The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

October 25, 2014

October 25, 1881

Picasso, (October 25, 1881 to April 8, 1973) it turns out, liked his own art so much that a huge collection was found after his death. A trove that was unsuspected by anyone. According to a article in The Guardian, with lots of dishy detail, and dated October 16, 2014,

He kept a bank vault in Paris, filled with paintings, prints, sculptures, and even poetry.....
No one had known the scale and substance of this private dimension to Picasso’s genius. It was not just the stupefying quantity of works he kept, but how and why he kept them, which had no equivalent in art. As early as 1932, when he still had four decades of creativity ahead, Picasso worked closely with the Greek critic Christian Zervos on the first volume of what was to become a 33-volume catalogue raisonné of his output....


I am not sure if the painting below belongs to a museum or not. It is dated October 23, 1962.
Nature morte avec chat et homard (Still life with cat and lobster)


is one of several cat paintings Picasso did. None of his cats appear distorted the way his pictures of people sometimes do. 

October 24, 2014

October 24, 1788

Sarah Josepha  Hale (October 24, 1788 to April 30, 1879) was the editor of Godey's Lady's Book, and made it a very influential 19th century publication.

Our excerpt is a lengthy one, because of its innate interest,  from her 185
book:  The New Household Receipt-book, which includes among its many topics: pest control. What follows is alternately astounding, astute, and amusing.

To drive away Fleas.—Sprinkle about the bed a few drops of oil of lavender, and the fleas will soon disappear.

Fumigation with brimstone, or fresh-leaves of penny-royal sewed in a bag, and laid in the bed, will have the desired effect.

Liquor for Destroying Caterpillars, Ants, and other Insects.—Take a pound and three quarters of soap, the same quantity of flower of sulphur, two pounds of champignons, or puff-balls, and fifteen gallons of water. When the whole has been well mixed, by the aid of a gentle heat, sprinkle the insects with the liquor, and it will instantly kill them.

To Destroy Rats —Cut a number of corks or a piece of sponge as thin as sixpences; stew them in grease, and place them in the way of the rats. They will greedily devour this delicacy, and will die of indigestion.

To Kill Rats—another way.—There are two objections to the common mode of killing rats, by laying poison for them; first, the danger to which it exposes other animals and even human beings; second, the possibility that the rats may cause an intolerable stench, by dying in their holes. The following method is free from these objections, and has proved effectual in clearing houses infested with these

Oil of amber and ox-gall in equal parts, add to them oat-meal or flour sufficient to form a paste, which divide into little balls and lay them in the middle of a room which rats are supposed or known to visit. Surround the balls with a number of vessels filled with water. The smell of the oil will be sure to attract the rats, they will greedily devour the balls, and become intolerably thirsty, will drink till they die on the spot.

To Expel Rats.—Catch one in a trap; muzzle it, with the assistance of a fellow-servant, and slightly singe some of the hair; then smear the part with turpentine, and set the animal loose ; if again caught, leave it still at liberty, as the other rats will shun the place which it inhabits. It is said to be a fact that a toad placed in a cellar will free it from rats.

Rats may be expelled from cellars and granaries simply by scattering a few stalks and leaves of mullen in their paths. There is something very annoying in this plant to the rat. It affords, therefore, a very easy method of getting rid of a most perplexing evil, and much more economical and less troublesome than gunpowder, "rat exterminator," cats, or traps.

To Destroy Fleas and other Vermin on Animals.— To destroy them on dogs, rub the animal, when out of the house, with the Common Scotch snuff, except the nose and eyes. Rub the powder well into the roots of the hair. Clear lime-water destroys the fleaworm without injuring the skin or hair.

Oil of turpentine when applied to animals, which were covered with insects, destroyed the insects, without hurting the animal.

To Destroy Bugs.—Mix half a pint of spirits of turpentine and half a pint of best rectified spirits of wine, in a strong bottle, and add in small pieces about half an ounce of camphor, which will dissolve in a few minutes. Shake the mixture well together; and, with a sponge or brush dipped in it, well wet the bed and furniture where the vermin breed. This will infallibly destroy both them and their nits, though they swarm. The dust, however, should be well brushed from the bedstead and furniture, to prevent, from such carelessness, any stain. If that precaution is attended to, there will be no danger of soiling the richest silk or damask. On touching a live bug with only the tip of a pin put into the mixture, the insect will be instantly deprived of existence, and should any bugs happen to appear after using the mixture, it will only be from not wetting the linen, &c., of the bed, the foldings and linings of the curtains near the rings or the joints, or holes in and about the bed or head board, in which places the vermin nestle and breed; so that those parts being well wetted with more of the mixture, which dries as fast as it is used, and pouring it into the joints and holes, where the sponge and brush cannot reach, it will never fail totally to destroy them. The smell of this mixture, though powerful, is extremely wholesome, and to many persons very agreeable. It exhales, however, in two or three days. Only one caution is neccessary; but that is important. The mixture must be well shaken when used; but never applied by candle light, lest the spirits, being attracted by the flare of the candle, might cause a conflagration.

