My beautiful cat, come onto my heart full of love;
Hold back the claws of your paw,
And let me plunge into your adorable eyes
Mixed with metal and agate.
Charles Pierre Baudelaire (1821-1867) was a notable French poet, essayist, art critic and translator of Edgar Allan Poe’s work.
Some writers argue he was ahead of his time, and some of his work was considered notoriously risky, even identified as obscene. But there can be no doubt that he was a driving force in French (and English literature). His reputation rests primarily on Les Fleurs du Mal (1857 – The Flowers of Evil), which according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica was perhaps the most important and influential poetry collection published in Europe in the 19th century.
The collection included his homage to cats, and cat lovers are probably very well aware of his work as his quotes observing and praising cats are in abundance.
It is said that he was a sensitive soul, who seemed more at home with cats than humans. Indeed, he once complained in a letter that it was impossible to live with his mistress, Jeanne, who drove away his cat and brought in dogs! Baudelaire also had a reputation for entering a house and ignoring the human occupants, favouring and giving his full attention to a resident cat instead.
He is widely reputated to have owned Chartreux, although we cannot verify this.
Time spent with a cat is never wasted.
Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (1873 – 1954) was a French author, music hall performer, mime artiste, journalist and woman of letters nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948. She lived a bohemian lifestyle, married three times and had numerous affairs with both men and women.
Colette was a member of the Belgian Royal Academy. She was also the first woman to join the Goncourt Academy, and in 1953 she became a grand officer of the Legion of Honour. When she died she was accorded a state funeral, attended by thousands of mourners.
She was a passionate lover of animals and she was devoted to her pets, in particular her cats. She bought her first Chartreux called La Chatte in 1926 from a cat show where she fell in love with the breed. The novel “La Chatte” (The Cat) written in 1933 was based on her and concerned a love triangle between a man, his new wife and his Chartreux cat called Saha. Needless to say, the cat won the man!
Kittens play, Cats meditate
Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle (1890 – 1970), the most famous of all French statesmen, is unusual in that unlike most presidents of France, he had a cat instead of a dog.
De Gaulle also had a preference for dogs but when Madam Yvonne de Gaulle bought a Chartreux during her husband’s second term as President, he was captivated by this handsome tomcat with its strong personality. The cat had the grand name of Ringo de Balmalon, but De Gaulle gave him the pet name of Gris-Gris (Grey-Grey) which was a clever play on words for not only did it describe the colour of the cat; the name can also refer to an African lucky charm. He became de Gaulle’s devoted companion, reportedly accompanying him on his walks in the park and silently following him from room to room.
Gris-Gris was even a frequent topic of conversation with De Gaulle’s Minister of Cultural Affairs, André Malraux during the Council of Ministers. Malraux was also a cat lover owning Lustrée and Fourrure (Glossy and Fur) It is reported that one day, in response to a question from Malraux, the General replied (no doubt inspired by Gris-Gris) “kittens play, cats meditate”.
After De Gaulle died Gris-Gris continued to live at the De Gaulle’s personal residence La Boiserrie, carefully watched over by Madam De Gaulle’s housekeeper. Faithful as a dog, Gris-Gris clearly missed his master and the housekeeper is said to have remarked that Gris-Gris was not the same after De Gaulle’s death.
Sadly despite an extensive search we cannot find a picture of De Gaulle and his faithful feline companion and we would like to acknowledge Dorica Lucaci’s fascinating book “100 Chats Qui Ont Fait L’Histoire” in writing about Gris-Gris.