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.

August 31, 2014

August 31, 1688

After the Bible was available in local languages, and literacy began to seep into the population, many people began to assess certain religious questions for themselves. They may for various reasons feel an inner turbulence about how to act. Most everyone in the 17th century believed if they did not follow what they conceived as of as God's directions, as it was laid out in the Bible, that they would suffer physical torture after they died. If they saw this future pain as a certainty if they thought and acted a certain way, this was a motivating factor in their changing the way they acted.

John Bunyan, (November 28, 1628 to  August 31, 1688).was a spiritual guide for many on this path. What he felt was an enormous need to live correctly according to what god wanted. And when he figured out what was the right thing, he could not stop sharing with others what he discovered. He spent years in prison because he refused to stop public preaching. All he had to do was shut up, but he could not do this, even if, in prison, there was always the chance they would decide to hang him.

John Bunyan wrote The Pilgrim's Progress (1678) and the book is justly famous for the psychological insights presented there. One thing all the pressure Bunyan felt did, was force him to sort some things out, and be honest with himself. This kind of thinking -- what the crowd says is not important, but internal honesty is -- as you talk to god, god will know if you deceive yourself, of course. All this was part of a general growth in mankind. Man is now seen as an isolated entity, both responsible for himself, and accountable to a higher power. Man could not, as in the past rely on external authorities to guide him in his decision-making. The bible was written in a language they could not even read. Now, the individual was alone in making his path. Of course god could help, but only if the man who prays was honest.  This was the birth of modern psychological man; the really new thing was this excessive fixation on one's inner life, led by one's thinking processes.  Auden's "Age of Anxiety" was founded in the 17th century. 

Bunyan is quoted as saying (the first ellipsis is not my ellipsis):

Conversion is not the smooth easy-going process some men seem to think...It is wounding work, this breaking of the hearts, but without wounding there is no saving..Where there is grafting, there will always be a cutting.

Bunyan points here to the arduous nature of inner examination, of praying to God and asking for his help. Notice already in the 17th century there were apparently those who said, in effect, "Wake up? Oh yeah, I did that already." 

The view that the  mind is  rational at the same time as hormonal realities are the real power, was not an option for Bunyan. It was a real puzzle then,  for Bunyan, how man, if rational, then does not act in his own best interest. For centuries the idea of a devil explained the actions of hormones in western culture.  Such an creature, external to man, was accepted by Bunyan as well as all the religions of the time.

In this respect Bunyan reflected the prejudices of his age. Satan and witches were real phenomena. Here Bunyan tries to understand how men can do wrong, when their self interest should have them acting so as to avoid the torment of an after-life.  We quote Bunyan from an 1862 reprint, The Whole Works of John Bunyan, (volume 1).

But methinks this is the mystery of all as to this, that the soul should take ... such advantages against itself! For it is the soul that sins, that the soul might die! 0! sin, what art thou? What hast thou done? and what still wilt thou further do, if mercy, and blood and grace doth not prevent thee? 0 silly soul! what a fool has sin made of thee? what an ass art thou become to sin? that ever an immortal soul, at first made in the image of God, for God, and for his delight, should so degenerate from its first station, and so abase itself that it might serve sin, as to become the devil's ape,... upon any stage or theatre in the world! But I recall myself; for if sin can make one who was sometimes a glorious angel in heaven, now so to abuse himself as to become, to appearance, as a filthy frog, a toad, a rat, a cat, a fly, a mouse, a dog, or bitch's whelp... to serve its ends upon a poor mortal, that it might gull them of everlasting life, no marvel if the soul is so beguiled as to sell itself from God, and all good, for so poor a nothing as a momentary pleasure is.