Kitchen Cloths.—The four kinds of cloths requisite for the kitchen, are knife-cloths, dusters, tea and glass-cloths. Knife-cloths should be made of coarse sheeting. Dusters are generally made of mixed cotton and linen. The best material for tea and glasscloths, is a sheet which has begun to wear thin.

Besides the above cloths, are knife-tray-cloths, house-cloths for cleaning, pudding and cheese-cloths, and towels.....


Just a few of her books are mentioned below, parts of which appeared no doubt in her magazine:

Northwood (1827)

Sketches of American Character (1831)
Traits of American Life (1835)
Dictionary of poetical quotations (1850)

  • The Way to Live Well: And to be Well While We Live, (1851)
    Flora's Interpreter; or, The American Book of Flowers and Sentiments
     (1853), which includes "the mystical language of flowers." 
  • And she wrote a poem we all know: "Mary Had a Little Lamb"(1830).

    October 23, 2014

    October 23, 1872

    Theophile Gautier (August 31, 1811 to October 23, 1872) the French writer, tried his hand at most literary modes and succeeded at many. He may have invented the category of cat books.  La Ménagerie Intime (1871) is a tribute to his cat Eponine. Here is a picture from the book of this cat:



    In this book he writes: I have often been caricatured in Turkish dress seated upon cushions, and surrounded by cats so familiar that they did not hesitate to climb upon my shoulders and even upon my head.

    Perhaps you think, since there was certainly an English translation, by 1920, and therefore, My Private Menagerie is out of copyright,  that you could read it at books.google.com. But for some reason, the only copy they have is dated later, and the text is not available. 

    This link will take you to a free copy of Gautier's famous book: My Private Menagerie, even though this copy was also  digitized by Google. Hathitrust.org is often more reliable than Google in this regard. 

    As an artist Gautier struggled to take care of his family and cats. Princess Mathilde found him a job as a librarian where he had very little drudgery to actually do, and so could thrive. 






    October 22, 2014

    October 22, 2008

    Morie Sawataishi was born in 1913, in northern Japan, a wild region of mountains, and few amenities. His wife found it a shock when he brought this city girl to live there, where he was an engineer for a power company. During World War II things were so desperate that people were eating their pets, in fact, the government official might shoot your dog if necessary, to enforce the laws. Of course the Japanese military valued dogs in the war effort. But they preferred German Shepherds. European breeds. Not the native Japanese bloodlines which had flowed for centuries and featured the product of breeding for certain qualities, not for looks. A quality that Morie called Spirit. The Akitas were the prime example. They were sometimes called cat-like for their quiet ways. By the end of the war, apparently sober estimates gave the number of 16. Sixteen Akitas, the national dog, were left in Japan.

    Before the war ended, for reasons he never could really explain, Morie had unexpectedly sought out an Akita puppy, though he had to build a shelter for it where the neighbors could not spot it. By the end of the century Morie Sawataishi would be credited with preserving the breed. He could also not explain why he never let anyone pay him for a puppy. He gave them away, to the right people. Even when because of his dogs' bloodlines, the dogs were worth thousands of dollars, and the money was needed to send children to college, he refused to sell a dog, although many buyers were always waiting.

    In March of 2008 a biography of Morie Sawataishi was published. Dog Man, by Martha Sherrill. Sherrill, a good writer, had the sense not to gloss the facts of Morie's life. Just relate them.

    In June of 2008 a volcano erupted near their handbuilt mountain home, a few acres bordering a national forest in those same wild mountains that are the stars in the biography. The Sawataishis evacuated to Tokyo, where one of the daughters had a veterinary practice.

    They evacuated before the boulder rolled through their home. On October 22, 2008 Morie Sawataishi died.

