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.

April 15, 2014

April 15, 1755

April 15, 1755 marks the publication of a dictionary considered a hallmark in lexographical history: The Dictionary of the English Language. The creative and quixotic and monumental work of Samuel Johnson, is one reason this literary giant received in 1762 a pension from the King.

Before the definitions of  "Catagmatick"(the quality of consolidating the parts) and "Catapasm" (medicinal powders) and "Cataphonicks" (the doctrine of reflected sounds), and after, "casual'"(accidental) we find

"cat": "a domestic animal, reckoned by naturalists as the lowest order of the leonine species."

Samuel Johnson was a famous cat lover. Is this reflected in his definition? Flipping over some pages we find t
he entry for lion defines the leonine reference as to:" the fiercest and most magnanimous of four-footed beasts." When Johnson references the leonine dimension of the domestic cat he may be expressing the objective reality of felines. 

The difference between the definitions of Johnson and Noah Webster, discussed yesterday,  is more than a difference of centuries or continents. It is a difference of hearts.

April 14, 2014

April 14, 1828

1. A name applied to certain species of carnivorous quadrupeds, of the genus Felis. The domestic cat needs no description. It is a deceitful animal, and when enraged, extremely spiteful. It is kept in houses, chiefly for the purpose of catching rats and mice. The wild cat is much larger than the domestic cat. It is a strong, ferocious animal, living in the forest, and very destructive to poultry and lambs.
The wild cat of Europe is of the same species with the domestic cat; the catamount, of North America, is much larger and a distinct species.

The above is the full and exact entry under the 1st meaning of "cat" in the 1828,  in the first edition of  the now famous,  A Dictionary of the English Language by Noah Webster, copyrighted on April 14, 1828. Actually I used a reprint from 1832, but a reprint would not have changed. 

I dream of a time when driverless cars are very common, that we could stop all use of pesticides, and rely on cats again for their age-old job.  

Cat  A name applied to certain species of carnivorous quadrupeds, of the genus Felis. 

The domestic cat needs no description. 

It is a deceitful animal, and when enraged, extremely spiteful. 

It is kept in houses, chiefly for the purpose of catching rats and mice.

I wonder how many other words in Webster's first dictionary include in their definition "needs no description."

April 13, 2014

April 13, 1695

Jean de la Fontaine (July 8,  1621 to April 13, 1695) wrote stories based on originals which were sometimes far away in time and place. It was the manner of his telling which has secured his fame. His Fables are classics of French literature, and some of his most famous stories feature cats.

The author himself was an interesting sort. He and his wife lived apart and seemed the happier for it. Here are biographical bits about La Fontaine from The British Cyclopedia of Biography: Containing the Lives of Distinguished Men of All Ages and Countries, with Portraits, Residences, Autographs, and Monuments, (1837), edited by Charles Frederick Partington

...Though his disposition was exceedingly averse to confinement or restraint of any kind, yet, to oblige his parents, he consented to marry;-...
[Later the] duchess of Bouillon, .... niece to Cardinal Mazarine, being banished to Chateau-Thierry, Fontaine was presented to her, and he followed...[the duchess] when she was recalled to Paris...[He] soon procured... a pension, which he enjoyed in great comfort without troubling himself at all about his wife, or, perhaps, even reflecting that he had one... [Later] he was admitted as a gentleman usher to Henrietta of England; but the death of this princess put an end to all his court hopes. After this, among other favours from the most illustrious persons in the kingdom, the generous and witty Madame de la Sabliere furnished him with an apartment and all necessaries in her house; [
Madame de la Sabliere] ... one day, ....declared that she then kept but three animals in her house, which were her dog, her cat, and La Fontaine.....

April 12, 2014

April 12, 1916

Beverly Cleary (April 12, 1916), the noted children's author, has written multiple memoirs, of which we mention "My Own Two Feet: A Memoir" (1996).  Cleary, trained as a librarian, has had a book made into a movie. Her story. Ramona and Her Mother won the 1981 National Book Award, in the category of Children's Book, Paperback Fiction. 

From  her website we learn

Beverly Cleary was named a "Living Legend" by the Library of Congress. This witty and warm author is truly an international favorite. Mrs. Cleary's books appear in over twenty countries in fourteen languages and her characters, including Henry Huggins, Ellen Tebbits, Otis Spofford, and Beezus and Ramona Quimby, as well as Ribsy, Socks, and Ralph S. Mouse, have delighted children for generations. 

Here is our author with a cat which may well have inspired her book Socks (1973.) Note also below that,  another picture we include, which is certainly, a portrayal of the eponymous Socks.

