I hope you will not suspect me of making a bid for his
affection, when I remark that the Average Man loves the Obvious.
By consequence (for, like all unthinking creatures, the duffer’s
logical), by consequence, his attitude towards the Subtle, the
Elusive, when not an attitude of mere torpid indifference, is an
attitude of positive distrust and dislike.
Of this ignoble fact, pretty nearly everything—from the
popularity of beer and skittles, to the popularity of Mr. Hall
Caine’s novels ; from the general’s distaste for caviare, to the
general’s neglect of Mr. Henry James’s tales—pretty nearly every-
thing is a reminder. But, to go no further afield, for the moment,
than his own hearthrug, may I ask you to consider a little the
relative positions occupied in the Average Man’s regard by the
Dog and the Cat ?
The Average Man ostentatiously loves the Dog.
The Average Man, when he is not torpidly indifferent to that
princely animal, positively distrusts and dislikes the Cat.
I have used the epithet “princely” with intention, in speaking
of the near relative of the King of Beasts. The Cat is a Princess
of the Blood. Yes, my dear, always a Princess, though the
Average Man, with his unerring instinct for the malappropriate
word, sometimes names her Thomas. The Cat is always a
Princess, because everything nice in this world, everything fine,
sensitive, distinguished, everything beautiful, everything worth
while, is of essence Feminine, though it may be male by the
accident of sex ;—and that’s as true as gospel, let Mr. W. E.
Henley’s lusty young disciples shout their loudest in celebration
of the Virile.—The Cat is a Princess.
The Dog, on the contrary, is not even a gentleman. Far
otherwise. His admirers may do what they will to forget it, the
circumstance remains, writ large in every Natural History, that
the Dog is sprung from quite the meanest family of the Quad-
rupeds. That coward thief the wolf is his bastard brother ; the
carrion hyena is his cousin-german. And in his person, as in his
character, bears he not an hundred marks of his base descent ? In
his rough coat (contrast it with the silken mantle of the Cat) ; in
his harsh, monotonous voice (contrast it with the flexible organ of
the Cat, her versatile mewings, chirrupings, and purrings, and
their innumerable shades and modulations) ; in the stiff-jointed
clumsiness of his movements (compare them to the inexpressible
grace and suppleness of the Cat’s) ; briefly, in the all-pervading
plebeian commonness that hangs about him like an atmosphere
(compare it to the high-bred reserve and dignity that invest the
Cat). The wolf’s brother, is the Dog not himself a coward ?
Watch him when, emulating the ruffian who insults an un-
protected lady, he puts a Cat to flight in the streets : watch him
when the lady halts and turns. Faugh, the craven ! with his
wild show of savagery so long as there is not the slightest danger
—and his sudden chopfallen drawing back when the lady halts and
turns ! The hyena’s cousin, is he not himself of carrion an
impassioned amateur ? At Constantinople he serves ( ’tis a labour
of love ; he receives no stipend) he serves as Public Scavenger,
swallowing with greed the ordures cast by the Turk. Scripture
tells us to what he returneth : who has failed to observe that he
returneth not to his own alone ? And the other day, strolling
upon the sands by the illimitable sea, I came upon a friend and
her pet terrier. She was holding the little beggar by the scruff of
his neck, and giving him repeated sousings in a pool. I stood a
pleased spectator of this exercise, for the terrier kicked and
spluttered and appeared to be unhappy. “He found a decaying
jelly-fish below there, and rolled in it,” my friend pathetically
explained. I should like to see the Cat who could be induced to
roll in a decaying jelly-fish. The Cat’s fastidiousness, her
meticulous cleanliness, the time and the pains she bestows upon
her toilet, and her almost morbid delicacy about certain more
private errands, are among the material indications of her patrician
nature. It were needless to allude to the vile habits and impudicity
of the Dog.
Have you ever met a Dog who wasn’t a bounder ? Have you
ever met a Dog who wasn’t a bully, a sycophant, and a snob ?
Have you ever met a Cat who was ? Have you ever met a Cat
who would half frighten a timid little girl to death, by rushing at
her and barking ? Have you ever met a Cat who, left alone with
a visitor in your drawing-room, would truculently growl and show
her teeth, as often as that visitor ventured to stir in his chair ?
