Belling The Cat

The mice met in council to figure out how to defeat the Cat. One suggested a bell for the Cat to warn them. Problem: Nobody would volunteer to bell the Cat.

It is easy to propose impossible remedies.

Eliot-JacobsEliot/Jacobs Version

Long ago, the mice had a general council to consider what measures they could take to outwit their common enemy, the Cat. Some said this, and some said that; but at last a young mouse got up and said he had a proposal to make, which he thought would meet the case. “You will all agree,” said he, “that our chief danger consists in the sly and treacherous manner in which the enemy approaches us. Now, if we could receive some signal of her approach, we could easily escape from her. I venture, therefore, to propose that a small bell be procured, and attached by a ribbon round the neck of the Cat. By this means we should always know when she was about, and could easily retire while she was in the neighbourhood.”

This proposal met with general applause, until an old mouse got up and said: “That is all very well, but who is to bell the Cat?” The mice looked at one another and nobody spoke. Then the old mouse said: “It is easy to propose impossible remedies.”

JonesV.S. Vernon Jones Version

Once upon a time all the Mice met together in Council, and discussed the best means of securing themselves against the attacks of the cat. After several suggestions had been debated, a Mouse of some standing and experience got up and said, “I think I have hit upon a plan which will ensure our safety in the future, provided you approve and carry it out. It is that we should fasten a bell round the neck of our enemy the cat, which will by its tinkling warn us of her approach.” This proposal was warmly applauded, and it had been already decided to adopt it, when an old Mouse got upon his feet and said, “I agree with you all that the plan before us is an admirable one: but may I ask who is going to bell the cat?”

Samuel CroxallSamuel Croxall (The Mice in Council)

Croxall - Mice in CouncilTHE Mice called a general council; and having met after the doors were locked, entered into a free consultation about ways and means how to render their fortunes and estates more secure from the danger of the Cat. Many things were offered, and much was debated, pro and con, upon the matter. At last a young Mouse, in a fine florid speech, concluded upon an expedient, and that the only one, which was to put them for the future entirely out of the power of the enemy; and this was, that the Cat should wear a bell about her neck, which, upon the least motion, would give the alarm, and be a signal for them to retire into their holes. This speech was received with great applause, and it was even proposed by some, that the Mouse who made it should have the thanks of the assembly. Upon which, an old, grave Mouse, who had sat silent all the while, stood up, and in another speech, owned that the contrivance was admirable, and the author of it, without doubt, an ingenious Mouse; but, he said, he thought it would not be so proper to vote him thanks, till he should farther inform them how this bell was to be fastened about the Cat’s neck, and what Mouse would undertake to do it.


Many things appear sensible in speculation, which are afterwards found to be impracticable. And since the execution of any thing is that which is to complete and finish its very existence, what raw counsel!ors are those who advise, what precipitate politicians those who proceed to the management of things in their nature incapable of answering their own expectations, or their promises to others. At the same time, the fable teaches us, not to expose ourselves in any of our little coffeehouse committees, by determining what should be done upon every occurrence of mal-administration, when we have neither commission nor power to execute it. He that upon such occasions, adjudges, as a preservative for the state, that this or that should be applied to the neck of those who have been enemies to it, will appear full as ridiculous as the Mouse in the fable, when the question is asked, who shall put it there? In reality, we do but expose ourselves to the hatred of some, and the contempt of others, when we inadvertently utter our impracticable speculations, in respect of the public, either in private company, or authorised assemblies.

Aesop For ChildrenAesop For Children

Bell the Cat

Milo Winter (1919)

The Mice once called a meeting to decide on a plan to free themselves of their enemy, the Cat. At least they wished to find some way of knowing when she was coming, so they might have time to run away. Indeed, something had to be done, for they lived in such constant fear of her claws that they hardly dared stir from their dens by night or day.

Many plans were discussed, but none of them was thought good enough. At last a very young Mouse got up and said:

“I have a plan that seems very simple, but I know it will be successful. All we have to do is to hang a bell about the Cat’s neck. When we hear the bell ringing we will know immediately that our enemy is coming.”

All the Mice were much surprised that they had not thought of such a plan before. But in the midst of the rejoicing over their good fortune, an old Mouse arose and said:

“I will say that the plan of the young Mouse is very good. But let me ask one question: Who will bell the Cat?”


It is one thing to say that something should be done, but quite a different matter to do it.

Townsend VersionTownsend version (The Mice in Council)

The mice summoned a council to decide how they might best devise means of warning themselves of the approach of their great enemy the Cat. Among the many plans suggested, the one that found most favor was the proposal to tie a bell to the neck of the Cat, so that the Mice, being warned by the sound of the tinkling, might run away and hide themselves in their holes at his approach. But when the Mice further debated who among them should thus “bell the Cat,” there was no one found to do it.

Taylor RhymesJefferys Taylor

Taylor - Council of Mice 0131SOME mice who saw fit once a quarter to meet,
To arrange the concerns of their city;
Thought it needful to choose, as is common with us,
First a chairman and then a committee.

When the chairman was seated, the object he stated
For which at that meeting they sat;
Which was, it should seem, the concerting a scheme
To defeat the designs of the cat.

Dr. Nibble-cheese rose, and said, “I would propose,
To this cat that we fasten a bell:
He who likes what I’ve said, now will hold up his head;
He who does not, may hold up his tail.”

So out of respect, they their noses erect,
Except one who the order reversed;
Ayes, all then but one, but yet nought could be done,
Until he had his reasons rehearsed.

“I shall not,” said this mouse, “waste the time of the house
In long arguments; since, as I view it,
The scheme would succeed, without doubt, if indeed
We could find any mouse who would do it.”

“Hear! hear!” was the cry, and “no bells we will try
Unless you will fasten them on;”
So quite broken-hearted the members departed,
For the bill was rejected nem. con.

Then be not too hasty in giving advice,
Lest your schemes should remind of the council of mice;
You had better delay your opinion a year.
Than put forth a ridiculous one, it is clear.

JBR CollectionJBR Collection (The Mice in Council)

A certain Cat that lived in a large country-house was so vigilant and active, that the Mice, finding their numbers grievously thinned, held a council, with closed doors, to consider what they had best do. Many plans had been started and dismissed, when a young Mouse, rising and catching the eye of the president, said that he had a proposal to make, that he was sure must meet with the approval of all. “If,” said he, “the Cat wore around her neck a little bell, every step she took would make it tinkle; then, ever forewarned of her approach, we should have time to reach our holes. By this simple means. we should live in safety, and defy her power.” The speaker resumed his seat with a complacent air, and a murmur of applause arose from the audience. An old grey Mouse, with a merry twinkle in his eye, now got up, and said that the plan of the last speaker was an admirable one; but he feared it had one drawback. He had not told them who should put the bell around the Cat’s neck.

1001Mures, Feles, et Tintinnabulum

Mures aliquando consultabant quomodo se a fele tueri possent. Multa proponebantur a singulis muribus, sed nihil placebat. Postremo unus dixit, “Tintinnabulum feli annectendum est; tum statim audiemus cum veniet, facileque effugiemus.” Omnes mures laeti praedicant prudentem consilii auctorem. “Iam tu,” inquiunt, “annecte tintinnabulum.” “Ego vero,” respondet ille, “consilium dedi; alius operam sumat.” Irritum consilium fuit, quoniam qui feli annecteret tintinnabulum non reperiebatur.


Dictum citius quam factum.

Perry #613