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.

November 23, 2014

November 23, 1760

François-Noël Babeuf (November 23, 1760 to May 27, 1797) was a political revolutionist in France. At this era the whole world presented itself to the educated as an arena for exploration and explication. Our excerpt is from a letter Babeuf wrote, and dated September 5, 1787. He replied to one from a friend at the Academy of Arras, one Dubois de Fosseux. Apparently the latter had posed the question: why there are different races of men. Babeuf wrote back:

[You may as well ask why] 
are there 50 kinds of dogs?  [Or] Why there not in nature two beings perfectly resembling each other. Why why why.  There is an infinite variety  in the same way that a black cat and a white cat produce colorful cats, [that are both] white and black [and thus unlike their parents] ...

We found this in Histoire de Gracchus Babeuf et du babouvisme: d'après de nombreux documents inédits, (1884) edited and annotated by Victor Advielle.  At the bottom of this post I put the paragraph in the original French, and you will see I used it very liberally.

The point of the quote is tangential to a biography of Babeuf. He has been called the first communist.  I think though there is within the banter of the educated, in our quote, that dislike of real questions which persists to this day among intellectuals. Babeuf never says he doesn't know why there is such variety in our natural world. Such questions become something to be ignored, something to be brusquely pushed aside. That is parallel to the hatred for the church which characterized  revolutionists then and now.  And this turning away from real questions of origin, is, paradoxically perhaps, coexistent with this thirst for knowledge represented by the gentlemen scientists. At least in the case of Citoyen Babeuf.

Why why why, this dislike for the church, and questions of origins.. I don't know the whole story, maybe nobody does, but we can see around us in nature, that a drive to dominate is a drive to biologically succeed. With young men especially that drive can be self-legitimating. The words, about revolution and citizens rights, and equality, all that, is sometimes just an excuse. No one notices because the drive for power itself, can be exhilarating. To exercise that power justifies the words, because the exercise of that power means the user will survive.  I am not talking about the winners writing history. I am talking about the biological flushes of victory. 

Babeuf also wrote--

"Society must be made to operate in such a way that it eradicates once and for all the desire of a man to become richer, or wiser, or more powerful than others."


You might think this sentiment proves that my analysis is incorrect. You'd be wrong.  He is spouting ideas he does not believe, which is easier if you refuse to examine your own motivations. 

As it happened Babeuf lost his struggle for power. After he agitated to bring back the good bloody days of Robespierre, he was himself guillotined. 


(Here's the passage I used to get the quote of Babeuf's, above:

Pourquoi y at il des chiens de 5o espèces Pourquoi y a t il point dans la nature deux êtres parfaitement Pourquoi pourquoi pourquoi C est ce semble que le Créateur l a ainsi ordonné c est qu il fait naître aux Indes des homes noirs et qu il a permis ceux d Europe fussent blancs Il ya entre ces derniers de la diférence pour la couleur des yeux des cheveux de la peau c est très vraisemblablement qu il en a d abord fabriqué de ces diférentes espèces et que les familles s étant ensuite mélangées au moyen des diverses unions formées entr èles ont doné naissance à cète variation à l infini dans la figure des êtres de la même manière qu un chat noir et une chate blanche produisent des chats bigarrés de blanc et de noir ...)

November 22, 2014

November 22, 1907

Dora Maar (November 22, 1907 to July 16, 1997) was an artist. She lived in France though she was of Yugoslavian roots. Maar was also famously an artist's mdoel. The next photo shows her lovely youth. There is quite a chatty article about her life in a Guardian book review. 




According to another source , Picasso bought her the house pictured below, in 1944. It is an 18th century villa in Menerbes. Menerbes is a mountain village in the south of France.




Here, after an adventuesome life, which included psychological therapy from Jacques Lacan, she spent her last years as a recluse.  We close with an image of one of the most expensive paintings in the world.  Why it is titled Dora Maar au chat I am not sure: that is obviously a kitten. 




November 21, 2014

November 21, 1768

Friedrich Schleiermacher (November 21, 1768 to February 12, 1834) ) was a German philosopher. He is sometimes referred to as the father of modern theology because he tried to bring 18th rationalism together with Protestantism. His efforts towards this goal resulted from a focus on the way texts are interpreted. For example you may ask exactly what was meant by the original texts when they spoke about the communion -- drink this, it is my blood. Schleiermacher might point out that this is a means of pointing to the real mystery of consciousness evolving from matter. 