Bunyan here accepts the idea that the devil can appear in the guise of common creatures. But you can hear where Bunyan momentarily is close to analyzing what he calls sin, in a more sophisticated manner. "O sin, what art thou?" This is the result of the rigorous self-examination referred to in our first quote. Everything you think you know, is questioned. This is why I suggest Bunyan's writing was the birth of modern psychological man.
People then did not, nor now really, step back and say, if God created the world and all therein, then why would he want his creatures to suffer for something they had no part in making. An all powerful god suggests man is not really responsible for his own actions. And why would god want love from creatures who were just scared not to love him. 

So in the 17th century we note the inconsistency of a god who is all powerful expecting man to be responsible for his own actions. 

Modern science is no different though. It is not like we have progressed in self-knowledge. Experts in the physical sciences today cannot avoid a glimpse of a universe which is completely deterministic. But if the evidence is correct, then how can any speech of man's claim accuracy, when that speech itself is part of a mechanical flow. If thought/speech is  a helpless part of a larger flow, how can man's assessments pretend any veridical power?

August 30, 2014

August 30, 1811

Theophile Gautier (August 30, 1811 to October 23, 1872), the French writer, excelled in a nation of cat lovers, at loving cats. He is remembered as a journalist (at Le Moniteur universel, before obtaining the editorship of L'Artiste, an important periodical,  in 1856) but he wrote in many genres and supported himself as a man of letters, setting a model for a Bohemian life style at the same time. His fame was such that Oscar Wilde had his own hero of debauchery, Dorian Gray, read Gautier's poetry. But Gautier's aestheticism always implied cats for cats' sake.

Theophile Gautier said: "The pashas love tigers, I love cats, which are the tigers of the poor." This is echoed by the next generation, when Fernand Mery said "God made the cat in order that humankind might have the pleasure of caressing the tiger." Carl Van Vechten echoed Gautier when he titled his book about cats in literature and history, The Tiger in the House (1920). I suspect the writer who first mentioned house cats and tigers is obscured by the passage of millenia.

Theophile Gautier's love for cats, is not what defined his bohemianism. He said "All my life I have been as fond of animals in general and of cats in particular as any Brahmin or old maid."

August 29, 2014

Auigust 29, 1780

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres(August 29,  1780 to January 14, 1867) saw himself as a preserver of artistic tradition, rather than an innovator. This may reflect a reaction to the chaos of revolutionary France. This need for security over innovation was a sentiment shared by many, for Ingres was early recognized as an artist,  and his paintings show a  precision of line and a color that was vivid but clearly delineated in all aspects of the canvas. Here is his painting of Napoleon, (1806), another who benefited from the insecurities of a populace exhausted by change. In fact Napoleon's royal emblem was the Bourbon fleur-de-lis, just turned upside down.  Very reassuring -- just a tiny bit of change.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the art of Ingres was finally valued again,  after the Bourbon restoration because:

... Ingres [was seen] as a standard-bearer of cultural conservatism. Critics saw that he was defending the tenets of the waning tradition of French academic Classicism: namely, an unwavering faith in the authority of the ancients, an insistence upon the superiority of drawing over colour, and a commitment to the idealization as opposed to the mere replication of nature....

This return to critical acclaim happened for Ingres when
The artist, who moved from Rome to Florence in 1820, adopted a more conventional Classicizing style based directly on the example of his hero, Raphael, in "Christ Giving the Keys to Saint Peter" (1820), and then again in "The Vow of Louis XIII" (1824), a blatant piece of pro-Bourbon propaganda celebrating the union of church and state. This picture was a spectacular success at the 1824 Salon, earning Ingres his first critical accolades as well as election to the Académie des Beaux-Arts. Thus, in the span of a single exhibition, he went from being one of the most vilified artists in France to one of the most celebrated.

Still his career was not without drama, for, later, when Ingres was

.... Deeply wounded by the lack of universal approbation, [for a particular painting] the notoriously hypersensitive artist announced that he intended never again to exhibit at the Salon. ....