We note Cleary's librarianly talents served her well. Her husband died in 2004. Cleary lives now in Carmel.

April 11, 2014

April 11, 172

The poem for which we remember Christopher Smart (April 11, 1722 to May 21. 1771)  was not made public during his lifetime, not public until 1939, so almost two hundred years. During his lifetime Smart was a well-known figure in English literary life. Samuel Johnson, hearing complaints about how Smart asked strangers in the city streets to stop and pray with him, said he would as soon have Smart's company as that of anyone else. Here are some of the verses of "Jubilate Agno":


For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.
For I perceived God’s light about him both wax and fire.
For the Electrical fire is the spiritual substance, which God sends from heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, tho he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped.
For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.
For he can swim for life.
For he can creep.

Thus Christopher Smart details his amazing cat Jeffrey. I should like to clamber intellectually as well as Smart does. 

April 10, 2014

April 10, 1866

Henry Bergh (August 29, 1813 to March 12, 1888) founded the American Society Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on April 10, 1866. Bergh was born to affluence and pursued artistic ambitions before the work which earned him a place in American history: his animal and child welfare work. And his fortune also funded reports on the progress of the societies he established. Like this report from which we cite:

Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in New York State
Volume 3 of Bulletin of Social Legislation
Issue 3 of Bulletin of social legislation on the Henry Bergh Foundation for the Promotion of Humane Education
written by Floyd Morse Hubbard (1915)

Below are some statistics. The numbers can be sad, so I am just pulling out a few, to tell a story, and it must be noted, the numbers in this report, covering 1914, were already selected to give a sense of the societies' work and not meant as  a comprehensive overview.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was incorporated in 1866 with jurisdiction to operate anywhere within the boundaries of the state..... The Society now has twenty-eight salaried agents [in New York City and environs] patrolling the streets with power to interfere in cases of cruelty and to make arrests when deemed necessary. It is the declared policy of the Society not to make arrests if any other method of procedure seems warranted, and the agents are instructed to render assistance whenever they find horses stalled or fallen. In slippery weather practically all their time is given to this kind of relief work and arrests are in abeyance. ....

The following tables are given merely to illustrate some of the details of the work done by societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals. ...The relative jurisdiction of these organizations is indicated by the figures showing area and population of the respective counties (taken from the New York State Legislative Manual for 1914).....

The Mohawk And Hudson River Humane Society.

Jurisdiction: Sixteen counties ...
Area: Approximately one-third of total area of state.
Central Department (Albany and Rensselaer
counties), 1,204 square miles.
Population: For sixteen counties, approximately one-
tenth total population of state.

[In this population we find a line stating]

....cats rescued from trees 26


Stevens-swan Humane Society.....
Jurisdiction: Oneida County.
Area, 1,215 square miles.


Number of complaints 512
Number of animals investigated 3,115
Horses sent to stable 50
Horses sent to hospital 6
Horses sent to blacksmith shop 10
Horses helped on street 13
Horses blanketed 11
Unloaded vehicles 4
Snatch teams ordered 12
Dead horses ordered buried 2
Owners and drivers admonished 123
Found homes for horses 2
Found owners for lost horses 1
Cats abandoned 45
Homes found for cats 11
Cats from trees and poles 7

Though these numbers are not really totals, these statistics give a sense of the progress with animal protection almost 50 years after Bergh's work. The fact blankets were given to 11 horses, is just for part of the New York state area. The numbers are for 1914. I do wonder what a "snatch team" was.

April 9, 2014

April 9, 1821

Charles Baudelaire (April 9, 1821 to August 31, 1867) the symbolist poet, was typically French in his adoration of cats and of women. But his ardor was not just metaphorical: he saw the unique beauty of the feline.

Here are several English translations of the first stanza of his poem "Le Chat." First, the original:

Le Chat

Viens, mon beau chat, sur mon coeur amoureux;
Retiens les griffes de ta patte,
Et laisse-moi plonger dans tes beaux 

Mêlés de métal et d'agate.
Roy Campbell, in Poems of Baudelaire (1952) put it this way

The Cat
Come, superb cat, to my amorous heart;
Hold back the talons of your paws,
Let me gaze into your beautiful eyes
Of metal and agate
And translated into English by William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (1954)

The Cat

Come, my fine cat, against my loving heart;
Sheathe your sharp claws, and settle.
And let my eyes into your pupils dart
Where agate sparks with metal.

as translated by Geoffrey Wagner, Selected Poems of Charles Baudelaire (1974)

The Cat

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.

The association of cats and women is quite ancient, and Baudelaire made it fresh, again, by focusing on the feline.