Forgotten today outside the academy, Schleiermacher was a giant in German philosophy in the 19th century.  Wilhelm Dilthey worked all his own life on a multivolume biography of Schleiermacher. He did not finish it. Fortunately We do have an English translation of a less intellectual attempt at gauging Schleirmacher's significance.

THE LIFE OF SCHLEIERMACHER, AS UNFOLDED IN
HIS AUTOBIOGRAPHY AND LETTERS. TRANSLATED FROM THE GERMAN BY FREDERICA ROWAN.
(1860) gives us a glimpse of a scholar's life and a scholar's wife. The next brief sentences, are from letters Schleiermacher wrote to his wife when they were separated in war torn Germany. They had been married a matter of months. She was the widow of Schleiermacher's friend, and had two children when she married him.

[Spring 1811]
To-day I have given myself a treat which I have never before enjoyed; I took a walk through the garden at half-past five o'clock in the morning. It had rained in the night, the air was delicious, and the roses were very much refreshed; they give promise of a second bloom. ......

[Another letter excerpt]
I wrote to you so full of glad hope to beg you come back ; we had not then heard of the retreat of the army into Silesia; and to-day we have received news of the brilliant action near Hagenau! It has struck me like a thunderbolt! In what state of mind may you be, and where may you be? Have you sought refuge in some corner of Bohemia, or are you still in Schmiedeberg, full of fear that you may have to fly at any moment? And I, who ought to be your counsellor and your support, I am here [Berlin]! I reproach myself most bitterly for having been so foolish as to send you away! O God ! it is a heavy, heavy trial, and I do not know how I shall bear it. Sweet heart, have I not sinned grievously against thee and the children? Have I not wantonly precipitated that hardest of fates, which ought only to have been brought about by the most important events? Are you not already as lonely and forlorn as if you were a widow? Everything around me looks indescribably gloomy, and I begin even to despair of the public cause.[the defeat of Napoleon] ....Sweet wife, you whose destiny I have bound up with mine, had I but your hand in mine, could I but gaze into your eyes, could we but seek new strength and courage heart pressed to heart! My tender love for you and the children is the only happy feeling I have left—or rather my love for you, for I confess it at this moment the children are very secondary in my eyes, because as yet they have not the consciousness of what is going on around them; but at the bottom of my heart there is an immeasurable love for them also, which might at any moment be converted into a lion's love. But I must cease, I must tear myself away, I am too excited.....

2nd June, [1811]
...About an hour ago, dear heart, I received your letter of the 25th. I am sincerely rejoiced that you have so happily got over the first fright and difficulties, and that I can fully approve of all that you have done and planned...... Oh, to be separated under such circumstances is too dreadful! What you say so kindly, dear love, about feeling consoled at the thought of my being in quiet and safety, has cut me to the heart; and when you write, "the happy ones, who remained,"—ah, my darling wife, it drives me to despair to think that I sent you away!
In one respect, you are far better off than I. You suffer, but at the same time you are called upon to act. But I can only look on, while my heart is being torn to pieces; and then to feel that, as far as you are concerned, I have brought this upon myself! Ah! I shall never be at peace until I hold you again in my arms, and then I shall hardly feel myself worthy of folding you to my bosom But I will force myself to go to work, that I may not fall into a morbid state.
June 10th, Evening.

. . . . It is four weeks to-day since you left, and I hope that only one week more will elapse before you are back again, for I can hold it out no longer. At moments I feel as if I were transported back into my old days of bachelorhood, and as if it were only a dream that I had ever changed my condition, and a shudder of horror comes over me. Then again, when I bring you and the children vividly before my imagination, and the old presentiment returns that you will not keep me long, an indescribable sadness steals over me, at the thought of all that is precious and all that is vain in life, of all that is good and noble which, by the grace of God, has been developed in me, and of so much that is unworthy...... Come, dearest, hasten to join me, to fill out my life again, and to save me, by your sweet presence, from this dreamy state, which solitary work at the writing-desk does not suffice to conquer
[soon thereafter]

.....The anniversaries of the most important epochs of our lives are drawing near— the day on which I saw you for the first time, when you gave me a touching impression of a pious, gentle girl, under the influence of a first and holy love, such as I had never before witnessed. How tenderly attached to you I was! I looked upon it as the highest happiness left to me, to be near you and to witness and to bless your wedded life. [He refers to her marriage to his friend] Then again, the time when I felt such an irresistible desire to see you again as a sorrowing widow, and when gradually a deeper love still was developed. Yes, Jette, it was Divine guidance that led me to you; and I feel it now as deeply as ever, I could never have loved any other woman as I love you. I press your dear head to my bosom, imprint a kiss on your forehead, and once more promise to guide and support you through this chequered life, with all the strength of my love and my whole being, and to pour upon you all the good that wells up in my own heart, as also all that I can gather in the world around me.