Have you ever met a Cat who would snarl and snap at the
servants, Mawster’s back being turned ? Have you ever met a
Cat who would cringe to you and fawn to you, and kiss the hand
that smote her ?
Conscious of her high lineage, the Cat understands and accepts
the responsibilities that attach to it. She knows what she owes to
herself, to her rank, to the Royal Idea. Therefore, it is you who
must be the courtier. The Dog, poor-spirited toady, will study
your eye to divine your mood, and slavishly adapt his own mood
and his behaviour to it. Not so the Cat. As between you and
her, it is you who must do the toadying. A guest in the house,
never a dependent, she remembers always the courtesy and the
consideration that are her due. You must respect her pleasure.
Is it her pleasure to slumber, and do you disturb her : note the
disdainful melancholy with which she silently comments your
rudeness. Is it her pleasure to be grave : tempt her to frolic, you
will tempt in vain. Is it her pleasure to be cold : nothing in
human possibility can win a caress from her. Is it her pleasure to
be rid of your presence : only the physical influence of a closed
door will persuade her to remain in the room with you. It is
you who must be the courtier, and wait upon her desire.
But then !
When, in her own good time, she chooses to unbend, how
graciously, how entrancingly, she does it ! Oh, the thousand
wonderful lovelinesses and surprises of her play ! The wit, the
humour, the imagination, that inform it ! Her ruses, her false
leads, her sudden triumphs, her feigned despairs ! And the
topazes and emeralds that sparkle in her eyes ; the satiny lustre of
her apparel ; the delicious sinuosities of her body ! And her
parenthetic interruptions of the game : to stride in regal progress
round the apartment, flourishing her tail like a banner : or
coquettishly to throw herself in some enravishing posture at
length upon the carpet at your feet : or (if she loves you) to leap
upon your shoulder, and press her cheek to yours, and murmur
rapturous assurances of her passion ! To be loved by a Princess !
Whosoever, from the Marquis de Carabas down, has been loved
by a Cat, has savoured that felicity. My own particular treasure
of a Cat, at this particular moment is lying wreathed about my
neck, watching my pen as it moves along the paper, and purring
approbation of my views. But when, from time to time, I
chance to use a word that doesn’t strike her altogether as the
fittest, she reaches down her little velvet paw, and dabs it out. I
should like to see the Dog who could do that.
But—the Cat is subtle, the Cat is elusive, the Cat is not to be
read at a glance, the Cat is not a simple equation. And so the
Average Man, gross mutton-devouring, money-grubbing mechan-
ism that he is, when he doesn’t just torpidly tolerate her, distrusts
her and dislikes her. A great soul, misappreciated, misunderstood,
she sits neglected in his chimney-corner ; and the fatuous idgit
never guesses how she scorns him.
But—the Dog is obvious. Any fool can grasp the meaning of
the Dog. And the Average Man, accordingly, recreant for once
to the snobbism which is his religion, hugs the hyena’s cousin to his
What of it ?
Only this : that in the Average Man’s sentimental attitude
towards the Dog and the Cat, we have a formula, a symbol, for
his sentimental attitude towards many things, especially for his
sentimental attitude towards Books.
Some books, in their uncouthness, their awkwardness, their
boisterousness, in their violation of the decencies of art, in their
low truckling to the tastes of the purchaser, in their commonness,
their vulgarity, in their total lack of suppleness and distinction,
are the very Dogs of Bookland. The Average Man loves ’em.
Such as they are, they’re obvious.
And other books, by reason of their beauties and their virtues,
their graces and refinements ; because they are considered
finished ; because they are delicate, distinguished, aristocratic ;
because their touch is light, their movement deft and fleet ;
because they proceed by omission, by implication and suggestion ;
because they employ the demi-mot and the nuance; because, in
fine, they are Subtle—other books are the Cats of Bookland.
And the Average Man hates them or ignores them.
Yes. Literature broadly divides itself into Cat-Literature,
despised and rejected of the Average Man, and Dog-Literature,
adopted and petted by him. What is more like the ponderous,
slow-strutting, dull-witted Mastiff, than the writing of our
tedious friend Mr. Caine ? What more like a formless, undipped
white Poodle, with pink eyes, than the gushing of Miss Corelli ?