    October 21, 2014

    October 21, 1914

    Martin Gardner, (October 21, 1914 to May 22, 2010) is a revered name in scientific literature. He had a regular column in Scientific American for decades, in which he presented challenging mind games. And he is the author of many books, explaining science to a general audience.  Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science ( 1957) is just one of many books Gardner wrote.

    Gardber especially focused on false claims of scientific significance, as in the case of the research, of J. B. Rhine of Duke University.  Rhine's research on which claims of paranormal powers were based, is held up as an example of sloppy research techniques. Nor was Gardner impressed with Rhine's  claims to have demonstrated anpsi, a word Rhine used for animal clairvoyance and telepathic powers.

    What Gardner cannot account for is the documented cases in which a cat or other species finds their way home through geography they have never been in before, Before the use of implanted id tags, the standard response to these recurring stories is that the animal presenting itself at a home only looked like a previous lost pet. Now with the id tags, there can be no doubt that these things happen. The cases are inexplicable of course. They may prove nothing, except an innate talent that is not needed most of the time, and a talent which may be rare even in the species in which it appears.

    He has the same disdain for the possibility of telepathic powers in people. In one argument I recall reading in a book of Gardner's, he mentions that there is not a statistically significant amount of success in people practicing ESP, for it to be considered a proven human ability. There IS a significant number when you pool all the people together, according to Gardner, but not a statistically significant result per individual. With his clear and rational mind, he is incapable of appreciating a fresh idea,--- that for instance humanity itself is alive, and that at the level of large groups is exactly where you would find an a talent for ESP.

    All this does not mean that Martin Garder is not a wonderful writer. His books are always fun and informative. He is a popularizer of science, and among the scientists that are leaders in their fields, you often do not observe Martin's cocky assurance about the boundaries of knowledge in the world of man.

    October 20, 2014

    October 20, 1905

    Ellery Queen is the hero of a series of detective stories. Ellery Queen was the fictional creation of two authors who also were cousins, Frederic Dannay (October 20, 1905 to September 3, 1982) and Manfred Bennington Lee (January 11, 1905 to April 3, 1971). These author names are also aliases for the writers. Ellery Queen, following the classic detective profile, is sketched as a cerebral type, a writer himself. There were regular Ellery Queen books from 1929 to 1971, and a huge amount of media spin-off.

    Cat of Many Tails was published in 1949. There were many editions. Here is the cover art for some of them.


    If you saw this edition cover, you might think cats played a big part in the story.






    But no, this cover is by far 

    the most common --



    This cover is more about the city, always an  important milieu for the detective story.





    And good reasons to forget the cat on the cover completely, since cats are not a big part of the story.






    And we get even more abstract----





    and abstracter





    The best cover may be the Spanish--- where the tails and the feline both  feature



    Here are our authors: Manfred Bennington Lee  (left) and Frederic Dannay.  Ellery Queen wasn't the only detective hero these cousins created and wrote about together. Nor are Lee and Dannay actually their own real names. 





    Layers of mystery to sort. And others have wondered about the connection between reading or writing about terrible things, made up things that are meaningful because they have or could, really happen, and how such descriptions yet function to divert, amuse, entertain. Now that is  a mystery.

    October 19, 2014

    October 19, 1950

    Edna St. Vincent Millay (February 22, 1892 to October 19, 1950) came in from the cold of solitary geniusness, and after many many romances, married a wealthy business man in 1923. They were happy. Millay, the definition of lyric life, showed how even a Pulitzer Prize, (1923) did not render her totally impractical about how far you can use the currency of youth and wit.

    This poem gives a sense of her literary gifts, and is interesting for the light it sheds on the tastes of cultivated audiences in the first half of the 20th century. Millay was widely regarded as a brilliant writer.  "I Too Beneath Your Moon, Almighty Sex" is dated 1939.


    I too beneath your moon, almighty Sex,
    Go forth at nightfall crying like a cat,
    Leaving the lofty tower I laboured at
    For birds to foul and boys and girls to vex
    With tittering chalk; and you, and the long necks
    Of neighbours sitting where their mothers sat
    Are well aware of shadowy this and that
    In me, that’s neither noble nor complex.
    Such as I am, however, I have brought
    To what it is, this tower; it is my own;
    Though it was reared To Beauty, it was wrought
    From what I had to build with: honest bone
    Is there, and anguish; pride; and burning thought;
    And lust is there, and nights not spent alone.


    What is lacking of course, is intellectual probity.