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.

March 31, 2015

March 31, 1844

An odd flight to fantasy accompanied the crowning of the natural sciences in the last half of the 19th century.  Andrew Lang (March 31,  1844 to July 20, 1912) is just one example. Here is one of many cats illustrating his fairy tale collections.




This is from The Crimson Fairy Book (
1903) , a story titled "The Colony of Cats."
And elsewhere Andrew Lang wrote:

Of all animals the cat alone attains to the contemplative life. He regards the wheel of existence from without, like the Buddha.

Following is a biographical sketch on Lang. The full text is available here.

Andrew Lang was born in Selkirk, Scotland on 31 March 1844, eldest son of Jane Plenderleath Sellar and John Lang. Young Andrew's education started at the Selkirk Grammar School; he then went on to attend Edinburgh Academy. He next attended University of St. Andrews, which now hosts the Andrew Lang Lecture series in his honour. Lang then went to Balliol College, Oxford, England. His Oxford: Brief Historical and Descriptive Notes was published in 1880. He was Fellow of Merton College from 1865 to 1874. Lang studied Latin and Greek, especially the Homeric texts, and began translations from the French the poetry of François Villon, Pierre de Ronsard, and others. Lang was also writing his own poetry, Ballads and Lyrics of Old France(1872) his first publication. Other poetry collections include Ballads in Blue China (1880), Helen of Troy(1882), Rhymes à la Mode (1884), Grass of Parnassus(1888), Ban and Arriere Ban (1894), and New Collected Rhymes (1905).

Lang's childhood days in the Scottish Borderland of Selkirk, the land and history of William Wallace and Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Highlanders, his jaunts through heath and wood, fishing in the local streams, and reading such books as Grimm's Fairy Tales and the works of William Shakespeare, Madame d'Aulnoy, and Sir Walter Scott inspired his love of folklore, magic, and myth. Lang moved to London in 1875 to try his hand at journalism, the same year he married Leonore Blanche Alleyne. They would have no children. While Lang was editor of and wrote a popular column for Longman's Magazine, he continued his prodigious output, with dozens of articles and essays published in newspapers and magazines including Cornhill Magazine, Macmillan's, The Daily Post, Fortnightly Review, the Overland Mail, Fraser's and Time magazine. His dry wit and sardonic style earned him much acclaim. He was an avid golfer and fisherman and he and Leonore travelled to France and Italy.

Many honours were bestowed on Lang during his lifetime including Doctorates in Classics from the University of St. Andrews and Oxford, in 1885 and 1904 respectively. He was Gilford lecturer at St. Andrews in 1888. In 1911 he was voted President of the Psychical Research Society. After many years of ill-health, Andrew Lang died on 20 July 1912 in Aberdeen, Scotland. He now rests in the cathedral precincts of St. Andrews.

March 30, 2015

March 30, 1746

Francisco Goya has life span dates (March 30, 1746 to April 16, 1828) which are interestingly similar to those of William Blake (November 28, 1757 to August 12,  1827). I say interestingly since they are both the type of genius whose originality can still astound. There are of course other parallels, --  Shakespeare and Cervantes comes to mind; the effect can be that of something you think can be learned by the conjunctures, though conclusions never seem to eventuate. Goya was famous and mostly, paid; Blake not so much.

That Blake's cats are fewer than Goya's is merely of local interest. The cats below, Goya's, are models of the unsentimental. Here are two felines of Goya's which give us a sense of the expanse of his talent.

Here is a detail of a famous painting: titled Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuñiga it was created between 1787 and 1788.




The whole painting can be seen here.  Seeing the full canvas at the Met, or the link -- will allow you to glimpse a third cat.

And a decade later, here is a Goya etching from 1799. What a difference a French Revolution makes. Another detail actually, to emphasize the feline. This also famous rendering is titled: The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters.



Both works of art together illustrate a refusal to lapse into sentimentality. Goya would not seek to please the princes, nor their usurpers. We see in the comparison a transition to greater specificity. Part of what the "sleep of reason" means is "hormones," though those concepts were not ones he used.  Here is a picture of the full etching. 


Image result for goya the sleep of reason

A wonderful thing about Goya is his pictorial analysis of the link between mind and body in this drawing.. You can see above the cats gradually turning into bats.  The cats are what his contemporaries called, evil, what we call hormonal reality: the reason our actions don't match our words.  The bats show the thoughts as they exist without daylight, logical constraints. No modern writer or painter I know of  so lucidly connected mind and body as we see Francisco Goya did.  No wonder some say modern art is a series of footnotes to Goya.  


March 29, 2015

March 29, 1745

We may have the first photoshopped cat in history, below. Of course, we don't mean the physical manipulation of a process not yet invented.We mean the sentiment that finds in altering reality a distinctly human value derived from destroying the beast. The artist is John Russell (March 29, 1745 to April 20, 1806).