In the lucubrations of Mr. J. K. Jerome and his School, do we
not recognise the Dog of the Public House, grinning and
wagging his tail and performing his round of inexpensive tricks
for whoso will chuck him a biscuit ? And in the long-drawn
bellowings of Dr. Nordau, hear we not the distempered Hound
complaining to the moon ? The books of Mr. Conan Doyle are
as a litter of assorted Mongrels, going cheap—regardez moi leurs
pattes ! Mr. Anthony Hope produces the smart Fox Terrier ;
Mr. George Moore, the laborious Dachshund ; whilst Messrs.
Crockett and MacLaren breed you the sanctimonious Collie.
To cross the Channel, for an instant, we find the works of Mons.
Crapule Mendès, poking their noses into whatever nastiness is
going, and doing the other usual canine thing. And then, to
come back to England, and to turn our attention upon Journal-
ism, we mustn’t forget Mr. Punch’s collaborator Toby ; nor
Lo-Ben, the former ruling spirit of the Pall Mall Gazette;
nor the Jackals and Pariahs of Lower Grubb Street ; nor the
Butcher’s Dog, whose carnivorous yawling is the predominant
note of a certain sixpenny weekly, which I will not advertise by
Cat-Literature, in the nature of things, it is less easy to put
one’s finger on. Good books have such an unpleasant way of
being rare. Still, in Paris, there are MM. France, Bourget, and
Pierre Loti (oh, that sweet Pierre Loti, with his Moumoutte
Blanche and his Moumoutte Chinoise!); and, in England, at
least two or three Literary Cats are born every year. There are
many sorts of Cats, to be sure ; and some Cats are not so nice as
other Cats ; but even the shabbiest, drabbiest Cat, lurking in the
area, is interesting to those who have learned the Cat language,
and so can commune with her. That is one of the prettiest
differences between the Dog and the Cat :—the Dog will learn
your language, but you must learn the Cat’s. Dog-Literature is
written in the language of the Average Man, a crude, unlovely
language, necessarily. Cat-Literature is written in a complex
shaded language all its own, which the Average Man is too stupid
or too indolent to learn.
Yes, even in poor old England, we may be thankful, a Literary
Cat is born two or three times a year. Miss Dowie and Miss
D’Arcy, Mr. Grahame, Mrs. Meynell, Mr. Crackanthorpe—they
are among the most careful and successful of our native breeders.
Mr. Harland has given us some very pretty Grey Kittens ; and
for the artificially educated Cat, in green apron and periwig, we
naturally turn to Mr. Beerbohm — whose collected works, by
the bye, I am glad to see have at last been published, accompanied
by a charming Cat-like bibliography and preface from the hand of
Mr. Lane. But of course, in any proper Cat Show, the Cats of
Mr. Henry James would carry off the special grand prix d’honneur.
And now, Mr. Editor, these philosophical reflections may be
not inappositely punctuated by a piece of news.
I beg to announce to you the recent appearance in Cat-Literature
of a highly curious and diverting sport or variation. Perhaps your
attention has already been directed to it ? Have you seen March
March Hares, by George Forth, is a most spirited,
and surprising Cat. It will mystify and irritate the Average Man,
as much as it will rejoice his betters. He will discover that he
has been made a fool of, at the end of every bout ; for it is Cat’s
play perpetually—a malicious sequence of ruses and false leads.
He will declare that it is madder even than its name, for the
method that governs its capricious pirouettings is a method much
too subtle for his coarse senses to apprehend. Indeed, I can almost
hope that March Hares was conceived and brought to parturition,
for the deliberate purpose of giving the Average Man a headache.
If it were frank Opéra-bouffe, he wouldn’t mind ; but it is Opéra-
bouffe masquerading as legitimate drama. The Average Man will
take it seriously—and presently begin to stare and swear. He will
feel as if Harlequin were circling round him, jeering at him and
flouting him, making disrespectful gestures in his face, whacking
his skull with wooden sword, and throwing his sluggish intellects
promiscuously into a whirl of bewilderment and anger.