It is ironic that, given his pretensions as a history painter, Ingres’s major commissions during his later years continued to be in the genre of portraiture. By the mid-1840s he was the most sought-after society portraitist in Paris. Ingres was particularly adept at capturing the grace and splendour—as well as the sheer ostentation—of the feminine elite. Among his most notable sitters were the Comtesse d’Haussonville (1845), the Baronne de Rothschild (1848), the Princesse de Broglie (1853), and Mme Inès Moitessier, the renowned beauty whom he painted twice (1851 and 1856, respectively).

......[Ingres was finally elevated] to the rank of grand officer of the Legion of Honour; he was the first literary or artistic figure to receive this lofty title. In 1862 Ingres also became one of the first professional painters to be appointed to the Senate....

A concluding assessment of Ingres' importance is provided by the same Britannica article we have already quoted a lot from:

While a few artists of the late 19th century—most notably Edgar Degas and Pierre-Auguste Renoir—derived inspiration directly from Ingres’s example, it was only in the early years of the 20th century that he came to be recognized as one of the major figures of early modern art. The linear lyricism as well as the spatial and anatomical adventurousness of his work were touchstones for giants of the early 20th-century avant-garde such as Pablo Picassoand Henri Matisse. While Ingres later became the subject of more mocking, ironic tributes by Surrealist and Post-Modernist artists, the popularity of major exhibitions of his work and the ongoing scholarly fascination with his oeuvre continue to secure his reputation as one of the greatest and most compelling masters of the 19th century.
....When Ingres died, he bequeathed the contents of his studio to Montauban, his native city. In addition to about 4,000 drawings (the studies, sketches, and working drawings of a lifetime), this bequest included several of his own paintings, the works in his private collection, and his reference library. All of this is now housed in the Ingres Museum at Montauban. 

Montauban is where to find this drawing of Ingres' cat, Biquette, another seated  monarch.

August 28, 2014

August 28, 1749

The Poems of Goethe, were translated in a volume of that title, in 1853. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (August 28, 1749 to March 22, 1832) was a genius in various endeavors. Here is one of several works in which Goethe mentions a cat.

GYPSY SONG. [Zigeunerlied]

In the drizzling mist, with the snow high-piled,
In the winter night, in the forest wild,
I heard the wolves with their ravenous howl,
I heard the screaming note of the owl:
Wille wau wau wau!

Wille wo wo wo!
Wito hu!

I shot, one day, a cat in the ditch —
The dear black cat of Anna the witch;
Upon me, at night, seven were-wolves came down,
Seven women they were, from out of the town.
Wille wau wau wau!

Wille wo! wo! wo!
Wito hu!

I knew them all; ay, I knew them straight;
First, Anna, then Ursula, Eve, and Kate,
And Barbara, Lizzy, and Bet as well:
And forming a ring, they began to yell:
Wille wau wau, wau!

Wille wo wo wo!
Wito hu!

Then called I their names with angry threat:
"What wouldst thou, Anna? What wouldst thou,
At hearing my voice, themselves they shook,
And howling and yelling, to flight they took.
Wille wau wau wau!

Wille wo wo wo!
Wito hu!


This was translated by Edgar Alfred Bowring. You can hear through a clumsy English, the sweet and clear diction of a real poet.  Not that I know what this text means, though. I assume that is my ignorance of German culture.

The German for the first stanza reads:

Im Nebelgeriesel, im tiefen Echoee, Im wilden Wald, in der Winternacht, Ich hörte der Wölfe Hungergeheul, Ich hörte der Eulen Geschrei- Wille wau wou wau! Wille wo wo wo! Wito hu!.

Just so you know German wolves sound like English wolves.

August 27, 2014

August 27, 1884

Ever wonder who wrote the Dick and Jane books we all read at the start of our public schooling? Some of the first books (1940-1946) were written by May Hill Arbuthnot  (August 27, 1884 to October 2, 1969). It is possible these first readers included Spot and Puff, the pooch and puss, though I am not certain when these features were put in the Dick and Jane series.  Half the children in America started school with Dick and Jane.

Arbuthnot is credited with playing an important role in developing children's literature from stories designed to bang children on the head with moral values, to books which treated seriously the peculiar needs and imagination of a certain age group.