John Russell RA who painted our example was quite successful, as The Tate describes him:

[An] English pastellist, painter, writer and astronomer. His father, also called John Russell (1711–1804), was a bookseller, printseller and amateur artist. Russell was educated at Guildford grammar school and won premiums from the Society of Artists for drawings in 1759 and 1760. He was apprenticed to Francis Cotes and set up his own practice in 1767. In 1770 he entered the Royal Academy Schools, London, winning the silver medal for figure drawing. He exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1768 and annually at the Royal Academy from 1769 to 1806. He was elected ARA in 1772 and RA in 1788, when he became Crayon Painter to King George III and to George, Prince of Wales. He painted some rather stilted portraits in oil, but most of his work—hundreds of portraits and large numbers of fancy pictures of children with animals—is in pastel. His pastel portraits include Dr Robert Willis (c. 1790; ....). He had a large and fashionable clientele.

In his excellent and detailed
Elements of Painting with Crayons, Russell purported to explain the technique of his master, Francis Cotes, but his own work is far more effective with its brilliant use of reds, blues and yellows laid in on blue paper. Russell achieved a distinctive blurred effect by smudging the outlines with the finger and crayon, a technique he combined with striking finishing details in black. Russell was also an astronomer and produced oil and watercolour studies of the moon.


"Boy and Cat", bequeathed to The Tate by Lionel Wormser Harris, is dated to 1791.

March 28, 2015

March 28, 1868

Who was Edward Jesse (January 14, 1780 to March 28, 1868)? He is remembered for his writings on natural history though he earned a living in clerkly positions until he obtained the position of deputy surveyor-general of the royal parks and palaces. This presumably suited his talents. Here is a glimpse of his writings:

I invariably experience a variety of sensations when I “survey the heavens” on a calm, clear night, about the end of the month of May. I can then inhale the sweets of the woodbine and other flowers, whose fragrance is drawn out by the gentle dews of evening. The nightingale breaks the silence by his sweet and varied notes; and the full moon “walking in brightness,” and rendered still more beautiful by the lustre of so many shining stars, which appear in the wide-extended firmament, completes the loveliness of this nocturnal scene. Then I begin to reflect upon my own insignificance, and to ask myself what I am, that the great Author of the universe should be mindful of me. ...The very perfume of the flowers seems to be an incense ascending up to heaven; and with these feelings I am able to enjoy the calm tranquillity of the evening.

We hear the son of a Yorkshire vicar in these words, and understand his popularity. And if his sentiments are not original, they are at least clear. It was his book on dogs that shows a distinct freshness. Anecdotes of Dogs (1846) was one of a number of books he wrote. Some of the stories are stunning; our first excerpt is about the qualities of dogs:

Nor are their affections less strong than their courage. A gentleman in the neighbourhood of Bath had a terrier which produced a litter of four puppies. He ordered one of them to be drowned, which was done by throwing it into a pail of water, in which it was kept down by a mop till it appeared to be dead. It was then thrown into a dust-hole, and covered with ashes. Two mornings afterwards, the servant discovered that the bitch had still four puppies, and amongst them was the one which it was supposed had been drowned. It was conjectured that in the course of a short time the terrier had, unobserved, raked her whelp from the ashes, and had restored it to life.

Of course in the above story we do not hear what we want most to know. Another story mentions a cat:

A neighbour of mine has a terrier which has shown many odd peculiarities in his habits. He has contracted a great friendship for a white cat, and evinced his affection for it the other day in a curious manner. The dog was observed to scratch a large deep hole in the garden. When he had finished it he sought out the cat, dragged her by the neck to the hole, endeavoured to place her in it, and to cover her with the soil. The cat, not liking this proceeding, at last made her escape.


Probably many of his books repay reading, for we see above he is both a good writer and can be an original one.

March 27, 2015

March 27, 1822

Scènes de la vie de bohème (1847–49) was a success for its author Henry Murger (March 27, 1822  to January 28, 1861) La vie was his own. And he described a newly recognized segment of society in this novel: the persevering impoverished cocky urban artistic creator. Here is one scene; as friends gather in an apartment, they are told:

.....the story of his marriage to ...[a] charming creature who had brought him as her marriage portion her eighteen years and six months, two porcelain cups, and a yellow cat, called Mimi, like herself. "And now, messieurs," said Rodolphe, "we propose to have a house-warming...


The English translation I used begins with a quite long preface defining this modern phenomena. I have trimmed it considerably, and rearranged the points a bit. Everybody knows this much told story, most recently in Rent. Few recall the preface Murger attached, and so we quote from it, which starts asserting Bohemians can be traced back to Homer, and:

....It was during the transition from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century that those two great geniuses appeared, whom their respective nations still oppose to each other in the struggles of their literary rivalry—Moliere and Shakespeare; those illustrious Bohemians whose destinies present only too many points of resemblance.

The most eminent names in the literature of the eighteenth century also are to be found in the archives of Bohemia, which can lay claim among the illustrious men of that epoch, to Jean-Jacques Rousseau and D'Alembert,....