Mr. David Mosscrop, self-defined as an habitual criminal, is a
dissipated young Scottish Professor of Culdees, who draws a salary
of four-hundred odd pounds per annum, and, for forty-nine weeks
out of the fifty-two, renders no equivalent of service. Accordingly,
he lives in chambers, at Dunstan’s Inn, and lounges at seven
o’clock in the morning of his thirtieth birthday, against the low
stone parapet of Westminster Bridge, nursing a bad attack of
vapours, and wondering vaguely whether a chap “who does not
know enough to keep sober over-night, should not be thrown like
garbage into the river.”
What more natural than that he should here encounter a young
lady “almost tall,” with “butter-coloured hair,” and treat her to
an outfit of silk stockings and a pair of patent-leather boots “of
the best Parisian make” ? Inevitably, after that, he invites her to
breakfast at an Italian ordinary, where she drinks freely of Chianti
and Maraschino, and lies to him like fun about her identity and
her extraction. “My name is Vestalia Peaussier. My father
was a French gentleman—an officer, and a man of position. He
died—killed in a duel—when I was very young. . . . . My
mother was the daughter of a very old Scottish house.” And
Vestalia has just been turned out of her lodgings for non-payment
of rent, and insinuates that she is looking to the streets for a
Mosscrop, properly enough shocked at this, hurries her away
upon his arm to the British Museum, where he entertains her
with his ideas about Nero, Richard Cœur de Lion, King John,
the Monkish Chroniclers, and the lions of Assur-Banipal. She
listens, with her shoulder against his—” but now he has other
auditors as well.”
” Excuse me, sir,” the urgent and anxious voice of a stranger
says close behind him, ” but you seem to be extraordinarily well
posted indeed on these sculptures here. I hope you will not object
to my daughter and me standing where we can hear your re-
The stranger is Mr. Skinner, from Paris, Kentucky, U.S.A.
His daughter, Adele, is a handsome girl with “coal-black tresses,”
who looks askance at the “butter-coloured” locks of Vestalia
Skinner persists in his advances. “I should delight, sir, to have
my daughter be privileged to profit by your remarks.” David
speaks somewhat abruptly : “You are certainly welcome, but it
The Yellow Book—Vol. X. B
happens that I have finished my remarks, as you call them.”
Skinner observes, and the reader will agree with him, that “that’s
too bad ;” for David’s remarks were lively and instructive. And
Skinner, with a view to mutual intellectual improvement, asks
David to call upon him at the Savoy Hotel.
Then David and Vestalia lunch together at the Café Royal,
drinking a bottle of 34A, cooled to 48. And then they go to
Greenwich and eat fish. And at last David conducts her to his
chambers, and sends her to bed in the room of his absent neigh-
bour Linkhaw, supposed to be seeking recreation in Uganda, or
“maybe in the Hudson Bay Territory.” And Linkhaw, in-
opportune villain, chooses, of course, this night of all nights for
playing the god from the machine. Footsteps come echoing up
the staircase. A key rattles in Linkhaw’s lock. “Stop that, you
idiot !” David commands fiercely. “Ah, Davie, Davie, still at
the bottle,” replies a well known voice from out of the obscurity ;
and Linkhaw is dragged by Davie into Davie’s den.
From the advent of Linkhaw the plot thickens terribly, the
Cat’s play becomes fast and furious. First of all, Linkhaw isn’t
Linkhaw, but the Earl of Drumpipes, in the Peerage of Scotland.
And secondly, Vestalia isn’t Vestalia, but Linkhaw’s thoroughly
bad lot of a wife, whom he imagines “dead as a mackerel, thank
God.” And thirdly, she isn’t either, but the entirely virtuous
niece of Mr. Skinner, who turns out to be a renegade Englishman
himself. And Peaussier was only Skinner Gallicised ! Then the
question rises, Is Mosscrop a gentleman ? Drumpipes, with
northern caution, admits that he is “a professional man, a person
of education.” It is certain, anyhow, that Drumpipes would be
blithe to make a Countess of Miss Skinner : she is rich, and she
is pleasing. Her Popper is in Standard oil. But there are
democratic prejudices against his title, though David reminds him
that it is “nothing better than a Scottish title,” and Drainpipes
retorts that the Pilliewillies were great lords in Slug-Angus
“before the Campbells were ever heard of, or the Gordons had
learned not to eat their cattle raw.” Whereupon they almost
come to blows about the compensation to be paid for a ruined
“moosie.” After some persuasion, however, Mosscrop good-
naturedly consents to assume his friend’s embarrassment, and
while Drumpipes, as Linkhaw, makes love to the dark Adele,
Mosscrop, as Drumpipes, arranges a coaching-party, a luncheon,
and a tableau—whereof he and Vestalia are the central figures.