She also authored a major, (still), book on education, a textbook for adults, 
Children and Books. (1947).

Also she wrote and edited several books, including 
Time for Poetry (1951), which includes classics like Lear's "The Owl and the Pussycat", and Vachel Lindsay's "The Mysterious Cat." 

We read that:

....Arbuthnot... married Charles Criswell Arbuthnot, a Western Reserve University economics professor, in 1932... [and] was ....a tireless, widely traveled lecturer and advocate for better children’s books, even after her retirement from the university [Westerm Reserve] in 1949. She established a prestigious international award, the annual Arbuthnot Prize for lifetime achievement in children’s literature. Upon her death, in a Cleveland nursing home in 1969, Scott, Foresman, her longtime publisher, established the Arbuthnot Honor Lecture (now funded by the American Library Association and Association for Library Service to Children), to be given each year by an author, artist, critic, librarian, historian or teacher of children's literature.

Since information on May Hill Arbuthnot is hard to come by, let me include this link to a nice write-up, the source in fact of most of our information.  And from this article we learn about her defense of the Grimm brothers. 

The popular folk tales gleaned from the German countryside by the Grimm brothers (first published in 1812) were harrowing, often quite violent stories originally told “by adults to adults in an age when using wits against brute force was often the only means of survival, and therefore admirable. . . . Not a pretty code, but a realistic one,” Arbuthnot would write in her groundbreaking 1947 work, Children and Books....[E]ven the most horrific of these tales, wrote Arbuthnot, “are predominantly constructive, not destructive, in their moral lessons. ‘The humble and good shall be exalted,’
She had written the above in defense of W. H. Auden, who had ranked the Brothers Grimm's collection “among the few indispensable, common-property books upon which Western Culture can be founded” and “next to the Bible in importance. .

And here is a picture of our subject, no, not a cat but-----

August 26, 2014

August 26, 1957

Nikky Finney (August 26, 1957) has among other honors for her poetry and career as an artist, received the editorship of the Palmetto Poetry Series, which is associated with the University of South Carolina Press. This picture, in Publisher's Weekly, accompanied the announcement.

She is already on the faculty at the University of South Carolina as the John H. Bennett, Jr. Chair in Southern Letters and Literature. Nikky Finney's fourth collection of poetry, 
Head Off & Split (2011) won the National Book Award for Poetry. 

And here are a few lines excerpted from "Brown Country" one of her poems in 

Rice: Poems (1995)

how come ain't no sad country songs
about indians being holocausted
I'm no Dolly...
but I sho am country
And when I'm gone
please somebody feed the cat
and in return I'll make my voice
low country quiver real good


The lines I highlighted don't do justice to this long poem about a black woman who likes country music. 

August 25, 2014

August 25, 1839

Evelina Gertrude de Rothschild (August 25, 1839 to December 4, 1866) was the daughter of Baron Lionel de Rothschild. After her early death, her family memorialized the life of this English socialite and adored wife and daughter, by setting up a school in Jerusalem, a school for girls.

The story of that school is told by Laura Schorr in The Best School in Jerusalem: Annie Landau's School for Girls, 1900-1960 (2013). According to one review:

Schor’s book reveals how during the first half of the century, Landau transformed a starving, amulet-wearing, rag-tag group of girls into British-Jewish schoolchildren who would feel at home anywhere in the world. By insisting on things like punctuality and cleanliness—and the English language—Annie Landau brought modernity to the girls of Palestine.

We quote, from this book, an example of Landau's teaching methods:

....[T]he Evelina de Rothschild School League for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals... had its origins in England's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA)...[This school club] soon had eighty members, each of whom paid a half-penny a month and wore a badge. The members promised to be kind to every living thing; in a city where stray cats were ignored and camels were beaten, this was a decidedly new idea. The girls wrote essays on kindness to helpless creatures and read them at their monthly meetings.

Laura Schorr tells a fascinating story very well.