We have now concluded this summary sketch of Bohemia in the different periods of its existence, a prelude strewn with illustrious names which we have designedly placed in the forefront of this book to put the reader on his guard against any false assumption that he might otherwise make, upon espying the name Bohemians, which has long been given to classes of persons whom those whose manners and language we have tried to sketch, deem it a point of honor not to resemble.

Today, as formerly, every man who enters upon an artistic career, without other means of subsistence than art itself, will be compelled to pass through the paths of Bohemia. The majority of our contemporaries who exhibit the finest blazonry of art are Bohemians; and in their tranquil and prosperous renown, they often remember, and perhaps regret the time when, as they climbed the green hill of youth, they had, in the sunshine of their twenty years, no other fortune than courage, which is the virtue of the young, and hope, which is the treasure of the poor.

For the benefit of the anxious reader, of the timorous bourgeois, of all those who can never have too many dots to the i's of a definition, we will repeat in the form of an axiom:

"Bohemia is the stage of artistic life; it is the preface to the Academy, the Hotel-Dieu or the Morgue."

We will add that Bohemia does not exist and is not possible, except in Paris.

Like every social stratum, Bohemia includes different varieties, diverse species which are themselves subdivided, and which it will be well to classify...

We will begin with unknown Bohemia, the most numerous subdivision. It is made up of the great family of poor artists, doomed to submit to the law of incognito, because they do not know or cannot find an entering wedge of publicity to attest their existence in the world of art, and to prove, by what they already are, what they may be some day. They are the race of persistent dreamers, to whom art has become a faith, not a trade; enthusiastic men of strong convictions, with whom the mere sight of a chef d'ceuvre is enough to bring on a fever, and whose loyal hearts beat high before whatever is beautiful, without asking the name of the master or the school. That portion of Bohemia finds its recruits amongst the young men of whom it is said that they are young men of promise, and among those who keep the promises they make, but who, from thoughtlessness, timidity or ignorance of practical life imagine that all is said when the work is finished, and wait for public admiration and wealth to enter their apartments by ... acts of burglary. They live, so to speak, on the edge of society, in isolation and indolence. Petrified in art, they take literally the symbolical language of the academic dithyramb concerning a halo about the brow of poets, and, being persuaded that they are emitting flames in the darkness, they wait for the public to come and seek them. ....

We will mention one other singular variety of Bohemians, who may be called amateurs. They are not the least interesting. They find life in Bohemia an existence full of charm: not to dine every dav, to sleep in the open air under the tears of rainy nights, and to dress in nankeen in the month of December seem to them the paradise of earthly felicity.....
......In very truth that sort of life is something that leads to nothing. It is brutish destitution, amid which the intellect goes out like a lamp in a vacuum; in which the heart turns to stone in savage misanthropy, and in which the best natures become the worst. If one has the misfortune to remain there too long and to penetrate too far into that blind-alley he either cannot find his way out or else he escapes through a dangerous breach in the wall, only to fall into an adjacent Bohemia, whose manners belong to another sphere than that of literary physiology....

It is good to recall Murger achieved acclaim during his life; sad that despite this, his end was one of poverty and early death, making some passages above prophetic. 

March 26, 2015

March 26, 1904

Joseph Campbell (March 26, 1904 to October 30, 1987) , is the American writer and teacher whose books on mythology have inspired generations by his analysis of the commonality of mythic structures in various societies and histories.

Google books blurbs this author:

During his lifetime, he wrote more than 40 books including The Hero with a Thousand Faces, The Mythic Image, the four-volume The Masks of God, and The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers. During the 1940s and 1950s, he collaborated with Swami Nikhilananda on translations of the Upanishads and The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. He received several awards including National Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Contributions to Creative Literature and the 1985 National Arts Club Gold Medal of Honor in Literature.

We cite this book by Joseph Campbell, below: The Mythic Dimension: Selected Essays 1959-1987 (1997). This is Volume 11 of The collected works of Joseph Campbell, and was edited by Antony Van Couvering.

This first is an antique Oriental verse Campbell quotes:

There the eye goes not ; 
Speech goes not, nor the mind. 
We know not, we understand not 
How one would teach It.‎

And this also Joseph Campbell chose to quote:

"...[W]e must wash our eyes in darkness and get cat's eyes..."

March 25, 2015

March 25, 1809

Anna Seward, a literary figure in 18th century England, lived from December 2, 1742 to March 25, 1809. Among her literary productions is a memoir of the man whose grandson was Charles Darwin. Erasmus Darwin encouraged Seward's poetry, and she regarded him as a great writer. Fortunately for us, Seward quotes some lovely poems of Erasmus Darwin's in her memoir, poems which concern cats. This excerpt is from such a poem

...
Cats I scorn who sleek and fat
Shiver at a Norway rat;
Rough and hardy, bold and free,
Be the cat that's made for me...[,]
He whose nervous paw can take
My lady's lapdog by the neck...