Then the waiter comes in with the tureen ; and the Cat’s play is
ended. Voilà as the French say, tout.
March Hares, by George Forth. Who is George Forth ?
I’ll bet half-a-sovereign that “George Forth” is a pseudonym,
and that it covers at least two personalities, perhaps three or four.
If March Hares is not the child of a collaboration, then my eye-
sight is beginning to fail. Who are the collaborators ? Oddly
enough, they are quite manifestly members of a group I have
never professed to love—they are manifestly pupils of Mr. W. E.
Henley. I can only gratefully suppose either that the Master’s
influence is waning, or that the Publisher’s Adviser pruned their
manuscript, and the Printer’s Reader put the finishing touches to
their proofs ; for Brutality is absent. I saw it stated in a daily
paper, a week or so ago, that George Forth was Mr. Harold
Frederic ; but that’s a rank impossibility. Mr. Harold Frederic
has proved that he can cross Bulldogs with Newfoundlands, that
he can write able, unreadable Illuminations in choice Americanese.
He could no more flitter and flutter and coruscate, and turn
somersaults in mid-air, and fall lightly on his feet, in the Cat-
fashion of George Forth, than he could dance a hornpipe on the
point of a needle. It is barely conceivable that Mr. Harold
Frederic may have been one of the collaborators, but, in that case,
I’ll eat my wig if the others didn’t mightily revise his “copy.”
Nenni-da ! George Forth were far more likely to be, in some
degree, Mr. George Steevens—late of the P.M.G., much chastened
and improved. Perhaps he is also, in some degree, Mr. Marriott
Watson ? And (cherchez la femme) who knows that a lady may
not supply an element of his composition ? But these are mere
conjectures. The long of it is and the short of it is that I’m
devoured by curiosity ; and I’ll offer a bottle of his favourite wine
to any fellow who’ll provide me with an authenic version of George
Forth’s “real names.”
You will remember, Mr. Editor, the magnificent retort of the
French King to the malapert counsellor who ventured to remind
him of that silly old Latin saw about vox populi and vox Dei.
With the same splendid and conclusive scorn might you and I
dismiss the opinions of the Average Man—especially his opinions
about Dogs, Cats, and Books. So long as they remain his own,
and are not shared by his superiors, they import as little as the
opinions of the Average Dugong. But the tiresome thing is,
they are infectious ; and his superiors are constantly exposed to
the danger of catching them. When he speaks as an individual,
the Average Man only bores without convincing you. But when
he speaks by the thousand, somehow or other, he is as like as not
to set a fashion, or even to establish a tradition. He has already
established a tradition about Dogs and Cats ; and nowadays he is
beginning to set the fashion about Books. Nice people are begin-
ning to accept his opinions upon this, the one subject above all
subjects which he is least qualified to touch. I actually know
nice people who have read Mr. Conan Doyle ! And I have
actually met nice people who do not read Mr. Henry James !
And that is all the fault of the Average Man. Why can’t the
dunce be gagged ? Mr. James, for instance, has just published
a new volume of his incomparable tales. Embarrassments ’tis
called. Of course, it must be as a volume composed in Coptic
for the Average Man ; but nice people would find it a casket of
inexpressible delights, if only the Average Man could be silenced
long enough to let them hear of it. For my part, I do what I
can. I remember the example of Martin Luther, and I hurl my
ink-pot. But the Devil is still abroad in the world, seeking
whom he may devour ; and the Average Man will no doubt go
on gabbling—the Devil take him !
I have the honour, dear Mr. Editor, to subscribe myself, as
Your obedient servant,
THE YELLOW DWARF.
The Yellow Dwarf [Henry Harland]. “Dogs, Cats, Books, and the Average Man: A Letter to the Editor.” The Yellow Book, vol. 10, July 1896, pp. 11-23. Yellow Book Digital Edition, edited by Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2010-2014. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2020. https://1890s.ca/YBV10_yellowdwarf_letter/