[June 21] Today I have begun to write an essay, which I am to read to the Academy on Thursday next, on the various methods of translation. It may prove interesting, if I be allowed proper leisure.....






November 20, 2014

November 20, 1910

There is a literalism in Slavic writers which has only a slight correspondence in westerners. I think of Nicolai Gogol who gave up writing because he felt it was sacrilegious. A distraught Rossetti buried his creative output in his wife's coffin. And dug it back up later. Whereas Gogol died. Dostoievsky seems to have written from bitter experience whereas Dickens, with comparable tragic inspiration, was able to compartmentalize.

Leo Tolstoy (September 9, 1828 to November 20, 1910) is an exception. Thoreau gave it all up, knowing Mrs. Emerson would still do his laundry. Tolstoy gave up a lot of money, even though doing so, greatly added to the physical housekeeping burdens faced by -- his wife. 

So perhaps we should not be too surprised to find that Tolstoy was very confident about his assessment of moral dilemmas. He was asked, we read in Icon and Axe (James Billington, 1966) :

"Is there not a difference between the killing a revolutionist does and that which a policeman does?" Tolstoy answered, "there is a much difference as between cat-shit and dog-shit. But I don't like the smell of either one or the other."

Nor did his wife . She had to clean it up.

November 19, 2014

November 19, 1833

Wilhelm Dilthey (November 19, 1833 to October 1, 1911) ) was a German philosopher. He soldiered on in a world where religion and metaphysics were not regarded as objective to insist that philosophical study could guide individual action by helping one understand the world in which we lived.

In 1892 Dilthey wrote to a friend:


Catastrophe is approaching us with terrible rapidity; we are being led into it by our lack of faith, incapacity to...recreate fresh convictions about a true, invisible, order which could free man from the miserable, encircling, chattering, greedy, and bargaining social mass.
The basic reason for the present situation is the fact that only now have the sciences drawn the final conclusion from the beliefs of the 17th century. This doctrine (derived from the law of the conservation of energy) that mental processes are epiphenomena --will-of-the-wisps on the morass of mindless nature, is the most influential factor in the whole of contemporary literature.


Hans Rickman glosses the above as Dilthey's idea that if there is no energy not covered by the law of conservation, there is no separate mental force of the mind and so ideas are mere effects of matter and unable to independently provide insight on correct action. Dilthey's solution was to propose studying man not just as a physical creature but as a unique entity in the world-- as a being who could communicate with other humans via mind that is, ideas. This uniqueness included studying not just the interests of men but utilizing philosophy as a mean to study the unity of human reality. He hoped by demonstrating what he proposed, to prove its possibility.

Evidence of this world of mind is any book.  Any book contains more than a physical state, even when it is not being read. This is what Dilthey means when he speaks of an objectifcation of mind. Other examples brought forward are that Monday precedes Tuesday, or the the word for cat in German is katze.

That such a realm does not consist of something physical, say human beings in action, is important because Dilthey is defending certain kinds of knowledge from the ideas of positivism that everything can be studied in a "scientific manner." But you cannot measure this mental content although it has an objective existence, and is invisible.  


I cannot resist an aside, to those who studied with another philosopher about whom I blog. You may say, will this idea that ideas compose an objective realm is the opposite of what Jan Cox maintained, about the realm of imagination. Yes, but, we need to recall that Dilthey was speaking in response to the idea that man himself was nothing but a bit of flotsam really, without access to a world of spiritual dimensions. So -as always, we need to look for the unseen question behind any answering speech. End of this episode of "When Blogs Collide."

I am indebted in my discussion of Dilthey, to Hans Peter Rickman who wrote Wilhelm Dilthey, Pioneer of the Human Studies ( 1979). He or his estate has made this book available to read online, and I recommend anyone interested in this approach to check it out. Rickman is a clear writer.

Among Dilthey's titles, are:
The Study of the History of Disciplines Dealing With Man, Society, and the State (1875),
The Introduction to the Human Studies (1883).
Some say Dilthey originated our current idea of "Culture."

