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 26, 2016

April 26, 1564

April 26, 1564 is the date on which William Shakespeare was christened. Just a few years earlier Queen Elizabeth I had assumed the English throne (1558).

We look now at one of his not infrequent cat references. In The Merchant of Venice Shylock says:

....[T]here is no firm reason to be rendered
Why he cannot abide ....
...a harmless necessary cat.

This may sound like a lukewarm endorsement of felines. In fact if you know much about the England of that era, it is clear Shakespeare's words come from a space of a love of cats. At Elizabeth's coronation part of the festivities included torturing cats; their cries were said to be the sound of the Roman Catholic Pope being admitted to hell. This was the background of normalcy against which we must measure Shakespeare's description.

And while we set the record straight: People who carry on about who wrote the plays we ascribe to Shakespeare base their arguments on an oversimplified view of human nature. One typical argument says since Shakespeare never apparently traveled to Italy, how were his scenes set there so authentic. What these writers miss is the very nature of genius. It cannot be explained by speaking in many languages, or seeing many countries. About genius, "there is no firm reason to be rendered."

April 25, 2016

April 25, 1939

Nicole Hollander (April 25, 1939) is a major American cartoonist, whose character in her Sylvia books is
is brassy, overweight, and you guess, not averse to bourbon. She also lets her cats type some.
Did I mention she is beautiful?

Here is an example:

April 24, 2016

April 24, 1718

Kitty Fisher was a famous 18th century courtesan. Nathaniel Hone (April 24, 1718 to August 14, 1784) painted her portrait (below) in 1765. Joshua Reynolds had painted her several times also. She married, the son of an MP, in 1766. She did not enjoy her respectability for long: she died in 1767. 

One assumes the bowl of fish and stretched paw is a reference to Thomas Gray's "Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes" (1748). That light verse plays with 18th century assumptions about women: 

What female heart can gold despise?
What cat's averse to fish?

This particular portrait is in the National Portrait Gallery and has been since 1929 when John Baring, 2nd Baron Revelstoke 
(banking money) made it a gift. The Baron enjoyed his respectability rather longer.

Three-quarters format. Nathaniel Hone’s Kitty Fisher, 1765, 29 ½ x 24 ½ ins (74.9 x 62.2 cm) (National Portrait Gallery).

April 23, 2016

April 23, 1875

This lovely portrait was created by a woman, very famous in her homeland of Japan: Shoen Uemura (April 23, 1875 to August 27, 1949). We have some notes about the life of this artist:

Shoen Uemura was born in Kyoto under the name of Tsune Uemura. Her parents had a little tea shop. But her father died soon and little Shoen grew up with her mother and a few aunts....Her early drawings astonished everyone - her mom, her aunts and the tea shop clients...

In 1887 at the age of twelve, little Shoen entered the Kyoto Prefectural Art School. Like all great geniuses, she left without graduation. At the age of fifteen she had her first important exhibition and won a prize.

Her teachers were Suzuki Shonen, Kono Bairei and Takeuchi Seiho. She was suspected of having a relationship with her teacher Suzuki Shonen and gave birth to a daughter. But she never revealed the name of the father.

Many of the works of Uemura Shoen show portraits of women, sometimes with children in a realistic, refined style. Uemura is often called a bijin-ga painter, a painter of the traditional Japanese subject of so-called beautiful women...

In 1941 Uemura Shoen became a member of the Imperial Art Academy. And in 1948 she became the first woman to receive the Order of Cultural Merit.

Like several others of her contemporary Japanese fellow artists, she would most probably have made an International career if the time-schedule of her life had been a different one. She belonged to the generation of artists whose mature years happened to coincide with the great depression of the world economy, then the rising political tensions with the U.S. and finally the war ....

Without access to the large North American market, no Japanese artist can make an International career. And this rule is valid up to our days.

Uemura Shoen died at the age of 74 in her cottage in the mountains. She had painted until death took the brush out of her hand. Her son Shoko and her grandson Atsushi became artists themselves.

April 22, 2016

April 22, 1946

If John Waters (April 22, 1946) doesn't push the limits it is because this American filmmaker is already outside them.

This is from a recent show of John Waters' art.

The show where this piece was on display, is written up here.

John Waters, the astute cultural commentator on all things we venerate in low culture, is back showing in NYC at Marianne Boesky Gallery with his latest exhibition entitled “Beverly Hills John.” Giving homage to Federico Fellini with an 8 ½ foot ruler, his friend Mike Kelly with an R.I.P. tribute that doubles as a dead kitty urn, exploitation and “uncollectable” books, crabs, being gay AND single, Botox, body hair, and tabloid treatment of intellectuals.
Willing to send up himself as much as his loved subjects, Waters comments on glamour worlds obsession with eternal youth reinventing himself, Lassie and Justin Bieber with photo-shopped Botox in the series Hollywood “where they don’t look older, though they might look insane.” In another self-portrait,Waters disguises himself as the most despised person in pup-obsessed Provincetown - The Dog Catcher. “I have nostalgia sometimes and miss when everyone hated me and my films, so I tried to imagine what could make me feel like that again.”

Commentary on gay marriage is found in Bill’s Stroller with the leather studded strap baby stroller emblazoned with the name of New York sex clubs from Waters’ youth whose neighborhoods are now filled with gay couples pushing strollers. Separate but Equal - segregated MARRIED and NOT MARRIED drinking water fountains separating “the new hated minority of non-married gays who have even surpassed transgender.”

In a call and response to the fear of body hair outside the Bear community, Waters offers chest hair wigs in Hairball; but it’s Crab that Waters refers to his activist “green piece,” creating awareness of the pubic hair crab as an endangered species that no longer has a place to call home with everyone waxed as smooth a baby’s bottom.

