our enemies, the poultry-yard of our most illustrious lady is maintained at an expense of twenty-five louis annually, while, of two or three hundred chickens reared there, she never eats more than fifty; so that, from her great economy, they cost her only twelve livres each; what then becomes of the rest?
We will ask, in the first place, were the chickens numbered and consigned to our care, and are we answerable for them? Surrounded by so many destructive beings, by mankind in particular, who are firmly persuaded that chickens were only created to be eaten by them, is it on us that the first suspicion can with justice fall? Every Sunday, at the gate of the Wood of Boulogne, and in the public houses of Auteuil, a hundred fricassees are served up; is it not probable that some of your chickens may have glided gently in among them? and certainly it is not by us that they are remitted to the innkeepers. After all, Madam, without wishing to become the apologists of chicken-stealers, let us be permitted to observe, that whatever may be the causes which occasion the diminution complained of in your stock of poultry, they are in the order of nature, and produce a salutary effect to yourself, since they restrain within due bounds the multiplication of this species, which, if suffered to go on unrestrained, would soon convert your whole house into a receptacle for chickens, and reduce you to going without a shift, that no limits may be placed to the number of your fowls.
As to the pigeons, it must be allowed that several of the children of Coco* have disappeared; but you must not permit your tenderness
* A favorite tame pigeon of Madame Helvetius, to which she had given that name.
for him, which goes so far as to suffer him to break your china, provided he will condescend to eat out of your hand, to render you unjust towards us. Where is the proof that we have ever eaten any of his children? or do we and his species ever approach each other? Always keeping upon the roofs of the houses at a distance from us, do they not manifest a distrust of us, at which we have just reason to be offended? Let the whole wood-yard be examined next spring, and if any traces of murder be discovered, we will be among the most forward in endeavouring to detect the malefactors, and give them up to justice. But the pigeons are not like us poor humble cats, confined to the soil where we were born; they can fly in the air to another country; those whom you miss, jealous no doubt of the preference shown by you to some over the rest, have taken their flight in search of equality, to some republican dove-cote, rather than drag on a painful existence under the insolent tyranny of your favorite Coco.
The accusation brought against us with regard to the canarybirds, you must see yourself is wholly absurd, and a gross imposture. The intervals in the lattice of your aviary are so narrow, that when sometimes we have in sport endeavoured to thrust a paw through them, it was not without the utmost difficulty that we could withdraw it again. It is true, that we sometimes amuse ourselves with watching the little innocent sports of these pretty creatures, but we cannot reproach ourselves with having ever shed a drop of their blood.
We shall not endeavour to defend ourselves equally from devouring as many sparrows, blackbirds, and thrushes, as we can possibly catch. But here we have to plead in extenuation, that our most cruel enemies, your Abbés themselves, are incessantly complaining of the ravages made by these birds among the cherries and other fruit. The Sieur Abbé Morellet, in particular, is always thundering the most violent anathemas against the blackbirds and thrushes, for plundering your vines, which they do with as little mercy as he himself. To us, however, most illustrious Lady, it appears that the grapes may just as well be eaten by blackbirds as by Abbés, and that our warfare against the winged plunderers will be fruitless, if you encourage other biped and featherless pilferers, who make ten times more havoc.
We know that we are also accused of eating nightingales, who never plunder, and sing, as they say, most enchantingly. It is indeed possible that we may now and then have gratified our palates with a delicious morsel in this way, but we can assure you that it was in utter ignorance of your affection for the species; and that,
resembling sparrows in their plumage, we, who make no pretensions to being connoisseurs in music, could not distinguish the song of the one from that of the other, and therefore supposed ourselves regaling only on sparrows A cat belonging to M. Piccini has assured us, that they who only know how to mew, cannot be any judges of the art of singing; and on this we rest for our justification. However, we will henceforward exert our utmost endeavours to distinguish the Gluckists, who are, as we are informed, the sparrows, from the Piccinists, who are the nightingales. We only intreat of you to pardon the inadvertence into which we may possibly fall, if, in roving after nests, we may sometimes fall upon a brood of Piccinists, who, being then destitute of plumage, and not having learnt to sing, will have no mark by which to distinguish them.
The last imputation we are called upon to repel, most illustrious Lady, is that of suffering your house to be infested with such a quantity of mice. They make terrible havoc, it is said, with your sugar and sweetmeats; they gnaw the books of your savans, and even nibble the slippers of Mademoiselle Luillier, ‡ as she is walking. It is urged, that cats, being created by Providence (who watches with equal goodness over all his creatures) for no other purpose but to eat mice, deserve nothing better when they fail in the object of their vocation, than to be drowned.
Certainly, most illustrious Lady, it is easy to discover in this language, the influence of personal interest in the mouths of our accusers. The Sieur Cabanis, who makes an enormous consumption of sweetmeats in your house, and who is always ready to steal a lump of sugar when he thinks he can do it unobserved, has certainly very good reasons for making you consider the gourmandise of a few mice, who nibble a loaf of sugar, or begin eating a pot of jelly before him, as a capital crime; but he shows a mind still more atrocious than interested, when he would condemn us as meriting death because we do not prevent the little animals availing themselves, to the best of their power, of a system of spoliations which he himself, great as he is, practises every day without discretion and without remorse. Could he carry his barbarity towards us further, if we were, like the mice and himself, sugarivorous and sweetmeativorous animals? Is it not manifest, that gourmandise alone inspires him
* An Italian composer.
The admirers of Gluck, a German composer.
An old waiting-maid of Madame Helvetius.
§ A friend of Madame Helvetius, who lived in her house.