November 18, 2014

November 18, 1874

We remember Clarence Day (November 18, 1874 to December 28, 1935) as the author of Life with Father (1936). The autobiographical vignettes composing Life with Father were first published as essays in the New York Evening Post, Harpers or The New Yorker. After being gathered into a book, the story went on to become a successful broadway play, and then movie. In other writings Day turned his analytical attention to the life of the intellectual. While there were apparently no cats in his father's life (that made it into literature) an earlier work, a collection of  brief essays, The Crow's Nest (1921) mentions felines. Here is a parable by Clarence Day which is brief enough to quote completely.



The Three Tigers


As to Tiger Number One, what he likes best is prowling and hunting. He snuffs at all the interesting and exciting smells there are on the breeze; that dark breeze that tells him the secrets the jungle has hid: every nerve in his body is alert, every hair in his whiskers; his eyes gleam; he’s ready for anything. He and Life are at grips.

Number Two is a higher-brewed tiger, in a nice cozy cave. He has spectacles; he sits in a rocking-chair reading a book. And the book describes all the exciting smells there are on the breeze, and tells him what happens in the jungle, where nerves are alert; where adventure, death, hunting and passion are found every night. He spends his life reading about them, in a nice cozy cave.

It’s a curious practice. You’d think if he were interested in jungle life he’d go out and live it. There it is, waiting for him, and that’s what he really is here for. But he makes a cave and shuts himself off from it—and then reads about it! 


But that’s not the worst. It is Tiger Number Three who’s the worst. He not only reads all the time, but he wants what he reads sweetened up. He objects to any sad or uncomfortable account of outdoors; he says it’s sad enough in his cave; he wants something uplifting. So authors obediently prepare uplifting accounts of the jungle, or they try to make the jungle look pretty, or funny, or something; and Number Three reads every such tale with great satisfaction. 

And since he’s indoors all the time and never sees the real jungle, he soon gets to think that these nice books he reads may be true; and if new books describe the jungle the way it is, he says they’re unhealthy. “There are aspects of life in the jungle,” he says, getting hot, “that no decent tiger should ever be aware of, or notice.”

The realist and the romantic tiger are agreed upon one point, however. They both look down on tigers that don’t read but merely go out and live.

Okay, here's another one, same theme, different trope:


Once upon a time some victims of the book habit got into heaven; and what do you think, they behaved there exactly as here. That was to be expected, however: habits get so ingrained. They never took the trouble to explore their new celestial surroundings; they sat in the harp store-room all eternity, and read about heaven.

They said they could really learn more about heaven, that way.

And in fact, so they could. They could get more information, and faster. But information’s pretty thin stuff, unless mixed with experience.



Here's an illustration from The Crow's Nest. 


Once upon a time Clarence Day's father was "Clarence Day, Sr. ... a governor on the New York Stock Exchange. His father, Benjamin, founded the New York Sun and his brother, Benjamin, Jr., invented the Ben Day process for color printing. " This last bit of confusing prose was copied. But we get the picture Clarence Day was from a rich family. And he is a good argument for rich people himself, being so talented and intelligent. Or so I read once. 




November 17, 2014

November 17, 1836

Carle Vernet (August 14, 1758 to November 17,  1836) was a French artist, whose father and son were also highly regarded painters. Our Vernet said he himself was like "a Grand Dauphin, the son of a king, the father of a king, but never a king himself." But he was famous also, more for his paintings of horses, and lithographs.

The revolution in France saw his sister  executed. The famous artist Jacques-Louis David tried to intervene and save her, but 
Madame Chalgrin died for concealing letters to members of the aristocracy.  Vernet considered leaving the country. But as it happened his historical paintings continued popular and he was given a pension by the same government which guillotined his sibling. 

His own favorites among his work were his horse paintings. Our sources for Vernet's background were "The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin" (1958),  and also a Getty article.

Below is a lithograph of a satirical treatment of bad musicians. Carle Vernet's depiction of cats in an orchestra rewards close attention. I don't know the date but the harmony pictured may have expressed his own apprehension of public disorder also.



The palpable cacophony in his drawing is helped by the dogs dashing through the scene. Here is a detail of such. 
Notice his signature is close to a fleeing mouse. The stringed instrument nearby is bloody. Surviving revolutionary eras requires luck and talent, but Carle Vernet lived to enjoy his fame.