Waters imagined magazine Brainiac gives the tabloid treatment to famous intellectuals who normally remain blissfully ignored by the paparazzi, noting that Joan Didion, crossing over to modeling for Celine, might now be outed for looking fat in her bathing suit.. ....

Here is the image caption for the piece we copied above:

Waters_RIP_Mike_Kelly.jpg John Waters R.I.P. Mike Kelley, 2014 Hand-painted cat urn with decorative detail, clear knotty pine shelf with engraved heart detail. Glue fasteners, paint cat urn: 10 x 8 x 5 ½ inches 25.4 x 20.3 x 14 cm shelf: 8 x 8 x 12 inches 20.3 x 20.3 x 30.5 cm Edition of 5 Courtesy of the artist and Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York © John Waters Photo credit: Jason Wyche

April 21, 2016

April 21, 1926

The standard line in American schools is that democracy gives everyone a chance to succeed, and this evolved from a governmental system run by an autocrat whose mandate to rule is that he/she was born into a certain family. That of course is bad history. Few Americans are aware that the British government, far from being a brutal tyrant,  was trying to protect the land of the native Americans by prohibiting settler expansion beyond the Appalachian mountains. It is difficult to believe that policy was not one cause for rebellion. Most citizens of the United States are not aware that absolutism was a Renaissance fantasy.

And on to modern times-- the liberal imagination coughs up a hairball on the subject of royalty; the intelligentsia see little use for the monarchy now. Niall Ferguson says that the only people who support it are the uneducated, lower classes.

There may be a case to be made for a constitutional monarchy today and that is: it allows us to observe inherited traits. For instance, the origin of modern royal families lay in the bravery of warriors. In fact peasants were not allowed to participate in fighting at all-- it was assumed they would just runaway from battle engagements. This warrior class was not literate---at the start that was limited to those serving the church. And now, what do we see, the royals are not terribly bright, not particularly beautiful. but they are .... supremely self confident about who they are. This is a rare quantity on the modern stage. The characteristics of modern man: anxiety and self-doubt, these are not royal characteristics. 

The effect of living among immense and old treasure is also something to be observed. I myself see a certain creativity evinced by some royals and the reasons for this can be considered.

So we have a live DNA experiment and one that can be pondered. But there is something else about royalty today, (of course my example is British royalty) : the role they play in a constitutional government is a weight for social objectivity. People are desperately pleased to get the yearly distributed honors. And these, if necessary can be removed from the recipient. Only someone genuinely above it all, is in a position to focus and enhance this unifying structure.

I mentioned British royalty. The fact is that their function cannot be removed, and then replaced. So there are few families who qualify for our examination.

Kitty Kelly's book, The Royals, (1997) is not of course concerned with the factors we mention. But where else could we find out about the current Queen, whose birthday is April 21, 1926, and cats. One of Kelly's interviewees says:

"If you have the Queen to must lock your cats in the stable because Her Majesty abhors cats."

All grist for the person interested in self-knowledge.

April 20, 2016

April 20, 1887

Dinah Craik (April 20, 1826 to October 12, 1887) was a Victorian novelist and poet. Here is a example of her writing, an excerpt from a poem titled "Lost in the Mist."  Here she is contemplating her arrival in heaven, where, she says,  she would even be happy to be just a dog or cat.


Ye rooks that fly in slender file
Into the thick'ning gloom,
Ye'll scarce have reached your grim gray tower
Ere I have reached my home;
Plover, that thrills the solitude
With such an eerie cry,
Seek you your nest ere night-fall comes,
As my heart's nest seek I.

O me, it is too soon to die--
And I was going home!

I see the pictures in the room,
The figures moving round,
The very flicker of the fire
Upon the patterned ground:
O that I were the shepherd-dog
That guards their happy door!
Or even the silly household cat
That basks upon the floor!

His will be done. O, gate of heaven,
Fairer than earthly door,
Receive me! Everlasting arms,
Enfold me evermore!

I cut out a lot above, but she is not limited to such typical thoughts;  She said, cleverly:

“A preface is usually an excrescence on a good book, and a vain apology for a worthless one;”

She sought to specify emotions freshly. This passage is from 
John Halifax, Gentleman (1857):

[It] was the first time in my life I ever knew the meaning of that rare thing, tenderness. A quality different from kindliness, affectionateness, or benevolence; a quality which can exist only in strong, deep, and undemonstrative natures, and therefore in its perfection is oftenest found in men.”

Then there is this passage, describing a conversation about capital punishment which appeared in A Life for a Life (1859).

Oh, the comfort—
The inexpressible comfort of feeling
safe with a person,
Having neither to weigh thoughts,
Nor measure words—but pouring them
All right out—just as they are—
Chaff and grain together—
Certain that a faithful hand will
Take and sift them—
Keep what is worth keeping—
and with the breath of kindness
Blow the rest away.

There is a nice biographical essay on this author at the Victorian web.

Her father had roots in minor Irish gentry.  Dinah's mother came from a prosperous background.  In the 1820's Thomas Mulock, a preacher, met her mother, according to the Victorian web. while he

... was .... lodging in a cottage between Stoke and Newcastle-under-Lyme. The widow of a prosperous Newcastle tanner lived next door with her three unmarried daughters. On 7 June 1825, one of the daughters, Dinah Mellard, was married to Thomas Mulock. The bride was past thirty; the groom dressed in white from head to foot on his wedding day. Dinah Mulock, born the next year, was their eldest child.

Dinah Craik had a rough childhood. Her father, was locked up in a lunatic asylum, for a while, and when her mother died, he abandoned all his children.

I see a freshness in Dinah Craik's psychological analyses that I hope does not sink beneath the Victorian sentiments.